Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Don't Des(s)ert The Pudding Wines...

Isn’t it funny how we jump to conclusions? I probably do it myself outside my comfort zone of the wine trade, but occasionally the public do seem to take a quantum leap of logic.  If I buy a pair of blue trousers, say, that turns out to be uncomfortable, do I forever regard all blue trousers as poorly tailored?  Of course not.  Why then did the chap in the shop a couple of days ago glare at me in disgust when my recommendation of a particularly delicious, full rosé obviously failed to float his boat?  He declared, “I’m certainly not having that, it’s dark and all dark rosés are sweet.”  Well, the solitary example he had tried elsewhere might have been, but all ours are dry.  “But it can’t be - it’s dark,” came his wildly wrong but unshakably convinced reply.

I wondered, as I selected a particularly rough section of brick wall against which to bang my head, if by employing the tailoring analogy combined with your man’s bizarre reasoning, he would accept a pair of green trousers of precisely the same size, style and cloth and find them suddenly and miraculously a perfect fit.  Almost certainly, was the sad conclusion.

It occurred to me that the understanding of dessert wine is more likely than most to give rise to erroneous assumptions.  It’s not just as simple as whether you have a sweet tooth or not; there are people who will launch into endless variants of gooey pudding with great relish, but will not countenance the appropriate wine to go with it.  I am the other way around and cannot stand the vast majority of desserts.  A sliver of sharp tarte au citron or something light and waspy made of gooseberries perhaps and rarely at that, but come at me with a bowl of banoffi pie, forged in the kitchens of hell itself and I promise you will end up wearing it.  You don’t want to know where you’d find the spoon.  However present me with a well-selected, exquisitely balanced sweet wine instead and I will be in raptures.

 For many of us our first introduction to wine was something easy, unchallenging, probably sweetish….I can remember drinking Dad’s Mosel behind the garden shed when I thought he wasn’t looking.  A junior job in the trade and a desire to learn more began to reveal what I’d been missing, but I remained guilty for two or three years of lumping all sweeties into the bracket of Beginners’ Stuff.  Certainly I’d pulled away from the cheap, German pap of the 70’s but a little knowledge and a lot of inexperience had engendered a sort of snobbery.

I had jumped to the wrong conclusion and was clearly wide of the mark.  One day somebody put a glass of top Sauternes in front of me - it was Ch. Suduiraut 1967 and I will never forget it - and my perspective cleared.  Smitten in an instant, I was a changed man.

There are many regular wine drinkers who have not had the opportunity to taste beyond that initial slurp of rotten old Liebfraumilch and I do not blame any of them for feeling a kind of residual snobbery themselves, nor for not wishing to experiment any further.  All we can do is try and convince you not to give up on sweeties until you have given a chance to at least a couple.  You wouldn’t judge all red wine on the showing of a bottle of Beaujolais  Nouveau, after all.

There is less room for forgiveness when assessing sweet wine.  If you are on holiday in Europe and a carafe of rough, dry pink appears on the table you make allowances for the circumstances and get on with it.  If your host at a barbecue produces a rustic red, it might actually be exactly what his burnt offerings need and deserve. If somebody serves you a less than decent sweetie you can’t touch it: there is nothing more disgusting than poor sweet wine and nothing more delicious than a really good one.  The main deciding factor is balance.  Sweet wine should not be sticky, it should not feel like sugar syrup in the mouth.  Even at its richest it must have acidity to counter the sweetness and leave the palate fresh, if not actually cleansed.  That is the skeleton upon which to hang the other contributions: is it full or light, strongly flavoured or mild, unctuous in texture, old and mellow or young and sprightly?  Does it show the signature of noble rot?  Does the character of the grape shine through?  All these things matter in the whole complex recipe, but without acidity sweet wine is flat, mawkish and mouth-coating.

Chocolate can be a challenge, but it's not impossible
It’s handy to get your food matching right too.  If you are serving a sweetie with a dessert, you need to ensure that the wine is sweeter than the pud.  There are few wines that can take on chocolate; the ones that match work by countering the natural bitterness of high-grade, dark, not especially sweet speciality choc.  White chocolate puds are sickly and, frankly, universally horrid.  If you insist, don’t bother drinking anything with it as you will waste your wine.  If you still have room for such a vile confection at that stage of the meal, it means that you haven’t eaten enough of the sensible food before it!  Puds with variations of caramelized fruit like an apple tarte tatin are ideal, as are creams and custards.  Crème Brulée is perfect with Sauternes or Monbazillac.  Fruit-and-meringue offers a great excuse for a lighter, zestier style of sweetie.
Crème Brulee

There’s no need to restrict sweet wines just to desserts.  There is an honourable French tradition of drinking such wines with rich, smooth pâtés, classically foie gras, but a chicken liver parfait is super.  Try one with blue cheese - it’s the perfect foil for the salty character of Roquefort, Saint-Agur or even Stilton.  An agreeable way of tailing off dinner is with a basket of fresh nuts to crack and a glass of something sweet - Madeira is a delicious retro option.

