The Feast of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker

should always be marked by the drinking of prosecco and South African pinot. (in that order, not together... probably).

The non-vintage prosecco in this case being a nicely off-dry frizzante style IGT from Cazzano di Tramigna. A very pleasant 13-14/20 (and 5/5 for value).

Steenberg pinot noir 2000 (which is not listed in Steenberg's wines) was a tasty lightweight wine. Medium red, showing no signs of age, the delicate nose had hints of coffee underlying the dominant smoky strawberries character. On the palate there was the looked-for gamey note, and a long finish which became rather bitter. 14/20


Hoorah for the birthday ELF

The ELF's birthday, so now he's officially forty-two, same as me. After going to see "The Incredibles" we came home and drank some very credible wines.

d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab marsanne/viognier 02003, screwcapped (boo), is aromatic, oily, and weighty. A lovely aperitif. Bob's wine of the year. 15/20

Glaetzer Bishop shiraz 02001, cork. Very polished. (stop that childish sniggering at the back there) A smoooooth shiraz, but also full on. One to convert those who don't like red wine, the ELF himself being such a one. After he tasted this he requested that I seek out some for him. The tannins are very very muted, the wine is in perfect balance. Mellow. 15-16/20

Outsider shiraz 02002, cork. Much bolder than the Bishop. Higher acidity, more tannic, fresher fruit. ELF didn't like it as much - it's not so mellow you see. 16+/20

Gonzales Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo. Non vintage, but aged thirty years in cask. Palo Cortado is something which you hardly ever see, because it only rarely happens that the freshly fermented wine has the correct characteristics for ageing into this style. Intense nutty christmas cake nose, not strongly sherried character. Not sweet, but medium. 16/20


I did mention the Mouton? Well in that case,

what about Cape Mentelle semillon / sauvignon blanc, under cork? A very clean fresh mouthfeel, and fruity rather than green. It seems rather weightier than,say, the Brookland Verse 1 sem-sauv, which inclines me to mark it down slightly (for no very good reason) but still, 14/20.

We gave much more attention to The Outsider shiraz 02002 (under cork). I suspect this is at least partly because of the sordid horsetrading
that went on over the last few available bottles. There was very little
made, which must be at least partly because the ancient vines produce
"lentil sized grapes", but the flavours are consequently rich and very
concentrated. Watch out for this one next year, or blackmail someone.
TallAsAVan reckons it's not really a keeper, seeing as the ripe
fruitiness is so good now. 15-16/20.


Did I mention the Mouton?

Inevitably when you taste a series of wines, you judge them against each other, as well as on an absolute scale. Thus it is that I have arrived at a new concept: quaffing Mouton. Oh yes. Ridiculous though it may seem, when measured against its older siblings, the '99 (scored at a solid 16/20), cried out from the depths of its concentrated juicy goodness to be glugged, gulped, necked, walloped (whoah, there's a radical notion: wassailing Mouton; mulled Mouton I didn't say that!. Don't tell anyone I said that!). But enough of such nonsense.

The Big Egg had six fairly recent Mouton-Rothschild for our delectation. Starting with the quaffer and working back to the '88. Equal top were the 96 and 95, the rest crowding in behind, and the 98 really rather disappointing.

What all six wines share is a concentrated character, a very strong bouquet and palate with every element of the wine balanced against the others. The flavours are complex: it takes time to tease out the strands of mocha coffee, green peppers, candy floss, paprika, the little hints of violets, occasional savoury bursts of aubergine and mushroom. But I can't think of a better way to pass two hours.

The scores: '95 = a solid 18; '96 = 18?; '88 = 17-18; 97 = 17+(18?); '99 = 16; '98 = 14.


d'Yquem and Roquefort, again. (I wish)

From (approximately) "Monseigneur le Vin", a guide published in 1927 by Les Etablissements Nicolas, who these days are, you might know it, found at www.nicolas.com:

...the flavour of a vintage red wine blending with the taste of a paste of fermented milk ripe for the eating is the very key to paradise.

The author's preferred wine is not Sauternes, but I know what he means.


Just say Noé (and Please, and Thank You Very Very Much)

All hail The Big Egg, for he has found treasure. More to the point, he has shared it with us.

Gonzalez Byass Noé Pedro Ximénez Muy Viejo is quite the wrong colour for wine. In fact, it has no colour, being black. And not see-through. It coats the glass, then waits a couple of minutes, then consents to send down slow legs for the next few minutes.

The nose is very strong, treacle-ish, boozy, headily sherried, then after a while almost briney. Smiley got figs, too.

On the palate it is a thick as cough mixture, and as strong and sweet. It is a luscious, chocolate-y, molasses drink, not remotely boozy or wine-y, with an absurdly long finish which, strangely, did not die away, but built up somewhat, with an increasing spiciness (like five-spice powder). 17+/20.

