More writing, same amount of wining…

There has, for some time, been too much wining and not enough writing. This has gone on long enough and I’ve decided it’s time to make a note of all the wine goings on that have been going on. September was manic. I don’t think I even spent that much time in London when I was working in London. It’s as if, we got double jabbed and that meant there couldn’t be a single platoon of wine drinking maniacs, doing the conga singing Sweet Chambertin and only stopping momentarily to do the macarena. There’s some Left Bank, Right Bank, Cardboard Box (very sustainable) in there too, before those of us with full-time jobs crawl back to actual fully functional offices. Trouble is, mine is also full of wine-loving maniacs, so it never stops. I fully appreciate there are bigger things to worry about, like the things people who glue themselves to roads worry about, but did I mention cardboard boxes?

I’d be a terrible criminal, I can’t even remember what I did at the weekend let alone at 2pm on Tuesday Mr Policeman so thank goodness, or Steve Jobs, that everything is documented by time and place in my little iPhone.  So, back to September where I was glowing from a tan and not tannins. 

Spain

The whole travel thing was more straightforward than I had anticipated and it was just such a relief to leave the country. A privilege too as those £9.99 flights somehow make their way into the checkout at near enough £150 and then you’ve got that two-day test bullshit and the rest. But again, such a relief. The first alcoholic beverage I had in Spain was a Tanqueray Sevilla Orange gin and tonic. It’s safe to say that the Spanish portions really drilled home the importance of a siesta and it did take me until at least 10pm to feel sober enough to head back out. Wine wise, I enjoyed a few house wines and reminded myself of the pleasure of a chilled Rioja but, at home, I put James through an awful lot of intense wine conversations so I did my best to try and not take that to Spain. I can only describe it as being ‘in the closet’.

Chrissy’s Hen Do

I had a wine tasting planned for my lovely friend Chrissy as part of the activities on her hen do. Then, her Mum called and suggested we try our way through the potential wedding wines. What a fantastic idea! I suggest that going forwards, anyone who happens to be getting married should make the wine tasting a group occasion. It’s very fun and also very revealing. We tried our merry way through several wines, whites, reds and sparkling and I have to say, I was most impressed by Sainsbury’s Prosecco. It’s in their Taste the Difference section and it’s outstanding. At £10 for a Prosecco from the steep hills of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area, a D.O.C.G prosecco nonetheless, I’m a bit taken aback by it all really. Try it for yourself! Another favourite was Waitrose’s Picpoul de Pinet Les Canots which seems to be gathering momentum with every vintage, always worth another try.

Château Palmer lunch at 67 Pall Mall

A highlight of my emailing career was when a certain Chris Myers appeared in my inbox suggesting a lunch, I love a lunch. Chris is the Export Director of Château Palmer and he has been there since 2013. I knew about Palmer, but I’d barely dipped a toe in really. It’s one of those Château’s with a weighty reputation, with recognisable labels and price tags to match. I organised a fun but intimate group of us and suddenly it transformed from a Palmer lunch to a 12-bottle lunch of glorious, frankly outrageous wines.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

I’m not sure who was responsible for this choice, but Ruinart is quite sentimental to me. It reminds me of romantic evenings in Paris. Is it just me or is it very much the go-to Champagne in restaurants in Paris? Or France in general. The freshness of the pure Chardonnay is a great mouth freshener, an aperitif, a fluffer, something to arouse the brain and prepare the palate before things get heavier.

Frerejean Frère’s Cuvée des Hussards 2012 Premier Cru

I had invited Louie-Joe Findlater who is the UK Director of Frerejean Frère, which is actually becoming one of my favourite champagne houses. They’re based in Avize and the company was founded by Guillaume, Richard and Rodolphe Frerejean-Taittinger, they went into business in 2005 after making champagne for friends and family and realising they were pretty good at it. The 2012 vintage ended up being a horizontal tasting alongside Pol Roger and it was quite the thrill as they were just so different. This Cuvée was fantastic, everything you want as an aperitif, vibrant, arrestingly fresh but rounded and reassuringly balanced too. 

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012

In hindsight, this wasn’t the most accurate horizontal tasting I’ve ever done seeing as one was 100% Chardonnay and the other wasn’t, I’m guessing that matters? Anyway, same same, but different. We had a Pol Roger employee present in the form of the vibrant and spectacular Fikayo, @hautsomm_ on Instagram, which definitely added points to the Pol Roger. This was a much more recognisable style of opulence and richness. Not quite as moreish (some people hate this word, apologies if you’re one of them) as the Frerejean Frère’s Cuvée des Hussards but a touch more, stop in your tracks and think about it, does that make sense? 

