Wine, so sublime

19th Nov 2015

It’s not often you get invited to try a glass of ’61 Gruaud Larose, from a magnum, but I was last Monday night.

The occasion was a celebration of Frank Stainton’s 70th birthday. Frank’s supplied us with most of our wine for over 25 years, since we started the business in fact. He has a great business based in Kendal, which is where we were invited to partake of some his greatest hits.

Frank’s a generous man. He’d invited a few hoteliers,  a couple of Cumbrian based sommeliers, some friends, a brewer, a chef, and his two right hand men, Chris and Tom aided and abetted. If I’d not been invited I’d have volunteered to wash up and catch the dregs such was the quality of the wines we sampled.

I know, this is probably very boring to people who don’t like wine. Sorry. But those that do, just look at this:

We kicked off with a Cuvée Josephine 1998, Joseph Perrier Fils et Cie, Champagne (d’accord). Lovely, biscuity, golden colour, great start. Shook hands with old friends, and then we sat down for the tour de (mostly) France. A few other countries did, as you’ll see, get a look in.

Before we get going though, Frank tells us that he’s an unashamed Francophile. Appropriate.

What do you follow champagne with?

We were trying wines in pairs, carefully considered. First a Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2010, Jean Claude Bessin vs another Grand Cru, Blanchots 2009, Domaine Francois Raveneau. A great start n’est-ce pas?

Next move North to Burgundy’s Corton Carlemagne Grand Cru 2002  vs. Chevalier Montrachet Grand cru ” Les Damoiselles” 2000, Louis Latour  aussi.  Gorgeous.

Then on to the red wines……enough of the white already…..almost.

A wine I have always hankered after is a big Tuscan called Sassicaia Tenuto San Guido, Bolgheri, Tuscany. The only wine from a single wine estate in Italy to have its own DOC. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc. This was a 2000. I loved it.  Italian wines are generally wonderful. But this is simply magnificent. Not cheap of course. A special occasion? Anyone got a birthday coming up?

Up against it is the Vega-Sicilia “Unico” 1991, Ribera del Duero. This is only made when it’s great. “Vega Sicilia Unico is widely regarded as the most prestigious wine from Spain. The winery set the definition of Ribera del Duero in Spain and is considered Spain’s “first growth” estate.” And I got that quote from an American site selling it for $498 a bottle.  It was amazing. So two fine reds from another country. What was going on?

Someone asked me this morning, as I was telling him about the fabulous wines we’d had, “is an expensive bottle really that much better than one which is just a few pounds?”  Well, it’s difficult to put values on the quality we were drinking here. Know that they were the best you could drink anywhere on the planet. What price can you put on that?

Next up, Australia and the USA. Well they both speak the same language. Most folk would say that Australian wines generally lack subtlety, but that’s more reputation than fact. USA, Napa of course, will be more refined. Well Australia got a lot of bad press from the huge volumes of mediocrity they were exporting here 20 years ago. Fact is they often kept the best for themselves. I’ve been to quite a few Australian vineyards and been turned down many times when I asked whether I could get this or that wine imported to the UK. But Australia must be credited with making wine labels easy to understand. Chardonnay anyone?

Hill of Grace Shiraz 1997, Henscke, Eden Valley, South Australia Vs.Harlan Estate 1995, Napa Valley, California.  Running out of superlatives. Don’t think I’ll get a job as a wine writer. But I preferred the Napa.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to go to Opus 1, a highly rated Napa wine and I cheekily asked to do a tasting. I was in the trade after all. I had to get up early and start about 10am.  The winery is an architectural gem (above). I was lucky enough to enjoy a vertical tasting of 6 wines illustrating the way the wines can vary over different vintages. All was spat into a spittoon as I was driving. And it was early.

I digress though.

Finally to France:

First the Rhône Valley, with an astonishing Chateau de Beaucastel 1998,  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  “The atypically Grenache-dominated 1998 Chateauneuf du Pape is fully mature and gives up tons of kirsch, garrigue, licorice and a touch of gaminess in its full-bodied, layered and ripe personality”. I love its soft fruity abundance. A great example of the Southern Rhone, they usually have a fair bit of alcohol, but maybe that’s what makes them great.

Second was Hermitage 2000, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave. Not quite as soft as the Beaucastel but well rounded. A beautiful wine. Probably best with a bit of venison.

Better with food than without.

To Bordeaux and the area regarded as having the Kings of wines.  1996 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Premiere Cru Classe Pauillac, France.  This is a wine I used to be very familiar with. I’d bought several cases in the 90’s, layed them down for a few years and made a lot of guests happy with a stunning wine at a sensible price. Fabulous. Up against the Comtesse was no less a wine than Château Mouton Rothschild1er Grand Cru Classé 1996. Amazing. Both will probably still be great in another twenty years.

Finally the pièce de résistance: the Ancient Vintages.

Brilliant, what a privilege!

And finally:

Chateau d’Yquem Lur Saluces 1962.

In 1974 I was working at the Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst and as assistant manager looked after the cellars. We had an odd ’59 d’Yquem and I asked whether I could buy it as it was all on its own and not even on the wine list. It was in the books at a very low price. My manager sold it to a guest for a pittance. It’s now worth around £1295.

This d’Yquem is simply sublime like buttery toffee on the tongue. Delicious, luxurious end to an amazing evening.

Thanks Frank. What’s for the 80th?


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