'Best Bottles' dinner  in Nottingham
Hart's Restaurant
5 December 2008

The evening was both an innovation for my Nottingham wine pals and a return to the olden days. All the wines were pre-arranged and not served blind, and (because of a restaurant cock-up over room booking) all the wines were tasted first in the hotel bar across the road, which I thought worked well, though of course it meant it was 9pm before we got any food.  (To jump straight to tasting notes on the wines, click here.)

The front of house staff at Harts (both in the hotel bar and the restaurant) were excellent, and it's actually a bit of a shame that they included service in the bill, as I think they'd have got a lot bigger tip if we'd been left to our own devices.

Because we hadn't got the private room, the table layout was constrained by what could be fitted within the restaurant room, with its various fixtures. It didn't really work that well, but again, another huge thumbs up for the treatment we got from Harts: they had foregone probably six covers on a Friday night to give us a table for our bottles and stuff.

picture of the group on a long thin table
We eagerly await the food ...

Unfortunately, this wasn't one of Harts' finest nights, and much of the food was downright disappointing.

Veal shin croquette, butternut squash, roasted ceps

The ceps were nice. The rest wasn't really, and the slick of yellow bubbly foamed-up vomit tasted only of cheese, not squash. It's very difficult to remove any trace of butternut squash flavour from butternut squash. An unattractive plate to look at, and in no way redeemed by the eating.

Sirloin of beef, slow cooked short rib, roast onion purée, vanilla sauce

Curiously, this dish smelled of a fairground: the onion rings smelled (and tasted) like doughnuts, and the rest smelled of a hot dog stand. The slow cooked short rib and the mash on which it sat were very good. The sirloin itself was ok, nicely medium rare, but wrecked by the vanilla. I think very few of us identified the unattractive beige slicks as roasted onion purée: I certainly didn't.

Note also the ridiculously large plate. If they're going to use such large plates, they need to buy bigger table tops.

Fennel pannacotta, confit pineapple, gingerbread ice cream

Beautiful pannacotta, with a delightful wibble-wobble that quivered through it when the roof slate was tapped, though I couldn't detect any fennel. Very nice ice-cream, though without any particularly identifiable flavour. The small cubes of pineapple definitely tasted of pineapple, and re-reading the menu description, yes, I suppose they were confit.

God knows what the pink spume was. God knows why it was. Maybe it's Klingon spit and the ice-cream pretending to be a Vulcan starship was hunting it down? My tastebuds must have been wrecked by this stage as I couldn't work out what the leaves were. Or, again, why they were there.

I had a taste of the Chocolate Louis and it was very amateurish compared to the Chocolate Louis that Harts produced at the last offline there: that one was nearly as good as Alexis Gauthier's at Roussillon in London.

The Wines

This being Nottingham, the aperitif of choice was naturally Vilmart:

1999 Coeur de Cuvée, Vilmart, 12%
Very yeasty nose with some light creamy citrus. Rich and full with a lovely intensity. Huge, huge length. There's some good acidity, noticeable especially on the finish. This is really lovely drinking now, but equally no rush to drink up at all. 93/100

2000 Coeur de Cuvée, Vilmart, 12.5%
This has a much more oxidative nose that the 1999 and is really very dumb. There was debate about whether it was slightly corked or affected by brett. Initially, I thought slightly corked, but returning to the glass an hour or so later, there was no development of anything particularly identifiable as TCA on the nose. Something very wrong with it though.

1988 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, JJ Prüm, 7.5%, AP Nr. 2 576 511 15 89
A deepish gold. Honeyed, deep, slightly orangey nose with remarkably little minerality. Theis feels just a little more mature on the palate than I would have expected. It has a nice richness, but stops short of opulence by being pretty much fully dry, especially on the finish. 88/100

2001 Silex, AC Blanc Fumé de Pouilly, Didier Dagueneau, 12.5%
The nose has some very fresh green peas with an intense purity. Remarkable palate, with an intensely pure minerality and a sour, slightly grapefruity edge. This is remarkable stuff, but I'm finding the sourness a little difficult to come to terms with - it's an edge that's somewhat different to many other sauvignons. I don't think it's entirely for me, but it is hugely impressive. 90/100

1999 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers, Marc Morey
A rich, slightly sweet nose that quickly becomes very perfumed. There's almost a hint of bananas behind the sweet vanilla oak. Intriguing nose. Quite big on the attack. Full and round in the mouth, but really quite precise. There is a lot of oak, but it is now fairly nicely integrated, though it still dominates. Great length. This needs food. I suspect it probably needs drinking up too. 88/100

1988 Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva, R. López de Heredia, 12.5%
Cabbagey and cheesey on the nose, and just slightly raisined. But there's also a freshness and a subtle perfume to it too. There's lots of acidity on the palate that gives it a lovely and unexpected freshness. This is lovely, clean and balanced. A gorgeous wine that you could drink with anything. 93/100

1998 Le Corton Grand Cru, AC Corton, Bouchard Père et Fils, 13.5%
On the nose it's savoury and just a touch cabbagey initially. Then some bright red fruits come along, together with a hint of volatility. With aeration, it displays some minerality.
This feels very young on the palate. It seems very unevolved and actually rather raw with some very obvious tannins. But for all that I think it's showing some real class, and it just needs a bit more time or decanting to show its best. 89/100

1991 Viña Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva, R. López de Heredia, 12.5%
The nose has sweetish red fruit with lots and lots of volatility. It actually feels very Burgundian. Lovely palate with lots of acidity. This is the sort of wine that Musar aspires to be. Very light and clean in the mouth, with tannins coming along after. 92/100

