20 Oct 2007

Hyde and Sleek

'The danger these days is to produce wines that are all very similar to eachother. Uniformity is not our philosophy.'
[Marchese Piero Antinori]

I FOUND in Simpsons, Edgbaston, a charming, authored gastronomic retreat. Following a fluid journey aboard one of Richard Branson's sleek, tilting Pendolinos, the opulent Victorian villa is only five minutes drive from New Street Station.
Founded by Mosimann trained Chef, Andreas Antona, this is a classy conservatory restaurant and culinary academy with the benefit of four sumptous, themed bedrooms. I stayed in the Venetian, a sexy, damask den with a substantial Gondola inspired bedstead and guillotine window framed view of the dew-embraced garden. This had a glowing globe water feature, strings of silver lights and an adequately heated terrace.
Part of the exoticism of the Michelin starred cuisine naturally comes down to experimentation (for example, Hennessey cognac and chocolate flights are now offered) and also relentlessly extensive sourcing.
Antona is not a slave to buying locally, quality being the overriding factor. I agree with his ethos, having recently visited a venue during which I nearly committed un-sapid suicide, so boring was its menu, burdened with fare sourced within the M25 ring. Simpsons also have some of the finest meat, including Aubrey Allen pigs, each of whom have 'an acre to root, play and grow ... with warm strawed and insulated huts to keep off the winter chill and muddy wallows to shield against the heat of the sun...'
Working with the Cellar Society, I presented some serious wines at a memorable banquet.
Following a reception of quite gentle, family owned '98 Billecart Salmon Cuvée Nicolas, Louis Jadot's '99 Chevalier Montrachet, the vineyard of which lies on the same slope as Le Montrachet, delivered a powerful, citrus and hazelnut nose with the weight of Pinot Noir. Initially evoking unwashed partridge innards, this Chardonnay was quite forward. The ample, mineralic palate had nerve and some wet, but crisp privet. One of the three Simpson's sommeliers, Thierry, also identified gentian. Interestingly, the various bottles of the same case had broadly unified but stylistically differing characterisics, almost like members of a family.
Ramey's Hyde Vineyard '05 Carneros Chardonnay was the comparison. Full, tropically-inclined, not exactly sleek, nor obese, but definitely overweight, with a slight spritz on the final palate. Despite founding winemaker, David Ramey's intention to make a wine without such 'tropical fruit tones of some California Chardonnays', I have to agree with Robert Parker Jnr. that this did have a 'wonderful tropical fruit interwoven with orange blossom and white peach...' Or very posh, puffed-up 'Five Alive' juice. You can watch an engaging interview with Ramey HERE in which he abhors 'big, oaky, butter-bombs'.
Both whites had enough acidity to elegantly cut through Sea Bream with pretty Potato Scales and Caviar Cream Sauce.
'01 Guido al Tasso (meaning 'Badger's Ford' - the large green, sea-facing, breezy Bolgheri amphitheatre vineyard being named after the monochrome mammals who made Marchese Piero Antinori's outpost their home) is a Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah 'Super Tuscan'. Purple tinged, with a sinewy, linear composition - spearmint and sage, with cherry and bleakly dark chocolate - it is presently slightly tight. For previous vintages, see the MAIN SITE.
The highlight however, which has kept me smiling for a couple of days, was genuinely super-second, (1855) '82 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Still entirely present and vivid in colour (robust even) with a golden edge lapping the glass' shore. Effortlessly buoyant; so perfumed I searched around me in case the aromas were coming from another source. Graphite, lipstick and cedar with red fruit, jammy fruit and plummy fruit and a silken, feminine, profound, poised palate meandering gracefully towards the gold tuning fork aftertaste. One of the most exciting Clarets ever... Both vinous expressions were partnered with Roast Saddle of Cornish Lamb with Harricot Verts, Wild Mushrooms Compote and Tarragon Sauce.
Jim Barry's '04 cult Clare Valley Armagh Shiraz followed, beguiling with its clotted cream and raisin nose and mint-stained, melted chocolate and sweet blackcurrant palate. From a site originally intended for the 'Sentimental Bloke port', this 15P/C full bodied behemoth emerged from its cave with a smile on its face. Time will withdraw complexity. Still, the essence of pleasure and beautifully balanced.
Sémillon solo, candle wax, marzipan and flower-scented '01 Climens 1ER Cru Barsac ensued, with Fresh Raspberries, Polenta and Pistachio Cake with Turron (nougat) Ice Cream and Turron Coulis. Acidity spread like under floor heating, I.E. it was present and effective, but didn't aesthetically interfere.
I saw this finale being crafted through the immaculate multi-glazed portals between kitchen (workshop) and garden-side dining room. No doubt such transparency bothers lady chefs forced to wear make-up.Through glazing and lavishly filled wine glass, the view was superb.
Pictured: Simpsons Post-Prandial medicine cart stands upon cared for hallway tiles...
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