Denis Durantou experienced his vinous awakening at the age of nine when his grandfather offered him a sip of the 1929 Clos l’Eglise-Clinet (as it was then called) and the path he wanted to follow was fixed from that day. He studied oenology in Bordeaux before returning to the family estate in 1983 to take the reins. It is funny, but when travelling around visiting wineries and Chateaux, you sometimes get an instant feeling about the wines before the tasting – the property at Eglise Clinet is basic to say the least, but as you walk up the drive and Denis opens the door you just know that you are in for something special – there is an energy and vibe that just soaks into you from the start.
Eglise Clinet is a small property – just 4.4ha of vines – producing just 1200 cases of wine a year for the world; so when Denis suggested a 9-vintage vertical tasting of Eglise Clinet, all from magnum from his own reserves, served with food to match at The Square in London, it was an easy choice of how to spend a Monday evening.
Dom Perignon 2004 and canapés from The Square... does life get much better? Well it obviously does, or my blog would probably finish now – but perfect mini ice-cream cones filled with the smoothest, richest Foie Gras mousse alongside the rich, toasty loveliness of DP is like one big massive hug... so let the games begin.
Montlandrie 2010, one of Denis’ estate wines, was served to ‘wet the whistle’ at the start of the meal – 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc – this has to be the best value Bordeaux currently on the market at just £180 a case (IB) for the 2010 and 2009. It has a very attractive aroma of dark cherries and a touch of spice, but it is the palate weight and silky tannins that make this wine – it is focused and with great length.
Flight 1: Eglise Clinet 2009, 2008 and 2005
The first flight of three weigh in with 294/300 Parker points – 99+ for the 2009, 95 for the 2008 and the perfect score for the 2005 – although they are three very different wines, they have EC running through every one. The 2009 is a genius wine and I am certain that at some stage it will creep over the line and be given 100; it is a truly brilliant wine and I am safe in the knowledge that I own a case. It oozes everything you want it to – elegance, power, poise, complexity, weight, length... it’s Pomerol at its absolute finest – of course it’s young and not really ready but so approachable, always the sign of a great, great wine. The 2008 in contrast is more delicate and graceful, slowly and quietly revealing dark berry flavours and spice. It’s no doubt the lightest of the three but the most drinkable this evening. 2005 is a cult wine, being the first time EC achieved the magical 3 digit reward. It performs the perfect balancing trick of ‘Latour-like’ weight and power and Rousseau like silkiness – over dinner was at first closed and tight but over the following two hours it opened up and produced more flavours than a greek ice cream parlour, smacking almost all the other wines into submission – it is wine at its finest and it is a shame Bob scored it so highly!
The food – Ravioli of Oxtail, Ceps and savoury onions and roasting juices – clean, fresh, iron-rich deliciousness – it was epic.
Flight 2: Eglise Clinet 1998, 1999 and 2000
1998 – I have been lucky enough to have had this wine on a number of occasions and to be honest it is one the reasons I rate EC so highly. Parker comments that the ’98 “can now be said to rival Petrus, dazzling vin de garde”. If you do not have any in the cellar find a 6 pack now, because it will open your eyes to the greatness of this estate. The 1999 was the weakest of the three wines and to be honest lost itself slightly in this company – if taken alone it was still extremely good, with lovely soft tannins and silky dark berry fruits. The 2000 was my wine of the evening – and to be ahead of the 2005 and 2009 is quite something, more to do with approachability and current drinkability then intrinsic quality. As our good friend Bob would say this is profound and ‘saturated’ with mulberries and figs, cassis and toasty oak. It is astonishingly smooth and the length, well I think I might have tasted a little just before doing my teeth last night – I wish I had a case of this in my cellar.
Grouse – is this the finest meat in the world? I believe so, and when cooked to perfection and just the breast served on a bed of heather infused celeriac milk and being eaten between mouthfuls of 2000 Eglise Clinet – all I can say is “you can walk my path, you can wear my shoes...”
Flight 3: Eglise Clinet 1988, 1989, 1990
It is always one the best parts of an evening when the wines served are sitting in that perfect drinking window – as they were with this trio of brilliant vintages that ended the 80s. The 1988 was deeply aromatic and the most open, with haunting aromas of dried figs and leather, hints of cedar and spice; needs drinking in the next year or so as life is slowly leaving this elegant wine. The 1989 is a beautiful wine just in its perfect stage of evolution – very precise and poised, with delicious developed characters and length, and with the Venison this wine truly showed its colours. The 1990 is the richest of the three, an opulently textured wine, with sweet ripe fruit and lovely grippy tannins. A perfect threesome to end the evening.
Venison with a fine tarte of celeriac and pear was a stunning piece of cooking – the venison pink and delicate, melting away as the softened tannins of the older wines blended perfectly with the gamey hints of the meat.
As Neal Martin commented in his book Pomerol – “at the heart of this success are two forces of nature: the vines and Denis Durantou – the two are entwined.” Denis is indeed the whirlwind of Pomerol but it is a privilege and pleasure to spend an evening with the man – listening to his thoughts and principles whilst slowly tasting through more than 20 years of his work, it’s clear the guy is a genius; maybe a term overused, but in this case I cannot think of a better description. Opening a bottle of Eglise Clinet is like walking up to the estate itself – the energy and vibe from the vineyards and the estate are slowly released from the bottle and sink into your skin...