Saturday, December 29, 2007

La parde, les demoiselles, l'esquisse et le jaugueyron

Last week I threw a tasting for a group of friends. We tried quite a lot of Bordeaux's. Before I dive into the details of my personal favourites and/or discoveries, these are the wines that were appreciated the most by the whole group (with the average rating from the group between brackets):

1. Frank Phélan 2004, Saint-Estèphe - 2nd wine of Château Phélan-Ségur (8.4/10)
2. L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001, Saint-Emilion - 2nd wine of Château La Tour Figeac (8.3/10)
3. Château Belle-Vue 2004, Haut-Médoc (8.1/10)
4. Clos du Jaugueyron 2003, Haut-Médoc (8.1/10)
5. Le Jardin de Petit-Village 2005, Pomerol - 2nd wine of Château Petit Village (8.0/10)

Clos des Demoiselles 2003
All five great wines. My personal favourites partially overlap (Frank Phélan, L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac and Clos du Jaugueyron), but there were two more wines that I found really convincing: Clos des Demoiselles and La Parde de Haut-Bailly. Below you find the tasting notes of my favourite five:

1. Clos des Demoiselles 2003, Listrac-Médoc
Seducing sweet fruit, ripe and with depth. Slight farmland stamp (manure). Delicious juice, smooth, dark and with plenty of strength. Delicious full red fruit. Pure joy, as wine should be. Soft finish.
2. La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2004, Pessac-Léognan
2nd wine of Château Haut-Bailly, cru classé de Graves
Scent of rose hip, hint of Crème de Cassis, quite ripe (thus). Smooth wine also, but with a little bit more strength than the previous one. Good grip, pleasant texture. Finish with chalky fruit and chewy ripe tannins. Good acidity. Lovely wine.
3. L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001, Saint-Emilion
2nd wine of Château La Tour Figeac, grand cru classé de Saint-Emilion
Pleasant quite slender nose, red fruit. Gentle texture, wine with - good - spirit. Harmonious, acids well in place. This wine constitutes a joyful whole. Très réussi.
4. Clos du Jaugueyron 2003, Haut-Médoc
Nose quite ripe but also somewhat modest in the start. Black and red fruit. First impression: a little unusual, with a distinct, but attractive character. Spice. Liquorice. And fraîcheur (acids). Very open, pronounced. Very good. The 2004 of this wine also stood an excellent chance at the Grands Vins de Bordeaux 2004 tasting of the Grand Jury Européen.
5. Frank Phélan 2004, Saint-Estèphe
2nd wine of Château Phélan-Ségur
Fresh red fruit, classic impression. Nose a bit closed. Slender, straight up. Youthful quite powerful fruit. Modest structure. Some pleasant seduction in the finish...

La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2004

Friday, December 21, 2007

Chateau La Fleur Morange 2005

This month an interesting blind retasting of the Bordeaux 2005 vintage was organised by Decanter magazine. Jancis Robinson attended, and reported. I didn't read much about it on the internet - unless the fact that there were some real surprises - so I thought let's make a small posting about it.

The big names did not stand out during this tasting. Where Cheval Blanc 2005 was Robinson's favourite right bank wine at the initial en primeur tasting (19.25/20), this icon was now granted only 15 points with two question marks... so maybe there was a problem with the bottle. But let's focus on the 'winners'. Three wines stood out by far. One well-known, Château Valandraud, Jean-Luc Thunevin's ultimate garage wine (18/20), and two rather unknown wines: Château Fonplégade (18/20) and Château La Fleur Morange (19/20!).

Château La Fleur Morange
A modern trio. The Valandraud story is well-known. Fonplégade has apparently improved after the American Steve Adams took over the château from Antoine Moueix, hired Michel Rolland and started working with 100% new oak. I have not tasted this wine myself, nor have I come across the third wine, Château La Fleur Morange. Not surprisingly: La Fleur Morange belongs to the group of very small garagiste properties, and it hasn't made its way yet to The Netherlands. Anyway, I will definitely look out for this wine the next time I visit Bordeaux. Just very curious now.

