Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for December, 2009

Champagne Drappier at Oddbins

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I’m delighted to see that Oddbins have decided to stock three wines from Drappier: one of my favourite houses. I’m especially pleased that they’ve got their hands on some Grande Sendrée 2002 and a little Grande Sendrée Rosé too. Both are exceptionally fine – every bit as good as luxury cuvées costing twice the £44.99 and £49.99 that Oddbins  quote.

Grande Sendrée is made from seventy year old vines on one of the finest sites in the Aube, named after a devastating fire in 1837 that covered the site with cinders.  It’s a blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. I tasted it last in July at the Drappier cellars in Urville. As usual, it’s rich with  an extraordinary depth of fruit and a wonderfully creamy texture, but with crisp acidity and quite marked minerality. It was disgorged in November 2008 and has the potential to develop in the bottle for many years if stored carefully (which isn’t easy in most modern houses).

I take issue  with one thing: Oddbins’s comment on their website, ” Why sully this transcendental experience wih food?”  Of course food won’t sully it! It would seem even more magnificent when partnered with a simply fresh turbot landed at North Shields. If Oddbins provide the wine, I’ll cook the fish.

Grande Sendrée Rosé has only been made since 1990 and is usually fabulously fruity and elegant – one of the best ‘saignée’ champagnes on the market (made by using a rosé base wine, and not by blending red wine with white).  Oddbins list it as 2004 – I tasted the superb 2002 in the summer. If Oddbins are correct, I’d expect it to be softer and maybe fruitier and less complex than the outstanding 2002 – and it will probably mature more quickly too. I look forward to trying it.

The third wine ‘Premier Cru’ does not feature in Drappier’s published portfolio and I’ve never tasted it. I presume that it is a blend of wines bought in from Drappier’s loyal band of contract growers. Drappier’s buy in about a third of the grapes that they vinify.

Old wine

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I had half an ear on the radio this afternoon. Oz Clarke was interviewed on BBC Radio Newcastle (he has a new TV series on the box at Christmas). The final question was (roughly speaking), What’s the oldest  wine you’ve ever tasted – and what was it like?”  What is it about old wine that fascinates so many people?

The majority of wine is meant to be drunk as soon as it hits the supermarket shelf, and it won’t get any better if left under the stairs for a year or two. Most of it will only become less fruity and less attractive. But now and then an older bottle does come my way and I too can’t help but jump at the chance to try it, even though, I know, as Oz pointed out, that it may well be distinctly vinegary.

A bottle of Cinzano Rosso donated to the local church Christmas Fair this Saturday was over twenty years old – it carried a competition linked to the 1986 World Cup (!). I took it off the stall and discovered that it was, as I might have expected, way past its best. It was just good enough still to be added to the mulled wine – to give it more sherry-like ‘complexity’ – or so I pretended.

The same evening I opened a bottle of Croque Michotte 1959 given to me by Pierre Carle, who now manages this superb St Emilion estate.  It was from the private cellar store at the chateau. A deep tawny, after decanting it took at least half an hour for the bouquet to open out and to shed a faintly volatile (i.e. almost vinegary) edge,  but to my surprise and delight,   an  underlying sweet, figgy fruit gradually took over. It had a rather dry finish, but was otherwise rich, and sweetly ripe, with more than a ghost of ripe berry fruit. It was an old, fragile wine for sure, but one that was a rewarding and fascinating experience, and still quite flavoury enough to be a thoroughly enjoyable partner for braised pigeon.

I guess the real fascination of old wine is to imagine all hat has happened since it was made – and if it tastes nice too, that’s a bonus.

Matching Wine with Fine Asian Food

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I’ve just penned my Christmas wine recommendations for The Journal. As usual, it was quite fun to do, but frankly, the choice is so huge that I often don’t know quite where to begin – or to end. Not everyone eats turkey for Christmas!

A similar challenge surrounds the pairing of wine with ‘Asian Cuisine’. Which Asian cuisine, I wonder?

This year, for the first time, a panel of Asian judges gathered in Hong Kong to make their own selections as part of the International Wine Challenge and Hong Kong International Wine Fair (European tastes and standards are not the only benchmark for wine quality) and to suggest wines that might best complement a number of Chinese culinary classics.

This intrigued me so much that I spoke to Keith Pun, owner of the excellent Golden Swallow Restaurant in North Shields, with an eye to the possibility to recreating this challenge – at least in part. Keith who is passionate about fine food readily agreed and we’ve come up with a date: Thursday March 18. It should be both fascinating and a lot of fun. If you’d like to be part of it, have a look at the information that’ll soon be posted on the Vine Visit website. If you can’t come; don’t worry, I write it up for The Journal soon after the event