1994 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, Napa Valley, 12.9% (according to the US front label) or 13.5% (according to Bibendum's UK back label)
The first impression is of a leafy herbiness. Then there's some very Ribena fruit, which then gives way again to the leafiness. Impressive palate. It has good balance and is a very lovely drink. Very subtle tannins on the finish. Nice, easy drinking, but it lacks character. As David says, it's very "polite" and inoffensive. 89/100

1982 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, AC Pauillac, alcohol content not shown
Oo! Oo! Gorgeous nose. Fantastic, hedonistic black fruit. This is one of the youngest smelling 82s I've come across in recent years.
Mmmm.... this is lovely. Hugely drinkable and, unlike the Hobbs, with lots of character. This is sublime, hedonistic, gorgeous, silky, easy drinking. If you wanted to be really critical, and with a wine this damn near perfect, that's in order, then I think you could say that it's opulence and deliciousness makes it not seem entirely classic claret. Where's that touch of austerity? Bloody marvellous wine. 98/100

1988 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, AC Pauillac, 12.5%
Ugh. The nose is dominated and spoiled by brett. A real nasty stinkiness. You can feel the bretty stink on the palate too and it's completely killed the wine. Faulty.

Domaine de Thalabert, Crozes Hermitage, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 13%
Lovely nose with blackberries and perfume with a bit of meatiness behind. This is suffering from coming after than stunning 82 Comtesse, but is still lovely and very attractive. I love the clunky Crozey character. Unfortunately, it's not as good on the palate as on the nose, but it's still jolly nice drinking. 92/100

1963 Sandeman
Tasted shortly after being decanted. A lovely figgy, chocolate nose with a lovely freshness. This is in very good condition. Rich, and voluptuous on the palate, but with a touch of heat on the finish. On this very tiny sample, 92/100

Then, there was just time for a quick palate refreshener before moving into the restaurant.

2007 Bera Canelli Moscato d'Asti, 5.5%
A lovely, gorgeous fresh muscatty nose. On the palate, this feels a touch oversweet and undefined: it doesn't quite live up to the nose. A bit too sweet and slightly caramelly. But still delicious and ideal at this point in the evening. 87/100

Having settled in the restaurant, it was time for ... well, it'd be rude not too ... it was time for another palate refresher:

1998 Cuvée Création, Vilmart
A yeasty-briochey nose with stone fruits to the fore. Lovely open palate. This might be heresy, but it feels a touch simple. Very classy, but not at all over-complex. 91/100

We were now mainly drinking up the left overs, but a few extras made an appearance.

The 1988 Tondonia was a nice match with the demitasse of very good jerusalem artichoke soup with its little swirl of truffle oil. The 1999 Chassagne Montrachet, however, was a much better match.

With the veal shin croquette, the Bouchard's 1998 Le Corton Grand Cru took on a very fragrant note. It couldn't stand up to the cheesy yellow spume, but then I don't blame the wine for that.

By the time we'd got onto the main courses, the 1988 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande had improved and was drinkable, but it was still evidently dumbed by something.

1980 Huët Vin De Glace Le Haut-Lieu, AC Vouvray, 12%
Hmm, there's not a lot on the nose of this, maybe a sort of odd cakiness? There's huge purity on the palate, with searing acidity. This is fascinating stuff with very interesting pear and grape fruit characters. In my ignorance, I'd always assumed this was a sweet wine, but there's nothing sweet or rich going on here. 89/100

1998 Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva, R. López de Heredia, 12.5%
A bright, fresh nose, ending in black fruits with a hint of chocolate. Light and fresh on the palate, but just a little too high toned. Possibly suffering from timing in the evening and too much vanilla with the steak, but this doesn't seem a particularly Tondonia to me. 85/100

1970 Château Caillou Crème de Tête, AC Sauternes, 13.5%
A deep, deep gold - quite orangey. Caramel and a bit of botrytis on the nose. It's better on the palate than on the nose. Clean and sweet on the attack, but then it loses the sweetness a little as it lingers in the mouth. Quite orangey on the finish. A decent mature Sauternes (or Barsac if you believe the cork). But it's an entirely safe bottle, however rickety and unbalanced your boat. 86/100

2002 Haut Rasné, Domaine de Bellivière, AC Côteaux du Loir, 13.5%
A lovely nose. Nice and fresh with sort of green apricots, pine nuts and lanolin. Very strange in the mouth: there's a lot of acidity and it's oddly unsweet. There's a sort of rich raisiny feel, but it's actually quite dry. Very strange. 85/100

2001 Kracher Traminer TBA #1 Nouvelle Vague, 11%
Quite light and fresh on the nose with ripe, honeyed lychee fruit. Very clean and fresh. Nothing over complex and ultimately it feels just a little muted. 89/100

1963 Sandeman Vintage Port
Quite a bit of sediment in suspension and a bit chilly. Lovely nose: there's restrained black fruit with some tea and figgy notes. Very good palate. I think it's served a bit cool, which I think is accentuating the spirit. Good palate with a nice evolved mature flavour. Nice, full flavour. Very integrated. 91/100

Graham's 40 year old tawny port
A darkish brown colour. Nutty, ripe nose with figs and a hint of plums. A lovely mature integrated palate. Really very attractive. But is it worth the money? 92/100

1977 Fonseca Vintage Port
A lovely bright, fairly youthful appearance (though more of the appearance of a youthful red wine, than a thick young port). There's black sweet fruit on the palate. Really quite young feeling. Nice class, but not really ready yet. 90/100

Last updated: 8 December 2008