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A Late Vet and Good Wine, Some Corked




What looks like the Everglades is actually a watery corner of the gardens at Stourhead



Reading the Home Page of our website, I am shocked at how long it has been since I updated the text. The item starts, "With summer finally poking its head out of the nesting box of weather that has been, to date, distinctly spring-like…" and how misguided it seems with a healthy dollop of hindsight.

I will be even-handed and state that we did experience half a day of sunshine and 26 degree temperatures on Saturday, but apart from that one (literal) ray of sunshine, we have been smothered by wracks of cloud that, with intermittent frequency, have dropped more or less significant amounts of water from their undersides.

Breaks in the rain have allowed Joseph to get out into the landscape, both with his parents and his nanny. I drove J and said nanny (Nikita) to Bowood House recently, there to meet assorted other nannies accompanying a small legion of other tots. On the way back, a dead straight section of A road turned out to be the desired crossing place of a fully grown fallow deer doe travelling full pelt. Sadly, her pelt offered little protection from the front offside wing of the car with which she impacted, too quickly for me to take evasive manoeuvres, or even brake. Thanking the powers that be for two things - that she had not come through the windscreen and joined me in the front seat and that Joseph and Nikita were no longer in the car - I pulled onto the soft verge.

I was amazed by how many people stopped during the 15 minutes it took the poor deer to expire. The first of them - a couple of lads in a transit - knew a vet in nearby Devizes and kindly called and requested her attendance. She arrived 30 seconds after the animal breathed its last.

The law of the land states that such an animal may not be "harvested" by the person responsible for its demise. I was assisted in moving her onto the side of the road, but she didn't stay there for long. Three hours later we drove by the same spot and a patch of flattened grass was the only evidence that she had ever lain there; whether it was the lads in the transit who had removed the carcase, or a game dealer I know to whom I placed a call as I left the scene, I know not. What I did know is that I had no desire to take and deal with such a beautiful animal I had helped to an abrupt and violent end.

On a lighter note…yet more generous friends! We were joined this weekend by James and his wife Maria, plus their three children. James is a long-established wine nut and very kindly brought some rather senior bottles.

Frequent visitors to Wales, on one of their visits to the Principality James had enquired about the price of an unticketed bottle of 1997 Bollinger Grande Année in a supermarket to be told, "Well, it looks like the Cava we sell at £3.99. Would £4 be okay?" And for £4, it's a very good bottle indeed. Here's a note:

"Salty, bready nose; very mineral. A hint of red fruit, plum perhaps. Toasty, lemon aromas. The palate is very mineral, too. The bead is fine, the whole thing very long, with crisp acidity. Chalky, paste-like minerals swathe the tongue. This is pretty young and a touch austere, but very good."

Next pop of the cork unveiled the 1990 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes of the Domaine Etienne Sauzet. This producer has had some ups and downs in recent years, but I had high hopes for this bottle coming, as it does, from a very senior vintage. Plus, the Combettes is Sauzet's premium 1er Cru. Here's the note:

"A strong lemon gold colour. Initially, this is rather reticent, but then so would I be if I'd been crammed into a small air-tight space for 17-or-so years. There's a hint of lanolin and then the grilled hazelnuts start to emerge with aeration. A wisp of smoke and ripe yellow fruits. The palate is rich, but structured; composed and controlled; highly mineral. The fruit is really quite gentle. Nutty and grippy. Very long. The finish is really complex and picks up great intensity through its length. There are lemon flavours at the back. The minerals are mouth-coating, almost a touch metallic; crystalline."

We debated its state of maturity. It didn't appear to be giving its all and I rather wondered whether it might yet improve. In hindsight, I suspect that it reached its zenith some years ago and is enjoying a bright-eyed retirement, taking long walks and baking cakes for WI charity drives.

I had opened a bottle of 1991 Côte-Rôtie Côte Blonde made by René Rostaing. Alas, it was corked. The wine beneath was transparently extremely good, but the mustiness prevented us from consuming it. I had picked it up in a mixed lot at auction, but it was still galling to have to tip away such an eagerly anticipated liquid.

Later on, small glass of Armagnac in hand, I peered out of the kitchen window to see an unexpectedly yellow sky: definitely not the norm for 1am in Wiltshire. A wander out onto the dew-soaked lawn revealed the cause. A quarter of a mile away, a barn full of hay on the local farm was ablaze, the great conflagration silhouetting the trees and sending sparks, Etna-like, shooting up into the starry blackness above. Sadly for the farmer, he wasn't insured. They won't offer cover for straw less than two months after cutting due to its propensity for self-combustion. We took a walk the next morning and it made for a mournful scene: soggy, blackened ashes, the barn all but collapsed. It had been one of the few nights in August that we haven't had rain, but I am not sure that precipitation would have had any effect on such an inferno. The walk helped somewhat to clear a heavy head, but an early night followed.
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