Category Archives: Food

Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Rhône

The night before Ireland took on the might of the French rugby team in Lansdowne Road, I had to contend with a daunting French lineup of my own. It was a far more genteel affair in contrast to what faced our men in green, however: an evening in the famous Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain restaurant, hosted by importer extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell and featuring some of the finest wines of the Northern Rhône from Stéphane Montez and Yann Chave.

The two winemakers were by the bar with Simon when I arrived, sipping on the delicious Gaia Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece – I suppose even the French must get tired of drinking their own wines the whole time. We exchanged pleasantries while establishing that neither of us spoke the other’s language to any notable degree, and though a flurry of arrivals meant we couldn’t probe the extent of this situation, Stéphane wittily quipped that given the quantity of wine on offer we were sure to speak the same language by the end of the evening.

Little did I know how close to the truth he was…

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Chalk & (French) Cheese

Stéphane Montez is, incredibly, the 10th generation of winemakers in his family. I say ‘incredible’ not because ten generations is a long time – it is of course, but it’s not entirely unheard of in the wine world, with the Antinori family of Italy currently into their 26th generation for example.

What I found most fascinating about Stéphane’s heritage is how lightly he wore it. Other winemaking dynasties of that pedigree, though affable and generous to a fault, can over time assume a regal air about them.

Mr. Montez, however, was anything of the sort: laid-back, quick with a joke, and with an unshaven insouciance. A natural raconteur, he introduced his wines as though recounting a humorous story he heard earlier that day, punctuated here and there with the requisite nonchalant Gallic shrug and pout.

Yann Chave, on the other hand, was more reserved and professorial, most likely as a result of his previous profession: a bank fraud investigator, of all things. In 1996 Yann took over the winemaking activities of father Bernard, whose wines were apparently generally good without being exceptional, perhaps partly explained by the fact that his attention was also taken up cultivating apricots, cherries and peaches.

Yann brought a more studious and focused approach to running the domaine, certifying it as fully organic in the process and insisting on labour-intensive handpicking and no or little oak for his three wines in order to allow their pure fruits shine through – in other words a pared-back, honest, and almost reverential approach to the region and its wines.

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Samsung a Little Bit Different

The venue for the evening was not to be the main upstairs restaurant of L’Ecrivain, as I had originally assumed, but instead their brand new Samsung Kitchen located just off the reception bar. It was my first time in this space that essentially acts both as a private dining room and demonstration kitchen, and where the dishes for our evening were finished off before serving. It was staffed by one or two L’Ecrivain sous-chefs, depending on requirements, although for our starters Derry Clarke himself lent a hand. The memory of a Michelin-starred chef cooking my starter in front of me is not going to leave me for some time!

We were handed a list of wines to be tasted that evening, six superb bottles in total. But in keeping with the French nonchalant air of the evening we were told to largely disregard this sheet since three of the six wines were unavailable, as it happens, and what’s more we were in fact going to be served a whopping thirteen wines in total. Mais oui!

As an aperitif we were served the superb Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc (reviewed below), before being poured both the 2008 and 2015 vintages of Stéphane Montez’s Condrieu “Les Grandes Chaillées”, a blend of eight select parcels from this historic appellation. The 2008 was waxy and even slightly Maderized, as you’d expect from an eight-year-old white wine, while the younger and fresher vintage was much more to my taste: weighty yet elegant with some blossom and woodsmoke.

Continuing the theme we next enjoyed the 2014 vintage of a Condrieu lieu dit called “Chanson”, which was softer than the Les Grandes Chaillées blend and perfectly poised; a properly fine wine.

While all this was going on we were first served a crab meat amuse bouche followed by incredible roast scallops with Jerusalem artichoke. Scallops are one of my favourite dishes but need to be ultra-fresh and deftly handled, which of course they were in the hands of Derry Clarke (did I mention he cooked them right in front of me?!), and served alongside some of the Rhône’s most famous whites they were, obviously, superbly paired.

