It’s almost two years since I visited The Glasshouse in Kew (right by the Underground Station). On that occasion it was with the same bunch of people who come down to London from all over the UK a few times a year to share their passion for all things Tuscan. These guys even visit Toscana together, and I have to admit they do put my own cellar to shame when it comes to that region’s wines. As was the case on Friday last week.
It’s worth saying a little about The Glasshouse. It is part of the same stable as The Ledbury, Chez Bruce and La Trompette, owned by Nigel Platts-Martin and (in this case) Bruce Poole. Next year it will celebrate its 20th Anniversary, and it gained a Michelin Star way back in 2002. Although you’d describe it as “fine dining”, the atmosphere is nevertheless relaxed and friendly. The food is of a really high standard, as I hope the photos show, but as with the whole NPM stable, nowhere does a wine event quite as professionally as The Glasshouse.
Solosole “Pagus Camilla”, Bolgheri Vermentino 2015, Poggio al Tesoro – What a start. This is stunningly good. The fruit has a touch of ripeness yet it is fresh, dry, stony and aromatic at the same time. The finish shows a lovely salinity. It’s also worth noting the alcohol, 14.5%, but it doesn’t seem chubby in the slightest. The grapes are grown in a seven hectare plot by the Camilla River within the Sondraie vineyard, and the estate has been owned by Allegrini since 2002. I don’t recall a better Vermentino, at least for a very long time. Expect to pay £40+ but the quality is very high.
Panizzi “Evoé” 2013, IGT Toscana – I’m not sure why this wine is labelled as IGT nowadays. It used to be labelled as Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and it is certainly still Vernaccia. The style here is a long maceration on skins, followed by ageing in wood. These wines were all served blind, always fun, though I don’t claim any major successes (unlike some), but it was very clear that this is a maceration wine. With that texture comes, in this case, a dry minerality, but also an unexpected floral note. I did think this was Vernaccia, but put it older than 2013. In contrast to the first wine, this only showed 12.5% alcohol. Still loved it, though, beautifully balanced.
Riecine Chianti Classico Riserva 1988 and Riecine Chianti Classico Riserva 1997 – These were two of the stars of the show, for sure. John Dunkley and his wife bought Riecine, or what then was just a 1.5 hectare vineyard, from Badia a Coltibuono in 1971, and released their first (1973) vintage in 1975. Although no longer around at the estate, Riecine became synonymous with genius Australian winemaker Sean O’Callaghan, but he was only taken on in 1991 as a young intern, so only the second of these wines was made in the O’Callaghan years. Before that, the Dunkleys’ friend Carlo Ferrini was advising, and in fact the last vintage with which Ferrini is associated was 1997.
Although most of us felt that the first wine, the 1988, clashed a little with the otherwise superb cauliflower dish (see below, later), the wine itself was singing. Massively fresh, you’d never believe this is thirty years old. That purity which O’Callaghan seemed to make his own was there back then, perhaps showing the quality of the terroir in this corner of Gaiole. At the time of the vintage Decanter Magazine declared it a great year and praised Riecine Riserva in particular.
I have always had a general preference for Chianti Classico Normale, as opposed to Riserva (let alone the Gran Selezione malarkey). The soul of the Chianti hills lies therein, for me. But this astonishing 1988 shows why Riserva is a valid iteration of Chianti…if you can wait for it to mature. It is only then that Riserva becomes something very different. I wish I had a bottle of this. It would be a wine to save for my 60th.
The 1997 might well have seemed dull by comparison, but it didn’t. You’d be forgiven if you expected it to be reasonably mature, yet we all agreed it is really just transitioning to its secondary phase. I reckon that it tied with the 1988, and with the Barice Brunello below, for wine of the day (a closely fought battle of giants). The amazing longevity of these wines is well worth taking note of. It puts Sangiovese right up there with Nebbiolo, and with France’s most famous varieties.
Mastrojani Brunello di Montalcino 1993 – This wine was fading a little. There is still a bit of fruit, but as it sat in the glass a real aroma of vegetal decaying leaf matter took over, developing quite swiftly. At the same time, a few of us wondered whether it was served in the wrong glass for the wine. It seemed, as one person commented, just a little scalped, although not obviously faulty in any way.
Fontodi Flaccianello 1999, Colli Toscana Centrale – Flacianello Della Pieve is Fontodi’s 100% Sangiovese “supertuscan”, aged for 24 months in new French oak (Allier and Tronçais). The vines are densely planted and trained in the guyot system in the great amphitheatre of Panzano, the Conca d’Oro. It would come as no surprise then that Flaccianello can be a big wine in its youth, yet the richness and ripe fruit make this 1999 not only approachable, but truly delicious. I’m not sure why, but we all thought there was just a tiny hint of brett on this bottle, but if anything, it just enhanced the wine. Bet Jamie Goode has something to say on this in his new book.
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 1997 – Two or three years ago people were saying that this vintage was either at its peak or just over. In 2018 I would suggest that it probably does need drinking up if you have any, although of course it will vary from bottle to bottle. There’s a touch of spice but the fruit has largely faded. Initially you get a stately wine relaxing for an afternoon snooze, very pleasant, but to be fair, it did begin to dry out as it sat in the glass.
