David English has kindly allowed us to use his report and photos of the night.
Another fantastic night. Many thanks to the guys from Rare Wine Dinners for putting this together, a truly unique experience. Once again the combination of anecdotes of the wines, in conjunction with the hand outs, and the many hours and trips to the restaurant, discussions with the chefs and tweaking the dishes and getting everything so it’s just right and flows smoothly makes the evening just that little bit extra special.
Restaurant Arras once again showed why they are in the crème de la crème of the Sydney restaurant scene. The innovative and delicious food, artfully matched with the wines, the unobtrusive yet attentive wait staff and the great space they have on offer to host it. There was always something interesting to talk about in each dish from the foie gras biscuit to the lentil gnocchi to the smoked ice-cream, the Venison and lamb were sublime.
1975 Krug, Vintage Brut – Putting it subtly this wine was a freak. Had someone not told me otherwise I would have thought I was drinking a late 90’s Champagne. It was just so fresh and so full of acidity it almost defied belief. There were even a few beads winding their way up the glass which didn’t quit from the first sip to the last. The fruit had great attack and seemed very resolved. Lots of lemon, grapefruit, pithy characteristics which moved to slightly caramelised as it sat in the glass. The lemon sherbet on the palate was almost powder like in its consistency and it just went on and on. It came across as Chardonnay dominant, although I’m not sure of the make-up of it. Truly mind boggling.
1976 Roland Thevenin, Montrachet Grand Cru – This opened up with a sweaty Rockmelon nose with hints of vanilla bean, tropical fruit and navel oranges with an ethereal musk permeating through it all. There was some spicy oak but it wasn’t overpowering and some sweet butterscotch. There is a real oiliness about it with good acid. It had a great length for its age and finished really elegantly – there was no tarty/metallic drop off the back of the palate it just faded nicely away. It gained weight as it sat in the glass, make no mistake this is a huge wine in the context and the longer it sat the more the caramel notes came to the fore and a real sweetness starting to evolve.
1976 Joh Jos Prum, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Auslese GK – Straight up, this was magnificent, I was initially concerned with hints of iodine and aldehydes on the nose when I first looked at it and I started to think it was ever so slightly oxidised. So I left it sitting for about 5mins, working it in the glass – happily this subsided revealing lovely orange, toffee and caramel on the nose. On the first taste it was almost like a physical punch in the face, the palate was almost overwhelming in its power. I am immediately drawing comparisons to Beerenausleses. It had this lively tangy acidity which made it a masterclass of balance, the fruit was just amazing it was like a wall of noise in your mouth reaching all the nooks and crannies. Botrytis notes and honey and caramel all there, so hard to describe without tasting it, and it went on and on, massive length.
1976 Schloss Johannisberg, Rosalack Auslese – Next to the JJ Prum, this was a much more lighter, fresher style of wine. The hue of the wine was also much lighter. With mandarin, orange cordial, apricot on the nose. It had a good length and a really nice residual sweetness about it on the back palate which helped it’s length.
1907 Jules Regnier, Volnay – Ahhh 1907, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (with apologies to Charles Dickens). Oldest table wine I’ve tasted, with only the fortified 1888 Seppelt Para’s being older. The job the poor sommelier had getting the cork out of this in one piece…even with the help of a Durand was a real struggle so kudos to him for doing as good a job in the circumstances. Not sure what I was expecting to be honest, coloured water maybe with no fruit. What I got on the other hand was something truly special, bear in mind I am talking about a 107 year old Red wine so all observations are in that context. The wine was fully bricked with a maderised note, if you slid your nose around the glass you could still get hints of fruit, spices and tea leaves with lashes of ground coffee and smokiness to it. Upon tasting it I was amazed to feel some tannins slowly creeping up the insides of my cheeks, doggedly clinging to my mouth after 100 years of patiently waiting. There was fruit on the palate, dusty blackcurrant, tea, earthy characteristics, some were saying there was definitely Hermitage in the wine which would have been added to give weight to the Pinot. It put me in the mind of the old Aussie Hermitages from the late 60’s I’ve had except with 50 years extra time in the bottle. An amazing, amazing wine and a privilege to be part of its 107 year raison d’être.
