LE PAN’s Highlights of 2016

By LE PAN staff - December 30, 2016
The grand Villa d’Este, overlooking Lake Como
Photo courtesy of Villa d'Este

Looking back on the year that was 2016, a number of events, bottles and meals stand out in the memory – in a good way, thankfully. Here, we look at some of our highlights of the past 12 months.

Dinner at Villa d’Este with the Coche-Dury family
I hadn’t expected to be offered an invitation to dine with Meursault magicians, the Coche-Dury family, when I bombed Odile Coche-Dury’s photograph at a wine symposium at Villa d’Este on the banks of Italy’s Lake Como. But I’m certainly not complaining about the outcome. The family matriarch enjoyed a laugh about my appearance in her shot and was soon showing me family photographs on her digital camera, discussing her children, grandchildren, love of poetry and singing. A strong woman with a zest for life, her energy is infectious. Her husband, Jean-François, and son, Raphaël, are more reserved, allowing their wines (and Odile) to do most of the talking. They are an intriguing bunch, and you’re left wanting to know them and their wines better.

Lunch at Lily Bollinger’s house
Taking lunch in the house of the late Lily Bollinger isn’t the way I usually spend a Tuesday afternoon. I wish it were. But having been awarded the Madame Bollinger Medal in 2015 in recognition of outstanding tasting ability in the Master of Wine exams, I was whisked off with my family to Champagne to sip on vintages dating back to 1988. It sure beats a sandwich at my desk. It was mid-September, which meant the harvest was in full swing: coaches lined the roads, transporting pickers to vineyards laden with ripe fruit, and the wineries hummed with activity. Even so, the winemaker took time out to guide our party through the labyrinthine cellars and the chef de cave, Gilles Descôtes, provided a personalised tasting, which included a game of guess the weight of a bunch of freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes. The red-carpet treatment continued with Etienne Bizot, the great-nephew of Madame Bollinger, and the Champagne house’s president Jérôme Philipon, entertaining us over an elegant, Champagne-fuelled lunch. Tuesdays will never be the same again.

Rebecca Gibb, wine editor

Mellow, mature, and notes of cedar and tobaccoPhoto courtesy of Bodegas LAN

Bodegas LAN Viña Lanciano Gran Reserva 1970
Amid London’s ever-changing dining scene, the revival of the wine bar has been one of the more dynamic trends of the past few years. Smaller, more imaginatively curated lists; the onset of Coravin, meaning more wines by the glass to match smaller plates – all good news for wine lovers. And few restaurants have embraced this more democratic vibe as keenly as Noble Rot, which, having originally started as an independent, subversive wine magazine, has become a brand in its own right. That same independent but authentic spirit is present in its left-field, ‘old London’ location, and on the wine list, which blends the funky with the familiar, and features a notably extensive – and well-priced – array of older wines. And for value and versatility, ageability and availability, there are few older wines that can hold a candle to Rioja. Witness Bodegas LAN Viña Lanciano Gran Reserva 1970, as enjoyed on a late summer’s evening – perfectly mellow, with a wonderfully mature, cedar-and-tobacco note, but still with rays of bright fruit shining through in its twilight.

Panoramic Restaurant, Royal Ascot
Lunch in Chez Roux restaurant at Newmarket, the spiritual home of British horseracing, on 2,000 Guineas day, with both Albert and Michel Roux at the pass, was hard to beat – not least when my wife came up with a 25-1 winner in the first race. But the Panoramic Restaurant at Royal Ascot, on the final day of summer’s ultimate racing festival, with the irrepressible chef Raymond Blanc in residence, just about managed it. Sipping Bollinger Special Cuvée on the restaurant’s private terrace as the royal procession bobbed its way down the mile-long straight set a suitably regal scene, and Blanc’s cooking followed suit. A salmon-and-cucumber starter sounds like standard wedding-day fare, but not in the hands of the double Michelin-starred maestro, who served it as a warm confit, delicately marinated for a sweet, lush texture, with horseradish crème fraîche for a hint, rather than a hit, of heat. The rack of lamb managed to be both crispy and tender, and summer fruits steeped in wine and basil lent a light yet heady feel to a hedonistic day. The only element on which Blanc’s efforts were sub-standard? His tips.

