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A New Year Wish

The year 2014 has flown by, especially the last four months, and so here is a moment or two of reflection. Winedoctor has grown nicely, both with regard to Bordeaux and the Loire. My march through Bordeaux, adding new profiles and updating old ones, having done Sauternes (from early 2012 onwards), followed by St Estèphe and Pauillac (during 2013) reached Pomerol in 2014. Back in January I was on Château Le Bon Pasteur (updated January 2nd 2014), and having progressed alphabetically I will finish with Vieux Château Certan in the next few weeks (today’s update, Le Pin, was slightly delayed). Alongside I also added my usual vintage updates, including an especially detailed look at the 2013 vintage, and there are other vintage-based tasting reports coming up. As for the Loire, I published dozens of new and updated profiles, with a leaning towards small, new, young and up-and-coming domaines. I could go back and count all these updates, but I think I would rather go and open something good to drink this New Year’s Eve, so I hope you will forgive me if I don’t.

Without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of 2014 for me was a chance to return to Vouvray, not merely for a fleeting visit but to linger a while, for several weeks in fact. I rented a cottage among the vineyards above Vernou-sur-Brenne, and passed the time visiting domaines in the morning, and chilling out at the poolside (weather permitting) in the afternoon. I popped in on some familiar favourites, as well as calling in on some domaines quite new to me, either young start-ups with only a vintage or maybe two under their belts, or domaines that I simply never got around to visiting before. It was a great trip, as everywhere I went the welcome was warm; I adore wine in all its forms, but nothing serves to heighten the experience like meeting the people behind the wines you drink. In Vouvray’s case they are charming and genuinely warm people, the seniors led by the gentleman ambassador Bernard Fouquet (pictured below), the delightful Catherine and Didier Champalou and the king of Vouvray Philippe Foreau, while new generation leaders are Vincent and Tania Carême, who march with Peter Hahn and a gang of Carême acolytes.

Bernard Fouquet

Of course there were less fun moments during 2014 as well. I enjoyed trips to the Loire in February as well as in July, and I was in Bordeaux in April and in June, but I had to cancel return trips to both regions later in the year due to ill health, a very depressing feature of 2014. This is one reason I will be glad to see the back of 2014. There was also the issue of Domaine Huet in February, when after my criticism of the 2012 vintage Sarah Hwang decided to ban me from tasting the Huet wines, either at the Salon des Vins de Loire or even if visiting the domaine (the 2013s I reported on earlier this year I purchased at the tasting room). This was also the year another wine writer accosted me at the Salon des Vins de Loire and referred to a review I had written as “nasty”. It certainly was an eventful Salon for me this year, one that opened my eyes to how adversely some people react to criticism, even when carefully judged and considered. I stand by every word I have ever written, because nothing on Winedoctor is off-the-cuff, jingoistic or gonzo in style. Nevertheless, here’s hoping for a more peaceful Salon in 2015! Sadly I believe Domaine Huet won’t even be attending, but I hope to be able to taste their wines at some point, sometime, somewhere. I still rate the domaine very highly, and I think their 2013s were some of the best in that very difficult vintage.

And so what of 2015? April will see me come to the end of another year as a subscription site, and subscriptions are already up 9.5% this year, so by the end of the year hopefully this will be more like 15%. I don’t worry about page views, Google rank or Klout scores any more; these are either irrelevant to pay sites, or what I call “vanity” metrics. Winedoctor is generally regarded as a “blog” I think, but I prefer to view it as a continually evolving electronic book or journal (hmmm…, if only I had called it “Wine Journal” before Neal Martin chose that name!), full of information-rich profiles, and what matters to me is whether the quality of this information is worthy of the subscriptions people pay, so that is where I focus my attention. Hopefully, climbing subscription numbers mean I am getting it right, but I am always grateful for feedback in this regard. During 2015 I will be moving on to updating and expanding my coverage of St Emilion, and as this is a huge undertaking I will alternate with some left-bank profiles and updates as well, especially looking at some ‘lesser’ regions such as Moulis, Listrac and the Haut-Médoc. There will be the 2014 primeurs, and a look back to 2005 Bordeaux too. And much more. In the Loire, I aim to add plenty more profiles, a 2014 vintage report, update and add new Anjou profiles, and also start work on a huge Loire guide which will touch on every appellation going, from the Côte Roannaise down to the Fiefs-Vendéens. That should keep me busy through 2015 (and 2016, and 2017…).

