A brace of grouse and a remarkable survivor

On an outing up the Lune Valley last Saturday, I bagged myself a brace of grouse on Saturday <see footnote>

Then, after I got home, as I was testing the sweetcorn growing in the garden to see if any was ready (it was), the mind turned to what wine to have with it. Claret? burgundy? A Bordeaux blend from the new world? After much umming and ahing my eye is drawn to a bottle I'd recorded as 1961 Nuit St Georges. Hmm ... Why not? It's not everyday I have grouse and these are lovely young birds deserving something good. I gently hold it up to light bulb, and yes there is a lot of sediment, but it seems quite solid, so not giving it a day or two to rest vertically shouldn't cause a problem, as long as I'm careful with it. No particular reason to keep this bottle any longer - I can't think of anyone born in 1961 ... yes, let's take the plunge and open it.

This was a bottle I'd bought a year or two ago at auction (Straker Chadwick) as part of a mixed pig-in-a-poke lot of mainly 1964 burgundy ("believed" this and that), working out about GBP 18 each. The grower/shipper/bottler is unknown. Indeed, this isn't so much a case of a cellar damaged label, as one that's been completely rotted away. The only complete part of the labelling is the neck slip which just says in black on white "Vintage 1961", which has just crumbled as I touched it. Of the main label, all that remains is (again black on white) "orges" and below that to the left is an uppercase "ÉE", presumably the remains of 'appellation controlée'. Gosh, this reminds me of doing Latin Epigraphy at university. The only other part of the label surviving is, left centre of where the label would have been, a line drawing (again black on white) of some leaves with what would appear to be a vine tendril below. A suggestion that there might have been something in red below that. A red capsule.

I have had a suggestion, based on the above description, that this might be an Avery's bottling.  But if any reader with experience of English bottled burgundy of the 1950s and 1960s has any ideas (even just to confirm Avery's) as to what this might be more precisely, then please do get in touch.

Obviously, bought at auction and in such a sorry state, it must be completely past it, if not foul. So I grab a bottle of 1997 Santenay as a reserve.

Right, the water's on for the sweetcorn, let's see what this dodgy burgundy is like. Off comes the top of the capsule. Yuk! Filthy. I wipe it down with a bit of kitchen roll and water. Woah! Careful now! Nearly pushed the cork in. Oh dear. That's not too promising. Rummage around for the longest corkscrew and gently pull the cork. Comes out in one piece, and it's in reasonably good nick with good elasticity and not showing very much penetration by the wine at all. But no further clues to a more precise identification of the wine unfortunately.

I gently pour the first taste direct from the bottle. Very bright and clear, and (naturally) a mature burgundy in colour, but remarkably little browning. Oh dear, bit of a strong whiff of sweet VA on the nose. But, no, that's quickly blowing off revealing a fabulous lovely nose - lovely mature pinot noir, that really does not smell 43 years old. Dried strawberries and dried cherries with an earthy background, like a newly opened bag of compost. Is that a hint of white chocolate, or am I imagining it? Only the merest hint of VA now. Ok, I take the plunge and give it a good swirl: with a bit of time and aeration, the fruit really comes to the fore and develops a nicely perfumed sweet cherry note.

Quite light on the attack. Dry fruits. Very intense. My impression is that this is just starting to dry out, but for now it still has a very deep rich clean red fruit core that lasts and lasts and lasts in the mouth. Fully mature (hardly surprising!), but still some very soft tannins adding a pleasant structure.

Water's boiling, so out into the garden to pick the sweetcorn, pop it straight into the water for 7-8 minutes. Snip the feet off the grouse and into the oven, as hot as it will go, for 15 minutes.

Decant the rest of the bottle.

The corn's really good - my first ever home-grown sweetcorn. So sweet. Not the greatest of matches with Nuit St Georges, but not too terrible a match either.

I remove the grouse from oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes, giving enough time to prepare a couple of large scallops, served with a light riesling sauce and a glass of the same, as an intermediate course.

Mmm ... good grouse. Nicely hung. Very tender. Legs just a bit too gamey unfortunately (I should have chopped the legs off before cooking and frozen them to add to some game pie or something).

But this Nuit St Georges. Well ... it just keeps getting better the longer it's opened. The fruit becomes fresher and more vibrant and more open; the dryness recedes. Remarkably vigorous, with really good balance.

The last glass is finally poured just before midnight, some seven hours after opening, and it's still completely together. And I was worried it might be a bit fragile and need drinking up quickly!

Sometimes, an evening in can turn out really good.

(well, a local butcher, Dales of Kirkby Lonsdale, put them in a bag after I gave him £15 for the brace)

28 August 2004

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Last updated: 15 December 2005