Through a glass darkly?

by Patrick Sandeman

Through a glass darkly? (Or where are my specs?)




Last night I hosted a ‘shepherd’s pie and claret’ supper, something which has become a summer ritual, for nine of my closest ‘August bachelor’ friends.

Only this year I intentionally did not serve any claret, but unintentionally served some wines as a result of not taking my specs  into the cellar, which proved interesting.

Those wanting a glass of fizz before dinner were treated to my all-time favourite non-vintage (although I note that our latest batch states Millésime 2007 on the back label) Larmandier Bernier ‘Terre de Vertus’ ‘Non Dosé’, whilst those wanting white wine had Tribut’s fabulous 2009 Chablis.

The first course of crab, mango and avocado salad, lightly laced with lime juice and red chillies, was very well matched by Gaillard’s 2010 Condrieu, and quite stunning – in fact so good I was not totally surprised when it was pointed out to me that it was the ‘L’Octroi’ cuvée which I had not noticed when I pulled it from the rack, without my specs on.

My shepherd’s pie is lovingly made from scratch, with no short cuts; two legs of lamb roasted, minced by hand through my trusty ‘Spong’ added to a rich gravy made with plenty of wine and spices (cinnamon essential) and topped by a well-buttered potato mash which crisps up beautifully. This year’s ‘claret’ had everybody guessing, and it was no great surprise when I revealed that it was Italian; Villa Fidelia’s Bordeaux blend, 2000 vintage from magnum, drinking beautifully and tasting like a wine twice its price. (Note: if you own this wine take great care when decanting as it has a thick, heavy sediment).

This was followed by another two magnums. First up one of Italy’s greatest Syrah, Il Bosco 1997 Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro, a little dry after the sweetness of Villa Fidelia’s lush, ripe fruit, but great with the cheeses, and then a magnificent magnum of 1989 Pommard Clos des Épeneaux, Comte Armand. I have always found this wine take an age to mature and often had disappointing experiences, but the 1989 was a wonderful example of top quality mature red burgundy and drinking beautifully.

Homemade strawberry ice-cream, with fresh strawberries soaked in monbazillac and a fresh vanilla pod, were accompanied by a glass of one of the really great sweet wines, Chateau Climens 1988. So good was it that everybody wanted another, each saying that they had rarely tasted a mature Sauternes so good. The next bottle from the fridge was a second victim of my failure to wear specs in the cellar, and what should have been another magnificent bottle was marginally less so for being 1989. Fatter and broader, with barley sugar sweetness it lacked the exquisite poise and drive of the 1988, but was a fascinating comparison.

Too much already? It is August after all, and there was by now a very relaxed feeling at table so a bottle of chilled Sandeman Twenty Year Old Tawny seemed the perfect way to round off a splendid evening. That is until a bottle of Lea & Sandeman Armagnac appeared on the table too.

Washing, drying and polishing over fifty glasses first thing in the morning is really quite cathartic, and coupled with the fact that everything we drank was of such good quality I feel remarkably perky today. Looking forward to a chilled glass of Manzanilla even!