Thursday, February 28, 2008

Calon-Ségur 1988 and Thévenet’s Cuvée Tradition 1995

One of my favourite ways to spend the evening is to open a special bottle with one or more friends. Actually the fun starts earlier, when thinking about which wine to open. Then: the pulling out of the old cork, the contemplating about one's age when the wine was mis en bouteille, the pouring out of the wine in the large Riedel glasses... then the sniffing, the tasting, the exploring... the writing, the talking...

It even gets better when the wines do stand supreme. And that is exactly what happened on the regular Thursday of 21 February 2008. Witnesses are Noraneath Phlek, a Bordeaux-lover from Paris who visited Amsterdam and was in for a drink, and Jan van Roekel, Burgundy-lover living in Amsterdam and never not in for a drink.

Château Calon-Ségur 1988 and Thévenet's Cuvée Tradition 1995
The first wine was of the type Shock and Awe. The Cuvée Tradition 1995 from Jean Thévenet’s Domaine de la Bongran (Mâconnais). This more than 12 years old white wine was of an extraordinary beauty. It was a rare experience to drink a – more or less dry – white wine that is so rich and so ripe.

Thévenet picks his grapes as late as possible when these are very ripe, if not overripe. The 'just very ripe' grapes are used for the Cuvée Tradition (the one we tasted), the overripe grapes account for the Cuvée Levroutée, and then there is the Cuvée Botrytisée, naturally from grapes that are attacked by noble rot. Naturally? Well not quite: in the Mâconnais, but also in Burgundy as a whole, it is very uncommon to make wine from botrytis-affected Chardonnay. There are some producers, for example Domaine Leflaive, who do not necessarily sort out (all) botrytised fruit, as it can add complexity to the wine. But in general it is something we see in Sauternes, not in Burgundy.

The enormous concentration in the wine is not just the result of the ripeness, but also of the low yields and of the applied vinification methods (to put it very simple: every step is taken Very Slowly). As said: with an Awesome result. The nose is very ripe and impressive. Tropical traits, but not just the cheap tropical sweetness. Very rich taste, the wine feels soft in the mouth and is not completely dry. Sweet ripe pink grapefruit, good acidity, honey, some sweetish spices. An incredible wine, and with a long finish.

My 1995 was still an AOC Mâcon-Clessé. Later the new appellation Viré-Clessé was installed, but the wines from Thévenet (one of the kings of the Mâcon) were regarded as too atypical to be labelled as Viré-Clessé, so the younger Thévenets are now sold as - just - Mâcon-Villages. If you want to read more about this joke, check out what Dr. Marty from PJ Wine wrote about this.

Clearly we were in the mood for more, but how to proceed after the Grand Bongran? What about a Château Calon-Ségur 1988? That turned out to be another good idea. The twenty year old cru classé from Saint-Estèphe appeared to be perfectly à point. A dark wine, full, sweet-ripened, fierce. Deep purple nose, hints of creamy school paint (at least the stuff they used in Holland in the 70's). Rich and very complete in the mouth. Rounded and balanced. An animal, graceful wine. A velutinous beauty.

In between we also briefly tasted the other two wines on the picture: the white(!) Vougeot 2005 "Clos du Prieuré" from Domaine de la Vougeraie (beautiful classic white Burgundy) and also Château Sainte Colombe 2005, a very pleasant Côtes de Castillon about which I will write soon.

Then something completely different: interested in making your own blend at home? Then check out this new Californian initiative: Fusebox.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I can’t believe it. I am in shock.

I went away this week, to Montpellier for VINISUD, the 'Mediterranean wine trade fair' is what they call themselves for 'wines of the south', and it was great.

Almost every wine I tasted a) tasted good b) was organic or biodynamic and c) was affordable – in the 5 to 15 euro retail price range. Now maybe I was just lucky but I got the impression that as long as I avoided the fruit lozenge coloured ones, the shimmery pinks and bright yellows lined up all over the place, I could not go wrong.

Corbières and Minervois were my two favourite areas – not to be too romantic about it but they actually have a dry taste that I associate with the winds I have seen blowing over the vines, forcing them half flat. Plus the best ever tasting red organic wine I have ever encountered from Domaine de Clairac, a Vin de Pays de l'Hérault. It will become my house red after Château Fonroque (Saint-Emilion biodynamic red which is wonderful but 22 euro a bottle so not an every night wine).

But none of that is why I am shocked. I am shocked because I got back to Bordeaux to find out that the primeur tastings had started. I swear. At least I do according to the Figaro website which has not only already tasted them, but has taken to putting "L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération" at the end of their ARTICLES. I am not joking. I know the whole ANPAA thing was a bit seismic, but really, there is no need to do that on a printed article, with no pictures. I must check if it is the same in the paper. It CAN'T be. That would be mad and auto-censorship from a height. But maybe they are just covering themselves.

(That is what RTE, the national Irish broadcaster, used to say anyway when they used the 'voice of an actor' for Gerry Adams in the days when they were not allowing themselves to be used as a propaganda machine. Well, at least that is what they said they were doing. So you would see him and hear his words but he would not be speaking it was 'voice of an actor' which was written on the screen. Mad and totally funny when you look back on it now. But that is what auto-censoring does to one.)

