It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m of an age, well, not too old, where I still remember as teenager sitting around with friends listening to vinyl, discovering together a passion for bands we’d never heard before. I guess people with a passion for all sorts of things gather together to share, like book clubs, or art groups who gather round a model to draw from still life. But passionate wine lovers often do it with style, or perhaps excess, depending on your perspective.

Some of our wine drinking, that which doesn’t go on behind closed curtains in the privacy of our own homes, or by the side of our Tuscan swimming pools (joking there), takes place at organised events, such as the regular Oddities lunches which Dave Stenton and I put together. But sometimes a mate just happens to be flying into London and a group of us go out for dinner. Sometimes? Quite often, my family reckon.

I wrote earlier in the summer about one such dinner at 28-50 when a friend, let’s call him Professor B, flew in from Spain. This week we were able to enjoy his company for a second time this summer. We were back at 28-50’s Marylebone outpost again, chosen because the food is good, they understand serving fine wine and, in certain situations can be persuaded to let long standing customers bring a stash of bottles (for a reasonable corkage fee, of course).

After a glass of the restaurant’s La Guita Manzanilla to whet the appetite and quench our thirst on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of “summer”, we began in the customary way: a bottle of fizz. We taste blind with a quick reveal, and pretty much everyone nailed this as a Côte des Blancs Chardonnay. I guessed Diebolt-Valois but said it would probably turn out to be Salon. I laughed when it was revealed to be their sister house, Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2004. I’ve had this several times, though not recently, and I’m a massive fan of both this cuvée (a big step up from their NV BdeB), and this vintage of it. Very much classic Chardonnay with good fruit and a decent bit of maturity. I loved it. It’s one of the (relative) bargains of the region.

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The first still white was a real mystery, especially when told it wasn’t a white Rioja, nor even Spanish. I don’t think any of us guessed it was Portuguese, but it was a white Bairrada 1994, Quinta das Bageiras. I think it’s made from Maria Gomes with Bical. There’s a dry lemony citrus and a herby note. The colour suggests age but it’s still remarkably fresh. Quite profound in its way, and a real reminder how we forget Portugal as a source of classic, high quality, whites which have something different to say. Okay, this vintage is not going to be commercially available today. I’m not sure they even have a UK importer, although I think US readers would be in better luck. Such old wines are a treat. “Vinho Premiado” indeed!

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Our second white was from a producer in the Côte de Beaune who has become something of a darling of the wine fraternity. He goes by the friendly acronym of “PYCM” – Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. In just a decade P-Y has managed a near impossible task for Burgundy, building a domaine of nearly ten hectares, plus bought in grapes as a micro-negoce, from around Puligny, Chassagne, Meursault and Saint-Aubin. We drank a Chassagne Caillerets 1er Cru 2010 which we thought was older (I’ve probably drunk too much taut and mineral Roulot from this vintage), but was a truly lovely drop, drinking now but no hurry. P-Y is the eldest son of Marc Colin, and has wine running through his veins. He’s shaping up to be one of the stars of the future.

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Our first red was my own offering for the evening. There seemed a degree of certainty as to the origins of this wine, though we were not in fact in the Northern Rhône (exactly what they were meant to think, LOL, as they say). Tim Kirk makes, in my opinion, one of the finest wines blending Shiraz with Viognier in the world. That’s saying something, but the first twenty years of my life in wine were spent adoring the very finest wines of the Northern Rhône, until the regular purchase of them became prohibitative. The nose is just so refined here (I do apologise for eulogising my own wine, it seems in poor taste, but I was so captivated by it). Everything about the Clonakilla Canberra District Shiraz-Viognier 2005 seemed to fall into place as I’d hoped. Fruit, structure, softening tannins, maturity and length. Several people have since told me how highly they rate this 2005 vintage, but Tim continues to produce stunning cuvées outside the National Capital, over towards Lake George. It’s a cliché to say that this tastes just like a top (I mean top) Côte-Rotie, but it does.

