The Last of Decanter
Posted: 2nd November 2016
I am not unduly upset by the idea of doors shutting on me as long as others open in their place, but it does seem to me that this year an inordinate number have closed, and we have already entered November and I have yet to see a single handle turn. The latest blow has been the loss of my chairmanship of the German Jury at the Decanter World Wine Awards, a position that I had held (coupled with Austria for a decade) for fourteen years. This has now been awarded to the Swiss-German sommelier Markus del Monego. I wish him luck, particularly in the irksome business of convincing any half-way decent German growers to contribute wines to a tasting marathon awash with new world wines.
The news from Decanter was hardly unexpected. “Gradually all the old guard are being swapped for sleb sommeliers and MWs!” I had the impression that they had been looking for my replacement for years, but couldn’t find anyone brave enough to do the job, but there is a little sadness on my part when I consider I have been contributing to Decanter for nearly thirty years, and this recent gesture will almost certainly mean the end of that relationship too.
I continue to taste wine, for all that. There has been one German wine of note this month, and one Austrian. From Nick and Annette Köwerich in Leiwen in the Mosel Valley came a wonderfully sappy, intense 2015 dry Riesling called Einblick No 1 – a sure winner. The Austrian wine came from the Eisenberg on the border of South Burgenland and Hungary. The Csaterberg’s soil is shale and the cultivars are not revealed on the label so I presumed it is a field blend of several unrecognised sorts, an impression reinforced by the fact the wine came in a litre bottle, which is generally an indication that non-approved grape varieties have been used. As it transpires, the wine is made from a respectable cocktail of Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Whatever the wine’s secret, it is wonderfully zesty and powerful and I would say it was easily the match of many foods which would usually call for strong red wine. The litre bottle is a boon really: it means you get two extra glasses.
There was a big tasting of the range at Laithwaites on the 25th, which was a nice chance to reacquaint myself with some things I don’t taste often these days, such as Gosset Grande Réserve (£49.99), the Brut Réserve from Charles Heidsieck (£42), or the 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires (£120).
I think it was the zesty Gosset that stole my heart, but in truth I’d be happy with any of them. If (like me) these come in a bit over budget, there were some good-value things from the Loire, such as the 2015 Pouilly Fumé Les Rochettes (£14.95), the 2015 Vouvray Réserve Champalou (£13.99) and the 2014 Montlouis Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Plus (£22). From Chablis the 2014 Domaine Servin Grand Cru Bougros (£30) was a real classic as indeed was the 2014 Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet (£40).
The 2015 Domaine de la Chanaise from Dominique Piron in Morgon was a really lovely ‘cru’ Beaujolais with a proper taste of sour cherries (£13.99) while the Cuvée Reine Joly from Domaine Camus Bruchon in Savigny (£22) brought on a little wave of nostalgia for authentic Burgundy. The 2000 Château Belgrave (£45) is a mature cru classé with attractive, chunky fruit that might fit a festive meal at the end of the year.
From Italy, the 2015 Pieropan Soave Classico (£13.99) was every bit as good as I remembered it. A red 2011 Castello Solicchiata (£22) from Sicily was nicely spicy, but I felt cost too much for a Sicilian wine. I am more disposed to pay £35 for a top Amarone like the 2013 Villa Cavarena.
The bargains appeared to come from Spain: 2014 Triunfo Cariñena (£8.49) or 2014 Infierno Monastrell from Yecla (£8.99).
For £28 there is a proper, old-style Rioja in the 2003 Viña Tondonia Reserva – a very rare bird these days when Rioja has largely ceased to taste like Rioja.
In Portugal, it is always worth looking at any Alvarinho signed by Anselmo Mendes (£11.99 for the 2015) while the 2014 Amoras from Lisbon (£7.99) might have been the best bargain of the tasting. The 2014 Caladessa da Calada Tinto was twice the price, but a lovely wine.
In Germany, you can’t go far wrong with the 2015 estate Riesling from Leitz in the Rheingau – ‘Eins Zwei Dry’ (groans at silly pun – £14.99), but for a good buy, try Max Ferd Richter’s 2015 Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Zeppelin from the Mosel (£12.49). There were a couple of von Bühl 2015 GGs from the Pfalz, In der Höhl and the Ungeheuer, but I am still worried that they seem so soft. From Hungary the 2009 Royal Tokay Blue Label 5 Puttonyos (£21) was a treat with its triumphant acidity.
I then sank into a spirits tasting with the appropriate buyer. I am an admirer of new gins such as The Botanist from Islay (£34.99) with its fresh, complex flavours, and I got the chance to sample the Warner Edwards Rhubarb gin at last (£32.95).
On the 18th there was a tasting of the 2015s from the Perrins in the Southern Rhone. There was a time when I visited their flagship estate often: the Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; but although I coast past the region frequently I do not find the chance to drop in.
The year 2015 promised to be superb, however, so I ventured down to Berry Brothers & Rudd to see!
The Coudoulet white was no disappointment, nor indeed the white Châteauneuf. The white Beaucastel I found a little flabby, but the old vines Roussanne was as wonderful as ever.
The red village wines were very promising, and some of them I would happily have drunk there and then, like the Cairanne or the Vacqueyras ‘Les Christins’. Others like the Vinsobres, the Gigondas ‘La Gille’ and the simple Châteauneuf are more aggressively tannic and need time. The Rasteau ‘L’Andéol’ was rather more charming and feminine than some, with a fine, cooling finish and really good was the Domaine du Clos des Tourelles in Gigondas with that hint of brown sugar that marks it down as proper Gigondas: the muscular, male counterpart to Châteauneuf. The red Coudoulet was as enchanting as the white. Then came Beaucastel itself. I could find no fault with the 2015 and the 2009 was not ready yet. I was excited also by the 2007, which might have been at its peak, for even though I loved the truffly 2000 I thought it might have lost something already, and the 1995 appeared to be on downward slide.
Light relief comes in the form of Henry Jeffreys’ Empire of Booze: a peon to British achievements in the world of wine and spirits where Johnny Foreigner – despite making the stuff – hasn’t got a bloody clue. It is the perfect book for Brexit-Britain. There is a strong element of 1066 And All That but behind the self-mockery and light-hearted banter, there is plenty of information. It might have benefitted from a little more editing mind you and Jeffreys’ wild, rambling asides that can take you, well, just about anywhere. Those blemishes notwithstanding, it is not a doorstop and it might even make a stocking-filler.