Like when all the French wine growers moan and say they were never allowed to put the name of the grape variety on the label because it was forbidden by INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine). Well, INAO declared they had never said any such thing. But that was the kind of climate. And this is the climate now. I suppose I had better put "L'abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération" at the end of this article. God be with the days when someone dared to put "Drinking this may cause pregnancy" on a bottle of Bordeaux. He was Dutch if I remember right. And it was a JOKE – always the first thing to go when auto-censorship arrives. Humour.

Anyway, the point about the primeurs is that, although The Figaro has the headline "First impressions on the primeurs" it spends the next paragraph explaining that it is much too early for first impressions. And then the third paragraph saying that the 2007 has more elegance, finesse, l'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération - ooooo sorry, that just slipped in by accident – and less concentration. Well great. Can't wait to abuse it. I mean taste. Taste it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Unofficial scoop: Charmail sold

In this posting I combine a Mini Scoop with some Old News, say to compensate the poorness of the one with the age of the other. The unofficial news is that Château Charmail is sold. As soon as I know more I will come back to this. Provided it is interesting.

Château Charmail 2004
Charmail's (old?) owner is Olivier Sèze. He bought the château in 1980 when it was in a very bad condition. And ever since it has been his life's work to have Charmail's star shine again, as it had done a long long time ago. Anyway, a change of ownership is not the first thing that comes up when thinking about Château Charmail. But then again, maybe it is just a rumour.

A year ago, to be precise on 9 February 2007, I tasted the Charmail 2004. And if you're interested, this was my impression: "Dark and concentrated looks. Unless some sweetness in the nose this wine (still) shows some hard edges, seems somewhat locked up. Palate with much concentration, firm acids and grainy tannins. Young, and difficult at this moment." Clearly a wine to taste again.

Then the 'old news'. Something I missed: the presentation of the label of Mouton Rothschild 2005. It happened somewhere in the dark last days of 2007. And maybe you missed it too. So here it is, the new label, in all its glory:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2005
It is illustrated by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone. Quote from Mouton's website: "In his art, Penone seeks to link the vegetal world and the human body in works that display their powerful materiality. His drawing for Mouton 2005 evokes the vine-grower's "green fingers", a living expansion of the vine leaf and at the same time the splayed hand of the drinker – soon to close round a glass of Mouton!"

At least when you're lucky, regarding this last thing. I did have the luck already to taste the 2005, in April 2007, at the château. I remember it was grand, but I was so stupid not to take a note... So I hopefully get another chance to "close my hand around a glass of Mouton 2005."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stephen Brook laughing at the Dutch

At this moment I am reading the Introduction of The Complete Bordeaux, the new book by the English wine writer Stephen Brook. Very interesting stuff. And quite serious, most of it. Therefore I was surprised - and amused - when I encountered the following passage in a paragraph about the history of the brokers - the courtiers - in Bordeaux: "The Dutch and the British were to prove complementary masters of Bordeaux commerce: the former favoured wines that were as cheap as could be compatible with drinkability, whereas the British market went for quality even if the price was considerably higher. The British preference was not just a reflection of intrinsic good taste, compared to the Dutch predilection for soapy cheese, stewed eels, caravanning, and cheap, sweet wine."

Stephen Brook: The Complete Bordeaux: the Wines, the Châteaux, the People
Especially the "caravanning" strikes home as a fatal judgement. OK, it is somewhat out of place in this text about 18th century history, but it is true, unfortunately. When I happen to drive South during the holidays (I'd rather not) I always wonder how the French, the Germans, the English etc. will perceive the endless row of plodding Dutch caravans on the right hand lane, this symbol of an over the top practical national character. Or if you want, a sign of dubious taste. Caravan people never really leave their orderly country.

Regarding wines we, the Dutch, have made some progress, I would say. And still there is plenty of teaching to do in this country.

May this blog be one of the examples of Dutch progression, and with it we hope to inspire people to discover the truly great classic wines of France.

But probably the people who read this blog will already have done so. And I'm also quite sure that no caravanner will ever see this posting. But if I'm wrong, I'd definitely like to hear from you!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Set Wine Free

Such a busy month in Bordeaux, this January, just when everything should have been so quiet. The primeur polemic has already started - it gets earlier every year - the Chinese have bought their first château – Disney like and a bargain to boot – and left bank Poujeaux was sold to the owners of right bank Clos Fourtet.

The primeur polemic usually kicks off in February with négociants calling for, in recent years, a 40% reduction, minimum, on last year's prices. Then the châteaux owners all say it is way too early to talk about prices, before anyone has even tasted the wine, and then the négociants fling up their hands and say, more or less, that taste doesn't matter given the dollar/the market/the prices last year etc. etc. And so it goes. This year however, it all started in early January and it's gotten a bit personal with two heavyweights, both French and one from the very heart of Bordeaux, calling the primeurs, respectively, mad and immoral.

