We had loosely termed this the Christmas Oddities, which might be stretching it too far when this ninth lunch in the series took place on 4th December, yet there’s no doubt that most of the people present approached Rochelle Canteen with the sort of excitement and expectation others reserve for Christmas Day itself. The food at Rochelle is a major cause of that excitement, for sure. But there was also a sense that good as previous lunches have been, the attendees (made up this time largely of regulars and others who’d been to at least one previous Oddities) were going to pull out all the stops for this pre-festive feast. And that proved spot on correct.
Alcides and the team in the kitchen offered up a set menu of astounding quality, consisting:
– Pork belly ham, radishes & celery salt – Duck belly rillettes
– Braised ox tail, pickled walnut, celeriac mash and black kale
– Steamed marmalade pudding with custard
1. Selosse Brut Initiale NV – This Blanc de Blancs was disgorged in November 2011, so it has had plenty of post-disgorgement ageing, yet first sip introduced a very young wine, quite tight and mineral (I’m sorry but I insist on using this term, discredited in some quarters, for a wine like this). Despite the fine line of acidity here, there’s a big wine underneath. Lucky enough to take the first (QA of course) sip and the last, I probably experienced this wine’s true magnificence more than anyone else. By the end of the bottle I felt it was singing.
2. Clos du Papillon 1978, Domaine de la Bizolière, Savennières – If the Selosse posed the threat of a tough act to follow, then this old Chenin matched it. It had amplitude, of course, but it’s a gentler wine, delicious and mellow, honeyed yet with lime and other stuff that the more verbose might chime as acacia, linden, quince and stewed apple, or whatever. Well, actually, not so much of the tarte-tatin in this instance. Graceful is the adjective I think fits best. Technically off-dry but now bereft of any meaningful sweetness, leaving just soft complexity, justifiably considered one of the Loire’s grandest wines.
3. Vin de France “Bu N’Daw” 2012, La Grange de Quattre Sous – This must rank as a real oddity, a Petite Arvine made by one of the great rebels of the Languedoc, Hildegard Horat-Diop. Hildegard worked in Switzerland, though not in wine, before moving to Assignan, near the AOP of St-Chinian. This wine is no mere oddity though. It’s intense and powerful for this excellent Valais grape, and the quality is high. Kermit Lynch has called Hildegard’s wines “grand crus”, which is no mere lame compliment. This is good, and for around £20, not over-priced.
4. Disobedience 2011, Mythopia – Mythopia, a name redolent of unknown pleasures and mystery. We are in Switzerland’s Rhône Valais proper here, and the village of Arbaz (not far from Sion), but our grape for this wine is generally more well known in the Vaud – Chasselas (aka Fendant here). Picture real mountain vineyards surrounded by alpine pasture. Smell the wild flowers and listen to the pollenating bees. An idyll worthy of the name, no? I hope ginger spice and leaf mould doesn’t turn you off – at the table it induced warm appreciation of gentle complexity from a producer who many natural wine lovers have heard of, but who for most remains myth-ical. An orange wine with around 35 days skin contact, then around two years in old wood. Described by others as chalky, it’s a wine of texture above all. Impressive. Visit www.mythopia.ch to learn more about this special producer/place.
5. Breg 2000, Gravner, Gorizia – Some wines remain a myth, others a legend. Breg is such a wine. But our example pre-dates the amphora turn which made Gravner into the creator of a modern wine style born out of deep history (although we all know amphorae have been in use inter alia in Georgia and Portugal for a very long time). This 2000 is a masterful wine, the nose still redolent of skin contact, the colour still gently orange. Where the professional wine writer must justify with some well constructed adjectives, the enthusiast is entitled to substitute “WOW!!!”. That, I’m afraid, says it all. A fifteen year old Breg is, for me, pure privilege, I’m afraid.
6. Rosé 2004, Chateau Musar – This Bekaa beauty is hardly a mystery to Oddities attendees, yet will always be welcome at the communal table. Whilst so many know the red, even available in my local Waitrose supermarket, the white and pink provide many of us with as much pleasure, though we may imbibe them less often. A strawberry nose accompanies a lovely acid-fresh palate which lingers long. A testament to many things – perseverence and a vision which brings as much pleasure as it demands respect, to name two.
7. “Corail” 1990, Château d’Arlay, Côtes du Jura – This is a pale red (coral) made from five varieties (mainly about 50% Pinot Noir with Trousseau and Poulsard) is described by Wink Lorch in her book Jura Wine thus: “Corail deserves to be loved for its originality, but is aged far too long in old wood”. Yet for some reason this 25-year-old amazed a largely burg-ophile audience. Despite the grape blend, it was redolent of much older Red Burgundy, many people putting it older by a decade or two. This estate, let’s be honest, has not approached the summits of Jura winemaking, certainly not in the 30 years since I first bought Comte Alain de Laguiche’s wines. Yet somehow this bottle struck a chord with us, and was in fine condition. Lovely.