Best wishes to all, good health and good drinking in 2015. And thank you for reading.

Critics Need Benchmarks

How do we judge wine?

I recall tasting, twenty-five years (or possibly a few more) ago, a South-Eastern Australian Chardonnay from a famous producer. I forget the bin number, and I forget the vintage, but I can still recall the flavour, the tropical-fruit sunshine, the creamy weight of it. I was just getting into wine, and this one tasted fantastic! I wasn’t scoring wine at the time (or even taking notes), but if I had I would have given it a high score.

Today, I would view the wine very differently. It would seem over-ripe, probably acidified, simple, commercial and ultimately rather dull. You might argue that my palate has changed, but something else has changed too. I have a different context for wine today. I have tasted thousands more wines than I had back then, and I have different expectations, based on personal benchmarks, top wines I have tasted and enjoyed over the years.

Benchmarks are essential for judging wine. Forget the commercial wine highlighted above. Let’s take a pricy South African Chardonnay instead. I taste it and really like it, and want to write it up. Do I score it 92 (I’m pretending I use the 100-point system for the moment)? Or should it be a 95? In view of the fact I really, really like it, should it be a 98? As it’s the best South African Chardonnay I have tasted this year, why not 100? The problem is I don’t have any strong benchmarks, South African or even New World, to place the wine and tasting note against. I decide I’m not going to give it a massive score, as it would probably be too high, and look silly. I’m going to end up being cautious, scoring it in the middle. In doing so perhaps I risk scoring it too low, an equally silly outcome, offensive to those that made the wine.

This is a problem you can see running through some wine magazine articles, when they suddenly venture into previously uncharted territory (like the Loire), and I see too many wines rated too low (interpretation: mustn’t give high scores, this isn’t Bordeaux or Burgundy after all) or some wines rated too high (interpretation: I’ve heard of this domaine, so they must be good – not always the case in the Loire, believe me – or I went on a press trip here so I had better say something nice). And I see it in Bordeaux too, when I see an approachable wine given a high score by writers who haven’t visited the region in years, and haven’t tasted what the region is capable of – Latour, Petrus, Le Pin, L’Église-Clinet, Lafite, Tertre-Roteboeuf, Ausone, Margaux, Haut-Brion, I could go on but you get the idea – for years and years, if at all.

I’m sure others see the same problem, but perhaps related to different regions. But for me, I see it in the Loire and Bordeaux. Critics need benchmarks to be credible. Without these benchmarks, it’s another process of random number generation and eye-rolling.

Sociando-Mallet: Old & New

A chance today to look at two wines from what is undoubtedly one of the leading lights in the Haut-Médoc appellation, Château Sociando-Mallet, an estate which lies on the last gasp of the Médoc’s gravel, north of St Estèphe, just before it finally gives way to the cooler clays of the Médoc.

First up, the 1986, the oldest vintage of Château Sociando-Mallet in my cellar. Despite approaching thirty years of age this wine still has a great colour, a dark, black-tulip hue, with surprisingly little sign of age. The nose is savoury, gravelly, perhaps even lightly smoky, with scents of pure blackcurrant skin, all crunchy and dark. It feels less perfumed and a touch more stony than my last bottle, which was a few years ago now. The palate is savoury, medium-bodied, with a tense structure of dry but largely resolved tannin and firm acidity, with fading rocks-and-stone fruit substance draped over the top. A little twist of coffee here reflects the wine’s evolution, and there are some slightly bitter edges to it. Overall this is cool, reserved, appealing, and would work well with roast beef. I’m not sure this has any more to give though, and in view of those fading aromatics I would drink sooner rather than later. 17/20 (November 2014)

Château Sociando-Mallet

Château Sociando-Mallet has been steered to success by Jean Gautreau, now well into his eighties but still very actively involved. Today, he runs the domaine along with son-in-law Vincent Faure, who once told me he was born at Latour. I’m still not sure it that was bare fact, or a figure of speech reflecting his being ‘born’ into wine. While I ponder that, here’s a more recent vintage from Sociando-Mallet.

