Returning from an extremely spoilt weekend of vinous heaven I reflected how lucky we are to be in an industry and job that combines a personal passion and love of the product with a wonderfully sociable and fun-loving team. Honestly, there cannot be that many jobs that can hit the heights of the wine industry. A few days relaxing on the small Greek island of Paxos with some very good friends, some beautifully simple meals and one or two mind blowingly good bottles of wines – paradise.
Château Rayas is on a different planet, and every time I’m lucky enough to try a bottle I just wish I owned more. In truth, every time we offer out Rayas it has to be one of the fastestselling wines we source. Produced from close to, or maybe even 100% old vine Grenache, grown on unique terroir of red, sandy soils, with small amounts of limestone and clay, there are in fact very few of the famous ‘galette’ flat stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the vineyard. This results in the most delicate, feminine and floral style of CNDP. The incredible Rayas Rouge 2005 has pure blackberry and dark cherry fruits, with just a hint of truffle and leather. It is insanely powerful and complex, but with absolutely stunning texture and palate weight – a wine that draws you into the glass and allows you to enjoy the ever-changing aromas as it opens...what a wine! (98+ points)
Driving around the island you see a number of laden pomegranate trees, and at this time of the year, the fruits are perfect for Martinis. It’s very simple: good vodka straight from the freezer, a little squeeze of pomegranate juice and a few seeds, a quick shake and poured into a frozen Martini glass. Chuck in stunning views over the Mediterranean and life is good...
After a swift refreshing Martini we ventured out in search of fresh seafood and armed ourselves with a magnum of Dom Perignon Rose 1996, a couple of bottles of the massively undervalued Château Beaucastel Blanc Vieilles Vignes Roussanne 2013 and a cheeky bottle of Gaja Sperss 1990.
The team at Möet Hennessy never cease to amaze me, and stop me if I have mentioned this before, but given the levels of production of Dom Perignon it is without a doubt one the greatest winemaking achievements anywhere on the planet. The constant level of quality they release from the cellars is mind-blowing. At times the myriad of labels and releases of the same wine, but under different ageing programmes, might make you think that they are ‘milking it’ slightly, but you have to give credit where credit is due...
Dom Perignon Rose 1996 is a wine that restores my faith in Champagne. Again I’m going to waffle some thoughts – in my honest opinion most non-vintage Champagnes actually offer relatively poor value for money on the drinking front, as I can think of many stunningly good still wines at around £25-30 a bottle which I would much rather drink than their fizzy northern cousins. However, when we come to prestige vintage Champagnes I strongly believe that they still represent some of the best values vinous pleasure on the planet. 1996 DP Rose is a stunning wine, simple as that – it is explosive in the aroma department with perfumed berry fruits and brioche, hints of figs, cinnamon and spice. The palate is rich and beautifully balanced with an extremely delicate mousse and long lingering finish. In a word, brilliant. (97+ points)
I noted before that I think the Roussanne Vieilles Vignes from Château Beaucastel is an undervalued wine, making a case for it being the greatest wine white wine from the Southern Rhône – it is a deep, rich, viscous beauty with a bucket load of minerality and acidity to balance out the glycerin. It is very powerful aromatically with rich floral and citrus fruit notes, touches of apricots and orange marmalade and the slightest hint of vanilla and honey. It is a wonderful wine and I would challenge all to serve a better white wine for the money. (97+ points) (inside tip – buy some now before the world wakes up properly to just how good this wine is...)
Gaja – again some honesty, as it is important as a wine merchant to speak your mind and not follow the critics’ path – on many of the occasions that I have been served Gaja I have been a little disappointed. The wines are never badly made or lacking in depth and complexity but have missed that ‘je ne sais quoi’ which makes my heart beat a little faster. The 1990 Sperss is a brilliant Barolo; I cannot believe the concentration and power produced from the Nebbiolo grape, but maybe that is the problem... it seems slightly over-extracted and ‘worked’, leaving the wine massively impressive but lacking a little grace, elegance and poise. Maybe I’m being a little too harsh, but I’m sitting in one the world’s most beautiful harbours with some very good friends, having been blown away by the Dom Perignon and Beaucastel, and the Gaja just doesn’t quite hit the spot for me... I don’t know. (95 points) (?)
Small family run taverns are the life blood of the gastronomic offerings on Paxos, each with a house special that mamma has cooked for 30 years. One of the best on the island was our restaurant of choice for the third night. Nothing fancy whatsoever, with plastic tables and chairs, the son taking orders and mum in the kitchen – the smells wafting over the courtyard were amazing. Taverna Kapkaaetzoe is famous for its veal meatballs and white bean salad made with huge beans, and we had two perfect bottles of Burgundy to enjoy alongside.
The 2008 Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet just about hits every single note you would want from a white wine – it is fine, focused, intense and forever changing and developing in the glass – this wine is the perfect example of minerality and balance. With citrus fruits, spice, hazelnuts and ripe peach, it just lingers for 3-4 minutes and the finish is stunning. My favourite white vineyard in Burgundy showing at its absolute best. (98+ points)
Without a doubt, Rousseau is the hottest ticket in town. Hardly spoken about 10 years ago, and with wines available at prices that prevented you taking out a new mortgage to secure a case, these have grown into some of the most wanted bottles anywhere on earth. I constantly struggle to understand what he does that is so different to neighbouring growers but there is definitely some magic happening in the vineyards and cellars of this producer. To be honest it has been happening for years, as older bottles testify. The 2001 Rousseau Chambertin is just something else entirely – it is ethereal and floral, with the freshest, purest raspberry and dark cherries, truffles and minerals, game and leather; and the astonishing thing is the development in glass – whilst slightly muted and hidden when first opened, the wine gained weight, aromatics and complexity as time passed (even the mouthfeel intensified...).This was a truly astonishing bottle of wine. (98+ points)
While the men stood around constructing a rest for the beef, we felt that a glass of wine was required to help with the chef’s touch and feel. 1999 is a Burgundy vintage that has taken its time to reveal itself, being often closed, tight and unwilling to release the full potential of the wines. I am beginning to see some wines which show exactly what the early excitement was all about, and Dujac is a producer that has been at the top of their game for many years. The wines are rocketing in demand and value, and it has become a street fight to gain an allocation on release.
The 1999 Dujac Clos St Denis is still dark, brooding and almost Bonnes Mares-like in structure, with morello cherries and spice, earthy undertones and game. Velvety tannins and great length makesthis a wine that is perfect for drinking while burning some meat. (96+ points)
With lunch we just had a single bottle – DRC Romanee St Vivant 2001. Love, love, love this wine – everything about it; the colour, aroma and palate, there is not a single weak point from opening to the last drop from the glass. It is very fine and linear, the purity of fruit is astounding and the length astonishing. Sweet raspberry and wild strawberry, exotic spice and truffles, and as with the Chambertin the wine just keeps changing and developing in glass. This is pure class, and drinking it, you can understand why wine lovers still want DRC in the cellar. (98+ points)
A million thanks to our most generous of hosts and very good friends.