Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Will Bernard Margrez acquire Chateau Latour?

It is Jane Anson who alerted me, through her blog, that the Médoc Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Latour might be for sale. It seems that the crisis is also starting to hit rich châteaux owners, and a change of ownership of one of Bordeaux's most prestigious estates would be... quite something.

Interesting, and perhaps worrisome, is the rumour that Bernard Magrez might be looking at this treasure prey. Magrez is a modernist in Bordeaux, making polished and perfect wines. Another way of describing the style of his wine: he teams up with consultant Michel Rolland. Together they modernised the monumental classic Château Pape Clément. The result is good, but so was the original − it is like someone buying a 17th century canal house and replacing the original interior by some contemporary design...

I rather see Magrez and Rolland restoring the quality of a Saint-Emilion like Château Fombrauge − with very good result. Modernism and Right Bankishness seems a better couple, also.

But Magrez/Rolland playing with the exquisite classic terroir of Latour... I don't know if that's a good idea...

To read the full story about the possible sale of Château Latour see Kate Walsh's publication in The Times.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dutch authority on Burgundy Gert Crum speaks out

People who follow this blog will remember that I have written before about David Clark and his wines (a/o about the visit that Jan van Roekel and I brought to his domain in December 2007, and last month about the first impressions from bottle).

David Clark Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2006
Last November, after a year of waiting, the 2006s finally reached Amsterdam. I sent a bottle of the Passetoutgrains (very much à point at this moment) to Dutch Burgundy guru Gert Crum. Crum published his findings in De ProefKrant from December 2008/January 2009 and these I need to share with you.

Crum's article is titled Een balans opmaken. At the end of 2008 he is drawing up the balance, highlighting the year in four points. Two of these points concern individual wines, noticeable wines. The first is the white Château Rives-Blanques "La Trilogie" 2006 (AC Limoux), the second one − indeed − the Passetoutgrains 2006 from David Clark. Let me translate his praise.

"The other wine that made me happy seems a simple red Burgundy. It is however a strikingly savoury, fine and elegant wine with delicious aromas. This wine also is not made by a routinely working French winemaker. The Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2006 that I'm talking about is the product of the Brit David Clark. A young guy who gave up his work in London to follow his passion for wine in general, and for Burgundy in particular. Adventurous and brave, but he must have known that he would succeed. He settled in Morey-Saint-Denis and confidently calls his (still) tiny business Domaine David Clark. This wine is a breath of fresh air. It found its way to me through passionate wine enthusiast David Bolomey."

The bad news: Clark only has a tiny domain with a tiny production (especially with yields as low as 30 hl/ha) and so my share is... tiny. Or actually: was tiny...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bling barrels at Vinitech

There are the most amazing 'destockages' going on in Bordeaux at the moment, as merchants rush rid themselves of whatever wines they can bear to part with, and many that they can.

As the new head of the local wine merchant's union told the local paper, Sud Ouest, 'getting rid of stock is a priority at the moment'.

Auctions seem to be the simplest way, at least there are plenty of ads for them in the local paper. If I had any cash, instead of the several thousand euro loan I had to take out to get the house in rent ready mode, I would be buying. But it is not to be. Instead I must just cling to my 12 bottles of Pontet-Canet 2007 (as yet unbottled) and hope for the best.

Just for the record, a loan in France for house works is readily obtainable, at 5% interest, if you already have a 27 year mortgage. Credit crisis?

Even at Vinitech last week − the bi-annual wine equipment trade held in Bordeaux − you might have thought the credit/global financial crisis was all slightly exaggerated. I thought people would be moaning and groaning. But not at all. Some were 'only buying essentials', or 'scaling back a bit', but to listen to the barrel makers and the harvest machine people you might have thought they were looking forward to 2009.

Well, optimism at least is free. So is attitude. And the person who came up with the idea of a bling barrel certainly had some.

Yes. Forget intelligent barrels, although I counted three different types of those at Vinitech, bling barrels are in.

Sporting orange leather bands, worthy of a Hermes bag, and a Swarovski crystal bung, the barrel cost 1150 euro. Double the price of a normal one. It is, of course, made of some incredibly fine-grained high quality wood that helps the wine, as well. But it was the bling bit that really pulled the crowds.

For more about Vinitech, and a shot of the barrel, see here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine 2006

Although sparkling icewines have been made in Canada since the late 1990's, they are still a rarity. I only first heard about them this past Spring while researching this article (in Dutch) I wrote on ice wines in general.

Because of their high sugar levels, Canadian icewines were forbidden in Europe until 2001. The concern was that a second fermentation could occur in the bottle. As was the case with the monk Dom Pérignon, the resulting sparkling wine would be seen as a fault, a hazard which could break the bottles.

But refermentation is precisely what Canadian icewine producers like Inniskillin are doing now, only the second fermentation takes place not in the bottle, but in a steel tank (Méthode Cuvée Close). In reality, it is difficult to ferment ice wine grapes because of their high sugar content; inducing a second fermentation is even more difficult. Vinification lasts seven months and the wine is aged on the lees, then filtered and bottled under pressure.

The idea of combining bubbles with the delectable sweetness of icewine seemed like a double decadence to me: I simply had to try this! A recent trip back to Montreal provided me with an opportunity. I scoured the government-owned liquor shops in la belle ville, searching but came up empty. Extremely rare, I was told. One shopkeeper remembered a half-bottle retailing for $160. It didn't sell very well. Icewines there were aplenty, and also the latest kick, ice cider (not bad, really), but no sparkling icewine.

Dejected, I boarded the plane to go back to Amsterdam, and while killing some time in Heathrow at the duty-free, I saw a golden bottle gleam on the shelf: Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine 2006 (375 ml), £40 for purchase within the EU. That translates into €46 these days!

Wine characteristics

The grape variety is 100% Vidal, a hybrid made from Ugni blanc and Seyval blanc. It is a popular variety for icewine in Canada because its thick skin allows it to survive the early frosts; in fact, grapes are usually harvested in January.

Golden in the glass, its effervescent bouquet made me think of apple cider, with a hint of apricot. Thick in the mouth, decadently sweet and instantly lively with bubbles and excellent acidity revealing tangy peach and apricot flavours with a long-lasting honey sweetness. 11.5% alc.

Food pairing

Icewines of course are dessert wines, but which dessert passes best by a sparkling icewine? A general rule is never serve a dessert which is sweeter than the icewine itself; this will detract sweetness from the wine and instead pronounce acidity. So I decided to prepare three different desserts for my sparkling icewine. I've probably gained a kilo writing this piece.

Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine
Fresh apricots caramelised in maple syrup with half-melted gorgonzola and mascarpone: this simple dish (with a long name) worked by far the best. The apricot flavours in the food and wine enhanced each other, resulting in sweet, powerful fruit, counterbalanced by the gorgonzola mascarpone. Excellent.

Cheesecake: not as nice. Something sour comes out, some of the sweetness is lost, noticed immediately upon mouth contact. Doesn’t work.

Lemon meringue pie: worst choice by far. The citrus flavours tend to give the wine an almost rhubarb-like acidity.

Of course, you could also choose to skip dessert and just enjoy the wine, which is what I eventually did.

Where can you buy sparkling icewine? Various internet wine shops are selling it; whether or not they have it in stock is another question. Google and you shall find. If all else fails, book a ticket to somewhere via Heathrow and hit that duty-free.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Expected: flavoured barrels!

Flavoured barrels, that's what winemakers, and fussy drinkers, will be picking over next. So just when you thought it was safe to concentrate on soil, the vineyard, the vines, the terroir, and let the whole winemaking process settle back into its place, along come these barrels.

Examples of actual flavours that might potentially be available currently include spicy, tannic and red fruit.

The barrels are the idea of Seguin Moreau, a leading French cooper. Currently the intelligent barrels are still in the research phase, with Seguin Moreau busy working out how different wood molecules react to, and with, the wine stored in them. The current expectation is that they will be ready for commercial sale by 2010/11.

Their potential use will no doubt be controversial and will reignite the whole wood chip discussion, because the ordinary barrels v. flavoured barrels arguments are already similar to the chips v. barrels ones.

Basically you have, on one side, those that say barrels are for slow aeration of the wine, aka 'ageing', and they are not for flavouring the wine. Full stop.

And, on the other, you have those who accept barrels can have a useful influence on the flavour, and think that controlling another aspect of winemaking such as this will be interesting/useful.

It was the same with chips. Are barrels for flavouring wine, in which case chips might do the job, or are they simply for 'ageing' the wine by providing a slow ingress of oxygen, and an equally slow evaporation of some of liquid inside? If it is the second, naturally, chips won't do the job.

