Our Oddities Christmas Lunch took place yesterday at Brunswick House in Vauxhall (London), a completely new venue for us. The theme was Fizz and Fortified. The restaurant, which I’d been desperate to try for some time, really nailed it for us. A simple but well executed menu, really congenial surroundings, very attentive service, and two big tables for a total of eighteen people in the middle of a spacious room, surrounded by the other diners. Brunswick House comes highly recommended on many levels, and seems worthy of a reputation which has spiraled fairly quickly. The wine list looks pretty good too, although we took our own wine, obviously!
The menu at lunch provides a limited number of choices, but with plenty of variety. As you can see below, the price is especially remarkable and it represents superb value. We decided to take both a cheese course and a dessert, and the restaurant were very happy to accommodate that. I chose the duck liver parfait, cod main course, and chocolate dessert, plus the cheese, all of which were very good. I also heard very good things about the carrot starter. Thank you Brunswick House.
I will be relatively honest on the wines…it was our Christmas Lunch, and it’s fair to say that whilst we were all, without exception, well behaved, we certainly drank a lot, and alongside the dozen bottles brought along by members of our table of nine, there were numerous bottles which appeared from the guys on the other table. By the end it was a little anarchic, but I hope to mention almost everything which passed my lips.
Dom Pérignon 1973 (en magnum) – Hmmm! Start with a wine like this and where do you go after that? Brown, if more onion skin than gravy, the nose was pretty good for its age (though with obvious oxidative notes, more minims than quavers), doubtless the magnum effect. There were also bubbles to begin with, although they dissipated quite soon after pouring. It began complex, and remained so as it faded. At this age it was not typical Dom, but actually a profound wine, nevertheless. It goes without saying that it was a rare treat.
Vouvray Pétillant Brut 2005, Huet – This was, of course, completely overshadowed by the DP. It has less pressure than a fully sparkling Vouvray, and at a decade the Chenin is soft and the acidity less than one might expect. I’ve had this particular bottling (Huet also do a non-vintage pétillant) at a great age, although I’m not sure this 2005 would last another twenty-five years or so. I hope that those who tasted it (many who know Huet’s Vouvray still wines don’t know the sparklers) might be persuaded to look out for some aged examples.
Lanson 1996 – Lanson’s Gold Label Vintage is probably severely under rated, and this was one of my wines of the day from a purely quality perspective. Despite its age it began with a rapier thrust of acidity on the tongue, made all the more striking by the very fine bead and non-malolactic style. Despite two decades passing since harvest, the fruit retained its precision, but complexity came in the way which it was changing constantly in the glass. There was even cherry fruit, very prominent, at one point.
Franciacorta Satèn 2010, Bellavista – When I see a Bellavista wine I always start humming Nick Cave’s “The Curse of Millhaven”, but you are certainly not slumming it with Bellavista (the most obscure music pun to appear yet). The wine, for those who don’t know it, comes from Brescia Province in Lombardy. Satèn equates pretty much to the French term, “Crémant”. This wine is made from Chardonnay, although I think Pinot Blanc is technically allowed in the DOCG. It’s metodo classico, a pale straw colour, very dry, slightly appley and fresh. Probably a wine to drink rather than age, but one of the highest quality sparklers at this level which Italy has to offer.
Caluso Spumante “1968”, Cuvée Tradizione, Orsolani – Whereas Franciacorta has become a well known sparkling wine DOCG, Caluso is the opposite. The grape here, Erbaluce, is famous enough, in wine circles at least, for its sweet passito wines from the same region, whilst many Londoners at least know Tim Manning’s stunning dry Erbaluce, from Northern Tuscany. But I think we were all impressed by Orsolani’s bottle fermented version. Higher in alcohol than Champagne (13%), you’d call it super-dry, definitely a food wine for me, though it doesn’t lack underlying fruit. Simon, who brought it, said he thought it was the best example from a press trip, another unusual wine well worth seeking out. “1968” is the name of the cuvée, not the vintage.
