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).


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.