It is the same when tea lovers start talking about the differences between tea made in the pot and tea bags. A big palaver with everyone having their own special way and their own special reasoning.

And indeed, so much depends on how chips, or barrels are used, that arguments for and against are almost useless, unless you include how they are used. Which you can't because everyone will do it a different way. Still and all, a few acres of print will be dedicated to the subject in coming years I would guess. You read it here first.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Arrived: David Clark

People who follow this blog might recognize the name: David Clark. The first time that I met David was in December 2007, when Jan van Roekel and I visited him in Morey-Saint-Denis. I wrote a posting about that visit, and so did Jan (you will have to scroll down a bit to find it).

David Clark Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2006DAVID CLARK'S IRRESISTIBLE PASSETOUTGRAINS 2006. ORGANIC OF COURSE. YIELD: ONLY 30 HL/HA − MORE OR LESS THE YIELD ONE SEES AT DOMAINE DE LA ROMANEE-CONTI

At our visit we tasted 2006 from tank, in which it was stabilizing prior to being bottled − the tank just an intermediate step between barrel and bottle. In barrel: 15 months, and then in bottle for most of the year 2008 at the domain. David insisted on waiting with the shipment, and I was only allowed to collect my share (6 cases) recently. Note that we are not dealing with some very special grand cru, but simply with a − very special − ordinary Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Passetoutgrains. This is a good example of Slow Wine.

I was very curious to taste the wines again, one year later, from bottle, and it is unbelievable how these wines have grown. The Passetoutgrains has fully grown up, and is now totally irresistible. The Bourgogne Rouge is 'in development', showing very powerful and intense pinot-fruit which will probably soften in the coming years. The wine improved after being open for two days, so if you want to drink it right away, this is a wine to decant.

But at this moment it really was the Passetoutgrains that blew me away. Most striking: the super sensual nose, as from a total natural beauty; fresh manure. Very sappy, intense and lovely. Couldn't stop sniffing at this wine!

For the true Burgundy lover: I have a few bottles available (with a maximum of three bottles per wine per customer) so if you're interested, do not waver. At least that would be my modest advice. Anyway, you're lucky when you're Dutch: because this is where you find the wines.

Monday, November 24, 2008

NY wine lover has Pétrus label tattooed

Nothing so frivolous as a champagne tasting, this week in Bordeaux. This week it was all about CO2, with the Bordeaux Wine Board (CIVB) announcing it will reduce emissions by 15% in the next five years. And by 75% by 2050.

The CIVB announced the reduction measures after it spent the last 10 months measuring total wine industry output, estimated to produce 200,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.

The most immediate CO2 culprits are glass bottles, which are to be made lighter, and road transport, which is to be reduced. How exactly all this is to be done, and enforced, is not yet clear, but another announcement is due in February next year.

Apart from that good news, foie gras and tattoos both made it to the top of the news list.

I went to Périgord to interview foie gras producers, checking if the credit crunch was rippling their way yet. It will, but not till after Christmas, they say.

The French can't imagine a Christmas or a New Year without either foie gras or oysters. I don't eat foie gras, and much prefer caviar (farmed if possible), but the foie gras story was an interesting barometer. Luckily for the ducks, the foie gras producers union has recommended that there be a 10% reduction in production numbers by 2009, so they can take a break from being stuffed. Most foie gras in the south west of France is made from ducks not geese, by the way.

Petrus label tattooed
And the tattoo was the story of a New York wine lover, Daniel Sobolevskiy, who had the Pétrus label tattooed on his arm. A spokesperson for the owners, the Moueix family, welcomed the move, saying 'Bravo le tattooist'.

It is quite a complex label, and took three weeks to complete. What I hadn't realised, because I hadn't looked properly − I am not a regular Pétrus drinker, I have to confess, and not for want of liking it − is that it is St Peter on the label. Holding, the keys, not to heaven, but to the Pétrus estate.

Might they not be one in the same though? Father Jack might agree. And if you don't know who Father Jack is, then see YouTube:



Just remember, the humour is 1990's Ireland. But pretty much still applies, unless I've been away too long.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Avoiding Champagne breath

After two weeks in South Africa and many others spent agonising over whether to move to Peru or not, I finally had to face up to the pressing matter of discovering a champagne that doesn't make you stink.

Bordeaux wine merchant Millésima held its annual pre-Christmas wine tasting this week, and champagne was the theme. No one was drunk or disorderly, no one was even giggling. A few elegant chortles, one or two high pitched laughs, but no actual rowdiness.

Funny that, after South Africa where drinking and being drunk is all much more relaxed. The extreme downside is that Foetal Alcohol Levels in the Western Cape continue to be one of the highest in the world. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is a form of physical and mental damage that happens when pregnant women drink too much. It is permanently disabling for the baby and the particularly high levels of FAS in the Cape are a hangover, literally, from the days when the dop system − paying a part of a vineyard labourer's wages in wine − was still legal.

The upside is that being on the jol (South African/Afrikaans word for partying, pronounced 'jawl') and getting a bit pissed is really not an issue in SA. Driving should obviously be avoided, but most people I know seem to have extremely efficient guardian angels. The other thing about South Africa is of course that once someone has a house, it is often large, and it's very easy to stay, as the housekeeper will usually cook you breakfast even if your hosts don't appear.

At Millésima the tone was very French, and very serious. Everyone making notes and spitting. It is quite hard to spit champagne, not just because it's nice, but also because all the bubbles mean you froth rather than just spit.

My personal quest for the evening was to find one without that particular bad breath aftertaste you get from many champagnes. In fact it's only recently I've realised it does not have to be an intrinsic part of champagne drinking.

The answer? Jacquesson 2005, Dom Pérignon 2000 and Moët & Chandon 2003. All three are perfectly classic champagnes, and would not surprise anyone − unlike the Krug 1988 I tasted, which was quite strange. Very rarefied and 'dry biscuity'. All three had big bubbly bubbles − also unlike the Krug, which is very fine. And all three were free of that sour aftertaste, which I think is yeasty, and which, although it is very nice when you smell it and first taste it, is not something you want lingering.

There you have it. A bad breath, at least the one caused by champagne, free Christmas and New Year is possible. If one can afford it that is, and if one really cares that much. In South Africa people would just glug it down and get giggly or messy, or both.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tenuta Montanello: Barolo 2001

Yesterday I had a lucky hand in picking a wine from the cellar. A delicious discovery: the Barolo 2001 from Tenuta Montanello. My experience with Barolo's is very limited, but this is the finest I have tasted so far. I hardly dare to say, but it reminded me of a great Burgundy. Let's say Premier Cru level.

Tenuta Montanello, Barolo 2001
The wine has a lovely nose, reminiscent of a rich and ripe Burgundy, and clearly matured on oak. But not the new American type of oak. Some leather.

In the mouth, on the tongue: pure velvet. Intense and soft, hint of sweetness. And that combined with a beautiful line, slightly slender, vital. This makes the wine so drinkable: its relative lightness. The finish is tender, also. Hint of bay leaves there. This is a very harmonious and intelligent wine. A truly joyful discovery.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Château de Beaucastel 1969, 1970, etcetera

This week I received a very friendly invitation to join a special dinner at Christie's Amsterdam, a dinner featuring the renowned wines of Château de Beaucastel (Châteauneuf-du-Pape). Fifth generation winemaker Marc Perrin would be hosting the evening.

Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape
I didn't have to think very long about accepting this invitation or not.

So yesterday, surrounded by classic paintings, I tasted a flight of Beaucastels together with some twenty other lucky winelovers. Hence: this was yet another memorable wine evening to add to my list: extraordinary wines, great atmosphere, delicious food, and a unique place. The event was a warming-up for the auction to be held Tuesday 25 November, with an unusual number of wines from Château de Beaucastel, from the vintages 1962, 1966, 1967, 1969 (many), 1970 (also many), 1990, 1995 and 2005, all red - plus a small number of whites.

Before I return to the Beaucastels... I must say there are some pretty exciting lots that are going to be sold at this upcoming auction. E.g. from the collection of Hans Jorissen there are some very rare Tokajis, the oldest being from 1834. And there are more interesting dessert wines in this collection: Ports (the oldest from 1851), Madeira's, and some old Sauternes again. In October I already had the luck to taste a Château Filhot 1935 from the same collection, and now - among other grand dames - Château Filhot 1925 and 1926 are put up for auction. Also quite interesting: there's a whole lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for sale.

Back to Château de Beaucastel. Or actually to Marc Perrin (1970) whose explanations were very interesting. For example the fact that Château de Beaucastel is one of the very first domains to work organically, already since the 1950s! It was - simply - done for the sake of quality. Fertilised vines are lazy vines. And quality requires vines to dig deep, deep into a healthy, living soil. Healthy and alive, because free from pesticides. For Perrin it is pivotal that roots descend deep into the ground, in the case of Beaucastel sometimes up to 30 metres!

Another fascinating thing I heard (and this accounts for the red wines), is that after the berries are being destemmed, they run into a sort of narrow tube in which the skins are heated, really short, and instantly cooled down afterwards, after which they plunge into the fermentation vat. The reasons: 1. the heat breaks the skin (as an alternative to crushing the grapes), and 2. the organisms that cause oxidation are killed, so upon entering the vat the grapes do not need to be sulphured.

The wines. In general: pure and very well-balanced, and impressive. I very much enjoyed the rare Beaucastel blancs from 2006 and 2007. The 2006: rich nose, honey and flowers. Very broad, soft texture. The start is spicy, then it is fat and intense (oily like a grand Burgundy). A long finish. Wow. The 2007 is even more seducing. Very modest oak, beautiful fruit, good acidity. Broad and soft. A complex wine. And delicious.

Then the reds. The ultimate blends: 13 grape varieties are used. The magic of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the search for the perfect blend. The quest for harmony, in which there is very few place for oak. Perrin sees oak as make-up, as a factor that is concealing something - and nothing should be concealed here! Thus oak is not used to add something to the wine, but only to soften it, to soften its tannins.

Château de Beaucastel 1990. Meaty, school-paint, round and ripe fruit. Powerful (structure) yet soft (texture). The 1989 vintage is more polished, more lean (is has the perfect figure). The wine is refined, very well-balanced. Beau-ti-ful.

Then it got even more exciting: the 1970 vintage. An unbelievable wine. So vital, so harmonious. Complete, mouth-filling yet elegant. Almost youthful (or maybe just forget the almost). Ravishing. So beautiful and comme il faut that it is hard to describe. The 1969 clearly showed its age (other than the 1970), its nose a bit oxidized. But once in the mouth, another beauty. Very refined, suave and beautiful.

We said goodbye to a great evening with a splendid Rieussec 1999. At this point I won't run into the details of this Sauternes. But it was also... very good.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bordeaux 2008 - overview of the new vintage

A first glance at the baby Bordeaux 2008 vintage
Harvest has ended, all grapes are safely in. Time to look back at the completed 2008 growing season.

April − June 2008
With a cold spring the 2008 vintage doesn't have an ideal start, with even some frost in the beginning of April, diminishing the crop in the Graves region. During flowering (mid-May) and fruit set (end of May) there is lots of rain: mildew threatens the grapes (possibly leading to rot, and demanding a lot of work in the vineyard) and there is millerandage (uneven berry set); especially merlot is affected. This grape variety is struck precisely during its flowering, which is a vulnerable stage. It implies − in the end − a lot of extra work during harvest when the selection is done − all the tiny green bullets (undeveloped grapes) need to be removed from the bunches. As a result there are only small quantities of merlot in 2008.

July − September 2008
Finally good weather arrives, it is hot and sunny, and this weather remains until the berries are changing colour, the véraison (beginning of August). The August-weather is variable, with rain arriving in the second week and staying for over 2 weeks. Mildew continues to threaten the vines. The end of August is warm again, happily flowing into a "very good September". But due to the abundance of rain so far (and lack of warmth and sunshine) the ripening of the grapes demands more time. With the good weather in this late stage of the season the late ripening (and less affected) cabernet sauvignon is promising: it has a good chance to ripen properly. Also cabernet franc, the variety that usually reaches full ripeness in between merlot and cabernet sauvignon, ripens well.

September − October 2008
Getting to the desired quality of the fruit was a matter of waiting, and hoping that the weather wouldn't alter. And it didn't (except for some rain in the first week of October). The good Indian Summer weather more or less saved the vintage. Harvest took place mostly during good weather.

An early conclusion about Bordeaux 2008
It seems that Bordeaux 2008 is going to be more successful than 2007. I have heard people making comparisons with good vintages like 1983 and 1998. One thing is sure: the quantities will be low, for the ambitious properties there will be around 40% less wine.

A characteristic of the year is the relatively high acidity, with a high proportion of lactic acids (and this is even more so for merlot). At the time of writing the malolactic fermentation has not yet taken place (we're more or less in between the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation) and we will have to see what will be the outcome, but it seems that Bordeaux 2008 will be a year with plenty of freshness, balanced by a good ripeness, especially from the cabernets. Again, very early conclusions, so let's finish with the words "to be continued!"

Added April 2009: Further Reading:
Bordeaux 2008 vintage report − an update (14 Jan 2009)
Bordeaux 2008 on Bordoverview
Bordeaux 2008 offers
and various other postings on this blog

Friday, October 24, 2008

Château Filhot 1935

Yesterday evening was one of those evenings where you get a glance at wine heaven. My friend Job Verhaar from one of Amsterdam's best wine shops De Gouden Ton brought together five wine enthusiast, all of them submitting one or two grand bottles. Restaurant Spring took care of the matching food. Foie Gras bonbons, those kind of irresistible things. But my handicap is that I am too focussed on the wines to remember the exact culinary details. I realise I am not doing honour to the meal, but let's go to the wines.

Château Filhot 1935
The appetizer: Von Schubert's Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Superior 2006 from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. A mouth full, this name, and such is the wine itself. What a start: this typical Riesling is a textbook example of an elegant yet intense and beautifully balanced white. Mineral an refreshing pink grapefruit. Lovely.

Then we tasted two Champagnes. First the blanc-de-blancs Diebolt-Vallois 1999 "Fleur de Passion" (Brut). A lively Champagne, a nose reminiscent of a morning meadow, very complete, apple, and a refreshing acidity that flows out into a long finish. A very convincing Grand Cru. The second one: Jacques Selosse "Contraste" Brut. 100% pinot noir. Yellow, full and somewhat spicy, interesting and yes, delicious too, but not as exciting as the Diebolt-Vallois.

With the next wine we entered the time machine. Regardless the quality of a wine, swallowing something that has lived 73 years ago, that has felt the 1935 sun, is a sheer magical experience. Perhaps the most intimate way to connect to the past. Very exciting. The wine had only recently left the château, so it was kept in the best possible way. Chateau Filhot 1935. A full nose, acidity, petrol. Slightly salty. Butter, "rancio". The sweetness had disappeared over the years, the acidity remained. A tender wine, balanced, with an endless finish. Very very very special. I kept a little bit in my glass, so I could continue smelling the wine during the evening. In the end the nose was like crème brûlé, and then especially the brûlé. I am grateful that I could taste this wine.

Believe it or not, the next wine was another beauty: the Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru "Les Perrières" 2004 from Louis Carillon. Medium-bodied, very mineral, tense, and some fat, especially in the finish. Simply a very good and clean white Burgundy.

All 9 wines...
Number 6: Hermitage blanc 1997 from Domaine Jean-Louis Chave. I blogged about this wine before, so I won't again.

Then: the Gevrey-Chambertin 2004 from Domaine Leroy. This vintage was declassified to Village-level. Unpolished, green (grassy), berries. Super intense and very PURE in the mouth, long. A vigorous wine. Very drinkable, very digestible. Dangerous. Someone commented: "A vineyard in the mouth." True.

Can we go home now? No, it was time for the Château Pape-Clément 1995. A Pape-Clément from before Bernard Magrez. So still a true Pessac-Léognan this wine. Tough, typical, wet soil, ink, bay leaves. Dark, male. Good!

I'd had enough impressions I guess, it was late. That must have been the main reasons that I had difficulties focusing on (and enjoying) the last wine, the Château Giraud 1989. Sweet and spicy, dark and somewhat sharp.

Time's up. I needed some rest to digest all these impressions. Time to leave heaven, and go to sleep.

Château Filhot 1935

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ticino - Europe's best kept wine secret?

If you've never been to Switzerland, you've probably tasted few Swiss wines. Since foreign wines are heavily taxed in Switzerland, local wines remain the favourite and the vast majority are consumed by the Swiss in their own country.

It's the way it's always been in Switzerland, small production for a limited, receptive market and it's a pity for the rest of us because there are admirable Swiss wines.

Ticino, Switzerland's southernmost canton on the border with Italy, has produced wines since the 1500's, but things get interesting after the phylloxera plague from 1870-1900, when the first Merlot vines were planted. It was obvious immediately that Merlot was well suited to the sub-tropical climate of Ticino, but only in the last twenty years have certain producers gained a reputation for excellence, paying close attention to grape selection and the Merlot's expression in each of Ticino's many varied terroirs.

