Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh

Hard Cheese

Written by Giles MacDonogh

Hard Cheese

Posted: 3rd January 2017

So that’s it for 2016. The family was united again, but it was never going to be a really happy Christmas. It was the end of a very bad year and as yet, 2017 offers little solace. Even from the wine point of view, nothing has been replenished in what passes euphemistically for a cellar; we are just living on our fat. Still, we still put a brave face on things, don the party hats that tumble from a bargain box of crackers and celebrate as best we may. The Perrier Jouët on Christmas Eve was deemed too blowsy and the usual Devon lobsters were absent from the feast, but we did well for all that: we scorned Canadian interlopers and the excellent Persian fishmonger in Archway found us a beautiful turbot instead. We started with some deep-fried cuttlefish, then I made a little beurre blanc for the turbot (perhaps overdoing the vinegar?), some braised turnips and a potato purée and with that we drank a bottle of Grand Cru Chablis – a 2006 Château des Grenouilles from the excellent Chablisienne cooperative. I found it annoyingly oaky at first, but it opened out quite a lot, and it might have been even better had I decanted it. The usual more-than-welcome friend brought the cheese: a lovely Vacherin Mont d’Or, a big piece of Montgomery cheddar, a bit of Colston Bassett Stilton and some tomme. I had decanted a bottle of 1997 Nuits St Georges Aux Saint Julien from Daniel Bocquenet, this was wonderfully opulent. The friend brought a couple of bottles too and we opened the 2006 Château Batailley (the 1998 was terribly good last Christmas), but sadly it was irredeemably corked. And then there were two bûches my wife had made – one with coffee, the other a chestnut cream. With that we had a rather lacklustre 2002 Château Suduiraut which seemed distinctly short on noble rot. To finish there was the 1987 Burmester Colheita port, which was lovely in its way – very mild-mannered and understated, lacking that more muscle-bound character you would find in old ‘British’ tawny ports which are ‘refreshed’ with younger wines to give them ‘grip’. I had another glass of it when I got in from Midnight Mass at 1.30 a.m.

There were just the four of us on Christmas Day (one of whom doesn’t really drink – yet). After a walk on a damp and muggy Heath I made a fire and opened a bottle of 1992 Drappier champagne. This was possibly the best wine we had this Christmas, wonderfully long and filigree: a champagne to savour. Later we had a snack of some lambs’ sweetbreads in breadcrumbs, to replace the more usual homemade foie gras terrine. There was a rib of well-hung heifer meat and I decanted some 2003 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. It was a tremendously well-turned wine from a very difficult year, classical in its way but something you loved more with your head than your heart. The beef came with the usual red cabbage and roast potatoes; and we ate more of the cheese and some wonderful meringue snowmen stuck together with crème aux marrons. The only fault I could find with them was that they looked horribly like Boris Johnson. We retired upstairs to watch Scrooge taking with us the decanter of port and the remains of the Sauternes.

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Giles MacDonogh

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