6 Portland Road

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Kensington is lovely, of course it is. But it is also very boring. So is Notting Hill, if a little less so, and at least they get the occasional excitement of piss-filled cans of Red-Stripe being thrown around every year at the carnival. The area has suffered in recent years.

Residentially, it is too expensive for the young creative set who used to hang out in Chelsea and Notting Hill and who now locate themselves in the East. Culturally, it houses some grand institutions  but the vibrant new openings have long since dried up.

Restaurant wise, there are some good high-endish classic destinations, Kitchen W8, Launceston Place, Sally Clarks etc, but vibrant new-openings, not so much.

So, it is not surprising that 6 Portland Road was so popular when we went for dinner a few days ago.

The lovely owner Oli Barker, has lured Pascal Wiedermann, and it seems most of the wine-list from the excellent Terroirs group, who are part-owned by Les Caves de Pyrene.

So, no problem with the food. These guys know what they’re doing in the kitchen. Outside, the rusticity has been dialled down a bit and has a sort of effortlessly chic modern-French feel to it.

A slightly unappealing, herby amuse-bouche sort of dip was replaced by some ultra-fresh Sardines and one of the best terrines I’ve had for a long time.

The mains were good. Pork cheek was suitably hearty and I can’t remember what my companion had, but it was nice. Prices aren’t cheap but, well, neither are the locals.

Speaking of locals, it was interesting to eavesdrop on some of the fall-out from a quite hard-line natural wine list. We were the lucky recipients of a bottle that some guys next to us didn’t like (and was great) and it’s probably not easy getting punters to get their wallets out when they hadn’t heard of any of the wines.

Personally, I think it’s a mistake to source so many wines of a similar bent. It just becomes a bit boring seeing the same stuff everywhere. It’s like in Paris, everywhere you go it’s the same stuff: Foillard, Ganevat, de Moor etc etc. Maybe not the Gallo, but a bit of interesting Burgundy, Rhone and Bordeaux wouldn’t go amiss amongst the Pineau d’Aunis.

I was quite excited to see a white from Jean-Marie Berrux, who I knew better from the Sarnin-Berrux operation I visited in St-Aubin a few years ago. They were making really lovely natural-inflected whites in Burgundy, up to some pretty exalted appellations. Didn’t end up importing any as we were not sure the UK market was 100% ready for them and also there was a bit of a question mark in our minds about how the superior appellations always related to quality. It seemed they wore their vinificaition signature ahead of their terroir profiles.

Anyway – Jean Marie is making a sideline with negoce grapes and we tried his Tetu 2013 (I think it was 2013)

It was lovely, not quite the Puligny our nice waitress compared it too, but top stuff and very bracing.

It reminded me of the Cuvee Florine from Ganevat. Aaron Ayscough put’s it well when he says: “Belying its name, which means “little stubborn one,” it’s dance-in-the-streets delicious right this instant. There’s a sea-spray, sea-shelly salinity, and a kind of delicate lime-zest filigree that just slays me.”

Whether our fellow diners, the tieless masters of finance, will be dancing in the streets with joy, I don’t know. But to have a restaurant as good as this in the neighbourhood, a jig at the very least would be appropriate.

Joe Gilmour6 Portland Road

Lafite Who?

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Scene: Natural wine bar, brick walls. wax capsules. etc After a long discussion about wine from Jura.

Me: “It’s great, it reminds me of Michel Lafarge”

Him: “Who?”

Me: “Michel Lafarge, you know, top producer of Volnay?”

Him: “Never heard of ‘im”

I can’t remember who it was, I think it might have been Gianfranco Soldera, reminiscing a few months back about his vinous education. He was remembering the great wines that became the key reference points for his memory bank of what wine was capable of aspiring to. Mouton 1949, Armand Rousseau 1985, etc, etc. He wanted to make wines as good as these. I think he probably succeeded.

Gianfranco bemoaned the current generation of drinkers and winemakers who haven’t had the chance to taste the classics because they’re just too expensive. Indeed, a few years ago, I was at a tasting of 1982 Bordeaux chatting to an MW, who’d never tasted a wine from this epoch-changing vintage.

Understand prices, and you can understand a lot of what’s happening in the world. Was the surge of great restaurants in London about a new discovery of interest in food, or was it driven as much by high prices of rental property pushing people to eat out because they didn’t have a dining table at home?

Overnoy, L’Anglore, Foillard etc. If you have the connections and can find them, you can drink the best natural wines in the world without spending a fortune. The popularity of these ‘new classics’ is in part a natural reaction to the increasing unattainability of the ‘old-classics’.

But, because of this, it seems there’s a generation of young wine lovers, who don’t aspire to drink the classics anymore. I think that’s a shame. When I started, it was all I wanted to do, to encounter Lafite, Petrus et al. To bag some of the ‘big-game’ of the wine world. I don’t feel like that so much anymore, but it was an important period of my life that allowed me a sense of scale as to what wine, and older wine in particular was all about.