The Big Egg reckons he paid 0.67GBP for each year of aging of the Noé. Your only response to this act of charity on the part of Gonzalez Byass should be to go and buy some. Oh, and remember to get toothpaste.


Got the sauternes bleues

Or bleues sauternais, peut-être?

After the d'Yquem glory of last week, it seemed the obvious next step was Château de Rayne Vigneau 1988.

In the glass the wine was glowing, luminous gold, brighter than any wine I can think of. On the nose it was powerful bitter oranges, with an earthy leaf-mold undertone. On the palate there was marmalade, intense sweetness and acidity, beautifully balanced. The finish was very very long, and as fresh as grape juice (sixteen year old wine, egad). A solid 16/20.

But it wasn't d'Yquem. Hand on heart, I do really have to say, it is worth paying the ridiculous, horrendous price, in order to experience the intensity of d'Yquem.


Easy Quem, easy go

Mwahahahahahahahaa! I have seen the future, and it is skint. But I don't care, for I have tasted the nectar of the gods. Also, the ambrosia. And when I say ambrosia, I do not mean rice. Oh no. d'Yquem and roquefort for tea, that's me.

I'm sorry to say that I have got in with a bad crowd. I don't know who started it, The Big Egg or SmallFierceGlasses, but once the idea was floated, there was a certain unavoidable Juggernautiness about it. ThisYear'sTallAustralian was simply rolled over. I feel slightly bad about that, but only ever so slightly, for I have supped of the sap of the lotos, the blessed fluid that goes by the earthly name of Chateau d'Yquem '96.

A rich dark gold in colour, and with an intense aroma of seville orange marmalade - but with an underlying hint of earthiness, the wine (wine! There should be another word for such a superior substance as this) was sweet, powerfully acid, almost smoky-seeming, the flavour of marmalade being joined by a hint of butteriness. But so fresh. Eight years old, it might have been vinified only this month.

We drank it, in part, on bended knee, and on reflection, we ought to have sent out for hats, in order that we might doff them.

Chateau d'Yquem '96 18+/20.


Smiley's South African Tasting

I know I shouldn't blog when I'm drunk, but sometimes wine gets you so fired up that you just have to talk about it. The Observatory Carignan/Syrah is such. Yes, I mentioned it only last month, but this is the stuff that dreams are made on. There were other wines. It says so here. I hardly remember.

Oh yes, we started with The Berrio '03. The finest sauvignon of the year. I have tasted better sauvignons, but, not this year, and not at that price. Certainly the best non-Loire sauvignon. A rock solid 16/20, despite the acidity having mellowed slightly. I can hardly wait for the '04.

The Observatory '02. Opened at nine in the morning, poured into glasses at five, this was still evolving when we came to taste it at half-eight, it has such jumping-fresh acidity and fruit flavours. This time I also detected a shiny metallic edge to it. Two medics at the tasting likened this to the tang of blood. But that wild herb nose! Honestly, if you care about wine at all, go and get a bottle of this stuff, lock yourself away for two hours and contemplate the magic. 17-18/20


St Hallett blends

Barossa screw-topped wines for early drinking - but actually pretty decent for the money.

The Poacher's Blend '03 is half semillon, then riesling, colombard, sauvignon blanc. It has a pleasant perfumed touch on the nose. The palate is medium-full bodied, with a touch of lime. 12/20.

Gamekeeper's Reserve '03. An interesting twist on the Rhône blend, there is a small proportion of touriga in here. Big and full bodied, with hints of coffee developing, this is really rather delicious. 14/20.


Top whack St Emilion and Pomerol.

Following on the very next night after the Ardbeg vertical, and an ill defined quantity of very fine grappa, my palate was not at its sharpest, but bravely soldiering on I can bring you this report.

Chateau Grand Pontet '97. The Big Egg was obviously starting off on a low key, so as to work up to the good stuff at the end. Considering the price, this was really very ordinary. A decently made, clean claret, but frankly thin and short. 11/20

Chateau La Pointe '00 was tricky to pin down. Slightly rubbery at first, it developed a lovely candyfloss sweetness and a perfume-y edge. Final score 14/20, YMMV.

La Gomerie '97 was reticent to begin with, albeit showing a complex palate which lingered. The green privet hedge (The Small Egg calls it green tea) coffee-ish character did evolve, so it scored 15/20 in the end.

