Mature Rhones at The Chesil Rectory

It is the eighteenth anniversary of Elitistreview – my organ is now old enough to vote! The Monster Raving Loony Party will welcome the significant percentage increase in their national vote count! To celebrate this eighteen years of excellence, I report on a tasting that took place a week ago. We had some stunning wines, but the tasting was not without problems.

That said, The Editor and I had a wonderful time at Winchester’s Chesil Rectory with our lovely friends Leon and Richard. Thank you both for your wines and the pleasure of your company. We tasted through a range of Northern Rhone wines plus a white Burgundy and a Champagne. A couple of the wines were truly transcendental experiences, and one will no doubt be my last ever encounter with that wine.

A word about the venue. We could not base our tasting at the more usual Elitistreview Court because Richard is worryingly allergic to cat hair. Hector and Fudge shed hair at a rate that makes me think they would prefer not to have any, so we had to re-locate.

The Chesil Rectory is the best restaurant in Winchester, without question. Whilst it has pretentions to be a fine dining experience, the dishes are more well-cooked, hearty food. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Indeed, we all loved every dish we ordered and the quality was high.

Corkage charges, with the possible exception of Champagne corkage charges, are very reasonable, especially as the sommelier was really keen to help with our requests for extra glasses (good quality Riedels) and opening bottles with corks as decayed as a 70-year-old diabetic’s feet. Service was jolly good.

The atmosphere was wonderfully friendly and welcoming, and it really made one at ease and ready to eat their quite delicious food. Everyone around us seemed to be having almost as much fun as we were – they would have been happier if they had wines as good as ours!

Considering The Chesil Rectory is easily Winchester’s best restaurant and we had several bottles to pay corkage on, the price was quite reasonable. Not a place to go for a bargain meal (unless you just take their set menu and drink water), but even ordering a la carte you are not going to be robbed blind.

Two general points about the tasting:

Firstly, considering we were tasting mainly older wines from the Northern Rhone there was an amazing lack of Brett present in the wines. Sure, they tasted of 40- and 24-year-old wines, but Brett was almost entirely absent. Even back then some people cared about vineyard hygiene.

Secondly, even though I accept my part of responsibility for this, but the order we tasted the wines was frankly bizarre and a massive mistake. Normal convention would say start at the youngest wine and then move to the older wines otherwise the younger wines will taste unnecessarily hard and tannic.

We started with a 40-year-old, incredibly fine wine. This would have been a brilliant treat to have at the end of the meal and would have ended the tasting on a very high note.

Instead, we then moved onto a 4-year-old wine that, comparatively, seemed almost impenetrable, before moving onto two 24-year-old wines, that were made harder to taste after having something big and tannic.

In retrospect, I would have much preferred to do it the normal way. Ending the tasting with an incredibly fine and rare 40-year-old wine would have been a real treat to send us on our way and the 4-year-old wine would have seemed more amenable to analysis.

However, as I said, I agreed to taste the wines in this unhelpful order and so it is partly my fault that wines did not show at their best and others seemed over-shadowed by what came first.

Finally, I will be scoring these wines. I will not be scoring them in an entirely conventional manner. My scoring system means, if you are reading this on an RSS feed or by email, you might want to come to the site to listen to the music if it does not work in your usual reading preference format.

Like ALL scoring methods, mine is personal and context dependent. It doesn’t matter if the scoring system you use is like mine, or 50 plus some numbers you have plucked from the sky, the scoring system is personal and context dependent. Even numbers will basically mean nothing to anyone else unless they know you well, were present when you made them up and you explained why you made up that particular array numbers using actual words to describe the quality of the wine.

To put it another way, scores are only vaguely intelligible to other people and have little value because of that. At least with mine I will hopefully introduce you to some new music!

To the wines!

Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2013

Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2013, Maison Louis Roederer

Quality Champagne is a fine wine in its own right and should be treated as such. Leon brought this wonder and was, at first, concerned it was not cold enough. The other three of us disagreed forcefully enough to persuade him not to put it in an ice bucket and so we were able to taste the multifaceted qualities of this fine wine.

The nose was both full of delicious fruit and detailed with mineral intricacies. In 2013 the Roederer Blanc de Blancs was made entirely from three vineyards in the Grand Cru village of Avize and, without having to engage the imagination in the slightest, we thought it displayed the characteristics of that Grand Cru.

Primary amongst these characteristics is a lacy character to the fruit and minerality. It seems filigreed in the components of its aromas. This is quite delightful.

