Another Night at Brunswick House

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

Amongst all the mega developments, ill thought-out swimming pools in the sky and various crappy, soulless and dead-eyed architectural schemes stands Lassco house and the increasingly sophisticated cooking at Brunswick House. Always excellent, our meal last night seemed to be even more precise, flavourful and interesting then my past memories of meals gone by.

Unfortunately, the glasses were a bit on the crap side, or to be more accurate, for the Burgs, did not really work that great. More on that later on.
We did the wines sort of blind, and they were all great, difficult to choose a wine of the evening.

Starting with a Chablis, a 1er Vaulorent from Patrick Piuze – was very nice, probably could have benefitted from more time in the decanter. Young Chablis must be the one style that benefits the most from a decant. It was good. I read that he ferments and ages 1er and Grand Cru for 10 months in used barrels. It was pretty difficult to detect any oak at all on the wine. Probably much better the day after. Unlike me.

As the glasses emptied, we moved to the reds – starting with ooh, what is it? It is New World? It’s oaky, it’s full bodied – is it Cabernet? Ah, no Gilmour, you total boob, it’s 2003 Volnay 1er Clos des Ducs from d’Angervillle. Well, ahh. What can I say? The glasses were difficult to get the Pinosite, and really it is very dense and oaky. 2003 is a weird vintage, but the winemaking style at the domaine and the sun didn’t combine in the best way. It would have been fascinating to try the Lafarge version side by side, which I feel might have had a bit more natural character to it.
The next wine was utterly lovely, a 1995 CNDP Cuvee Laurence from Pegau. I really dig this wine – the Laurence iteration always seems a step up from the regular cuvee. Perfectly drinking now but in no hurry at all.

Finally came bit of a cuvee-ball, which I knew about, so not so much for me. 1979 Barbacarlo from Lino Maga.

This iconic Italian arguably deserves to be more widely known than it is. But it really is in a category all by itself. As Alice Feiring writes: “Maga lacks the star status of Bartolo Mascarello, the rakishness of Lorenzo Accomasso, or the established sanity of Emidio Pepe, but he should be up there for those who seek out the most profound traditionalists.”. Luca Veronelli, the great Italian intellectual adored the wine, and put it on the highest pedestal as offering satisfaction to mind and body. It was superb, almost timeless, very perfumed and drinkable like the great Barolos of the period.

And that was that, like the German saying, ‘everything has an end, except a sausage, that has two’, we stumbled into the night, sure to return soon.

Joe GilmourAnother Night at Brunswick House

French Wine is not Dead

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

“Just one more thing” says Lieutenant Columbo. “Just one more barrel” says Jean-Pierre Robinot. And so it turns out to be more difficult to leave the cellars of JMR then it was to find him in the first place.

Outside we wondered a few hours before, calling various numbers, knocking on various doors in his winemaking compound. But eventually, amongst the abandoned cars, industrial oddments and agricultural detritus, we were shown gleaming, golden, treasures of Chenin Blanc, fermenting at rates so slow they would have teachers at UC Davis or Montepellier Viticultural Schools scratching their heads. Rare wines, alive and bubbling away.

But looking back, my deepest impression wasn’t made by the superb wines made by Jean-Pierre, or his striking figure, it was of his stories of being there, at the birth of natural wine culture in Paris in the 1980s, with his wine bar, L’Ange Vin. This was to me, a hidden history. Dating movements, histories or even defining what ‘natural wine’ is, is open to interpretation, some people, like the Haquet sisters were so wilfully outside the loop, they missed the advent of conventional winemaking in the first place. But as we left his cellars my colleague started thinking seriously about getting this stuff down and writing a sort of anglophone book on the earlier years of the natural wine movement. It was a great idea that never came to fruition, but here are – 12 years later, and Aaron Ayscough has done the job.

I picked up a copy of this book at Hamblin Bread, in Oxford, close to my mums house, a few months ago. It was such a happy find as I had a copy on pre-order that for various reasons I’d forgotten about. The bread is very fine indeed, and they clearly love their natural wine – they clearly have a strong link, bread and wine. Indeed – when I visited Pierre Overnoy in the Jura, one of the fathers of the movement, he was more interested in talking about his bread making efforts then his wines.*

More formally written then Aarons brilliant blog ‘not drinking poison in paris’, which was joyfully unafraid to load some barbs here and there and had, for want of a better word, style. If only all wine writing could be so good.