L'Eglise-Clinet had a similar green character, but greater complexity on the nose. It also showed a very appealing marzipan touch on the palate. 15/20

La Gomerie '98
ended up being my favourite of the night. This might have been cuz it was more impressive on the palate than the nose. There was a consensus amongst the tasters that these wines offered more to the nose than the palate: for me, La Gomerie was the counterexample. The nose was not strong and seemed to consist of barley sugar and washing up liquid. But the palate was concentrated, tannic, verging on full-bodied, hinting at marzipan, and ending long and tannic. Yum 15-16/20

Le Bon Pasteur. This was SmallFierceGlasses's favourite, and other tasters made favourable comments. I think I marked it down cuz the initial nose was somewhat burny, like hot green tea. The palate was medium bodied, very tannic, with white pepper. 14+/20

Saved the best fer last, huh? That would work, except that I was operating on only two hours sleep, and waaaay too much grappa. Aaaanyways.

Cheval Blanc '89
. An iconic wine, but not a great year. Yikes. The wine looked well aged, showing dark brown. The nose was reticent, clean and sweet, like boilings. On the palate it was sweet, light to medium bodied, with a vegetal character, perhaps of green peppers. The finish seemed reminiscent of hot menthol. Everything about this wine was balanced, together, integrated, but..., but..., it just didn't excite me. Perhaps it is beginning to become a little ethereal, ghostly. 15/20

Cheval Blanc '97. Distinctly green on the nose. Medium bodied and tannic, with a long sweet finish. In the glass, the wine developed hints of marzipan. 15/20


Small Island Boy's Ardbeg vertical tasting

Ok already, it says somewhere wine and corks, but what the heck, this was a cracking tasting, so wheesht.

Ardbeg has had a slightly wobbly time over the last few years, but that has gone away now, and the present trend seems to be all good. Current owners, Glenmorangie PLC, have spent a fair bit on doing the place up, and the first fruits of their labours are now available.

We didn't taste the whiskies strictly in age order, since the 6yo and the Uigeadail are cask strength, and the new make spirit is stronger still.

The ten year old, which in the past has always seemed very integrated and classically Islay to me, tonight was rather loose and unfocused. "Rather rough at the edges", my tasting notes have it, with smoke, bitter almonds, grass, mealiness and spicy-ness. 13/20

We tasted the 17 year old and the twenty-five, which Ardbeg calls Lord of the Isles, together. The 17 year old is all sweet mellow smokiness. Mellow, or perhaps refined. Next up was Lord of the Isles. Now this is a whisky to contemplate. We had a lengthy discussion about the relative value of LOTI vs 17 yo. Ginja reckons that it ain't worth twice the price, as does the Big Egg and Small Island Boy, but I , contrarian to the core, find there is so much in the bouquet of the LOTI that I would pay the difference, and then not drink the whisky, but just sit and nose it all night. It is warm dustiness, sunshine on old pine, smooth mellow caramel, leading to light smokiness and then a salty tang. I found the palate to have a sweeter attack than the younger bottlings, whilst offering up the same fine elements as the nose. All the same, it only gets 15/20.

That is probably harsh, but the Ardbeg six year old is so very exciting (I apologise for being a sensationalist) that it slightly overshadowed the LOTI. It is full - nay overflowing - with fresh fruit flavours, soapy apples to be precise, plus smokiness, and a zing that the older bottlings can't match. 16/20

The Uigeadail is another fruity one, but without the snap of the 6yo. The burny sensation seemed stronger too. It seemed rather like cognac. 14/20

Small Island Boy also threw in a blind taster, just to stir the pot. I got caramel and a distinct burniness on the nose, and a lengthy salty finish. I guessed Talisker initially, then moved off in the wrong direction entirely, heading Speywards, when in fact it was Springbank 10yo. I didn't give it a rating, but retrospectively I would guess 13-14/20.

We also had a nose at Ardbeg new make spirit - 70% proof. It's foul stuff. Sweet sweet oily fruitiness, overpowering and artificial seeming. Also, you can't actually taste anything, since your tastebuds are instantly numbed by the alcohol. To think that most whisky used to be sold and consumed this way. Not rated.


Why corks? Why a cork blog?

I like wine. I really like wine a lot. But some aspects of the industry nark me. The whole cursed cork vs plastic vs stelvin (=screwcap) debate narks me more than most. It comes down to this. There are problems with traditional cork closures. But the advantages of tackling these problems have been ignored in favour of blunderingly obvious alternatives which I think show the worst sort of short term outlook.

The dumb alternative, plastics, are just so much misapplied quick technofix. Plastic is wasted oil, and then it becomes landfill. Cork will rot (eventually. Judging by my compost heap, it's decades rather than months) or be fuel (woohoo, burn things, fun!). Plastics are canonical late capitalism. Any costs which are external to your own operation can be ignored. Plastics are dumb.

Stelvins, on the other hand, are smart. They do a better job than cork of keeping Drink-Youngest-Available whites fresh. Stelvins are being developed, so I hear, which allow a controlled rate of air flow into a bottle, so that wines can be aged just as if they were under cork. Soon there may be a stelvin available for every kind of wine, from muscadet to premier cru claret. Which is not to say that stelvins don't have disadvantages. A case of stelvin-sealed wine which is stacked upside down can easily spring a few dribblesome bottles.