Considering 2013 is not the very greatest of vintages this was a scintillatingly brilliant Champagne. It had the depth and delineation of flavours one wants from this origin. It had the correct weight and density one wants from a Grand Cru origin Champagne and the fruit was simply delicious.

Roederer Blanc de Blancs is the hidden gem in the Roederer line up. They make over fifty times the amount of Cristal than they do Blanc de Blancs. Yet this totally satisfied, both intellectually, viscerally and playfully. A Champagne of the first order.

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be Gin soaked boy.

Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Les Ménétrières Cuvée Hors-Classe 2020, J. A. Ferret

Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Les Ménétrières Cuvée Hors-Classe 2020, J. A. Ferret

By calling this ‘Hors-Classe’ Ferret, now owned by Louis Jadot, are making the ballsy statement that this is effectively a Grand Cru. Pouilly only got Premier Crus in 2020, let us not aim too high too early, chaps!

Phwoar! It is big! Very weighty and dense on the nose. It has certainly benefitted from me decanting it back into its bottle and leaving it out of the fridge an hour before we drank it. It also means it is not too cold. One should not serve quality white Burgundy straight out of the fridge.

It has a lot of oak, but there is enough sharp fruit and raw power to handle this. Any weedier wine would been acrid with this much oak, but there is the muscle to manage here.

This is not to say it is a heavy booze monster. Far from it, it has a lovely, elegant lemony-floral character to the nose and it is only 13%, it just has scale to it. Scale bigly.

It is also not short of dimension. There is the fruity/floral character, a flat Champagne quality to the Chardonnay characteristics and it sits in the glass pulsing with an intense mineral character. Yes, it is big, but it is quite, quite lovely.

The palate has weight, but delicious and definitely idoneous balance – it is not just ‘impressive’ but it is also delightful as well!

One would never guess this as Pouilly from the acidity. A lot of Pouilly is not short of being battery acid – this acidity is perfectly in check whilst being present enough to keep the palate alive and perky.

Lemon fruit and delightful floral flavours swirl on the palate, infusing the denser characteristics with vim and vigour. It really is harmonious, complex and long, with a powerful chalky grip persisting after you swallow. Do swallow, please! It is very good.

I was irritating enough to serve this blind and everyone was in the Cote de Beaune – Chassagne or Meursault. I do not blame them; you would have to be a far better taster than me to be able to ignore the weighty complexity and draw correct conclusions from the floral aromas and high-ish acidity that this was the heart of the Mâconnais.

This wine is pretty pricy if you buy it retail these days, but if you can manage a six-pack there are some good in-bond deals that you can keep in storage (it will improve for years) or pay duty and VAT on and get cracking on its remarkably classy scale now in what is undoubtedly only the start of its evolution.

I’ve got a couple of bottles of the 2018 of this in storage and there they will stay for a while yet. Since I cannot afford anymore, I’d better drink them at their peak of prodigious powers.

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be National Express.

Cornas 1983 Guy de Barjac

Cornas 1983, Guy de Barjac

Guy de B stopped making Cornas in 1985, so this was his penultimate great vintage, it was 40 years old, why did we not have it as a special treat for being good chaps at the end of the meal? I am a fool for agreeing to this going first.

I tasted this wine a few times in the 1990s, little did I know I would be drinking it thirty years later and it would be in such good condition!

It had a little bottle stink when it was first poured, but with a quick swirl it blossomed into some massive tropical flower of resplendent hues and complex aromas. There was a suggestion there could be Brett on the nose, but I did not think so.

There was a little iron and grilled meat, but good god the fruit! It was so perfumed with subtle and involute fruit aromas the bewitched and ensnared the nose and mind into a world of pure delight and florid joy. What a lively nose for a 40-year-old wine!

Some earthiness was also present, but it was the superb, fresh, complex, livid, expatiated fruit that slapped my face around to make sure I paid total attention to it.

The palate had a little dryness to it, not as much as I would expect from a Cornas of this age. There was more earthiness, especially on the finish, and more of that colourfully delicious fruit. It lasted and lasted.

What a wine. What a treat to drink. Thank you, Richard!

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be Have you ever been in love?

Cornas les p’tits bouts 2019, Mickael Bourg

Cornas les P’tits Bouts 2019, Mickael Bourg

So we move on from a lovely, delicate, fully mature 40-year-old onto a 4-year-old ripped, cut and throbbing with the energy of a recent, powerful vintage. Madness, what was I thinking?

It was almost painful to taste this comparative wild monster after the de Barjac. I even went as far as having a (small, thankfully) sip of water and eating some bread in order to refresh my palate.