Frerejean Frère’s Vieilles Vignes VV26

At this point, Chris, who’d planned this as a Château Palmer lunch is starting to look slightly alarmed. We’re on wine number four, Sommelier Emanuel Pesqueira was opening a 5th that still wasn’t Palmer and so I decided to reassure Chris that we were professionals and the Palmer would still get our full-blown affection and palates. This Cuvée was, for me, heaven. On the nose it was literally like walking into a boulangerie at the exact moment the baguettes came out of the oven, so doughy and thinking about it makes me well up a little. The doughy notes were balanced out by a rich acidity on the palate, it was perfect. It is 85% Chardonnay and the remainder is Pinot Noir, I could drink it all day long.

Kumeu River, Mate’s Vineyard, Chardonnay 2018

This wine was because of a man called Xavier Rousset MS, who is fabulous and for a long time, was the youngest person to have passed his Master Sommelier exams. When I asked if he was especially talented he said, “No I just worked fucking hard.” We love Xav, he’s great. Which means The Black Book in Soho is great, as is Café Comptoir in Mayfair, Blandford Comptoir, Marylebone, Greenwich Kitchen and finally, the TRADE hospitality app, which you need if you don’t already have. So is the Burgundy orientated Cabotte City, which I also need to write about after a splendid Beaujolais dinner. Anyway, Kumeu River is quite a well-known, top tier brand now from New Zealand and rightly so. This is Chardonnay as I adore it, rich, commanding, buttery, tropical and 2018 must have loved and caressed it to present it at its finest.

Vin Blanc de Palmer 2017 

Chris finally had his own wine to tell us stories about, and we were like eager students, ready to learn. Vin Blanc de Palmer came about when the Château rediscovered white wines in the late 1990s after just two bottles of the 1925 Vin Blanc were found in the cellars. Imagine that! How exciting. It must have been a relief to taste them and discover they weren’t half bad and so the white wines were reincarnated and Palmer decided to replant Muscadelle, Sauvignon Gris and Loset. The re-release of Vin Blanc came in 2007. It’s very hard to come by and, like all wines I seem to taste at 67, a complete privilege to have had the honour to try. A French friend of mine once told me that something I thought was a weed underfoot, was infact chamomile. You know those fragrant little tangles of miniature pineapples you see on tracks? Maybe it’s a countryside thing. Regardless, crush a chamomile bud in your fingers and this is what Vin Blanc de Palmer is, pure tropical freshness with astonishing balance. Beautiful.

Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Chenevottes, Thomas Morey, 2015

I believe that this was produced by another wonderful guest, Gearoid Devaney MS, who I met alongside Xavier funnily enough as they co-founded Black Book in Soho. It was perhaps a memorable first encounter for them for all the wrong reasons, I tragically can’t remember it. All you need to know is that it was after a very long lunch on the day that bars and restaurants reopened after lockdown and it was an exceptional, very long lunch. Gearoid has one of those lines of experience where you just go ok, wow, this is some serious wine knowledge and talent. It’s not something you’ll find out from him though, only research, as he’s far too humble to admit to it.

Onto the wine, a Chassagne-Montrachet, so attempting to remain consistent to Chardonnay after the Kumeu River. I feel I need to just mention that we don’t just finish one wine and move onto another, there are a very startling number of glasses on the table at this moment in time. But it’s also excellent as it means you can compare and contrast and most importantly learn. The producer, Thomas Morey, produced his first vintage from this Domaine in 2007. However, the history of the Morey family in Chassagne-Montrachet dates back to the 17th century and Thomas Morey belongs to the tenth generation of this Chassagne family. The acidity of this wine was very noticeably perfect, giving that crisp zingy note of freshness that was encapsulated in just the right amount of oak. Can imagine it’s going to age splendidly!  

Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru, Domaine Dujac, 2013 

This was Michele’s bottle, introduced blind and guessed by the one and only Fikayo. I love watching people blind taste, you watch as their brains go through a portfolio of hard-earned knowledge. It takes the brave to blind taste, some of us are too worried about sounding silly. I’ve learned that in the company of good people, no guess is too silly and they will mostly just gently steer you towards the answer. Domaine Dujac has an almost celebrity status now, they are certainly one of the many outstanding Domaine’s of Burgundy. The company as we know it today was founded in 1967 by Jacques Seysses after he decided to chase his dream and purchase Domaine Graillet in Morey-St Denis. By 1969, Jacques had created a showstopping debut wine with his 1969 vintage. Today, Jeremy and Alec, the sons of Jacques and his Californian wife Rosalind, run the estate day to day. 

The wine isn’t what I expected though if I’m completely honest. I thought maybe for 2013 it would have a bit more meat, but it was still a bouncy little young thing. I was worried about my opinion of it actually, thinking maybe it was just me, what if I was off the mark, but I’ve had a little look over on Jancis Robinson and the description does fit what I felt perfectly, of course: “Light crimson. Nervy and lively. Round and violets and dry end. Chalky finish. Wonderfully fresh but light. Bring on the flesh, please!” However, this tasting was in 2014, so quite a few years have passed since. This wine is going to live forever, or is it? Looking into 2013 some more, and Dujac in particular, in would appear owner and winemaker Jeremy Seysses was considering deacidification. This is a process where the acid in wine is basically given Rennie, it is entirely legal. I haven’t tried enough of the 2013 vintage to really make a measured guess of what this high acidity means today, nor have I tried enough Burgundy wine across the board to know what I should have expected. But if someone was to ask me if they should bring one up from the cellar, I’d still 100% yes, it’s always good to double check these things. 

