Grapevine Archive for November, 2012
Prior to a recent dinner for Society members, Jesús Madrazo from Contino spent some time showing some of his wines to Society staff. Jesús is an engaging and entertaining speaker, adjectives that could be given to his wines, and his visit comes at what we feel is, despite the numerous financial challenges facing the country as a whole, a particularly exciting time for quality Spanish wine.
Society buyer Pierre Mansour’s excitement about Spain’s wines is tangible here in the office, and is borne out by a number of outstanding recent finds. The wines are more diverse and delicious than they have ever been – leading to our dramatically expanded current offer, The Complete Spain. Traditions are being complemented by a greater appetite for experimentation and modernisation as the current generation becomes more comfortable at the helm, resulting in something of a fragmentation of styles and greater choice for wine lovers.
The most venerated of its regions, Rioja, provides a good example. Pierre defines the styles of reds here as falling generally into three brackets: traditional, modern-classical and modern:
• Traditional Riojas tend towards silky texture, spicy flavours and an emphasis on subtlety rather than power. Long cask ageing tends to make them ready to drink on release. At their best, they are among the most ethereal and complex reds in the world.
• Modern-classical Riojas are younger, rounder wines that have the structure to develop in bottle but whose racier fruit flavours make them enjoyable now.
• Modern Riojas are rich, velvety reds that are aged for less time in newer wood. Often they are released earlier and need keeping. The vanilla-laden, black-fruit and toasty qualities of these wines can be too much for some palates, but the finest exponents maintain the freshness needed to bring out the best in these chunkier flavours.
Most Rioja bodegas concentrate on one of the above styles, usually dictated by their history. Some have been making traditional wines for centuries and, in many cases quite rightly, want to keep it that way. Others are making modern-classical styles due to the influence of the current generation. Newer bodegas are striving to forge their own path and thus often opt for the modern style.
Then there is Contino.
The more Jesús spoke, and the more we tasted, I began to think that this bodega’s astonishing focus on quality almost precludes labels of traditional, modern, etc. Established in 1973, one could almost argue that it sits on an historical cusp beyond the traditional and before the influx of more modern styles.
I had tried a few of Contino’s wines before this, but tasting a line-up made me realise that collectively Jesús’ wines blur many of the boundaries of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ wines.
‘Cheap’, alas, is not among the many adjectives one could ascribe to these Riojas, but an insight into the quality of the fruit at Contino’s disposal and the tender, loving, fastidious care lavished upon it explains why. Fewer than 20 of Rioja’s 700 or so bodegas rack their wines by gravity, for instance, but Jesús insists upon this laborious process.
The result is that the wines require minimal filtering, enabling every drop of character to be squeezed out of these superbly sited vineyards. They make no Crianza (the first rung on Rioja’s three ageing classifications) and to date have only released three Gran Reservas. The 2007 Reserva (£23 per bottle) surpasses many wines that bear this more grandiose classification, soaring from the glass with remarkable fragrance and vigour. The longevity of this wine was attested later that day as the inaugural 1974 vintage was served to members at dinner – apparently it was sensational.
The 2004 Gran Reserva (£89 per magnum) has the ethereal, fine-boned structure of the region’s great traditionally made wines, yet bursts with the opulent dark-berry flavour that you would find in the top modern-style bottlings. Then there is the extraordinary single-vineyard Viña del Olivo, 2007 (£47.50 per bottle). This velvety, abyssal wine is, on paper, as modern as they come, having undergone malolactic fermentation in new oak before spending 18 months in barrel. Unlike many big-biceped modern Riojas however, the oak is used to contribute elegance rather than simply power, and its flavours were matched by the concentration of the fruit.
Special mentions should also be reserved for two more eccentric single-varietal bottlings, both of which were captivating in dramatically different ways.
The Contino Graciano has been bottled since 1994 and was the first single-varietal graciano to be produced in the region. It is a rare style indeed in Rioja – Jesús’ father still refuses to touch this wine! – but it was one of my favourites shown. The 2007 Graciano (£35 per bottle) is a difficult wine to describe, balancing as it does great power and dark-fruit flavour with electric acidity and intense freshness.