Valsangiacomo
Valsangiacomo Vini 1831

One of these producers is the Valsangiacomo family in Mendrisio. I paid them a visit on August 26th and was greeted by Ezio De Bernardi, sales manager for the business.

I asked Signore De Bernardi why Swiss wines were so seldom seen outside of Switzerland. Is there really only enough for the Swiss market?

"We feel that Switzerland has the capability to export more wine to the EU," said Sig. De Bernardi. "Part of the problem is that much of the wine is consumed here in Switzerland. There is no massive scale production in Ticino, say like there is in Chianti, where 99% of the stuff is mass-produced for supermarkets, and 1% is for connoisseurs. But part of the problem is that négociants do not want to take the risk of marketing the wines outside of Switzerland. This is a pity!"

Proceeding into the cellar, I notice that fermentation is fully modern, in computer-controlled, water-cooled stainless steel vats. Malolactic fermentation is done in oak casks, the wine is cleared with egg whites or clay and some wines are aged 18 months in new oak vats.

One curious and beneficial feature of the hundred-year old cellar is the natural ventilation holes which burrow through the Monte Generoso—this keeps the cellar cool in summer and even warms it in winter, keeping a constant temperature of 11-14° Celsius.

Valsangiacomo: new oak, and holes in the cellar wall
The tasting

We tasted five different wines, starting with a curiosity, a "Bianco di Merlot", a white wine made from Merlot grapes. I was very impressed. The wine was lively and fruity with surprisingly good acidity, certainly not out of place with fish or seafood.

However, it was the reds which astonished with their diversity and it is here where we see Valsangiacomo's philosophy of eschewing blending, choosing instead to produce individual wines where each terroir achieves its own Merlot definition. The first wine, Roncobello, comes from old vines on chalky soils at the foot of Monte Generoso, a very fruity Merlot with caramelized tones in the nose and taste. Next was Piccolo Ronco, from terraced vineyards on morainal soils, a very expressive, fleshy wine with a full, robust character and impressive depth. This was followed by Cuvée Speciale, from fossilized soils and aged in large oak casks, a powerful wine with a solid tannic structure and a long after-taste.

The Merlot grapes are harvested in mid-September; this year they were one week late and 2008 might be a mediocre year due to excessive rainfall. 2007 was an exceptional year and '05 was very good as well. The best wines can age for 10-13 years, and the exceptional '95 is now at its peak. Though there remain only a few bottles of their top cuvée Rubro 1995, Sig. Valsangiacomo was kind enough to uncork one for us. This lustrous red wine's elegant tannins dissolved directly after mouth contact into full, long-lasting fruit with only a hint of oak.

Valsangiacomo can be visited any month of the year except January and February, and can easily be reached by car from Lugano.

Elli Valsangiacomo SA
Via alle Cantine 6
Mendrisio, Switzerland

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ambitious Vincent Mulliez to Lilian Ladouys?

One of my favourite affordable top Bordeaux's is Château Belle-Vue, lead by Vincent Mulliez who acquired the Haut-Médoc property in 2004 − together with neighbouring-and-related Château de Gironville. The former banker is leaving nothing to chance, and with his very skilled team he is simply trying to make the Best Possible Wine from his near-Margaux terroir (Belle-Vue is located next to Château Giscours).

For a change I quote Robert Parker (talking about the Belle-Vue 2005): "A terrific over-achiever located just outside the Margaux appellation." Anyway, a very popular item within my selection (both 2004 and 2005).

Château Belle-Vue, Haut-Médoc
Very recently I picked up the rumour that Mulliez will soon take up the management of Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint-Estèphe). Apparently appointed by the new owner, an undisclosed French business man.

The recent history of this estate is quite turbulent, at least since 1985 when Christian Thiéblot got in charge, and a/o upgraded the name of the Château to Lilian Ladouys after his Swiss wife Lilian. Thereafter ownership and management of the château − a complicated property due to its extremely scattered vineyards − has changed a number of times.

Anyway, if the rumour is correct, Martin Bouygues from Montrose has owned Lilian Ladouys for just two years. That doesn't sound very good, but well, I am very curious how things will develop from now on. So perhaps to be continued.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mouton Rothschild 1994 Jeroboam signed by Karel Appel found in odd circumstances

People know I'm into wine, so you get to hear and see things. Stories about special wines, in a private cellar, or not anymore, − well some stories are better than other stories. Last week I got to see something. In an Amsterdam cellar-less house owned by an art-dealer who used to be friends with the Dutch painter Karel Appel (1921-2006).

Mouton Rothschild 1994 Jeroboam signed by Karel AppelJEROBOAM (5 LITERS) CHATEAU MOUTON ROTHSCHILD 1994 SIGNED BY THE DUTCH PAINTER KAREL APPEL

He first showed me a virgin wooden case with 12 bottles Château Mouton Rothschild 1994. Not perfectly stored, but not terribly either. I would say a case to crack now, my guess is that these so-so kept wines should be perfectly drinkable now. Then he presented a double magnum. Beautiful! But... he said there was yet another bottle in the house, an even bigger one, but where was it...?

We walked around and he looked in different places. He said he really wanted to show me that monster bottle, as it had Karel Appel's autograph − a true collector's item!

Then, in his paper-laden office, he unveiled a wooden case, it was hidden underneath a stack of paperwork. The case was put... against a radiator, and this radiator was... turned on! And inside the case, indeed, a giant bottle, signed by Karel Appel.

The good news: it had only been there for a short while, he said (and I guess the radiator had been turned off during the summer). And the owner promised me he would change things. First of all he turned off the heater (pff...).

Mouton Rothschild 1994 Jeroboam parked against a radiatorTHE SIGNED JEROBOAM MOUTON ROTHSCHILD 1994 FOUND PARKED AGAINST A RADIATOR (IT CAN JUST BE SEEN ABOVE THE COVER, AT THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE PICTURE)

But let's hope this bottle will soon move to a better place. I told him about my bleeding heart, and I hope he really understood that it is not good to keep a wine like this in these... odd circumstances, even when you're not interested in the money that an item like this could raise.

Anyway, dear reader, of course I needed to share this crazy discovery with you!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Preview: Bottle Shock

Today is the first day that the film Bottle Shock will be shown in Europe. Yesterday night was the preview in Tuschinski, Amsterdam's most beautiful movie theatre.

The movie: isn't shocking. But it's quite OK, provided that you are interested in wine. It isn't as vigorous as Sideways, not as surprising or funny, but it definitely entertains, and the photography is beautiful. The makers have been flying over the Napa vineyards a lot, and these decorative scenes are delicious. The true story (the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a.k.a. the Judgement of Paris) in itself is a small story (yes, with an enormous effect), and presented around that is a little family drama at eventual contest winner Chateau Montelena.

I like the fact that with this film the person Steven Spurrier gets the deserved attention. Instead of Robert Parker, who is always in the spotlights. But in 1976 the world hadn't heard of Parker yet (he entered the scene together with the Bordeaux 1982 vintage). Spurrier isn't a young man anymore, but it surprised me that in the film, which plays in 1976, Spurrier is portrayed by an older man (Alan Rickman). Looking at today's Spurrier, he must have been a more handsome appearance back in the seventies.

Yesterday's preview was organised by Holland's leading social wine community Vinoo. Several local wine merchants presented their French and Californian wines. I was one of them, pouring a/o the exciting French Chardonnay that I wrote about in my previous posting (the Chardonnay is the central wine in Bottle Shock).

Anyway, if you're a wine lover, I think you shouldn't miss this film.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Arrived: Tardy and Verdet

Two days after our return from Italy 'my' first Burgundies arrived: the domaines Tardy and Verdet.

Tardy is hard to find, and hard to get. It is sold in the Far East, in the U.S. (if they can still afford it) and in the U.K. at Berry Bros. and Rudd. On continental Europe it is only to be found at Alain Ducasse's three star restaurants in Paris and Monaco. And since this week also in Amsterdam. At Bolomey Wijnimport.

Vosne-Romanée from Domaine Jean TardyVOSNE-ROMANEE "VIGNEUX" 2006 FROM DOMAINE JEAN TARDY & FILS (THE SON IS GUILLAUME, AND HE'S THE ONE IN CHARGE NOW)

For more details about this wine I refer to an earlier posting.

The other wines come from the Hautes-Côtes village of Arcenant. Beautifully balanced organic whites. The last days I threw two tastings (that's also why I keep it short this time) and it was great to see customers react to the Burgundy blanc. Then it almost seems that one is doing good (just) by selling wine.

Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits from Aurélien VerdetBOURGOGNE HAUTES-COTES DE NUITS FROM AURELIEN VERDET, THE BIGGER SISTER OF THE BOURGOGNE BLANC

More about this domain also in an earlier posting.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Visit to Grattamacco

Back in Amsterdam. Experiencing a tiny post-vacation dip. No hills at the horizon. No rolling vineyard covered hills.

I think about our visit to Grattamacco, in the Southern part of the Tuscany coast, the Maremma; the Bolgheri wine region. Relatively young, absolutely beautiful.

The view from Grattamacco is simply stunning: at the one side woolly hills with trees, and just here and there grown with vines. At the other side the lowlands, eventually running into the azure blue sea.

View from Podere GrattamaccoTHE VIEW FROM GRATTAMACCO

Tonight we will – undoubtedly effectively – fight our dip with good pizza and the second wine from Podere Grattamacco: Bolgheri Rosso. Grattamacco is one of the so-called Super Tuscans. But Grattamacco is also small, and not as well-known as neighbouring Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

The rise of Bolgheri as a wine region started with Sassicaia (meaning "stony soil"), the wine created in the mid 20th century by Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a marquis from the Northern (wine) region Piemonte with a passion for French wine.

All grand Bolgheri wines – more or less – sprout from the idea behind Sassicaia: simply said to enrich the Tuscany wines with French class – work with French grape varieties and French oak, and use French winemaking principles. And this in combination with the warm and dry climate of the Maremma, and the well-drained red soils of the maritime hills (rocky topsoil on an alluvial subsoil).

Sassicaia started off as a private thing, Incisa experimenting at the Tuscan coast with his French toolkit. It took a few decades(!) before the wine was brought to the market, in 1968. Today you won’t find Sassicaia below a hundred euro’s. Much later Ornellaia was created by Antinori (from Chianti).

Grattamacco: the different winesGRATTAMACCO, L'ALBERELLO (SAME STYLE, DIFFERENT SOIL), SECOND WINE BOLGHERI ROSSO, AND WHITE GRATTAMACCO FROM 100% VERMENTINO. THIS DRY WHITE (14% ALC.): ROUND, INTENSE, HONEY, EXCITING, COMBINE WITH PESTO

But the second wine created after Sassicaia was Grattamacco; it was started in 1977 by Piermario Meletti Cavallari from Milano, the first commercial vintage followed in the year 1982. The domain covers 11 hectare. From the grand estates only Grattamacco is fully organic. A few months ago I tasted the 2003 (also in Tuscany a hot and difficult vintage) and I was impressed, now I tasted the 2005 and again I was impressed.

The Grattamacco is a French-Italian marriage of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot and 15% sangiovese. The latter giving freshness and liveliness to the wine, the role that is played by the cabernet franc in Bordeaux.

Grattamacco: small fermentation vatsTHE SMALL WOODEN FERMENTATION VATS AT GRATTAMACCO ARE BEING PREPARED FOR THE 2008 VINTAGE

Other than with most wines in Bordeaux, during fermentation the juice is not pumped over (remontage), but manually stirred (pieage). This happens in small wooden fermentation vats that are unique for Grattamacco. In general there’s hardly any pumping involved here: the destemmer is simply placed above these small fermentation vats, and after fermentation the young wine naturally flows into the barriques in a cellar deep underground. There the wine ages for 18 months on 100% new French oak.

GRATTAMACCO'S AGEING CELLAR: BIG HOLES IN THE WALL ENSURE THE CELLAR CAN BREATH, INTERACTS WITH THE SURROUNDING HUMID SOIL

Grattamacco combines seduction (yes, chocolate!) and stylishness, an elegant teaser so to speak. Suave, intense, ripe, dark. Very lovely wine, beautifully balanced.

In my previous posting I already mentioned my "favourite enoteca" in Castagneta Carducci, the village close to Grattamacco. It is Enoteca Castagnetana from Francesco Toninelli (Via Cavour 21). Not on the main road, thus better prices and better stories! And by the way, Francesco's father owns a restaurant with a terrace that has the most beautiful view you can imagine. Happiness is complete when you take a look in the wine list… the name: Ristorante Il Vecchio Frantoio. "Cucina Tipica Castagnetana", with wild boar from the surrounding mountains. Not to miss.

FRANCESCO TONINELLI FROM ENOTECA CASTAGNETANA IN CASTAGNETO CARDUCCI

Finally: thanks to Maria Genova from La Strada del Vino for all explanations!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Visit to Tuscany's Maremma

Dear readers, give me a break. The next two weeks me and my computer will be separated, as much as possible at least. I think that's healthy. But the thought of doing no postings also gives me a somewhat uncomfortable feeling: maybe readers will walk away from a blog that remains idle for more than two weeks. But well, I will have to take that risk.

I will be visiting the Maremma. Tuscany's fascinating young wine region near the sea (sea is mare in Italian). With the renown production area Bolgheri, named after the tiny little village in the plains. But I rather visit neighbouring picturesque hillside village Castagneto Carducci. There I will find some great bottles at my favourite enoteca − later I will share with you name and address.

Besides being a wine region, this part of Italy is one of the most beautiful and heavenly places in Europe. I can't wait to go. And luckily I don't have to.

Maybe I will share some wine experience with you in the coming weeks. I'm sure I will be drinking great stuff like Grattamacco (de-li-cious) or their second wine, simply called Bolgheri Rosso; or Sassicaia's second wine "Guidalberto", or third wine "Le Difese". Or Le Macchiole. Anyway, many very interesting wines to taste!

I'll be back. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ranking the First, and some Second Growths

Belgium Wineblogger Peter Vergote from Wijnblog performed a small research around the ratings for the Médoc First Growths (Lafite, Haut-Brion, Margaux, Latour and Mouton) and a few "Super Seconds" (Léoville-las-Cases, Cos d'Estournel and the Third Growth Palmer). He looked at the vintages 2000 − 2007, took the ratings from six journalists (Parker, Robinson, Bettane & Desseauve, Wine Spectator, Decanter and La Revue du Vin de France) and basically started ranking the châteaux. After recalculating a journalist's rating, the maximum score a wine could receive (from one journalist) was 10. Thus 60 points is the maximum for a vintage. Here's the list with the average scores over the last eight years:

1. Château Latour (53,50/60)
2. Château Margaux (50,65/60)
3. Château Lafite-Rothschild (49,30/60)
4. Château Mouton-Rothschild (46,95/60)
5. Château Léoville-las-Cases (45,65/60)
6. Château Haut-Brion (45,30/60)
7. Château Cos d'Estournel (39,83/60)
8. Château Palmer (35,63/60)

One conlusion: only one Médoc can compete with the First Growths: Château Léoville-las-Cases. Always a good investment this wine ;-) Costs about 1/3 of a First Growth. In comparison Palmer has become too expensive.

Taking a closer look at the data reveals the following conclusions:
- Mouton-Rothschild seems to be improving, it ended up first place both in 2006 and 2007. Interesting detail: since 2006 father and son Boissenot consult for Mouton...
- Latour apparently had a problem in 2007: where it always ended up in place 1 or 2 it now ends up in place 5. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 Latour even scored the maximum of 60 points in Peter's comparison! Another interesting detail: 2007 was the first vintage made without Frédéric Ardouin as technical director (Ardouin is now working for Château du Tertre).
- Lowest scores for: Margaux 2002, Haut-Brion 2006, Mouton-Rothschild 2003 and Léoville-las-Cases 2001.

Then Peter also looked at the amount of points a vintage as a whole had gathered. That produced the following list:

1. Bordeaux 2005 (278)
2. Bordeaux 2006 (255)
3. Bordeaux 2004 (252)
4. Bordeaux 2007 (244)
5. Bordeaux 2001 (242)
4. Bordeaux 2000 (239)
6. Bordeaux 2003 (228)

What to think about this? At least that we should take into account that − in general − ratings can be mutually compared within a vintage, but not necessarily between vintages. Well perhaps a little bit: Robert Parker for example has definitely given lower ratings for the Bordeaux 2007 vintage.

Anyway, if you want to read the whole story (quite convenient if you understand Dutch), here's the link to Peter Vergote's posting.

Quite a ballgame altogether. It's the last summer weekend (officially), and the last summery weekend (supposedly), so I will leave my computer now and pour myself a nice cold Loire rosé!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Domaine de Chevalier 2003

The hot Bordeaux 2003 vintage. I will never forget our visit to Saint-Emilion on 8 August 2003, when the thermometer rose up to 43 degrees Celsius (almost 110 degrees Fahrenheit). We made a short walk through a vineyard close to Château Matras, and I remember feeling sorry for the vines − it was so shamelessly hot in those shadeless fields...

