Yesterday we held a little lunch party for our chums Mr Greg (the surgeon with the world’s highest alcohol tolerance) and Peter (the international analyst and war zone hopper). We showed them that brilliant Hampshire food exists at all ends of the spectrum. We started lunch with a scrumptious Jake’s Hampshire hand-cut pork pie with some Isle of Wight tomatoes, followed by brilliant Beechcroft Direct Old English sausages with potato gratin.
Sadly, soon after lunch I had to retire to bed with aching guts. The food was entirely innocent in causing me this problem. Rather the blame rests entirely with Peter and the potentially lethal beverages he considers reasonable to inflict on his friends.
Whilst Peter was dodging shells on either side of the Russian invasion frontline in Ukraine he developed a taste for the local homemade hooch. It is made from fermented then distilled horseradish, and Peter thought it a good idea to bring a bottle of this moonshine along to jolly up lunch. He is pictured with it below:
Now, as I trained as a scientist I have a rich and broad experience distilling alcohol containing mixtures – entirely for scientific purposes, you understand, especially the mind-buggering absinthe I had a knack for making. Given this experience, I know full well when distillates are of low quality.
Whoever distilled Peter’s horseradish hooch could only manage an inefficient distillation that only got the final product up to about 30% alcohol. That was not the problem. I could swear I detected more than a shade of methanol and a dash of fusil oils in the beige brew. These are extremely toxic and, whilst they did not make us blind or kill us (yet), they fouled up my guts and gave me the most pounding headache I have had since I last pounded my head against the wall whilst detained in the nut house.
That being said, the horseradish moonshine was a reasonable approximation of nice. It had a good fiery, nose clearing flavour and it was quite nice with pork pies.
So now you know what drink to find maintain sanity but reduce your lifespan if you happen to be monitoring a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. I will get on and tell you about two of the most arrestingly good wines we drank:
Champagne Mesnil Sur Oger 2010, Champagne Marguet
This is 100% Chardonnay from the famed Grand Cru Village of Mesnil, and the class of that village triumphantly announces itself on the nose. It is very vinous and about as far from a cheap, characterless Blanc des Blancs as it is possible to get – it smells so deep, so profound, so complex, so appealing!
I do not think I am good enough to nail individual villages of origin with Champagne, but the nose of this throbs with a stony nuttiness that says “Serious vineyard” in much the same way as, and not unreminiscent of, Chablis Grand Cru vineyards. It had layer upon layer of these intricate, absorbing aromas in addition to a lemon zest vibrancy which made the nose more lively, complex and compelling than any Salon I have had in years.
I will underline this. Every bottle of the famed and very expensive Champagne Salon Le Mesnil, from the same village as this, I have had in the past decade or so has been oxidised and flat – all that money we have just poured down the sink… oh dear… This Marguet is nothing like that, it is fresh, vivacious, taut but with an impressive degree of power behind its elegant facade.
The palate bursts with life and detailed, compelling flavours – it does your taste buds over with vigour and style. The lemon zest and ripe juice flavours are intertwined with a hint of Bramley apple juice all fizzing with the very finest of mousses. This tastes like an exceedingly fine wine.
This fruit, combined with impossibly deep stony, nutty flavours, are delivered with bottom bitingly impressive finesse – taste this and you find time stopping as you are consumed by its effulgent beauty and poise. Acidity is perfect: throbbingly full of life but perfectly balanced. This stuff is just the cat’s arse!
Will it age? I would guess so, as it is quite reductive in style. But my sweaty tests I am not going to take the risk. This Champagne is so good I will buy it whenever I see it and drink it with other members of the wine illuminati as soon as their presence can be arranged. Salon is a flawed wine, so that is no competition, but this is very obviously one of the most joyfully pleasurable and intellectually stimulating Champagnes I have ever tasted. I have tasted an incalculably staggeringly epic quantity of Champagne.
Hermitage 1996, J-L Chave
I cannot count the number of times I have had this wine. I even purchased a couple of cases myself, but they are long since quenched so I eagerly anticipated tasting this. It is one of the more elegant Hermitages produced during the golden age of both Chave and Jaboulet that ran from about 1985 to 1997. Wines like those just are not made anymore.
Now that smells like the Chave I loved so much. The fruit is more soft and mature than when I last had this about five years ago, but it has energy to match the finesse you do not find on more recent Hermitages. This is far from tired.
This has a nose you just want to climb inside of and let engulf you and your senses. Wonderfully complex Syrah at a viscerally satisfying stage of development. Lovely fruit and sophisticated earth aromas that you just have to love, Love, LOVE!!
The palate is one you have to love as well. A lot, most indeed, 1996 Rhones are marked by unpleasantly high acid levels, this is totally harmonious and tickles your aesthetic sensibilities with an assured sang-froid.
The fruit is deliciously complex, softly mature and, again, in complete equilibrium with all the other characters of the wine. It has a soignee structure of well-groomed tannins which have just the right degree of tautness to add to its vivacity and life.
A truly lovely bottle of Hermitage. If you have any left it will continue to mature but, my, how well this showed now!
We finished off with one of the greatest wines on the market today:
And that cost £29 from The Wine Society. They are giving away greatness!