Dinner Chez Morgan (For Jeff Leve & Others)
I sometimes view the main forum on eRP as a modern-day “Dallas” played out in cyberspace. Regular readers will be familiar with the “big characters” whose contributions, insights and occasional insults make the forum such a compelling soap opera. I mean you just could not script some of the livelier threads that gather stadium-sized audiences. The analogy implies that Mark Squires would be producer Aaron Spelling and I will leave it up to you to decide as to which Forum member is Bobby Ewing, Miss Ellie or Cliff Barnes.
But certainly if there is one man who should be “J.R.”….that man is Jeff Leve (aka “J.L.”)
I had to meet this guy. I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone that had met him.
“What was he like?”
What did that mean? As many of you know, I have traversed the Atlantic on just two occasions, the first to pop my “Big Apple” cherry and the other to meet some wine critic in Baltimore whose name slips my mind. Just like some parochial Americans view us Brits as foppish with a cute accent, my own preconceptions are based upon a lifetime’s diet of imported US television fodder. I have summarized the significant programs and the respective misguided conclusions I drew as follows: -
Age 5-7 – Little House On the Prairie: American girls where bonnets and families ride around in horse-drawn carriages. Here in Britain we had the Vauxhall Cavalier.
Age 8-12 –The Red Hand Gang – American children spend their summer vacations rescuing kidnapped children from the clutches of evil gangs. The highlight of my day was feeding cucumber to the tortoise.
Age 12-15 – The A-Team – Returning Vietnam veterans incarcerated for a crime they did not commit, all formed vigilante gangs to help those in a spot of bother. We in Britain have the police force.
Age 18-21 – Twin Peaks – America is a bit weird. Then again, so are the backwaters of Norfolk.
Age 22-24 – The Simpsons – America families are like mine.
Age 25-30 – Sex In the City – American women are addicted to fashion and sex (no difference there then.)
Given such cathode-tube brainwashing, it is little wonder my mind was addled with misconceptions.
So here I am en route to Charles Morgan’s pad in deepest, salubrious South Kensington with a bottle of Certan-de-May 1990 packed into the rucksack, nestling amongst the detritus of odd socks, scraps of tasting notes and crumpled receipts. I am also equipped with a digital camera so that I can record my first meeting with Mr. Leve and reveal the face behind the name..
Arriving a judicious ten-minutes late, I join the group of oenophiles in the back courtyard enjoying a flute of Dom Pérignon 1990, which is à point, beautifully balanced, a little yeasty and fat with a touch of clear honey developing on the nose; a very faint hint of petrol on the back palate. I am not convinced that it has the acidity to evolve over a seriously long period of time, but why wait when it is drinking so beautifully now?
I am introduced to Jeff Leve. As with all Americans, I expect a man whose stature would dwarf a WWF wrestler, but he is of average build with a West Coast tan. I can imagine him wearing a pair of designer shades 24/7, driving an open-top Porsche through the palm tree-lined streets of Beverley Hills. Unlike others though, his boot* would be crammed with La-La’s and there would be a famous Bordeaux proprietor sitting in the passenger seat.
Charles beckons us inside to take a pew around the table.
First course of fresh crab is served along with two fascinating whites: Château Haut Brion Blanc 1989 and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant Moulleux 1995 from Nicolas Joly, the only year that the biodynamic éminence grise produced a sweet wine. I guess there must have been a unique cosmological conjugation that compelled Joly to break with tradition, though I hope it is a conjugation that will be repeated, since this is one beguiling wine, unctuous and petrolly but with superb acidity and length. To be honest, I preferred this to the albino Haut Brion, which had developed Loire-like characteristics, perhaps even reminiscent of a 10-15 year old Rheingau. Undoubtedly a pleasurable wine, personally I felt it lacked a crescendo of flavours towards the finish and I prefer the nervosité and minerality, the citrus cut of the Haut Brion Blanc 1996.