Guy Woodward, associate editor

Quite a line-up, but the Romanée-Conti Richebourg 1974 probably edges itPhoto by Kent Tsang

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 1974 at Dynasty Garden
When you see a two-year-old constantly grabbing the same glass of red among the four in front of her – only to sniff, of course – you know there is something special inside. It was the 1974 Richebourg, uncorked to celebrate the opening of Dynasty Garden, a fine-dining Cantonese restaurant in the new Goldin Financial Global Centre in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Bay. As Roy, the owner of the bottle, poured the wine, his little girl was at once fascinated by this ultimate olfactory joy: pungent spices, rose petals, mahogany and dark cherries. We adults were lucky enough to be stunned by its silky texture on the palate, weaved together by the freshness and charm of concentrated fruity sweetness. It worked well with the equally delicate Cantonese dishes, especially the stir-fried glutinous rice with preserved meat, which embraced the subtle Burgundy meatiness in the wine. It was the year that Aubert de Villaine and Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy started to run the estate together – not the greatest DRC vintage, but certainly a memorable one. Not a bad way to commemorate the opening of a restaurant, is it?

Wine tasting with François Mitjavile
François Mitjavile, owner and winemaker of Saint Émilion Grand Cru Château Le Tertre-Roteboeuf, rarely travels; rarer still that he would attend a media tasting. He remains ‘mysterious’ in person but his wines are sought-after worldwide. On a warm (26 degrees Celsius) winter Wednesday, Mitjavile visited Hong Kong for the first time, and shared with a handful of selected journalists six wines including the 1990 and 1997 Le Tertre-Roteboeuf, as well as his insights into wine and life. When some people are stuck in the two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance, Mitjavile is pretty good about sidestepping and coming up with other creative lateral moves. He starts his fruit close to the soil; he grows weeds between the vines; he does not make any second wine. Nonetheless, the 68-year-old does not regard himself as an innovative winemaker – he just does what he believes will most benefit the grapes. “I love my job,” he says. “For me it is essential to have the fruit flavours come out … all the fruits are beautiful, I don’t need to make any second wine.”

Kent Tsang, editorial manager (Chinese edition)

Premium sake in a Champagne settingPhoto courtesy of Mujaku

Mujaku Junmai Daiginjo
If you want to make the “Dom Perignon” of Japanese premium sake – the vision of the Nisiki-based Horie Sake Brewery – then there’s a certain logic to housing it in a Champagne bottle. And to cement its premium credentials, just 1,000 individually numbered bottles of Mujuka (“dream bird”) were released in 2016, presented in a 750ml Champagne bottle instead of the traditional 720ml sake equivalent. Mujuka is made from the strong Isehikari rice, a type developed organically from plants that survived two particularly devastating typhoons 27 years ago. The grains are then milled, or polished, to about 18 percent of their original size (sake that uses rice milled by 50 percent or more can be categorised as daiginjo), which is said to produce a clear, pure taste. For more details, see liquidgold.com.hk

Taylor’s Single Harvest Port 1966
Any 50th birthday or anniversary is a landmark occasion. To celebrate it with a bottle of Taylor’s Single Harvest Port is something else entirely. This is just the third time that Taylor’s has released a tawny Port that’s spent half a century maturing in seasoned oak casks in its lodges in Oporto, Portugal, following similar limited-edition releases of its 1964 and 1965 Single Harvests. And as the name suggests, this extraordinary wine is made from a single harvest – 1966 on this occasion – unlike most tawnies that tend to be a blend of vintages. Should you give this or future 50-year-old Taylor’s as a gift from someone’s birth year however, be warned: the label states quite clearly “very old”. Charming!

Miya Gu, assistant editorial manager, Chinese edition

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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