Haut-Brion 1988 et al…

Haut Brion 1988

(by peter)

Sometimes I wonder if our constant tweets and blogs give the wrong impression.

This is why I feel a clarification is in order. Susie and I are not ruthless hedonists. We are not constantly awash in spectacular wine and indulgent food. We are not on perpetual tour around the country attending glamorous bashes stuffed full of beautiful people.

If truth be told, we’re both quite home-loving people (the Spanish have a good word for it: hogareño). There’s nothing we like better than a good night in, the sweet sound of soft baby snores through the monitor and the odd glass of fine wine to wash down Susie’s virtuoso cooking.

What I would say is that we do enjoy our wine and food. And, occasionally, we are treated to a taste of the high life. Usually by very generous and witty friends (the two things often go together, don’t know why…) Which then makes for interesting blogs and tweets. Hence the impression…

Which I’m going to do little to dispel by writing the following piece. But at least you’ll know the proper context now – this was a real treat for us.

The weekend started on a good footing after I completed an arduous deadline (part of a book project I’ve recently been working on) and we finally managed to send out our first School News bulletin, featuring a sensational recipe by top chef Jo Pratt (click here if you want to sign up for your free copy).

Friday night kicked off with a hard-fought game of Scrabble (I was denied the word squiver, which definitely should exist – any ideas for what it should mean?) and a glass of Eins Zwei Dry 2008 Riesling by the reliably excellent Rheingau producer Leitz. Steely, dry, almost austere, but wonderfully balanced, invigorating and persistent – and beautiful with the chicken saag massala and coriander crème fraîche.

Late the next day we decamped a few miles up the M3 to the beautiful old house of some friends, where we were treated like royalty.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1995 was sipped (a little too eagerly by me) while the Aga gently steamed the residual rain off our trousers and hair. It was perfect for the occasion: rich, evolved, full of honeycomb, mushroom and roasted nut depth; structured yet round and enveloping. Just the kind of wine you want to welcome you into a warm house from the driving rain and dark, icy wind.

As we sat down, we savoured a golden-hued, intensely-flavoured white which turned out to be Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles 2001 Grand Cru by Louis Jadot. It had a grapefruit and lemon zest edge which was almost white Bordeaux in style. Very tasty indeed, but some felt it had evolved a bit prematurely and oddly (in the way that many white Burgundies since 1996 have) and, while very fine, wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as it should have been. I must say that, whatever its perceived faults, I enjoyed it immensely.

With our beef and venison casserole, two reds followed, both served blind, and both a real education for me. The first, vivid in its tobacco, roasted green pepper and cedar aromas, could only have been claret. It was refreshing, balanced, open and refined – and was Château Palmer 1988. Delicious.

The second red was more of a conundrum. It seemed less open and obvious than the Palmer. But on the palate it was denser, spicier, altogether deeper yet with that same lifted purity and balance of great Bordeaux. Aromas of warm earth, wild herbs and subtle cedar emerged. The tannins were fine but the acidity fresh and steely. Layered, elegant, intriguing. Young still: much more to come in my view. This was Château Haut-Brion 1988.

Like I say: an education.

With cheese, there was a debate whether to have white or red. Cheekily, I suggested both to our hosts. (Susie and I are big fans of oak-aged whites with hard cheese, or sherry, or Madeira, or tawny port…but seldom dry reds.)

The result? Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts 1er Cru 1996, Louis Jadot (steely, evolved but still ageworthy, scented and nutty – altogether delicious, one of the highlights of the night) and Corton Pougets Grand Cru 1993 Louis Jadot: perfumed and meaty on the palate, very fine.

Damson fool was served with the honeyed, apricot-infused richness of Château Rieussec 1996.

We then decanted ourselves to the fireside, somewhat less sure of our footing than when we had entered. The evening was then concluded to the strains of Warre 1977 – nutty and pruney in age, silken in texture, with a slight fire and spiritiness, fairly light in style. Beautiful with a selection of Montezuma and Rococo chocolates.

While most sensible weekends might have concluded on that notably high note, Sunday lunch with a different set of equally delightful friends still beckoned. And what a treat it was too…

Appetites were whetted by the Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV: new-look packaging but still the same, reliably complex and elegant fizz.

Scallops with pan-fried chorizo were washed down by the refreshing, well-balanced and scented Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2007 by Domaines Schlumberger. Very, very young but very promising too (I’m a fan of this producer).

A wonderful roast pork with roast winter veg and ratatouille went beautifully with one of the finest Pomerols I’ve ever tasted: Château Gazin 1999. I should add that I don’t tend to drink much Pomerol, preferring the structure and grip (and higher production levels, hence usually slightly more affordable prices) of left bank wines and St-Emilion. But this was structured and intense, notably young and grippy but with great textural elegance, with flavours of roasted meat, pressed cassis and leafy hints. Outstanding stuff. Clearly I need to try more Pomerols…

This was followed up by the Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2001: young, quite heady and high-toned, with vanilla and plum flavours, full and in need of quite some bottle age yet (surprisingly for a Gran Reserva but certainly not for Ygay, wonderfully individual wines that they are).

There then followed Ramos Pinto 10-year-old tawny port, Hine XO Cognac, coffee (necessarily modest quantities of all) and a home-coming in the nagging rain which, for once, did little to dampen our spirits.