The second flight, a quintet of Bordeaux, was a relative disappointment with the notable exception of the glorious Château Cos d’Estournel 1990. I recall first encountering this wine at a banquet held at the property during Vinexpo in 1998, served from double magnums. My teeth never forgave the tannic mauling they suffered that night, but the passing years have tamed this, one the great wines from the Saint Estèphe estate: masculine, earthy, complex and broody; those tannins ebbing away to unveil a wonderfully balanced wine, quintessential northern Médoc with semblance to a Pomerol. Do not feel ashamed uncorking bottles now, but I would prefer to wait another ten years to see whether this will match the Cos d’Estournel 1982. I think it will not.
It will surpass it.
The Château Figeac 1982 was a TCA victim and as for the pair of Pomerol 1985’s? Well Château L’Evangile 1985 is a wine that has defied my initial expectations because since first encountering this wine around five years ago, it has never quite lived up to the billing. The nose is admittedly compelling, a heavenly bouquet of damp earth, tar and espresso that could only derive from Pomerol. The palate was pleasurable and yet lacked the depth and concentration that I once predicted this wine would attain, almost tart and feminine. Enjoyable yet not as profound as an untainted bottle would be.
The L’Eglise-Clinet 1985 is a brilliant wine from Denis Durantou – but alas not at this table. I am not sure what was wrong with the bottle, but it had an overtly lactic sensation in the mouth and a cloying finish that hitherto I have not experienced. Oh well. The Château Certan-de-May 1990 was a decent enough Pomerol: rustic, perhaps a little disjointed with some dryness creeping in on the finish. Personally preferred the 1989 imbibed just last year, which had greater vigour and cohesion and this bottle testified that they are certainly making superior wines nowadays, with more harmony, purity and depth.
Right, enough of that, on to a quartet of goliaths from the Northern Rhône: Hermitage 1989 and 1990 from its two great exponents: Paul Jaboulet Ainé and Jean-Louis Chave. We were deep inside Leve territory so I was interested how he would rate the wines.
The last time I tasted the massive Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, I was pilloried for expressing reservations, namely that I found it too rich and concentrated for my liking. This is an exuberant, ostentatious, flamboyant Hermitage with dials turned up to “11”, a wine revered by those with a penchant for a wine of unbelievable concentration and power.
But it did not change my opinion: that this is a great wine, but not the greatest. For me, it does not have the naturalness, the seduction of the Chapelle 1978 and juxtaposed against Chave’s Hermitage 1990, I found this to have more delineation and tension. Chave’s 1990 embraces the warmth of the growing season and the fruit is just as ripe, but has less glycerin, less viscous texture, a delicacy married with puissance that is utterly riveting. Tasting the wines, it made me think how the Cuvée Cathelin leans more to the Jaboulet style, richer and more prominent new oak. Now that would make a fascinating comparison.
Forget points, it is just a stylistic difference of two monumental wines and I am simply expressing my preference for one over the other. But those who prefer the Chapelle, of which several were present tonight, are welcome to their opinion and I can completely understand where they are coming from. Clutching between straws as usual.
he two 1989’s were Hermitages of more moderate dimension, again I preferred Chave’s for its exquisite, dark chocolate/coca-scented aromatics and beguiling elegance on the palate, so beguiling that at the time I thought it might be superior to the 1990 (although in terms of long-term potential it is the 1990 that will prevail.) The 1989 Chapelle is another wonderful Hermitage with a spicy, boysenberry infused nose but just lacking a little persistency and grip on the finish.
Jeff is politely interrogating me about my opinions on the wines, but he has to make do with ambiguous replies as my thoughts are still coalescing. I usually refrain from voicing opinions around tables if others have much to say, I pontificate enough in writing. So my tactic is usually to offer just a brief comment, a vague impression before diverting the conversation elsewhere.
Unless I am intoxicated with booze: then I just rabbit on incessantly.