The Contino Garnacha, 2008 (£23 per bottle) – exclusive to The Society – was a revelation. Despite the finesse the grape is capable of when grown and made well, I had always regarded garnacha as first and foremost a rather full-bodied wine. Jesús, however, sees garnacha as comparable to pinot noir. ‘New oak is a disaster for garnacha,’ he said. ‘Despite the intensity of its fruit, it is a subtle grape, and we should respect that.’ The lightness of touch, succulence and fragrance of this wine were indeed similar to many a fine pinot, but with an underlying Spanish richness. The combination was irresistible.
Perhaps these wines’ disobedience in the face of categories and nomenclature might be frustrating for the literal-minded wine lover. It is this that makes them rare among the other Riojas we list, and yet with no disrespect intended to any of these wines, it was this fusion of styles that I found so inspiring. Far from eccentricity for its own sake, the melding of characteristics usually pigeonholed or associated within certain groups of wines simply worked beautifully. Do try them if you get the chance.
Is there such a thing as a perfect match? William and Kate perhaps, or even my grandparents who celebrated 60 years together having gazed into each others eyes at the tender age of 17 and, in their own words, ‘never looked back!’
Over the decades, many a perfect partnership has been made between foods and wines but when it comes to pairing cheeses and wines many believe that wedding bells could only possibly ring for the heaven-made combinations of port and Stilton or Sauternes and Roquefort.
Perfect partnerships aside, many of us are happy to choose full-bodied reds to serve with our hard Cheddar cheeses but beyond that there is much scepticism about what would or wouldn’t work. Are there wines which could be enjoyed with goat’s cheeses, for example, or wines that could complement blue cheeses?
These questions and more were among those that the recent Cheese & Wine Matching Workshop held at The Society’s Stevenage HQ, aimed to explore. Hosted by Emma Howat from The Society’s Tastings & Events team and Oliver Sutton, general manager at The Fine Cheese Company from Bath, a selection of artisan cheeses from across Europe were matched with a range of wines from The Society’s cellars.
The cheeses were divided into four groups – goat’s, soft, hard and blue. Over a period of weeks prior to the workshop, the cheeses had been tasted with a number of different wines from The Society’s List, ensuring that the considered best ‘matches’ were available for members to try.
Rachel, a smooth flavoured modern, British, washed-rind goats’ milk cheese from Somerset.
Coteaux du Giennois, Domaine de Villargeau, 2011 (Marc Thibault) (£7.95 per bottle).
The high acidity in this Loire sauvignon blanc was able to cut through the richness and creaminess of the goat’s cheese and proved to be a contrasting but wholly mouthwatering combination. As Emma explained, ‘the purpose here was to match weight with weight. The Rachel, while beautifully creamy and rich, is not the gutsiest of goat’s cheeses so we needed to find the right balance in order not to overpower the cheese.’
My verdict: I have to confess – the freshness of the sauvignon complimented this wonderful goat’s cheese perfectly. A real case of opposites attracting! I could have carried on eating and drinking this all morning.
Kileen, an Irish goat’s cheese, made in a Gouda style, sweet with slight hints of toffee.
Saumur-Champigny, Cuvée Tradition, Clos des Cordeliers, 2010 (£9.50 per bottle).
I noted a distinct earthiness in the cheese which was matched with this unoaked, light, refreshing cabernet franc, another wine from the Loire, with high acidity to cut through the cheese’s richness. The sweetness and toffee notes added an unusual flavour to the cheese. Emma pointed out that she had sought a wine match which had the body to stand up to the Kileen’s flavours and fullness without detracting from its uniqueness. I was certainly able to taste the redcurrant fruitiness of the wine.
My verdict: This was probably my least favourite match of the morning as I felt that the wine dominated and slightly overpowered the cheese. Having said that, a number of members thought that it worked particularly well for them.
This cheese, when young, has fresh, citric notes, with age giving it a nutty taste which is characteristic of goat’s cheeses from this region. Matching this cheese with the two wines proved to be interesting as the workshop attendees were split as to which was preferred. The Coteaux du Giennois really brought out the freshness of the cheese while the Saumur-Champigny allowed the cheese’s more intricate flavours to shine through.
My verdict: I preferred the Petit Valencay with the Saumur-Champigny – the combination of the wine’s fruitiness with the minerality of the cheese worked for me.
After trying the goat’s cheeses with their recommended wine matches we moved on to the soft cheeses and wines.
Camembert de Normandie, an unpasteurised, Normandie cow’s milk soft cheese, made in the traditional manner.
