Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Chez Philip & Cathy II

August 2018. Another voyage of vinous discovery at Philip and Cathy.

It was a lovely summer’s evening and we took the aperitif in the garden, which is ringed by trees – an unusual feature of which is a resident albino squirrel. The wine was a sparkler, with tiny bubbles and a pleasant appley aroma. It smelled mostly of Chardonnay but I had a feeling there might be some lurking Pinot too. Though a very good sparkler, it lacked the kind of minerality, that subtle hint of chalk, limestone, and marine fossils, that marks Champagne apart. Our friend Keith hazarded “England?” He and I both guessed its age at around 10-12 years.


In fact it was barely four years old and was English: 2014 Herbert Hall Brut. It contained only 40% Chardonnay, balanced by 30% each Pinot Noir and Meunier. On reflection, this is not surprising: Pinots growing on English soil still tend to have a rather fugitive character and can, in fact, be lighter than the Chardonnay (it’s the reverse in Champagne), which adapts extremely well to an English environment. Surprisingly precocious at only four years, with an enticing savour of apple mousse, this should develop well over the next few years.


The next wine showed great personality, with the weight and presence of a grand cru. A vivid green-gold, it gave off a rich, complex nose of lychee, melted butter, and walnut, with a hint of bitter almond on the finish. I instantly thought of Sauvignon Blanc and of Sancerre. And a Sancerre of the highest quality. Given its phenomenal concentration and depth of flavour it was surely from a top grower and fashioned from very old vines – a top cuvée from François Cotat? When told that it wasn’t even French I was genuinely taken aback. Who on earth, outside France, could produce a Sauvignon of such depth and distinction?


It proved to be a Sauvignon from Marlborough, New Zealand: Matthews Lane 2012 “The Fuder” (Geisen Estate) – so named because it was matured in 1000-litre German oak fuders. One of those present, a devotee of N.Z. wines, declared that he’d never tasted anything to touch it in terms of sheer excellence. I believed him. A remarkable wine, bursting with personality, that went perfectly with a dish of melon and Italian ham.


We went on to sample a range of red wines that accompanied, respectively, fillet of beef with roast potatoes and spring vegetables; and an excellent range of cheeses.


The first red had a mature (ca 20 + years) look and smelled like a good Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc. It had plenty of character but was clearly past its peak, being edgy and marked by volatile acidity. While not in fact a Bordeaux – it was a 1992 red from Daumas Gassac – it was fashioned from 90% Cabernet-Sauvignon and tasted as though it WANTED to be claret! It would have been at its best 4-5 years ago.


The next red was a big leap in quality: 2010 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Poggione. With its vital, emphatic aroma of wild cherry and kirsch, it was immediately recognizable as Italian and, more specifically, showed copybook Sangiovese traits. Richly fruity and very satisfying even if still relatively closed, it will go on improving for a decade at least.


The instant I sniffed the following red I said “Australian!” and so it proved: 1994 Mount Edelstone Shiraz from Henschke. Very oaky, but in a savoury, engaging way, it delivered an aromatic punch composed of eucalyptus, spicy oak, underbrush, with hints of molasses. Mouthfilling and masterful, it also managed, in some mysterious way, to deliver hedonistic pleasure.


1983 Château Rauzan Ségla looked like a claret and tasted like one too. That’s because of the property’s remarkable terror. While its character was a bit muted I managed to guess Rauzan Ségla but had no idea of the vintage. It had unmistakeable Rauzan firmness and pronounced Margaux elegance but – the Château not being on form in those days – it possessed the framework but not the texture and complexity that was to re-emerge following a takeover by the current owners 13 years later, in 1996.


1993 Château Margaux was a real beauty. On the nose it expressed the very heart and soul of the commune of Margaux – subtlety, delicacy, tensile strength, complexity. Medium dark, medium bodied, and beautifully balanced (if lighter than usual), it exhaled such scents as blackberry, truffle, liquorice, and blackcurrant. 1993 was far from being a top vintage; but at Margaux they obviously pulled out all stops to make the finest possible wine – a wine that, if not of maximum concentration, had achieved an equilibrium that expressed the inimitable style and grace of this great property.


2007 Clos Des Papes was a monster of a wine. Physically heavy, very dark, and richly aromatic – if in a rather alcoholic way – it smelled not unlike a ripasso wine from Italy (I also found myself thinking of new world wines). Showing signs of overripeness, it was richly viscous and gave off a huge, spicy aroma of black fruit jams and raisins cooked in wine. Within a minute or two I was reminded of Christmas pudding in liquid form.


Now Clos des Papes is one of Châteauneuf’s very greatest properties, and has always stood apart from most of its neighbours because of its underlying finesse. This blockbuster, frankly, did not show well on this occasion. But I’m pretty sure it will come round in due course – say in 10-12 years. It’s a simple fact that even the best CDPs often go through a phase when they seem to double in volume, lose their freshness and acidity, and become, well, ungainly. But in due course they recover their equilibrium; and the acidity – always present but not always discernible – shows once again, giving precision to the whole.


1999 Château Guiraud had a very evolved, orange-gold colour. It was fat, viscous, and very sweet, with optimum concentration, smelling and tasting like tropical fruits (not least pineapple) and honeycomb. A slight trace of oxidation did not mask the wine’s density and honeyed richness, but did leave a slight rasp of bitterness.


© Frank Ward 2018 



“There is no doubt in my mind that you must be one of the best judges of wine in this country. Your ability to record clear and succinct tasting notes is second to none. Your subtle observations and mastery of the English language make your tasting notes a very interesting read.”


– P.J.Tuohy



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