A fun dinner with two of the ‘Three Wine Men’ – long term friends of BI Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin MW – at the ever-dependable Harwood Arms. The food as usual was hearty and delicious: scallop with shellfish broth, scotch eggs with mushroom on toast, followed by a mountain of deer – best end of muntjac with marrow and slow-cooked shoulder of roe – served with a pile of roast potatoes, beetroot, broccoli and crusted mushrooms. But the highlights were from the bottles; or should I say decanters, as most of the wines were served blind. Yes, blind tasting is a silly game of limited professional use; but it’s a fun game especially when you have the Clarke cellar in the mix. Oz has a tendency to buy and keep wines most people would consume much younger so they reach a level of complexity and maturity which sometimes belies their (relative) humility. It’s a lesson to us all, really: you don’t have to spend an absolute fortune but long ageing in good conditions really amplifies a wine’s qualities and ensures a steady stream of interesting – fascinating – drinking.
Not all bottles were served blind. Here’s the lineup:
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2003
A sensational champagne from a challenging vintage. Real elegance, brioche and roasted nuts with a good whack of baked apple and butter on the palate. Shares that slightly olive-skin bitter edge with Dom Perignon 2003 that helps to give balance in the absence of the typical acidity.
-93 pts. GC
Alheit Cartology Bush Vines 2011 (served blind)
I picked this as a Chenin/Sauvignon blend from South Africa and I was 2 out of 3: it’s a fabulous Chenin Semillon blend from seriously old vines. It’s also bloody brilliant – packed with quince, mandarin and apple fruit, with real tension and a delightful salty, savoury finish. An epic debut vintage from this young couple.
-94 pts, GC
Dr Loosen Erdener Pralat Riesling Kabinett 1984
We were assured that none of us would have ever tasted this wine before simply because Erni has only ever sold it to Gareth! In 1984 all the wines from this vineyard were classified as Kabinett (usually Pralat is only made as an Auslese or above) and only 100 cases were made. Incredibly rich but dry with real petrolly character, this was a beaut.
-92 pts, GC
Monte Real Rioja Reserva 1995 (served blind)
We went round the houses with this one and eventually settled on Spain but the wrong region and vintage. Once confirmed as Rioja, it felt too concentrated NOT to be 1991 or 1994, but it seemed more mature the 94 so I went for 91. I guess the extra concentration was a sign of the quality of producer – a really great example of Rioja with lovely ripe red fruit and that signature whiff of coconut from American oak.
-92 pts, GC
Beronia Rioja Reserva 1994 (corked)
Underneath the corkiness this was pretty lovely with just a touch more concentration than the 95 before it. Shame as the two would have made a lovely comparison.
Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes 1990 (served blind)
Coche Dury Meursault Rouge Cote de Beaune 1990 (served blind)
Now these two from the Clarke cellar had us in pieces. We were close on the vintage but utterly convinced they were a pair of northern Rhones… to the extent that when it was revealed they were in fact Burgundies we tried to dispute it! They had a wonderful, fresh fruit nose with secondary characters of bacon fat and a lovely herbaceous note (hence the Rhone). These were both beautiful wines and were a real treat – very generous contributions.
-Corton 93 pts, Meursault 94 pts, GC
Chateau Liot Sauternes 1981 (served blind)
We picked this as Sauternes but vintages were all over the place and when the bottle was produced I have to confess that embarrassingly I’d never even heard of it… but it was a lovely, graceful example, still fresh with a pleasing boiled-sweet and lanolin sort of complexity to it.
91 pts, GC
Great company, great food, great night.