Sorry about the cringing pun, but hopefully it caught your attention. I feel very remiss that I haven’t glorified these guys before, but on the realisation that I can write what I like, and devote an entire rant to one wine merchant, something that no editor of a newspaper or TV producer would ever let me do, here goes.
So. A fucking great huge ‘big up’ to two of the louchest, most charming, astute and hard working boys in the business. I give you Jason Yapp and Tom Ashworth, who are….(drum roll….the amazing Yapp brothers! Ta da!
Many people, of course, will remember the single-minded pioneering that Jason’s father Robin was rightly noted for during the seventies and eighties, almost single-handedly putting Loire and Rhône (yes the Rhône) on this country’s wine drinking map. Prices have gone up a bit since the Yapps came to town. I remember experiencing some of my formative wine epiphanies in the hands of Robin and my father who were firm friends, including a magnum of Chave Hermitage ‘82 at my fathers gastropub for £50, during an evening where Robin convinced my dad to cook seven kilograms of lambs bollocks for a group of wealthy bankers from Lyon.
When together, Robin and Karl formed both sides of the same highly-evolved, but deeply twisted gold sovereign of mischief, humour and intellect. Opposites but equals. And they use to get into a lot of trouble. I remember them supposedly once going for a cheeky lunch and reappearing days later in the same clothes. Imagine some sort of platonic sixties power couple made up of Oliver Reed and Richard Harris, with a bit of Karl Lagerfeld thrown in. Not dissimilar. In short Jason and I, growing up, had unique role models, and from time to time ended up having a whisky or two together over the snooker table at Château Yapp, a converted brewery in Mere, in Wiltshire. We share similar traits, some bad, mostly good, but he is a forceful, endearing, effortlessly witty man, the likes of which this industry will lose altogether if it continues to put profit before talent. I imagine that like me, he feels that on some level we are both members of a dying breed. On the rare occassion that we meet up, conversation swiftly turns to who the trade should be nurturing for the years to come. Who’s doing this for a job, and who’s living it through every pore and enriching the gene pool. You know. The Emily O’Hares and Gabriel Savages of this world. (Sorry. I could have chosen from a reasonable list of blokes too, but they first came to mind because they are better looking than the rest of you. I know Jason would approve.) His partner, brother and slightly better half is the inimitable Tom Ashworth. I have known him far less long, but am please to say that I now count him as a friend, having met during my darkest, post-apocalyptic seperation years through a mutual friend Josh Reid, a true giant amongst men, usually to be found running things at the Marquis of Westminster in Pimlico.
Right. That’s the soppy bit, but what want to tell you about, is the characterful, left-beam buying and slick marketing of their business. You won’t find many more entertaining wine lists to read, and it heartens me that they clearly value and nurture their supplier relationships. They don’t select only the best wines in the best vintages, but fully commit to the business relationships that they have developed, in some cases over decades. For this reason, they continue to curate an embarrassment of riches, such as Jean-Louis Chave, Alain Graillot, Georges Vernay in the Rhône and André Vatan, Jean Teiller and Fréderic Fillatreau in the Loire.
Here is a brief review of the highlights of their recent trade tasting at Medcalf, in Exmouth Market. NONE of their wines are ever truly boring, and every wine at this tasting was a love or hate. For the purposes of this post, I have merely chosen the wines that come up to the exacting standards of whether I would actually buy these wines for myself. There were plenty of other wines that I would buy for others, knowing that their omission from this list may be purely a matter of style, not quality.
All prices are per bottle, Ex. Vat.
Château Ligré 2011 Chinon Blanc £12.50
I could say this several times in this list, but my perception of the 2011 vintage is that despite the advancements in wines science, the Loire can’t hide the fact that 2011 appears to be, to me anyway, the most difficult vintage here since at least 1994, maybe even 1984. I have tasted many many samples from my favourite producers, and the vast majority have been very disappointing. However, the Yappsters have gone a long way to prove the old adage that there are no such thing as bad vintages, just bad wines. This wine is atypical of the Loire in general, but certainly of Chinon and Chenin Blanc in particular. In a vintage like 2009, one would expect a top-heavy thickly-textured, punchy, polished wine, not unlike a creamy young Pouilly Fuissé or Macon with a crab-appley kiss. Here though you have the anti Chinon. It is young, with chin-dimples, short blonde hair, and it’s dipping it’s finger in a bag of sherbet. Painfully cute wine, with an irresistable appletini smack of the lips on the finish. The summer starts here. Gimme goats curd and pea shoots.
Domaine de L’Idylle Vieille Vigne 2011 Savoie £10.95
Jacquère anyone? Look I am no expert on this variety. Very few are, but this wine was like a mushroom infused vodka sour. Skeletal, crisp and it fizzles across the palate like a rifle bullet, with subtle but profound aftershocks of fine lees ageing. Brilliantly summery. Again. Like the last one was.
Menetou Salon Blanc 2011 Domaine Teiller £13.50
This was one of the wines of the year for me last year, not forgetting the otherworldly 2010 rosé from these guys too. This is substantially better than any Sancerres I’ve tasted from this vintage so far, but then again, it doesn’t taste like Sancerre, because it’s not. It has a feather-light mouthfeel, with the lightest of grip, like pixies dancing on your tongue. The vegetal, chlorophyll hit right in the finish, if anything, makes the wine more interesting.