 

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The Best Things Come in Two

From there it was on to the reds, starting with a pair of Yann Chave’s “Tradition” Crozes-Hermitage wines. First there was the 2003, an infamous year which saw an extreme heatwave rip through Europe, though you wouldn’t have noticed it in Yann’s bottling, which was superb and still ripe with an aged smoky minerality and black olive flavours. The 2015, one of my recommendations below, was a younger version and equally outstanding.

We progressed then to the next level of Chave’s Crozes-Hermitage, “Le Rouvre”, and again we had to vintages to compare and contrast. First was a complex, minty-cool black fruited 2007, followed by a magnum of its spicier, ‘hotter’ younger brother 2011 which needed a little time yet to knit together.

It seemed by this point that the French were intent on killing us with kindness: we were presented, yet again, with two vintages of yet another wine, this time a 2006 and 2014 of Montez’s St Joseph “Cuvée du Papy”. It comes with a lovely backstory too: it has been produced since the 1989 vintage when Antoine, Stéphane’s father became a grandfather. To celebrate he chose “his best sites, his most beautiful vines and his most select grapes, selected his best barrels and put all his love and know-how into the development of an exceptional vintage: Cuvée du Papy.”

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Stéphane was eager to draw the distinction that the 2006 was “Bordeaux in style”, while the 2014 was “Burgundy in Style”, which I agreed with wholeheartedly. In truth my preference was with the 2006, which was quintessentially aged Rhone with crunchy blueberry fruit and violets, while the 2014 was more funky and a touch ‘bretty‘, and indeed lighter and earthier in style.

Oh, and of course there was the food. Amongst all this incredible wine were some fantastic dishes, with my choice falling firmly on the sika deer on offer (it didn’t take much to predict that stone bass wouldn’t pair so well with punchy Rhône reds!)

Finally, we came to the last two red wines, both the apogées of Stéphane and Yann’s efforts. First was Montez’s 2009 Côte-Rôtie “Fortis”, a supremely elegant, deep and beautiful wine just showing a touch of bottle age through some smoke and coffee notes, followed by Chave’s 2009 Hermitage, a more serious and concentrated, herbal, long and complex wine.

Apologies to anyone looking for more extensive reviews of these two iconic wines: my notes weren’t exactly extensive at this point, since at this stage in the evening I was reeling in the hedonistic pleasure of drinking some of the world’s most prestigious and finest wines and enjoying the fantastic company.

We finished off then with what was a surprise for most of us there: a sweet Condrieu, a rarity in itself these days. Specifically, it was Stéphane’s 2007 Condrieu “Grain de Folie”, made 50% with botrytised grapes and 50% with grapes that raisined on the vine. The result was stratospheric – my more extensive review is below.

The evening was so enjoyable that next day when Ireland bravely defeated the French side I almost felt sorry for Stéphane and Yann, given how generous, humorous and memorable they were the night before.

Well, almost.

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THREE TO TRY

Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc 2014, Domaine du Monteillet
€24.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown

stephane-montez-domaine-du-monteillet-les-hauts-du-monteillet-blanc-igp-collines-rhodaniennes-france-10371422A blend of Viognier, Rousanne and Clairette, this proved to be incredible value for money.

Beautifully mineral and herbal characters (white pepper and fennel in particular) provide foil for a toasty, buttery creaminess.

A concentrated and elegant wine that punches well above its weight. Delicious.

 

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Tradition’ Rouge 2015, Domaine Yann Chave
€27.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

yc03_crozes_hermitage_bis_rouge_2012_yann_chave_bdwebA fully organic wine, this provided a fresh fruity, very typically young Northern Rhône nose of blueberry, blackberry and black pepper.

The palate took a different tack and instead provided cool-climate Syrah’s distinctive smoky, mineral and savoury streak with some fantastic tannin. Poised and elegant, this is a fantastic wine.

Condrieu ‘Grain de Folie’, Domaine du Monteillet
€40 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

condrieu-domaine-du-monteillet-les-grandes-chailleesAlmost an afterthought, Stephane Montez’s sweet wine was stunning, and a refreshing coda to the serious flight of reds that came before it.

