Great wine chez Hardy

How lovely it is to visit friends! Our chum Peter (Swedish expression) violently visited our other chums James and Katie during one of his rare visits to Blighty and The Editor and I were included in the mirth-making. J&K kindly scheduled dinner at an hour that meant we would not have to get the last, vomit-comet train from London to Winchester. Moreover, I have finally seen a surgeon who has said he is over 90% confident that he can fix the trapped nerve problems with my legs! Wehay! Years of suffering terribly from this will end, so I have therefore booted my suicidal depression out of the window. It was great not to be – after bloody years of enveloping whatever function I am attending in a miasma of misery – the cheerless chap in the corner.

There were a couple of wines that I will not give detailed tasting notes for, but just quickly mention here. Domaine Marcel Diess Riesling Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim 1999 may have been the colour of piss that would make one instantly run to hospital, but it was remarkably well preserved. Yes, there was some baked-apple oxidative characteristics to the nose, but it was still easy to recognise the grape variety and detect the presence of a lot of Botrytis on the nose. It was distinctly sweet, its alcohol level seemed low and it had pretty good acid levels (when was the last time you could say that about a Deiss wine?), so I thought those of us who put it in Germany (most of our evening’s wines where served blind) were not making bad guesses. It was a good, old Deiss wine – I did not think such things existed!

I have had a couple of 2012 Clusel-Roch Cote-Roties recently, so I thought I would be onto a winner bring along one of their two named lieux dits: 2012 Cote-Rotie La Viallière. God it was bloody awful. It seemed very boozy, with tough, angular tannins, nasty oakiness and an almost total lack of harmony between its constituent elements. This is not what I expect from Clusel-Roch at all! Even after we’d let half the bottle sit in a decanter all evening the only things it lacked were redeeming features. I have one bottle left that I shall lay down (and avoid) for many, many years.

Right, now those two have been despatched (the Clusel-Roch being despatched down the sink) we happily move onto the best three wines of the evening, in no particular order:

Dani with HermitageHermitage 2012, Domaine du Colombier

What an attractive nose; both svelte and commanding – that is what one expects from a bottle of Hermitage! It displays quite perfectly that one can make such a manly (traditionally the manliest wine in France, of course), commanding wine without having to overload your olfactory organs.

The boldness and presence on the nose were, for wont of a better word, impressive, but a sophisticated drinker needs more than mere scale and Domaine du Colombier did not disappoint. The blackberry fruit was joyfully charming; a really beguiling, not at all punishing, scent. The fruit was perfectly ripe, no signs of heading toward jammy or soupy over-ripeness. That ‘perfectly ripe’ characteristic of the fruit showed why this Hermitage’s alcohol levels were deliciously enjoyable at 13.5%. The grapes were not harvested when they were over-ripe and full of sugar that would be fermented to boozetasticity.

Good Hermitage should be a blend of at least a few climats from across the hill of Hermitage – the different microclimates and soil types adding to the complexity of the final wine. I know Domaine du Colombier are not as blessed as some people, like Jean-Louis Chave, with an expansive palette of terroirs to work with, but they clearly have enough and own some bloody good ones. The depth of involute sophistication on the nose is a wonderful treat for your nose to revel in. My first tasting note of a properly fine wine was, “Wow! Wine can smell of lots of different things!” and I think that assessment of fine wine definitely holds true here. Although, as I have constantly been saying, harmony, balance and restraint were major factors in how these were expressed. Nothing knocked your nose for six.

I sniffed this for a long time, delighted by the minimalist expression of manliness, and that wonderful tension between extremes was also present on the palate. No burning alcohol ignited its way up your nose, no jammy fruit cloyingly adhered to your teeth and instantly started rotting them. Hermitage with class and style rather than being crass and hugely-scaled.

The tannin/acid structure was pleasingly balanced with big but not drying tannins kept lively and vivacious with a fresh acidic character. Manly, but so balanced with come hither seduction-value.

That blackberry fruit from the nose was also present on the palate and deliciously enrobed the tannic structure with purest pleasure. Nothing heavy or ponderous about it, just charm and sophistication that lasted long after you swallowed it. Happy, happy, happy! Joy, joy, joy!

I have no doubt that this wine could easily cope with some seasoning with new oak in the maturation process. If there is any used I find it totally undetectable in the complex melange of flavours present in this Hermitage. I don’t mind this at all – a great wine should be more than the sum of its parts and if Colombier can enhance their wine without it sticking out like a sawn plank so much the better.

And long, was it long – put me to shame… This amply demonstrated why Domaine du Colombier are my favourite Hermitage producer (and it is not just because I can afford them). This is sex on a stick and it will evolve and mature for a long time in the cellar. Look out for this wine and buy all you can!

James with Trevallon 1990Domaine de Trevallon 1990 en magnum

When I stuck my hooter into this I was incredibly pleased it filled a magnum decanter – there were delicate scents, rich aromas and the suggestion of poo (that I don’t really mind in a wine of what I assessed it to be and what age I thought it was).

OK, I am honest in these tastings notes, there was a bit more of a shade of poo. There were also a collection of scents on whatever bizarre and multidimensional line links meaty smells to floral characteristics. I have to say I felt pretty smug and confident in my first guess at its identity based only on a first sniff. “Domaine Tempier Bandol la Cabassaou 1990”, I boldly pronounced.

