Must-Have Wines for the Christmas Table – 2010
NV Jean-Baptise Geoffrey Blanc de Rosé – Champagne, France
NV Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino 15 Macharnudo Alto Jerez - Xérès - Sherry
2007 Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay – Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
2007 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir – Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
Emilio Lustau East India Sherry – Jerez - Xérès – Sherry, Spain
Jacopo Poli Pinot Noir Grappa – Veneto, Italy
The Wandering Palate is heading to Melbourne for the festive season and preparations for the Christmas day feast are already well in hand.
Priority of course is procuring the appropriate turkey, and after enduring a commercial frozen turkey from the USA for the last three years in Singapore, we are looking forward to a free-range, chemical-free, wholesome, flavorsome bird (one of the issues Singapore has yet to come to terms with) moreover, at a third of the price.
Indeed, the said (big) bird, all 11 kilos of it, comes from Deutchers Turkey Farm, in Dadswells Bridge, in the west of Victoria, Australia, who specialize in and old rare breeds of game birds with the emphasis on not being genetically altered with breeding programs to accentuate meat flavours or textures. Basically, this is the real thing, visit: http://deutschersturkeyfarm.webs.com/
Our turkey is actually sourced through The Chicken Pantry, at the Queen Victoria Market (qvm.com.au/), shop 85, Tel: (03) 93296417 at A$12.95 a kilo. The Chicken Pantry is a marvellous stall with everything from, well chicken, rabbit, hare, duck, goose, quail, pheasant, guinea fowl, venison, kangaroo and all of it free-range, and organic.
This may all seem irrelevant to those reading this outside of Melbourne. However the emphasis is on encouraging you to seek the very best produce as the genesis of your meal; simply there is no better way to have a successful and satisfying meal than putting all your efforts in to sourcing the very best produce.
For Cooking Turkey, see my article http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/produce/perfect-christmas-roast-turkey/
And the wine, the Wandering Palate does have eclectic tastes although as a rule, generally heads towards the Burgundian grapes when it comes to turkey and the Christmas table. And as we are in Melbourne, I would like to partially invoke the Slow Food theory of sourcing produce locally, although not strictly, as I cannot help myself from - wandering.
There is no strict order in serving wine at the Wandering Palate's Christmas table, indeed the rules go out the door and we can oscillate between pre-lunch guzzling of Blanc de Rosé Champagne to Fino Sherry, and snacking on salmon gravlax while the turkey is resting.
The main event usually sees a white and a couple of good pinots to splash around, and ride out the cheese course. Then there's always something very dark and sticky to go with Christmas pudding and more than likely end up back on the Rosé Champagne, or Pinot Noir Grappa! – then it's goodnight nurse.
Our turkey course wines this year will Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 and Yabby Lake Pinot Noir 2007, both from Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. These two cool-climate varieties do exceptionally well within the dress-circle of vineyard regions surrounding Melbourne and particularly so in the Mornington, to which I highlighted in the "Must-Have Wine of the Lunar Year – Most Underrated Region."
When I say underrated, this is not quite the case in Melbourne, or for the Australian palate as a whole, as the region is now firmly entrenched in the high-quality chardonnay and pinot noir stakes. However, in same context with say San Francisco, with its multitude of excellent wine regions and vineyards, hardly any of it makes it outside of the state, let alone the country.
Mornington Peninsula is the same, and very little of it escapes the thirsty diners of Melbourne, one of the world's most gastronomic cities, thus it is relatively unknown in Asia and further afield.
The fact is Mornington Peninsula chardonnay and pinot noir can hold its own against any other notable region on this planet, indeed even the much exalted realms of Burgundy. There is a very attractive juicy, fleshly, plush succulence to the region's pinot noirs with a tangible purity to the fruit flavours, while chardonnays are vibrant and structured yet superbly textured with succulent stone fruit flavors that linger long amongst mandarin-citrus acidity.
Dr Richard McIntyre at Moorooduc Estate pioneered chardonnay on the Mornington Peninsula, with their first plantings in 1981. This family-run winery is also responsible for making a number of other well-respected Mornington labels thus to distinguish their original home vineyard. This single vineyard wine is identified as 'McIntyre' and is essentially their top offering.
My note reads: 2007 Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay – Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia www.moorooduc-estate.com.au
Intense perfume of ripe peach infused with vanilla-pod and cinnamon spice, there's a nuance of sweet custard, also shortbread just coming out of the oven that gives way to a melange of mandarin and citrus scents – indeed, enticing aroma that draws you in to the glass. One is instantly taken by the creamy texture of this wine, absolutely seamless and glides across the palate with peaches and cream and more prominent notes of ripe apricots yet all restrained and tightly bound in juicy mandarin and tangerine flavoured acidity with a gentle phenolic from precision-handled oak, and spicy, citrus afterglow lingering long on the finish.