Being a botrytised wine it had the style’s distinctive marmalade character, but with supreme elegance, concentration, and refreshing acidity.

I’m a fan of sweet wine and this is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted, if not the best I’ve tasted. Superb.

 

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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French Double-Whammy at Ely this September

In one of my earliest posts I waxed lyrical about an initiative that the ever-excellent ely wine bars were running whereby you could enjoy one of two incredible bottles of wine in ely’s cosy Ely Place home for close to the same price you could buy them in the shops.

But why not just buy it in the shop then? Well, throw in the service, excellent glassware and atmosphere of ely, along with the opportunity to grab a really delicious bite to eat there too, then you’re practically making money with the offer.

Well, I was delighted to see that ely are again offering two outstanding wines at silly prices: the sumptuous Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon ‘Milly Lamartine’ from Burgundy for €49 and La Reserve de Léoville Barton from St. Julien in Bordeaux for just €59.

Given that the La Reserve de Léoville Barton is €50 retail, for example, then €59 in a wine bar – especially one like ely – is a downright bargain. What’s more, the glass price – €14.75 – is exactly a quarter of the full bottle price, another big thumbs up.

Very highly recommended. I mean, just look at them!

Credit: @elywinebars on Twitter
But Wait! There’s More!

ely is on the Léoville Barton buzz it seems: on Tuesday 13th September they’re hosting what can only be described as a decadently old-school Bordeaux dinner featuring Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet.

I won’t get to go myself but it’s something I would have loved to attend, and it would unmissable for any wine lover. And at the time of writing there’s still a handful of seats available too, but they’re sure to disappear sharpish over the weekend.

The price seems hefty at €110, but some really incredible wines will be served along with ely’s always-outstanding food; put it this way: knowing ely, you won’t be found wanting by the end of it.

Credit: @IBrosnan on Twitter

Here’s the full blurb:

ely wine bar on Ely Place welcomes world-renowned wine producers to Dublin this September, with an exclusive wine dinner with Château Léoville Barton, Château Langoa Barton and Château Coutet on September 13th.

Join Lilian Barton-Sartorius of Château Langoa and Château Léoville-Barton, along with Aline Baly from Château Coutet, the outstanding Barsac estate, as they introduce a selection of their magnificent wines on the night. Beginning with an apéritif from Château Coutet, guests will then sample four reds from Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton throughout the meal, finishing with a spectacular 1997 Château Coutet.

Great wine calls for great food and ely wine bar executive head chef Ryan Stringer has created a menu which includes organic meats from the family farm in the Burren, designed to fully complement the wines being enjoyed at this celebratory dinner.

Representing some of the most highly regarded Irish ‘Wine Geese’, the Irish connections of Château Léoville Barton and Château Langoa Barton stretch right back into the Fermanagh of the 1700s, the birthplace of Thomas Barton. Initially establishing his wine broking business in Bordeaux, Thomas’ grandson Hugh began the development of the estate as it is today, beginning with the purchase of Château Langoa in 1826 and later adding the Léoville estate.

Current owner Antony Barton was born in Straffan in 1930 and inherited the estate in 1983. He continues to run Château Léoville Barton and Châteaux Langoa with his daughter Lilian, with worldwide recognition for making some of the most exciting and scintillating wines in the St. Julien appellation.

25 miles southeast of the city of Bordeaux on the left bank, Château Coutet is one of the oldest Sauternes producing vineyards, whose sensational elegant golden wines were also added to by a first-of-its kind dry white wine from Barsac in 2010, produced in limited quantities from the heart of this Premier Grand Cru.

Whether you know and love these wines already or want to expand your wine knowledge, the Châteaux Léoville & Langoa Barton and Château Coutet dinner at ely promises to be a relaxed and informative evening of outstanding wines and excellent food.

Tickets cost €110 per person with limited spaces available. For more information or to make a booking contact 01 6787867 or visit http://www.elywinebar.com.