“No, not Bandol”, was the reply. I was sure that complex aroma arc meant it had Mourvedre as one of its constituent elements. The alcohol level was fairly low, considering I thought it was something Southern and vaguely Rhone-y. There were certainly suggestions of other grapes in the mix. It was gloriously complex with a compelling intricacy that suggested it was from one of those rare places in the Southern Rhone who actually make good wine rather than soupy-charged, Grenache-heavy headache juice like most Chateauneuf pump out. I was certainly getting more in the way of Mourvedre and possibly Syrah than god-awful Grenache.

I have still only smelled the blighter at this point and it is clearly something good, special even, from a top shelf producer in a good year. These factors made me suggest, “Beaucastel 1990?”

“No, there is no Mourvedre in it at all!” Gosh, I had better have a taste. Wow, it may be mellowed with time and be a lot softer than when it was young, but thus mystery wine has a much more serious tannic structure than almost any Southern Rhone wine can manage. Furthermore, I am getting a suggestion of something distinctly blackcurrant-y about the fruit now I have pushed Mourvedre out of my mind. So I am off to the other side of France and plonking myself in a wine region I rarely can be bothered to explore. “A not-scrupulously clean, but very serious, Bordeaux from… erm… 1986?”

“No, it is Domaine de Trevallon 1990!” I could have kicked myself for not putting all the pieces into the right Trevallon-shaped hole! Damned good wine! Up for drinking, but no rush.

Katie and Peter with Dujac Bonnes-MaresBonnes-Mares Grand Cru 2005, Domaine Dujac

Now this is a wine which flies at the sharp end of the arousal aircraft. Not only is it is a buxom, beautiful, bounteous bundle of boobs, bums and bits that bewitch, but it is a powerful and extremely grown-up expression of its origins. It is a lubricious piece of extravagant, opulent enjoyment and a finely-honed, exquisitely-crafted entity of high art. Whether you are looking for louche dissolution or to be transported to a higher plain of transcendental aesthetics, this is the wine for you. Consider me being totally taken with it!

Whilst this nose may possibly be a shade more expressive in five or so years’ time, there is no doubt it will speak to you now as it spoke to me last night and, as the above might suggest, it had a lot to say.

Of course, whilst the nose obviously has a lot to say about fruit, tannin, alcohol, acid, structure, balance, complexity, and so on, it had a lot more important things to say. It illuminated and strengthened the bonds of friendship, conviviality and love that exist between we five friends who shared the bottle. Katie and James’ two little boys obviously could feel the joy-quotient in the dining room increasing in leaps and bounds; they got more excited and wanted to join in the fun but did not know what was the cause.

It made Peter, Dani and I feel a fantastic gratitude toward James and Katie for gathering us together for a wonderful feast of pleasure, but also made us acutely aware of James’ pain that his job kept him away from his lovely family so much.

It filled us with warmth toward our friend Jeremy, who made the wine. Immediately upon all of us having a glassful and sniffing it Katie said we should send him a picture or two of us enjoying it. The picture at the top of this article and the picture by this wine name demonstrate our love and excitement at being able to, if only photographically, share the great congeniality this wine generated between us all and him because he, our friend, put so much into making this moment of great affection possible.

Peter looked so happy that his simple act of bringing one of the wines he owned, admittedly a particularly special bottle of wine, could charge us with such good spirits that we never wanted it to end – Katie never got very far with running a bath for her boys.

The Bonnes-Mares even made the cheese seem preternaturally good, we tucked in with great gusto and all had something to say about their special qualities. Yes, they were good cheeses, but it was the Bonnes-Mares that was the special entity.

Now I admit I have an awful lot of these memories, but that wine then with those people will forever live in my mind as one of the most congenial, affection-filled moments of my life.

Now how many points would you score that?

  • Guy

    Very interesting. I opened a Clusel R 2001 (cuvee classique) with Richard B a few months ago, and found it not very enjoyable. He liked it more than me. We didn’t decant. I wonder if it just needed a lot more time… How syrah ages seems to have garnered a lot less interest than the same question for Burgundy.

    • Good morning Guy, You’ve raised this point before – you are right to! Syrah undoubtedly goes through an awkward middle-aged period. I would have expected a 2001 Clusel-Roch to be way beyond that point and be singing like a platinum songbird in a golden cage. I’ve had three extremely good Clusel-Roch experiences recently (Grand Places 09, 2 x Classique 12) and the awful one given above. There seems to be a lot more new oak than when I first started buying and loving Clusel-Roch in the early 90s. All that oak (and no potatoes… ah, different song…) and the highly variable experiences I’ve heard from friends make me wonder if I should shake my unshakable faith in Clusel-Roch. To be honest, I’m simply not going to score anymore as it is muy expensivo and nowhere near the reliable producer of wine as they were when I was drinking 95s and 96s in the mid-noughties. I certainly would recommend much caution before spending your wad on one of them

  • Richard Brooks

    What a lovely note on that Dujac wine. I feel it!

    • Thank you, Richard. When we had the Kabinett and definitely the Auslese the other night I felt similar thoughts about the people present. We all seemed to be having a marvelous time and interactions between us all were charged with happiness and appreciation for you gathering us together for a jolly feast. Isn’t that what great wine is for? Not just being an object of greatness in itself, but for charging an event with enormous conviviality in a way few things can actually manage.