But on the whole, stelvins are smart.

There are disadvantages to corks. There is cork taint, or TCA. This is perhaps less of a problem than some noisy writers might lead you to think, but it has been a problem. (Lately tho it seems the cork industry has come up with some prospective solutions to this problem.) Random bottle variation is another problem. But instead of saying, there is a problem with the raw material for corks, how can we deal with that, people have set about replacing cork, giving no thought to any external consequences. The biggest cost of non-cork closures is loss of a unique, fragile habitat and extinction of species. This is without doubt a bad thing. Biodiversity, genetic diversity, whatever you call it, we need it if the planet is going to remain livable.


The Observatory carignan / syrah 02002.

Where to start? Well, to temporise, there was the Cantina Birgi rosato. Made from nerello mascalese, or possibly frappato nero (some uncertainty there) it is a pleasantly dry rosé which mostly avoids the typical strawberries and cream fare which is so popular at present. A person might reckon to this stuff even if deeply suspicious of all rosé wine. I must try this one on Aaaaaaar Bob, who deals with rosés the way your spam filter handles viagra adverts.

But enough of such trifles. To the main feature, the mighty Observatory. I'm not gonna scatter superlatives like buckshot. It's enough to say that if you care about wine you will grin when you taste this stuff. You may startle like a spooked colt at the bouquet, eighty percent sharp black concentrated fruit, fifteen percent crazy garrigue herbs and five percent ..., what... I dunno, that intangible something which marks out a wine as unique. You may flinch slightly at the jumping acidity on the first sip, although if you have decanted it and given it air to breath all day it'll be as mellow as a drunken uncle at a big fat family wedding, calling out for rich supper dishes of aubergine parmesan or red dragon pie. You may wonder if there is something funky going on, chemistry wise, which perhaps shouldn't be, until you give it a minute and realise that everything going on in this bottle is goooood.

if you believe in reincarnation then this stuff is the return of Joey Ramone and Jerry Garcia. Which of them is carignan I wouldn't like to say...

But don't take my word for it. The Big Egg likes this so much he blew his entire month's budget to stock up on the stuff. And as for Smiley, his grin was ventilating his cervical vertebrae.

The Observatory appears not to have its own website. There is this.

At an Alsatian gourmet dinner last night

Smiley did the hard work of matching the food and wine, I got to go and talk about the wines, tra-la!

Billecart-Salmon grand cru blanc de blancs NV
(with watermelon)
This had a fine creamy mousse, concentrated lemon and cream flavours, and something of biscuits about it. Lemon meringue pie in a glass. It went surprisingly well with watermelon, although I was too nervous to really enjoy it.

Albert Mann Tokay Pinot Gris 02002
(smoked asparagus, green pea and truffle cappuccino)
I have previously rated this as excellent, but I don't think it was quite as good on this occasion. It did seem like a great match for the cappuccino, although sadly there was hardly enough of that to taste, let alone fill up on. The non-veggies pretty much acclaimed this as the star of the evening, paired with foie gras.

Hugel Riesling 02003
Carillon Côte de Beaune-Villages 02001
(an "interpretation" of pasta which featured no pasta at all. Brilliant!)
The riesling was neutral against the "pasta". On its own it was a fine glass, with a strong blossom nose and great limeiness on the palate, balanced by very smooth mouthfeel. The pinot, on the other hand, was a very, very good match for the concentrated dark flavours in the mushrooms and aubergine. It had the ideal balance of earthy, barnyard stink against light berry fruitiness in the nose, while the smooth tannin and gentle acidity on the palate sat very agreeably with the food.

Leitz Rüdesheimer Schlossburg Spätlese 02002
(Alsatian plum tart with Mirabel brandy ice cream and schenkeles)
This had a slight biscuitiness on the nose which kinda echoed the champagne. A very fine dessert wine, the pure long acids precisely balancing the rich concentrated sweetness. The ice cream was the only element of the dessert which was too much for the wine - I think it must have been one third part plum brandy. One element of the dish, a single plum, stuffed with chopped almonds and baked, had me grinning and chortling, so tasty was it.


A blind tasting last night

Always the best way to try wine. My favourite was an Australian blend, Nepenthe Tryst, which I mistook for my favourite South African sauvignon blanc, the Berrio. The Tryst has a similar fresh acidity, stony and clean. The difference, I guess, is in the slight touch of sweetness the Australian has. This vintage it's just sauvignon / semillon.

Also very tasty was a white rioja, Cosme Palacio, which I haven't tried for a couple of years now. Loads of oak, of course, and 100% viura (which ought to mean dull in my predjudiced worldview), but which was ticklishly complex, full bodied and long lasting in the mouth.