Baricci Colombaio Montosoli Brunello di Montalcino 2008 – Although one of the youngest wines on show, this really shone and I’d put it up there as one of my favourite wines of the day. The estate lies in the north of the DOCG, with vines on the famous Montosoli hillside. Interestingly, 1988 was not considered a stunning vintage for Montalcino. There were some contrasting views, with many commentators suggesting they were wines to drink early, but Jancis Robinson astutely noted that it was a vintage in which the best terroirs shone. Well, there are few Montalcino terroirs better than Montosoli.
The colour is lovely. The palate has a hint of dryness, but there’s still classic cherry fruit, silky as well. It’s very “old school”, suggestive of a wine aged in larger and older botti (Slavonian oak, maybe?). If it didn’t quite top the Riecine pair, certainly a WOTD contender.
Biondi Santi Rosso di Montalcino 2008 – Another 2008, and sadly this was the wine I took along. I say sadly because it was corked. I had figured that despite the vintage, this Rosso is well known to be long-lived, and of a high quality (low yields, 12 months in Slavonian oak). In fact I’d been looking forward to revealing that it was only a Rosso. Who knows what it might have been were it not for cork taint.
La Porta di Vertine Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 – This is another Gaiole estate, or rather I should say was. After less than a decade, La Porta di Vertine was (I believe) sold in 2016. By this time it had achieved a fine reputation, if perhaps a little under the radar in the UK, for low yielding Sangiovese wines made “naturally”, without additives.
The estate’s vines are on shale and limestone at around 500 metres altitude. The Riserva saw eighteen months in old, large, oak followed by a further year in bottle before release. The 2010 still has a fairly youthful, tannic, structure, enhanced I suspect by being served out of magnum. It’s rich and spicy, and alongside red and darker fruits, it has a lick of mocha or coffee grounds. There is, I understand, 5% Canaiolo blended in with the Sangiovese. Another impressive wine on which to finish the reds, but it will certainly blossom with further age.
Riecine “Sebastiano” IGT Toscana 2001 – This really is becoming a bit of a Riecine-fest! Sebastiano is a Trebbiano-Malvasia blend from old-ish vines (25-to-30 years plus) at around 450 metres altitude on limestone and clay. Biodynamically grown, as with all of Riecine’s production, the wine is made by two different harvesting methods. Some grapes are cordon-cut, on the vine, and left to dry before late harvesting. Other grapes are harvested early and left to dry indoors.
Although labelled IGT, Sebastiano is like a rich Vin Santo, showing lovely deep colour. Where it really scores is in its blend of honeyed roundness and fresh citrus peel acidity, absolute perfection. I used to always drink Vin Santo on Christmas Day, and I wish I had some of this for the next one. Sebastiano is only produced in exceptional vintages, and spends about a dozen years in oak. This 50cl bottle is from a production of just 2,500 litres. An expensive and amazingly complex treat with which to end a brilliant lunch.
Despite a few wines not showing their best, this lunch was such a pleasure. I know I said that there was an issue in matching the 1988 Riecine with the food, but these things happen. The standard of cooking at The Glasshouse is more than deserving of a Michelin Star. I know I eat “Michelin” far less than I used to, but I can still tell a good one when I see it, and you don’t need my inexperience to tell you how good The Glasshouse is.
We began with a starter of Orkney scallop sashimi with yuzu, white soy, enokis, sesame, ginger and chilli. All the flavours blended well in a deliciously fresh and palate cleansing whole. The sesame oil and soy dominated at first and then other elements, especially the ginger, came through.
Second course was a nice touch. One of us is vegan, and ate a vegan menu, but this vegan course was served to everyone. Roasted and shaved cauliflower with cashew milk, black truffle and soused king oyster mushrooms was a treat for us all, a range of subtle flavours. I thought the cauliflower’s well roasted flavour was outstanding, but this may have been what tipped the balance viz wine pairing with very old Chianti.
The main course of Lamb à la Niçoise, with olive oil (and olives), creamed potatoes and violet artichokes shone for me. The lamb was delicious, perfectly cooked, and textured. Pity me though. I have just come back from Yorkshire, eating what are openly described as “Yorkshire portions” on some menus. My stomach is consequently somewhat stretched. My eyes wanted seconds, though my head tells me I need to work on eating less for a while. Those artichokes were delicious too.
Dessert was chocolate, banana and pecan éclair with dulce de leche ice cream. I love dulce de leche, a confection which is made by heating sweetened milk with sugar until it reduces and caramelises. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s certainly one to increase the heartbeat of any devoted sugar lover. Add in a fresh éclair and, well…late lunch today and I almost can’t look at these photos.
Of course, this was an organised wine event with a set menu, and byo on the wines, but the standard of cooking here suggests that we should all try to get down to The Glasshouse more often. Check them out here. Whilst you are there, don’t forget to check out The Good Wine Shop, Kew, literally a two-to-three minute walk away.