Dining Car Wine Options on Illinois Train circa 1900

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

I love old wine lists. An old colleague in America passed this over to me today. From a dining car going through rural America at the turn of the century. I know Stella and a soggy sandwhich must deliver higher margins and make more commercial sense these days. But, sigh, it looks great doesn’t it. Note lack of vintages, and parity of pricing between Yquem and Champagne.

Joe GilmourDining Car Wine Options on Illinois Train circa 1900

Chez Panisse + General Holiday Miscellany

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Between the 14th and the 24th of October, there has not been much email activity from Blast, nor many sales. Which is not great. But for two weeks of holiday  in California, well, sacrifices need to be made.

This was not a wine trip, we were in the middle of harvest season and would have felt guilty about imposing ourselves on smaller wineries, so we made do with some nice dinners and bottles.

For our second night, just outside Malibu, we ate at a small local restaurant. The food was excellent, the wine list decent but nothing special. I couldn’t help but notice our companions down the aisle from us, working their way through some 1970 Palmer and older American wines. We chatted for a bit and towards the end of the evening, they sent over a half bottle of 1991 Opus One. I do think Opus One is a stupendously boring bottle of wine but I thought it might be polite to keep that observation to myself.

A more exciting find by half, and a wine recommended by Californian trend-spotter Mike Sager, was a 2013 Peter Martin Ray Chardonnay from Ceritas, a producer new to me. From a 30 year old plot high in the Santa-Cruz mountains. I asked the sommelier at Marchand in Santa Barbera, what he thought, and he raved about it. On the nose, it was quite reticent, like a Grand Cru Chablis rather than either the more oak-driven style of the Cote d’Or, or the more tropical accented style of a Californian classic like Kongsgaard. On the palate, it delivered such zen-like precision and balance, that it achieved that feat only a few wines do. Power from simplicity and definition, rather than body. A task completed by say, Freddy Mugnier in Chambolle. It was superb.

Our next stop was at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, a place that I’m not going to write a big intro for, given its place in the history of Californian and global restaurant culture is so assured. What I would say though is that I was worried that a) it would be a let-down given how much competition there now is for this style of ‘farm fresh’ cooking. b) They wouldn’t have much on their prix-fix menu (which is all that’s available) for a vegetarian.

On both counts, I shouldn’t have been. The food was sublime, the service and ambience relaxed and for my partner, they’d printed out a separate menu, and a vegetarian meal that was just mind-blowingly good. In addition to how good the food was, the wine list for a place of this reputation was incredibly fairly priced and a superb blend of Kermit-Lynch sourced European classics with some of the best emerging US bottles. We tried a bottle of 2013 Arnot-Roberts Watson Ranch Chardonnay that was not in a dissimilar style to the Ceritas but slightly more open and terrific value at about $80.

A lot of people think they have ‘a book in them’. Others think of opening their own restaurant, usually because they can cook up a storm when friends come round for dinner. Me, I’m under no illusions of doing either, I picture myself sweating in the kitchen, botching plates as the orders pile up. So, to see an operation as effortlessly slick and relaxed as Chez Panisse was incredible. They’re not trying to push boundaries, they just cook with the confidence that their offering will be timeless in its appeal.

Joe GilmourChez Panisse + General Holiday Miscellany

Burgunder Mit Otto

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

A wiser man then I was of the belief that you ought to limit your drinking of the best wines in the world. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford them, he could. It wasn’t that he didn’t like or appreciate the top wines. He’d spent a life in wine and tried most things. It was rather a belief that once you’re drinking the best wines all of the time, their values don’t appeal in the same way for very long. You get jaded, yawning into your 1961 Palmer and your passion for the wines is dulled. You lack that fervour and childish excitement about getting your hands on the good stuff. In wine, as in all things, balance is key.

So that philosophy, combined by my miserliness, means rare is the chance to drink, not taste at the very top table.

But, good things come around every now and then, and a chance to share some great Burgundy with some friends and wine-lovers to celebrate a 40th birthday was well cherished.

