Notes from a Northern Rhone dinner.
Every once in awhile I look at my cellar list and realize that I am sitting on some wines that just haven’t clicked for a particular occasion to open them, so I create that occasion. I have been a fan of syrah based wines from the Rhone for a long time and had some wines I hadn’t tasted in a few years (I had done a La Chapelle vertical dinner 3 years ago) that would be nice to integrate into a dinner, and so…..
I started out with two Champagnes with 3 starters.
Henriot Souverain Brut – I have always enjoyed nonvintage Champagnes with age, although most are bought and drunk up without delay. This one was sold for the 2000 celebrations and is likely made up of vintages from the earl and mid 1990s, so now going on 20 years old. Lovely citrus driven nose with some bread dough and slight orange peel notes. Elegant balanced wine still going strong.
Montaudon Cuvee M Brut – another millennium product, this one sadly slightly affected by what had to be corkiness although the strong note of TCA was lacking for me. Nonetheless it did show decent midpalate complexity, it just lacked the clarity in the nose and probably wasn’t as bright in the mouth as it should have been.
Served with foie gras on toasts, smoked goose breast with white asparagus, and ricotta and sage meatballs.
The next course was a roasted carrot soup with Dukkah spice, a mix of roasted ground sesame, cumin, coriander, fennel and black pepper. I served it without wine.
Then a warm salad of grilled sweetbreads anointed with reduced balsamic on a bed of marinated radicchio and fresh basil.
2004 Chapoutier Chante Allouette Hermitage Blanc – I have had several unsatisfactory showing with this wine, but it has shown signs of coming around. This bottle was perhaps as good as I have experienced, yet still well short of where I’d have preferred it to be. Some floral notes and good weight and tropical fruit but a tad too warm. Not bad but never quite hitting the peaks of other vintages I’ve tasted.
Next course was a wild mushroom (chanterelles and Portobello) tart with watercress salad.
1979 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – now showing a deep Burgundian sort of colour, a nice mellow mature nose with both earthy and fruit (currant) notes and an underlay of smoky spice. On palate, very soft and mellow, the tannins now fully resolved, finishing with very good length. If you have this, drink it and enjoy it, as it has arrived!
Next course was a grilled quail with juniper jus on a bed of sautéed Brussels sprouts, bacon and shallots (one of the few preparations of these insidious little mini-cabbages that I like).
1982 - Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – this wine added a significant black olive in the nose, something I’d noticed but not strongly enough to note in the 79. It was mingled with sweet currant, leather, cocoa, a host of notes that changed as it aired. Bigger sweeter wine with soft tannin, and a more concentrated profile. The finish was very long and although I think it is fully mature, the consensus was that it might continue to develop awhile yet. No rush if you have bottles from good storage.
With the main course of roast lamb stuffed with black olive tapenade, grilled asparagus, and roasted potatoes and fennel:
1991 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – I have had this wine many times and it has always seemed ready to morph into something new. I looked up past notes and saw that it had shown a typical Rhone profile of raw meat and anise in the nose back a few years, then had been more about blackberries and Asian spice and on another occasion had featured vanilla! This time around it was rich, somewhat ripe and had a sweet rich nose of black olive (no, it wasn’t the roast as I always leave lots of time to ponder wine before presenting food) having lost any new world attributes of its previous showing. It finished long and sweet in the mouth with a juicy feel. Excellent. I look forward to seeing how this continues to develop over the next decade. I’d pondered tasting the 1989 instead, but believe it needs more time to shine. For ready drinking the 1979 and 1988 show well now.
I had wanted to add one blind wine to the main course and chose:
1991 Jean Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets – I’ve tasted this wine every few years since release and watched the development from impenetrable to mature. This time it surpassed itself in the nose, with a very Rhonish bacon and a rubber thing, and on palate was medium weight with spice kicking in again near the end, medium long, very nice. Good showing, especially in the nose, although not quite with the class of the Hermitage.
With cheese and a stilton, walnut and endive tart:
1985 Warres Port – I had originally planned to open a 1977 Warres, but seem to have mislaid a half case of it somewhere, so opted for this. Opened 9 hours ahead, this had a sweet nose with smoky cherry and nutmeg, was smooth on palate and finished with a medium long elegant impression. It had gone through a raspberry stage a couple of hours in (I snuck a sniff every few hours to see how it was doing). Still shows tannin but very drinkable now.