Next, two wines that were born iconic: Côte-Rôtie “La Turque” and “La Mouline” 2003 from Etienne Guigal. Both were proffered by Jeff, who I suspect has a transatlantic siphon between Château d’Ampuis and Château Leve (did you think it was just the growing season that severely diminished the quantity of 2003 La-La’s? No, it was Jeff’s thirst.) With their miniscule production, along with “Landonne” this trio will become almost impossible to source in years to come, so it was a privilege to commit infanticide and see how they taste in bottle.
The “La Turque” is how I always find it: the ripest, most gregarious and extrovert “La-La”, a style that some might misinterpret as vulgar. You could label it a “blockbuster” but that is unfair since these wines should not be approached before their 18th birthday, by which time they can be sublime. At this nascent stage I preferred the “La Mouline” that was more approachable with better definition and balance and surprisingly lush on the finish. I will be honest: they did not astound me because their inherent complexity has just started its long period of gestation. But all the ingredients are there, it just needs a generation’s-worth of patience.
Jeff mentions that he enjoys reading my articles, but that the typeface is too small whilst others complain about the “complicated” words. At least I have never mentioned antidisestablishmentarianism.
Oh bugger. Sorry.As recompense, click here for a simplified version of this piece with no big words and a large typeface. And I will demur recounting my trip to the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Agh. Long words again!
I look at my watch: such as shame that pleasure accelerates time, vinous pleasure even faster. A quick taste of Penfolds Grange 1987, better than last year’s bottle yet still rather conservative and a little austere.
Alas I have to bypass the Château d’Yquem 1986 but did return home with a sweet sensation in my mouth thanks to a gorgeous “Clos St Urbain” Vendage Tardive 1994 from Zind-Humbrecht. In a sense this was completing the circle of wines from the Coulée de Serrant from Joly, albeit more botrytized and unctuous in style. Drinking perfectly now, I would prefer to wait another two or three years to see how it will evolve, but it is imbued with a wonderful array of flavours: orange zest, dried apricot, acacia, a touch of petrol and candle wax. Amazing focus, an amazing pot-pourri of flavours, this is a compelling, profound VT.
I had to make a premature departure from the dinner. It was my first time returning late at night back to my new abode out in the sticks i.e. Guildford and I did not want to miss my train, lest I find myself erecting a cardboard box underneath Waterloo Bridge. Unfamiliar with the nocturnal timetable, I discovered that I had needlessly sacrificed an hour of bacchanalian pleasure and ruing the shunned Yquem ’86, managed to catch a train that stopped at every hamlet between London and Guildford.
Jeff had accompanied up to the front door to bid me farewell, gave me his business card entitled “Jeff Leve Productions” in bold blue lettering. I forgot to snap a photo of him but in hindsight decide not to, I like the thought of people reading about his epic trips to Bordeaux or the Rhône and creating a mental image of their narrator. Who is Jeff Leve? All I discovered were his peripatetic tendencies, his desire to visit Antarctica, his passion for wine and his kind invitation for me to come over in February that I hope will not be rescinded after this article.
You know, I liked the guy. I might just do that.
Thanks to Charles Morgan and indeed Sophie Williams (whose pudding I deeply regret missing) for some exquisite cooking and for the excellent company, including Steve Matthesen who appeared to be doing a sterling job checking Jeff did not get into too much mischief.
Please note that my reviews and opinions do not reflect the views of Robert M. Parker or other Wine Advocate writers. They are my own independent views and should be credited accurately, if quoted. Thank you for your understanding – Neal Martin.