I was interested to see what he was going to write about real and perceived ‘faults’ in some of the wines from the movement. Mousiness in particular, but also I was interested to hear what he thought about whether terroir definition is most ably transmitted by this style of winemaking. You know, would you vinify Batard-Montrachet the same way as Bourgogne Blanc? I love the wines of Sarnin-Berrux in St-Romain for example, but as you went up the terroir and price hierarchy there, I didn’t feel you got a lot more. He was, I thought, very relaxed on the subject of mousiness. Yes they’re a nuisance, he says, but if you leave them, they usually go away. Well, I suppose it depends how much annoyance you want to tolerate.

I had a mouse in our chimney at the same time as reading this book, and I couldn’t leave it be. But I pulled a bottle out from the dark recesses of my cellar to test his theory, a bottle of Gamay (Les Dolomies Madalaine 2018) from Jura, that was so mousy 18 months ago it was miserable drinking – and lo, aren’t I the fool, it was delicious and the mouse either gone, or substantially reduced. I don’t know, I guess some people are more relaxed then others, maybe I should chill out a bit. It’s probably true that if you want to drink these types of wines, you have to be open to them when they take their own pathways.

My first love really remains drinking old wine. “Where is the truth” says Gerard Chave, “The truth is in the old bottles”. Sometimes that truth is simply that the wine has fallen apart, but sometimes a humble bottle can be elevated to heights that remain to me, absolutely thrilling. It is an equal opportunity thing, and when a cheap bottle outperforms after a few years, well, be still my heart. 

But, in my lifetime, the movement of ‘natural wine’ that I was unaware of for many years in the industry, is so incredibly vital. I’ll never forget the moment when I was in the cellars of Antony Tortul of La Sorga and I saw what was scribbled in chalk onto one of his barrels with a skull and crossbones. “French Wine is not Dead”. When I saw that I thought of all the dead French winemakers and thought, if they could, they’d be smiling in their graves at the efforts of their children to make wine real and relevant for another generation.

Joe GilmourFrench Wine is not Dead


Joe Gilmour Thoughts

‘The thing about Zaltos’, I pompously opined, ‘is that they look delicate but they’re actually surprisingly strong’. He looked at me bemusedly. Look, I said, ‘Look how they can actually flex if you squeeze them slightly’.

The glass shattered in my hands. “Ben – I’m so sorry – I’ll buy you a replacement”

These beautiful but fragile glasses that you could almost balance on your little finger are bound up  with the new movement of acidity dominant wines and traditional winemaking styles.

At times they are almost too precise and uncharitable on a wine that make drinking for pleasure a bit difficult. They put the balance of a wine pretty mercilessly under the spotlight.

In the UK they were so popular there was quite a waiting list to order them as every restaurant looked at the other Jones’ and wanted the same glass.

To my mind everything about wine, including the glasses we drink it from reflects a cultural moment, a soft indication of a system of belief of the consumer and the producer. Certain Napa trophy wines seem to me to be mostly made and consumed by a certain ‘bigger is better’ wealthy, ‘Republican’ mindset. Wines like statues devoted to their needy owners. Riedel was the glassware of choice, endorsed by Bob Parker. Indeed – when I poured a full-bodied Shiraz into the Zalto, it didn’t quite work – was it all in my head?

In Robert Parkers Wine Guide he writes in his breezily confident fashion: “The finest glasses for both hedonistic and technical purposes are those made by the Riedel Company of Austria” – Georges’ mission he says, “Is to provide the ‘finest tools’ enabling the taster to capture the dull potential of a particular varietal”. And this was the stall he set out in the 1990s – to provide a different glass for each different wine.  That was a lot of glasses – in both his expensive hand-blown Sommelier series and the cheaper Vinum range, there was everything from the Grand Cru Pinot Noir glass to (cringe) the Coca Cola and Prosecco glass.

