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Ducks don’t quack, they sing

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I apologise. I did my “best of 2012” a week early. I did it before I went to the Hand & Flowers on Friday night. I did it before the best meal I’ve eaten in 2012.

We’ve wanted to go here for quite some time, since first seeing Tom Kerridge on the Great British Menu I think. And I’ve wanted to eat his signature duck & chips since that day too. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Hand & Flowers is a beautiful pub in Marlow; it looks like a pub, it feels like a pub; and it holds two Michelin stars. What I love is that you get the impression they haven’t gone looking for 2 stars, more like the stars have found them.

The staff are superbly knowledgable and friendly and the food and wine selection is very tough… You want to try everything! We started with a couple of glasses from the by the glass list. Fish had the Balfour Rose from Kent (wild strawberries and lovely smooth bubbles – like a drinking a super-mousse… Remember them?) and I had the Mittnacht Pinot Blanc, which was lovely citrusy, full and round. For starters I had the crispy pigs head and Fish went for the blow-torched scallops. They were delicious – and delivered so much more than the simple menu descriptions. I had to have the duck for my main course and Fish went for the beef fillet. Wonderfully cooked, beautifully seasoned and just about perfect in every way.

We enjoyed a very nice bottle of Volnay from Domaine Regis Rossignol-Changarnier from the excellent 2005 vintage. The wine was deliciously elegant and improved when paired with the food, not something I expect from Volnay but hey-ho!

We finished off with dessert (Tonka bean pana cottoa, Chocolate cake) and pudding wine, again delicious. The other great thing about the Hand & Flowers is the pricing. Most of the starters are under £10 and main courses around £25. For this level of cooking and service that is spectacular.

I promise not to turn the site into a restaurant review site, but thought you should know about this one!

My 2012 “best-of”

When I was a teenager, this was my favourite time of the year. Not because of Xmas or the presents that might await, but because the annual review editions of NME and Melody Maker were released and I could see how many of their top 100 singles and albums I had managed to collect over the past 12 months. Anyway, the subject may have changed (I haven’t bought any “new” music since 2002!) but I still love “best of” lists. So here’s a few of my wine highlights of 2012.

Favourite reds

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, 2001, Volnay, Burgundy (The Wine Society £46.00)

Not noted for being a great vintage but this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! (I’ve got a 2004 from the tiny vintage to enjoy over Xmas) 96 points

Elboador +7 2007, Priorat, Spain (Wine & the Vine £29.95)

Wow. What aromas of dark brambly fruit. There are cherries and blackberries and even hints of black currant. Loads of spicy goodness including black pepper and Xmas spice. Super concentrated fruit, upfront tannins providing amazing structure and huge length. This is the real thing. Having this with the Xmas goose. 95 points

Walter Clappis The Hedonist Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Waitrose £12.99)

Inky black in the glass. Chocolate, black pepper and autumn hedgerow, blackberries and black cherry nose. Concentrated and intense, blackberries, black cherry, cocoa, spice from nicely integrated oak and a dash of liquorice at the end. Bold, powerful, delicious. Palate delivers what the nose promised. And long. De-bloody-licious! 92 points

Favourite whites

Maison de Tastelune Chassagne Montrachet 2008, Burgundy (M&S £30.00)

The Fish bought me the first bottle of this wine for my birthday – thank you Fish! Beautiful nose of white peaches, honeysuckle and a dart of vanilla oak. I really could smell this wine for hours! Clean and fresh with a little bit of weight, peachy and spicy and long. Lovely texture excellent weight. Love it. 92 points

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Wine & the Vine £16.95)

Really interesting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, maybe even marzipan. Lovely zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. 91 points

First Press Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, USA (Waitrose £16.99)

Overripe, fruity sweet melon fruit. Supercharged fruit with a lovely brioche waft and some nuttiness. Not as wild on the palate but a lovely appley streak of acidity. Nutiness comes through after a while in the glass. Delicious. 90 points

Favourite fizz

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2008, Cornwall, UK (direct @ £30)

We drank this at the beginning of December with my brother in law and his other half, The L’s, Luke & Laura. Lovely red-fruity aromas and summery taste of strawberries and red currants. Very pleasant with a delightfully yeasty and biscuity finish. Thought it tasted like a Rose but wonderfully clear in the glass! 91 points

Favourite restaurant

We had some amazing meals on our French odyssey in the summer, especially the Crazy Carafe in Tournon, Cave du Madelaine in Beaune and Le Chambolle in Chambolle Musigny. However, I cannot go past The River Cafe in Hammersmith. I’ve been lucky enough to eat there twice this year and can’t wait to return in 2013. Wonderfully sourced, seasonal ingredients, cooked to perfection with minimal fuss. The food for people who like eating! Amazing all Italian wine list; hopefully the guide I wrote recently will help you make a great choice!

