Tuscan Dinner @ 67 Pall Mall

67 Pall Mall

St. James's

London SW1Y 5ES


The Food:

Scotch Burford Brown egg, MacSween haggis & piccalilli

Glazed Delica pumpkin, gnocchi, pickled squash, sorrel & sage

Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream

The Wines:

1982 Isole e Olena Cepparello 90
2001 Soldera – Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 97
2010 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 96
2010 Montevertine Le Pergole Torte 97
2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico 91
2007 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 94
2007 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano        91?
1988 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 96
1997 Antinori Solaia 92
2012 Ornellaia 90?
2009 Fèlsina Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 95

You might have noticed already, but Antonio and Eric handle Italy. I’ve heard they do a pretty good job. I’ve got my hands full with Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc., which precludes me from enjoying the country's bounty of wine. When I commenced my career, I tasted Italian wines regularly. However, I rarely ventured to any of its wine regions except for my “honeymoon” in September 2005, where we based ourselves near the town of Greve. I use quotes around that word. My daughter was disrupting life in the blissful way that babies do. I have two abiding memories of that trip connected with aromas. First, Marco Pallanti at Castello di Ama noticed that my six-month-old bundle of joy had pooped her nappy. Hey, great timing, kiddo. Without hesitation, Pallanti whisked the tot out into an adjoining room to change it while I continued to work through his latest releases. Somehow, I doubt that would happen in Bordeaux. Second, a very different odor, that of the intoxicating perfume of fresh black truffles as we walked into Greve one market day.

Therefore, when I was invited to join a Tuscan-themed dinner in the private room at 67 Pall Mall, I eagerly accepted. I wanted to reacquaint myself with Tuscan wines and placate my palate, which was protesting that it wanted to taste anything other than Cabernet or Pinot Noir. The bottles were deeply impressive and showcased Tuscany at its best.

Scotch Burford Brown egg, MacSween haggis & piccalilli

I have eaten at the private members’ club 67 Pall Mall virtually since the day it opened its doors. The standard of cooking has definitely improved in the last couple of years. (I remember drinking La Tâche with a burger, but as nice as the burger was, it didn’t feel right.) I kept it simple on this occasion as I wanted to focus on the fermented grape juice. The Scotch Burford Brown egg, MacSween haggis & piccalilli is arguably their signature starter. It never fails to delight, the haggis marrying perfectly with the runny yolk of the brown egg and the piccalilli lending a touch of spice. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, and I’ve just never tired of it.

Glazed Delica pumpkin, gnocchi, pickled squash, sorrel & sage

I decided to go vegetarian on this particular night. The glazed Delica pumpkin, gnocchi, pickled squash, sorrel & sage was a perfect foil for the Tuscans. A deceptively simple dish, it was perfectly executed and stuffed with flavor. The pumpkin was sweet and lightly seasoned, the picked squash lending edge and the sorrel and sage adding a balancing spice touch.

Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream

Finally, the apple crumble with vanilla ice cream was, again, just perfectly executed with the right amount of acidity to balance the sweetness.

Now to the wines. After a magnum of 2010 Dom Pérignon, for which I failed to write a note, we arranged the first quartet of wines. This was a mightily impressive flight and perhaps set a standard impossible to follow.

The 1982 Cepparello from Isole e Olena has a slightly timeworn yet captivating nose, with layers of mulberry and raspberry coulis, albeit with an acetic note lurking underneath. Yet it has retained focus and developed nuanced licorice and balsamic notes with time. The palate is medium-bodied with tart red fruit on the entry. It is slightly angular at first though it coheres with aeration and evolves a quasi-Médoc finish, holding in rather than compelling. I am fortunate to taste many of the world’s most iconic wines, but Soldera is a producer with whom I have scant experience. The 2001 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Soldera is blessed with a heart-stopping nose as if the aromas wrap their loving arms around your senses, so warm and inviting with its disarming pastille-like red fruit tinged with blood orange and bunches of violet, earthenware and lavender surfacing with time. Sensual saturated tannins, silky smooth in texture with astonishing depth, frame the palate. Perfectly balanced with a fresh and delineated finish that becomes Burgundian with time. This wine is clearly still in ascent after 22 years. The 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Costanti shows a slight reduction on the nose, with a mixture of red and black fruit, a background scent of tomato vine and freshly-picked wild mint. It’s slightly meaty on the entry with a touch of licorice and aniseed. You have to admire the structure and focus of this Brunello as it manifests more and more complexity on the minerally-rich finish, as if catching up with the 2001 Soldera served in the same flight. This is a classy Brunello that deserves another couple of years in bottle. The 2010 Le Pergole Torte from Montevertine surveys the heavyweights in the flight from the likes of Costanti and Soldera and says, “Bring it on.” It elicits the word “wow” on the nose, equipped with breath-taking purity and killer delineation and focus, aromatics piled high with dark berry fruit, pinecones, cedar, a hint of Valrhona chocolate and punnets of freshly picked strawberry. The palate is medium-bodied with slightly grainy tannins, layers of black fruit mixed with white pepper and clove, harmonious and cerebral on the finish. This fabulous, multi-faceted Tuscan wine will give 20 or 30 years of drinking pleasure.

