The Farr side
It was decidedly odd to be back in the grand surroundings of the Vintners’ Hall.
It felt like yesterday that assembled family members were there lauding Susie’s unbelievable performance in her Master of Wine inauguration ceremony.
This time, however, it was for Farr Vintners’ Christmas tasting: a rare chance to taste some of the wine world’s more celebrated (ie expensive) names.
A fellow journalist in attendance (there were only two of us) noted that the tasting wasn’t really aimed at us so much as “the people with the cheque books”. And they must have been fairly chunky cheque books, too, because with wines as expensive as £1,560 per case in bond (stand up, Krug 1998) these were no gondola-end trifles.
But it was just as interesting to see the wines that, in my view, didn’t really merit the lofty price tag. In this category, I’d name and shame Dom Perignon 2000 (£799 per case i/b; just lacks the depth and beauty of other prestive cuvees), Pichon Lalande 2005 (£650, just too clean, ripe and fruit-forward to be truly satisfying) and several 2007 southern Rhônes (too sweet-fruited, almost porty and hot).
Though I’m sure many would disagree with me (Robert Parker included).
On the flipside, it was fascinating to taste so many delicious 2004 clarets – clearly an under-appreciated vintage and one that offers a good deal of pleasure now, albeit perhaps in a lighter style than the blockbuster vintages. I can’t help feeling that with some properties in the so-called stellar years (2000, 2005), the ripeness, alcohol and sheer weight of fruit has become just a little bit too much. Heresy? Maybe. (And it may be further contradicted by Susie’s tasting of the 2005 clarets, to be posted soon.) But that’s what I’m tasting at the moment.
Here are a few of my highlights. All prices quoted are per case in bond, from Farr.
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Sous le Puits” 2008, Maison Verget (£250)– lovely toasty lemon nose with a refined yet spicy palate with plenty of umami weight. Very good. 7.5/10
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2003 (£199) – good evolution here, with nutty appley Chardonnay notes. Dosage on the high side to balance rapier-like, vibrant acidity. Well focused and tight. Good bready richness. Sweet apricot and brioche. A bit confected in its sugar/acid balance but this will develop well and represents good value from this stable. Very good. 7.5/10
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2001 (£220) – lovely elegant brioche development on the nose. Then the palate is layered, refined, focused and mineral. More grown-up than the classic cuvee. Delicious. 8/10
Krug Grande Cuvée NV (£965) – this blend of many years in the 90s (90, 93, 95, 98) with some younger vintages (2000, 2002 and others) remains a benchmark NV (or “multi-vintage blend” as Krug would have it). Elegant bready nose. Palate is gently honeyed, toasted hazelnuts. Dry and refined, persistent, elegant and just super poised. 8.5/10
Krug 1998 (£1,560) – restrained on the nose, with bready and lemon hints. The palate is more of a revelation. Broad, bready, with honeyed hints. Rich but focused, savoury, amazingly focused vibrant acidity rears its head. Touch of enticing oxidative brioche notes. Could age well yet. Linear, classic. Delicious. 9/10
Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate 2006 (£130) – I’ve been wanting to try this for a long time as it’s always cited by wine lovers as a great New World take on the Burgundian style. Plus it’s made by a Master of Wine! It doesn’t disappoint, especially given the price versus its Burgundian counterparts. The nose shows elegant apple and bitter nut character. The palate is fleshy and broad but with an elegant savoury nut and lemon undertow. It seemed a touch diffuse (though this may have been the after-effects of the Krug 98) and still a New World take on the Old World, but in this context it’s delicious and faithful to its origins. Very good. 7/10
Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol 2007 (£295) – I’ve been tasting quite a few Craggy Range reds recently and I’ve very, very rarely been disappointed. They seem to pull off that very difficult feat of making New World wines with great power and brooding depth yet with an elegance and refinement that’s extremely appealing. This is a case in point. Toasty, charry black fruit, brooding nose. Palate is explosive, huge but also very refined and self-contained, with a lovely ferruginous edge. Brilliant. 8/10
Château Palmer 2002 ex-chateau (£950+) – lovely tobacco wood smoke nose with hints of truffle and cedar and dried cassis. Palate is woody, bit lean, but lovely and savoury and meaty and juicy. Lean stule but drinking well. 7.5/10
Château Palmer 1996 ex-chateau (£1,200+) – meaty, earthy, dense aged fruit. Palate is dense and deep, layered and evolved. Savoury and delightful. Delicious. 8.5/10
Château Pichon Lalande 2004 (£720+) – smoky cassis nose. Palate is elegant, linear and persistent. Has more integrity and drinkability than the fruit-forward and slightly unlovable 2005. Very good, in a minor key. 7/10
Château Leoville Barton 2004 (£395+) – lovely elegant earthy meaty nose. Some toothsome development here. Palate is poised, savoury and fresh. Lovely roundness and linear focus to it: svelte and lithe. Will age well but great now. Understated style (to complement the price). One for the purists, and those who like value for money. 8/10
Château Rauzan Ségla 2004 (£340) – exotic sweet spice nose, creamy and with ripe plum hints. Which isn’t my favourite kind of Bordeaux nose…but the palate carries it well. Mouth-filling, scented dense core, delicious. 7.5/10
Château Canon 2005 (£600+) – very young, creamy, upfront fruity nose. Then it’s dense, layered and very persistent on the palate. Very good indeed. 7.5/10
Villa Bel Air Rouge 2005 (£110) – cracking value for money. This blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc was aged for a year in used barrels and shows lovely Graves character at a snip of a price. Appetizing notes of roasted pepper, gravelly red fruit and a fresh, lifted palate all come together in great harmony. Excellent stuff at the level. Elegantly midweight. 7/10
Château Lynch Bages 2004 (£510) – elegant smoky cassis nose, quite young. Palate is dense and gravelly, quite tight, linear and young. It will age well. 7.5-8/10
Château Lynch Bages 2000 (£1,250) – a typo on the tasting sheet offered this wine at £125. If only…elegant meaty toasty fruit nose is very inviting. It lures you into a palate that is gently spicy, with lovely fresh acidity and layered fruit and oak breadth. IT’s evolving quite fast, it would seem, but you can’t argue if it’s tasting this good. Wonderful tannic finesse. 8-8.5/10