Shriveled berries in 2003 around MatrasSAINT-EMILION 2003: SHRIVELLED BERRIES AROUND CHATEAU MATRAS (AND ALSO A HEALTHIER BUNCH ON THE RIGHT)

The hot Bordeaux 2003 vintage. More popular in the US than in Europe it seems. From ripe and round and Mediterranean, to cooked and green and unhealthy. Green? Yes. A vine seriously lacking water locks up, and the berries don't properly ripen anymore (called water stress). You end up with green stuff that gets sunburnt. Very different from the taste of physiologically ripe fruit.

This week I experienced (again) how wonderful a 2003 can be. The money that I had earned from working at Château du Tertre in 2006 I fully 'reinvested' in a pile of cases: Bordeauxs from the vintages 2004, 2003 and 2001 which I found at E.Leclerc in Parempuyre (great name for this small town close to Margaux). Among the 2003s that I bought (and recently tasted) were the Margaux cru classés Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2003 (not really exciting), Château Dauzac 2003 (quite good) and... the Pessac-Léognan − cru classé de graves − Domaine de Chevalier 2003. Very good!

Domaine de Chevalier 2003 Pessac-Leognan
Some wine professional suffering from occupational disability might reject this wine for its lack of fruit. A fact, but here we ought to look further. This is a kind of peculiarity that I find very exciting.

So what did I encounter? In the nose ripeness and toast (and indeed, no refreshing fruit). Strange enough it is like there is warmth in the juice − merely a sensation, as we tasted the wine at a proper 18 degrees. The wine is full-bodied and very smooth. And in spite of this smoothness, the wine clings to the mouth, resulting in a very long finish, with spiced cookies and sweet liquorice, etcetera... very delicious!

And apparently another Stéphane Derenoncourt achievement. Too bad that only one more bottle remains in my cellar. The consolation: there is Chevalier 2006 and 2007 in my shop. My apologies for this salesman-alike twist at the end of this posting, I don't know if it really makes sense, but well, perhaps it is interesting to know that these beauties are for sale.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Château Labégorce-Zédé 2005 and Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2005

The grand Bordeaux 2005 vintage is much talked about. But in most cases the bottles themselves are quietly asleep in the many cellars around the world. While their value increases, or at least has increased. I had a customer who was looking out for Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2005, a lesser-known Margaux cru classé. In April of this year Robert Parker has given his final judgement on this wine: he adjusted his temporary 93-95 rating into 97. My customer hoped to find some last affordable bottles, but the price for this wine has now about tripled in comparison to the primeur price two years ago...

Michel Rolland (consulting at Malescot Saint-Exupéry) and Margaux: not everyone is happy with this combination. But not just Robert Parker is enthusiastic about this Malescot. This summer the (British) Decanter panel tasted all Médoc cru classés blind, and − among 24 other wines − Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry 2005 ended up with a Decanter award, i.e. 5 stars. Well, I hope to taste this wine sooner or later.

Chateau Labegorce-Zede 2005
As I started this posting, the vintage is much talked, and written about. But although young, of course we should taste these wines. Follow its development from its youth. So I uncorked another great 2005: Château Labégorce-Zédé.

For this Margaux the year 2005 also marks the end of an era, that of Luc Thienpont, the man behind an enormous improvement of the quality of this wine. But after about a quarter of a century he sold the château, to be able to fully gear his attention to his right bank properties Vieux-Château-Certan and Le Pin.

The new owner is Hubert Perrodo, who already owned neighbouring château Labégorce. So possibly these two properties will reunite again after their split-up in 1795. But it is more likely that Labégorce-Zédé will keep its own − valuable − identity. Labégorce-Zédé is known for its beautiful terroir, its vineyards are often considered of classified-growth quality, and once Luc Thienpont has said: "If on this terroir you can't make great wine without resorting to hi-tech innovations, then you should give up being a winemaker." (Quote from Stephen Brook's The Complete Bordeaux). Château Labégorce-Zédé is, indeed, quite classic in style.

Chateau Labegorce-Zede 2005
My tasting note of the Labégorce-Zédé 2005: The wine is dark and purplish. In the nose powerful ripe fruit, blackberry and blueberry. A lot of depth and darkness, with a tempting tension. Earthy. In the mouth full-bodied, rich. Hearty juice. Tannins are ripe, but in the finish noticeably young. Sensible use of oak, already quite well-integrated. Impression of liquorice. A joy to drink, but this wine will gain complexity and refinement in the future.

Other than the Malescot Saint-Exupéry the Labégorce-Zédé 2005 is still affordable, and if you look good, you can still find it at attractive prices: just consult Free Wine Searcher.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Visit to Burgundy, day III

Our last day in Burgundy was also the longest day, with four domain visits. But what a reward: dinner at Caves Madeleine, my favourite restaurant in Beaune.

1. Domaine Philippe Garrey, Saint Martin sous Montaigu (Mercury)

Philippe Garrey's vanPHILLIPE GARREY'S BLUE VAN

Saturday morning we drove up to the appellation Mercurey, part of the Côte Chalonnaise, just South of the Côte d'Or. Côte Chalonnaise: the first region that falls off most Burgundy maps. The good news: the region has just been taken up in Clive Coates' brand new The Wines of Burgundy: Revised Edition (this was not the case for its famous predecessor Côte d'Or).

Phillipe Garrey's cavePHILLIPE GARREY'S CAVE CONSTRUCTED IN THE LATE 17TH, EARLY 18TH CENTURY

Phillipe took over in 2002 from his father Pierre. Mr Garrey senior is currently observing his son converting the family domain to biodynamic principles − he is a little sceptical now and then, but then again, he realises it's his son's turn now, and Phillipe seems determined to produce great Mercureys. He filters nor fines his wines, he doesn't chaptalise (i.e. add sugar) and only works with the natural yeasts that live in the vineyards. For his reds he ferments the uncrushed berries, allowing the wines to be light, fruity and gentle.

We tasted the 2006s from bottle and the 2007s from vat, the ambiance his old cave (see the picture above). It is a pleasure to taste these well-balanced, ripe, and even somewhat polished Burgundy's. Very well made, and very pleasant wines − made for drinking, not for sipping.

A BIG CLOUD RISING ABOVE GARREY'S MERCUREY VINEYARD (VIEW DIRECTION SOUTH-SOUTH-WEST). OUR NEXT VISIT: SYLVAIN LOICHET IN CHOREY-LES-BEAUNE, WHERE WE DROVE INTO A SPECTACULAR SHOW OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING AND EXTREME RAIN (THUS BENEATH THIS BEAUTIFUL CLOUD...)

2. Sylvain Loichet, Chorey-lès-Beaune

We had to wait ten minutes in the car before we could get out: the rain was spectacular (to put it mildly). The young and casual looking Sylvain Loichet invited us in his newly renovated cellars in Chorey-lès-Beaune. A cellar under an enormous (and long abandoned) ruin. But once this project is finished Mr Loichet will have an incredible mansion.

Sylvain Loichet in his just renovated cave in Chorey-les-BeauneSYLVAIN LOICHET IN HIS JUST RENOVATED CAVE IN CHOREY-LES-BEAUNE

Loichet owns a few vineyards (these belonged to his family) but he also works with fruit from other growers. The standards however are equally high, and this young guy is doing an incredible job. Personally I was especially impressed by his whites, and then more so by the 2007s (from vat) than the 2006s. Here also: the wines are natural (and not just regarding the vineyard-work, but also with respect to what happens in the cellar). Again no filtration, no fining, and only the whites undergo a modest chaptalisation. For my taste the reds were quite round and somewhat sweetish (but definitely attractive). The Pernand-Vergelesses "Les Belles Filles", the Meursault and the Puligny-Montrachet (all 2007) I thought were great. All three quite different, but all more or less intense, mineral, supple and refreshing.

3. Maison Oroncio, Vosne-Romanée

Oronce de Beler in his cellar under his house in Vosne-RomanéeORONCE DE BELER IN HIS LITTLE (SECRET) CELLAR UNDER HIS HOUSE IN VOSNE-ROMANEE (TASTING 2007)

Oronce de Beler is a Parisian guy who exchanged Paris for Burgundy. His dream: to make great wines. And there are various ways to begin. You can either buy a patch of (affordable) land, start growing vines and make wine. An honourable but slow way. Or you can become a négociant, buy grapes (from various appellations) and make wine. But then you need to find out who to buy from (and if you succeed, the question remains whether these great grapes owners will sell to you...!).