In contrast to the goat’s cheese and sauvignon match, which was a case of opposites attracting, the matching of the Mâcon with the Camembert was more an example of matching like with like. The creaminess of the cheese was mirrored by that present in the chardonnay, while the acidity present in the wine was able to cut through the high fat content in the cheese. A match made in heaven? Possibly!
Rosé is often overlooked when matching food and wine but the Préceptorie, with its overt red-fruit character and tiny bit of residual sugar also worked well as a match for the Camembert. Emma explained: ‘We were looking for a wine with enough fruit to counteract the chalkiness of the Brie style but which also had a good streak of acidity to cut through the extreme creaminess of the cheese.’
My verdict: I felt that both of the matches worked with the Camembert but if I had to choose I would opt for the Mâcon. The cheese and the wine were totally harmonious, like a hand in a glove.
Tunworth – a champion at the British Cheese Awards, this cheese has an undulating surface, a thin rind and a profoundly fruity/vegetal tang – enough to convince a Frenchman that this was made on his terroir!
Juliénas, Esprit de Marius Sangouard Trenel, 2010 (the 2011 vintage is now available at £9.50 per bottle).
Emma admitted that she had endured a lengthy search when selecting a wine that would stand up to the Tunworth’s characteristics but not overpower it either: ‘I needed to find a match with enough fruit, but not too much tannin which makes everything taste dry and bitter.’ The vibrant, deeply coloured Juliénas fitted the bill as it had guts, but was not overtly tannic and had and a seam of freshness.
My verdict: I had never tried Tunworth soft cheese before but I liked its unusual, hints of vegetal flavour which shone through when enjoyed with the Juliénas.
Hard cheeses are often considered to be the easiest of all to match with wines but it is not always straightforward. By giving care and attention to the matching process some exciting combinations can become apparent. All three of the hard cheeses were tasted with the two wines, enabling members to compare and contrast the differences.
Martell’s Single Gloucester – this cheese has a natural, grey, bloomy rind and a sweet, light creamy flavour. Made as tradition dictates with skimmed milk.
Sparkenhoe Red Leicester – England’s only unpasteurised Red Leicester. This cheese is creamy and mellow, with a slightly flaky texture. The addition of natural annatto gives the cheese its deep orange-red colour.
Westcombe Cheddar – a truly artisan cheddar from Somerset with a deep and complex flavour. Made by hand, it contains no colouring, no flavouring or preservatives.
Sebastian Beaumont’s top chenin blanc comes from low-yielding vines and is judiciously barrel-fermented, preserving vibrant freshness and great purity of fruit. Emma explained why she had chosen it: ‘These hard cheeses have a definite salty, creamy, fruity nuttiness that meant that we were looking for a wine which was fruity, with a little residual sugar. A small amount of sugar will help counterbalance the saltiness in these cheeses. This lovely chenin ‘weight for weight’ is on a par with the cheese.’
The Malumbres Tinto is a ripe, succulent and fruity garnacha from Javier Malumbres’ elevated vineyards in Navarra. Emma felt that it had the qualities to stand up to the hard cheeses, particularly the Sparkenhoe Red Leicester and the Westcombe Cheddar. ‘As always, we were looking for a wine which would be able to stand up to the sheer weight of these cheeses,’ said Emma. ‘The Malumbres is well structured with decent qualities of fruit and its tannins are quite soft, which means that the saltiness of the cheese does not make the cabernet taste bitter.’
My verdict: I enjoyed the Malumbres Tinto with all three cheeses but especially with the Westcombe Cheddar. As an added bonus the wine is keenly priced and the Westcombe a delight for the tastebuds. The Beaumont Hope I felt worked best with the Martell single Gloucester. It is good to see a fine piece of hard cheese being enjoyed with a white wine of exceptional length and flavour.
The final cheeses of the morning were the blue cheeses which were tasted with a Sauternes and a tawny port.
The luscious Sauternes – made at Château Cantegril, Denis Dubourdieu’s small Barsac estate – is a wonderful match for many desserts as well as blue cheeses, and it really came into its own when paired with the Gorgonzola Dolce. The saltiness of the cheese matched beautifully with the sweetness of the Sauternes. ‘We were looking for a wine that would also match the cheese in terms of weight,’ said Emma. ‘We felt that a port would mask the subtleties of this blue to a certain extent, whilst the Exhibition Sauternes, being lighter, complemented it very well. While for much of the tasting I have talked of pairing ‘like with like’ – this is definitely a case of opposites attract.’
