Thursday, 6 January 2011

Bank Holiday Wine-Off...Number 2

Hello all!

Well, it happened again! Another bank holiday wine-off. If you missed the last one (here) then the basic premise is this: We turn up at our friends' house with some wine. They cook amazing food (one of our friends is a Chef and the other is gastronomically savvy to say the least!). We eat the food. They also have wine. While stuffing ourselves, we compare the wines. Six people in total (Chef's GF, other friend's guest, D and myself) and normally about a dozen or so wines makes for a brilliant night!

It was a bit more structured this time. It was to be old world versus new for the fish and meat courses. Plus a couple of other bottles thrown in. I drew old world for fish and new world for meat. We took a bottle of Vintage Champagne because our friends were cooking and providing the venue, so we thought it only fair. At about 7:15pm we arrived and I cracked the Heidsieck Gold Top 2005 (£20, Majestic Wine). Lovely orchard fruit, lots of bubbles but not too aggressive. Lovely, but ultimately a bit too young and reticent (7.5/10). While we finished off the Champers we nibbled smoked rainbow trout with soft cheese and chive, and Ox-tongue with creme fraiche and horseradish served on a dry crostini/biscuit type "thingy" (that is a sad testament to my food knowledge!). Really good.

Out came the next course; a field mushroom stuffed with mozarella, cherry tomatos and basil, and salad leaves with balsamic dressing. This was occompanied by the Chef's Markowitsch Pinot Noir 2008 from Austria (£15.99, Oddbins) - very light in colour, a pale ruby and completely transparent. Lively smell of summer berries and spice and tasted very similar. Nice but a slight harshness on the finish (6.5/10) which might mellow out with age as this can be cellared for up to 8 years.

Next came the fish-starter; "re-invented fish pie" - basically a kind of upside-down fish pie - chunks of tuna, salmon and king prawns in a white wine sauce on a bed of saffron mash in a filo pastry basket, with a rocket and pecorino shaving side-salad - and absolutley stunning! With this I whipped-out the Domaine La Serre Picpoul de Pinet 2009 from the Languedoc (£9.99 from Naked Wines). I'd hedged my bets on no-one having tried this grape before and I was right! I think it was enjoyed by all with its aromatic citrus and grassy smells. It tasted of grape juice, plenty of citrussy fruit with a dry herby finish. A perfect match for the food (7/10).

The next course was the fish-main. Awesome Monkfish fillet with chinese noodles (ginger, lime, corriander, chilli, honey). Here, my old world white would be up against a new world white. I opted for Pouilly-Fume Les Griottes 2009 (cheaper than I thought at £11.99 from Majestic Wine). I thought that Sancerre would be a bit too typical and you can still get a lot of crap Sancerre even if you pay respectable amounts for it! Anyway, the wine was gorgeous; a pale lemonny yellow with a grassy, minerally citrus nose. In the mouth it was superb with citrus, gooseberry and tropical hints with a long mineral finish. Bags of fruit for a French wine (8/10). This was up against Kuru Kuru Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (£10.99, Oddbins) and obviously the new world  opponent being from New Zealand's Marlborough region. Different in style but equally as good. Fruity and grassy on the nose with a massive mouthfull of zesty mango and tropical fruit. Huge. Great (8/10).

Next was the meat course and a chance for the reds to shine. Lamb cutlets marinated with garlic and thyme on risotto in white wine sauce. Delicious. We'd all defied convention on the reds. I was expecting Bordeaux and they were expecting a Chilean Cabernet from me. However, I threw in a curveball (to use the Americanism) in the form of one of my favourites; the Lebanese Chateau Musar 2002 (£17.99 from Majestic Wine). I'm probably biased, but this was (once again) superb. A deep ruby colour, purple at its darkest and with a brick red/brown rim, just starting to show signs of bottle-age. Cabernet-dominant smells of cassis and cherry. The taste still bright and young with loads of blackcurrant and cherry fruit with spice and "leafy" hints, for want of a better term. Stunning (8/10). This was up against a mighty Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero 2007 (£24.99 from Oddbins). This was an intense, deep purple with a violet rim. Again, intensely spicy on the nose and suprisingly Cabernet-like with cassis and black cherry. Interesting. It developed meaty aromas after a while. It was good, but a little harsh. Maybe in a few years it will excel (can be cellared for up to 10 years) (7/10). The Chef threw in a Stone Dweller's Merlot 2008 (£16.99, Oddbins). A deep purple again with a lipstick rim. Smoky plum and caramel smells. Powerful, lots of smoky, spicy fruit. Some acidity and very warming. The only criticism being that it was a bit "hot". High alcohol level was immediately apparent, but not too detracting. A solid (7/10).

Desert followed. A bloody fabulous mascarpone, cassis and bluberry tarte with flaked almonds, blueberry compot and vanilla ice cream. Sublime. I was absolutely stuffed but could have eaten two portions of this, and I'm not usually a "sweet" man. With this we had the desert wine Muscat de st. Jean de Minervois (various places and about £8 for a 375ml bottle). Despite a luke-warm reception, I thought it was lovely for a dessert wine - brimming with peaches and apricots but still showing good acidity. It was sweeter than the sweet itself though I must admit. (6.5/10).

By now it was gone Midnight, and we still had the cheese course and three more wines to go! I must admit, by this time I was absolutely stuffed to the point of discomfort (D had stopped eating and drinking!) and feeling the effects of the previous 9 wines, but determined to finish. We are all big red fans so the final three were greeted with big smiles.

My Catena Malbec 2008 (£11.99, Majestic) was up against the Chef's big Chilean blend Quinta Generación 2007 (about £16, Good Wine Online) comprising Carmenere, Shiraz, Cabernet and Petit Verdot. The two wines were identical in colour, intense opaque purple with a violet rim. The Catena smelled of blackberries and pencils. Tasted very similar with blackberry, violets and graphite. Some good acidity but a dry tannic finish. A bit "hot" and ultimately, dissapointing (6.5/10). The Quinta had intense red berry, cherry and medicinal aromas. Big, powerful, a good mouthful of fruit, violets and spice but again, sadly, disappointing (7/10). I'm not sure if it was the amount of food, or quite possibly wine, that we'd had before this point that spoiled the wines for us, or whether they were genuinely disappointing? It would be good to try both again, in a more benign atmosphere to re-score them. However, the winner for me was the Gemtree Bloodstone Shiraz 2008 (£14.99, Oddbins). A little more transparent but still opaque at its core. Bursting with red berries and raisiny at first, it developed a lovely blackberry taste after a little while. Great (7.5/10)

By now it was approaching 1:00am. I think we were all slightly tipsy by now as we finished off the cheese and crackers. That's all I can remember is some smoked Gouda, some orange coloured cheese with black mould - very strong on its own but a winner with the (AMAZING) cheesy, peppery crackers and a mouthfull of the Quinta Generación. Oh, and there was goat's cheese. Oh, and some crazy pumpkin seed crackers. That's about all I can remember (the note-taking must have taken a turn for the worse by that point). Anyway, with the eating done, we proceeded to plough back into the wines. I had another glass of Musar, the Ribera del Duero, Catena and Quinta.

We finally called a cab for 3:00am. We'd had an amazing night. We thanked our friends profusely. It arrived. I was forced to neck the last glass of Bloodstone. We sleepily clambered out of it at 3:15am, smoked the last cigarettes of our lives (hopefully, as we intend to give up for good this time!) and were probably asleep by 3:30am. No doubt dreaming of the next wine-off and wishing we hadn't eaten so much!

Here's to the next one!

As always, speak to you soon!



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