The venue was Ottos on Greys Inn Road. A serious wine haunt as the empty bottles evince, it is a restaurant that if you don’t love, in the words of Jay Raynor, ‘you have no soul’. I would agree. The food was sensational, the service impeccable and the general ambience incredible. It’s nicely quirky, with strange pseudo Warhols nestling up to vintage film posters in their atmospheric cellar room.

We kicked off with some Salmon Tartare and paired it with two vintages of Domaine Roulots 1er Poruzots. The 2009 and 2012. It was a strong contrast and athough Jean-Marc warned us that the 2012 was not open for business, I think it showed really strongly and a wholey more cohesive personality then the 2009, that showed ripeness and richness but had a finish that maybe lacked the definition of the 2012. Both wines were stunning expressions of the Roulot style, very mineral, struck match and structured.

Moving onto some fabulous Lobster Risotto, we went for something a bit more mature 2002 Chevalier Montrachet Leflaive and 2008 Chablis Blanchots Raveneau. Unfortunately, the 2008 was corked, and we were left with the 2002. Holy Crap! What a wine! We cooed away at one of those Burgundies that could keep you entranced for hours just on contemplation of the nose. Fabulously ready, impeccably balanced, it was one of my top three white wines of all time. Incredible. As an interesting aside, we weren’t sure about this as 2002 Leflaive wines have a bit of a reputation as unreliable performers and one of the party told a good story of how Anne-Claude was showing some of this wine at a dinner, opened 2 bottles, discarded both, drove back to the domaine, and emerged with a couple of bottles of the Batard instead.

At this point we had a mystery wine, we were all a bit off on this one, veering towards a Breze from Clos Rougeard, as it had a real Chenin style character of bruised apple. It was a nicely developed 2008 Meursault 1er Hameau de Blagny Maison Leroy

Moving onto the reds with another fabulous dish, a rump of lamb, we had a flight of 2007 Echezeaux DRC, 2002 La Romanee and 2002 Charmes-Chambertin Bachelet. What a treat! All of the wines had very distinct characteristics, a green tinge but real light-footidness on the DRC and earthy power to the pair of 2002s. The DRC was my favourite, as I loved it’s elegance of extraction and nice fruit definition.

Second blind wine was served, I went for late 1990’s CNDP or Grange des Peres, and it was 2005 Hermitage JL Chave. Very dense, very deep, quite polished and maybe deserving more years in the cellar. This will go and go and superbly put together. Just needs a bit of time to draw out more Hermitage character I think.

With the cheese we went for a contrast between two very different styles. 1999 Clos-St-Denis Domaine Dujac and 2001 Clos Vougeot Rene Engel. The Dujac was much more appreciatively ‘modern’ in style, but excellent and packed with dense fruit and still showing very youthfully. The Rene Engel was not statuesque, it just had an uncannily ‘unforced’ style. It was what it was, not trying to be anything else. It was a mellow, elegant Clos Vougeot that was drinking perfectly now.

Another mystery wine was served here, I went for later 1990s Barolo, I thought it was a bit Conternoesque. We had a few takers for Bordeaux. It was 2001 Barbaresco Asili Giacosa. A bit more rustic then I might have expected but when you know what it is, you get the pure cherry lift that I associate with Giacosa. A little Rayas-like I would say.

We had a few more mystery wines, a 1992 Hermitage by Bernard Faurie and something else that eludes my memory, before ending with a 2005 de Fargues which was unctuously textured and quite sweet.

By this point, it was the early hours of the morning and time to go. What a night it was and what a joyous celebration of the best of Burgundy. It was a real privilege to drink these wines in such great company. Thanks Dan

Joe GilmourBurgunder Mit Otto


Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

According to Google Maps, it takes 24 minutes to walk from Sloane Square to Medlar on the Kings Road. Ten minutes into the journey, with the sun cruelly co-ordinating its heating efforts with some extremely low pressure humidity, the outlook was desperate. Too short a remaining journey to take a taxi but too long to feel anything other than raising blood pressure and the cold, damp horror of a sweaty back. Has mortal man ever known such hardship?*

Such that, on arrival I wasn’t looking forward to the innovative modern French cooking, the laid-back professionalism of the kitchen or the excellent wines we’d lined up for this birthday dinner. No, all I wanted to do was to sit, head in hands, in the walk-in fridge for fifteen minutes.

