Posted: 3rd April 2017
A month without travel, and a month without glory; but there were a few consolations. I had some nice Belgian ales from Petrus that boasted their degrees of sourness on the label. Petrus is made by De Brabandere brewery in Bavikhove, somewhere between Ghent and Dunkirk, and aged in huge oak tuns. I liked the Aged Pale best, which was the most uncompromisingly and refreshingly sour, but both the Oud Bruin (Old Brown) and the cherry-flavoured Red were delicious. The two-year old Pale also acts as the mother to the others. In Oud Bruin, the Pale is mixed with a younger brown ale while the Red has the attraction of cherries – like a Kriek, but not fermented spontaneously, like a Kriek, if you know what I mean. All these beers are available from alesbymail.co.uk.
While we are on the subject of barley brews, I also had a nice new malt: Bacalta from Glenmorangie. I have a little reservation about modern malts, which seem to be all about bling-bling and not really the taste of the product as it comes off the still, but rather more the way you tart it up. Of course, to some extent this was always so – the whisky tasted different from a sherry butt, a new-from-Kentucky ex-bourbon ‘hoggie’, or a second use cask; but each distillery had its own style, and that style was represented by one or two or three ‘expressions’ that defined the malt whisky, and was generally identifiable by an ‘age statement’ (10, 15, 20-years old etc). Now there are bedevilling numbers of different malts with fantasy names from even quite indifferent distilleries, some of which, until very few years ago, you would have crossed the glen to avoid.
I would never have said that about Glenmorangie, mind you, which I always liked, even if it always struck me as unusual as a hard-water whisky. Bacalta is pale, and bottled at a respectable 46 percent. I presume second-use Bourbon casks were used to give it that vanilla flavour, although they seem to have been softened up with some Madeira which might have imparted a small, lemony taste. On the palate Bacalta reminded me of a nice creamy panna cotta, with walnuts.
On 23 March I headed west to a dinner at the Design Museum in Kensington. This was on the site of the old Commonwealth Institute which I used to haunt as a free-range child. There were little niches then, featuring the typical products of places like Southern Rhodesia and Bechuanaland – shields and drums and assegais – and a curious odour of stale buns and stewed tea. With time I graduated to the Science Museum in South Ken, and then with the onset of puberty, to the cast galleries in the Victoria & Albert. I expected the old building – a handkerchief dropped onto a box – to have been knocked down, but no – it was still there and far more fragrant inside than it was when I was a nipper.
The evening celebrated the work of Olivier Dauga, ‘le faiseur du vin’ (‘The Winemaker’) who is active in Bordeaux and the Ukraine and has made the wines at Châteaux Sociando Mallet, La Tour Carnet and many others. Dauga was formerly of the ‘garage’ school of winemakers who grew up around Jean-Luc Thunevin in the 1990s. Thunevin took the wine-world by storm with his obscure Château Valandraud which came out at the same price as the first growths. Thunevin’s success inspired many others who then selected and polished their grapes as he did, and aged the wine in not one but two new oak casks.
Dauga is currently working with the interior decorator Jean Guyon of the 100-hectare Domaines Rollan de By which owns the huge Château Greysac estate and several others near the northern tip of the Médoc Peninsula, a wild place an hour from the big city where vines alternate with fields filled with cows as the traveller nears the Atlantic Coast. Dauga also advises the Kolonist Winery in Krynychne in Danubian Bessarabia in the Ukraine, owned by Ivan Plachkov. Both the Rollan de By and the Kolonist wines were featured that night.
It was the Ukrainian wines I tasted first: a Bisser sparkler made from 100 percent Chardonnay with a yeasty nose and a plump body; a 2012 Cabernet Merlot with a pleasant, mellow character; the 2015 was still a bit raw but promising, with decent length and fine, cooling tannins. Then we tasted the Merlot-dominated Rollan de By range, starting with the 2011 Greysac – a château with a huge following in the United States. It was a fine racy Bordeaux, but not perhaps the most concentrated. The Rollan de By 2014 was more attractive, but this was upstaged by the 2012 from the same estate, which was a little classic. The last in the series was a 2014 Château Tour Séran made by my former colleague, the Swede Andreas Larson, a one-time World’s Greatest Sommelier. It was very heady on the nose with almost tropical fruit and very soft on the palate, but the finish was a trifle abrupt.
Possibly the more interesting wines were served with dinner: 2015 Sukholymanske (a crossing of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and the 2011 Kolonist Cabernet Merlot with a ‘Mediterranean platter’; then guinea fowl was matched with three vintages of Château Haut-Condissas and one of Greysac: 1999, 2010, 2014 and 2012. The first was predictably mellow and waxy, the 2010 impressive but the 2014 appeared to steal the show, however, with its rich fruit. The 2012 Greysac trounced both: it was understated and elegant and everything a claret ought to be.
The crème brûlée was served and we went native again, with the Kolonist Riesling and an Odessa Black 2015. Plachkov used to travel to Germany a lot on business before he started his winery in 2005, and his first love was Mosel Riesling. It was a nice wine, but decidedly not a Mosel Riesling. I liked the ‘Odessa Black’ more, a grape that crossed Cabernet with Alicante Bouschet. This was a strapping wine, and I couldn’t help feeling that the Ukraine should be looking more for this sort of thing than the delicate balance that is traditional Bordeaux. I am now looking forward to learning more about the Ukrainian identity; more travel, and more glory.