Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

July Samplings in Kent

August 2014. The month of July got off to an excellent start with another evening with our friends Keith and Clare Powis in their home near Whistable. To accompany a sequence of dishes – pea soup, guinea fowl, an assortment of cheeses, and dessert – we had a fascinating sequence of wines from a whole range of vintages, regions, and countries.

a

As aperitif, a forceful, full-bodied Perrier-Jouet Belle Époque which showed great richness but was (to my taste) unduly bitter. A Margaret Thatcher of a wine, it brooked no opposition and took over full control of the palate. The 2007 Hermitage Blanc “Blanche” from Chave was altogether more amenable. To start with it was so all of a piece, so succulent, I thought it to be a Chardonnay. Bit by bit, though, I and the other guests homed in on the northern Rhône, and came up with the Chave name because of the wine’s matchless freshness and balance.

a

I kept some of this wine in my glass for the rest of the evening; it showed even better four hours later.

a

The first red was a 2001 Nuits St Georges vieilles vignes from Michel Gros. Unmistakeably a Pinot noir, it was also easily identifiable as a Côte de Nuits. I initially thought it to be a Morey St Denis because of a certain softness and roundness. Keith refuted this and eventually gave us the name of the commune: Nuits St Georges. I kicked myself for having forgotten that wines from Nuit’s northern end – the part near Vosne Romanée – often take on some of the latter commune’s voluptuousness. All the same, some typically Nuits grit began to show after a while. The ’92 Bandol from Domaine Tempier, that came next, was a hedonist’s delight: juicy, full of ripe fruit, and with real depth of flavour. It’s rare that one has the chance to enjoy a mature – and caressingly tasty – Bandol at the height of its powers: this characterful wine can remain obdurate for decades.

a

I seem to have developed an extra-sensitivity when it comes to Australian wines – which do, after all, have a very assertive style. As I inhaled the next wine I immediately declared “Australia”. It was a 1990 Petaluma Coonewarra blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon (88%) and Merlot (12%). I suppose it’s that characteristic, almost violent, smell of roast coffee, swarf, and eucalyptus that gives the game away. Almost black, it had a vast, spicy aroma of redcurrant, raspberry, and black fruits, with a jolt of cinnamon, and with plenty of toasty oak to boot. Still a bit rigid on the palate, it had an emphatic, very tannic flavour, was smoky as a pizza oven, and showed the sort of fruity acidity usually found in a much younger wine. At 24 years it clearly still had quite a way to go.

a

Next – and one of my favourite wines of the evening – 1988 Mondavi Reserve. At first I thought it was a Pauillac but, this being denied, went immediately to California, as it had the very special suavity and balance that’s the hallmark of that region’s top wines. “This has to be from somebody who’s a great admirer of Mouton-Rothschild,” I commented. My first guess was Opus One *, and the wine did indeed bear an uncanny resemblance to the early vintages of that growth, when the aim of the winemakers (one of whom was, of course, Robert Mondavi) was clearly to get as close to Pauillac style as humanly possible. A lovely wine, harmonious and velvety of texture, with a long finish. And with that quality of freshness that Hugh Johnson once called an essential trait in any wine, whatever its style or constitution. And only 13° alcohol!

a

The fifth red was 1986 Château Ducru Beaucaillou. Thrillingly dark yet shiny, it had a rich, specifically Ducru B. nose of enormous depth and power, suggestive of blackberry, black cherry, camphor, and many other almost unanalyzable sub-aromas. Smelling this, you knew instantly it’s a great wine. On the palate, optimum concentration, great depth, and immense length. Still extremely young, but just accessible enough to provide real hedonistic pleasure, it will all the same need another decade or two to attain a summit that will awe all those privileged to taste it at that point.

o

The 1970 Ducru that came next was quite wonderful, showing the kind of complexity, now, that the ’86 will deliver when it attains roughly the same age – ca 2030! But the faintest suggestion of oxidation on the very finish prompts the thought that the younger wine – whose creators had been able to draw on vast progress made in oenology over later decades, after the ’70 was made – will be even greater when it, too, arrives at that point of full maturity.

a

a

****

a

Keith, as explained elsewhere, runs a couple of wine tasting societies, one of them at Canterbury University. He wrote to me recently, explaining how he carried out a test at the latter, with the aim of establishing what length of time is best at which to decant a wine prior to its being drunk. Under the title of “The Effects of Breathing”, Keith decanted five bottles of 2009 Château Cantemerle at intervals of four and (in one case) eight hours – 0, 4, 8, 12, and 24. Here is his report:

a

“It was again a fascinating tasting. Four hours saw an increase in perfumes and elegance, at 8 hours the Merlot characteristics were dominant. Twelve hours was the best – the most harmonious and balanced, with all grapes in perfect relationship and long in the mouth. At each stage the wine became more velvety and rounded, with the 24 hours having the best mouthfeel. The fine-grain tannins and structure should ensure a long life. (One of the best young Cantemerles I have tasted.)”

a

He added that there was a split in voting – while the majority preferred the 12 hours to the 8 hours, a significant minority went for the 8 hours.

a

Needless to say, the time interval would have to be varied according to the age and maturity of the wine. While older wines need less time, some really obdurate oldies (I’m thinking of ’86 Mouton among others) can actually show better the day after decanting.

a

a

*****

a

a

* To read my notes on Opus One : A tasting of California’s most famous Red

a

o


© Frank Ward 2014

a

 

a

One Response to “July Samplings in Kent”

  1. […] August 2014. The month of July got off to an excellent start with another evening with our friends K… […]

 
%d bloggers like this: