As the end of the year creeps ever closer it’s always fun to cast an eye back over the last twelve months and recall the best bits; music, travel, food & wine, all topics that I take the most pleasure in pondering.
Over the course of 2014 I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the greatest wines to ever pass my lips and spend a fair bit of time in some amazing wine regions (Burgundy, Champagne, Jura & the Rhône Valley) with some of my favorite people.
Top 10 Wines
Here are the ten most memorable wines I can recall drinking in 2014, they may not be those that I scored the highest (always a rather silly pursuit anyway), but the wines that have given me the most pleasure, for their quality, character and the circumstances they were consumed in. This has been with good friends, the person that made the wine or in a memorable setting.
1. Domaine Huet – Le Haut Lieu Moeulleux 1947 £440 from Albany Vintners
Domaine Huet is one of my favorite white wine producers, their (biodynamic) vineyards are some of the healthiest I can remember visiting, the wines last forever (a 1934 sec was still going strong earlier this year) and they have an amazing back story. 1947 is a legendary vintage and Gaston Huet has described this wine as ‘the best wine I ever made’.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of scoring wines but it’s a necessary evil and something I do, primarily to remind me to buy more of what ever scored well at a decent price. Before trying this wine I thought critics that gave wines a 100 point score were nuts, how can a wine be perfect? But this was, I couldn’t imagine how it could have been any better, drinking it was an emotional experience and the taste lingered in my mind for days after.
It was at a ‘show and tell’ dinner thrown by some friends that live just round the corner from me in Brixton. In attendance were a bunch of wino’s, and everyone had to bring a bottle that meant something to them and then talk about the wine. An incredibly generous friend brought this along and it stopped everyone in their tracks, it was simply stunning, the best wine I’ve ever had. It made me feel a tad guilty for turning up with a sub £20 Hungarian Kékfrankos from Peter Wetzer (though that’s a cracking drop too).
An incredibly layered nose with notes of bergamot, toffee apple, treacle tart, apple tart flambé, flapjacks, fresh red & green apples, treacle pud as well as floral notes such as iris and polished antique wood furniture. In the mouth there is still an amazing acidity backing up rich and nuanced toffee apple, orange peel and an amazing finish.
2. Domaine Roulot – Meursault ‘Les Tillets’ 2004 £110 from Howard Ripley
Burgundy can be a cruel mistress, especially white Burgundy but when it’s on point and from producers such as Leflaive, DRC, Coche-Dury, Raveneau and Roulot it can be out of this world, the best expression of Chardonnay on the planet.
The wines of Domaine Roulot have an awesome mineral backbone and can be much more chiselled and precise than other Meursault wines that tend to be much fuller, richer and more concentrated. The wines benefit from plenty of time in the cellar and at 10 years old this bottle from the Les Tillets lieu-dit was truly exceptional. I took it along to a BYO dinner at Tagine in Balham with three good friends who are all wine educators and it was über! Had too much fun to write a tasting note but I do remember that it went incredibly well with merguez sausage!
3. Chateau Cheval Blanc 1981 £289 from Fine + Rare
81′ is my birth vintage and this is the best wine I have ever tried from that year, so far. There might be a few wines out there that are equal or better (Krug 1981 is supposed to be killer as is the La Rioja Alta 890 Gran Reserva 91′ but I have yet to try these wines). Had this in great company and there is a wonderful story behind it, read more here.
Pierre Gaillard’s winery is located high up in the hills near the impossibly beautiful town of Malleval. Pierre is a large man in all senses of the word, more than filling the frame when he warmly greets you at his tasting room door. His wines have a distinct elegance and this was singing when I visited the Northern Rhône in May. It blew me away, a baby but so gorgeous even at this early stage in its life, it should only get better.
Charred, bloody Steak and rose petal along with a plethora of redcurrant, cranberry, red cherry and strawberry compote, very well defined. In the mouth the fruit has just as much definition, a soft tannic structure and elegance, a wine of supreme breeding and outstanding fruit.
An earlier vintage of this wine (along with Puff’s Savagnin) literally stopped me in my tracks at a tasting some years ago, they are thrillingly good wines. It was love at first sip and I devoted a fair amount of time trying as many wines from the region as possible. In August I finally got round to visiting its vineyards, wine makers and stunning lakes with my best mate Jimmy and his camper van Jeff.
This was one of the first wines that we opened on the way down, drunk as dusk settled under the white cliffs of Dover while camping (possibly not legally) in the beautiful Samphire Hoe (we had an early ferry the next day). The wine has a mineral weight to it that I love and have only come across in wines that cost at least three or four times the price. Somehow we didn’t finish the bottle as I found about a glass worth the following afternoon when we unpacked Jeff on the sunny vineyard slopes of Bouzy in Champagne. It had only improved with a bit of air and I slugged the lightly chilled wine straight from the bottle while enjoying the scenery and remember feeling wholly nourished.
6. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005 £390 from The Wine Society
It’s always a pleasure to drink any of the first growths, especially when you’re not the one paying, (cheers Jim!) and getting to compare 8 different vintages in one sitting is verging on the point of debauchery but hey, it’s a tough job and somebody’s gotta do it right? Knocked back alongside the 85’, 96’, 98’ 01’, 02’, 04’ & 06’ vintages at a tasting at West London Wine School, the 2005 stood out and though still at a very early stage of its life, with a decent decant this was absolutely singing.
Opulent, classy and with a fantastically nuanced, sweet berry and black olive nose that builds in intensity on the nose. The palate shows balance, poise with fruit filled, plush tannin, fresh acidity and a wave of minerality that laps on the finish. Pure class.
7. Clape 2008 Cornas (A tough vintage to find try Roberson for the 2006 £64.95)
Which bloody door is it? A question running laps around my internal dialogue on a blisteringly hot day in May while hustling down the main road that slices through the little town of Cornas. Running late for an appointment with Olivier Clape, the sun was beating down and the nondescript row of houses did not seem to be numbered, where are the cellars? I was starting to perspire. Then, quite suddenly further down the street a head popped out of a doorway, a hand waived, thank god, we were saved! Passing through the nondescript portal into a very workman like winery space filled with palates of empty bottles, work benches and faded posters of local vineyards we stepped into a rickety lift and descended into the cool, dark cellars of a Rhône legend.
Tasting in frigid cellars during the winter months it can be distractingly cold and not the greatest place to try wine but on a roasting hot day there is often nothing more welcoming. We were greeted by Olivier’s father Pierre with a wistful smile and warm smile (even though we were late). He proceeded to scale a small set of ladders, theif in hand to draw wine from the large old foudres and into out glasses. Tasting through the various cuvees of his wines was a real pleasure, some unlabelled bottles were pulled and offered blind (the 2002 still tasting incredibly young) but the 2008 from bottle was my favorite.
A superb nose of Asian spice, crustacean style mineral notes, violets and other indescribable floral aromas along with an abundance of rich fruit. In the mouth this has a great purity of dark structured berry fruit, fine, drying tannins backed up by a lovely minerality, great stuff, one for the cellar.
8. Domaine Macle – Côtes du Jura 1983 from Hedonism (2012 vintage £24.30)
Domaine Macle may be better known for the Chateau-Chalon they produce but it was the Côte du Jura wine made predominantly from Chardonnay (with a touch of Savagnin) that really stayed with me after visiting the domains cellars, it was somewhat of a revelation.
There are few still dry white wines that can take extended bottle aging and remain fresh, most oxidise and become fat, developing plumper fruit and nutty notes before becoming unpalatable. But what happens when the wine already has some oxidation? Well in the case of this wine there appears to be a reverse trajectory with the wine becoming fresher, cleaner and offering more purity as it ages. Tasting the wine with Laurent Macle in the ancient cellars while his young daughter hung to his leg vying for his attention it was plain to see that with this warm, humble family man at the tiller the family will continue to make exceptional wines.
The nose is almost reminiscent of a well aged German Riesling at first but then layers of expression pour from the glass with notes of pistachio, caramel crunch and numerous curry spices. Delicious in the mouth with an elegant balance to the oxidised character that seems to have been tamed leaving a hazelnut praline richness great length that shows an understated intensity.
Melon à Queue Rouge has been one of the grape finds of the year and I’m a massive fan of the wines made by this natural variation of Chardonnay. Every bottle I’ve tried has been either good or great and the wine Philippe Bornard bottles is one of the best. The wines seem more rounded than your usual Chardonnay and give expressive ripe yellow fruit with an incredibly pleasurable weight to it.