Favourite bar

In 2012 I discovered Gordon’s wine bar, near Embankment tube station. The place is mental busy and great fun. The wine list is pretty eclectic and you can get a bottle of Latour Corton Grand Cru 1998 for £45! Well it’s better than most village Burgundys you pay more than £50 for when drinking out of home! Also a great place to get smashed with Hanski and George! I haven’t been able to get to Sager & Wilde yet, but I’m guessing it will be near the top of my 2013 list.

Favourite shop

It will be no surprise to any of you that this goes to Wine & the Vine at Battlers Green, near Radlett. Jez is a constant source of inspiration and keeps me up to date with what’s new and interesting… And long may it continue. Special mention also to Waitrose, who’s selection just gets better and better… Especially at 25% off!

Favourite website

No competition this year. http://www.winetravelguides.com was an essential resource in putting together our 2 week fantasy through The Rhone, Burgundy and Champagne. If you are looking for advice on anything to do with wine on your holidays then make this website your first stop. Use this code for a 30% discount D2Blog12

So that’s it for 2012. I hope you all have a superb Xmas, and I look forward to sharing more wine words with you in 2013… CHEERS!

Battle of the sexes?

Every now an then in the world of wine we come across descriptions that suggest a particular wine is either masculine or feminine in style. Across the great regions of France, some of the appellations are even pigeonholed by these terms. In the Cote de Beaune in Burgundy, the wines of Volnay are often termed feminine, whereas Pommard, which is right next door, is often described as masculine. In Bordeaux, the wines of Margaux are softer, while wines from Paulliac are “fuller” and more manly, and in the Northern Rhone are the great wines of Hermitage really “girly” compared with the brute force of Cote Rotie?

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I have done this myself, especially when talking about Volnay or Chambolle Musigny (feminine) so I thought it was time to take a closer look. Feminine wines are often characterised as having finesses and elegance (see the photo from the vineyard in Chambolle). “Masculine” wines have lots of body and big tannins. This actually does a disservice to the variation within appellations, even wines made in the same vineyard! I suppose its an easy or lazy way of describing a wine so I think in future I’m going to ditch the battle of the sexes. If I think a wine has finesse and elegance, you can decide whether it is feminine or not and I will concentrate on the more important attributes of sight, aroma and taste.

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Volnay is from Volnay and Pommard is from, well Pommard!

The truth behind this post is that it gave me the opportunity to open two fantastic bottles of wine from the superb Burgundy domaine of Hubert de Montille. Hubert was the real star of the wine documentary Mondovino, which looks at the globalisation of wine styles. If you are a wine fan then order a copy as it is a really interesting, and often very amusing and frustrating watch. The domaine is now run by Hubert’s son and daughter, who both feature in film.

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So a Friday night with The Fish and the in-laws. A beautiful dish of slow cooked partridge prepared by Den and some great cheese sourcing from Jan, and away we went…

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Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Pezerolles 1er Cru, Pommard 2001 (The Wine Society £49.00)

Very light crimson colour for Pommard but the nose is very interesting indeed. Autumnal with lots of musty leather, sweet spice and sweet red fruit. Raspberries and red currants on the palate with a deep smokey, cigar-like finish. Not super-concentrated but very sweet and refined – I was surprised to find this vineyard is on the Beaune side of Pommard as it is actually very reminiscent of Volnay. Was an excellent accompaniment to the partridge but I do wish I had decanted and given the wine a couple of hours to really open up. Top notch stuff indeed. 92 points

Domaine Hubert de Montille, Les Taillepieds 1er Cru, Volnay 2001 (The Wine Society £46.00)

Oh yes, this is very exciting! Very pale, almost rose look in the glass but the aromas are incredible. Strawberries, raspberries, sweet cherries, mushroom, truffle and undergrowth. Very sweet fruit on the palate with lively acidity and such freshness. Nicely integrated oak, and dashes of leather and sweet (vanilla?) spice. Warm, long, concentrated and sumptuous. Tannins are prominent but silky. This is my kind of wine and wish I could afford to drink it every night! 96 points

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