And, it’s not like all of the classic wines of France are out of reach. Their is a plethora of well-priced, delicious Bordeaux out there that deserves more exposure on the capitals trendy new lists. The importers Vine-Trail deserve a lot of credit for pushing these wines at the moment.

So, in the rush to celebrate the new, the trendy, let’s not forget the classics. To comprehend the new it helps to understand the past.

 

Joe GilmourLafite Who?

Chez Guy

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Of all of the Gang of Four, Guy Breton is the least well known in the UK. Jean Foillard and Marcel Lapierre have their wines listed the breadth of the country. Jean-Paul Thevenet is a bit less well-known.  This is a product of size, Guy’s domaine is a fraction of the size of Lapierre and Foillard. Today, Foillard and Lapierre have increased to around 30 hectares, Guy’s has stayed small, only about 4 hectares in total.

The output of Breton and JP Thevenet is about the same (2,000 – 3,000 cases).  Although stylistically different, it’s difficult to differentiate the quality of the Morgons of all four. They are all impeccable. Guy’s is a typically elegant expression, natural and pure but with perhaps a spice component somewhat similar to Alan Coudert at Clos de la Roilette.

He strives for balance without weight, without the dominance of wood, so he buys used barrels from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Subsequently, his wines his are typically the lightest in colour, the lowest in alcohol, and the least tannic.

One of my favourite writers on anything (and Beaujolais in particular) Aaron Ayscough, says: “Guy Breton’s 2008 “P’tit Max” Morgon is a wine one doesn’t see anywhere near as often as one should on Paris wine lists. Presumably this is in accordance with Breton’s wishes, whatever they may be. Leap on it where you see it though: this is an absolutely magisterial Morgon, perhaps my favorite among a favoured appellation”

So, even in France they’re hard to pick-up. Most is whisked off to the US and Japan. I know the team at Kermit Lynch can be very effective at managing to extract large volumes from producers there. Jean-Paul Thevenet once described how they visit, pull their laptops out and work out immediately how much to take. It’s usually a very large number!

Joe GilmourChez Guy

Ceritas

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The ‘In Pursuit of Balance’ movement started by Raj Parr, Jasmin Hirsch and others declared recently that they were ceasing operations. Parr feels it’s gone as far I could: “It did what it did, open a dialogue. We don’t want to make it into a sales and market campaign. It never was that. A discussion has been started. We’ll see where it goes.”

Like all oppositional movements in wine, whether notional or not, it drew its fair share of controversy. It did however, draw attention to some superb food-friendly wine styles that really shone in the spot-light the movement provided.

Now, the best cool-climate styles in California take their place as some of the best wines in California full-stop. There is a recognition there that perhaps didn’t seem possible when they started. Were they a symptom or a cause? It’s difficult to say. There were certainly plenty of other influential voices. Equally, outside California, there was also a sense of rediscovery of traditional and native styles. Wineries like Lopez de Heredia were being re-discovered by a new generation seeking a change from the big and modern wines that were so so popular.

When I was in California last year asking Somms about the wine I should try, most of them mentioned Ceritas, a project started by John Raytek and his partner Phoebe Bass.

They source grapes from a variety of sites on the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz mountains and look for cool-climate sites that can yield ripe fruit with elegant tannins and pure fruit.

Stylistically, they have much in common with the Grand Cru Chablis of Dauvissat and a softer version of the Volnay’s of Michel Lafarge

Their wines are only sold via a mailing list in the State’s and restaurant’s do all they can to get a case or two. Sam Bogue, wine director for the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, which includes Flour + Water, Aatxe and Central Kitchen says: “We take all they allocate to us, and we’ll take anyone else’s allocation who doesn’t want it.”

There is certainly a lineage in these wines that you can trace through Arnot-Roberts, where Raytek used to work. A producer that still hugely excites me, ever since trying his pale coloured Trousseau when we pulled a bottle off t he first palate into the UK. I think John Raytek’s wines are every bit as exciting. So, it’s hugely exciting to be able to bring these wines into the country.

I’ve a lot of respect for what IPOB has done, and I think it reflects a lot of what winemakers just wanted to do. It was a natural re-adjustment to a period dominated by a lot of big (but not always unbalanced wines) When I visited Copain, Wells Gutherie said “You know, I would go into my cellar and just not want to drink any of the wines I made during that era”.

What ‘Balance’ is, and what constitutes ‘Natural’ is continually up for debate, and the wheel will constantly be spinning. I just hope the debate is done with a smile and a glass in hand. One style does not invalidate another, and as much as IPOB was about promoting a certain style of wines, most of the proponants would happily sing the virtues of ‘big’ wines like Chateauneuf, Port, Amarone and Priorat.

