To start, some highly attractive and surprising white wines in the modest to middle category. First, Domaine Pellé’s ‘Les Blanchais’, Menetou-Salon-Morogues 2008 – a totally delicious rinse bouche at the start of Daphne’s birthday lunch at The Waterside Inn in Bray.
I confess that I vaguely thought Menetou-Salon was at the upper end of the Loire, near St-Pourçain. The latter is actually on the Allier. Menetou, of course, abuts the southern end of its more famous neighbour, Sancerre. Failing to find Morogues in the well-known wine maps and encyclopedias, I consulted a Michelin map which revealed it as a village and commune in the middle of Menetou-Salon. Elsewhere, I noted that Pellé’s ‘Le Blanchais’ is a single-vineyard cuvée.
Anyway, about the wine. I like a bit of colour, if only so that if distracted I do not pick up the adjoining water glass. It was a pleasing palish yellow which gave no hint of the aroma to come: instant and penetrating, very distinctive in its way, and a welcome contrast to the raw gooseberries of the all-too-common Sauvignon Blancs. With a nose of that calibre it was bound to have a matching flavour. Not too dry, refreshing acidity but not acidic, light in style but not in alcoholic content: 13%. A lovely flavour, length and aftertaste. A four-star wine.
Another pleasant surprise, offered as a most welcome aperitif before lunch with old friends. I picked up the glass fully expecting a refreshing mouthwash but was immediately struck by its quality. A serious wine – good white Burgundy? It turned out to be a village wine from the Mâconnais. The label revealed a familiar name, Domaines Leflaive, which, combined with the excellent 2005 vintage, promised something out of the ordinary. And so it was. Beautiful colour, lovely nose, Chardonnay of course, not too dry, delicious flavour with unusually pleasing flesh and texture. Another unanticipated four-star wine.
Now for one of my favourite sweet wines, one that can comfortably pair with an impeccable dessert (not the grotesque invention of an over-zealous pastry chef with which the nastier ‘stickies’ are best). I refer to Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, a little-known wine from the Jurançon district in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
It was the ‘26 Novembre’ (late picked) vintage 2007 from Château Bouscassé, the estate of Alain Brumont, the region’s best-known producer. Its colour a pure yellow-gold; the distinctive aroma of Gros and Petit Mansengs, honeyed, delectable nose; medium-sweet yet very rich, with these local grapes producing a melange of pineapple and dried caramel.
‘Dried’ caramel is the operative word, for Jurançon, which is always sweet (the dry version is labelled Jurançon Sec), is made not from botrytised grapes but from ripe grapes partially dried on the vine, a process known as passerillé. Enjoyable, but a grudging four stars because, to be honest, I much prefer a more exquisite, fragrant Pacherenc from a smaller producer, Charles Hours. Tiny production, relatively unknown – both wine and producer – and most reasonably priced for its quality.
Then on to red: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s Vosne-Romanée Cuvée Duvault-Blocher, a premier cru blend made from young vines of three of the DRC grand cru vineyards in the ripe, prolific, 1999 vintage. At the time I thought it a rare opportunity to buy a DRC wine which I thought might not be replicated, so after the preview tasting I ordered a six-bottle case; not cheap but a fraction of the cost of the grands crus. I tried a bottle in March 2006 but found it disappointing and unready.
But a few months ago I opened another bottle for a family dinner. Pulling the cork at 8.30pm I sneakily tasted a little, let the bottle stand an hour and, in true Burgundy fashion, poured it without decanting into six large Riedel glasses.
No doubt about it, Burgundy benefits from a wide-bellied glass.
Its fairly deep but unexceptional colour was totally transformed by candlelight: bright, glowing with shades of ruby; the bouquet, shy at first, gradually opened up, its initial varietal scent making a mockery of even the best New World lookalikes, expanding sensually, intensely fragrant – even the empty glass the next morning retained its ethereal, herbaceous scent.
On the palate it was distinctly sweet, powerful, still tannic, but tamed by the warmth of the mouth, opening up like the proverbial peacock’s tail, with great length and lingering aftertaste. Really indescribable; but it coped admirably with my son-in-law’s roast pork and crackling. As for my remaining four bottles, it will be a race of time between the 1999’s full maturity and me.
Written by Michael Broadbent