Lunchtime drinking with Mac Forbes

Lunch yesterday was a real treat for the Elitistreview team. Not only because we were dining at Hawksmoor, London’s best meat restaurant, nor due to the array of ambrosial wines we had to ingurgitate, but most definitely because we were dining with our favourite Australian winemaker, the distinctly charming Mac Forbes, and his delightful UK agents. Here we are at the start of the meal (Daniel took the picture and so I represent the Elitistreview element in frame):

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I am on the left, then Lance Foyster, Mac Forbes and Isabelle Clark (Lance and Isabelle have the good fortune to be Mac’s UK agents). Don’t we look a jolly bunch? Not the kind of people you’d immediately throw out of bed, I rather fancy.

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Mac has a very well-defined aesthetic ideal, one which we zealously approve of, yet he feels there are no unbreakable rules when it comes to winemaking. Every instruction in the recipe book can be challenged and twisted in novelty directions; some of his experiments sounded almost bonkers to my European wine-indoctrinated sensibilities. An example, in 2008 he made a Riesling that had 3 months skin contact, which seems a smidgen on the extended  side to your humbler reporter. I’m more than a shade curious to try it. The Experimental Batch Pinot he brought along had merely 24 hours skin contact prior to fermentation, with 6 hours of foot plunging, which strikes me as conspicuously minimalist extraction even for Pinot Noir and yet the wine possessed a proper, and most alluring, structure. Our conversation roamed widely through the world of wine and beyond and I found myself charmed not only by his by his palpable love for all things vinous but also by his easy, relaxed character. Clearly a top dining companion; I hope we did not disappoint, Mr Forbes.

Riesling Auslese Brauneberger-Juffer Sonnenuhr Fuder 10 1997, Fritz Haag

Wow, this has an amazing nose. Mac says you can smell the weight of this wine and I can understand what he means – even though it is extremely refined and elegant there is a solid depth of character here. The gorgeous 1997 fruit shines through, there are shades of red fruit to it which I find acutely compelling, and its powerful slate minerality only adds to the manifest complexity of the nose. This is tits, man, the cat’s missing marbles alright. 1997 may have been a fruit-driven vintage with some people being sniffy about acid levels but this has them both in perfect equilibrium. Indisputably irresistible equilibrium. I do really, really like balanced acidity in my wines and this does it for me in an almost painfully intense but lewdly pleasurable manner. It is still sweet which enhances the luscious character of its fruit, seriously sapid stuff, with the fruit/acid/mineral interplay works consummately to make me just want to drink more and more. Sadly 1 bottle between five of us limits the quantity I can neck whilst chortling with unbridled mirth. Top stuff. Ravishingly, bewitchingly top stuff.

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Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Ile des Vergelesses 2007, Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Its quite pale, which meets with nods of approval around the table. I sometimes wonder why people have such a thing about colour, just because your wine is not inky purple and sucking in all the light in the room does not mean the wine will necessarily be lacking in any way. This has some light strawberry fruit to it, but Lance points out there are acetone aromas – he is right, it is a bit whiffy in a completely unattractive solvent sense. I never did try glue sniffing as a teenager and I don’t intend to start now. I suppose I’d better have a taste even though I feel let down by this wine already – shame, Mr Briailles, shame! The palate is light and minimalist to the point of being anaemic and vapid. The 2005 was really rather nice, but this? No. Indeed, I am feeling personally offended by this limp and feeble example of insipid unpleasantness and I refuse to drink any more (until the end of the meal when I intend to be really rather many sheets to the wind, or at the very least moderately newscasted).

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Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Bel Air 2008, Philippe Pacalet

I’ve never heard of M. Pacalet which always worries me when I taste Burgundy – I suppose there are a merkin-load of producers in Burgundy I’ve never heard of, but I like to think I have a pretty good knowledge of the good ones. It was recommended to Mac by an associate of his; we are promised a minimalist, finely structured wine. I suggest that 2008 Burgundies are a style that Mac would enjoy and he doesn’t shoot me down instantly so I must be getting something right. This does indeed have an understated nose of refined fruit and svelte earthiness. The nose has a degree of complexity which it displays in a subtle, urbane style with nothing heavy or over-blown about it. The palate is polished with quite lovely fruit and a silken tannic structure. This seems like a good, small scale Burgundy of a quality the Pernand-Vergelesses totally failed to deliver. I will keep my eyes peeled for M. Pacalet’s wines in future.

Experimental Batch Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2005, Mac Forbes

This seems remarkably dark for a wine that has seen so little skin contact. Mac reports it gained unfeasible amounts of colour in barrel and as it has matured; those are new effects of maturation on me. The fruit is just throbbingly sex-tastic, bursting with hedonistic vivacity that just begs you to enjoy yourself whilst sniffing. The fruit is pretty primary, making the nose seem young, but it is not tight, closed or difficult to assess, it just gives and gives. I’m willing to take and take. The palate pulses with seductive fruit but it is very far from being an over-blown fruit-bomb, there is proper finesse to its very sensual palate. Those tannins are ripe and quite ripe for charming any lover of quality Pinot. Its finish is impressively long, with that delectable fruit and a finely-honed acidic backbone keeping the theme of urbane vivacity going as it slowly releases the amorous caress it has been treating my palate to. This is quality Pinot Noir without a shadow of a doubt; shame he only made two barrels of it. Many thanks for allowing us to revel in its ravishing, sophisticated seductiveness, Mac.

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Clos Saint Denis Grand Cru 2005, Domaine Dujac

The whole point of my existence is to drink wines like this, such experiences make life throbbingly gratifying and undoubtedly worth enduring all the difficult times. Yet, when it comes to the task of describing it I feel far too much of an inarticulate, stumbling neophyte; a ‘new chum’ as I believe our antipodean cousins would say. However, I’m always willing to give such  tasks a stab (which is what I’ll probably get when I visit Dujac if my description sells their mind-warpingly magnificent wine short). The nose has the profound class of a hilariously grown-up vineyard in a great year, but it remains engagingly exquisite and superlatively graceful. It is a nose abundantly aware that it is captivating but it carries its stunning qualities with a stylish nonchalance which just makes it all the more enthralling. This nose is the Platonic ideal of pleasingness. As I taste it I am instantly dancing through a totally tasteful maelstrom of nectarous, vivid, floral fruitiness, impeccable, sophisticated tannins and elaborate, intricate earthiness. The finish is terribly long. It is showing tumescently well now but really should still be in my cellar for a more than a few more years. I’ve got one left, I will keep that for a very special event. It was good wasn’t it, boys and girl?

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