Dinner with Olivier Humbrecht

By Margaret Elderfield

A great night had by all on floor 35 of the Shard last month, when Olivier Humbrecht (of top biodynamic estate Domaine Zind-Humbrecht) joined Clos & Cru and our guests for a dinner that featured 9 of his best wines from recent vintages going back to 2008.

Olivier Humbrecht winemaker

Olivier Humbrecht (L) with Martyn from the Clos & Cru team

Tasting them side by side, I was struck by the incredible concentration and expressiveness of these lively, complex whites.  Tip top wine of the night was the 2013 Riesling Clos Windsbuhl (95 pts, robertparker.com) which had outstanding mineral precision, purity of fruit and a lovely savoury twist on the finish.

We also got a glimpse of some newly released 2015s.  Here the 2015 Riesling Clos St Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru (96 pts, robertparker.com) was the star, with citrus and tropical fruits, smokey hints and toasted-stone mineral notes. To me, it was a perfect wine to show the difference between the German and Alsace styles of riesling. The great rieslings of the Mosel have a fine and delicate lightness. From the French side of the border, with his 2015 Riesling Rangen, Olivier delivers a more weighty Alsace style, but still with that quintessential riesling liveliness.

The biggest surprise of the night?  I’m not usually a fan of Muscat, which so often appears in simple, sweet vin doux naturels that can lack balance.  But the 2013 Muscat Goldert Grand Cru was a revelation, and I can see why Jancis Robinson counts it as one of her favourite Muscat wines in the world. Fermented to dryness, it had a heady aroma of grapes, orchard fruits and herbs, plus a mouthwatering hit of saline minerality. Served in a Burgundy glass, this wine bowled everyone over.  Olivier says they serve this wine in the region with white asparagus and hollandaise.  But in our meal it paired deliciously with Asian-influenced pork.

Thanks again, Olivier!

 

 

 

 

 

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The “Seven Samurai” from Selosse

By Martyn Zemavicius

Having received an invitation from my dear friend Andrius to attend a blind champagne tasting called “the Seven Samurai”, I immediately told him I’d be there. Not just because every degustation Andrius organises is magnificent. Mainly because of the fun theme for the tasting.

His grand idea? To serve seven different champagnes from the house of Jacques Selosse, each representing a character from Akira Kurosawa’s legendary sword-fighting movie, The Seven Samurai. Moreover, each champagne would be opened by sabrage.

For those who have never seen the film, it tells the story of a poor village that gets raided every year by a band of 40 ruthless bandits, who steal the villagers’ crops and kidnap their women.  The villagers decide the only way they can save themselves is to scrape together what little money they have to hire samurai. They manage to find seven samurai who will fight for their paltry reward.  These brave samurai must defy the odds to defend the village and fight an epic battle against the bandits.

The wines were served in flights of two, with some chapter titles to give us clues.  So as we listened to the dramatic soundtrack from the film, we got stuck into our first flight.

Chapter One – The Walled Field Ends Below the Hill

  • NV Jacques Selosse Mareuil sur Ay ‘Sous le Mont’
    First release of this cuvee, which is 100% Pinot Noir (from a solera begun in 2005). Disgorged 2012.

Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八) was the character chosen to represent wine 1. Recruited by Gorōbei, he is an amiable fighter, if less skilled than the others. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.

As this samurai was less skilled, he symbolised the fact that the ‘Sous le Mont’ is made from Premier Cru fruit, whereas the other wines were Grand Cru. (The name ‘Sous le Mont’ can be translated into English as ‘below the hill’.)

  • NV Jacques Selosse Ambonnay ‘Le Bout du Clos’
    The first release of this cuvee (from solera beginning 2004).
    80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2011.

Kikuchiyo (菊千代) is a humorous character who claims to be a samurai, but has falsified his ancestry. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight. He reveals to the group that he is not a samurai, but a peasant. When the fight begins, he proves his worth.

Just as Kikuchiyo was different from the others (not being a real samurai), this champagne is different. It is a blend of grape varieties, whereas the others are single variety. Not many people know that Le Bout du Clos is not a blanc de noirs. Anselme Selosse adds 20 percent Chardonnay to the blend, because this lieu-dit is very small and some Chardonnay was historically grown there. (‘Le Bout du Clos’ translates as ‘the edge of the walled field’.)

