Monday, 7 December 2009

Supperclub London

Last week a white invite landed on my desk. It was for the launch of Supperclub London, a trendy restaurant/bar/club/chill out concept that started in Amsterdam and has mushroomed to incorporate San Francisco, Singapore, Los Angeles, Istanbul and now my smoggy metropolis. What's taken it so long? It seems like a no brainer.

The invite was in the shape of a flattened box, and asked partygoers to get creative and bring their decorated white cubes down to the club, where the best design would win a prize. The day of the launch arrived and my invite was still flat. I scanned my desk for creative tools. A set of highlighter pens glared back at me. Too garish. It had to be in keeping with the minimalist chic of the club. Then it came to me - I had a Damien Hirst moment.

I grabbed a tube of super glue from the stationary cupboard and counted out six curiously strong mints from the box on my desk, placing a dollop of glue on each and sticking them to the centre of each of the six sides. I named it Pill Box. If anyone asked I would say it was a statement about our pill-popping society and how our increasing dependence on prescription drugs is leading to our physical and spiritual decline.

The dress code said 'all white'. Indecision hit me the morning of the party. I pulled everything white out of my wardrobe and starting putting outfits together. I decided to take the theme to the extreme and stepped out of the door in white cords, a white polo neck, white brogues, a white duffle coat and a white scarf. I looked like a cross between a polar bear and a boy band member - not my finest sartorial hour.

I rocked up to the converted warehouse in Westbourne Park with my friend fashionably late at 9pm and was confronted with a shockingly long queue snaking down the street, still slick with rain. I wasn't in the mood to queue, expecting a smallish gathering of food and drink journalists rather than a full-on club night. Every Tara, Lara and Zara was there, in their Balenciaga dresses and Jimmy Choos, air kissing the bouncers and fast-tracking the queue. A group of dejected-looking paps stood by the side of the road, cameras at the ready, letting off the occasional false alarm flash.

My friend and I were told to wait in the anaconda-sized guest list queue. The other queue, we were informed, was the VIP queue. It turns out they had spectacularly over-invited, ending up with a guest list of over 1,800, so entry had to be staggered. After 40 minutes we arrived at the front of the queue, only a velvet rope now separating us from the splendours that surely awaited inside. We kept there for a further 20 minutes, watching in frustration as the bouncers let in VIP after VIP, while we were savagely held back.

Finally, the rope was lifted and we were allowed in. Walking down the red carpet, I suddenly felt horribly underdressed. Would my snowflake look cut it with the ice-cold fashion crowd? I didn't really care, all I could think about was how good my first glass of Champagne was going to taste. But even that was a disappointment. It said Champagne on the label, but tasted more like cheap sparkling wine. Alas. My thirst satiated, albeit unmagnificently, I headed into the snow-white throng. Men with movie star bodies pranced around in long johns and nothing much else, while women busied themselves perfecting their pouts.

It didn't feel like London, but Europe, or more specifically Amsterdam. There was something incredibly camp about the place. From the white sofa-beds framing the edges and the funky house music to the mohawk-sporting dancers doing Shirley Bassey renditions. After the stress of the queue and the disappointing bar, I decided to call it a night when a deliriously thin Bowie look-alike in white skinny jeans began belting out Europop. Stepping back out into the Notting Hill night, the queue outside was as long and slithery as when I arrived. The paps raised their cameras in expectation, then lowered them again without a flash as my duffle coat and I made our way down the street.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Armand de Brignac: the Jay-Z effect

On Wednesday night I was invited to a party at the Park Lane Hilton hosted by Armand de Brignac Champagne, better known as Ace of Spades, to celebrate their Brut Gold being voted the number one Champagne in the world.

The prestige cuvée, which sells for £250 a bottle, scored 96 points out of 100 in a blind tasting of over 1,000 brands organised by FINE Champagne magazine, beating the likes of Krug, Bollinger and Dom Pérignon to the top spot. Milling about the bar in a sharp suit was Armand de Brignac CEO Jean-Jaques Cattier, a diminutive man in his mid-sixties with Martin Scorsese glasses.

I couldn't resist asking him about the Jay-Z connection, and how he felt it has affected the brand. Jay-Z after all, is Armand de Brignac's biggest supporter. Since boycotting Cristal in 2006, Jay has got behind Ace of Spades in a big way, featuring it in his 2006 music video Show Me What You Got and introducing his high profile homies, including P. Diddy and Kanye West to the brand.

'I don't mind the association with the hip-hop world at all', Cattier tells me. 'I'm happy for the exposure Jay-Z's endorsement has given the brand. He's helped get our name recognized.'

So how did a small Champagne house in Chigny-les-Roses manage to catch the hip-hop mogul's eye and in three years command £450 a bottle (for the blanc-de-blancs) and have a demand that cannot match its supply? The story goes that Jay-Z spotted Armand de Brignac in a liquor store in New York three years ago and was so taken with the bottle design that he ordered three cases from the estate to be featured in his Monaco-based music video Show Me What You Got.