Château La Fleur Morange 2000
Château La Fleur Morange is a tiny property of less than 1,5 hectares in the far South-East of the Saint-Emilion appellation, close to Côtes de Castillon. The vines have the very respectable average age of 90 years, and the vineyard is handled with "painstaking care", as the owners themselves, Véronique and Jean-François Julien, put it. La Fleur Morange ages for 18 months on 100% new oak.

I was somewhat amused by the remark Jancis Robinson made after having tasted La Fleur Morange 2005 blind: "I think this may be Pavie but I still think it is very good wine!" Everyone will remember what Robinson said about Pavie 2003, calling it a "rediculous wine". And this month she tasted a wine she really loved, which... might have been Pavie... and is still very good, mm, it's quite difficult all together. Or maybe I'm missing something.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Visit to Burgundy, part II

One thing that I do not understand about the French is that they do not have a hook for the shower head (and also no tray for the soap). Combine this inconvenience with old taps that are extremely difficult to adjust, and the result is that you start your day with an annoying fight with your shower. But it also ensures that you arrive perfectly awake at your first domain visit. Which was good, because both visits were highly interesting this day. And fully English spoken, so it was easier to talk about all kinds of nerdy wine details. Both visits are about guys from abroad coming to Burgundy to make an adventurous dream come true. Both in their own way.

Saturday morning 8 Dec: Mischief and Mayhem, Aloxe-Corton
Mischief and Mayhem is the story of two friends starting a winery. One is Michael Ragg, who runs the domain in Aloxe-Corton with his wife Fiona, the other is Michael Twelftree, who flies over from Australia a few times per year, to be present at the key moments in the winemaking process. He himself runs Two Hands Wines, a Barossa Valley winery. In Ragg's previous life he worked for Berry Bros. & Rudd in the UK.

Mischief and Mayhem
At Mischief and Mayhem they do not grow their own vines. They buy grapes from selected vineyards. The selection process is strict, and is a pivotal first step towards making great wines. Working like this means that one can offer a wide (and also changing) variety of wines within a relatively short time. The alternative, acquiring your own (high quality) vineyards in Burgundy is extremely difficult, as we will see in the story about David Clark.

Michael Ragg tells about his wines with infectious enthusiasm. He's excited about everything that has been achieved in a few years time. And he should be: the wines are impressive, and absolutely joyful. Bill Nanson from Burgundy Report summarizes the style as follows: "Clean and aromatic with a lovely core of acidity". The wines go from slender youthful to rich with a little cream in the texture, but they all share an certain - attractive - clarity. Ragg talked about "an acidic stream that runs through the middle" of the wine, from start to finish. Say the spine around which the wine revolves. Vital stuff it is. These are my favourites: the Chablis, the Meursault and the Pommard 1er cru, all 2005.

Michael Ragg, Mischief and Mayhem
Besides making great wine Mischief and Mayhem intend to "demystify Burgundy", as they put it themselves. Burgundy is a complex region, and the wines from Mischief and Mayhem all have friendly descriptive labels.

Saturday afternoon: David Clark, Morey-Saint-Denis
Just as passionate, but in a totally different way, is David Clark. This young winemaker left his technical job for the Williams Formula 1 team to make wine in Burgundy. Problem one: French. David spent a year in France learning the language, after which he started attending the Dijon wine university. With some luck he then found a house with a cellar in Morey-Saint-Denis, and off he went. 2004 was his first vintage.

David Clarke in his cellar
Buying grand cru vineyards is out of the question, and not affordable. Premier cru vineyards is almost out of the question. But in the few years David has been around now he has acquired quite a few impressive pieces of "lower qualified" vineyards, and he tends these vineyards like grand crus: the way of (high) trellising, the ploughing only at the foot of the vine, leaving the natural weeds in the rows, the extremely low yields comparable to those of Domaine de la Romanée Conti...