Château Canorgue Blanc 2011 Côtes de Luberon £13.50
This wine has balls, and all the texture you could wish for. Grenache Blanc and Clairette together creates a textural alchemy. This is the libatory equivalent of a 6 tog duvet, and just as all that soft cuddliness threatens to float away, you get your big toe caught around a button at the bottom. Just enough grip to remind you that it’s got those balls I was talking about.
Terrasses de l’Empire Condrieu 2010 Georges Vernay £39.75
What can I say? There are many ‘viogniers’ in the world, but very few that actually reflect the unique magic of this variety. Vernay sets the benchmark for the ephemeral, see-through, all-enveloping Condrieu. For me, oak rarely has a place in this conversation, and Georges doesn’t sully his progeny with something so base as tree. This wine is divine. Like little golden apricot clouds above Primrose Hill in autumn. Phenomenal elegance.
Sancerre Rosé Maulin Bèle 2011 André Vatan £14.75
Considering the vintage, this is rich complex, deft and gorgeous. Savoury and brightly fruity at the same time. Nuff said.
Clos Sainte Magdeleine Rosé 2011 Cassis £18.25
This is the best rosé I’ve had this year. So it bloody should be for the price. Darker in colour than Côtes de Provence rosé but has it’s cushion, fused with the alcoholic savoury high of the best Rhône rosé. Tavel meets Bandol. Fucking yum.
La Forcadière Domaine Maby Rosé 2011 Tavel £12.50
Finally. The first smile-on-my-face Tavel for a long while. Almos a red wine. Tannic, textural, and chewy. Full of wild strawberries and cherry. Long.
Red or dead……
Château Ligré Rouge 2010 Chinon £12.25
More like it. Potent, visceral, young, firm and granitic. Superb if still evolving, but will sigh and soften over the next 3 to 4 years. Rabelais would be proud.
Domaine Les Filles de Septembre 2011 Côtes de Thongue £8.95
A lovely refreshing blueberry and cranberry mouthful. Full of juice. Simple but toothsome, mouth filling and delicious. Functions like it should. Like John Arne Riise used to, before Liverpool sold him.
Sartène Rouge Domaine Saparale 2010 Vin de Corse £13.75
Loud and charismatic with layers of subtlety. Like Jason. A friend asked me whether I thought this wine was ‘too Jason’. It isn’t. It’s just right, and epitomises the kind of wines that you can’t get anywhere else. Beans and suede at the back and Asian spices over the top. The best Corsican red I’ve ever had.
Domaine de Richeaume Tradition 2010 Côtes de Provence £16.95
This is the monkey’s nuts. I’ve wrestled with this wine over the years but the thick wall of chewy chocolate, glög and baked fruit of this year’s edition is framed by soft buttered praline oak notes, which for once sing harmony, rather than lead, to the clear and present danger of this mighty red. Wine to drink while listening to the Prodigy.
Domane St Gayan 2007 Gigondas £15.95
Well, this wine just came up to me and asked if I liked it. A wine that takes control. Bramble jam and dry smokey black cardamom and spice. Quite gorgeous, and humbly priced. Who needs Cornas? (I do, but rillettes with this would be equally brutally sexy.)
Le Vieux Donjon 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape £29.95
BOOM! There it is, yo! Creamy, dried raspberry, and tongue-sucking pumice stone perfection. Never had a bad bottle of this, young or old, and this might be the best. Monolithic and beautiful. The label is just a photograph of a medieval prison. How apt.
Domaine de Trevallon 2001 Coteaux des Baux £49.00
On my 21st birthday, I asked my mum what wine I could have in my parents’ pub, and she said “Anything. Just don’t take the piss.” I chose Bin 666. Which was my first mouthful of this extraordinary wine. Poised and eloquent, even in the 1984 vintage. I drank it in 1991. Sometimes, with these classics, you completely forget that only thing missing between your cheque book and a sublime gustatory experience is time. Great vintage, a modern classic and consolidated memories of happiness. Smells like old school Burgundy, and drinks like world class Bandol. Near perfect.
Domaine Pieretti 2011 Muscat de Cap Corse £21.00
I’m not used to shelling out this kind of dough on Vin Doux Naturel Muscat when there are so many dessert-wine bargains made this way, but I am convinced. It is a scimitar to the senses. Broad and precise. Manuka honey, cinnamon and fresh juicy grapes all in one. A good way to be beheaded.
Champagne 1er Cru Rosé NV Dumangin et Fils £32.00
Wasn’t sure about this on first mouthful. It was desiccatingly dry and unyielding. By the time I had walked though the restaurant to sit down for onglet, I was in love. Savoury, dry cherries, wild strawberries and a dense, toothsome tang. Couldn’t get enough of it, in fact, which was probably the reason why the pub quiz went so badly….. Insane value in an insane world. One of my drinks of the summer.
Thank you Tom. Thank you Jason. The wine trade would be far less habitable without you.
Joey (Son of Karl) xxx