Shepherd’s Pie & Claret

by Charles Lea

Thankfully it is only a short week, as this morning I am feeling more than a little weary, having hosted a small reunion supper for seven ex Lea & Sandeman employees, all of whom are still active in the wine trade in one form or another. Tom Cave (Berry Bros & Rudd) did not strictly qualify, having been employed by me at Caves de la Madeleine a year or two before L&S was formed, but given that he was about the first person I ever employed and is a thoroughly good bloke was an essential addition. Tim French (wine buyer at Fortnum & Mason), Will Lyons (Wall Street Journal). Ben Knollys (Champagne Taittinger), Chales Mount, Charles Adams and Tom Harrow (Wine Chap) made up the party.

Before dinner we drank a magnum of Larmandier-Bernier’s ‘Terre de Vertus’, a stunning bone dry (non-dosage) champagne with great purity, followed by one of my last magnums of Ruinart 1996, sadly corked beyond redemption. Fortunately I had a back up bottle of Edmond Barnaut’s 2002 in the fridge, which was followed by a magnificent bottle of Egly-Ouriet’s Blancs de Noir, one of the best champagnes around in my opinion.

With a simple, but difficult to match on the wine front, starter of English asparagus ‘mimosa’ Jean Thevenet’s 2002 Vire Clesse Domaine de la Bon Gran was an excellent combination of mature, rich chardonnay and bright acidity, which led to some discussion as to why one might ever consider drinking chardonnay other than from Burgundy.

Shepherd’s pie (and I am talking proper, not made from mince, but from roasted shoulder of lamb put through a hand operated ‘spong’) is a wonderful companion to claret. However, we started with one of Tuscany’s most successful Bordeaux blends Castello del Terriccio’s 2000 Lupicaia, which conjured up fond memories, especially to those who have visited this beautiful estate. Mature, but still with great life, this was richly textured with sweet fruit, vanilla notes and a lovely long, silky tannin finish. Chateau Angelus 1994 was a a great surprise to most of us, although Tom Cave (@clarethound) exclaimed that it is one of his favourite vintages of Angelus. At first quite closed and brooding (certainly not giving much away when I decanted it two hours beforehand) the wine opened up in the glass to reveal wonderfully scented and quite delicious fruit, and while full bodied, a remarkable elegance and poise. The Leoville Barton 1986 that followed was certainly showing its age and I for one did not like its initial nose which had a hint of old drain. However, this blew off quite quickly, and the wine itself was fully mature with gentle tannins and developed fruits and drank very well with the remnants of shepherd’s pie.

A very simple plate of dolcelatte, walnuts, honey and fresh pears was accompanied by the most magnificent bottle of Chateau Climens 1989. I noted that Robert Parker says this wine is ‘old’, and not a match for the 1988 (which is delicious too), but this bottle wowed us all. It is mature but by no means old and was a real treat. Sauternes at its very best.

Tim French had been kind enough to bring a selection of single ‘cru’ chocolate bars from Fortnum & Mason and these were brilliant alongside a chilled bottle of Sandeman’s Twenty Year Old tawny (which I noticed to my great dismay was being passed across the table in all directions. Have these people learned nothing !). We ended the night drinking a bottle of Moyet’s exceptional XO Cognac in the garden, huddled around an open wood fire, by this stage talking an enormous load of bolloxs I am sure!

The morning after feeling is only mildly tempered by the therapeutic effects of hand washing and towel drying over forty wine glasses before coming in to work, and it is only the lack of sleep that has slowed my brain this morning, not the magnificent quality of the wines. Though that last glass of XO might have played a very small part.

One thought on “Shepherd’s Pie & Claret

  1. Tom Harrow

    Thanks Patrick – it was a terrific evening. I’m hugely impressed – not only with the hand-minced lamb shoulder pie, but the fact you managed a sizeable blog post before 9am this morning whilst I was rolling around in bed cursing the Moyet and my gluttony for Cognac!

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