Fine Wine Friday at Chez Bruce With Some Iconic Wines…

Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.

Wine Advocate reviewer Neal Martin (left) with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce

First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)



The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)


Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)


The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)


At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)



Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)



The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)



The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)


So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)


The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)


To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)


At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS) 


The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)



To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)



Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.



Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time. 

A Dynamic South African Winemaker Moving An Historic Tuscan Icon Winery to New Heights…

Wonderful visit and tasting today with a winemaker I feel is changing, albeit slowly, the established Tuscan landscape. Asserting his influence at Querciabella since 2010, it is indisputable that the wines have jumped in quality and character since Manfred Ing took over as head of winemaking at Querciabella.


A 100% Sangiovese Cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.


Tasting through the whole estate range, it crystallises how Manfred is imposing his quality philosophy on the Querciabella character and style. With a bit of South African sweat, these are now some of the most intense, focused, biodynamic wines made in Tuscany today! And if you get bored drinking his iconic Chardonnay – Pinot Blanc Batar white Blend, there is always his own Ansonica white from the Isle of Giglio you can indulge in (and which is already reviewed in this site!)


Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

This is a deep, dark, broody wine that reveals complex aromatics of raspberry cordial, cherry liquor, cranberry zest, and sweet candied cherry sherbet fruit intensity. So seductive, very alluring, the palate is equally so mouth watering with layers of saline cassis, black berry spice, sweet cherry tobacco and buttered brown toast. Texturally the wines of Manfred are incomparable with previous expressions from the past, with his ability to elevate the concentration, fruit and acidity balance to new levels his real talent. Underlying it all is his leveraging of fruit quality and fruit purity. It resonates across the palate and reawakens your taste buds. Bravo Manfred! 

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 4: Chateau Leoville Barton La Reserve de Leoville Barton, St Julien 2012…

On a cold winter’s night, what could be better than a lovely steak frites dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux! But on a Monday night I hardly feel like pushing the boat out. Well, that sounds like the perfect moment to crack a Bordeaux second wine.


More accessible, less structured and often more elegant, these are delicious wines that match food beautifully but don’t necessarily require a decade or more of ageing before opening. The full Bordeaux hit for a fraction of the price! 


Chateau Leoville Barton La Reserve de Leoville Barton St Julien 2012, Bordeaux, 13 Abv.

An attractive Saint Julien Bordeaux made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, from the moment you pull the cork, the aromatics seduce you with their intensity, perfume and power. Wonderful liquorice edged cassis black berry fruit, sweet cedar, tobacco leaf, vanilla bean spice, coffee bean and creamy mocha richness abound. On the palate, the texture is superbly light and fresh, finely tuned, very precise and super elegant. Tannins are fluffy and light, and the palate packed with all the complex flavours of the Chateau’s first wine, but without any chewy tension, tannic elasticity and chunky fruit density. It’s just a wonderful, lithe, sleek, athletic version with silky soft black cassis fruit, blueberry, mocha spice, and a peppery, vanilla powder dusted finish. So succulent and drinkable, this wine really strikes all the right notes. Drink now to 2026+.

Verdict: One of the most enjoyable second wines I’ve drunk recently. Buying 12 bottles won’t be enough, try 24 instead! 

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


The Crystalline Beauty of English Still Wine – Tasting the Court Garden Ditchling White 2016…

It might just be me, it might just be my palate, but I really do enjoy the light, crystalline freshness and tart acidity of well made English still wines. Often written off as an after thought in comparison to the numerous prestigious sparkling wines taking the nation by storm, I have for years been a dissenting voice, challenging the notion that English still wines are frivolous and have no real future. 


This week I was drinking another juicy effort made by Court Garden in East Sussex. In Saxon times the farm was known as the Manor of Ditchling Garden, and from the Middle Ages onwards, it was held by the monks at the priory in Lewes. After the Reformation it was owned by the crown, which is when it became known as Court Garden. 


Established in 2005, Court Garden Vineyard is a family run 6.8 hectare single-estate mainly planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. In 2008 they added Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo. The vineyards are situated on an attractive south facing slope with the South Downs as a scenic back drop.


Court Garden Ditchling White Blend 2016, East Sussex, 11.5 Abv.

An accomplished little white from the East Sussex countryside. A blend of 75% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Gris, and 12% Ortega. Following good summer ripening the Chardonnay was barrel fermented in French oak before being blended. First impressions are of an intense, aromatic, crisp, crunchy green fruited white full of brightness, limey zest, green Granny Smith apples, a touch of white peach and expressive, yellow grapefruit citrus depth. The longer it sits in the glass, the more it broadens and fleshes out. Beautiful clarity, crystalline purity, and impressive underlying stony, chalky minerality. Must be a perfect aperitif style or certainly a very fine seafood / shellfish wine match. Delicious, more’ish and energetically fresh, drink now and over the next 2-3 years. 

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Extreme Passion and Precision – Exploring the Cult Wines of Paul Lato from Santa Maria, California…

From his experience of tasting the finest wines from around the world when he was a head sommelier, Paul Lato realised all the greatest wines possessed characteristics of authenticity, harmony, and of course elegance. These are the qualities he set about trying to achieve when he started making wines in California. His ultimate goal was to create wines that are seamless and textural but with enough structure and balance to complement fine cuisine.


