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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Third Cambridge Tasting - Dinner at The Gonville

The third Cambridge Tasting consisted of a game-themed dinner at The Gonville with a group of friends invited to bring along a bottle of something with a bit of age to share with fellow enthusiasts.

Overlooking Parker's Piece, The Gonville had not been on many people's radars as a potential venue - it has the look and feel of a traditional, old-school hotel. However, three things made it a great venue for the dinner:

- a new chef with ambitions to make the restaurant a venue in its own right
- a smart, new and discrete boardroom dining area that seats a party of 14
- a very helpful staff who got all the details of the planning and execution of the dinner just right
On arrival
We started with a current-release Tour de Belfort Cremant de Bordeaux to refresh palates after long weeks at work, journeys back to Cambridge or possibly both.

A traditional method fizz made from Bordelais grapes, it is elegant, crisp and refreshing with a touch of salinity and a fine mousse; as good as many an entry-level Champagne and available exclusively in Cambridge at The Gonville.

Seated for dinner
We tried the wines for each course in reverse-age order, starting with the older, more delicate wines.

Starter - terrine of rabbit
Prince Poniatowski Aigle Blanc 1990 Vouvray a slightly off-dry Chenin from the Loire; bright golden yellow, complex aged nose, tropical citrus, candied lemon and honey with floral aromas. Rounded and mellow. Lovely and well-balanced.

2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia old-school white Rioja - nothing fruit-forward here; with four years in old oak, it has an oxidative nose and an unusual, pungent, sherry-esque tang. Fresh, lemony and mellow palate. Smells older than the Vouvray but tastes younger.

More structurally precise than the Chenin, it is technically better - and certainly more unusual - but lacks the complexity of an extra decade in bottle.

Kurt Angerer Ametzberg Riesling 2006 Kamptal the first of two Austrian whites from Kamptal - golden sandy yellow, a hint of petrol on the nose; zippy, citrus and mineral, it feels positively youthful. Good structure.

Kurt Angerer Spies Gruener Veltliner 2011 Kamptal white pepper and mineral nose, fresh pure acidity, long and linear; peppery finish.

Both Austrian whites might have benefitted from greater aeration and being served a degree or two warmer.

Magpie Estate "The Thief" Rose 2012 Barossa incongruous young rose from Noel Young's Barossa-based estate - musky nose, fresh ripe red berries; like a sturdy footsoldier in the Officer's Mess.

Main - trio of game birds
Ch Labegorce 1999 Margaux this first of two aged Medocs - dried red bell pepper and dried green herbs; more dried sage on the palate, fresh acidity, soft texture, mellow harmoniousness, well-integrated.

Rousseau de Sipian 2005 Medoc a popular Bordeaux that was familiar to a number of people - truffley undergrowth, fresh acidity, good grip and mouthfeel with bramble fruit and some green herbs.

Alain Voge, Les Chailles 2005 Cornas well-balanced, expressive northern Rhone - mushrooms and truffley hints with complex spice; dark elderberry fruit, spice, freshness and precision.

La Boussole Pinot Noir 2012, Pays d'Oc a Pinot from Montelimar - cooked strawberries and red fruits with good freshness; drinking nicely now, but not an ager.

Dessert - individual berry crumble with ice-cream
J Touchais Coteaux du Layon 1959 Loire - not quite the oldest thing in the room; dark golden, complex aged nose with some hints of mustiness. Dried pineapple pieces, cooked mixed fruit, sultanas and golden syrup with a hint of cognac. Very accomplished and very popular.
Montofoli 1998 Greece mahogany brown, roasted chestnuts, complex, fresh and savoury, long.

Quercia al Poggio, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2003 fermented in barrels over four years, golden mahogany, complex aged nose, cooked fruit with roasted bitterness of chestnuts and walnuts.

The Little Wine Company 10yo Tawny NV Australia deep mahogany, port-like eucalyptus, complexity, rich and sweet, mellow with some firmness, long, good finish.

Gutierrez Colosia, Moscatel Soleado NV golden syrupy brown, complex bitter roasted nuts, syrupy and viscose with savoury persistence. Full-on and a little lacking in balancing acidity.

Possibly the most diverse tasting I have ever been to, it was a fascinating exercise to put these wines up against each other.

- the couple of more entry-level wines here were good enough in their own right, style and price bracket, but were simply outclassed by the company they were in.

- the two Austrian wines were also both good, and I felt should have shown better, but by dint of their youthfulness, seemed to struggle against the much older wines

- the dessert wines were surprisingly hit and miss; the later ones all struggled to match the assuredness of the Coteaux du Layon

- the list was long on old school classics - Loire Chenin, Bordeaux and sherry - re-emphasising my belief that ageing potential is what makes a region classic

- assessing the more unusual wines (of which there was no shortage) was extremely difficult; with no obvious reference point, how to decide on a short taste whether it was an ordinary or superior example of its particular style?

- the oldest wines had an aged complexity and mellowness that the younger wines all lacked, making them them all the more interesting; maybe it's my own age, but I feel I could happily drink nothing but mellow, aged wines from now on.

We graded the wines as we went along and at the end of the evening, elected top white, red, sticky and overall winner.

Below are the group results, with my own personal choices in brackets afterwards:

Top white -  Aigle Blanc (Gravonia)
Top red - Rousseau de Sipian (Les Chailles)
Top sticky - J Touchais (J Touchais)
Overall winner - J Touchais (J Touchais)

Other related articles
The Cambridge Tasting #1
The Cambridge Tasting #2

Gonville Hotel - website, twitter
Tour de Belfort - website

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