Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Macia Batle Blanc de Blancs 2009

World of Wines, £15

We had only known each other a few short hours but I was beginning to think Marjorie might be The One. She didn't say much, but then she didn't cost much either, and many would consider both of these attractive qualities.

I may have woken that morning in another woman's bed but by mid-afternoon Marjorie and I had already drunk ourselves silly in Camden, eaten salt beef in Stockwell, seen away a bottle of good-ish Marcillac and attempted to buy a house next to a nightclub. The initial outlay was diminutive, but keeping her in the manner to which she was rapidly becoming accustomed was clearly going to put a dent in the wallet.

All this fun had put me in an adventurous mood and so, mid-way through the first Snakebite of the day, I left her in the capable hands of my Northern Irish friend to embark on a speculative mission to the nearby Wines of the World.

A sparse and indistinct selection yielded a single diamond amongst the rough- Macia Batle's 2009 Blanc de Blancs. Comically overpriced at £15 (around 6 euro in Mallorca if I recall), but nevertheless an essential purchase.

Along with Jose L Ferrer, Macia Batle is one of the giants of Binissalem D.O. Although the winery in its present state has only existed since 1996, it has rapidly made a name for wines at all price points, and is leading the way amongst the larger producers on the island for Moll-dominated whites. I remember being slightly disappointed by the '07 Crianza last summer, but buoyed by the benign influence of my decollated friend I was confident the Blanc de Blancs would justify the vineyard’s reputation.

This proved sadly misplaced. The wine itself is lean and green, with raspy acidity and little sugar despite only getting to 12.5% alcohol. Flowers on the nose are overwhelmed by oak, which comes through on both the nose and palate and makes the Chardonnay all the more apparent. An interesting wine, not bad, but certainly unbalanced.

No grape in the world wouldn't ripen in Mallorca's reliably hot, dry summers. But after the feast of San Bernado on August 20th things start getting a little more unpredictable; torrential wind and apocalyptic rain is not unknown in the first few weeks of September. The harvest is a crapshoot.

The Binissalem Regulatory Council rates the 2009 vintage as 'Excellent', but I reckon something spooked Macia Batle into picking a little early... This Blanc de Blanc seems a tad under-ripe, and has a slight bitter finish. They've lumped on the oak to try to disguise this, but it ruins the aromatics of the Moll, leaving an astringent Chardonnay.

The wine stands as metaphor for our whirlwind romance. Zippy, unhinged, bittersweet and expensive, but ultimately lacking depth.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Papa Luna 2007

Majestic, £7.50

New Year's resolutions have always struck me as a bit rigid.

I don't much like the lack of leeway they provide, the implicit pass or fail mentality doesn't sit well with the fuzzy grey-area in which I exist. Things never seem to get resolved anyway, quite why every year a large proportion of the population pretends they're going to is beyond me.

I'm not averse however, to the odd improbable-sounding lofty aspiration.

Which is why this year I'm going to give up smoking, alcoholism, drugs and gambling, before quitting my job, taking a wife and moving to live in the hills of Andalusia among the gypsy folk where we will eat only the local peasant fare and drink rough wine from unmarked flagons.

First up I obviously needed to learn Spanish. Having decided on this I cracked open a bottle of an old Calatayud favourite Papa Luna to celebrate.

The 2007 which was once stocked by Majestic at around £7-8 per bottle, but is no longer listed on their website, 'though I bought up as much as I could from two local branches a couple of months ago, since when they've not had any more.

In a move clearly designed to confuse the lay-drinker, it lists a composition of 70% old-vine Garnacha, 25% Syrah, 5% Mazuelo and Monastrell. Translating to non-obscure names that's Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz, Carignan and Mouvedre.

Mind you, this is the kind of thing you would expect from Norrell Robertson MW, a winemaker who with the curious affectation of referring to himself as 'The Flying Scotsman'. The copy on the back of the bottle is mysteriously silent on the origin of this, and I have neither the time nor inclination to investigate but it's probably a pointless flying winemaker / train pun I imagine.

On the nose there's some lovely deep dark fruit, not overripe, lots of earth, leather and tobacco and little kick of the Mouvedre coming through with slight animal meatiness. Complex stuff with layers and layers of aroma.

This is nicely backed up on the palate with good cherry and blackberry, some smokiness, nice acidity and a fine tannic backbone. Again, a lot going on, deep and thought-provoking.

Damn silly name, really good winemaker.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Maine Lobster at "The Club"


I had begun the day in notable style, arriving back at 10 in the morning wearing a pirate hat and santa pants.

