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Champagne, Brunello & 1995 Henschke Hill of Grace

July 6, 2010

Three promotions at one go within The Firm seemed like a great time to crack open something memorable. And so we gathered at Otto this very evening on 5th July 2010, where it was good to see the affable Paolo again, who settled us to a long table of 10 in a private room and arranged a degustation menu.

We began, once again, with a 2000 Pierre Peters Cuvee Speciale “Les Chetillons” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, purchased recently from Wein & Vin after the recent champagne dinner with them (see June 2010). Straw colored. As expected, it lived up well to expectations, exuding immediately deep toasty oak on the nose with abundant notes of yeast, light citrus, vanilla and walnut. Full-bodied, not too dry, becoming smoother and more expansive on the palate with time, gaining an extra dimension in depth. Perhaps it wasn’t as outstanding as the other evening when I first tasted it at Kome, where it had been opened under temperature control for 24 hours prior, and served in a chardonnay glass. In spite of its 10 years, I believe it’s still pretty much on the ascendency, yet to hit its peak. Excellent.

I was wary that the 2004 Tenuta Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino that followed may be too youthful, but my fears were unfounded. Aired for an hour in bottle, the wine, deep ruby in hue, proved to be surprisingly accessible. Medium-bodied, soft, highly refined with an abundance of perfumed red fruits amidst deeper notes of cassis and superb plummy sangiovese fruit, poised and elegant with tannins that added to the structure without calling attention to itself, ending in a persistent, spicy finish. With time, it developed a further degee of sweetness and minerality, becoming almost Burgundian. Now I begin to appreciate why this estate, always keenly priced, is held in such high esteem. Quite outstanding, and will be even more rewarding with further cellaring, which is exactly what I intend to do with my remaining 3 bottles.

And finally, the 1995 Henschke Hill of Grace, a wine that I’ve long reserved specially for this occasion, for it was JK who had specially made the trip to its cellar door last year and arranged for 2 bottles to be freighted to me. Decanted for 2 hours before serving. Dull ruby red, but one is greeted immediately by a huge swathe of exuberant aromatics of sweet licorice, cherries and redcurrants full of Old World charm and rusticity, the lifted fragrance carrying well onto the palate with notes of mild graphite, plum and eucalyptus, leading to a lingering minty finish. Not the last word in profundity, but the balance between the lovely fruit and acidity is impeccable, without any trace of alcohol nor wood. Compared to another bottle that I’d hand-carried from the cellar door back in 2008 (and tasted on board the super-yacht White Rabbit in January 2009), this one seemed fresher, giving the impression that it has yet to reach full maturity, in spite of what the Henschke cellar door folks would tell you (I honestly feel the Australian palate is too used to a highly robust style of wine). For me, the Hill of Grace will always remain the benchmark for Australian shiraz as I feel that a Penfolds Grange will never evolve to this stage. Much of this has to do with the fact that the former is truly a single vineyard expression of Eden Valley, which benefits from a higher altitude compared to vines on the warmer Barossa Valley floor. Outstanding. Only one more remaining.

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