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London 'Offline', Thursday 19 January 2000

El Gaucho, Sydney Street SW3

Six of us gathered at the Argentinian restaurant El Gaucho (one of the few remaining BYO options open to us now that Aurora has its license) for an offline prompted by the presence of WLDGer Mats Lindstedt, visiting on business from Helsinki. As well as Mats and myself, present were Nick Alabaster, Robert Helms, Peter May and Robert Paterson. The wines were good, the conversation boisterous and entertaining, and the company excellent.

The wines

Laroche Chassagne Montrachet 1989, Burgundy, France
Subtle toasty and nutty flavours combine harmoniously in this mature wine. It is a nicely integrated, soft, balanced wine, but perhaps lacks a little intensity. Good.

Tattinger 1990 Collection, Champagne, France
Comes in a rather bizarre green plastic sleeve! Apparently this is collectable. Rich, intense wine with zippy acidty. Savoury. Lifted, toasty nose with perhaps a little smokiness. First rate champagne. Very good.

Erdrizzi Teroldego Rotaliano 1997, Italy
From the obscure Teroldego grape variety comes this dense coloured wine. Nicely savoury with a good balance of acidity and tannin, making this very food compatible. Unfortunately there is a baked, caramel-like quality to the fruit that rather spoils the wine for me. Odd.

Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 1996, Priorat, Spain
Attractively balanced, with plenty of fruit nicely undepinned by liberal spicy oak (which I presume to be American oak from the flavour profile). It is very well made, with good acidity and a long finish. No limited-production blockbuster here, but a tasty commercial wine. Good.

Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz 1992, South Australia
Unusually for Penfolds, this is actually a single estate wine. It is a concentrated, mature, complex wine. Rich and savoury, I think it works pretty well, but it is terrifically oaky, so avoid if you are sensitive to generously applied new oak. Good.

Jaboulet Aîné Cornas Domaine de Saint Pierre 1994, Rhône, France
Deep coloured, this wine has a huge nose of animal poop, barnyards, herbs and yet more poop. I am not averse to a bit of brett, but this is bretty to the extent that it has to be considered a fault. Others disagree, but very little of this wine's character seems to be from the Syrah grapes it was made from.

D'Arenberg Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, McLaren Vale, Australia
Possibly the best wine in D'Arenberg's formidable line up, this is a real monster. Huge, rich, tannic and ripe, with menthol-like complexity. There are also some minerals and firm tannins hiding behind the cloak of intense fruit flavours. Very delicious: not too oaky or syrupy, and my wine of the evening.

Condado de Haza 1996, Ribera del Duero, Spain
This vintage is not like I remember it when I first had it a year or so ago, when it was dominated by primary fruit flavours. Instead, it is almost northern Rhône-like in structure, with moderately high acidity combining well with smooth tannins and mineral-like notes. The Tempranillo berry-like fruit here has a herby, meaty quality to it, and overall this is a good food wine: it is not a blockbuster, but posseses subtle complexity and moderate concentration. Good.