Oronce de Beler tasting 2006 in his office slash living roomORONCE DE BELER TASTING 2006 IN HIS OFFICE SLASH LIVING ROOM

Oronce did something cunning, and fun: he bought a horse and a plough and offered himself for rent. And this is why: only ambitious land owners searching for quality will use a service like this. And this is how Oronce soon got to know the right people (and of course everyone likes his horse-initiative), and he could start making wines. Interesting wines. His style: tender, female, attractive, elegant, stylish wines. For details check out Jan's website (Jan visited Oronce both in June and July this year).

Aurelien Verdet, ArcenantAURELIEN VERDET, ARCENANT

4. Aurélien Verdet, Arcenant (Hautes-Côtes de Nuits)

Our last visit (around 18h30) was in the little village of Arcenant, high up in the Hautes-Côtes. Here the family Verdet have been making organic wine for years − they were one of the first to start working this way. Well actually, the only wines that are organic are the wines that come from their own vineyards in the Hautes-Côtes (white and red).

Next to that Verdet acts as a négociant and buys grapes from various Côtes de Nuits appellations: Nuits-St-Georges, Morey-St-Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. And despite the late hour of our visit we tasted more than ten wines − and I'm glad we did. What a winemaker this young guy is! I loved his (organic) white Burgundy, a wine that has 'just the right balance of everything'. Another highlight: the Nuits-St-Georges 1er cru "Aux Boudots" 2006 (almost Vosne-Romanée): depth and darkness, attraction, refinement, strength, yet a velvetly texture... super!

We ended the evening, as said, in Caves Madeleine. Starting with: the obligatory Salade de gésiers à la crême d'ail (gizzards) followed by the Andouillette 5A de chez Thierry (chitlings). Exciting, and delicious. The wine was interesting (and expensive): a Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru "Les Charmes" 2004 elevated by Lucien le Moine. Supposedly a magician, who is allowed to buy must from all the big guys (possibly DRC included) to make his wine; his interpretation of a certain terroir should be interesting for the selling winemaker, to compare it with what he himself is achieving. A good wine, but I'm afraid not so much for me.

So we ended the evening at Caves Madeleine. Quietly. Taking our time...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Visit to Burgundy, day II

(Part II. See the previous posting for Part I.) This second day, the shock was directly at the first visit. We went to Thévenet in the little village Quintaine between Viré and Clessé in Southern Burgundy. Indeed, in the appellation Viré-Clessé (Mâconnais). I have published before about a wine from Thévenet, an aged Cuvée Tradition (13 years old) from their Domaine de la Bongran, a wine I was completely thrilled about.

Jean Thévenet - Domaine de la BongranDOMAINE DE LA BONGRAN OF JEAN AND GAUTIER THEVENET IN QUINTAINE

And now Gautier Thévenet introduced us to his young Bongrans. Well young, these wines are only sold after a ... slow ... fermentation (about 2 months), a subsequent vat ageing (about 18 to 22 months), and an ageing in bottle for another 2 years. The youngest vintage for sale now is the 2003.

This wine is a true example of a slow wine (to pair slow food). All is done manual, of course viticulture is organic, there are no tricks whatsoever, for example no chaptalisation (adding sugar), only natural yeasts are used, and there is no battonage (stirring of the ageing wine).

Gautier ThevenetGAUTIER THEVENET EXPLAINING

Thévenet has the luck to work with an exceptional terroir, and from his most exceptional vineyard (1 hectare), three or four times in every ten years he makes a quite un-Burgundian wine, one also that he may not call a Viré-Clessé − the wine is too a-typical. It is the super intense Cuvée Levroutée or, when the weather makes it possible, the Botrytis.

These wines − with the Cuvée Tradition − rank among the most beautiful wines I have tasted. Intense yet refined and refreshing, beautifully balanced and rich, just quite unbelievable. When I commented about the beauty of his wines, Gautier modestly reacted "we try".

Domaine de la Chevre BleueDOMAINE DE LA CHEVRE BLEUE, VIEW TOWARDS CHENAS

After − another − delicious lunch in Juliénas (a/o Pressé de pieds de veau en remoulade et condiments) we went to our second visit that 25th of July: Domaine de la Chèvre Bleue from Michèle and Gérard Kinsella. It is the family domain of Michèle; Gérard, who welcomed us, is English and a former computer expert. Now he's a winemaker, a passionate winemaker to be more precise.

Gerard KinsellaGERARD KINSELLA OF DOMAINE DE LA CHEVRE BLEUE

Blue Goat Wine is a small property, with uncomplicated and delightful whites (Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon) and reds (Beaujolais: Chénas and Moulin-en-Vent, the property is exactly on the border of these two appellations). A sympathetic wine, winery and winemaker in a very beautiful area, definitely worth a visit.

The last visit was at the Fleurie-based farmhouse of Nicolas Testard, where he and winemaker-négociant Cyril Alonso welcomed us. Cyril is a man with a firm belief of how to make and enjoy wine. He makes his wines on various domains, with various producers. Sometimes he is (more or less) working alone on a vat that he bought, sometimes he is working closely together with the person that actually harvested the berries. And that's the case also with Nicolas Testard.

Cyril AlonsoCYRIL ALONSO

Alonso makes natural wines, and he stresses that making natural wines is not something that exclusively happens in the vineyard, as can be the case with organic wines. Alonso's way of winemaking (the work in the cellar) is very natural as well. And such − as a matter of fact − is also his whole appearance. We talk a lot about wine and winemaking, in the way that people dealing with wine can do. It just goes on...

Cyril Alonso talkingCYRIL ALONSO TALKING TO JAN VAN ROEKEL (L) AND NICOLAS TESTARD

From all the natural, straightforward, no-nonsense, sometimes tough but always pure and very much made-for-drinking wines I kept coming back to the Beaujolais Villages "Porc tout gai" (2007). One of the simplest wines, but also hard to resist. Later, when we retasted all reds that I brought back from Burgundy, it was the Fleurie 2006 from Domaine des Rajats that presented itself exceptionally well. This wine, a co-production from Alonso and Testard, can simply be characterised as Bottled Pleasure − what a sensuous wine!

ONE OF ALONSO'S JOKES: "LA SCIE ROSE", THE RED SAW, OR... THE CIRRHOSIS...

Fuelled and fulfilled Jan and I left Fleurie to head back to Beaune. And there we discussed our impressions at L'Ecusson, with a Savigny-lès-Beaune 2005 1er cru "Aux Guettes" from Pavelot. A rather un-Alonso wine. Modern, seductive, supple and suave. Lovely, but other than the easy Porc tout gai, suffering a bit from the Law of Diminishing Returns. But maybe we were just tired after this long and inspiring day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Visit to Burgundy, day I

As I wrote in my previous posting: last Thursday Jan and I left early in the morning, and before we arrived at our first date − Chenu at Savigny-lès-Beaune − we perched down on the heavenly terrace of La Miotte in Ladoix-Serrigny to refuel with an Andouillette sause moutarde à l'ancienne (chitlings) − which I washed down with a slightly cooled Ladoix 2005 from Capitain-Gagnerot. A mediocre wine, but fine for this honourable purpose.

Auberge de la Miotte Ladoix-SerrignyAUBERGE DE LA MIOTTE IN LADOIX-SERRIGNY, THE ONLY UN-PEACEFUL THING ABOUT THIS PLACE IS THE PASSING TRAIN... BUT WELL, THAT'S OF COURSE QUITE A ROMANTIC NOISE

Domaine Louis Chenu et Filles, Savigny-lès-Beaune

Then off to our first visit in Savigny-lès-Beaune. Where the two daughters of Louis Chenu run the family domain: Caroline is the winemaker, and Juliette does the commercial part of the business.

The domain, like most serious domains these days, is transferring to organic viticulture. A process that takes about five years, and it is done step by step. Experimentation is part of this process.

Chenu's vinification can be characterised as gentle. After the berries are gently crushed, they enter the vinification vat. During fermentation a vat will undergo just one remontage (pumping over), and per day one manual pieage, i.e. stirring of the must. We tasted the 2006s from bottle, and the 2007s from vat.

Juliette and Caroline ChenuJULIETTE AND CAROLINE CHENU FROM DOMAINE LOUIS CHENU ET FILLES, SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE

The Chenu sisters produce fairly light reds, typical for this region. But with character and spirit, and very pure and sappy. I would almost call these elegant wines female. They also produce a white Savigny, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (common in Savigny) and an Aligoté.

Savigny 1er cru Les LavièresSAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE 1er CRU "LES LAVIÈRES" ON THE SLOPE OF LES VERGELESSES

I especially liked their reds. And then with a slight preference for those produced at Les Vergelesses, the hill between Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny that resembles the neighbouring Corton hill. According to Caroline the 1er cru "Les Lavières" (see picture above) is their most typical red. This wine, which matures one year on oak (20% new) and half a year on tank, is also a little more hearty. Altogether a very interesting domain.

