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Life’s full of surprises, they thought it was Sauv B, I gave them Pinot Noir. This wine saved the night as yet another two bottles of expensive Aussie red suffered the Ernesto thumbs down for cork taint. No wonder wineries are going over to Stelvin faster than you can say ‘TCA’.
Was the period 1997-2000 a particularly bad period for the cork industry? Did a batch of floor tile grade stuff get sent to the stopper factory by mistake? That’s 3 in a week, out of 12 bottles opened.
Simon and Louis Dezat, fourth generation Loire winemakers, have produced this smart pinot noir, lovely nose combining morello cherries, violets and almonds yielding to joyful red cherry and redcurrant fruit on the palate.It would be hard to find a New Zealand or Chilean equivalent for the same money here in Ireland and impossible to find a Burgundian one. Pinot Noir from the chilly Loire, if this is global warming, bring it on. (only joking, my PC friends!)
André Dezat Sancerre 2006 €18.95, Berry Bos & Rudd.
Petra Frebault of French producers Barton & Guestier kindly sent me the company’s latest newsletter.
It included this delightful 1950’s ad which B&G (or their American importers) placed in The New Yorker to encourage Americans not to be inhibited when it came to ordering French wine.
In those days our EU chums hadn’t been stigmatised as “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys” so requesting a bottle of ‘”Shot-oh Neff du Pop” in a Manhattan restaurant wouldn’t have got you pelted with bread rolls unlike in the heated early days of Gulf War II!
Trekking to the Guinness Storehouse, with sleet whacking down like stair rods wouldn’t be my favourite occupation but Gilbey’s Terry Pennington and Lynne Coyle have assembled one hell of a portfolio, with smart niche producers alongside mainstream brands like Blossom Hill, Yellow Tail, Barton & Guestier etc and venerable favourites of the ilk of Louis Latour, Trimbach and Jaboulet. And so, along with the rest of the ‘vinerati’ I had to be there. Anyhow, here are a few of my own highly idiosyncratic choices to give you a flavour of the day.
Borie de Maurel Nature Blanc 2007
Even discounting the romance, this is a very smart little French white, for not too much money. Organic it is, biodynamic it may be – though not officially certified as such. What the hell, the wine is good enough to stand on its own merits without the feelgood factor. Did I say romance? Okay, try this: Michel Escande works the land with horses, not tractors. And as if that isn’t enough, the wine is shipped to Ireland by sailboat. Ain’t that nice.
€12,99 Jus de Vine, selected independents
Hunter’s Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2007
As the old adage goes, “many are called, but few are chosen”. From the Cape to Casablanca (Chile) wineries are trying to take the rampant tropical fruit out of their Chardonnay and construct something more laid back and stylish. Not many succeed. Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc is a regular award winner; there is a deal of noise being made about their Pinot Noir; for me, the engaging Chardonnay is the best wine they make.
€19.49, selected independents
Knappstein ‘Three’ Gewurztraminer-Riesling-Pinot Gris, Clare Valley 2008
Me, Tomas, Raymond, Martin, JW, we’ve been banging on at readers for longer than I care to think, trying to persuade them to drink Riesling. I’m coming to think we’re flogging a dead horse, sad, but it’s just too austere, too difficult for the average punter. I’m backing off a bit but I’d still like you to try this – a fantastically full-bodied bundle of joy and an absolute steal for the dosh.
€14.79, selected independents
Laurenz V ‘Charming’ Gruner Veltliner 2007
So sexy, innit? Gruner Veltliner, gru-vee, groovy, current darling of the posh restaurants. Almost single-handedly this ‘sauvignon-without-tears’ grape has rehabilitated the Austrian wine industry.The blurb in the catalogue tell us that the ‘Singing’ and the ‘Sunny’ are ‘more accessible’ than the flagship ‘Charming’. They are also considerably cheaper -by about €8, but there’s a massive quantum leap when you get to the top product and there can’t be many more enjoyable wines for the dosh involved. No stockists yet. I expect this one will end up in restaurants.