Joe GilmourCeritas

Snaps from the Northern Rhone

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The old Joseph Jamet label, from the early 1980s. Note the 73cl bottle! They changed it in the mid 1980s. Jean-Luc said the paper basically disintegrated within a few years in a damp cellar. In the early days of their rare Cote-Brune bottling they would just mix a bottle in with a case of the original.

The new barrel room of Jean-Luc and Evelyne Jamet.

On top of hill at St-Joseph looking out over the river towards Crozes. The vineyard on as the hill turns is Chapoutiers Varonnieres.

Ludovic planting new metal staves in his Chaillot vineyard inherited from the Pierre Lionnet estate.

The elusive Francoise Ribo on top of a parcel of St-Joseph they were ploughing by horse. On a day like this, it looked magical. Dard & Ribo have a reputation as being difficult to find. Indeed, we spent the preceding 20 minutes wandering up the hillside shouting their names.

A bottle of St-Joseph Blanc, bread and rilettes. Lunch.

Slow work, but wonderful for the soil. Not a cheap way of working. As well as using the horse, they use the winch system of ploughing. Inspiring stuff.

2008 Clape in great form in the evening. Love this vintage when done well.

2000 Crozes-Hermitage Gaby. Hermitage quality and perfect now. Nicely developed Syrah character.

Joe GilmourSnaps from the Northern Rhone

Domaine Pierre Gonon

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

When Pierre Gonon handed the estate over to his sons Pierre and Jean, he left it in good, reassuringly hard-worn hands.

Like many of their generation, Pierre and Jean are more outward looking, open to new ideas and dedicated to better quality. But, unlike some of their peers, this is never at the expense of making traditional, classic and age-worthy wine. These are proper wines with a real backbone, worthy heirs to the Trollat vines that form part of their current holdings.

Although typically one of the most expensive wines of the appellation, I’d argue this is one of the best value Northern Rhone Syrah around at the moment. The quality is simply outrageous for the price. Given how little is ever on the market, it seems many would agree. There seems to be a perception around that St-Joseph is a lowly appellation that holds prices at a reasonable level.

The modern age of Gonon can be identified as the point in the early 1990s when Pierre passed on the estate to his sons. The two brothers new direction was augmented by the purchase of 1.2 hectares of vines from Raymond Trollat on the Aubert hill.

That their wines are now priced above most Cote-Rotie’s is a shame, but probably warranted by what’s in the bottle, and a natural result of the tiny quantities they work with.

We met the delightful and very urbane Jean outside the winery on a marvelously sunny day. The vineyards of Mauves rise up behind the small modern building, with workers dotted about the terraces, pruning hard at ten in the morning.

Beneath the modern winery is a wonderfully old-school barrel room, akin to those in Burgundy, which is something of a surprise, after walking through the modern ground floor. There are four wines made here. Tiny quantities of a Chasselas (0.1 hectares) and Vin de Pays. Then, 8 hectares of Syrah making about 8,000 bottles of red St-Joseph and 2 hectares of white making a much smaller amount.

The 2015 Chasselas was a little reduced when we tried it but was very complex and expressive. Very nicely done indeed but I think only one barrel to go around.

We tried a various barrels of red and whites from the 2015 which looked like it was shaping up very nicely. There was one barrel of 90 year old vines that came from the old Raymond Trollat holdings that was simply magnificent and  a big contrast to some of the younger vine plots.

Unusually for a St-Joseph domaine, the Gonons have vines in all three of the main communes, which gives a very complete assemblage of the styles.

Then Jean showed us some 2014 St-Joseph Rouge and Vin de Pays. The St-Joseph seemed great but was really a bit awkward and clearly needed quite a bit of time, I think it was quite recently bottled. The St-Joseph was very good and cherry fruited. Obviously much more expansive and fruit driven at this stage.

The 2013 reds had superb freshness and a sense of cool fruit to them. I liked them very much. Jean didn’t want to be drawn to much into relative discussions of vintage quality as he feels, quite rightly, they all show different aspects of the terroir and to say one is better then another can be quite misleading.

Jean pulled out a couple of mystery bottles, a 2005 St-Joseph Rouge that was utterly complete and incredibly drinking now. Also a bottling of 2006 VV St-Joseph whose power was rather eclipsed by the elegance of the 2005 I felt.

A further surprise, we had an older bottle of white. I guessed early 1990s, a companion guessed 1990. It was 1991. Very nice with mellow acidity and soft fruit. Personally I think I would have preferred it a bit younger. Jean said when asked on the whites, generally you should think about either drinking soon after release or after 5 years or so. The whites are made from 80% Marsanne (mostly from 1958) and this tends to close down after a year or so in bottle.

As Jean Livingstone-Learmonth observes when describing the Gonons ‘simple is best’. Not only is this true here, here it seems ‘simplicity actually is the ultimate sophistication’.

 

Joe GilmourDomaine Pierre Gonon