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Saturday, 3 November 2012

Private Cellar Annual Tasting

When you have MW Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler buying your wine and name your company Private Cellar, it is only appropriate that you hold your annual tasting in the grandly gilded-and-wood-panelled surrounds of the Queen's Room and Parliament Chamber of the Middle Temple in the legal quarter of the City.

And besides, I've never met a lawyer who did not appreciate good wine.

Arriving early at the tasting, there was room to move around freely, but before long it was a bit like being at a student house party. Except that everyone was rather more smartly dressed.

With 34 wines on show, I decided I could get round all of them if I was quick enough, so my notes are all the briefer as a result.

Overall impressions were that quality is both high and consistent - as one would hope - with a focus on the traditional and modern classics.

The few older wines showed much better than the generally younger ones and the revelation of the evening was some very interesting South African wines from Springfontein.

I was less convinced by the Californian wines (but that is generally the case) and there was even a very good Burgundy for under £30.

The Champagnes were well-made and elegant, but lacked the yeasty rasp of food-friendliness I look for.

A general feature of almost all the whites was excellent acidic structure - rounded, prominent and mouthfilling.

Regional / varietal typicity was high - again as one would expect with an MW buying, which makes note-taking easier.

However, as a WSET Diploma friend once told me, a good rule-of-thumb is the more notes you scribble down, the better the wine; that certainly applies here. Anything especially worthy of note gets an additional Good, Very Good or Very Good Indeed.

Prices generally start at £8 per bottle with most somewhere in the teens.

Muscadet FildeFer, Sauvignon 2011 (£7.95) not sur lie but lemony, pleasant and light

Ugni Blanc / Colombard, Domaine Laguille 2011 (£7.95) herbaceous, crisp and zesty

Les Rafelieres Sauvignon Blanc IGP Val de Loire 2011 (£7.95) nettles and blackcurrant leaves on the nose and palate, flinty and mineral. Good.

Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon, Domaine Laguille, Cotes de Gascon 2010 (£7.95) musky, earthy and juicy - not so convinced by this one.

Merlot Maison Mayol 2009 (£8.25) more interesting, coffee aromas, sweet vanilla spice, red and bramble fruit, grippy

Pavillon du Chateau Beauchene, Cotes du Rhone 2011 (£8.95) earthy, spicy, soft texture, elderberry fruit and mintiness

Chateau de Sours Blanc, Bordeaux 2011 (£11.25) herbaceous and pure, with good acidity; thoughtful and precise.

Chateau de Sours Rouge, Bordeaux 2010 (£11.95) coffee grounds and mintiness, ripe juicy fruit, grippy

Reserve de Sours Sparkling Rose, Bordeaux NV (£13.95) traditional method fizz - crisp, fresh and elegant with soft red fruits; feels young.

Bordeaux Ets Jean-Pierre Moueix 2008 (£9.75) cigar box and pencil shavings, meaty with cool mint and bramble fruit; youthful and grippy (unoaked). Will age / needs decanting.

Chateaux Cap de Haut, Haut Medoc, 2007 (£14.95) lovely tobaccoey nose, good bramble fruit, mintiness, fresh acidity and tannins well-integrated (oaked)

Chateau St Brice Grand Cru St Emilion 2002 (£23.50) complex nose and palate, drinking very nicely now, still lively on the palate but harmonious and balanced. Very Good Indeed.

Chateau Haut Roc Blanquant GC St Emilion 2005 (£23.95) complex and minty; youthful compared to St Brice. Good.

Bourgogne Blanc Sorin Coquard (Cote d'Auxerre) 2010 (£11.45) lemony and toasty with sweet, creamy leesiness. Good.

Chablis, Limblin & Fils 2011 (£13.95) precise, rounded, zesty / pithy, great acidity and persistence. Good.

Macon Villages, Domaine de Bel Air 2009 (£11.95) Soft creamy texture, good fruit, nicely balanced.

Villa Serra, Caunes-Minervois 2010 (£12.50) juicy and spicy with cool mint; grippy finish.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Sceaux, Anne-Sophie Debavelaere 2009 (£20.75) red fruits, soft texture, nicely balanced and savoury

Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Lucien Boillot 2009 (£29.62) fuller, softer, more complex; mouthfilling and elegant with ripe fruit and pleasant grip on the finish. Good.

Champagne Chauvet Brut Blanc de Noir NV (£23.50) gently pressed, this has weightiness without varietal Pinot character - crisp, elegant and light.

Champagne Chauvet Brut Reserve NV (£24.95) with a year more in bottle, this has more on the nose and feels more balanced.

Champagne Chauvet Rose NV (£24.95) crisp, fresh and persistent, it feels elegant and light.

Soave Gregoris, Antonio Fattori 2011 (£8.95) lemony with grapefruit and zest; crisp, precise acidity and rounded mouthfeel

Chianti Classico, Il Molino di Grace 2006 (£15.75) meaty, cherry fruit and spice, sweet vanilla; juicy and grippy, feeling harmonious but still youthful. Good - and good value for a wine of this pedigree and age.

Dolcetto d'Alba Rubis, Rocche Costamagna 2010 (£13.95) Ripe plummy fruit, soft texture, lots of grip.

Barolo Rocche Annunziata, Rocche Costamagna 2007 (£23.88) complex nose, cherry and liquorice, mintiness, long on the palate with good acidity and grip

McNaught & Walker Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2010 (£15.95) 7% new oak, unusual lychee aromas on the nose and palate; tropical fruit, precise acidity and mintiness

Terroir Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Springfontein 2010 (£13.95) made by a German in South Africa, these are more European in style - good acidity, leesy, full and creamy, persistent; technically impressive. Good.

Terroir Selection Chenin Blanc, Springfontein 2010 (£13.95) barrel-fermented with batonage; full and creamy on the palate with herby cress notes and good acidity

Terroir Selection Pinotage, Springfontein 2007 (£13.95) coffee grounds and ripe dark berry fruit, sweet vanilla and mocha

Joseph Phelps Freestone Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast 2010 (£165 for 6 IB) creamy, toasty with tropical melon fruit and ripe, sweet vanilla - feels simple and underwhelming

Joseph Phelps Freestone Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2009 (£165 for 6 IB) Burgundian nose, sweet red fruit on the palate; technically good, spoilt by too much sweet ripeness

Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (£170 for 6 IB) sweet ripe Big Red; it's perfectly OK.

Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley 2009 (£595 for 6 IB) sweet ripe fruit, complexity and spice, good muscular grip. Good. Just not good value.

Recommended Wines

My top wine of the night was the 2002 Saint Brice - a really lovely claret that is drinking beautifully now, but still has plenty of life left in it.

Chatting to Private Cellar director Laura Taylor at the end, she commented on how many people had also picked that as a favourite.

She also added that it will not be made any more as the domaine has been merged with another, so this is the last we shall see of it - sadly.

My ideal mixed case from Private Cellar, then, would also include:

- Les Rafelieres Sauvignon Blanc IGP Val de Loire 2011
- Chateau Haut Roc Blanquant GC St Emilion 2005
- Bourgogne Blanc Sorin Coquard (Cote d'Auxerre) 2010
- Chablis, Limblin & Fils 2011
- Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Lucien Boillot 2009
- Chianti Classico, I'll Molino di Grace 2006
- Terroir Selection Sauvignon Blanc, Springfontein 2010


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