My verdict: This classic combination got a 9/10 from me. It worked very well and, as they say, ‘if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it’!
Picos de Europa – a rich and powerful cow’s milk blue cheese, strong flavoured, tangy and with more than a hint of spice.
The Society’s Tawny Port, 10 years old (£16.50 per bottle).
In comparison to the Gorgonzola Dolce, the Picos de Europa was a pretty full-on blue and to pair it with a lighter style of wine such as Sauternes would mean that the cheese would completely overpower the wine. We tried it, and it did! However, the sweet, nutty, raison flavours of the port contrasted perfectly with the intense savoury-ness and saltiness of the Picos de Europa . In terms of weight the cheese and the port were well matched, the fortification working well with the strength of this blue with its green-grey veins and holes.
My verdict: I do enjoy tawny port and it definitely met a fine match with the Picos de Europa. A perfect combination for the dinner party cheeseboard or, in my case, to be enjoyed on a cold winter evening in front of a roaring log fire!
Tastings & Events Team
The cheeses used in this workshop are available from The Fine Cheese Company and can be purchased from their shop in Bath, by telephoning their order office or ordered online for delivery to UK addresses.
The Society’s Vin d’Alsace occupies the pivotal spot in our extensive, multi-award winning selection of Alsace wine and it is the wine that has introduced Alsace wine to generations of members.
Up until 1991, the blend was mostly sylvaner with a little chasselas. In 1992, the blend changed dramatically and we introduced other grape varieties to give the wine more elegance and fruitiness. This is what we have done ever since.
The 2011 vintage is a little special, and not just because of the new label. For one, it is a wonderful vintage but most excitingly, this year’s blend is one of our best ever. It is currently available with a saving of £10 per dozen, thanks to supplier support.
Today most Alsace wine is sold as a single grape variety. But that was not always the case. Top Alsace houses often created blends and when these were made from a majority of noble grapes (riesling, pinot gris, etc.) the wines could be called ‘Gentil.’ Looking at the archives here in Stevenage, members were certainly drinking the 1955 Gentil back in 1958 and 1955 was of course a great vintage and, as it happens, my birth year.
Eventually Hugel’s Gentil was given The Society’s own label. The quality of the Gentil was something to be proud as can be seen from the magnificent Hugel menu of 1921 pictured below, when the 1893 Gentil from the Sporen vineyard was served.
The current blend is 49% pinot blanc/sylvaner, 18% pinot gris, 16% riesling, 11% gewurztraminer and 7% muscat. The grapes come from the area around Riquewihr and were all harvested by hand and brought in small crates to the press and then into the cellars, all without pumping. The wines then ferment in either vats large oak casks for a few months before bottling.
In short, it is Alsace in a bottle. Enjoy!
Prior to a recent buying trip to Bordeaux with Society Bordeaux buyer Jo Locke I was delighted to learn that we had managed to squeeze a last-minute visit to Sauternes into our itinerary to see our old friends at Château Guiraud, a long-time favourite of members.
Guiraud is a château that hides its light under a bushel, evidenced perfectly by the fact that there are no signposts whatsoever indicating the location of this wonderful property. Signs to nearby châteaux such as La Tour Blanche and Lamothe abound, but even the unfailingly polite sat nav lady aboard our hire car struggled to find our destination.
Eventually the three of us found our way to the gates of Guiraud, and we sped down the beautiful avenue (pictured) that leads to the Château and cellar. Our patience was rewarded, as we were treated to a fascinating vertical tasting of fifteen vintages of the property’s grand vin. To Guiraud’s great credit the wines chosen by the property for the tasting were not just from those vintages considered the finest of the past two decades, but the selection represented a true cross-section of recent vintages, including examples of how the château had fared in some of the more complicated vintages in recent years. The 2000 and 2002, for example, showed remarkably well, demonstrating how skilled producers can make very attractive wines in difficult circumstances.
My personal favourites in the lineup were the 2011 (barrel sample), 2007 and 1989, but my overriding impression after the tasting was quite simply that each vintage had its own unique personality and represented a true reflection of all the hard work put in by the château to transform grape to liquid gold.
Members wishing to enjoy a taste of Château Guiraud’s nectar should note that both the highly successful 2009 (in both 75cl bottles and half-bottles) and the excellent 2000 (50cl bottles) vintages are currently available from The Society.