Chapter Two – The Essence

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2008)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2015.

Katsushirō Okamoto (四郎) is a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowning samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō vows to be Kambei’s disciple.

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2005)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2012.

Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵) is a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command, and helps craft the master plan for the village’s defense.

These characters represent Substance because they are both men of character at, with Katsushiro (the younger of the two) represented by the younger wine, and Gorobei the older.

Chapter Three – Origins

  • Jacques Selosse Extra Brut
    100% Chardonnay, an assemblage of 1992, 1991 and 1990 from Avize, Cramant and Mesnil. Disgorged 1999.

Shichirōji (七郎次) is an old friend of Kambei and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town and he resumes this role.

  • Jacques Selosse Origine
    100% Chardonnay (from solera 1986-92).
    Disgorged in 1999.

Kambei Shimada (田勘兵) is a ronin (a masterless samurai) and the leader of the group. The first to be recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.

These two characters both symbolise origins.  Shichiroji and Kambei have a relationship that begins years ago.  The Selosse Extra Brut is made from an assemblage going back in time, and the Origine is the predecessor wine to the Substance.

Chapter Four – Skill

  • Selosse 1998
    100% Chardonnay. One of the two finest vintages Selosse has produced.

Kyūzō () He initially declines an offer by Kambei to join the group, but he changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai, of whom Katsushirō is in awe.

Because of his supreme skill as a swordsman, his character was chosen to represent the 1998 Selosse, which is one of the two best vintages Selosse ever produced. (The other is the 1986, the vintage that earned Anselme Selosse the title of Winemaker of the Year in France.)

Chapter Five – Blue Blood

Just as we thought the tasting had finished, our other dear friend Andrej brought a decanter with red wine. And from the first smell it was very clear that this ‘blue blooded’ wine was imperial in quality. The nose alone was worthy of 100 points straight away. And it was poured from magnum, as befits an emperor of a wine.

  • 1959 Chateau Pavie, Saint Emilion (from magnum)

The story of the Seven Samurai takes place in 1586. At that time, the Emperor of Japan was Emperor Ōgimachi (町天皇).  He reigned from 1557 to 1586. His personal name was Michihito (方仁).

Bordeaux Chateau Pavie 1959

The Emperor

Arigato Gozaimasu

This was a truly unique tasting of great creativity, with much thought and time taken to organise it.  

These wines confirmed to me yet again that Anselme Selosse is a genius. His champagnes are magnificent and as full of character as the samurais immortalised on film.

The 1959 Pavie was and is one of the top red Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. In magnums especially, wines of this quality and structure can age gracefully for decades and could take pride of place on any imperial table.

I am bowing my head very low and saying arigato gozaimasu to Andrius and Andrej for my introduction to The Seven Samurai and The Emperor of Japan.

 

Champagne, Jacques Selosse, Grand Cru

The sabred bottles

Domaine de la Romanée Conti – believe the hype!

Do you ever dream about meeting people you admire, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party? Some people would choose their idols, sports or rock stars; others important figures from history, Einstein or Winston Churchill perhaps; and some would opt for beauty, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe…

I dream of a table filled with wine makers! And I had the incredible good fortune this week to meet one of my idols in the wine world, Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC). As if this wasn’t enough, in addition I had the opportunity to taste some of the stunning wines he has made, including the iconic – La Romanée Conti.

You don’t want to look a fool when you meet your idols, be unprepared or have nothing to say. It was the same with these great wines, I read about them and studied the smallest detail, to help me appreciate them fully. For insight I turned to Allen Meadows’ bible on Vosne-Romanée “The Pearl of the Côte”.  After a few hours of studying, all that was left was to clear my mind of distractions and prepare my palate for enlightenment.

The venue for the tasting, the gleaming copper clad gallery underneath the hull of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, set the scene. It was a truly memorable place to be tasting these breathtaking wines, all shipped directly from the DRC cellar, while listening to Aubert’s personal recollections and insights about each cuvee.

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