Lafite 86 and all that

(by peter)

It’s been a funny, frantic, tasty old month.

The highlights are well worth revisiting – especially some of the most memorable wines, of which there have been a few.

In terms of the action, September got off to a great start with my MW results. Since then, there’s been a first day at pre-school – and nursery – for the two littlest members of the Winchester Wine School family. And we’ve run two great courses – a fascinating Back to Basics Plus with Ata Rangi’s Helen Masters, plus a fun-filled Evening for the Girls (with feedback including, ‘a fascinating evening’, ‘informative, fresh and pure enjoyment’ and ‘Ten out of ten!’)

We’ve both been hard at work on the events scene, hosting wine occasions from Dublin to Manchester via several Harvey Nichols’ restaurants. This explains – though doesn’t excuse – the gratuitous photos of me with the models (we thought our readers deserved a laugh…)

It’s tasting season in the UK wine trade, so we’ve also been busy sniffing, slurping and generally giving our teeth a hard time. Proof that I actually do turn up to these things (but don’t necessarily make that much sense) can be found on the following video, filmed at the Wines of Chile annual tasting, and the photo on Jancis Robinson’s blog here. Some highlights feature in the notes below – others will pop up in due course our School News bulletin, Saturday Kitchen and other outlets…

Trips to Paris, Ludlow and the wonderful hotel Terravina in the New Forest have filled in the gaps. As well as a nice bit of gardening.

But back to the wines. Did I mention that it’s been a tasty old time? Here’s why:

Château Lafite Rothschild 1986, Pauillac (12.5%) – when I was handed this bottle by a very special dinner guest, I nearly fell over. The champagne course (a lovely appley, yeasty Pol Roger NV) was duly interrupted to have a sneak preview. The intense, subtle, inviting aroma was evident from the moment the first drops hit the decanter. A wonderful, exotic scent, both opulent and classical, with notes of oriental spice, graphite, cedar and dried cassis, with an engagingly feral edge. On the palate, dense and still quite tight, but with a sumptuously fine texture and ravishing harmony. Balanced, poised and very nearly perfect. Maybe not the finest vintage ever but beautiful and still with life to come. A life-affirming experience in wine. Not bad with Susie’s duck-and-peach pappardelle, either. (Susie: 9/10; Peter: 9.25/10)

Krug 1996 (12%) – we were very interested to try this, given the fact that the quality of the 1996 vintage – initially lauded to the rafters – has recently been called into question, not least by Olivier Krug himself. Krug’s contention was that the wines were ageing atypically and losing some of the balance they’d had initially. This wine…seemed to confirm his suspicions. It’s golden in hue, with a wonderfully exotic scent of honey, brioche, fresh coffee, warm vanilla and grilled mushrooms. On the palate, the first thing you notice is the fact that the fizz is relatively – but not totally – flat. The acidity is towering. And the richness…is pure Krug. It’s compelling stuff, a real feast for the senses, but also pretty challenging. The acidity – so thrilling, vibrant and pure – is almost too much for the wine now. I’d be tempted to drink up (with food) for those lucky few who still own this wine. (9/10)

Hermitage 1995, Bernard Faurie (13%) – Susie begged me not to use this wine on our MW student course in May because she loves it so much. Susie’s loss was the students’ gain…but we still have a few bottles to savour. This is one of Susie’s desert island wines – we are both big fans of the northern Rhône, offering as it does great value when compared with France’s most vaunted wines. It’s dense, feral and peppery. Brooding and enticing. But with wonderfully smooth texture and savoury grip. A meditation wine. (Susie: 10/10, Peter: 9/10)

Barbaresco Brich Ronchi 1999, Rocca Albino (14%) – we first had this bottle in the delightful Italian restaurant Enoteca Turi – and liked it so much we bought a case. We’ve had it a year or so and it’s definitely evolved in that time, with a pronounced leather, violet and tarry character now evident. But it’s still joyously grainy, grippy and attention-grabbing, just brilliant with a venison casserole. Great producer; great wine. (Susie: 8.75/10, Peter: 8.5/10)

Chablis Premier Cru Vaillon 2001, Daniel-Etienne Defaix (13%) – a wine we featured on our Back to Basics Plus course, this is available from Berry Bros & Rudd for £26.55. Defaix keeps his wines back for several years before release, and never ages them in oak. The result is textbook classic Chablis, all wool, minerals and flint. A gorgeous, grown-up drop with golden yeasty earthy flavours and a creamy texture. No better match for a platter of fresh oysters. (8.5/10)

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2007 (12.5%) – tasted at Sainsbury’s line-up, this is cracking value, mature South Australian Riesling with scents of petrol, lime and cream. Dense, rounded, smooth and succulent. Lovely stuff. (Peter: 7.5/10) (Sainsbury’s, £14.99)

Perrin ‘Les Sinards’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 (14%) – we’re not the biggest fans of the southern Rhône (we prefer the sinuous wines of the north to the spicy generosity of the south), but this is my kind of CNDP. Animal, funky, pressed fruit and really savoury. Lovely stuff. 8/10 (Sainsbury’s, £19.99)

Château Smith Haut Lafite 2004 (13%) – a property on the up, from a vintage I love, this is delicious Graves. Toasty, charry cassis nose with notes of cedar and grilled meat. On the palate, earthy, savoury and lifted – a beautiful blend of the modern and traditional sides of Bordeaux. 8/10 (Sainsbury’s, £49.99)

Naudé White 2008, Stellenbosch (11.5%) – toasty, matchstick nose with apple hints. Palate is full and oaky but refreshing and complex. (BBR, £18.95)

Château Talbot 2004, St Julien (12.5%) – lovely savoury nose with pressed cassis, tobacco and graphite hints. Pure, refined and effortlessly persistent flavours. Drinking well now. Beautiful wine. 8/10 (BBR, £42)

Château la Garde Blanc 2008, Pessac-Léognan (13%) – wonderfully exotic, spiced grapefruit nose with creamy hints. The palate is pure lemon curd. Delicious white Bordeaux. 7.5/10 (BBR, £23)

Cullen ‘Kevin John’ Chardonnay 2007, Margaret River – funky nose with notes of clotted cream, fresh baked bread and cheese rind. On the palate it shows wonderfully elegance, harmony, structure and concentration. Superb New World Chardonnay. 9/10 (Liberty Wine)

Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris 2009, Martinborough – elegant honeysuckle, pear nose – restrained and young, with herbal and blanched nut notes. The palate is rich and harmonious, with the touch of residual sugar (11g/l) effortlessly integrated. A beautiful, sensuous wine – so versatile, and will age brilliantly. Winemaker Helen Masters drinks it with her home-made dried ham…8/10 (Liberty Wine)