The evening was a celebration for us winning Cotes du Rhone Wine Merchant of the Year, UK………… the prize, a trip to the Rhone Valley!! (Kate Whittle, our sales and marketing manager, has recently returned, having been a guest of the Chave family among others…. we thought we would include in the tasting Yann Chave`s famous Hermitage from the excellent 2009 vintage).
Thank you everyone for last night. It was a real thrill, first tasting our way around Northern Rhone (the reds 100% Syrah: Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph, Hermitage), then travelling South (the reds all Grenache based blends: Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape), an excellent demonstration of the two distinct Rhone styles, clearly described by our guest speaker of the evening, Jeremy Lithgow, of Charles Taylor Wines (a key supplier for some time of both Rhone and Burgundy). Moreover on the table this evening we had in store some truly great houses: Domaine Yann Chave, Domaine du Tunnel, Domaine Michel Ogier, Domaine la Bouissière, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Bosquet des Papes….. some of the best Rhones you`ll ever taste ….However, before we get to the reds, a few words about those curiously delightful whites: The first wine, the aperitif, Lirac Blanc by Lafond Roc Epine, was from the South (so technically out of place, since we were travelling North to South), but frankly it was an inspired choice to whet the appetite and no-one minded the geography. It had ample acidity and freshness, yet weight too, giving it real punch. A good introduction to Rhone and the spark of an idea of what was to follow. The second wine, the Viognier de Rosine, was even more of an eye-brow raiser! It is not unlike Guigal`s Condrieu but two-thirds of the price, emitting the telltale scents of Viognier: violet and lavender; on the palate it had rich, soft scented fruits, of apricots and peaches. Our chef Tony Bell, who was on top form again, started the evening by matching this fascinating wine with Cassolette of seafood with fennel cream, It was untested but happily worked well. In the past we have enjoyed Condrieu with crab, lobster and pork belly, the richness of these foods perfectly matched with the richness of Condrieu, and the other textbook match is creamy curry (can`t wait to try this one with the Rosine!). The last white, at the end of the meal, was the sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. A Vin Doux Naturel, it is the fortified sweet wine of the Rhone, sweet, but not too sweet, a fruit-salad of wonderful aromas and flavours which was delicious with Tony`s truly superb Poached pear, pistachio sponge. Wonderful stuff to finish the evening. And everything between was red – classic Rhone reds. We started with Crozes Hermitage by Yann Chave, matched with Portobello mushroom with rabbit tapenade. They were perfect together. A good red burgundy would have been no better (though no worse). What I like about good Crozes is it bears the signature of the grape; we discussed the white pepper, sometimes black pepper, the floral notes of bright, red-fruited Syrah, the darker notes on the palate, the soft, crunchy fruit, the cool freshness and purity, etc, all this and more, but what Crozes doesn`t speak of is terroir. It leaves that to its big brother Hermitage….. the St. Joseph was strapping and beautiful and the Hermitage, clearly the high-point, was dense and powerful (still young), matched very well with Duo of Layer Marney lamb, brunoise of aubergine & courgette. I liked Tony`s deconstructed ratatouillie here (very clever and tasty). The wine was immense but it was noted that the St Joseph offered better value now, while the Hermitage offered the potential for greatness in the long term (another ten years say). Then we went South and plundered the cheese board, Epoisses etc. Had to be done. The Grenache dominant blends offered greater opulence and sweetness, so they were always going to be great with cheeses. But equally we might have done things differently and matched them with a stew, beef, game or venison. The Vacqueyras was generously fruity and an inviting open style, highly quaffable and a fine start; yet truthfully the Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-pape were so good it paled into insignificance. Really I thought these two were fabulous. I love Syrah but in my mind they showed better than all the wines on the table, for drinking now, except possibly the St. Joseph by Domaine du Tunnel. A fabulous menu, well done Tony. Thanks Jeremy (we all agreed you make an excellent speaker). Thanks ladies (Janet, Emma, Harriet). And thanks to our guests who helped make it a very happy evening. Jeremy`s tasting notes to follow:
Guest speaker: Jeremy Lithgow – Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Tony Bell
Wines of the Rhone
Lirac Blanc, Lafond Roc Epine 2012, aperitif £14.99
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, this delicious white displays exotic tropical fruit on the nose with hints of mango, lemongrass and grapefruit. The palate is ripe and inviting, with a soft mouthfeel and a hint of spice at the end of the dry citrus finish.
Viognier de Rosine, Domaine Michel Ogier 2012, £24.99
Domaine Ogier are one of the greatest estates of the Northern Rhone. This comes from a parcel of vines just next to the border of Condrieu, which is echoed in the classic ripe apricot and greengage notes with hints of nuts. Lovely rich texture and a mineral finish.
Crozes Hermitage Les Saviaux Domaine Yann Chave 2012, £19.99
Yann Chave is an exciting young winemaker who has taken his family estate to new heights. This unoaked organic Syrah displays classic supple, ripe blackberry fruit with hints of white pepper, evolving into meatier flavours with air
Saint Joseph Rouge Domaine du Tunnel 2009, £33.99
Stephane Robert has transformed this estate into something truly special. This is a succulent full-bodied syrah from a wonderful vintage, laden with soft, dark fruits of the forest and a touch of clove.
Hermitage Yann Chave 2009, £68.99
Yann’s flagship wine, from a beautifully situated plot of vines, right in the heart of the famous hill or Hermitage. Powerful, with concentrated loganberry and licorice notes, complex hints of prune and roasted meats, rounded off with lush tannins on the long finish
Vacqueyras rouge, Seigneur de Fontimple 2012, £16.99
A blend of Grenache and Syrah from 50 year old vines. Perfumed aromas of mulberry with classic notes of provencal herbs and spice. Medium-weight, with seductive sweet fruit.
Gigondas Domaine la Bouissière 2010, £26.99
Without doubt one of the finest producers in Gigondas, with the highest vineyards of the village. A blend of old-vine Grenache and Syrah, starting to drink beautifully with full-bodied spicy red and black fruits complemented by roasted herbs and meats.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Bosquet des Papes Tradition 2012, £33.99
A traditional Grenache dominated blend from old vines grown on the classic galets roulés. Deep, spiced liqueur fruit, with complex flavours of charcuterie and thyme. Delicious now, but with the potential to develop further over the next decade
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Bouquet des Dentelles, £19.99
A floral nose of fresh grapes, rosewater flecked with honey and orange blossom. Sweet yet vibrant in the mouth, with an elegant zesty finish balancing the exotic sweetness.
Cassolette of seafood with fennel cream
Portobello mushroom with rabbit tapenade
Duo of Layer Marney lamb, brunoise of aubergine & courgette
Poached pear, pistachio sponge
With thanks to everyone.