Head of Buying
From today until Christmas, our dedicated Member Services team is ready to take your call on Sundays, from 10am-5pm.
Whether you would like to place an order or you need help or advice, the team is here to help. The number to phone is 01438 740222.
These photos show some of the displays now up in our Cellar Showroom in Stevenage (which will be open on Sundays from the 2nd–23rd December between 11am and 4pm).
As well as the usual selection of over 800 wines, spirits and accessories, this year the Showroom is offering its biggest ever selection of food gifts.
For a full list of Christmas opening hours, please refer to our website.
The occasion was a last dinner at the Mimosa, one of my favourite eating places and an essential part of the Languedoc experience. Everything had been superb but Mimosa’s cheese board is something else. I was with Louis-Marie Teisserenc, himself no idle bystander when it comes to sauvignon, and Sylvain Fadat of Domaine Aupilhac.
I hadn’t given the cheese course much thought but Sylvain evidently had and out came a bottle of 2005 Grande Cote from Domaine Cotat from Chavignol.
The effect was sensational, the crispness of the sauvignon refreshing the palate and the weight of this wonderful wine working brilliantly with the cheese. Perversely, I shunned the Crottin de Chavignol but the Brebis des Pyrenees was magical.
And memories too came flooding back, memories of my first visit to Chavignol. It was jolly cold in February. Looking back, I’ve only ever been there in winter. The air was full of frost making it almost hard to breathe.
Chavignol is very close to Sancerre but very different. Sancerre is on top of the world, surveying the land around for miles. Chavignol sits in a little valley that is surrounded by vineyard and they include some of the best in Sancerre with wonderfully evocative names: Grande Cote, Monts Damnes and Cul de Beaujeu, all fabulous sites, steeply slopping in the hard, chilled chalk.
In preparation for The Society’s recent Cheese and Wine Pairing Workshop, Emma Howat from the Tastings Team and I sat down to work on the selection.
Some of the choices came very naturally. The salty Gorgonzola screamed out for Sauternes, and our 2009 Exhibition bottling (£9.95 per half-bottle) worked perfectly with all the blues. The goat’s cheeses were complemented by the soft Loire wines: Villargeau’s Coteaux de Giennois (£7.95) in white and the red Saumur-Champigny from Clos de Cordeliers (£9.50) – in accordance to the natural law of ‘what grows together, goes together’ (the more lively New Zealand sauvignon we tried just fought with the cheese).
The tangy soft cheeses and the mature hard cheeses however were troublesome to say the least, and we had to rethink after our ‘safe’ choices failed to meet the challenge. Emma’s detective-like process was incredible to watch as she analysed what was occurring with each mismatch to track down her ideal wine.
In the case of the soft Camembert-style cheeses, she found a great match in Cordier’s Mâcon aux Bois D’Allier (£11.95). Relatively oaky in style, it had the weight and flavour to balance the cheese making the sum better than its parts. This was also the case with her red, Trenel’s Julienas (we poured the 2010 on the night, but the 2011 is now in stock at £9.50): the cheese brought out the fruit in the wine and the wine calmed the pungency of the cheese.
Another ‘eureka’ moment came when matching our mature Cheddar and earthy hard cheeses. After trying a Rhônes, Italians, new world pinots and right bank clarets, we found our saviour in a humble garnacha from Spain: I loved Cruz de Piedra (£5.50) but Emma favoured the Malumbres (£5.95).
The star of the show however came in the unexpected form of Beaumont Hope Marguerite, 2010 (£16), which was a new wine for both of us. After the cheese had wiped the floor with the fine chardonnays of Burgundy and the new world, this beauty worked perfectly. I have to admit a little prejudice against fine South African chenins as generally I find them just too much but this wine has a real purity and freshness. We have since found out that wine has won a five-star Platter’s award two years on the trot!
It’s left me wondering when we will have the confidence that people are ready for us to offer a whites-only cheese gift case.
Senior Merchandiser & Food Buyer
2012 has been an exceptionally trying vintage, especially for growers in north-eastern France. Growing grapes is not always easy and farming fruit organically when Mother Nature is at her capricious best is even harder.
Château de Vaux is just outside Metz in Lorraine, between Champagne and Alsace. It is a somewhat lost region of France that had been so much bigger before phylloxera.