Where are we now? Going back to weedy ‘Democrat’ wines, sipped from these wafer-thin glasses, in rooms of bare brick and distressed wood. Wines with high acidity and traditional leanings. Men in tortoiseshell glasses, French worker shirts and soft hands from experiencing no harder labour then tapping on their laptops all day.

We did have a Riedel sales rep into our shop back in the day to lead a tasting with different glasses and different wines – and I don’t know, some people found it worthwhile. For me, and I imagine most others, they just brought the Chianti / Riesling glasses and drank everything out of them. They were good glasses, made by the Spiegelau factory under license from Riedel.

Indeed – It was this fact that led us to purchase 400 of them to run our tasting program with. Before then, we were using the miserly ISO glasses, that resemble tiny sherry copitas and are used for the WSET Wine Education program in the UK. It makes me cringe to look back and remember we were using them to serve such wines as 1942 Vega Sicila and Henri Jayer Echezeaux. Oh my days! Xavier Ausus, the winemaker from VS took us to one side after the tasting and suggested maybe we upgrade.  

Joe GilmourGlasses

Julien Sunier – Energy for days

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

Seeing the 2019s from Julien Sunier coming onto the list reminded me how vital is the life-force of this man and his wines. It’s hard to convey how intense is the energy of this guy, like staring at the sun. It seems to be in inverse proportion to his proximity to his winery in leafy, rural Avenas. When I’ve met him in London he seems a shadow of his true self at home, vibrating with passion as he talks about one of the x different projects he’s working on. If you ever want to feel anxiety about your own industry, spend some time with him.

Before starting the Domaine in the mid 2000s be worked with Mommessin, one of the biggest negociants in the region, and with Christophe Roumier in Chambolle (where he gets his barrels), where he was in serious consideration to take over the winemaking at the Domaine. But there is something about Gamay and the resurrection of the reputation of Beaujolais that appealed – doing something off your own back I guess. And I think there is something of the careful caretaker in making wine from the most elite terroirs on earth that could be rather off-putting. Don’t fuck it up basically.

His wines since 2009 have built more and more delicacy and style into them every vintage as he learns more and more about his terroirs and the vinifications – he’s standing on the shoulders of giants, Marcel Lapierre was a real friend and inspiration as well as the rest of the gang. It was their influence that also was critical in sourcing his vineyards in Fleurie, Morgon and Regnie that had not been ravaged by industrial viticulture for the last thirty years. To me the wines recall something of the silky, airy florality of Chambolle-Musigny.

One of my most profound memories is at his dinner table with his wife, the daughter of Gerard Potel. She inherited a pretty decent collection of wines, and before dinner at a local joint in Morgon, he pulled out a bottle for a blind tasting,. We ummed and erred around Gevrey from a ripe vintage. Bottle unveiled… 1990 Chambertin Clos de Beze Rousseau… wowzer! Julian just looked at his watch and said merde, we’re late for dinner – so we left the half bottle of Chambertin as he said, “right, let’s go and drink some real fucking wine’

Joe GilmourJulien Sunier – Energy for days

Chablis is not all a waste of time

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

Up to about ten years ago I had literally no means to buy any expensive wine. Which was why it was it would be difficult to describe the sense of anticipation when a friend who worked in a central London bar in the late 1990s gave me a 6 pack of 1990 Chablis Grand Cru (Blanchots I think) by Etienne Defaix. It had been wrongly delivered by his supplier. He knew I loved wine but couldn’t really afford to buy anything decent. Sadly, as I tried to extract something to like from each brown, lifeless bottle, I hatched the belief that Chablis was over-rated, couldn’t age and was a waste of money. And as I carried this mistaken belief down the road, there were plenty of other bottles that could be characterized in this way. It was either a simple yet overpriced wine of anodyne character, or it tasted old, past-its-best and was a generally flakey proposition.

Of course I only had a partial picture, I was drinking a small sample of the wrong wines at the wrong age – and have enjoyed many great bottles of Raveneau, Dauvissat since. The towering giants of the appellation. Luckily there are actually more than two good producers in Chablis, and the standard of winemaking has really been on the up-swing for the last decade. Largely due to better viticulture and less worked wines in the cellar. The young (and not so young) terriers like Thomas Pico, Vocoret, de Moor and Droin are snapping at the trouser legs of D & R. What many of them only lack is the same canvas of crus to work with. As good as many terroirs are in Chablis, when you look at a map you can see why the Grand Crus are so significant here. A Boucheron is never gonna be a Les Clos however conscientious Eleni and Edouard Vocoret are for example.