Ferrari “Maximum” Brut, Trentodoc – Trentodoc completes our string of Northern Italian bottle fermented fizz. It’s a little bit cheaper than the Franciacorta, but, as with that DOCG, also made from Chardonnay. Non-vintage, this is another very dry, so food friendly, wine. Lots of nutty/bready notes and quite floral on the nose. Very good length too. Of course, the producer is one of the best known in Italian sparkling wine, and this is very high quality fizz. The fact that one UK regional merchant currently has it priced below £24 makes it a genuine bargain over many cheaper Champagnes.
Montlouis-sur-Loire Méthode Traditionelle Brut, François Chidaine – Chidaine is one of my favourite Loire producers, and every time I’m near Montlouis I always visit his shop, just outside the town on the banks of the Loire (not least because of the other carefully chosen producers whose wines are stocked alongside his own range). This is another pure Chenin Blanc, but the key here is that the vines are old, some up to fifty years of age. It’s one of the most well made Loire sparklers you’ll find. Fresh acidity with a great bead of tiny bubbles, you get flowers and peach stone, giving a wine which I’d use either as an aperitif, or a lunch time refresher, rather than as a dinner accompaniment, but that should in no way detract from a lovely wine. I did eventually guess this, after an embarrassing suggestion that it might be Savoie. Pay Chidaine a visit! Jacky Blot’s Taille-aux-Loups address is just down the road, in the hamlet of Husseau, as well. Then on to Cheverny…
Prisme .05, Champagne Guiborat – Richard and Karine Fouquet farm 8 hectares around the Côte des Blancs village of Cramant, although they sell off more than half of their grapes and bottle the rest. Prisme is a Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) made entirely from Grand Cru fruit and bottled as an Extra Brut (in this case a dosage of 2.5g/l). Around 10% of reserve wines are blended into the cuvée. This wine, in magnum, was from the 2005 harvest, bottled in April 2006, and disgorged April 2015. I’d never heard of this producer, yet served from the larger format it was drinking beautifully, as indeed many top 2005s are doing from bottle. A very pleasant surprise, and with that fine, almost mineral, quality indicative of Cramant fruit.
The third photo below is of the first wine to sweep in from our friends on the other table, the aptly named Bat-Nat (though what was wrong with Pét-Bat, guys?). A light wine, in colour and flavour, it’s made from Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier to you and me). It’s made by the team at 2Naturkinder, who are getting masses of underground press at the moment. They’re based in Kitzingen, a little to the east of Würzburg, in Germany. Former publishers who took over one parent’s vines with one mission – to make natural wines with nothing added and nothing taken out. The wine tastes pretty light (though it’s 12%), and only 800 bottles were made of the 2015 (first vintage, disgorged July ’16). A name to watch for fun wines made with care.
At some point Peter from the other side slipped us a taste of the delicious Cape Fortified 2008 from Swartland, produced under the Niepoort & Sadie label. You just know that when Dirk gets his white socks dirty in any collaboration it will be good, and he scores again here. A blend of old vine grapes from some of the more traditional Portuguese and Mediterranean varieties found in South Africa. A hard to find wine, not least because the EU doesn’t treat “Cape Port” too kindly, and not inexpensive too, so this was a treat to try for the first time.
The first fortified from our table proper was one of my stash of Equipo Navazos wines, Palo Cortado “Bota No” 47. Bottled (at 22% alcohol) in December 2013, it comes from the cellars of Gaspar Florido, the contents of which are now owned by Pedro Romero. This very wine was once bottled and sold as the incredibly rare “Ansar Real”. The contents of the bottle are very old, so it isn’t too surprising that it is very intense, too intense for some people. It’s a wine to sip in (preferably quiet) contemplation, rather than glug. But there’s also a wild side to it, almost a rawness of soul. It has something a little different, that breaks out of the constraints of how a sedate old brown sherry should age to the more conservative drinker. As an aside, I used hardly ever to buy Palo Cortado, yet I now find myself drinking more of it than I do Amontillado and Oloroso. It seems to have an intellectual side to it which increasingly appeals to me. I apologise to no one for making something I brought along another of my wines of the day.
