Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Another dinner with Keith & Clare

June 2017. My friends Keith and Clare are true oenophiles. They’ve visited wineries all over the world and Keith, who runs the Canterbury Wine-tasting Society, also lectures on wine. A true polymath, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject: there’s no region, producer, micro-climate, aspect of viticulture, viniculture, or oenology you can mention that he can’t throw additional light on. Together with Clare, he’s also a very generous host!

A meal at their home just two nights ago comprised delicious poached salmon with dill-flecked mayonnaise; roast beef with vegetables from their own garden; some first-rate farmhouse cheeses; and two desserts: an elegant birthday cake and a delectable summer pudding.

As usual, the wines were served blind.

As aperitif, 2006 Laurent Perrier. To judge from the colour – a clean yellow with no trace of green – it was not a Blanc de Blancs. (“Correct” said Keith). A certain kind of fullness on the palate suggested the presence of at least a small percentage of Pinot Meunier as well as Pinot Noir. That was confirmed. I couldn’t identify the house and only got the vintage at the third or fourth attempt!

Next, two round and succulent St Pérays, from the same source: Domaine du Tunnel. The first, 2011 St Péray Prestige (80% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne) was round and succulent, with an almost Burgundian smoothness. The second, 2012 St Péray Roussanne (100%) was a little fuller, with more pronounced minerality; while not quite as singular as the ’11, it was a slightly better partner to the salmon because of its fuller body. Both were fashioned from vines with an average of 60 years.

Red number one had the sort of distinction you’d expect from the last wine of the evening, not the first: 2001 Morey St Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière from the renowned Georges Roumier estate. With the typical limpid, nuanced purple of a top Pinot Noir, it gave off a lovely scent of red fruits, including pomegranate, with hints of ginger and cinnamon. A slight resiny quality on the gently tannic finish suggested the 2001 vintage.

The next wine was darker, fuller, and rounder. So round and juicy that I first thought of Vosne Romanée. “No,” said Keith, while confirming that it was indeed a Côte de Nuits. My thoughts immediately switched to Charmes Chambertin in Gevrey, specifically from Domaine Rousseau. That proved to be the case. But I’d never have guessed that so velvety a wine could have come from the oven-hot 2003 vintage. But that’s what it was. What an achievement, to fashion so fresh and vibrant a wine in such a torrid year.

Now the 1995 Tignanello – another beauty. A deep blue-purple, with a wonderfully rich yet restrained scent, it initially made one think of a fine Pomerol or Saint Émilion. Then the Sangiovese asserted itself, showing a very Italian kind of rigour and verve. Made from 80% Sangiovese, 15 % Cabernet-Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet-Franc, it was a beautifully balanced wine, very long on the palate, and still able to improve for a decade or more.

Red number four was 1990 Wynn’s Coonewarra John Riddoch Cabernet-Sauvignon. Made largely from vines planted in 1891 and 1951, it was another wonder, showing the typical old vine traits: mellowness combined with power, depth, complexity. It reeked of eucalyptus, prunes, truffle, and dried figs and had an exceedingly rich, viscous flavour of considerable length. Almost porty, in fact. And unmistakeably, uniquely, Australian.

The last red, with its blackish colour and fabulous bouquet, simply had to be a Pauillac and equally certainly was an ’82: 1982 Château Grand Puy Lacoste. It was so full, and so superbly balanced, I at first took it for Mouton Rothschild. Then I realized it didn’t have quite that First Growth volume. A second then? “Lynch Bages?” was my first guess. A shake of the head. I named several of the more voluptuous Pauillacs , notably Pichon Lalande, while automatically eliminating both Batailleys, and Haut Bages Libéral, all of them tending towards the lighter end of the Pauillac spectrum. It turned out to be Grand Puy Lacoste. GPL is a splendid property but I’d never tasted one so full-bodied and rich as this. In fact it was massive! Nearly but not quite as weighty as Mouton and quite as voluptuous as Lynch Bages, it drenched the mouth with a celestial aftertaste that went on and on…

It will go on improving for two decades at least.

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© Frank Ward 2017

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