Overall, a restrained style – not that you would think that from my descriptors – however despite its evocative attributes it is a very elegant wine moreover I would see it ageing easily for 10 years plus, and under screwcap so will have every chance to age accordingly.
By all accounts, Victoria in parts had an extremely difficult 2007 vintage with inclement weather, bushfires and drought. However, the Mornington Peninsula did in fact enjoy an excellent year, and according to the McIntyres, this is arguably their best chardonnay produced to date, and that's saying something after nearly 30 years of winemaking! The 2007 might not be available in some markets (current in Asia) however, I would not hesitate moving on to the 2008 which I have also tried recently and it looks equally impressive.
Yabby Lake is also located in Moorooduc, which I guess points to this being one of the sweet spots of the region. It is relatively younger property, being established in 1992 but is regarded as one of the top producers in the region, if not the top in terms of current form, particularly with pinot noir. Indeed, I awarded their 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noir – Must-Have Wine - Best Australian Red Wine of the Year. If you can find their Block 5 Pinot Noir 2008 – this is an awesome wine!
The vineyard is owned by the Robert and Mem Kirby who also have vineyards in Heathcote (Heathcote Estate) and the Strathboggie Ranges. Perhaps the most significant recent development is the Kirby's unrelenting endeavor to perfect their wines is engaging Tom Carson as general manager and winemaker for all their vineyards.
Carson began his winemaking career with the likes of Tim Knappstein at Lenswood and James Halliday at Coldstream Hills. He then went on to run Yering Station in the Yarra Valley for 12 years, gaining the greatest respect and admiration of both the trade and Australian consumer. He is also a serious palate in terms of wine judging and is the youngest Chairman to preside at The National Wine Show in Canberra and also Panel Chair at The Royal Sydney Wine Show.
The Yabby Lake wines were already showing their strength in quality from the vineyard site, certainly the wines to date testimony to this. However the game-changer here is the winemaker and with the release of the 2008 wines expect even more!
My note reads: 2007 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir – Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia http://yabbylake.com
Evocative nose of sweet cherry and pronounced mixed red berry fruits amongst sweet-sour notes of tamarind paste and tamarillo; actually its hedonistic stuff with a melange of plum compote, clove and cinnamon spice with a little nettle and menthol whiff - a long draw of a fine cigar, touch of muscatel then turns funky – in a French sort of way - with gooey cheese and earthy, forest mushroom, all in a good way and kept lively with excellent pepper spice. The sweet-n-sour sensation carries to the incredibly intense palate entry, bursting with amazingly tangy fruits, layers of plush, creamy textured red berry fruits balanced by fabulous tension in acidity, and some subtle oak, toasty characters. Overall, this wine has wonderful fruit purity with the flavours carried throughout by crunchy, perky acidity making it a joy to drink now, but will develop nicely with 5 to 10 years in bottle, and under screwcap closure.
Moving on to the Champagne, we will probably start and finish with Champagne, and my latest discovery is this brilliant extra-brut rose NV Jean-Baptise Geoffrey Blanc de Rosé – Champagne, France, that is incredibly drinkable. Putting that in to perspective, I can't remember the last time I had bad Champagne and it's really a matter of personal choice when it comes to style or maker.
I was for a long time drinking Blanc des Blancs (100 percent chardonnay) but I have moved to rosé big time and like pinot noir dominant blends that tend to have a fleshier, more succulent mid-palate. That said this is one of the most delicate Champagnes I have ever encountered with an incredible lightness in structure but certainly not lacking for flavour.
By all accounts the delicacy is in the technique and in fact totally innovative by Champenoise standards. By co-fermenting both pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, they achieve a more harmonious blend by letting the flavors coexist in their raw state. It is also an extra-brut (less than 6 grams of sugar per liter dosage), a rare practice for rosé, as most producers tend to want to emphasize the fruity nature of rosé with a higher dosage of sugar and softer profile.
Not this chap, Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy (son of Rene – their main label) is a fanatical winemaker (in every sense, with organic/biodynamic viticulture) seeking to emphasize minerality, crispness, and vibrancy of red-fruit nuances. While it is redolent in strawberry and violets, there is a distinct citrus backbone to the wine and tantalizingly drinkable – so much so, every time a buy a bottle to do a tasting note, we drink it all before I get pen to paper.
This current release is in fact a mono-vintage but not declared (fruit is 2008) with a miniscule production of 250 cases, so may prove tricky to track down although they do export widely. Visit their website for suppliers, www.champagne-geoffroy.com or if you happen to live in Singapore, Artisan Cellars are the direct importer, along with an unparalleled selection of Grower (artisan) Champagnes www.artisan-cellars.com
And, "I say, a glass of Sherry eh what". You are probably thinking I have lost the plot hitting the Sherry bottle, but as all us wine enthusiasts know, Sherry is unquestionably the most underrated 'wine' on this vinous planet. I am totally in to this particular producer and their NV Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino 15 Macharnudo Alto Jerez - Xérès – Sherr, so much so, I am declaring it my WINE of THE YEAR! Yes, Sherry is wine! And this one comes in at 15 percent Alc. Vol. which is only a smidgen of most chardonnays these days.