1990 Dom Pérignon (93/100)
A moderate greeny/gold hue with a mousse, languid rather than lively. The nose is certainly developing a smorgasbord of secondary aromas: hay bales, cut grass, a touch of clear honey and lanolin. The palate is well balanced, perhaps a little low in acidity for my liking, but comes across elegant and harmonious. The mid-palate is more pear, a little grassy perhaps but the finish is more citrus fruits and a faint tang of lanolin and petrol. Drinking perfectly now. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2015
1995 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant Moelleux – Nicolas Joly (94/100)
A rare bottle proffered for dinner by Linden Wilkie, this the only year that the eminence gris of biodynamie produced a Moelleux. A greeny/deep straw hue not that far away from the Dom Pérignon 1990 served prior. A lovely, intense nose of honey, damp moss, hawthorn and wet wool with good definition, gaining in intensity with aeration with the honey component becoming more dominant. The palate is unctuous with good weight, redolent of an Auslese at the top end of the residual sugar level. A touch of gooseberry, petrol, passion fruit and pear leading to a heavyweight honeyed finish with sufficient acidity to cut through and leaving the mouth fresh. Superb. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2020
1989 Haut Brion Blanc (93/100)
A very similar hue to the Coulée de Serrant Mouelleux 1995 from Nicolas Joly and the common traits continue with the nose, which has something of the Loire about it! Scents of apple, white peach, a touch of lavender mingle with wet wool and even a little animal fur. The palate is full-bodied, intense although I would prefer a little more acidity cutting through whilst the petrol-infused finish does not explode like I thought it might. A great Haut Brion Blanc no doubt, although I personally prefer say the 1996. Not quite the spectacle I was anticipating. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2018
1990 Cos d’Estournel (96/100)
Since first encountering this wine out of double magnum at the château (pure infanticide) this Cos d’Estournel has built on its promise and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite wines of the vintage. A deep garnet hue with thin deep brick rim. The nose is quintessential Saint Estèphe, quite earthy at first with element of sous bois, then tar, a touch of black plum and liquorish, a hint of black tea. The full-bodied palate is becoming less sinewy and more approachable every time I encounter it: beautiful balance, superb definition, this bottle perhaps the most supple and lithe so far. Slightly grainy tannins, a touch of bitter chocolate and black truffle. Great length. This remains a tour de force Cos d’Estournel. Majestic and imperious. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2030
1985 L’Evangile (90?/100)
This is becoming an ever-increasingly perplexing Pomerol. A stunning nose of damp earth, tar, wet sand, blackberry with the espresso element gaining intensity and superb sense of minerality. Previously the palate has been broody and introverted but on this occasion it fails to match the promise of the nose, a little tart with racy acidity but not the depth of fruit or the structure to render a truly balanced wine. The finish is a little attenuated. An unrepresentative bottle? Or is this wine destined never to live up to my initial expectations? Tasted June 2007. Drinking 2009-2018
1985 L’Eglise-Clinet ?
A very odd element to this bottle, the nose strangely “lactic” instead of the usual rustic, bretty but captivating aromatics usually encountered. Ditto the palate is enjoyable, but rather cloying and lacking some vigour. Strange and not one I would ascribe a score to. Tasted June 2007.
1990 Certan-de-May (89/100)
This is a Pomerol-drinkers’ wine, one that accompanies a meal rather than stands alone for all to admire. A fine, earthy nose with graphite, Morello, leather, hay barns and sous bois characteristics. Perhaps a little fungal with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied, perhaps a year or two past its peak and just lacking some vigour. But the acidity and absence of the summer heat makes this a pleasurable Pomerol with bitter cherry, coca and leather leading towards a tannic, off-dry finish. Rustic certainly, but with charm. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now.