1976 Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Echezeaux – One of the things you find about wine tasting is nothing is quite right, the wine has this but not that, this is too dominant and there is not enough of that. It is always a compromise it seems, you just want to get all the bits you like, the flavours and aromas and textures and somehow magically put them into a barrel and create that Utopian wine. For me the Echezeaux was damn close to my ideal of Burgundy notwithstanding it being 37 years old. To be honest seeing how bricked it looked in the glass my expectations were not too high. When I put my nose in the glass I was met with this glorious deep vein of rich fruit. Redcurrant, plums, a hint a tomato leaf and stalkiness which I love when done right. The structure was perfect, just the right tannins for the level of fruit. The palate was just so precise and linear, red fruits with a lovely leather finish to it perfectly complementing the nose. Which I just kept on coming back to – it was just so right, I probably got more enjoyment out of the nose than the palate, shame Ernest Beaux wasn’t around to help me bottle it. A testament to its power was that little dribble you always get in the glass after finishing it and leaving it standing for a few minutes, I scoffed that down just before the glass was taken away and even that tiny morsel had the power and flavour to fill my whole mouth. A glorious wine.
1976 Domaine Billard-Gonnet Pezerolles, Pommard 1er – this was a surprise wine, that was touted as a good way to show the differences in the regions for the same vintage. This opened with strawberry and Turkish delight with a quite funky, pooey nature. In the mouth it was quite sappy with a tartness which I found a bit challenging. Overall a sound wine.
1947 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia – The colour on this was fantastic, rich deep garnet with about a cm of bricking it’s only concession to its 67 years of age. The nose was somewhat medicinal with sour cherry and raspberry and an inherent portiness which made it quite heavy on the nose. Which made me think it had been blended with something heavier as was sometimes the case in those days, lots of chocolate also. It was also showing, spicy plums, and fruitcake. It became a bit disjointed after a bit in the glass, albeit we are talking about a 70 year old wine. It was certainly a different style to the later vintages. It had an incredible power to it, which I really loved.
1970 Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia – Younger and made stylistically different to the 47, this was a lighter more elegant wine. Rhubarb, green stalks, crushed ants, this is a medium bodied wine which exudes elegance over raw power. It actually put me in the mind of a very old Burg. Lovely balance and structure and integration with the tannins coating the inside of your mouth. To me this is exemplary Tondonia.
1966 Leroy, Chateauneuf du Pape – Somewhat of a odd ball wine, with the Leroy family being much more well known for their Burgundies. This would have been an almost whimsical wine for them I dare say which is a real shame as this is a truly great wine. Floral with red fruit, spices, black pepper, five spice, sour cherry. A real silkiness and elegance to it, so smooth and supple yet there were lots of structure still to it. Go back to CdP Mme. Lalou Bize-Leroy!!
1986 Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape – I was looking forward to this, one of my favourite CdP producers along with Pegau I was all set to get down and dirty and stuck my nose in the glass and was all Marvin the Martian like, Where’s the poo? There was meant to be an earth shattering funk and poo. I got plums, red currant, marzipan with a sense of dustiness but no poo!! It was showing quite tannic as well, with seemingly lots of life ahead of it. So I let it sit for a while and finally, finally I got a bit of funk poking it’s head through as it started to soften and integrate more along with some dark fruits coming to the fore. I reckon this will last another 10-15years easily. A wonderfully clean example of the wine, just missing that level of complexity and interest I love in them.
1964 Chateau Latour, 1er Cru Classe – Often touted as the wine of the vintage in 1964. Wonderful colour in the glass. Lots of spice, blackcurrant, plums, very rich and a huge depth of flavour. This is an almost effortless wine. Get in, sit down, strap in and shut up type of thing. Beautifully integrated and perfectly balanced, this ticked all the boxes. This is a 50 year old wine, and it carried on like a teenager – truly astounding. Smooth and supple and silky in the mouth, you could just work it around in your mouth for minutes savouring the flavours it gave up, constantly evolving you just didn’t want to swallow it for fear of missing out on something new.
1975 Quintarelli, Amarone – There was only around 1400 bottles of this made and we were drinking bottle 403 I believe according to the hand written back label. I’ve always viewed Amarone as God of the big style of red wines. So was really looking forward to this. It didn’t disappoint. It was like when you lift the lid off a box of Anthon Berg Dark Chocolate Liqueurs, I think I let out an audible sigh it was just so good. Make no mistake this is a massive wine. The huge fruit profile is balanced by the tannins and acid to produce a glorious wine which will live for another 20 years. Brandied Xmas Cake, stewed plums, blackcurrant, spices all feature prominently on the palate which goes on forever. Sensational wine, a real treat to be able to drink it, an almost humbling experience.
1967 Chateau Dauphine Rondillon, Loupiac Sweet – This was an out of left field wine. Which I must admit to have never heard of before. It opened with a real blue cheese smell which had my eyebrows rising. This moved aside to let he toffee, butterscotch, honey flavours come through which began to overwhelm the cheesy aromas (bottle stink?) once it had settled down I started to enjoy it more. An interesting finish to the night which created a lot of conversation.