Alongside, a much more recent vintage, 2010, and this time the second wine, La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet. As with the 1986 this is a wine I have tasted before, although in this case only as a barrel sample, during the primeurs. This is a blend of 50% each Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, partly aged in new oak, but mostly aged in vat to enhance the fruit. It has a dark but much more youthful hue, with a vibrant crimson rim. The nose has some appealing smoke and black-violet floral perfume to it, and it is certainly the fruit that shows above all, albeit in a savoury, blackcurrant-skin, charcoal-rubbed character. A palate quite typical of the 2010 vintage, firm, with a certain structure to it, led by the tannins, good acidity too, but with a gentle blanket of berry fruits laid over the top. An attractive wine, approachable now, but cerebral and savoury rather than plush or easy. Good. 15/20 (November 2014)

I like the wines of Château Sociando-Mallet; they are wines for drinkers, rather than collectors, always dependable, in good and not-so-good vintages, and good value too. I recently tucked some 2009 away in the cellar, and it looks like I should probably lay my hands on some of the 2010 grand vin sometime too.

Disclosure: The 2010 La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet was a sample sent on behalf of the château.

The 2014 Winedoctor Bordeaux Tour

It has been a very busy October, and a month I look back on fondly. The highlight of the month was without a doubt my first opportunity to lead a SmoothRed tour to Bordeaux. This was an immensely enjoyable experience for me, and I hope (and feedback seems to suggest my hopes have been realised) that the clients were just as pleased with the experience as I was.

Even though I was already quite familiar with the numerous châteaux we visited, I found something new on every visit. I suspect this is because, in Bordeaux, so many of my visits are quick dashes in to taste, often during the primeurs. I always try to build in a little time so that I can find out what is new, to hear the latest gossip, nevertheless it is still a hurried affair, a twenty-minute chat, and then another frantic drive to the next appointment. This trip was, of course, very different. Most visits lasted an hour or two, and there was plenty of time to walk in the vines, check out the harvest (the 2014 harvest was in full swing during our visit) and to taste some musts straight from the vat (always great fun, and the 2014 Château Haut-Bailly rosé we tasted, just a couple of days into its fermentation, promises to be delicious). Of course, we also tasted (and drank!) some older vintages, often over lunch or dinner.

Château Haut-Bailly

We visited many châteaux during the trip, and the programme took in some very serious Bordeaux names, including Château d’Yquem, Château Haut-Brion and Château Angélus. For me a couple of visits really stand out; the very first visit to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière was memorable, an informative talk in the vines being followed by a four-course lunch with a slew of mature wines, including 2000 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and 2001 La Mondotte, among others. And our evening at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above) was also very special, kicking off with a Champagne reception and then we had a three-course dinner accompanied by various vintages of the wine, back to the delectable 2000 Château Haut-Bailly. This was all very different to my usual Bordeaux trip, which usually involves a cheese sandwich for lunch, eaten while driving, in order to maximise tasting time.

Reflecting on the trip, I think it was a great success. The organisation behind it was impeccable, for which SmoothRed must take all the credit. And the roll-call of names we visited (I haven’t even mentioned Château Pichon-Baron, even though that was voted ‘top lunch’ of the trip by the clients, or Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, or Château Pontet-Canet, all of which put on excellent visits and tastings) was remarkable, as were some of our restaurant visits (Brasserie Bordelaise, La Tupina and others). Roll on the 2015 Winedoctor Bordeaux tour!

Bordeaux: Time Out

This is just a quick ‘heads up’ to all Winedoctor subscribers that I doubt I will be able to make any further posts this week, as I am flying out to Bordeaux this evening.

When I visit Bordeaux, such as for the primeurs, it is not unusual for me to suspend site updates, but in their place I usually update the Winedr blog instead, writing less formal posts on what I have been up to, which châteaux I have visited, and what I have tasted that day. I usually steer clear of the primeurs party scene, which gives me the time to do this during the evening, even after a full day of driving and tasting. This next trip is different though; I will be leading a group on a tour of Bordeaux, and the schedule is full of tastings, lunches and dinners (possibly long, drawn-out dinners, who knows?), and I doubt I will have enough time to think, never mind update the site and/or blog as well.

For this reason the site may well be quiet for a few days. If I have time I promise I will post something. In the meantime, here’s my rough schedule for the next few days:

September 30th 2014 – St Emilion: Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and Château Angélus (pictured below).

Château Angélus

October 1st 2014 – Graves and Sauternes: Château Haut-Brion, Château d’Yquem, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte.

October 2nd 2014 – The Médoc: Château Pontet-Canet, Château Pichon-Baron and Château Rauzan-Segla.

October 3rd 2014 – Bordeaux and Graves: Dinner at Château Haut-Bailly, then back home.