1989 Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet-Ainé (93/100)
Of the quartet of wines from Jaboulet and J-L Chaves covering the 1989 and 1990 vintages, this was out-classed albeit still and attractive, if not profound Hermitage. A very ripe nose of cherry, spice, boysenberry, redcurrants and raisin with a touch of warm alcohol. The palate is quite lithe and feminine with good acidity, slightly pinched red-berried fruit, well-integrated tannins but a finish that is just a tad too sweet for my liking. There is less poise and tension here than in the accompanying Hermitage 1989 from Chave, but there is a sense of naturalness in this wine, though not much persistency on the finish. Drinking now. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2015
1989 Hermitage J.L. Chave (97/100)
Now this is a wonderful Hermitage from the master. A captivating nose, quite gamey with cooked meats, underlying minerals, a touch of Valrona chocolate, coca and roasted herbs. Very complex with incredible definition. The palate is full-bodied and full of tension and poise. Elegant, refined with cooked meat, cherry and wild strawberry on the mid-palate. Very harmonious. On this occasion I preferred it to Chave’s 1990 although that has greater long-term prospects. Exquisite. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2020
1990 Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet-Ainé (95/100)
I dunno…this just is not my style of Hermitage although I concur with common consensus that this remains and extraordinary wine. A huge, intense nose of black cherries, a touch of fennel, liquorice and glycerine. Gregarious and ostentatious. The palate follows suit: full-bodied, layer upon layer of super-concentrated black fruit with boatloads of glycerine. Dark chocolate, kirsch and a startling viscous texture – yet I still cannot find elegance or refinement, it lacks the style of Chave’ 1990 or indeed Jaboulet’s 1978. A wine of immense dimension – who knows, I may one day eat my words but in the four years since I first tasted it, this wine has yet to tick my boxes. Tasted June 2007. Drinking 2012-
1990 Hermitage J.L. Chave (97+/100)
Although on the night I just preferred the 1989, this 1990 from Chave has serious long-term prospects. A wonderful nose of blackberry, Xmas cake, fig, mint and a touch of hoi-sin. Brilliant definition and lift. The palate is beautifully balanced with perfect acidity and immense freshness (which I could not find in Jaboulet’s 1990.) Cherry, iodine, redcurrants, mocha and leather. Very natural, almost effortless. Refined, stylish finish. Outstanding. Tasted June 2007. Drinking 2010-2025
2003 Côte-Rôtie “La Turque” Etienne Guigal (93+/100)
I find Guigal’s single-vineyards difficult to appraise at such an early juncture, recognizing the fact that they demand at least 15 years to show their true character. The La Turque is a little mystifying at this stage. A rather stubborn nose at first but with coaxing scents of kirsch, iodine, black cherry and a lot of new oak emerge. The palate is typical La Turque: showy, extrovert and ostentatious, perhaps to some rather vulgar? Lascivious would me more appropriate with super-ripe black cherries, plum and cassis fruit. I remain hopeful that it will eventually turn into a more elegant wine since the finish is a little more under-stated than I presumed. Hedonistic. Tasted June 2007. Drinking 2020-
2003 Côte-Rôtie “La Mouline” Etienne Guigal (96+/100)
At this embryonic stage I prefer this to “La Turque”. The nose has more sense of terroir, more minerality and definition with ripe blackberry, hedgerow, cassis and plum. The palate is tannic, muscular with the oak in better harmony with the wine itself, complementing rather than dominating it. Cherry, plum and raspberry with that minerally element noticeable in the background and sure to play a part in the future. Strangely, I was expecting more persistency on the lush finish. A pretty amazing wine for sure, but not one I would necessarily covet more the Guigal’s other vintages. Alluring. Tasted June 2007. Drinking 2020-
1987 Penfolds “Grange” (90/100)
This bottle is showing better than the one included in the vertical line-up last year. An attractive, conservative nose of blackberry, freshly rolled tobacco, undergrowth and a touch of leather. The full-bodied palate is nicely balanced with good acidity, perhaps straight-laced and unwilling to furnish the taster with an exciting vinous experience, but maintaining cohesion and vigour. Touch of cigar box on the finish. Fine. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2015
1994 Tokay Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann ‘Clos St Urbain’ Vendange Tardive - Zind-Humbrecht (95/100)
A bright amber hue. A lovely honeyed nose, citrus fruits, tangerine and a touch of kerosene. The palate has exquisite balance with good acidity, quite unctuous in texture with notes of honey, orange zest, green apple and apricot with the finish zesty and well-defined leaving the palate fresh and begging for another sip. Very focused and with many years ahead. Profound. Tasted June 2007. Drinking now-2025
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