Domaine Pierre Guillemot, Savigny-lès-Beaune

Philippe GuillemotPHILIPPE GUILLEMOT FROM DOMAINE PIERRE GUILLEMOT, SAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE

The second and last visit of our first short day was at Domaine Pierre Guillemot, also in Savigny-lès-Beaune. It was Philippe (early 20, and meant to run the domain in the future) who introduced us to his wines. Good to very good wines, quite classic style, and generally with a little bit more matière − wines that need just a little extra time to fully present themselves. My personal favourites were Les Serpentières 2006 (close to Les Lavières, see picture below) and Corton 2006.

Savigny 1er cru Les SerpentièresSAVIGNY-LES-BEAUNE 1er CRU "LES SERPENTIÈRES", ALSO ON THE VERGELESSES SLOPE

We concluded the day in an utmost pleasant manner: at the famous restaurant Ma Cuisine in Beaune, where we met up with David Clark (winemaker in Morey-St-Denis). All interesting wine talk, and that accompanied with a Salade de Foies de Voilaille (tiny little livers in salad), Rognon de Veau Moutarde (kidneys) and as desert Epoisses au Marc − super ripe delicious cheese, melting off the plate... And all this completed with a Meursault 2001 from J.-F. Coche-Dury (super!) and a Volnay 2002 from Michel Lafarge (OK). To be continued.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trip to Burgundy!

Tomorrow at 05:00h in the morning I am leaving for a short trip to Burgundy, together with Jan van Roekel. At 14:00h we have our first visit in Savigny-lès-Beaune. After which another eight visits will follow the coming days. Exciting visits, a/o to "superstar" (quoting Serena Sutcliffe MW) Jean Thévenet. Tomorrow evening we will have dinner at Ma Cuisine, with David Clark, the magical winemaker from Morey-St-Denis. (And in the weekend we will certainly go to my favourite restaurant in Beaune: Caves Madeleine.) Enough to be thrilled about. It will just take some time before I publish my next posting − probably somewhere next week. Just for the feeling I post below the classic (or classy) label of Thévenet's stunning Tradition. The bottle was from 1995, and we opened it in 2008 − one of those unforgettable wine experiences...!

Jean Thevenet, Domaine de la Bongran 1995
By the way, if you were looking for something to read, today Sophie Kevany happened to have published a short article about Burgundy on Wine Business International.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

No one ever crashed a car after drinking too much Petrus

I have been gripped by the new, first ever, French anti-binge drinking campaign. I had to watch the TV spot, launched the day before yesterday (July 17th) at least four times. My god. The tagline is 'excess of alcohol results in comas, violence, accidents and sexual abuse'. There, but for the grace of my guardian angel, went I. And not on a tropical sandy beach either.

The thing was that in the roaring 90's in Dublin, the more money there was, the more we drank. Nights out. Weekends gone. Restaurant bills one couldn't quite remember paying. Tabs for champagne run up and forgotten until someone was kind enough to remind you.

I was not surprised in fact to read that 'drink related liver disease' as it is called – used to be cirrhosis – in Ireland was up 234% in the last seven years, which falls in nicely with the rise of the Celtic Tiger. Let's hope the fall does us all good.

The thing is, in Ireland you tended to drink the money in your pocket and since we never had very much it was not a problem. As Brendan Behan put it, about growing up in Dublin in the 1920's and 30's: "As regards drink, I can only say that in Dublin, during the depression when I was growing up, drunkenness was not regarded as a social disgrace. To get enough to eat was an achievement. To get drunk was a victory."

As soon as we had a bit of money the problems started and we realized we had never actually learned to drink.

Not like the French who seemed, to us anyway, to drink all day, even at lunchtime - and smoke, and do other kinds of cool things like speak French – but, amazingly, never actually get drunk.

So the launch of the campaign, and all the laws that go with it, to be introduced next year, like upping the drinking age from 16 to 18, was almost a surprise. Notwithstanding the fact that the French papers have been full of really heartbreaking stories about teenagers found in alcoholic coma's before school, an 18 year old who died after a night out celebrating his exam results, and two young men who beat another one to death during an all night party. They were so deranged they actually went back to the party with blood on their shirts.

The figures of how often young people get this drunk, and how much the French actually drink, are disputed – mainly by the pro wine lobby - but the Health Minister is not letting that slow her down.

So, as of next year, no more public, as in on the pavement I assume, drinking near schools. The two girls who got drunk on early morning shooters were in a bar next to their school, you see.

No more open bars, where students pay a nominal fee to drink all night and student union leaders says they always have an ambulance on stand by.

No more buying a bottle of wine from a highway petrol station. No more lax serving of alcohol without seeing ID. No more bottles of vodka from the local supermarket to drink with friends before you go out.

I see a booming business in fake ID's and under the counter alcohol sales looming, but still, it will make things just that bit harder. Actually, in France, until now, teenagers seem to have been pushing against an open door.

I also foresee a very dim future for wine on the web, which is remains illegal in France after the failed attempt last week by a French senator to have it approved as a medium for alcohol publicity. The web? The thing young people use? Allowed as a medium for alcohol publicity? What??

The problem is that no other country as far as I know has actually thought about approving the web because it was never unapproved. Here, it's now a political hot potato and all the cries that wine is not the same as vodka, or beer, that it has a history, a culture, that the very word means moderation – or as a great Bordeaux personage once told me, 'no one ever crashed a car after drinking too much Petrus' - are destined, I fear, to fall on deaf ears for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Couhins 2007, Roquefort 2007 and some more white Bordeaux 2007

The 2007 vintage seems to have been more successful for the white wines than for the red wines. I am using the word "seems" because eventually time will tell. As Beverley Blanning MW comments in Decanter: "The wines certainly have lovely pure and delicate Sauvignon-dominant fruit - perfect for early drinking - but it's not clear if they have the acidity or fruit concentration to be long-lived."

Chateau Couhins, Chateau Roquefort, R de Rieussec and Chateau Reynon
This week I tasted four white 2007s, some meant to be drunk early (or at least not after a long period of cellaring), some also fit for the longer term. And yes, all four showed "Sauvignon-dominant fruit".

1. Château Roquefort 2007, Bordeaux blanc sec. Meant for early drinking (2008 - 2010). A very good continuation after the delicious Roquefort 2006. The 2007 (still) comes across lean and clean - especially compared to the somewhat broader 2006 - and with a little youthful sweetness in the nose. In the mouth the 2007 is very refreshing showing a little more acidity than the 2006. Lovely wine, again.

2. Château Reynon 2007, Bordeaux blanc sec. Quite famous white Bordeaux from Denis Dubourdieu. I can see this is a good wine, but I do not like it. At least not in this stage. It displays (no, it shouts out) very animal Sauvignon characteristics that makes me visualise dampy armpits. Even in the mouth it is still stinky, so that's quite an accomplishment. Besides that the wine seems 'well made' (terrible thing to say, something like an 'interesting' wine).

3. R de Rieussec 2007, Bordeaux blanc sec. The dry white wine from Château Rieussec (Sauternes). For two reasons I had expected a great wine: 1) Château Rieussec is always very good and 2) I expected more or less the same style as from "Le G de Giraud", the fabulous dry white from Château Giraud (also Sauternes). But the R de Rieussec came across more average. It is definitely good, but not special. It lacked some concentration. Not a wine that I do mind drinking, it is nice and in a modest way complete, but just not really convincing.

4. Château Couhins 2007, Cru Classé de Graves, Pessac-Léognan. Wow! (to start with). I was alerted by Decanter, they were enthusiastic about this wine. Couhins is separated from the better known Château Couhins-Lurton in 1968. Since then the new owner, the agricultural research centre INRA, used this property for... agricultural research. And the agricultural researchers themselves drunk the wines (part of the research probably). But since a few years Couhins is sold through the Place de Bordeaux. The 2007 is impressive, especially when looking at its price-quality ratio. The wine has a rich yet soft texture with inciting beams of acidity shooting through - every corner of the mouth is touched. The nose, like Reynon, has some animal treats, but it remains at the good side here. Some oak can be sensed (on the tongue), but that is nicely interwoven with the fruit. A graceful wine with plenty of concentration. Rich and complete. Spirited!

I tasted these wines to decide with which I would (continue to) 'work'. I made my decisions. And should you be curious to actually taste the chosen ones, please feel free to visit my shop. Besides the Roquefort and Couhins you will only encounter wines that, like Roquefort and Couhins, are truly worth being uncorked.