His best piece is a four rows wide strip of Morey-Saint-Denis, he owns a lovely slope of Côtes de Nuits Villages, and he owns pieces of Bourgogne and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. David is working the land all by himself, makes the wine all by himself, is making a living all by himself. No family there in France. He comes across as a very friendly, even somewhat shy, young man. But he must have an enormous drive, an enormous power. And he's not 'just making wines'. David is in an ongoing search for the ultimate purity. Experimenting for example with leaving out sulphites. Which is difficult, and may appear to be too difficult. And adding an oak-flavour to wine he defines as "cheating".

David Clark in front of his AOC Bourgogne
We tasted the 2006's from the vat (David was almost about to bottle these wines), and the results are beautiful. Very ... pure ... fruit. Available in very ... small ... quantities. Most sold in the UK (Ragg's Berry Bros. & Rudd!), and in the US. And I feel very lucky to have bottles no. 2 and 3 from the 2006 vintage. Bottle no. 1 was issued to the Guide Hachette.

David was so kind to drive us around and show us his cherished vineyards. A truly interesting visit, and I will definitely follow David the coming years.

Before we left Morey-Saint-Denis we bought some wines at the Caveau des Vignerons (some Arlaud, and two Clos des Monts Luisants blanc 2005 (Ponsot) that I will drink with my son in 20 years, he was born in 2005; a 1988 that I recently tasted was quite spectacular). And we concluded the day in Le Comptoir des Tontons with a very mediocre Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru (Clos Saint-Jean 2001) from Alex Gambal. We shouldn't have been so strict about this Anglo-Saxon theme... for we'd almost opted for a Domaine Leflaive... Will do next time.

Further reading:
- Jan van Roekel's Burgoholic (we made these visits together)
- Informative Mischief and Mayhem website (the slow intro will soon be removed...)
- David Clark's blog, very interesting

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Visit to Burgundy, part I

This weekend I visited Burgundy with my friend and Burgundy-connoisseur Jan van Roekel. He is creator of the Burgoholic website and had only been four times to Burgundy this year, so he thought it would be a good idea to visit a fifth time. Today I will write about our first day, later I will add a Burgundy part II story about Day II. In short: we had a number of very inspiring meetings with great winemakers, we visited some mouthwatering wine stores, and we spent quite some time in exciting restaurants.

Friday morning: Domaine Jean Tardy, Vosne-Romanée
On 25 March 2006 I attended a comprehensive tasting in Nuits-Saint-Georges, with many wines from many Côtes-de-Nuits appellations. In the Vosne-Romanée corner Guillaume Tardy introduced me to his wine; it appeared to be my best encounter that afternoon. I asked him where I could buy his wines, but these seemed difficult to find, so he sold me two bottles "under the counter". I promised myself to visit Guillaume in the future. Not only he had great wine, but he was very friendly also. Last Friday we met again.

Guillaume Tardy, winemaker at Domaine Jean TardyGUILLAUME TARDY OF DOMAINE JEAN TARDY, VOSNE-ROMANEE

After his study Oenology at the University of Dijon and an eight months work experience in Australia, Guillaume (now 30) got in charge of the winemaking at the family domain in 2001. Ever since he is combining the traditional knowledge that he has acquired from working with his father Jean, with his own – say more modern – insights. We tasted all wines from the 2006 vintage from barrel, and we were thrilled. Every wine is a different exponent of Guillaume’s idea of winemaking: the result should be an accessible wine with healthy forward fruit, and that embedded in a suave and tempting texture (when trying to summarize his wines in one sentence).

One of the things that account for the type of fruit in Tardy’s wines is that he does not crush the grapes before they enter the fermentation vat. That means that much of the fermentation takes place within the grapes, more or less comparable with the so-called maçeration carbonique method, known for producing very spontaneous, lively fruit. Another thing is that during barrel aging, Tardy doesn’t do any racking (i.e. transferring a wine off its sediments into a clean barrel). In doing so, more is kept within the wine: the wine ages on its lees.