We have plenty to offer across a wide range of styles, familiar and unusual, old and modern, if you want to give one a try and have increased the selection with some new faces earlier this year.  These can never be cheap wines and you should always treat apparently bespoke, but evidently inexpensive dessert wines with considerable suspicion.  The yields are necessarily tiny, picking is extremely perfectionist - sometimes one shriveled berry at a time and, with harvests essentially late, there is always the risk of deteriorating autumn weather affecting the crop.

If this is a treat that toots your flute, peruse our selection here where you will also find details of which foods work best with these delicious wines.  As ever, feel free to call us for any advice.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Domaine de la Mordoree

This might seem a bit hypocritical given the tone of our previous blog, but the arrival of our annual shipment from the extraordinarily fine Domaine de la Mordorée in the southern Rhône Valley always prompts a fresh wave of excitement at Wines of Interest HQ.  Obviously we are long term fans of the estate; so is Jancis Robinson and so is Robert Parker, both with their very different but equally valid palates and preferences.  Even some really great producers have their detractors, but Domaine de la Mordorée seems to be held in high esteem throughout the trade and ranks of writers and critics.

The property consists of holdings in Tavel, Lirac and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and excels in all three districts.  In Lirac, at least, it is considered to be the finest producer even by its peers, setting a benchmark which most others find hard to follow.  Here particularly the hard work on this estate has done much to raise the reputation of the commune as a whole and deserves significant praise.

Every line we take is on allocation to us - you might expect the top examples, made in smaller quantities, to be rationed, but Christophe Délorme - the head honcho - can sell everything he makes with ease and our orders are always ruthlessly trimmed back.  The estate’s growing following in America, spread by the aforementioned Mr. Parker, and Christophe’s viticultural perfectionism resulting in low yields, both ensure that quantities to little players like Wines of Interest will not increase.  Further, Christophe has been working towards biodynamic production for years, introducing plots to this demanding régime one at a time which also takes its toll on volume.

So what have we managed to coax out this time?  Not a lot, in all honesty, but a few precious cases each of 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rosé, 2013 Tavel Rosé and his white 2013 Lirac, “La Reine des Bois”; not much of the 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rouge and a handful of cases of 2012 Lirac, “La Dame Rousse”, 2012 Lirac, “La Reine des Bois” and a jealously guarded, tiny stash of the miraculous 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, “La Reine des Bois”.  We also have a small parcel of a relatively new red line in its 2013 variant, called La Remise de Mordorée, of which more in a few paragraphs.

The vintages are both excellent at this estate, but significantly different.  2012 is one of Christophe’s declared favourites, in his top five over the last thirty-ish years.  I will not presume to do any better than reproduce his own summary for you….

“The wines are harmonious, balanced, suave and fresh and at the same time incredibly fragrant, with a rare aromatic complexity and a subtle blend of floral and fruity aromas, a great vintage playing on its finesse, elegance and its refined concentration, one that makes you fall in love as soon as you taste it: a beautiful vintage.”

2013 clearly presented considerable challenges as a cold winter and cool, wet spring triggered a coulure - essentially the embryonic bunchlets shatter and flowers remain sterile with an uneven fruiting at best or even total failure.  In this instance the Grenache vineyards were badly hit with an 80% spoil rate on some plots.  Other varieties suffered to a much lesser extent and in the end the Syrah was “definitely the best for twenty years” and Mourvèdre, “despite the late maturing year are amazing.”  So not all bad then, by any means: Christophe summarises - “2013 was a tough year, one that never let us take a break; thankfully the quality of the wine is remarkable.  In conclusion, the wines are great, but will be extremely rare.”  We will have to see how much of the senior reds we are allowed next spring.

Now, back to “La Remise” which is a more modest offering with a completely different mix of varieties, very modern and beautifully put together now that the initial experimental phase is past.  It is a blend of Merlot with Marselan; Marselan is a vine of huge potential, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache which has a particularly dark colour and substantial fruitiness.  It also has a good tolerance to oxidation which means that an open bottle will last for a few days without spoiling.  This particular wine is what is known at Wines of Interest, as “a big bugger”, very full with considerable body which can be drunk now with suitably hearty scoff like a robust braise of oxtail or cassoulet.  At this stage you can enjoy a big sock of youthful, primary fruit, but you could leave it for four years for a rounder feel and more developed flavours.

We now have a broad spread of different vintages going back for several years, though all in modest quantities and in various stages of maturity and drinkability.  Below is a list of what we have now and, I know we always say it, nonetheless it bears repeating, if you fancy any of these please jump quickly.  In two or three weeks time this list may have changed.  Please note that some of these are under bond and we will require notice to get them in for you.  This does provide you with a great opportunity to obtain a few bottles for tucking away in the medium term.  Please feel free to call us for advice.   

Domaine de la Mordoree - Available Wines

2013 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire
2012 Cotes du Rhone Rouge - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "La Dame Rousse" - please enquire

2012 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2011 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire
2009 Lirac Rouge "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire

2012 Chateauneuf du Pape "Cuvee de la Reine des Bois" - please enquire