We recently had the wonderful pleasure of dinner with Bronwen and Francis Percival, food and cheese gods of London, Burgundy and beyond. They cooked amazing food and, fitting Bronwen’s role as head cheese buyer for Neal’s Yard Dairy, truly brilliant cheese. I cannot remember the myriad of cheeses we tried, but I’ll start off with a quick run-down of the food.
The starter was simply cracking. Home-made pasta with new-season’s runner beans and brown shrimp. I love brown shrimp and their delicate but rich flavours enhanced the wonderful pasta and bean dish. Top stuff!
They then served Ginger Pig sirloin on some grilled bread with roast bone marrow spread on it. The bone marrow was simply amazing but, since trying the beef from Hampshire suppliers like Woodlands Jersey Beef and Beechcroft, Ginger Pig’s beef has lost a level of lustre for me. Their beef is certainly excellent, and it was cooked with nigh-unparalleled skill, but better beef is out there… well… out here - in Hampshire!
I wish I could tell you about each cheese, but my memory is not configured in that manner. My memory is configured for wine so I’ll tell you about that.
Vintage Champagne 1996, Alfred Gratien
A nose of incredible complexity showing maturity but more ripe fruit and bready richness. It’s an entity of real sophistication. Real scale too, if we are honest, it’s a biggie. The palate has scale too but really fine, painfully sharp acidity. It doesn’t seem out of balance because of this. The fruit is lovely and the bready, toasty complexity is an utter delight. Very long with a really fine mousse. Simply wonderful with both elegance and power – a turbo-charged supercar of a Champagne.
Champagne Coeur de Cuvee 2003, Vilmart
Now this is another real biggie; massive scale here that speaks loudly of the warmth of the vintage. There’s loads of really lovely, if rather ripe, Chardonnay fruit, and despite its scale it has pretty good sophistication. There is interest beyond size on the nose, that much is sure. The palate is also massive, quite an unexpected combination with the clean Chardonnay fruitiness of the palate – I just don’t expect mostly Chardy wines to be so big. But the mousse is fine, and there is good length and complexity to the flavours. Much like the Gratien, it is a bit of a powered-up beast that walks with elegant steps, but that had a bit better acidity and I preferred its stage of maturity. Given that, this was a truly great 2003 fizz, which is a hard vintage to be great fizz in, and it was in really top condition.
Coteaux Champenois Blanc de Blancs 2005, Jacques Lassaigne
It smells like reasonably ripe, but not particularly characterful Champagne. Some Chardonnay fruitiness, but it really is on the understated side of expression. Indeed, it smells a bit dull – sort of like Champagne that someone couldn’t be arsed to finish making. The palate has good acidity and shades of fruit, but again it is not really thrilling in the slightest. Indeed, I’m rather bored by it. I think it would have made some rather nice fizz, but as far as a flat, still wine goes it is quite dull even by Chardonnay’s oft anodyne standards. Avoid; it’s better to drink interesting things.
Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2007, Domaine Dauvissat
I brought this wine along and I so I must take total responsibility for it leaving us all yawning – and it did. Dauvissat wines have their admirers and I’ve only rarely been one of them, alas. Sometimes they shine with coruscating brilliance, but most of those I’ve had are like this in that, whilst they strive for elegance, they are simply dilute and weedy. I found this just a thin, lacklustre Chablis that had nowhere near the complexity, style and class of producers like Raveneau or Fevre. What did it have going for it? Erm… I suppose it was reasonably refreshing in a warm flat (probably the coolest warm flat in London, I could add).
Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 1999, Domaine Rene Engel
Ah, now life doesn’t get much better… Seriously, this was the cat’s freaking arse. Ethereal, complex, profound, oh yes! Stylish, sophisticated and god-damned sexy too! It was really silky and smooth but had plenty of vigorous life and energy with the tannic structure one would hope for from a Clos Vougeot. Mature-ish, but still a long and delightful future ahead of it. Joy to drink now, though. The flavours just lasted and lasted and it just left you with a sense that you’d done something extraordinarily gratifying after every swallow. The wine-maker is greatly missed and this shows he was one of the great masters of the Cote. I hope you enjoyed your dissolute benders of excess, M. Engel, you deserved every one of them!
Syrah 2007, Lagier Meredith
I rather like Carole Meredith but this was the first of her wines I’d tried; I was rather pleased it was rather good. The key to Napa Valley wines, it seems, is to get those grown in the surrounding hills – they have more elegance. The nose of this suffered a bit from the heat of the vintage; lots of 2007s I’ve tried seem rather hot, but the palate was just a lovely mouthful. It had some sweet, alcoholic warmth but real refinement and harmony. I liked its complexity too, the flavours did persist and they were certainly tasty enough for that to be a very good thing. Long, classy and complex; a very good wine.
We finished off with a bottle of Chateau Suduiraut 1988 which was suffering a bit from age; it was quite volatile and the fruit was a bit muted. Not that sweet either. I was not enthused. We had a US Chardonnay earlier in the meal as well but my picture didn’t come out and, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t remember every single detail about it.
Many thanks Bronwen and Francis! We shall reciprocate – if you can stand leaving London for sleepy Winchester.