Asparagus always comes in two services. It’s sometimes hard to decide which is best; that often depends on the sauce or the vinaigrette.
But what to serve with Asparagus? Some swear only to beer, but I confess that I have a constant weakness for Sauvignon Blanc. Ten days ago, at my new gig, I hosted two tastings. The first of Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese. The Second of Roussane and Marsanne, then Grenache from across the world.
They went something like this.
Firstly Sauvignon Blanc is, here in France, strangely unloved. Dispiritingly so, and I lined up four wines, North, South, East and West, to fight it out to the last. We are in the royaume of Chardonnay here, but still…
Kevin Judd’s Greywacke 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was the surprise favourite. Surprising because the group were all French. Richer, less piercingly fresh (in a good way) and more complex than a classic Marlborough wine. It was hard for some to believe there was no wood (one g-t even checked up on me on the internet – how rude is that?).
Anyway, Dagueneau’s 2014 Blanc de Fumé de Pouilly was strikingly powerful straight out of the bottle, before settling into a state of sustained minerality; elegant and lofty. I liked it very much, not so the rest of the group. Tabali’s Limari Sauvignon Blanc 2014 was the group’s second favourite, again with an elegant, not so much in your face profile, but perhaps more classically New World in style. 2015 Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc from the Graves least impressed the group; ironic in a way because it and asparagus inspired the whole tasting. I think it was perhaps too young to impress, too restrained in style and perhaps too needy of some green spears…I have ten bottles for the next decade.
The second half of the evening was dedicated to Tuscany’s iconic Sangiovese grape. Laura Brunelli’s 2015 Rosso di Montalcino was a slightly bare bones introduction for the group, set to illustrate Sangiovese’s youthful characteristics/ bright cherry and cranberry fruit, taught acidity and firm structure and tannin. In contrast, Castello dei Rampolla’s 2012 Chianti Classico is a meaty Sangiovese, punching soundly with no searing acidity, but plenty of undergrowth, forest floor and mushroom. Number three was a 2009 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino; an unloved year, but drinking superbly at the moment. There’s no lame mid-palate here, just toned fruit, resolved tannin and depth. It was no surprise on the night, that this was the group’s overwhelming favourite, although experience has previously always shown Jurij Fiore’s Il Carbonaione (Poggio Scalette) as an overwhelming seductive crowd pleaser. Not tonight with the 2012, which tasting back in 2015, at its release, I felt was the most Burgundian of Jurij’s releases. Now, when I say Burgundian, I am talking feminity, grace and légerté. Not so now, the 2012 has taken on weight and above all structure. It’s a 185lb bruiser giving nothing away. It will come home, and will seduce the crowd, but as a preferred Sangiovese, tonight was not its night.
A week later we attacked a second soiréé with a bevy of wines from the Rhône’s Roussane and Marsanne grapes. Starting North, heading South, we began with Alain Graillot’s 2015 Crozes Hermitage. I have always been a fan of this wine, light, a hint of pear drops, fresh and vibrant. It transformed during the evening, picking up few acolytes, although Romain of CC picked it out the next morning. Bernard Gripa’s 2015 Saint Joseph is a lovely wine, with Marsanne’s minerality and Roussane’s weight, )perhaps shouldered and tempered by judicious oak. And this one sold! John Duval’s 2014 Plexus (Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier) from Australia’s Barossa Valley was again the surprise favourite of the group. To my taste, clean, linear, but ever so slightly mono-dimensional, it showed none of the gras and weight you might expect from a wine from Barossa. So well done John Duval, but I’ll take my Rhônes. Last up was Beacastel’s 2016 Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc. weighing at a feisty 60 euros a bottle it was meant, above all, as an illustration of Roussane. The 2016 is an infant, but for me was the wine of the flight. You just know that this is going places and that the substance is there to sustain the voyage. Bravissimo!
The final flight was Grenache. And if I am honest, the final flight was Grenache to highlight my wine of the year 2017. We started with a Domaine de Pallieres 2010 Les Racines from Gigondas. To my taste a constant wont persists: those tannins are just ever so slightly rustic and rough. At eight years old, this should be more resolved and seductive than this. inspiration for the flight was Alvaro Palacios’ 2015 Les Terrasses from Priorat. I have written on it previously, but the ultimate judgement can only be this, if you can drink this, why bother wasting your time with anything else? Admittedly, this was the first time I had tasted the 2015, and it’s young, but the seductive fruit and power of the Grenache, tempered by the fresh structure aand acidity of the Carignan is a real winner.
This was not the judgement of the group, one of whom felt it had too much of everything. (But then this person did refer everything back to Pinot Noir…). Torbreck’s 2014 Old Vines Grenache was the perfect illustration of what Australians can do with this grape, and do well. And above all, what they can do cheaply. At 23 euros on the table, so to speak, this wines offers spadefuls of ripe fruit, refreshing acidity and judicious tannin. It is not necessarily a quaffer, but it does satisfy quickly and with few questions. Would I drink the whole bottle? No, I think I’d get bored, but it’s a great bottle of wine, packing a punch and at the right price.
Last of the day, 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape Clos St Jean, a Parker favourite. It’s a satisfying, well made bottle of Grenache-dominated wine. Did it move the earth? Not particularly, and I’ll admit there are other domains, notably Clos des Papes and Beaucastel who move me more. This said, at 30 euros, the Clos St Jean is at least half the price of those and it’s not messing around.
The Polit Bureau were torn between the Rorbreck and the Clos St Jean as there favourite, with, it appears a distinct disdain for for Les Terrasses. It may just be paranoia, or it may be the fact that the know-it-alls , who double-check their iPhones for errors on the part of their host, just could not bear to agree on a newly discovered treasure, placed generously on their path.
To the client who stepped up and bought some Palacios, I say, Bienvenido! To those who dragged it down, or worse just proclaimed that Burgundy is better, I just say, “See you next Tuesday!”
They appear to have missed the point. Am I going to repeat the exercise? On verra.