In order to make wines of the highest calibre, Paul selected unique vineyards that are cared for by talented growers and vineyard managers committed to excellence. He sought to locate and source from not only the best vineyards but also the best blocks within each of these vineyards, a tough ask with demand outstripping supply from the very best growers. During the growing season, yields are restricted to achieve maximum concentration of flavour. Harvesting is always based on physiological ripeness, which changes depending on the vintage characteristics.

Cellar work is based on minimal intervention, cleanliness and purity of intention. Because every vintage is different, he does not believe in recipe winemaking. With due respect to science, Paul believes that “true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity and passion”. Keeping the lots small allows for gentle handling throughout the winemaking process.

Making only 4000 cases per year, Paul wants his wines to give pleasure and keep the drinkers palate interested until the very last drop from the bottle. Inevitably, with his high level of attention to detail and quality focus, his wines have garnered high scores from the critics and resulted in a massive cult following, with 90% of his wines produced being sold exclusively through his Paul Lato Wine Club.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

A classic Chardonnay which comes from 22 year old Wente clone vines, shows subtle creamy lemon and nutty brûléed citrus fruit lift. Lemon blossom, grapefruit confit and caramel peanut brittle and vanilla bean complexity are all there just teasing the senses. A youthful palate shows nerve, intensity, creamy barley sugar and toffee apple freshness. Intense flavours but nothing over done. Beautiful texture, deliciously vibrant acids, and a subtle minerality lurking beneath the fruit. A very serious multi-dimensional wine that’s also very finely focused. 

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Rita Hills, 14.2 Abv.

Tight intense focused aromatics of black cherry, pomegranate, red tart plums, cranberry and savoury baking spice. Plenty of exotic brûléed notes, intense red fruit layers and peppery, seductive flavours. Sleek, elegant mouthfeel, mouth watering fresh acids, a sweet & sour plummy touch, blood oranges and plenty of bright salty, bramble berry fruit nuances. The ethereal Burgundian lacy texture is most impressive. Fabulous wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Paul Lato il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 15.4 Abv.

Dense, opulent show stopper style immediately evident. Massive intensity, perfume and fragrance showing cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, blueberry muffin, coffee bean, sweet expensive oak spice and dusty, mineral limestone complexity. Super plush, broad and intense, the acids build a sturdy frame from which the exotic fruit finery is displayed. Big, bold, well executed expression with incredible finesse, polish and precision.

 (Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

White Burgundy Producers Making Great Red Wines ~ Tasting Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge…

Domaine Ramonet is one of the quality reference points of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Even before the First World War, their wines were being enjoyed in high society and in some of the finest restaurants in France. Today, brothers Jean Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of the Domaine that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable, not just for their famous white wines but also increasingly for their highly focused, precise, pure fruited red wines.


They currently own 17 hectares of mostly prime Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards plus a small amount of three grands crus in Puligny-Montrachet. The reds have traditionally played second fiddle to their masterful whites, but like many white focused domaines also making reds, like Bonneau du Martray or Roulot, their reds have definitely benefited from a touch of global warming (and improved vinification techniques), and have been quite impressive in recent vintages.


Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 2014, Burgundy, 13.5 Abv.

An alluring dark ruby red with wonderful clarity, this wine has very pretty aromatics that waft from the glass effortlessly. Beautiful perfumed notes of cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, rose petals and pink musk mix with notes of caramelised red cherries, roasted cashew nuts, sun dried cranberries, and fraises des bois wild strawberry. One of the best vintages for white Burgundy in many years, it wasn’t that bad for the reds either. More classically modelled, the palate is crystalline, pure and very precise with finely polished chalky mineral tannins, a medium bodied weight, plenty of red strawberry, cranberry and red cherry flesh, and an attractive sappy, spicy complexity on the finish. The acids are finely poised, the wine beautifully balanced, and shows an accessible, supple textured style that has all the hallmarks of a top quality producer. A pretty distinguished effort not just for a village Chassagne rouge, but also within the context of the whole Cotes de Beaune.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Bizios Estate in Greece’s Nemea Region Releases Another Magical White Blend…

Elias Bizios is the owner of a wonderful estate in Asproskampos, known to the locals as “little Tuscany” in Nemea, Greece. Here Elias farmed a small patch of vineyards but always found it difficult to make a living with such a small production. So it was always his ambition to acquire additional adjoining vineyard holdings to increase his production. 


In 2016, Wimbledon Wine Cellar owned by Andrew Pavli and based in London, purchased an additional 3 hectares of prime Malagousia and Chardonnay vineyards with view to enlarging the total production at the Bizios Estate. This increased production has now come to fruition with the release of the new 2016 white blend modelled predominantly around the Malagouzia grape. With premium Greek wines once again riding high in the global wine trade, this is a super addition for enthusiasts.


Bizios Aspros Kampos Chardonnay Malagouzia Blend 2016, Nemea, Greece, 13 Abv.

An attractive white blend matured in oak barrels that opens with a fairly classical melody of summer fruits but very soon builds to a vibrant complex crescendo. The aromatics are crystalline and pure with pear drops, apple bon bons, honeydew melon and dusty, musky, citrus stick candy complexity. The flavours follow quite precisely to the palate, which shows such intensity, concentration and seductive candied apple fruit depth. Lovely melon fruit complexity, exotic caramelised green and yellow citrus fruits and delicious confectionary shop notes on a palate with harmonious integrated freshness and a lingering subtle apple sherbet persistence. 

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)