Weddings, friends and… Californian Sangiovese??
What’s your favourite wine pairing? Is it a côte de boeuf with aged claret, maybe a dozen oysters with a crisp Chablis? How about crottin de Chavignol with a glass of pure Sancerre? For me there is one accompaniment that is guaranteed to make any wine taste better; it isn’t meat, fish or even a fine cheese; quite simply it’s good friends.
We spent a weekend in London celebrating the marriage of my ex-work colleague Hanski and her new husband George (she wasn’t replacing one!). They put on a fine affair, starting with beers and rugby in a bustling London boozer on the Friday night (don’t ask about the score). The wedding took place at a West London church that I had visited once before, not for a wedding but for something far more religious, a biodynamic wine tasting with wine producer Emmanuelle Cazes! From there we headed on a brace of Routemasters to the wonderful Bush Hall music ballroom for speeches, dinner, dancing and wine.
I loved Hanski & George’s selection of Picpoul de Pinet as the white wine and grudgingly acknowledge the Argentinian Malbec wasn’t too bad either (many of you will know about my feelings towards Malbec by now). What a fun wine selection, almost as much fun as the mulled cider served in teacups on arrival! The celebrations went on into the early hours but the festivities didn’t end there as H&G had arranged a recovery lunch at George’s club, The Lansdowne, on Sunday afternoon. Fish pie, apple crumble and a few glasses of zesty New Hall English Bacchus and Berry Bros’ modestly titled ‘Good Ordinary Claret’ was a perfect end to a fantastic weekend… or so we thought.
What I have failed to mention yet was the presence of a couple you may have read about previously on these pages (The day Ave & Al tried to kill us, The Haggis Challenge). Ave and Al moved to France just before Christmas and this was the first chance we had to catch up with them for quite some time. When the famous words “shall we find somewhere for another glass” were uttered, I feared the worst; these words do not form a question, they are a call to arms, and the beginning of a guaranteed hangover.
I was amazed how all of the best wine haunts appeared to be closed on a Sunday in London but we were just around the corner from Barclay Square and A&A had yet set foot in Hedonism (Art Gallery for Wine Geeks, Return to Hedonism). We spent an hour or so walking around the most fabulous wine shop in the world; trying a few samples from the enomatic machines before agreeing to head to the Caxton Bar at St Ermin’s hotel for a bottle and a proper catch-up.
The Caxton wine list is very well put together, with a fine selection of varieties and plenty of countries included (mark-ups are on the heavy side but that’s what you get when you head for a hotel bar). Al selected a bottle of Huguenot Marsannay 2010, a great choice. The wine was concentrated yet delicate with that wild, almost feral, note you get from wines from the northern section of the Côte de Nuits. Marsannay is a vastly underrated commune, so often forgotten in the shadow of it’s famous neighbour, Gevrey Chambertin. Finding a bottle like this with a bit of age on a hotel bar wine list is always a delight. However the discovery of the night still lay ahead…
By the time the last drop of Pinot was consumed we were really only half way through catching up properly. Luckily for us, both Al and I had spotted the same bottle on the menu and there was no way we weren’t going to give this one a go. We both love Sangiovese. We both love Californian wine. But in the same bottle? Are you mad? We obviously are because we had no hesitation is ordering a bottle, the interest and intrigue was far too much for either of us to handle. And what a selection it turned out to be.
Bacio Divino Wine Cellars is a small family-owned winery based in Calistoga, Napa Valley. The eponymous ‘Bacio Divino’ is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with small amounts of Sangiovese and Petit Syrah, whereas ‘Pazzo’ is primarily Sangiovese with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Viognier. The estate also produces Syrah cuvees under the ‘Vagabond’ title, Cabernet Sauvignons (including a To Kalon single vineyard bottling) with the ‘Janzen’ moniker and, most recently, Pinot Noirs bottled with the ‘Lucie’ designation.
Our bottle was the Pazzo ‘Call me Crazy’ 2008 and it was absolutely fantastic, my favourite wine of 2015 to date. Let’s start with the brilliantly hypnotic spiral-design label; it is truly mesmeric and we just hoped the liquid inside the bottle would have the same effect. The first sniff offered aromas of cherries, blackberries, black currant, meat, smoke, brambles and a delicious earthiness, then there was a hit of fresh raspberry. The texture is rich and silky-smooth; this isn’t a wine for the feint-hearted (14.6%) but still has a level of finesse that leaves you wondering, “how did they do that?” If you had served this to me blind I would never have gone for Sangiovese, although it does bear a resemblance to a young Brunello, albeit with fine integrated tannins at 6 years old. The best comparison I can make is to a Ridge Lytton Springs of a similar age; if I were a wine then I would take that as a huge compliment! What this wine really needs is a great big bowl of wild boar ragu, some thick-cut parpardelle and a roaring fireplace. 93 points
You may think that two bottles of wine between four was pretty easy going given the company, but what I haven’t told is while Al, The Fish and I were salivating over the grape juice, Ave was working her way through the colourful and very alcoholic cocktail list (sorry George, there was no Bucky-fizz to be found anywhere!)
The venue may change, the wines may change, I’m so glad the friends stay the same.