Château Palmer, Alter Ego 2017
Merlot 53% Cabernet Sauvignon 41% Petit Verdot 6% 

The relief from Chris at this point that we were still marginally sober and finally onto his wines was palpable. It was the reason we were all there, eating fantastic food at 67 Pall Mall, to experience a snippet of Château Palmer. The Alter Ego wines were introduced in 1998 as a new way to experience the complexity of the fruit they were producing. The aim was to produce wine, so expertly blended and selected that you can taste some of that signature richness alongside the purity of the fruit, straight from the barrel. 

2017 was a year saved by the swell, or the Gironde if we’re not looking for rhymes. It was reported that there was a significant lack of rainfall and a mild February and March. The vines were late risers, only coming out of their winter dormancy in late March and into the first half of April. Then, during the nights of 27th and 28th April, the Bordeaux region was struck by a wave of frost. Thankfully, the river would protect the majority of Château Palmer’s vineyards and after the weather picked up in May producing ideal conditions for flowering, things were looking up. It was a mixed season after May, plenty of rain and this is something I didn’t know was a thing…the rains of September speeded the maturation of the skins which led to an early harvest, beginning on 20th September. Another day, another 10,000 things I don’t know about wine. 

Thankfully, knowledge doesn’t get in the way of enjoyment and this was one of those moments of ‘god I just f***ing love wine so much.’ How can it be this good! It had this herbaceous depth, like stepping into a blanketed forest. So much depth and yet such easy easy drinking, which wine should be shouldn’t it? Every single Palmer wine that we tried had the perfect tannins, and I don’t know what they do for the level of consistency but like ballet dancers they were, exquisite balance. Interestingly, on the Berry Bro’s website it says, ‘A good wine but not outstanding,’ which is bollocks. 

Château Palmer, 2011
55% Merlot 45% Cabernet Sauvignon

2011 was another tricky year for vineyards, Château Palmer said, “The 2011 vintage will remain in our memories as the most precocious of the 2000s.” Things started out ok, then a freak hail storm came down on June 4th. As I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve been out in a hail storm yourself, they can be catastrophic to anything delicate, humans included. (There are fascinating systems that exist now to prevent hail forming including balloons, but more on that in the St-Emilion blog.) The hail on June 4th came at the perfect time, just after the flowering but before the fruit had properly started to develop so all was not lost, but the yield was going to be significantly reduced. This was followed by a dry spell until the 14th July where the young sensitive berries suffered, some literally withering and falling from the vine. The Château reported, “After such an extreme month of June, the rain returned mid-July and the temperatures cooled. The vine recovered. Véraison went smoothly in favourable conditions. At the end of the month of August, the sun came out and was our faithful companion throughout harvest. After the great 2009 and 2010 vintages with their unique balances, 2011 has a classical structure with an alcohol level inferior to 13.5%.”

Château Palmer, 2005
MERLOT 40% CABERNET SAUVIGNON 53% PETIT VERDOT 7% 

Château Palmer 2005 (said slowly and with emotion.) I’m always telling people that grapes love to struggle, and if they aren’t that interested in wine, it usually gets them interested, bizarrely. Especially farmers, it is so alien to them that a crop will be better without their help, without their input into the soil, without their weed killing efficiencies. It goes without saying that winemaking is a labour of love, but it’s extraordinarily different to arable farming in the UK. What was sensational about 2005 was the fact it was a very dry year. The notes on the vintage are so interesting to me, and this is what they said: 

“No one in France can remember drought conditions of such magnitude over such a long period (57% less rainfall than usual), although temperatures were never as high as during the 2003 heat wave. We carefully removed all the suckers – twice – as well as the side shoots in order to help the vines cope with reduced water consumption. This led to perfectly well-nourished grapes. After excellent flowering in early June, summer was excessively dry. Just like many other great vintages, this called a halt to premature growth. Drought conditions had two major effects on the fruit: 

– small berries, meaning very low yields
– gradual concentration of flavour compounds in the grapes, very promising in terms of quality.”

Small berries and low yields can be bad for the winemakers because they often can’t make as much wine, but they frequently create unicorn wines. Wines made from vines where only the fittest have survived. This, for me, is where magic meets winemaking. The struggle truly IS real.

I’m concerned too that this is only September and not even all of it and it’s now November, but that’s the end of Part 1 of what Georgie’s been up to lately. Cheers!

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