It really has been a dismaying length of time since I attended a one year old’s birthday party, so long indeed that time has bleached the memory from my tired old brain. What I can be sure of is that way back then I did not drink such a stunning array of joyously engaging wines, if only because I was far too young to be guzzling the glorious pleasures of the grape. Please forgive me if my sketches of the wines consumed are less detailed than I would normally aim for, it was a busy party and I couldn’t really scribble down endless notes. I shall endeavour to communicate their essential qualities.
As you can see from the attached photo, Richard was keen to celebrate his son’s birthday with a degree of intensity. The jero he is enthusiastically modelling was a 2008 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Riesling Spätlese.Some people have been a bit sniffy about the quality of recent Von Schubert vintages – I detected no problems with this bottle. Sulphur did show on the nose, but sulphur is a necessary and good thing and no one seemed bothered by it. The fruit on the nose and palate was vivid and perfectly ripe supported by mouth-watering acidity and pleasingly complex minerality. It seemed very young, which assisted in making it an accessible delight for all to drink, but if you have a few bottles and are aroused by maturity it clearly had the harmony to age for a good number of years.
The next wine was one that Editor Daniel and I brought along as a curiosity with distinctly limited expectations as to its quality. I have long despised the wines of Hugel having tried so many of their abysmally made offerings that invariably fitted in at some point on a continuum between drearily anodyne and shockingly repulsive. The wine was “S” de Hugel 2001, a wine made from a blend of grapes grown on the top bunny Grand Cru Sporen. The authorities are a bit more permissive these days, but as far as Alsace’s labelling laws go Grand Cru names can only be used if the wine is made purely from one of the four designated ‘noble’ varieties. Even if a blended wine is only made from these varieties you’ll get a stern ticking off for claiming Grand Cru status. Consequently, Hugel’s Sporen Blend is labelled with only the cryptic “S” epithet – it is one of those wine-maker’s conceits that we are just supposed to know its exulted vineyard of origin. Most of the Alsace blends I have tried have been from Jean-Michel “Pretentious Nutcase” Deiss and given their abhorrent nature I was primed for the worst.
I was staggered to find that for possibly the first time in their 362 year history Hugel had made a wine which was not only drinkable but actually rather good and interesting. It was a bit cold to start with, yet immediately on pouring it showed a good fruity nose that was charged with an impressive creamy minerality. On the palate there was a good nervy tension between fruit, minerality and acid and was quite bursting with energy and freshness considering it was ten years old. As it warmed up and got more air it developed even more dimension and interest – properly complex, quite delightful and capable of further ageing. This is not an expensive wine and if you’d like to try something new from a producer you had rightly been avoiding until now then sticking a bottle of this in the cellar might be an amusing diversion.
Next up was a throbbingly enjoyable bottle of Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume “Vignoble de Vaulorent” 2005 from Fevre. I’ve reported on this wine several times before (here most recently). This delivered all the exciting, vivacious, elegant class of previous bottles, deftly skirting the boundaries between Grand Cru profundity and Premier Cru finesse. It was so very harmonious – both a gloriously hedonistic and deeply intellectual tasting experience. The 2007 is certainly better than even this stellar entity of delight, but I feel absolutely safe in saying (with a definite glee-tinged tenor to my voice): “Brilliant!”
The other wine we had brought along was another I’ve tried before: 2001 Corton-Charlemange from Morey-Blanc. This bottle was quite as marvellously enjoyable as that one so I suggest you head back to that review if you want to know more about it.
It was red wine time, hooray! I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I have almost no tasting experience of the first producer we sampled, Louis Remy, even though he makes wine from some of my favourite vineyards. Richard popped a Clos de La Roche Grand Cru 1993. A lot of 1993 are still yet to reach drinkability: ‘tough’, ‘closed’ and ‘severe’ are words one associates with them with disconcerting frequency. This was blissfully removed from such awkwardness being giving, developed and pretty. It showed the unbeatable Morey tension between severity and charm very clearly and simply oozed delightful enjoyment value. I must try more from this producer, there was so much to enjoy with this bottle.
Sadly after this attractive number the red wine we had provided seemed a touch on the rigorous side. It was a 2001 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru from Domaine Arlaud. Cyprien Arlaud seems incapable of making a bad wine and I am a bit of a fan of the cool sophistication 2001 red Burgundies usually show, but whilst this seemed a stylish and well-constructed wine it just lacked a bit of charm after the Clos de Roche. Bumholes. That being said, when I come to pop my other bottle of this wine in five or ten years’ time I have not the slightest doubt it will be anything other than engorged with joyous pleasure and that it will charm the pants off those enlightened friends I share it with.
At this point Richard was clearly suffused with the merriment of the event as he suggested I go into his cellar and score a magnum of Burgundy with which to finish the evening. I was flattered to be entrusted with such a task and cock-a-hoop when I saw he had several magnums of 1999 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru from Domaine Arlaud – we would not go wrong with one of them!
When we popped the bottle and I had my first sniff I was instantly bewitched. There was a powerful intensity to the fruit but what titillated my nasal cavities was its beautifully poised harmony – all its sophisticated elements were in perfect consonance with each other. It was certainly a very open and generously giving nose, not particularly mature but far from being closed or reticent. The palate was as open as Catherine the Great after satisfying her fifth horse in a row, but vastly more alluring than any number of even remarkably attractive horses. It was as supremely balanced, terrifically intricate and tremendously gratifying, and that is exactly what I want from my Burgundy. I was pleased as chips.
With several serious doses of several serious wines fortifying us, Daniel and I felt in top condition to for trekking across London to return to Elitistreview Towers. It was a completely corking first birthday party and we remain most grateful to our hosts for inviting us – perhaps the second birthday party could be of a similar idiom? We only get old once a year, after all…
-  Deiss is a lunatic in a bad way (whereas I am a nutter in a worrying but ultimately charismatic way), he squanders the brilliant resources of his undoubtedly serious vineyards to make ponderous, over-blown, repellent confections totally lacking in harmony. If you decide to cellar them, having tried them young and found them to be detestable, you will find they develop into even more repulsive filth. ↩