For years this rump of a region subsisted relying on the region’s large cities to buy the production. That changed when Marie-Geneviève and Norbert Molozay bought this dilapidated estate and turned it round, expanded and bravely converted to organic farming.
I discovered the wines while on a buying trip to the Roussillon and I’ve been hooked ever since. Their wines have also improved and we have added the pinot noirs Les Hautes Bassières and Les Clos to the lovely white blend, Les Gryphées.
They’ve always had to fight. Enemy number one was Paris bureaucracy, which never really accepted the fact that here, Alsace varieties were planted. Then the little-used VDQS system of appellation was abolished. What would happen to Château de Vaux? Thankfully, after more fighting, they were granted full appellation status as Moselle.
Enemy number two is the weather. Like England, the climate is pretty marginal for grape growing. This time, the weather struck with all its might and with horrible results for this enterprising couple.
Here is the e-mail we got from Marie-Geneviève last night:
‘…the news about the vintage 2012 is really bad: we had frost, then hail on 5 hectares, then two months of uninterrupted rain. It was really difficult to confine the mildew especially with our organic way of growing wines. The end of the summer was finally really dry and saved the quality. And to finish, we had damage from game (boar and roebuck). We are really stricken: we estimate our losses of volume at about 70 %.
‘Because of these problems, we shall not produce “gryphées” in 2012, all our Gewurztraminer was destroyed. We will produce only “septentrion” available in July, 2013. And we will produce just a little bit of “Les Hautes Bassières”2012 and more of “Les Clos”2012. We are indeed sorry. I am really collapsed by this situation … but unfortunately our principal and inevitable associate is the weather forecast.’
Naturally we will support them in every way we can, inevitably concentrating on their lovely pinot noir. We wish them well and look forward to the 2013 vintage!
I have been bracing myself for an influx of wealthy Frenchmen since newly-elected President Hollande announced his draconian tax measures at about the same time as our latter-day Pimpernel George Osborne set out his considerably friendlier ones.
We haven’t had a French invasion since 1797, when a scratch squad of Gallic riff-raff recruited largely from a recently stormed Bastille tried to take on Fishguard in a fantastically daft and undeservedly obscure bit of French Revolutionary history. It reckoned without local heroine Jemima Nicholas, who pitchforked a dozen drunken Froggies into custody while the home guard quickly mopped up the rest. So much for populist solidarity, but that’s Pembrokeshire for you. Not for nothing do we sans-culottes (and Champagne socialists) east of Carmarthen call it Little England Beyond Wales.
Given their reasons for fleeing la belle F., we can expect a more sophisticated class of invader this time. Their arrival will hopefully mean increased availability of foodie treats they can readily pick up in any corner shop across the Manche, but which here involve pilgrimages to expensive food halls. Not every refugee is rich enough for Kensington and Chelsea or its two local convenience stores, Harrods and Harvey Nicks, so my fingers are crossed.
Lo and behold, it’s happening! The insensate Parisian yummy mummy whose two screeching, if impeccably chic brats held our local bistro to ransom at the weekend was quickly forgotten, if not forgiven at a first sighting of ceps, girolles and trompettes de mort at the greengrocer’s. The ceps were not the large, generous kind you fry slowly and lovingly like a prime steak and serve as such, but a bit runty, in truth, and strict triage was required. Never mind.
We ate the dish below in the peace and calm of our home in homage to the nouvelle entente, and with it, drank not cordiale but Bernard Gripa’s bewitching Saint-Péray Les Pins, 2009 (£18.50), which contained the bosky flavours with ease. Jaboulet’s delicious La Sauvagère, 2011 (£12.50) would also do the job.
Pas mal comme truc, as we will all be saying soon in Londres-ouest.
BIENS ON TOAST
200g ceps, or mixed wild mushrooms
A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1 tbs regular olive oil, for frying
A knob of butter
Half a lemon
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Porcini-flavoured oil for garnishing, or best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Two thick slices of sourdough bread, or a rustic baguette, halved and then split
A clove of garlic, cut in half
Firstly, deal with the mushrooms and parsley. Brush off any grit or soil and wipe clean with dampened kitchen paper, discarding mouldy or woody bits. Slice them not too thinly and let them dry thoroughly on a large plate lined with fresh kitchen paper. Destem, wash and dry the parsley. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Put in a couple of supper plates to warm.