Cattier upholds the story that the two had never previously met, meeting for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival last year. But it all seems too convenient that the same year Jay boycotts Cristal, a new and suitably 'bling' Champagne comes onto the market. You've only got to look at the design - the flashy gold and silver bottles with pewter ace of spades labels to realise this could only have been thought up by someone in the hip-hop industry. It's got Jay-Z's stamp all over it, and I am far from convinced that the Champagne was conceived without his involvement. Perhaps with Ace of Spades, Jay-Z is being the ultimate magician, leading us to believe the illusion that he stumbled across a brand he actually created.

Champange Cattier are adamant that Jay-Z had nothing to do with the conception of Ace of Spades, but I wouldn't be surprised if the whole enterprise was his idea; a way of expanding his ever-growing empire and sticking two fingers up at Cristal while he's at it.

But what of the Brut Gold? Did it merit its 'best Champagne in the world' status? In a word, no. Sorry Jay. The nose was closed and I struggled to get much from it. It was better in the mouth, with detectable autolytic notes along with lemon zest and crunchy apples. Clean, clear and crisp, it had a rich mouthfeel and good mousse, but in comparison with Krug, DP and Cristal, it was big and clumsy, lacking the elegance and finesse of a world-class Champagne. It was more masculine, more in-your-face, more... bling.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Chryseia vertical tasting with Bruno Prats

On a soggy Saturday morning I headed to the ‘discovery theatre’ at the Landmark hotel for a vertical tour through Douro estate Chryseia, presented by owner Bruno Prats, formerly of Château Cos d’Estournal, and Rupert Symington of the Symington family, who co-own the estate.

After selling Cos, Prats has ventured into the New World, with Viña Aquitania in Chile – a joint venture with Paul Pontallier, and Anwilka in South Africa. The Symington family approached Prats in 1998 to co-head Chryseia, with the aim of making a non-fortified Douro wine in the Bordeaux style from a selection of the best grapes.

Symington touched on the difficulties of making a still wine in the hot Douro, with lack of acidity and over-extraction sited as the two main problems. Prats went on to explain that the Chryseia blend, aged in 100% new French oak, is made up of grapes from four Quintas, with two main varieties used – Touriga Nacional, which, like Merlot, brings roundness and finesse, and Touriga Franca  – the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Douro that gives the wine its backbone. A number of the earlier vintages also contain a small amount of Tempranillo-like Tinta Roriz.

The wines were tasted from cradle to grave, starting with the 2007, the unanimous favourite, and ending with the 2001. Freshness is the thread throughout; something Prats and Symington feel passionately about. Their goal is to combine the exuberance of the Douro with the elegance of Bordeaux, and with the stunning 2007 vintage, they just might have done it.

Tasting notes

Chryseia 2007

Medium purple with fresh, bright, red and black Rhône-like fruit and vanilla sweetness. Rich, lively and full-bodied in the mouth, with attractive white pepper and spicy notes. Smooth, rounded and voluptuous, with grippy tannins, it had wonderful weight and a luscious lingering length. The wine of the masterclass.

Chryseia 2006

Made from 60% Touriga Nacional and 40% Touriga Franca, 2006 was a hot, stormy year. The wine needs a lot more time to come out of its shell. Deep ruby, on the nose, the cherries, red currants and raspberries were slightly jammy and cooked. The palate was fresh but rather characterless. Needs time to develop.

Chryseia 2005

A blend of 70% Touriga Nacional and 30% Touriga Franca. Deep ruby, the nose was the most Bordeaux-like of the bunch with a lovely herbaceous character and mineral core. The black cherry fruit was supple and mellow, and I found hints of lavender and violet. Smooth and round on the palate, with chocolate, licorice and sweet spice wrapped around velvety tannins. Complex, long and delicious.

Chryseia 2004

2004 was a strange year in the Douro, with no rain until August, when the heavens opened for most of the month. Deep ruby, I spotted quite a lot of sediment in the glass. With 64% Touriga Nacional, the typical red fruit aromas of cherry and raspberry dominated. Fruit forward and soft on the palate, it had silky tannins and hints of peppery spice and chocolate on the finish.

Chryseia 2003

As we al know, 2003 was a scorcher. This year bucked the trend with Touriga Franca dominating the blend at 63%, which showed extraordinary expression in ’03. It showed a seductive raspberry and cherry nose alongside delicious smoky bacon aromas with hints of chocolate and mocha. Smooth and fruit forward on the palate, with velvety tannins and bell pepper developing into a long, sweet finish.

Chryseia 2001

The weather in 2001 was textbook, so it’s unsurprising the wine showed so well. Made with a decent amount of Tinta Roriz, I found raspberries, strawberries, cherries on the mid-palate along with violets, dried prunes, thyme and roasted bacon notes. Intense, fruit forward and floral, it has retained a wonderful freshness, with soft tannins, white pepper, spice culminating in an earthy finish. Remarkably young for its years; will go on and on.