The first flight was always going to be nigh impossible to match. Though the second flight was more variable, these wines did not feel like some kind of comedown.

The 2007 Chianti Classico from Castello di Ama is a wine I remember tasting when first released. It proves you don't have to shell out a ton of money to find long-lasting Chianti. It is floral on the nose with iris and peony infusing the overripe strawberry scents, light cedar notes percolating up with time. The palate is actually better than the nose with vibrant red fruit, tart with finely-sculpted tannin and a judicious touch of spice towards its finish. This is drinking perfectly now. The 2007 Brunello di Montalcino from Valdicava offers dark berry fruit, hawthorn and loamy scents on the nose, a little introspective in style but opens with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, a touch of balsamic infusing the red fruit, dark cherry and boysenberry. It’s a bit tight on the finish suggesting that it may well benefit from another couple of years in bottle. The 2007 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Madonna del Piano is more complex on the nose compared directly with the regular cuvée, offering scents of dark plum commingling with star anis and cedar. There is a sense of sophistication to these aromatics. The palate is medium-bodied with a lovely structure, dark chocolate and espresso. Great depth, but upon reflection, I was not "moved" by this Brunello as I expected and oddly found more charm with the regular cuvée. Perhaps there are better bottles out there?

The final flight of reds shifted towards Super-Tuscans.

The 1988 Sassicaia is a vintage that I have not tasted for many moons. It is sublime, albeit not one for those seeking the horsepower of the 1985. Showing little maturity in color, it has a divine bouquet, classically styled, almost Médoc-like with dark berry fruit, wild strawberry, cedar and a splash of espresso. Say 90% Bordeaux and 10% Tuscany? The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, beautifully balanced and fairly understated in style, restrained even. Yet it conveys unerring weightlessness in the mouth allied with a sense of composure and stylishness. Very Bordeaux-inspired on the finish, this sublime Sassicaia is drinking perfectly now. The 1997 Solaia is a wine that I remember made a huge splash on release (I recall buying dozens of cases from Switzerland to ship to Japan). It had been many years since I last tasted it. Poured from magnum, I find a little smudged on the nose compared directly with the 1988 Sassicaia. This is a voluptuous, heady bouquet with Maraschino cherries, pine, pressed iris flower and cassis, with cherry liqueur evolving in time. The palate follows in a similar character, sweet and a little confit in style, with melted tannins, kirsch, cassis fruit and a dash of allspice. It fans out nicely on the finish, though I find it just a little hedonistic for my liking. Others who prefer that kind of style will like it more than myself. There is something almost anachronistic about this Solaia that I did not discern in the 1988 Sassicaia. The 2012 Ornellaia was perhaps a little overawed by the mature Solaia and Sassicaia in the flight. Pretty backward and unresponsive on the nose, I find this a bit simplistic by comparison, with blackberry and bilberry aromas and a touch of VA. The palate is medium-bodied with dense tannins, muscular at the moment, moody and surly towards its grippy finish. I wanted to shout, “Lighten up, man!” Maybe it is going through a dumb phase?  

One dessert wine to finish actually came from two bottles. The 2009 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico from Fèlsina has a seductive nose with fig jam, quince and burnt honey, all well-defined with a subtle Aszú element. The palate is thickly textured and mellifluous, its power counterbalanced by the acidity, orange rind mixed with Seville orange marmalade towards its unctuous finish. This is drinking perfectly now, but it should age another 10 to 15 years. What a fabulous finish to any Tuscan-themed dinner.

These wines deepened my appreciation for Tuscan wines. No, I won’t be applying to take over coverage – I think Vinous has that covered. But I did make a mental note to drink more wines from a magical region tied up with many fond memories.

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