Heat a large frying pan and add the butter and a tablespoon of oil. When it sizzles, throw in the mushrooms and toss to coat well with oil. Squeeze in the juice of the half lemon, cover the pan and turn down the heat. Chop the parsley finely and add to the pan. Cook gently until the mushrooms are tender and all moisture has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and dress the mushrooms with a generous tablespoon of the porcini or extra-virgin oil. Season equally extravagantly with the salt crystals. Cover the pan to retain the heat while the flavours infuse.
Put the bread into the oven to toast lightly, a matter of minutes, then remove with tongs and rub on one side with the garlic. Put a slice on each of the warmed plates and pile the oil-slicked mushrooms on top. Bon appetit.
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager
I’ve just completed the second of three intensive visits to the Rhône, each lasting about ten days. So far I’ve visited nearly 100 producers up and down the valley and in the Languedoc, and have one last trip next week to take in the Roussillon and Châteauneuf.
The first visit was in September, right in the middle of the 2012 harvest, which itself shows much promise. But tasting 2011 with the new wines bubbling away was not easy. And some of the 2011s were themselves still fermenting!So going back and forwards over three months has been essential. It was the same last year, but even more so in the 2011 vintage. As a result, not only will I have visited many producers, I will also have been able to sample the same wine two or more times, as well as being able to taste the same wine at different stages of the blending process.
The 2011 vintage
There was a time when vintages were pretty predictable. They could be good or not, but the rules were largely the same: such as being able to calculate the beginning of the harvest at a 100 days from flowering. Climate change has changed all that and for vignerons content to do just the bare minimum, things have become very complicated. 2010 of course was relatively straight forward and nearly everyone got it more or less right.
2011 is different. This was a roller coaster vintage with capricious conditions that teased growers from beginning to end. It started and ended with a heat wave. March was ludicrously hot and after a cold winter with snow, the vines burst into life. The whole growing cycle of the vine was rushed forward by at least a month if not six weeks. Just like 2003, if not more so. But history never quite repeats itself. The exuberance of early spring gave way to more normal conditions. Flowering was very early and bountiful. June began with a storm but was largely dry and warm. July was downright cool and sometimes wet and so was early August. By the third week of August, a heatwave had set in with temperatures hitting the high 30s. The vines closed down under the onslaught of such heat. September brought a return to cooler temperatures and rain, and the vines came back to life.
By now the grapes were sweet, gorged with sugar but were they ripe? Many growers, fearful of the weather getting worse, thought so and began picking. But sugar is not an indication of true ripeness and though the grapes were indeed sweet, pips and stalks were still green . This was when growers needed to keep calm and hold off, at least from the black grapes. The whites needed to be picked; the grapes had largely turned golden and were perfect.
The weather changed once again and growers were treated to perfect conditions which lasted till the last grapes were picked in early October. In some areas of the south, growers were faced with uneven ripeness within the bunch with some grapes that were black and ripe, others raisiny and not ripe and other berries that had barely changed colour. Many more man hours would be needed to eliminate anything unripe. This was a trying vintage that required skill and patience. Exhausting was how many put it. For what everbody foresaw as an ‘early’ vintage, 2011 was in fact picked at normal time or even slightly late.
What are they like?
2010 and 2009 Rhônes are dense wines. I retasted all the 2010s and they are quite majestic. The simpler 2010s are lovely now but the better ones will need time and are closing up. I sense that both these vintages will be for the long haul. The 2011s are simply delicious, a smiling vintage: perfumed with soft and ripe tannins and succulent fruit flavours. These are going to give a lot of pleasure, maybe in a style not too far away from 2006 and in many cases 2011s will be lovely young, perfect while waiting for the 2010s and 2009s.
A few pointers
The north: amazingly good in Cornas, again. Brilliant Hermitage of course and really lovely in Saint-Joseph, especially at the southern end. Gonon, Gripa and Chave are wonderful.
Côte-Rôtie came as a surprise because they are really very good. Barge Côte Brune comes to mind but so too does Clusel Roch and Rostaing. Good Crozes in general, though some disappointments.
The south: I really enjoyed Gigondas and everything from the northern belt that includes Vinsobres. It was never quite as hot here and the wines have a lovely natural balance. Of Châteauneuf du Pape, well that’s my next visit! Watch this space.
The Society’s opening offer of 2011 Rhônes and Languedoc-Roussillon will be available in January 2013.