8. Vin de France “Rybeyrenc” 2011, Thierry Navarre – Rybeyrenc is a grape variety. Don’t feel any pangs of ignorance, I’d never heard of it either. There are just two hectares of it in Languedoc. It produces a simple wine of 11% alcohol with vivid strawberry fruit. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with pure drinkability. The nice thing about these lunches is that we get wines which, like olive oil, rise to the top, and others which provide just as much interest but in a different way. This was such a wine. Have a read of Andrew Jefford (on Saint-Chinian but which opens by touching on on this vineyard) in Decanter. It’s a lovely, evocative piece.
9. Jeff’s Bosnian Red! – We sometimes get a chance to drink the product of an English garden, wines made by an attendee. Usually they are better than you’d expect. This white label hails from Bosnia, made by an attendees’s daughter-in-law’s mother. The tradition of home winemaking is a way of life for many, perpetuated even in exile, as with the ancient lady who has a garden full of vines down the road from me. This wine, made somewhere in Bosnia, did stink a little, to be quite honest, but the palate was more than honest, being simple but drinkable. In some ways, more honest than some of the natural wines I drink when they go badly wrong. So we all enjoyed trying this. Certainly not the worst wine I’ve drunk this year, by a long way…and that is saying something very positive.
10. Shvo Vineyards Red 2010, Galillee – Quite alcoholic (14.5%), BGSM blend (Barbera/Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre). Soft, Syrah dominating the nose, some structure, a very pleasant addition to the lunch. Their web site is under construction, and Google Translate wasn’t a great help so further information on this wine was unavailable, but if you want to know more I’d ask for Paul at Roberson. Alternatively, see what Jamie Goode has to say more eloquently and expertly than I can on Wine Anorak, here.
11. Perricone “P” 2013, Francesco Guccione, Cerasa – Guccione make lovely wines in Northwest Sicily, about 35 kilometres from Palermo and not far from one of the island’s greatest treasures of romanesque architecture, Monréale. The estate’s winemaking history goes back just eight years, although the family has a longer history as grain farmers. “P” sees about 18 months in botti and is a lovely example of this grape variety, one which was formerly a blending grape only in Sicily, but now can even be found as a sappy new varietal in UK supermarket Marks & Spencer (from large producer Caruso e Minini). This was lovely not for complexity again, but for pretty much topping the tree of drinkability. Place it alongside a Barbera, a Beaujolais or a really good Côtes du Rhône and this wine will likely come out on top. Check out all the Guccione wines at Winemakers Club.
12. Vinsanto 2003, Hatzidakis, Santorini – I didn’t guess this blind at all. First attempt, Moscato Passito from Pantelleria, second attempt the same from Valle d’Aosta’s Chambave (well, I know this man is a great Italophile). Dark brown in colour, sweetly moreish, but with really good balancing acidity. Of course, I love this producer’s Assyrtiko, but I’ve never had their Vinsanto, and what a treat. Pure concentrated nectar. It was a match made in heaven for our steamed marmalade pudding, which matched it sip for spoonful in both debauchery and quality.
13. Sangiovese 1997, Di Bruno, Santa Barbera – Lunch over, at Oddities you’ll see people shiftily shuffling for their bag to see whether they can pull out their (ahem) reserves. First up, our local lawyer’s obscure Californian, a delicious 14.5% fruity Sangiovese which I would have sworn was an old Rioja, for which consummate ignorance I hang my head. I’ve drunk a few Californian Sangiovese in my time, but none this old, nor perhaps this balanced. As for the producer, new to me.
14. Langhe Freisa “Kyé” 2003, Vajra – Next out of the bag, a wine from our specialist Burgundy merchant, from a grape known to excite our own present Burgundy expert. Hailing from high vineyards in the comune of Barolo itself, Kyé undergoes a long fermentation before long (for this grape) ageing in Slavonian oak (12-18 months). The result is the most renowned of all Freisas, and as far as I’m aware, the most expensive (today, approaching £30 retail, a fact which astonished the person who brought this old bottle). It is, indeed, serious Freisa, and quite stunning in its own right.
15. Palo Cortado La Bota Punta 48, Equipo Navazos – This hails from a solera at Pedro Romero of Sanlucar. The estimated ages of the wines assembled for this bottling are 50-80 years old, and as the EN marketing says, they provide a real, rare and diminishing opportunity to taste genuine Sherry history. This wine weighs in at 21.5% alcohol. Describing it is difficult. There’s an intensity here like almost nothing else, which some people (not me, for sure) found too much. I’d describe the experience (not the flavours) as more akin to drinking old Madeira. It’s a world class wine, but as with the finest old Red Burgundy or well aged Vin Jaune, fifty percent of the pleasure, at the very least, comes from the profound bouquet. The nose is so good you’d not feel wholly cheated if the glass was whisked away from you. But when you taste the wine you need to ensure it’s the final glass of your session. If you don’t believe that it is possible to measure length not in tens of seconds but in tens of minutes, I suggest you seek out a half bottle of this, or one of its sister bottlings.
So which wines were most appreciated? The Selosse, the Loire Chenin from Savennières, Gravner’s Breg, d’Arlay’s light red Corail, Guccione’s Perricone, the Greek Vinsanto of Hatzidakis, Vajra’s super-Freisa and Equipo Navazos’ intense Palo Cortado, at least down my end of the table. The pleasure of Oddities, however, is always the food and the lively debate as we prove our credentials as wine lovers through the pure joy expressed whilst trying all these wines.