Medlar opened in 2012, to what seemed like universally good reviews and picked up a Michelin star soon after. Now, there are some places where the Michelin currency seems important, here, I don’t think it would change their popularity one bit.

Fortunately, although the walk-in fridge remained a fantasy, a mirage in my addled mind, I did manage to sit under a well-powered air-conditioning unit, so by the time the wines started arriving, I was happy and my back, thank the lord, was dry again.

We started the evening with a magnum of 2004 Pol Roger. A muscular vintage and style. Densely wound with just the start of a  a few nice notes of maturity,  Terrific.

John Kongsgaard’s 2013 Chardonnay was a gorgeous bowl of fruit. For those more used to the citrus end of the spectrum in Burgundy, this was quite profane. It almost had me thinking of Viognier for some of the exoticism of the nose with peach, apricot and mango coming through. Lovely complexity but I struggle to see how this can improve in the bottle. But when it tastes this good young, why wait? It went very well with a lovely, buttery Cod Cheek and Tagliatella starter.

We ordered a bottle of 2011 St-Joseph Sous L’Amandiers Curtat Blanc for those with fish for the next course and it was nice but a tad forgettable. It possessed a bruised apple character, decent length and acidity but with a bit of warmth and a feeling that maybe it should have been picked a little earlier.

My contribution to the night was a bottle of 2010 Chambolle-Musigny Hudellot-Noellat. A hot name in Burgundy right now, their wines are part of a few that are ascending the hierarchy, so bandwagon rolling by, I decided to jump on. The wine was lovely, quite ascetic and a little austere, in a slightly awkward place between the fruit of youth and the elegance and development of age. Although austere, the balance was excellent, so I’d be more then happy to hold a few of these in the cellar.

Its bareness, might have been exaggerated by the wine served next to it, a 2011 Bergstom Vineyard Bergstrom Pinot Noir, This had more fruit, cherry and perhaps even a bit more mid-palate complexity, but something about seemed a little bit muddled. Such that, when I drank each wine, I wished it tasted more like the other. Perhaps I should have poured them into the same glass.

As I continued to digest the roast Guinea fowl, we got stuck into the twilight zone of corked bottles where we variously had a hollowed out version of the 2008 Hermitage by Bernard Faurie, which was replaced with a much better, chunkier version of the same wine, only to be told that the Sommelier still didn’t think it was right, and presented us a bottle of 2009 Hermitage Farconnets by JL Chave. Very dark and dense, a nicely made wine that is surely made from fruit of a good quality from the Greffieux lieux-dit, but for me, it just lacks a bit of character alongside the traditional wine of Bernard.

With desert, a bottle of 1997 Rieussec, that seemed a very advanced colour, it was unctuously sweet and lacking a bit of acidity I thought, to the point where it seemed a little unbalanced for its considerable pedigree. It was still a very pleasant last wine of the evening though.

But, what a meal it was, at the risk of sounding banal, the service was faultless and welcoming, the atmosphere was brilliant, and the people were the best kind.

And, as we left, the sun had gone down, the air was cool, and all was happy in the world. If Hemingway himself was at the dinner, I think he would have said something along those lines. But he wasn’t, so I’ll say it for him.

* – No, he has not

Joe GilmourMedlar

Hip to be Square

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

“I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around
But I couldn’t take the punishment, and had to settle down
Now I’m playing it real straight, and yes I cut my hair
You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care”.

Bordeaux, long the uncle in the armchair, falling asleep whilst the kids slipped out to party, has been suffering for years. Unsold primeur sitting in warehouses waiting for the right price, a new generation disgusted with the greed and a posse of disgruntled buyers, persuaded to part with 10K for a case of Lafite sold as a ‘blue chip’ asset only to see their ‘investment’ fade from blue to red. It hasn’t been pretty.

Whatever. The terroir and the expertise to make age worthy, complex and profound wines is the same. What has changed has been the world’s reaction to the wines and an influx of money that put these reactions into sharp relief.

