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A night on the "toon"


On Friday I abandoned my infant in the solicitous arms of his grandmother, put on my high heels and hit the town in Newcastle. Not however the excitements of the Bigg Market for me, but the Northumbrian Food and Wine Society Member’s Wine Tasting at St George’s Church Hall.

In the seemingly never ending arctic we currently inhabit I should not have been surprised that the room was glacial. I drew my scarf around my shoulders and lamented my lack of thermal underwear. Smartly turned out ladies huddled by the one visible heater and there were several quips about not needing to chill the whites.

I have been to a few of the Society’s events before. My father is something or other on the committee and so if a visit up North coincides with an event I often go along. I generally lower the average age by a good few years, but they are invariably extremely convivial evenings and gently educational to boot. They manage to combine a serious interest (they have multiple vintages of Cheval Blanc, Pichon Lalande and Vieux Chateau Certan, to name but a few in their cellars and are regularly visited by a local MW) with having a properly good time.

Friday’s tasting was a line up of bottles from eight members’ own cellars reflecting a particular interest or perhaps just something with a good story. Here are my notes:

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec Domaine Huet 2008
They did a huge disservice to the other wines by putting this first. Huet is such a great producer and this wine was no exception. Honeyed nose, with notes of spiky pink grapefruit, dried apricot and apple skin. As per the label it was slightly off-dry, with perfectly balanced acidity, ample, mouth-filling and very long. A hugely impressive start and my favourite wine of the evening.

Leuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River 2006
This was hard work straight after the dulcet tones of Noel Pinguet’s Vouvray. Searingly dry, a little muted on the nose with intense petrol stamping on gentler notes of lime and blossom. It was very linear but fell away pretty sharply on the finish. Begged for some food to temper its severity.

Chateau de Boucassé Pacherenc du Vic Bilh Sec 2007
A very rare dry white from Alain Brumont, better known as the maker of celebrated Madiran Domaine de Montus. A real muddle of southern grape varieties: Courbu, Petit and Gros Manseng (of Jurancon fame), Arufiac with a dash of the more familiar Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Picked up for around 7 euros this is a great value quaffing wine, but I wouldn’t go much further than that. Passion fruit on the nose with a bit of toffee and full up front, but this one fell away on the finish too.

Huebuhl Marcel Deiss 2008
Marcel Deiss is a visionary winemaker – fully biodynamic and given to considerable experimentation. This is what he calls a “field blend” comprising Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from a single location. The golden caramel colour hinted at some sweetness here, but this was dry on the palate. Discernable botrytis on the nose, toffee, truffly, waxy notes with lots of warm spice, cinnamon and vanilla. The palate is full, complex, layered and long. This is proper grown-up wine – compelling stuff.

Rubibulle Brut Fleurie Domaine Clos des Garands
This one was not for me I am afraid. Pale, pale red with big bubbles that died quickly. The nose was perfectly agreeable, crunchy red fruit but pretty one dimensional. Stick to the Fleurie, please.

Rondo Mount Pleasant, Bolton-le-Sands 2006
Where I hear you ask…. This is from the UK’s most northerly registered vineyard not far from Preston in Lancashire. They can grow grapes because of the benign warming influence of the Gulf Stream as they are just 12 miles in from the coast. The wine is not available commercially but had been received as a gift by one of the members.

The grape variety Rondo (a cross of Zarya Severa and St. Laurent which doesn’t really make things any clearer) is a red grape variety well suited to cooler climates. I will admit my prejudices – I wanted to like it but was pretty sceptical. So I was genuinely surprised and pleased by how good the wine was. Reminiscent of Cabernet Franc from the Loire, the nose was crunchy redcurrants, pencil shavings, with notes of coffee and green pepper. It was nicely balanced although not over-endowed in the body or length departments. But congratulations on an unexpectedly pleasuerable glass.

Bellet Clot Dou Baile 2000
Bellet is the second smallest appellation in France (after Chateau Grillet) and is located in the hilly suburbs to the west of Nice just up the valley of the Var. This is a tale of hard work and an indomitable spirit. Mme Cambillau lost her husband when his tractor turned over on the vertiginous slopes of their terraced vineyards and later, her son whom she hoped would take over the estate, committed suicide. She has persevered with the domaine in addition to teaching full-time in one of Nice’s most respected Lycees and, when I visited in 2006, had adopted two Algerian boys.

At ten years old the wine was fully mature, brick red with a much paler tawny rim. The nose was soft plummy fruit with smoky bacon and violets. It was not particularly intense but very smooth and long.

Seghesio Family Sonoma Zinfandel 2006
A block buster to finish with which seemed particularly potent in this context. This is a BIG wine from a very serious producer – but it all boils down to whether you like the style. Punchy nose of pruney fruit, toffee and tangerine, huge ripe round palate and long firm tannins. Definitely a crowd pleaser but not my thing – a bit lacking in subtlety for me.

A mixed bag of wines but the real pleasure and interest of all involved was incredibly refreshing. Spittoons were not part of the proceedings and I was feeling distinctly warm and benevolent towards the entire world by the end of the evening. The legendary warm Northern hospitality had once again come up trumps.