Trimbach Alsace Pinot Gris Réserve 2005
‘Way to go’ for what is currently the world’s most abused grape varietal! The Italians, the Aussies, the Chileans should drink this until they start to ‘get it’. Just superb, beautifully-crafted, elegant, food-friendly wine borne out of 12 empathetic generations. It sings! And, if you can’t afford it, do the Pinot Blanc at a value €13.99
My enthusiasm for the wines of Jonathan Maltus in general and this wine in particular have not gone unnoticed for I found an attributable quote in the catalogue. Whenever I encounter a Bordeaux Superior, the occasion begs the question “superior to what?” in this case, the answer is “ superior to almost any red wine you can find for under €25.” Pézat really is a beauty; rich, rounded, mellow, satisfying. Though the RRP has escalated since my first sip it’s still fine value for money. It’s also a plea in mitigation as to why the Merlot grape should be allowed to exist; don’t buy New World Merlot soup at a tenner a throw, save up and buy this.
€19.59, selected independents
Costacielo Cabernet-Aglianico, Campania 2007
On the outskirts of Sorrento there’s a rather good wine merchants. The owner, a man I respect, was raving about a local winemaker called Genarro di Maggio. And, guess what, now he’s here. With a food-friendly white and this classy, sassy red which employs the stiff backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon to balance up the big, smirky-smile bestowed by Aglianico (rough translation: the alien). As Paul Simon nearly wrote – “Here’s to you G.diMaggio…”
€18.89, selected independents.
Paul Jaboulet Ainé, Crozes-Hermitages ‘Les Jalets’ 2006
First vintage from Jaboulet that Caroline Frey laid her hands on and the wine is all the better for it. Standards that had been dipping since the late 1990’s have been reversed and while it’s still dark-fruited, dense and meaty it’s much less ‘agricultural’ than of yore. The more expensive ‘Domaine-de Thalabert’ 2006 still needs a bit of work, imo.
€17.99 O’Briens, SuperValu, selected independents
Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007
Smart, keenly priced red from a Sicilian producer who’s been getting a lot of plaudits of late. Soft, joyful, no-nonsense everyday drinking.
€11.99, selected independents
Bylines Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon , South Australia, 2003
A collaboration between ex-City gent the affable Martin Krajewski of Chateau de Sours and Australia’s David Fatches. They’ve managed to persuade John Duval, formerly winemaker of Penfold’s Grange to stir the cauldron. The result is a big, sexy red capable of ageing for aeons. Loads of competition at this price point of course but it’s well up to scratch. One thought – how come Shiraz-Cab blends work, whereas Cab-Shiraz ones almost invariably don’t? Strange.
Alas the Sunday Indo has banged my column for a couple of weeks (it happens to everyone from time to time – usually because an advertiser takes a late page. At the end of the day, revenue is revenue).
This means that by the time I get round to telling you about Dunne’s new influx of wines from Bordeaux the sale could be over.
Here’s the nitty-gritty, just in case:- Dunne’s stores wine supremo Richard Ecock and Consultant Jacinta Delahaye have put in a deal of effort to source good wines from the region. I tasted their selection recently and was impressed by many, most notably Ch.Batailley 2002 (49.99); Ch.Bergat 2004 (39.99); Ch.de Bois Martin 2006 (24.99); Ch.Dubourg 2006 (23.99); Ch. Pontac-Lynch 2003, (23.49); Ch.Haut-Madrac 2005 (19.99); Ch.Lamothe Vincent 2006 (16.99); and a surprisingly classical Dulong Reserve Medoc 2006, a bargain at 8.99. Many wines from Dunne’s Bordeaux selection will be ‘on special’ during the month and I’d recommend you check it out. Lastly, a tip. These wines are not fruit laden ‘quaffers’. If you are a ‘red Bordeaux virgin’, try them with food first.
Minerva demanded “This Michelin thing. What do you get?” I took a deep breath and ventured “The package. The works. A theatrical experience. Art, drama, imagination, creativity and panache. Expensive ingredients, lovingly, time-consumingly prepared. Plus a cast of thousands attending to your every whim before you know you’ve got one…”
“And is it worth the money?” demanded Diana, more pragmatic of my dining companions. “Errr…depends…” I replied. That’s as unequivocal as I can be.
You see it demands a degree of fatalism to undergo The Two-star Experience. You have to say ‘I’m going to go out tonight prepared to spend ex’ then sit back and enjoy the performance. Complaining if the bottled water costs an ‘extortionate’ ey or the espresso an ‘outrageous’ ez serves no purpose.
