Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Radio Silence

I am going to apologise in advance for the forthcoming silence on my part over the next few weeks, and also for the last couple of weeks. I have been trying to rent out the flat in Paris, try looking for some pocket money through journals work, and I have faced days of frustration as well as evenings of obliteration trying to get things organised. Well you would, wouldn't you? At this point, I would not recommend heavy drinking when a small American journal in a moderate state, wants you to write a few lines on 'local brew' and you feel like there is a grit (or similar) taste in your mouth the morning after as you stare bleakly at the laptop trying to describe the thing you love the most. Ouch my liver!

So in this spirit, thank God it is Shrove Tuesday and the start of the Lenten period. I am going to contradict the words of Alistair Campbell during an interview between the BBC(?) and Tony Blair, I " don't do God!" Well actually, as the good Catholic boy my parents brought me up to be, I do, and give up (every year) alcohol as part of my spiritual as well as physical detox.

I will write again after Easter Sunday (unless I find some notes from a previous tasting to fill the radio silence).

Enjoy the break, and for those of a similar mindset or faith as me, Good Lent.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

A note to the boys on St Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is looming and in the spirit of romance and adoration of the feminine I always turn to Champagne. It is the perfect and essential part of any romantic evening, and to me, is the essence of woman in a glass. Pink? Actually, I don’t do pink. Not because I am not in touch with my feminine side (I have read Cosmopolitan) and feel that the colour reflects the rosy cheeks, full lips or beating heart of the woman into who’s eyes I am staring on this day of romance. No, I just don’t really like it as much as the pure, straw coloured nectar, so why over do things?

Champagne is special, there is no denying it. A once weak and probably flabby wine is transformed through a heady, complex, time consuming, and in some cases, personal process of production – including the remouillage (the bottle turning, in some houses, by hand) and dégorgement (the removing of the dead lees from the neck) and all the tricks that make it special - into a sparkling golden drink that lends biscuits and cream, almonds, lemons (sometimes grapefruit) and pith, and floral notes to the palate. No wonder that our hero monk Dom Perignon thought the drink with the stars in was a miracle, it really is.

There is something delightfully youthful and feminine about a glass of non-vintage that has the frivolous sparkle, the light lemon zing and the creamy yeastiness. Bubbles tickle the tongue and lift spirits in a way that other wines cannot reach (apologies to Carlsberg). There is a carefree lack of formality that comes with the NV. The pop of the cork (that is meant to sound like a lady sighing in anticipation) and the whoosh of the froth as it races to the rim of the glass, the fun before the taste. Sparkles reflect bejewelled necks; the tickle on the tongue that brings a smile to the face and crinkles to the nose. Young love, hungry need or flirtation, all the anticipation of what might be, all reflected in a glass. This is what the NV is all about.

At the same time, the vintage brings with it a whole new dimension. A lighter sparkle in the glass, a stronger scent of biscuits and nuts from longer development, a more mellow flavour, all give the impression of a more mature woman, sensual and experienced, but with a glint in her eye. Less is definitely more with a vintage (proving there is still so much life in the old girl yet!) No whoosh and no need for giggles. This is serious lovers stuff, where senses, smells and tastes are heightened. Nuances with every glance, every word on the lips, every taste in the mouth. Whereas the NV is the ‘bling’, the party girl, this is the seductress. No need to impress, no anticipation of what might be but a knowledge of what will be, or already is.

Non vintage or vintage love? Diamonds? Stars? Sparkles? Either way, chuck out the chocolates, hold back the flowers, just bring out the Queen of drinks and relax. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Birthday Bordeaux

Birthdays come but once a year, as they say, and all the memories that they bring come with them. So notching up more points on the Eurostar and taking advantage of a lift from my brother, I came back home to celebrate. I admit not being good with birthdays, vanity and lost youth, missing loved ones (you know what I mean), so, thinking of something appropriate which could take me back to places and times, something which will bring a smile to my face rather than the usual scowl, I nestled some bottles of Côtes de Bourg, (Monteberiot 2004, www.monteberiot.com) in my bag, and prepared for a trip down memory lane. This wine was recommended to me by a friend who used to live in Paris many years back, who still has an overt interest in wine and hangover cures.

I saved my notes from when I went to Bordeaux with Dominique, my then girlfriend, and decided to see how it had changed: a more gentle effect on the palate [than the 2003], berries and spice, cream and wood, leaf and earth. This is for taking slowly, letting the flavours develop and draw you in. Taste buds were being teased, if not challenged. So, sitting away from the noise of the kitchen (Ben, my brother, has gone into the kitchen to ‘supervise’, poor dad); creaking floorboards and crackling fire, and awaiting my father’s classic roast of local organic Somerset beef that he does so well, I pour the wine and prepare to taste.

Swirling the glass, the colour has tinges of brown in it now, changing from vibrant ruby to a softer garnet. The smell is spicy berry, with leather and liquorice. The merlot has faded since I first tasted this wine, and the cabernet in the blend has come forward with a heady mix of ‘terroir’, musty leaves (strangely Autumnal in the midst of winter and a freezing January), and tannins which hit the nose as soon as I lean into the glass. This is still a good beefy wine with emphasis on the BEEF given the leather smells and what is for supper. There is almost a medicinal element to the leather (a bit like the witch hazel in TCP but don’t let that put you off – it’s healthy after all!) and a pepperiness from the tannins. Leather thanks in part to the clay based soils that the Bourg has as part of its unique micro climate; pepper from the tannins enriched by the barrels made of Limousin and American oak in which blended wines matured.

On the palate, a reflection of the smell, in the first instance, there is liquorice, real stewed fruits, prunes with cream, and a gentle tickle of pepper on the tongue at the finish. Again, good acidity leaves a long pepper and cream taste on the tongue but also an element of flint. Where before, rich cassis and dark berry hit the tongue, there is a big leather and stew of fruit. But then again, as this wine takes on the warmth of the room, its complexity reveals itself further. A gentle essence of powdery Parma violet reveals itself, there, but really a ghost of flavour, breaking through (all I can think of is Miss Haversham’s wedding cake. Oh Lou, you are so literary!) nodding at the fruitier flavours that tone down the earths and leathers. And then further still, the sleepy sweeter fruits wake up and the original cassis that seemed to have faded comes to the fore. Stronger on the nose and stronger on the tongue.

No one likes to be rushed, and this wine is no exception, needing that warmth and gentle teasing over time to bring out the fullness of her flavour. So, the comparison? In a very human way, and appropriately in the spirit of birthdays, this wine has developed, moved forward, but not necessarily changed. Hearty roasts? Wines that transport you to distant places and times? Log fires and lazy evenings? I should have brought along a few more bottles.

Update: I have been trying to download this on the machine but the power cuts here have been phenomenally frustrating.