Each visit will be long and relaxed, a luxury compared to my swoop, taste and spit primeur tastings. And some will involve lunch, and I expect to be having dinner at La Tupina and the Brasserie Bordelaise, among other places. As some wine writers might say, it is going to be a mind-blowing trip!

Images from the Climens Tisanerie

I report today, on Winedoctor, on a visit I made earlier this year to Château Climens (subscribers only). As well as tasting a number of recent vintages, including Cyprès de Climens (the second label) back to 2010, and Château Climens itself back to 2005, I was also able to take an impromptu tour of the tisanerie. If you had asked me a year or two ago what a tisanerie might be I am sure I wouldn’t have had a clue; but now I could at least hazard a guess. If you have ever finished a dinner in France with a tisane, a tea or herbal infusion, rather than a coffee, then you will at least be familiar with the origin of the word tisanerie.

Indeed, the tisanerie is where proprietor Bérénice Lurton dries and stores the plant material she needs to make the herbal infusions so important to biodynamics. Here are a few more images, to complement those in my Climens report, of some of what Bérénice has stored.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is osier, which is willow (osier also translates as wicker, which can have many different plant origins, but in this case it is certainly willow). A tisane made from willow is one of several that is said to stimulate the vine’s natural defences, and thus it is useful against mildew and oidium.

The Climens Tisanerie

A sack of dried fenouil, or fennel. This is another commonly encountered tisane, used as far as I know in the same manner as willow.

The Climens Tisanerie

This is laurier, or bay leaf, which is also regularly used in the making of biodynamic tisanes at Château Climens.

The Climens Tisanerie

Here we have soucis, in other words dried marigolds, consoude, which is comfrey, a good base material for making a liquid fertiliser, as all gardeners worth their salt will know, and genièvre, which gin drinkers will know well, as this is juniper.

The Climens Tisanerie

Finally we have prêle, a staple in the production of biodynamic tisanes, as this is horsetail. It is used in much the same way as willow, as described above, being sprayed on the vines to ward off mildew and oidium. I have plenty of these in my garden, should any budding biodynamicists wish to come round and pull them up for me.

Read my full report on my visit to Château Climens here (subscribers only).

In Bordeaux: Day Two of Two

I continued making a nuisance of myself in Bordeaux on Wednesday with some more right bank visits. Kicking off at Château de la Gaffelière, I took a look at the very pretty chai before a walk around the vineyards with Alexandre Malet. Afterwards I retasted a barrel sample of the 2013, which was very typical for the vintage on the right bank, with freshness aplenty, ripe fruit character, but the generally rather fruit-led, supple texture with a light tannic structure. It was a great surprise to find in the tasting room a tesseri mosaic that was excavated nearby (detail from a small section below); I have long known of the existence of the Gallo-Roman villa near La Gaffelière, thought by some to have been the residence of Ausonius, but I had not realised the entire floor had been excavated and placed on display in this manner.

Tesseri at Château la Gaffelière

Next up I went out to Château Laroque, which is still on the limestone plateau but to the east of the town of St Emilion, on the way out to Castillon. There is no denying the ancient grandeur of this estate, and the wines are attractive, showing a very classic savoury and pencil-straight St Emilion character which is a world away from some of the rather sweet, concentrated and over-extracted wines made by some of the best known names in the appellation. This was a fairly detailed visit, looking first at the vineyards and then a vertical tasting back to 1998, as well as a very interesting tasting of five barrel samples of the 2013 vintage, each barrel from a different tonnelier. This was an interesting experience as in each case the fruit profile was the same (although the wood obviously impacts on the flavour as well), but each showed a subtly different tannin structure.

During the course of the afternoon I visited Château La Fleur de Boüard, run by the Boüard de Laforest family of course, and then Château La Patache, a Pomerol estate. La Patache can be found at the western end of the commune, on more sandy soils, but which also owns some vines up on the plateau, where there is more gravel, and also directly opposite Château Clinet, where there is more clay. Until recently the different plots have been blended, but since 2012 the plot opposite Clinet has been held separately and bottled as a special cuvée. The wines were good, and this is certainly an estate to watch in this appellation.