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Guado al Tasso 1995, Antinori is one of a breed, the “Supertuscans”, to which that epithet has been self-granted by a few too many wannabe examples. Yet this blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and less Merlot, with a tiny smidgen of Syrah deserves that honour without doubt, on the basis of this well aged bottle. It has weight but it isn’t big, nor blowsy. The blackcurrant fruit of the Cabernet comes through nicely, in an elegant way. It hails from the estate of the same name in Bolgheri (previously Tenuta Belvedere), and was probably seen in the Antinori stable as a replacement for Sassicaia when the company had to give up the marketing of that icon. It may lack, as Nicolas Belfrage MW suggests in his last book on Tuscany (Aurum Press, 2009), “the subtlety of Sassicaia or the opulence of Ornellaia”, but at over twenty years of age it’s a majestic beauty. And if Winesearcher is to be believed, you can probably pick this up for around £65/bottle, taxes included. Not bad at all.

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All the wines so far may, to people who know my current drinking habits, seem pretty classic, but I don’t think it unfair to say that for the attendees on Wednesday night, they were ever so slightly off-piste. That can’t be said of the last red. Don’t think that just because I have a section of Bordeaux in literally the darkest and deepest recesses of my small cellar which seems rarely to see the light of day, I don’t like it. I do. It’s just that a bottle of Ganevat from Jura, or an Austrian Grüner is always closer to hand, and probably more to the taste of those I drink most wine with these days. But when a good Bordeaux comes out it’s a real treat for me, especially when (as usually happens) a so-called lesser vintage comes up trumps.

Léoville-Las-Cases 1994, St-Julien was the first vintage at this so-called “super second” that Jean-Hubert Delon had a hand in making. In 2010 James Lawther MW described the wine as “Restrained and backward in style. Plenty of dense extract. Powerful – even robust – tannic frame.” (The Finest Wines of Bordeaux, Aurum, 2010). Today it has shed any backward quality, yet as a maturing wine it still shows classic restraint. The core of the Châteaux’s vines are located between the village of St-Julien and Château Latour. Some people attribute a Pauillac quality to Las-Cases as a result. I’m not expert enough in the nuance of the gravelly hummocks sloping down to the Gironde between these communes to comment, but there’s still a nice, and really classical, sedate but structured, feel to this bottle. Exceptional for a ’94, I’d say. One attendee got this spot on, wine and vintage. There may have been a small element of “read the man, not the wine” to his achievement, but I don’t under estimate him for it. This blind tasting game is tough, but sometimes highly rewarding. Well done Ray!

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Well, that looks like we’re done…except you probably know by now what happens every time a group of wine fanatics get together. “I brought this as a backup. We may as well open it if you would like to try it”. Well, all I can say is that the generosity of wine lovers is without equal. Mr PYCM, who unfairly still remembers his corked wine from least time (which he generously replaced from the 28-50 list), pulled out another from the same stable. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey St-Aubin 1er Cru “en Remilly” 2013 was delicious. Thanks Ian. Of course we all got the producer in ten seconds, but I was especially pleased. This St-Aubin is at the more affordable end of P-Y’s holdings, it’s a nice site in what is without question one of the up-and-coming villages of the Côte de Beaune now that land in the “Montrachets” is so expensive. I’ve got some 2011 of this, which I must open. The ’13 was drinking beautifully.

So another good evening. The food at 28-50 always provides a great base for the wine without dragging our attention away from that focus. That’s not faint praise, the cooking is solid here without trying to be trendy or nouveau. A charcuterie platter, burrata (a simple cheese blending mozzarella and cream) with girolles and salad, and belly pork were my choices. The evening was only slightly spoilt by the coincidence of another Southern Rail strike (there was one on the day of our last get-together), affording me a longer than usual trek over to a Thameslink station and an extended train ride home. It was my own fault. I’d drunk too much, but thankfully not by a lot. At least a couple of people said they regretted the post-dinner pint, which being an out-of-towner with a crap train service precluded.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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