The twin hip bastions of the Clove Club Restaurant and Noble Rot Magazine decided now would be a good time to swim against the tide and showcase the eternal relevance of Bordeaux. The food and wine choices were designed to showcase Bordeaux at the table and worked superbly with the pared-down, technically (and emotionally) brilliant food from Issac McHale.

We worked through the following:

2009 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc
Notes of exotic fruits that you associate with the vintage but not overdone. Vibrant acidity. Oak influence quite dominating, and worth revisiting in a few years time. Young DdC is like a mouthy teenager, who turns out to be quite a nice guy when he gets back from university.

1996 d’Yquem
A nice, exotic and well botrytised vintage, very intense.

2004 Pontet-Canet
A classical style but lacking a bit of mid-palate fruit. Lovely nose though. You usually know what you’re going to get with 2004. Nice, well-made wines, but not fireworks.

1988 Grand-Puy-Lacoste
Clearly a long way behind vintages like 1989, but was drinking very nicely, in a meaty, mineral style, quite distinct from the more focuses, cassis style of the 1989 and 1990.

1990 Certan-Giraud
I’ve always had a lot of affection for good vintages of this wine, where the extraordinary terroir, now incorporated into Hosanna, can create admirable intensity. Undervalued on the market I think.

1985 Montrose
Really mellow in a perfect plateau of maturity. Not powerful and in keeping with the general character of the 1985 vintage but very very good.

To follow, we decamped to Sager + Wilde and consumed a few bottles, running into Matt Licklider from much admired winery Lioco from California who was great company and a kindred spirit in wine appreciation (as well as a top blind taster, it seemed)

2006 Clos de Neore Vatan
Quite herbal, mineral style but with fabulous length and freshness.

2004 Nuits-St-Georges 1er Clos de la Marechale JF Mugnier

This was quite advanced, I actually thought this was late 1980’s when I tasted it blind, but was a really lovely, light 2004, with no hint of the maligned vintage character.

A really great lunch, with thanks to Noble Rot Magazine, who continue to offer exceptionally diverse, articulate and punchy vinous opinion (as well as hosting a damn good lunch)

Joe GilmourHip to be Square

Bonhams Supper Club

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The workmen that have been populating Bonhams auction house for the past eight months have left. The building noise has stopped polluting the usually serene atmosphere of the salesrooms and galleries and the work is done. The upgrade to Bonhams is finished and it looks very sharp, if a little anonymous and minimal for my liking.

On a small 1st floor spot surrounding the Haunch of Venison square, a restaurant serving mostly lunch and breakfast opens every Thursday for dinner. There can’t be space for many more then 25 covers, so it feels intimate.

On Thursdays the restaurant is opened for dinner, and given we had a connection with the sommelier, Charlotte, we visited yesterday. There is only a tasting menu, no a la carte.  It was executed with real confidence in its simplicity. The chef, Tom Kemble has studied at the desks of Scandinavian ingrediant obsessives at Favikon and Hedone and he told us after the meal how as he gets older he tries to step away more and more from imposing his ego onto the plates. We also chatted about how important it is for this approach to work that the chefs have a good palate.

As befits the wine focus of Bonhams and the expertise of director Richard Harvey, who dined opposite our table, the wine list is superb. Not long and 3*ish but dynamic, filled with interesting producers and wonderfully fairly priced. When I go out I don’t want to have to spend 10 minutes reading a book, I want a curated choice.

We drank a 2013 Pesquier Terraces from the Ventoux (£34) followed by bottles of 2008 Roumier Bourgogne Rouge, a snip at £55, 1990 Beychevelle (£120), 2011 Les Terraces Palacios (£56) and some 2009 Chianti Classico Sa’etta  from Monte Bernadi.

The 2008 Bourgogne Rouge was certainly the highlight. Without being over-dense or extracted it had real depth, nice Chambolle-style aromatics and a good sense of personality. The Terraces seems to me to have got a lot worse since I first tried it in the 1998 vintage. A Grenache that manages to do that thing a lot of Spanish Grenache seems to of being both rich and acidic, with no real sense of balance.

After dinner, it transpires wearing trainers in Mayfair is an offence punishable by total exclusion from any upscale bar. Can’t help feeling it’s not my part of town.


Joe GilmourBonhams Supper Club