A few hours previously the Russian's younger sister had mistakenly stolen a suede coat, a couple of leather jackets and a car, but still proved no match for my fearsome negotiating talents...

She might have my trousers, but I have her hat.

I had evidently navigated a peculiar evening with some panache, but even so I was more than a little concerned by what the next one had in store. We were due to visit a fairly hardcore South Carolina private members club ("No Negroes please, unless you're staff" kind of thing) for Lobster Night. Of course it wasn't the crustaceans that concerned me, more the unfortunate possibility that I would get drunk, run amok and then somebody would shoot me.

My compadre, however, was going to be of little use in the melee, as he had seemed somewhat listless all day. At one point that morning he *may* have been sexually assaulted by a photographer (male), and later had definitely agreed to go on a hunting tour of Argentina. Even a takeaway pizza and some fine 1980s Burgundy had failed to put the fight back in him.

Stoically determined to ingratiate myself with the locals, I armed myself with a stiff-upper-lip, a tweed jacket, a number of fictional stories about shooting things, and a bunch of racial stereotypes and made for The Club.

America is a land of superlatives: Most, Best and Biggest are ways of life, but first among these is Most. This is evidenced clearly in the country's approach to eating lobster. For a start the American doesn't "catch" a lobster as you or I might, he "harvests" it. In the state of Maine alone he did this to over 35 million kilos of the buggers in 2009 with a street value approaching $330m. 10,000 kilos of this is on hand for the five day Maine Lobster Festival, where the 100,000 or so visitors can tuck into the $34 Triple Lobster Dinner. The Club's Lobster Night was no more than a drop in the metaphorical ocean. Still, it was going to be interesting to see how the American Lobster stacked up against our own smaller European variation.

We began with a salad so unpretentious that they hadn't even bothered to mix the ingredients, some iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes were arranged in clumps on a small plate.

Before the main event we enjoyed wide-ranging conversation, covering hunting, shooting, fishing, the global warming conspiracy and the shortcomings of foreigners. I recall being a little disappointed with the size of my lobster, which was served with a couple of potatoes, some winning corn-on-the-cob and a little pot of melted "butter" in which to dip the flesh, as is the custom in the colonies. I say "butter" because, although I left it untouched throughout, at no point did it solidify. Presumably the same mutant cows that make squeezy cheese out of a bottle.

Once accessorised with some mayonnaise the creature proved more than acceptable. It seemed slightly less sweet and full flavoured than a good Scots lobster, and the claw meat was a tad watery, but all-in-all I was pleasantly surprised. Not the best, nor the biggest, but they've got the other one to a T.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Chateau Petrus 1982

c. £4,000

As you would expect, my recent arrival in the United States was met with great fanfare, rejoicing and brouhaha.

The timeless pairing of good strong beer and Xanax had seen away an overnight train ride with ease, and I arrived in Camden ready to take on the South. The Americans were going to have to pull some pretty peculiar stuff out of the bag if they were going to surprise or unsettle me this time.

I was off to visit the US contingent of the Russian's large and complicated family, who had recently relocated from California and were in the process of spreading themselves thinly amongst a number of indistinct towns in South Carolina.

An early victory in the campaign saw us locate the single shop in town that hadn't closed down and procure from them an excellent pirate hat, as a gift for the Russian's little sister. And buoyed by this, we headed for home and the bright beacon of his father-in-law's superlative wine cellar...

A cursory inspection revealed a large number of bottles, mostly Bordeaux and Burgundy, and largely adorned with labels saying things like Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Lafite and 1947.

"This ought to go well with the steaks," opined the father-in-law, breaking my reverie. 1982 Chateau Petrus. Well, yes- I imagine it might. Food and wine pairings rarely a problem for the man one suspects.

Flame-grilled steaks and one of the most expensive wines ever produced - staggering generosity - the Americans evidently were really very pleased to see me.

The wine, as you would expect, but probably can't imagine, was sublime. The nose was heady, almost Bugundian, but with a little more spirit. Tannins were hitting a luscious integrated peak after 18 years, the palate beautifully balanced with complex with red fruit, lead, leather, tobacco, earth... I could go on, but trying to describe this wine is somewhat moot; as a university lecturer once told me the only apposite response to sublimity is "FUCK ME!" By some distance the best I have ever and probably ever will drink.

Not, of course, several thousand pounds a bottle better, but that's wine people for you- mad as snakes.

As I finished my last few drops I was hit by an overwhelming sense of personal failure. I knew they had done it again- gone and surprised me.