Dinner with the Fine Wine Experience
St Alban Restaurant, Lower Regent Street, London

10th June 2008

After attending an excellent vertical tasting of Château Batailley organised by Linden Wilkie's enviable Fine Wine Experience company, I joined Linden, Philippe Casteja from Ch. Batailley and a few others at St Alban restaurant in Lower Regent Street to drink something other than Batailley and enjoy the good food you expect from a Corbin & King restaurant. We were, however, confronted with the disturbing revelation that there is more than one Wilkie in London: Linden's baby brother Cameron works at the restaurant.

St Alban is a large space, with generously spaced, luxuriously padded tables. I'm not sure, if it's just because it was evening, but the lighting levels overall were a bit gloomy, being very much focussed on the individual tables.

The menu is attractive and un-fussy, drawing inspiration largely from Italy and Spain and uses a charcoal grill for meat and fish and a wood-fired oven for pizz and, presumably a handful of a la plancha seafood dishes.

Soft shell crab (served with a tarragon mayonnaise) was one of the better examples, though it's still a dish that I don't really get: it always seems to be more about the deep fried exterior than any particular taste sensation.
My quail, pancetta and dandelion salad was a very nice dish drawing on a good combination, though it was remarkably light on dandelion, with the leaves being for the most part frisée.

A charcoal grilled veal T-bone was heavy in weight and heavy on the char-grill, particularly on the fillet side, which couldn't really stand up to the strong char-grill flavours. However, the sirloin side was spot on; almost more tender than the fillet, and certainly way better flavoured. T-bones are always difficult: two entirely different muscles that require different cooking. No doubting the quality of the meat, though it's a shame that the menu doesn't say whether or not it was British rose veal.

We were obviously a table of strawberry lovers, as by far the most popular dessert was the strawberry soup with mascarpone sorbet. This was a large (possibly a bit too large) portion of well sieved strawberry purée: nice and fresh and clean. My pistachio ice cream with zabaglione was very good too - pretty much what it said on the tin, though the zabaglione was a dark colour that suggested maybe some chocolate in it, though I couldn't particularly taste that. Very good espresso.

The wines.

Wines from the Fine Wine Experience cellar

1992 Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot, François Raveneau
A rich nose with good minerality, some lemon and a gentle buttery feel. Lovely palate: fine, focussed and elegant. Very Good Indeed. 89/100

1996 Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot, François Raveneau
A distinctly lemony nose with lots of chalky minerality, and overall much leaner than the 1992. Lovely palate. Again more austere than the 1992 with greater minerality. There's a lovely fresh grapefruity feel to the fruit. Very Good Indeed/Excellent. 93/100

1996 Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave, en magnum
A very elegant nose that somehow also manages to have real depth, concentration and power. Powerful palate too. Pretty intense. Mmm, yes, real depth and power here, though somehow it manages to avoid being in any way overblown. 93/100

1955 Château Lanessan, Médoc
Very lovely nose: elegant with minerally restrained fruit. This feels really mature but not old. Lovely palate: there's lots of ripe fruit flavours still, combined with some stucture from very light grained tannins that persist in the mouth long after. Bloody good. 93/100

1964 Château Grand Barrail La Marzelle Figeac, St Emilion
And they say names of German wines get a bit long ... 
Mmm, nice. Very much alive. Lovely, refined, elegant, old fruit on the palate. Huge pleasure. 91/100

I came to the conclusion that the Lanessan was the better wine, but the GBLMF was offering more hedonistic pleasure on the night.

We now switched to wines, largely tank samples, from Weingut Keller. Bit of a treat, and some overshadowed the Fine Wine Experience's wine a little.

2007 Westhofener Abtserde Riesling Großes Gewächs, Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen, cask sample
A gorgeous minerally nose with lots of sherbet and a bit of apple. Super palate: initially you feel a spätlese ripeness, then there's a non-aggressive dryness and minerality that takes over. This is an impressive wine. There's possibly a lack of focus on the middle of the palate, but it's still jolly good; and, of course, it's a cask sample and an unfinished wine. 89/100

2007 Riesling Kabinett limestone, Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen
A citrussy, minerally nose with just a hint of apples. Lovely fresh palate, but definitely feeling like it's heading towards Spätlese level. 91/100

2007 Westhoftener Abtserde Riesling Spätlese Auktionswein, Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen, cask sample
They'd just decided that this wine was going to be an Auktionswein.
Very peachy on the nose, but with excellent minerality too. Rich and luscious on the palate, and a little more acidity on the finish might help. Surely a de-classified Auslese. 89/100

2007 Westhofener Abtserde Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel Auktionswein, Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen, cask sample
Again, they'd just decided that this would be a goldcap and go to the auction.
It has an intense, minerally nose. Very precise palate. Sweet and full, but very finely balanced. Excellent. 95/100

2007 Westhofener Abtserde Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Goldkapsel Auktionswein cask sample
This will go to the 2009 auction. A whole 35 litres were made of this, which meant we had 1% of the total production on the table. It's expected that only 25 half bottles will leave the winery.
An intense peach and apricot nose. This is marvellous stuff. Intense, concentrated palate. Of course it's very sweet, but it is beautifully balanced with huge acidity, especially on the finish. 96/100

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Last updated: 5th October 2008