Undeniably impressive, Raveneau is so marked by the vinification that it has less of the weightlessness of great Dauvissat, the beacon of the appellation and the (tart) apple to my eye. Power without weight is the dream, and the wines of Dauvissat float around the room they are so weightless.

Which is why I like the wines of Tribut so much – they are really similar to Dauvissat, who is clearly the spiritual mentor of his nephew, at a fraction of the price. I had a bottle of the 2018 1er Beauroy last night and thought it was great – just searingly taut and chalky and needing time in the cellar – So that’s where the other 5 will stay for a few years. Until of course, I get drunk and start pulling them out.

Joe GilmourChablis is not all a waste of time

Have you no morals man!?

Joe Gilmour Thoughts

He came in about seven-thirty. A regular customer, 60ish maybe, with the vibe of a geography teacher and a shy, gruffish character.

Fino sherry was his thing, a few half botles a week.

This evening was different though, he’d clearly been drinking heavily and swimming deep in what could have been a Mike Leigh film or a night reading about all the sorrow and inequality in the world. He was eyeing up our expensive wines, of which we had a lot in our Kensington shop. He was angry, very angry indeed.  “How can you sell a wine for £1,000?” he said, “you must be ashamed of yourselves”.

Not particularly I said, but as I mentioned it was late and I didn’t particularly want to be pulled into a conversation about the morality of expensive wine when there are people dying of hunger etc. He took an interesting tack and one I wasn’t expecting. I want to buy one he said. Go-on then, sell me one…I want this one!

I thought there was a roughly equal chance he would smash the bottle on the floor once I gave it to him, or smash it over my head.

So, I declined to sell him anything, or get out anything from the locked case, and said I thought he’d been drinking and not thinking clearly – if he wanted something, to come back tomorrow and I would gladly sell him something. He grumbled, swore a bit and shuffled out.

This was brought to mind by an article I read the other week about the ethics of consuming expensive wine from the surprising source of Wine Searcher.

It meanders all over the place and ends up with floppy conclusion:

“So is it immoral to charge more than £20 for a bottle of wine? Morality’s too loose a phenomenon to evoke, I think, but certainly anything over £50 is, I think, hard to justify. No-one buys CDs anymore but it was almost as if there was a maximum price on them. It’s not an identical issue but I think we can do the same with wine. Furthermore, I think it’s imperative to do it if we argue wine has some cultural value.”

So, let me get this right – a max price for wine of £50? Hmm.

Another story. About 10 years ago, Mark Andrew and I were in Banyuls visiting a producer called Vinyer de la Ruca, with a loose thought to importing the wines. We sat down with this inspirational / crazy young producer who told us his philosophy. No plastic anywhere in contact with the wine, no machinery. Only a horse in the vineyards. Stienerism turned up to 11. He even told us how he was planning to distribute his wine to Paris by travelling up on horse and cart. It all sounded totally incredible until Mark started doing the maths. Hang on mate, he started in his direct Mancunan style… you’re making 800 bottles a year selling them at 40 euros a bottle but your costs are enormous, the hand-blown glass and the rest – how do you survive? He said he made about 20,000 euros a year and had to live in if not poverty, a very simple and threadbare material existence. He was happy and proud to do so – and you’d be hard-headed and hearted to deny the beauty of his quest.

Vinyer de la Ruca | Tutto Wines

This is the sort of wine that my first guy wanted to smash up for being immoral as it would be a pretty penny by the time it ended up on shelves.

My feeling has always been that there has never been more great wine in the world then now, if someone wants to spend big bucks on a bottle of Petrus, good luck to them. I hope they enjoy it. A more meaningful conversation on inequality might start with the structural reasons why so much wealth can be accrued by so few, rather than focussing on the end product. After all, the people the wine industry supports, like Manuel (above) in Banyuls, are by and large, not very wealthy and their stories are usually lost as they are rather more complex then rich bankers chugging overpriced Pomerol.

Joe GilmourHave you no morals man!?