My partiality for Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud has not gone unnoticed. Last year I was accused by a Galway restaurateur of trying to ‘impose Guilbaud-like standards on the west’. However unfair the taunt, there’s no doubt that I do enjoy such luxuries as table settings that are both aesthetic and classically correct; decent white linen; copped-on waitpersons providing unobtrusive but efficient service. It’s all my mother’s fault. She spent most of her working life in charge of a regiment of serving staff, a treasure chest of priceless china and an arsenal of plate and cutlery, her task being to ensure that municipal banquets ran with military precision. Take her out for a meal and if the food was at least averagely decent the restaurant got the thumbs up. But what would be but minor blips to you or I – a failed light bulb in a chandelier; the wine waiter coming round to the wrong side – could ruin her evening. Worse, Doris’s impassive stone-set face made sure that if she wasn’t enjoying herself neither would anyone else. It would have been easy to be put off from dining-out for evermore. Instead, I learned to love her relentless professionalism. Ergo it came as quite a land when Guilbaud’s young bar waiter sought to wrong-foot me when I complained that my fino sherry had arrived suntanned-and-sweet. Patiently he explained (in the tones of a short-tempered teacher instructing a rather dim child) that they only had three sherries and dry was what I’d got. I had to stamp my foot to get him to bring the bottles and, after inspection, selected a manzanilla (the ‘extra dry’) as replacement for what was undoubtedly an amontillado.
From there things got better and better. Stéphane Robin, that impeccable maitre d’, ushered us into the restaurant where our every request got met promptly and pleasantly. We decided, in the interests of research, that one of us should eat à la carte so, as my credit card would be the one to suffer, I pulled rank. Diana and Minerva partook of the set lunch, which at two courses for e30, three for e45 has earned deserved plaudits from n number of food writers. From the wine list, we selected a crisp Alsace Pinot Blanc, one of the sea level bottles on a list that scales the hautes montagnes of French wine. We all adored the atmosphere. The Merrion Street basement really excels by day, the light floods in, augmented by the pastel colours and the pictures; a cheerful ambience that gives the lie to those who equate Michelin stars with stuffiness.
I chose a warm salad of velvet crab, flavoured with piquillos, coriander and lemon confit, home made ‘pork-crab’ sausage and spider crab jus. Expensive ingredients? Yes. Labour intensive? Too true. Over-the top? Certainly not. I counted something like a dozen separate ‘events’ combining to put this tour de force together yet all the flavours harmonised intelligently. Minerva’s terrine of tomato, basil and langoustine, saffron pickled vegetables, took the Oscar for best picture while Diana said she wouldn’t have swapped her roast goat cheese on toasted brioche for either of the other two.
The pigeon and foie gras is a Guillaume Le Brun speciality, for me an old flame competing with the turbot and duck confit, the Challans duck and the veal, girolles and crayfish for my affections. The pigeon was described as ‘slowly roasted.’ It was succulent in the extreme. Stéfane, good Frenchman as he is, can’t understand the Irish aversion to foie gras. Neither can I. Pigeon and foie gras are Morecambe & Wise, Thelma & Louise, Starsky & Hutch – inseparable. Diana plumped for the roast breast of chicken, white asparagus and young leeks, sounds like the ‘healthy option’ until you consider the rich foie gras sauce. Minerva had the fillet of John Dory with potato salad, shallot and champagne vinegar and a fresh herb velouté, another winner. And all the while the waiters come and go, talking, not of Michaelangelo, but of who, at what table, was at what stage; there was constant communication between these impeccably drilled young professionals. Three arrived synchroneously with the main course and lids over the dishes were raised and lowered on a count of four. Next, a waiter dashed forward to sweep the table clean of debris with what looked like a silver-plated razor shell. Pure foodies’ opera.
For dessert, I enjoyed a comprehensive selection of mainly French cheeses, all pristine. Minerva had the roast Victoria pineapple, glazed with spices and vanilla, exotic fruit salad (even typing out the menu must be a labour of love) and Diana, the iced nougat parfait, a simple, beautifully executed classic.
Verdict? Guillaume Le Brun is an outstanding chef, RPG, an oustanding restaurant. Lunch for two of this quality for e123 including a decent bottle of wine represents stunning value. My own orgy, including the confrontational sherry and a mineral water came to e117. Doubling up and adding (at least) e33 for your wine, takes you to e267, that’s before you’ve tipped or salved your caffeine craving so allow e300 if you and your ‘S.O.’ want to visit the borders of Bacchanalia. At this point you should maybe revert to the start of this review. What’s it to be? A pair of Jimmy Choo’s? Two air tickets to Rome? The weekly grocery shop? A mid range digital camera? Or the full monty Michelin moment at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud? Only you can decide.