Rather embarrassing… our favourite restaurant: The Cabin (lauded in my April issue column) has suddenly, without warning or explanation, closed. Only a few weeks ago we took two mussel-liking friends there and they were delighted, vowing to return. No hint then that the end was nigh. Last week, craving more bivalves, we found the restaurant dark, with an uninformative note on the door recommending a nearby pub which did ‘excellent steaks’.
This reminds me of one of the rare occasions I raved in these pages about the mojitos at another local restaurant, The Farm. After presenting a copy of the magazine to the front-of-house staff, we headed to the bar for cocktails to find it not only packed but spilling over onto the pavement. I was delighted – until I noticed they were all drinking beer, prior to a football match at nearby Chelsea.
So restaurant critics, food and drink writers can relax. I shall stick to reporting on wines. This time, some interesting ones served at the 105th gathering of the Saintsbury Club, an invite-only meeting of literary and vinous minds, originally founded by Andre Simon.
Always in a rush, and only just making it to Vintners’ Hall in time for the dinner, I was dying for a glass of Champagne. Instead, as an aperitif, a past-sell-by-date white Burgundy. It seems to me (and others) that white Burgundy has endured a somewhat lacklustre period.
Whether this includes the 1998s I can’t say; but what I can say is that Michel Colin-Deléger’s Les Morgeots, Chassagne-Montrachet 1998 was variable – mine was maderised. I went to the bar and swapped it for a paler, fresher glass. Age, vintage or storage?
Surely not the latter – the Vintners’ Hall cellars are immaculate. In the white Burgundy chapter of Vintage Wine and Wine Companion I wrote that 1998 ‘despite a difficult growing season, was a remarkably good vintage for the whites’, rating it four stars.
Of other 1998s, JN Gagnard’s two Chassagne-Montrachet’s, his La Boudriotte and Les Caillerets, both tasted in July 2006, the first I rated four stars but recommended ‘drink up’, the other, inexplicably rated 3.5 stars, I added ‘drink soon’; Colin-Deléger’s Chenevottes, even at only four years old, and despite four stars, I also suggested ‘drink up’. All three would have been better young and fresh.
Next, at the dinner, three contrasting clarets, all from Margaux. First, the 1995 vintage of the late Peter Sichel’s home château, d’Angludet. Even after 15 years it was still immature: deep, opaque core, intense and still youthful; holding its nose (little joke); firm, good flavour, very tannic. 1995 is a serious vintage. Will it be more amenable in another five years?
Next, in magnum, Labégorce-Zédé, the first, most masculine of the brilliant trio 1988, 1989 and 1990. Less deep and with a more relaxed rim. My brief note, scribbled on the beautifully printed menu, the next morning read, with difficulty, ‘typical ’88, good but a bit stern. Dry finish’. Perfect with the spring lamb.
Finally, also in magnum, Palmer of the third of the trio, 1990. A soft red shading off to a relaxed, mature rim. Its nose, subdued at first, opened up beautifully. On the palate, incoming sweetness, perfect body, lovely flavour and, sure sign of quality – length.
And, like all good classed growths of this sort of vintage, every sniff, every taste revealed further layers of fragrance and flavour. The perfect – I hate the expression – ‘food wine’, the antithesis of the new-style ‘global taste’ reds that are impressively deep, with dollops of fruit, sweet, alcoholic – and better quaffed, if at all, without food.
A quick round-up of the rest: the 1990 Rieussec, much paler, under Rothschild ownership, than the distinctive orange-amber of the excellent 1975 and 1976. The 1990 was a beautifully developed and well-balanced wine, in its prime.
We next drank Quinta do Noval of a doubly memorable year – the grapes picked more or less at the same time as my first wine auction at Christie’s, 11 October 1966; it was also the year I was elected a member of the Saintsbury Club.
The wine was maturing well (most ’66s are better balanced and longer lasting than the fashionable, more expensive ’63s); good nose, mellow, faintly fig-like; drying out a bit but perfect with the club’s apple, cheese, and digestive biscuits.
I do not normally drink brandy but the treasurer insisted on me sniffing and sipping a Delamain Grande Champagne 1957, ‘landed’ (imported in barrel) by Harveys in 1958 and, for some reason or other, bottled by Avery’s in 1985: shimmering gold; glorious, delicate, ethereal, crystallised violets scent; surprisingly sweet and, in short, exquisite. A rare six-star experience and a fitting end to a civilised evening.
Written by Michael Broadbent