And speaking of chardonnay, this wine looks, smells and tastes like the best aged Le Montrachet I have ever had, indeed an incredible wine of incomprehensible complexity and seamless, caressing texture yet with the vitality, citrusy, salty Sherry bite. It really puts a whole new perspective on Fino Sherry and everyone I have given a glass of this has been thoroughly amazed at the texture and fineness of the wine.
I have to admit to being introduced to this wine by Henry at Artisan wines and seduced by the Jancis Robinson MW score of 20 out of 20. Robinson never scores anything 20/20, but she thinks this is 'perfect', and I agree. Her note reads "Bottled Jun 2008. Very pungent, gunpowdery nose. A certain softness. Chewy finish. Even a hint of whisky. Long. A real fine wine in the mould of Montrachet. This is now probably the right stage to drink? Fab for any dish that would go well with a Montrachet"
No note from me on this wine, saving it up for the thesis I am writing, 'The vagaries of wine fashion – Why Tasmanian Wombats have better palates than wine consumers'.
The Equipo Navazos website is brilliant and will guide you to suppliers around the world, www.equiponavazos.com and also covers in detail the mindboggling range of Sherries they make; here's a direct link to the La Bota de Fino 15 http://www.equiponavazos.com/en/15en.htm Henry reckons the La Bota de Manzanilla does it for him more than the 15, which I can see. It's about as good as Manzanilla gets; like licking your lips stained with sea salt when walking down a windswept, wintery beach, then bighting in to a lemon, invigorating stuff! http://www.equiponavazos.com/en/22en.htm
Still on the Sherry, and definitely getting a little Merry Christmas by now, there are few wines out there that truly do a real Christmas pudding justice. It is most definitely a challenge with all the dried fruits and intensity of sweet n sour, spicy hedonistic flavours. It is too intense for dessert wine, and yet over the top if you serve something like Pedro Ximenez, almost sickly too sweet with sweet.
I normally go for a vintage port with its power of flavour and sweetness checked by invariably impressive acidity and tannin. But this year we will revisit one of my favourite sticky Sherries, Emilio Lustau East India Sherry – Jerez - Xérès – Sherry, Spain.
Although its roots go back as far as 1896, Emilio Lustau reached its most dynamic stage during the 1980s, when the Sherry trade was at its lowest ebb; Lustua was re-inventing the oldest of Jerez traditions in bottling individual butts (casks) of designated solera sourced from Almacenistas.
In the Lustau Solera Reserva range is their East India, a unique recreation of a style that inadvertently evolved centuries ago, where casks of sherry were lashed to ships sailing for the Indies as ballast, to which it was discovered they developed an extraordinary richness and complexity.
Served with a slight chill, this is the wine I like to sit back with at the very end of a meal, or while still nibbling at a platter of smelly cheeses, but in this instance, with Christmas pudding. For those who have now caught the Sherry bug (reading all this), Lustau have a very informative Almacenista Club, visit firstname.lastname@example.org, and www.emilio-lustau.com
And finally, more so for my wife, who can drink us all under the table when it comes to Grappa – the most amazing pinot noir distillation in the world – Jacopo Poli Pinot Noir Grappa – Veneto, Italy. The Grappa effect is not an easy sensation to explain as for many it is simply to, well intoxicating. And yet, of all the spirits that are made around the world, nothing is finer than a clear, unadulterated distillate from the grape and is, the PERFECT 'digestivo.
My strongest recollection of this sublime spirit is the night I proposed to my wife, at the Hotel de Crillon, les Ambassadeurs Obelisque Restaurant, where we were the last table in the restaurant, nursing a glass of Poli Pinot Noir Grappa, to which the sommelier extended his warmest congratulations and said he would leave us the bottle – if we retired to the Bar du Crillon. It's a little hazy but I recall there was not much left of the bottle and we were "Singing in the Rain" on the Pont Neuf in the wee hours of a very wet and cold Paris winter morning.
Memories aside, Poli Distillery is an historic distillery founded by Jacopo Poil's great-grand father in 1898 in Schiavon, near Bassano del Grappa, in the heart of Veneto, Italy. I am not even going to attempt to explain the complexities of their Grappa however it is truly an art, and Jacopo is the Picasso of distillates. Visit www.poligrappa.com
Merry Christmas (Hiccup!)
The Wandering Palate
Curtis Marsh is an independent Asia-based wine and food writer. His commentaries are published in www.thewanderingpalate.com Marsh's theorem: "Life is filling in time between meals... and a meal without wine could only be breakfast!"