This stood out while tasting through his wines in the atmospheric 17th century cellars they call home and Philippe is an engaging man with a sly sense of humor that can be glimpsed through his cheekily named cuvee’s. Though it is more common to knock back a glass of Vin Jaune with your comté the best match I had while in the region was a glass of this and a 12 month aged piece of Comté from Fort des Rousses, a truly heavenly combination.
10. La Belle De Mai Saint Péray 2008 (No longer available, 2012 buy here)
This wine has made it onto this list for a number of different reasons, it’s not by any means an expensive or particularly sought after bottle but it did reminded me of a valuable lesson; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A wine drunk at the right age, with the right kind of food can be dynamite and you really don’t have to spend a fortune on the food or the wine, just find the right match and both will punch above their weight.
The wine was served with a simple yet delicious starter, kind of like a very rich asparagus omelette at a dinner high up in the rolling hills above Saint-Pray in the Northern Rhône and it worked perfectly with the 6 year old Rousanne. The host was the lovely Laure Colombo who had recently moved into this beautiful house and the dinner was full of local ingredients that perfectly suited the wines that she and her family make, it was an enchanting evening and Roussane is now a firm winter white favorite.
Other memorable wines; Lafite 95’, Huet Le Haut-Lieu Sec 34’, Scholium Project The Prince In His Caves, Vincent Paris Granit 60 12’, Elementis Skin Contact 11’, Schiefer Szapary Blaufränkisch 11’, Cartology 13’ and so many more.
Top 10 Records of 2014
Our tastes in music, as with wine is totally unique. These are the records that have been pushing my buttons in 2014, please feel free to share yours in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Nick Mulvey – First Mind
A joyous album and the one record that I have listened to more than any other this year, nuanced string arrangements and a certain momentum throughout that is backed by some great song writing. Portico Quartet had some good songs (Knee-Deep in the North Sea & Steepless spring to mind), but this is very different and Nick has raised the bar, I can’t wait to hear more, a true talent.
Palace – Lost in the Night
This EP was another record that I spent some serious time with in 2014. A soulful, bluesy sound full of dreamy reverb that manages to instantly transport you somewhere else, somewhere better.
Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser
Early Riser managed to successfully fuse together electronic, R&B, jazz and soul music in a way that only a few others have been able to do so well. It had a west coast bump that at times was reminiscent of J Dilla, some great female vocal features in the form of Nai Palm, Emily King & RYAT. It was a diverse album and one that I kept on coming back to.
Angel Olsen – Burn your Fire for no witness
You better make sure that the restraint bar is pulled down and locked tight before getting into this album is its an emotional rollercoaster that starts off sounding doped up and anguished on Unfucktheworld then straight into the short sharp shock of I’m over you (almost) that is Forgiven/Forgotten. The tone constantly changes but you realise that even when sounding delicately spaced out and ethereal there is great power under the surface. The girls gonna be alright.
Lone – Reality Testing
There is something very comforting about the sparky, fuzzy beats on this record, many of the tracks appeal to previous loves (hip-hop & house stand up). These days I feel a bit too long in the tooth to be raving it up in XOYO with the yoot dem but if this was left on play in the background of a Friday night along with some rum & coke I’d probably be tempted to shake a leg. Bubbling stuff.
Honeyblood – Honeyblood
I didn’t want to like this anywhere as much as I did, bit Seattle/grungy/90’s PJ Harvey-ish which wouldn’t usually be up my alley, but…. It’s great! Plenty of energy characterful (though by no means Glaswegian sounding) vocals and raw guitar riffs that seem to hang in the air after being plaid.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
The Queen of funk has been pushing out great records with the Dap-Kings on a regular basis for over a decade but this has to be one of my favourites to date. Seriously, who else is putting out funk & soul of this high calibre? No one, not since Amy Winehouse died, check Sharon she’s a dapper and smashes it live with one of the best horn sections going.
GoGo Penguin – v2.0
Quality not quantity here, proving you don’t need an orchestra to make beautiful, nuanced music that can really move you, these guys show the great heights that can be reached when all you have is drums and a piano. Their Break-beat jazz style is awesome to behold and genre pushing, 1 hour & 1 minute of your life that will not be wasted.
Catch you in 2015
So that was 2014; barbecue’n over Bouzy, sunbathing on the hill Hermitage, swimming through the crystal clear waters of Jura and cooking Morteau sausage in the ancient vineyards of Chateau D’Arlay are a few other images that are ingrained in my memory of this great year. I hope you also had an amazing year and I raise a glass to you and watch out 2015, here we come!