Roots at Château Les Grands Murailles

There then followed a whirlwind tour of several St Emilion estates in the ownership of Sophie Fourcade, including Château Côte de Baleau, Clos St Martin and Château Les Grands Murailles; this was a fascinating eye-opener to these estates, in the case of the latter two both tiny estates, each with a single parcel of vines, nestled close to famous names. Although I knew of all three domaines (especially as all three were elevated to grand cru classé status in the 2012 St Emilion classification), I haven’t visited any of them before. Château Côte de Baleau lies to the north-west of St Emilion, close to Château Fonroque, Clos St Martin lies in the shadow of L’Église St Martin, next to Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, and the vines of Château Les Grandes Murailles are directly adjacent to the ruins of the cathedral at the top end of St Emilion, very close to Clos Fourtet. A descent into the cave of the latter, to see the vine roots (pictured above) penetrating the limestone roof (just 2.5 m of rock, and about 80 cm of soil above my head), is not an experience I will quickly forget.

Grapes at Château La Patache

The day finished with dinner at Château La Dominique, where the team behind La Brasserie Bordelaise – perhaps everybody’s favourite Bordeaux brasserie – have set up a very fine restaurant with an excellent view across the very western periphery of the St Emilion appellation and Pomerol, taking in the cellars of Château Cheval Blanc (or a little of them at least) as well as Château la Conseillante, Château L’Évangile and others. I rolled back to my hotel close to midnight, serum foie gras levels at a 2014 high.

Today (which I have finally decided must be Thursday) I fly back to the UK. Which is a shame, as the weather in Bordeaux is great, and the vines are certainly lapping it up, with plenty of tiny berries appearing already (as above, in Pomerol). I have a good feeling about the 2014 vintage.

In Bordeaux Again

I’m in Bordeaux again, outside of the hubbub of en primeurs. It’s important to visit when the focus isn’t just barrel samples followed by more barrel samples. Last year I also visited in October, to look at bottled wines too. This year, October is planned, but I am out here in June to visit some properties and taste wines old and young, as well as getting a deeper feel for the soils and the vineyards.

Château Hannetot

Landing in Bordeaux at about 10:45 yesterday I hot-footed it over to Château Hannetot, in the Pessac-Léognan appellation; a rather bijou operation (the rather pretty ‘château‘, above, is in fact a converted stable block). This is effectively a new start-up, the vines only planted seven years ago, the first vintage 2010, the quantities small (2010 was the first vintage). It was an interesting visit and it is an estate I will have to look out for in the future.

Olivier Bernard

Then it was on to Domaine de Chevalier to meet Olivier Bernard (pictured above). I tasted the 2013 vintage from Clos des Lunes, his new venture in Sauternes here, as well as updating my Chevalier tasting experience with a mini-vertical of five recent vintages. Olivier is a great guy, clearly an individual passionate about wine, who buys, cellars and drinks wine from across the world, which is not that common in Bordeaux. This includes the Loire, and I came to realise during the course of our conversation that he has tasted more old vintages of Vouvray than I probably have.

Then it was a whirlwind tour of several properties in St Emilion, looking at soils and vines, before a tasting at Château Cantin, a very pretty château clearly aiming, with the Michel Rolland team on board, for grand cru classé status. The day then finished with a visit to the space-age winery of Château Faugères (pictured below). It has been a long time since I paid this estate any attention, and it was good to get to grips with its effective dissolution into three estates, the two St Emilion properties Faugères and Peby-Faugères (once really a super-cuvée but now an estate in its own right) and the Castillon estate Cap de Faugères.

Château Faugères

Today (which is probably Wednesday, but I have lost track a little, so maybe it’s Tuesday – we have had the weekend, haven’t we?), I am off to Château La Gaffelière, Château Laroque, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Château La Patache, Clos Saint Martin and Château La Dominique. Each property has some story to tell, I think. It promises to be a busy but very informative day.

Chateau Preuillac: 80% Hail Damage

I was saddened to learn today that, yet again, Bordeaux has been hit by hail in the past 24 hours. This time the affected area was in the northern Médoc, affecting a relatively concentrated zone just to the east of Lesparre-Médoc, well into the Médoc appellation. Some vignerons are reported to have lost everything, the vines shredded by the hail.

Château Preuillac

Several notable properties have vines here, including Château Preuillac (pictured above) and just across the road are vineyards belonging to Château Potensac. I spoke to Jean-Christophe Mau, proprietor of Château Preuillac, who told me “I have lost more than 80% of the harvest at Preuillac“. Clearly dejected, he concluded “it is very sad, but that’s life“.

I am deeply upset that once again Bordeaux has been hit by hail. Once again it has wiped out entire vineyards, and once again it has hit little, less well-known domaines hardest. All we can hope is that we don’t have a repeat of 2013, when the first storm was only an opening act.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.