The mad comment came from former Pétrus winemaker, Jean-Claude Berrouet, who said, wisely, that wines needed to be judged over time, and not in "a moment of madness", i.e. during the primeurs. Berrouet also said the increasingly speculative nature of the primeurs was "a disaster for wine", which has turned it into a hostage. Hmmm. Set a wine free tonight, I suggest. And make it the best.

The second major attack came from, of all people, Alain Dominique Perrin, former head of luxury group Richemont – the one that owns most things including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc and so on – who said if there was any morals in the wine world the top 2007 wines should cost 100 euro en primeur. Well dream on. He also claimed that the cost of production of a bottle of premier cru was about 12 euro! I have asked several people at several top châteaux about this and the only response so far has been silence or no comment. Can there be any truth in it? Investigations continue.

While all this was going on, a Chinese company – Longhai International Trading Company Ltd. – was quietly wrapping up the purchase of Château Latour-Laguens in Entre-Deux-Mers. The 60 hectare estate, 30 of vines, described as 'Disney like' in its prettiness, went, the agent hinted, for something in the region of 18 to 20,000 euro per hectare. Nice one guys. Longhai by the way, means Dragon Mother, and that was the week after no one at all bid for Château Badette, eight hectares or so in St Emilion. Reserve price was two million. So it just goes to show, it's not all location, location, location, a lot depends on who has the cash and what it is that they want to do with it.

The aim of buying Latour-Laguens was, agent quote again, "to get a foothold in one of the best known wine growing areas in the world." Well Mother Dragons do say nice things like that, probably, before they blow a neat gust of very hot air across your bows.

Finally, in terms of buys, and it wasn't really January rather February 1st, but anyway, the owners of St Emilion Clos Fourtet, the Cuvelier family, expanded from right to left, unusual in Bordeaux, buying Château Poujeaux in the Médoc. One hundred hectares, 70 of vines, for the undisclosed price of between 30 and 40 million euro.

As I said, a busy month.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Clos du Jaugueyron on spectacular Japanese cover

Recently I came across a cover of the Japanese wine magazine "Real Wine Guide". It shows one of the wines that I wrote about earlier, the Haut-Médoc Clos du Jaugueyron (see my 29/12 posting). "Real Wine Guide" doesn't sound very Japanese, but it neither does sound very English. It belongs to the same kind of Far-East sort of English as does, for example, the "China Wines Information Website". But well, I shouldn't say anything: an English-speaking reader of this blog has pointed out to me that my English is not completely without mistakes...

Clos du Jaugueyron on the Real Wine GuideCLOS DU JAUGUEYRON ON THE COVER OF JAPANESE REAL WINE GUIDE.

But let's look at the cover! Personally I think it is incredibly beautiful. I showed it to my artist friend Kim Holleman and see here her reaction "I totally love it (totally!)". I do not know where graphic design ends and Art commences, but to me - with my European eyes - this is Art. Just compare this to the ordinary glossy covers of Decanter or La Revue du Vin de France. Anyway, I definitely wanted to show this awesome cover on my blog.

But as interesting as the cover itself is the fact that Clos du Jaugueyron is part of it. The article inside features mainly grand crus, and just a few other wines. Clos du Jaugueyron not only made it into the article, but it gained praise, and it even ended up on the cover of the magazine as a sort of Coup de Coeur. Maybe it is a little hard to see on the copy above, so here is the detail of the cover with the wine.

Clos du Jaugueyron on the Real Wine Guide (detail)CLOS DU JAUGUEYRON ON THE COVER OF JAPANESE REAL WINE GUIDE - DETAIL.

It is not the first time that this wine is picked out as something very special. As noted earlier the Clos du Jaugueyron 2004 stood an excellent chance at the Grands Vins de Bordeaux 2004 tasting of the Grand Jury Européen.

Clos du Jaugueyron is a relatively small property in Arsac, at the border of the Margaux appellation, close to Château Monbrison and Château du Tertre. The property is small, but getting bigger: in 2006 it has grown from 2,5 to 5 hectares - growth to the East, into the gravely soils of the neighbouring commune of Macau.

Clos du Jaugueyron 2006 Japanese tasting noteCLOS DU JAUGUEYRON 2006 JAPANESE TASTING NOTE.

The Jaugueyron is definitely not a standard Bordeaux. As I described in my earlier post (about the 2003) "a little unusual, with a distinct, but attractive character". And also "Very open, pronounced. Very good." This particular character is partly the result of the diversity of grape varieties in the Clos du Jaugueyron vineyard: besides the known varieties cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot you will find - on a plot planted in 1898 - some malbec, some carmenère and even some unknown grape varieties. Quite exciting.

Two other things that account for a wine with pronounced fruit and richness is that owner Michel Théron does not crush the grapes (the alcoholic fermentation is thus carried out with intact berries), and that racking is kept to a minimum (hence the wine ages on its lees, resulting a more complete wine).

Should your curiosity be whetted now, no worries, at least when you're Dutch; the wine is recently available at Bordoverview (pdf, in Dutch). Offered with pride.