Now it also got clear to me why I wouldn’t have been able to find his wine: almost everything is exported to far away countries: mostly US and the Far East. Last year only a small proportion was bought by Alain Ducasse for his three Michelin stars restaurant in Paris.

After this highly interesting visit we had lunch at the well-known restaurant Ma Cuisine in Beaune – especially their heavenly tarte au chocolat would be a valid reason to return.

Friday afternoon: Domaine Marc Morey, Chassagne-Montrachet
In the afternoon we visited the well-known Domaine Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet. Sabine Mollard, granddaughter of Marc Morey, had us taste various Chassagne-Montrachets from the years 2006, 2005 and 2004. I was especially impressed by the endless finish of these young whites. Grand wines that will last long, and these rich characters are best enjoyed with something good to eat.

Domaine Marc Morey
The Marc Morey label is quite characteristic with its green background, and Jan and I had just mentioned to each other that the design is not particularly beautiful... and what a coincidence: for the 2006 vintage new labels are going to be used! Totally different, and definitely more stylish. I was so stupid not to take a picture of it...

At the end of the day we visited two wine stores that stand out for both their collection and their good prices: Le Cavon de Bacchus in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Le Cellier de la Cabiote in Beaune (and we couldn't resist buying some jewels).

We concluded this great day in Caves Madeleine (Beaune) where I had my first Pied de Cochon, pig’s trotter. While enjoying this remarkable piece of meat, tendons, toes, bones, skin and fat we listened to owner Laurent Brelim who explained to us that great wines should not be opened when there is a low pressure atmosphere (it was raining the whole weekend...), and even more strict: you should only open a bottle of a great wine when the moon is changing. So, keep that in mind when looking at your own cellar treasures!

Day II (Visits to Mischief and Mayhem and to David Clark) will follow soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mood altering cognac

I have always blithely said I preferred armagnac to cognac – which was really just a knee jerk opinion formed years ago due to one brutal hangover from drinking too much cognac, and then, a few years later having one or two glasses of armagnac one day after a long lunch.

Last week I went to cognac. Less than two hours from Bordeaux but a whole different ball game. The grapes are still there, but it is the distilleries, at least at this time of year, that are the stars of the show. The aim was to understand a bit more about the place, and because I have an article to write about their booming sales – 163 million bottles sold in the last 12 months from October 06 to October 07. The most ever since the appellation was founded in 1939.

Two distillery visits were organised by the BNIC – the local cognac board. The first was to Ragnaud-Sabourin, a small family owned operation near Segonzac and the second to Frapin, also family owned, but on a bigger scale, in the same area.

Both are owner/distillers with vineyards in the prestigious Grande Champagne Premier Cru area. Frapin is the largest single owner in the area, with 216 hectares of grapes, while Ragnaud-Sabourin has 50 hectares.

The explanation of the inner workings of the still at Ragnaud-Sabourin was detailed and impressive – or at least I thought so, but then again I have never seen one before. Favourite Christmas present from here would be a bottle of Paradis which has 90% cognac from the early 1900’s, and 10% pre-phylloxera cognac - before 1870.

I didn’t taste it but the story was good enough to vaguely imagine spending 660 euro. That was, at least, until I tasted pure 1870 cognac at Frapin’s, hauled up out of a hessian-covered demi-john in a thing that looked like an old test tube. It tasted very strange. And very, very good.

I still have the empty glass and I can still smell it. There was a lot of talk about old leather and rancio – that desirable blue cheese type smell you get off very good, very old cognacs. For me it was all about old libraries, dusty paper, a vague metallic inkiness and that pre-exam awareness that all this might be snatched away simply by failing.

But whatever about the taste, the old Frapin 1870 was great for the mood – turning a straightforward, rainy afternoon tasting, into an impromptu bonding session, with war stories and childhood memories all over the shop. And that was just as a result of smelling it. I have yet to see something like that happen at a Bordeaux wine tasting.