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19/07/2013

A ‘Bucket List’ Wine Weekend in Greece

by Giles Cooper (Head of Marketing & PR)

A gentleman’s weekend ‘spiti tou Gary’ in Paxos consisted primarily of the consumption of vast piles of chargrilled Octopus and a quite frankly obscene list of wines. Paxos is a truly stunning island, an hour’s sea taxi ride from Corfu and a mere 6 miles long by 2.5 miles wide, surrounded by the crystal blue Ionian Sea; the weather was pretty good to us as well – around 30-35C most of the time with a constant gentle breeze taking the edge off the summer heat. In fact the only difficulty was serving the wine at the right temperatures (first world problems...) So here’s the list, with the best tasting notes we can muster between us...

Friday Supper was at a charming taverna on the harbour front – Greek Salad and lamb shanks were simple perfection. The Gaja Barbaresco 1978 (magnum) was holding up beautifully with lovely cherry fruit, both sweet and slightly tangy with a tarry edge, touch of floral perfume and stewed red fruit characters. This was served alongside a Chave Hermitage 2001 (magnum) which was altogether more robust, with a chargrilled meat, blackberry and hot stone thing going on. This was absolutely rocking, with masses of life left in it; filled with mouthcoating, almost thick fruit and yet balanced by a deft acidity that kept you going back for more. Just to top it off, we knocked off a bottle of Rousseau Clos de la Roche 2003– this may have been served blind, or we may have been blind – to be honest (and it’s a crime I know) we only remembered having it when we looked at the photographs...

Saturday morning began with the breakfast of champions: scrambled eggs and Kuntz Beerenauslese. After a swift coffee on the harbour front, we headed out on the water, touring the island on the Lefcothea and swimming in caves. Naturally, this was thirsty work so after breaking the ice with a Mythos or two we dived into a sensational magnum of Dom Perignon Rose 1990– which really was something else. Amber in colour – not unlike the shade of a nice, hoppy light ale – and with a nose brimful of fresh peaches, apricots and raspberries, it was beguiling before it even hit the palate. In the mouth it was fine-grained, almost crystalline in character, with more peach and red fruit characters alongside cinnamon and grapefruit zest. The mousse was ultra-fine, almost imperceptible, and the finish was long, long, long, changing from fruit to spice and back again. This was washed down with some Boom-style Dark and Stormies, made with oodles of freshly squeezed lime and the local fiery ginger beer. From the pictures we also appear to have drunk a magnum of Chateau D’Esclans Rose 2010 somewhere along the way.

Lunch was taken on Antipaxos and started with a swim from the boat to the beach, bottles held aloft above the water, eventually emerging, Ursula Andress-style (well, sort of) clutching a Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape 2000 and a rather sorry-looking Pichon Comtesse de Lalande 1996. The Charvin was served pleasantly cool and this softened its more animal tendencies, allowing the freshness to show through the layers of rich blackberry fruit and sweet/savoury, leather and spice notes; likewise the Pichon was wonderfully focused and linear but still feminine, with that enticing violet and blackcurrant perfume and a brooding, gravel and black fruit palate. Both were surprisingly good with barbecued sardines and again, lashings of calamari and grilled octopus – proof that when setting, company, food and wine are all good, traditional ‘matching’ can go to hell...

An afternoon snooze back at the house was followed by pre-prandials of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 2004, soft and delicate but with excellent peachy concentration and a lemon-biscuit, crunchy bite for balance, and sensational Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut Martinis prepared in ruthless fashion: a dash of Noilly Prat thrown into frozen glasses, rinsed around and tossed aside, followed by a 4-shot pouring of the world’s finest gin – finished off with a peel of lime and a giant local olive. Glugged on the terrace overlooking the valley down to the sea – life couldn’t be much sweeter.

Sadly we were brought back down to earth with a slightly corked/slightly flat magnum of Margaux 1983– a real shame as we had all been looking forward to it immensely – but rescue rapidly arrived in the form of another claret mag, this time a Lynch Bages 1982. What a wine: right at its peak, this was packed with wonderful gravel, pencil lead and fresh tobacco along with voluptuous blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. Beautifully linear on the palate, it was everything great Claret should be. If you have this in your cellar, grab one and drink it tonight. For contrast we enjoyed a beautiful, seared-bacon and blackberry-jam-rich Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne 1989, texturally dazzling, broad of palate and with a very different kind of concentration to the Lynch – more heavyweight and intense than the deft, nimble Claret.

Back at the house and with DJ Dave Thomas on the decks, it was time to let our hair down and we were ably assisted by Chateau de Fonsalette Blanc 2007, Rousseau Rouchottes Chambertin Clos des Rouchottes 2001, Cristal 2004 and eventually Bollinger Grande Annee 2002. Again, I wish I could tell you more about these wines... what I do remember is that the Rouchottes had all that magical Asian spice for which top Burg is so renowned and the Cristal was all lemon meringue and brioche – completely gorgeous. Miles too young, obviously, but deee-licious nonetheless.

A long walk on Sunday – coast to coast across the island in temperatures nudging 40C (what is it they say about mad dogs and Englishmen?) – was swiftly followed by another glorious al fresco lunch of... yes, you guessed it, grilled sardines, chargrilled Octopus, calamari, chips and some wonderful wood-fired margheritas straight from the pizza oven. Not wanting to slum it on our last day, we went the whole hog with a truly awesome Chateau Rayas Blanc 2006, richly textured and perfectly balanced with waxy, peach and apricot flavours and a refreshing limey streak – and a serious finish. This was followed by an accidentally-watered down D’Esclans Garrus 2008 (which had slipped unnoticed right into the ice bucket and came out even paler pink than it went in) and a perhaps slightly past its best Haut Brion Blanc 1997. The latter was nonetheless a gorgeous effort, all wet wool and grapefruit – sadly just a touch oxidised. This was all washed down with multiple espressos and rather a lot of the local ouzo (served from both glass and bowl, depending on your preference...)

A few beers accompanied the magnificent Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final in a seafront bar before we finished the trip in style with epic Souvlaki (well, souvlakis – 2 each, just in case one wasn’t enough) – barbecued pork, tsatziki, salad and chips (chips!) wrapped in a soft, fresh pitta – and a couple of bottles served blind. The first screamed claret and felt Cabernet-ish – we went Left Bank and mid to late 80s. We were right on the region... but not much else, as it turned out to be Cheval Blanc 1998– so Cabernet yes, just the wrong variant! It was gorgeous and thoroughly open and expansive, perhaps the reason we are so far out on the vintage. It continued to improve in the glass for over an hour, with grilled meat and oyster shell coming through on the finish. The second wine was Burgundy straight off the bat, with an extraordinary nose of tangerine, wild strawberry and fragrant, Asian spices. The palate was fine and mid-weight with a savoury but perfumed style. The vintage and producer guesses were all over the place, although we were in the right region and sub-region; but nobody quite picked the Dujac Clos Saint Denis 1999. Spellbinding stuff and a great set up for the final wine of the trip – a majestic H&H Boal Madeira 1957. Liquid demerera  sugar with sweet spice and a touch of slow roasted fig and date, this was one of the finest things you’d ever put in your mouth. A fitting end to a great weekend.