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Michael Broadbent April 2011 column

The Ritz wine list appeals mainly to millionaires, but I spotted one of my favourite Pouilly-Fumes, Chateau de Tracy.

Although I taste a fairly wide range of white wines, I rarely drink them at home. As Daphne does not cook fish, what she does cook always demands red – mainly claret, decent Italian and so forth.

However, I had been sent, out of the blue, a bottle of Mas de Daumas Gassac, Blanc 2009.

I was very familiar with the wines of this noted Languedoc domaine and, as an earlier admirer and then close friend of Aimé Guibert, had tasted – both in London and in the cellars at Aniane – every vintage from his very first red, the 1978, which soon after became known as ‘the Lafite of the Hérault’.

But I had not tasted many of the whites recently. Aimé has now retired and I’m not sure who made the 2009 Gassac Blanc, but whoever it was clearly inherited his genius.

What first caught my eye was the wine’s beautiful, highly polished, pale gold colour. But it was the aroma which positively surged out of the glass, meeting my nose halfway: a mélange of spice, floral tones, the scent of the garrigue scrub which I normally associate with the wilder Corbières hills, and perhaps a whiff of oak.

As for its taste, my first impression was its softness – almost silky, sinuous – with a peach-like flavour, perfect balance and a dry finish. (I am sipping this as I write).

Looking at the back label I see that the blend has not much changed since the earlier vintages – actually, the first Gassac white had been made in 1986 from three contrasting grape varieties.

After the Guiberts initially toyed with Muscat de Frontignan (one of Thomas Jefferson’s favourite wines), Chardonnay took over from Viognier as the dominant partner, and the final third, Manseng – which Jancis Robinson MW describes as making ‘the tangy rich wines of South West France’.

Petit Manseng, which is used here, also happens to make one of my favourite wines, the delicately floral Pacherenc de Vic Bilh.

However I noticed a newcomer into the Gassac mix: Chenin Blanc, whose natural habitat is the Loire, responsible for the superb demi-sec Vouvrays and Coteaux du Layon. Such contrasting, such distinctive and such individual grapes, creating a joyous whole.

Only a couple of days later, another really lovely wine at the Ritz. Not my habitual eating place, but I thought the most beautiful restaurant in London was a suitable venue to have as my guest the delightful and formidably efficient Fiona Holman, my editor of Vintage Wine.

I had, of course, an ulterior motive: to ask advice about some recollections I’m considering publishing. As we both had work to do, we had to go easy on the drinks – Lustau’s La Ina Fino Sherry while we were looking at the menu (a not-excessively priced three- course lunch) plus a glass each of white and red wine.

The Ritz wine list appeals mainly to millionaires, but I spotted one of my favourite Pouilly-Fumés, Château de Tracy, of a vintage which would be in full bloom, 1985.

My old (actually much younger) friend, the elegantly attired head sommelier, Thomas Sorcinelli, heartily endorsed my choice.

The wine’s colour was nothing out of the ordinary, a pleasant pale yellow. But its aroma, like that of the Gassac Blanc, was impatient and surged out of the glass – a waft of scent, light years away from the ubiquitous New World Sauvignon Blancs that can be raucous, gooseberry-like cat’s piss.

The Château de Tracy, like all aristocrats, was different. A refined, underplayed Sauvignon aroma, at the same time floral, again refreshing; totally distinctive.

Dry, its flavour as exciting as its nose, with perfect acidity, both unassuming yet invigorating.

Happily, Terry Herbert (whose letter criticising my coverage of high-end wines appeared in last month’s issue, see also p13) will not be reading any of my articles from now on, so I can comment on the newly released vintage, 2008, of unquestionably the greatest dry white wine in the world: the Montrachet of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Of course it is a great privilege to be invited to taste the DRC range but, to my great disappointment, the timing of the agent, Corney & Barrow, was often inconvenient; having been away at the time, I missed the past two vintages.

C&B’s managing director Adam Brett-Smith denied doing this on purpose but, as a consolation, after the tasting (of understandably modest pours) there was a small luncheon at which the DRC proprietor Aubert de Villaine told me that ‘the quality (of the vintage) was forged – and tempered – by climatic conditions of almost unimaginable difficulty’.

Rain, more rain and other problems in the vineyards; a complete washout saved by some welcome September sun – and hard work.

As this article has turned into one about white wine, I shall just mention the Montrachet.

Pale in the glass but, at lunch, a glorious gold in the decanter. Fragrance is an overused description, but this was minerally, opening up in a well-filled glass with nose-filling, vanilla notes.

Very rich, spicy, nutty and quite powerful, with an interminable finish. I do not see the point of divulging the price – contact Corney & Barrow if you desire.

Needless to say, speculators are not on the list.

Written by Michael Broadbent

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