It was well worth assessing properly. Yes, it was a tannic brute, but there was more to it than that. It had something of a oddly spiky hint of greenness combined with beautifully ripe blackcurrants that reminded more than one of us a little of Allemand – high praise indeed. I have the bottle-count to see if evolves in this direction, I just have to avoid death for a long time.

The fruit was clean, but earthy, quite satisfying and very Cornas. It had the brutality to it that makes tasting Cornas of this age a pursuit for only the crazy (me) or the desperate to assess a producer for the first time (Richard). The palate was undoubtedly engorged with dimension, as well as tannin, and the finish was more than long enough to mark this out as a fine wine. It just needs age.

DO NOT open this now! Not for six years at the very earliest. It is a fine wine, but all its qualities are so tied up in its ‘Mr Universe dragged through a field and given a bloody big battle ax’-ruggedness that, unless you have got the imagination to match a really analytical palate, you will be just pissing away a real quality wine that there is little enough of in the world to go around anyway.

We undoubtedly tasted this at the wrong point in the tasting, which added to the difficulty of sampling such a beast – any 2019 Cornas of typical character would have seemed fearsome after the utter beauty of the 1983 de Barjac. However, though the tooth-aching tannins and not totally moderate booze-level you could detect the quality. But DO NOT OPEN IT YET!

Oh yes, there is one utterly terrible, shameful thing about this wine I would be wrong to not to point out. Its label is so emetically bad I’m going to have to leave the rest of mine in storage for years just after this one clash with it!

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be The best mistakes.

Cornas 1999 Dumien Serrette

Cornas* 1999 – Domaine Dumien Serrette/Nicolas Serrette

*Known as Cornas Patou Vieilles Vignes in subsequent vintages.

It is back to beauty and what exquisite, refined and urbane beauty this is! It is all about purity, finesse, elegance and loveliness. Consider me transfixed.

There is great ripe and still vivid fruit here, but it is refracted though the prism of time giving it a softer, more decadent character. It is definitely delicious and decidedly delightful.

It has a soft, nuanced earthiness to it as well, as one would hope for from a Cornas, but again it is a civilised type of earthiness with no hard edges or dirtiness.

Indeed there is not the slightest hint of anything one could begin to have the suggestion of a idea of the shadow of an hint of detecting anything Brett-y about this Dumien Serrette. It is clean as a whistle and I am very confident about enjoying my 2019s through a long life of shimmering brilliance.

This Cornas has a really supple palate, with lovely fruit supported by a deeply pleasurable structure, minimalist and small scale but sufficient to keep it in perfect balance.

I love this, totally. If this trip to the Chesil Rectory were a normal tasting, this and the Champagne would be wines of the night… but we had Guy de Barjac 1983, so far removed from normal!

Type, but supremely beautiful, Cornas. A fabulous wine in its own minimalist, scuplted right.

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be Songs of love.

Hermitage 1999 Bernard Faurie

Hermitage 1999 – Bernard Faurie

If the Dumien Serrette Cornas was ‘type, but beautiful, Cornas’, this Faurie is ‘type, but beautiful, Hermitage’! I think he retired a couple of years ago, but it is worth picking up any bottles you see from good vintages as he is a top source from the hill.

It has the rich, earthy complexity of terroirs blended from across a large Cru. There are layers of fruit, that, despite the general beautiful aspect of this wine, have a noticeable degree of power lurking behind them.

There is a good grind of pepper to the nose and that rich, warming character of Syrah that we term ‘spice’.

It is really long and swirls with earthy, mature fruit characters on the finish. Top bunny Hermitage!

This seems clean to me too. Maybe if it were not the end of the evening, and I was in less pain, some of that earthy maturity could seem like there is a shade of Brett to it. But I am buggered if I am going to do anything apart from enjoy a lovely bottle of wine, kindly brought by Richard, to end the meal.

Look, can we just acknowledge that my back is more painful than any experience I have had since pancreatitis (both whilst I tasted this and now as I attempt to finish this article and go through the slog of adding pictures, links, etc.) and I want to enjoy my last taste/memory (respectively) and go home/to bed (respectively).

If this wine were a Divine Comedy song it would be Tonight we fly.

Thank you to Leon and, especially, Richard for thrilling The Editor and I with lovely wines – some were just fantastic and thinking about them is making me happy enough to fancy a bottle of Lilbert-fils NV and get on with planning Elitistreview’s voting strategy. I’m aiming for longer than eighteen more years, despite worrying about how recondite my notes will have become by then!