Taylors 1985, Porto – We guessed hard at this. Vintage Port, of course, but vintage guesses tended to go older (I guessed Vargellas, so in the right producer ballpark, but way out on age). It’s often hard to describe the beauty of a nicely aged vintage from Porto, but elegant and smooth sums it up. You know, without me telling you, that there will be cigar box aromas, and fruit which goes on forever, with only a hint of spirit to give just enough of a tiny kick. You can still find this if you have around £100 to splash. If you do, it is well worth it.
Mavrodaphne of Patras 1944, Karelas Winery – This lovely wine obviously has a story which didn’t manage, in its full details, to make it over to my side of the table. The vintage, as the back label attests, is 1944, so this was made in German occupied Greece towards the end of the Second World War. For some reason, it seems (from a little research), that the wine was never bottled from the 10,000 litre wooden vat in which it has sat for well over 65 years. Around 1,000 bottles were produced, I’m not entirely sure when (the label looks very new), from 100% Mavrodaphne grapes, fortified to the level of a Fino Sherry. It’s brown with raisins, caramel and apricots dominating. It has amazing length and was astonishing. Like me, you may have tried a Mavrodaphne of Patras before. I’ve sought them out when in Greece. They are usually inexpensive and, to be frank, pretty commercial, in most cases. This is something entirely different, going to show how the fame of a once well regarded wine can be eclipsed by modern commercial interests.
Look at the bottle below. What do we think it might be? Well, it is unlabelled, of course, but the contents give it away as another Port. This time we have absolutely no idea of the producer, and age can only be guessed, albeit an educated guess. We didn’t have time for carbon dating but the person who brought it said it might be pre-20th Century, or perhaps up to around 1925. It reminds me of when an eminent Madeira expert poured a similar bottle, saying he didn’t know the vintage, only that it was pre-1800! In some ways, wines like this are museum pieces, which give us a thrill for their age more than their flavours. Yet this wine also reminded us of the great ability of fortified wines to go on, and on, and on…
I know the wines of Jean-Paul Brun (Beaujolais) pretty well, but I’d never tried “FRV” before. Slipping a sparkler of that colour in after the fortifieds was suicidal, but it was another wine from our friends, and I was really glad to try it (it’s not the first “Sparkling Beaujolais” I’ve tried, but they don’t come my way all that often). Very low (7.5%) alcohol, aromatic, light and medium-dry, wholly out of place for my alcohol sodden palate, but it made me interested enough to want to try it next summer, once the garden furniture can be safely left outside.
Plum Sake Liqueur! Nazawa Brewery, Japan – Perhaps if you can decipher the back label (magnify the photo below) you will find out more about this intriguing beverage. I should warn you that there were people there yesterday who did not like this one bit, who were not at all enamoured by its plummy sweetness and, it must be said, a very strong nose and flavour of almond, from the plum kernels, apparently (someone said it reminded them of Disaronno, the ubiquitous super sweet almond liqueur from Italy). I suppose it’s possibly because I have a secret Bakewell Tart crush, and also that after ingesting a certain quantity of alcohol I am game for this sort of thing, but I quite liked it. For me, as a coffee didn’t come my way to sober me up, it seemed a potentially risky business to ingest a few centimetres of this stuff, but I did so with pleasure, and without any incident. It’s only 11% alcohol, you kind of expect it to be higher.
I apologise for not mentioning a few other wines which made their way over to our table, after the point where my pen went back in my pocket. I think I may have desired a little snooze, although I managed to stay awake and take part in what I remember as a detailed conversation about Beaujolais Nouveau which Mr Uber must have found very bizarre, as we slunk back in our comfortable limousine, en-route to the after party at Winemakers Club. Here, notes went out of the window. The Heymann-Löwenstein Schieferterrassen Riesling 2012 was a great palate cleanser, but the Domaine Lucci (Anton von Klopper) Estate Pinot Noir “Jasper’s Vineyard” 2014 was stunning (ultra-fresh). After that I had to begin the long trek home. I know I missed a 2001 Salvioni Brunello, but hey, I think I’d had a pretty good innings.