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.

Monday, July 7, 2008

No more Grand Cru Classés from Saint-Emilion...

Mainly because of the launch of my own wine import I was too busy last week to sit down and write a posting for the blog. That doesn't feel good, but sometimes one really has to leave the computer...

So I will restrict myself to mentioning one thing: the trashing of the Saint-Emilion classification (you will have heard about it by now). In November I could still write "Without doubt, many St Emilion châteaux will have heaved a deep sigh of relief: earlier this week the Conseil d'Etat abolished the temporary suspension of the 2006 St Emilion classification." But today no sighs of relief. Just horror. The classification died, it seems.

Many châteaux are about to bottle their 2006, but none of these wines can now be labeled "(Premier) Grand Cru Classé" (there is still the appellation Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, but that doesn't have any value).

If you listen to the reaction of various chateaux-owners, this decision will have a very negative impact on the right bank wines. For some vehement reactions check out the article in the Telegraph.co.uk.

The Saint-Emilion châteaux that initiated the legal steps are Château Guadet Saint-Julien, Château la Marzelle, Château Cadet-Bon and Château la Tour du Pin-Figeac. How will it be to be one of the owners of these chateaux? Are these people at risk? Can they still walk their dog at night in the quiet town of Saint-Emilion? Will they be welcome at the local bars?

There's lots of vague politics involved here. Looking at the ruling, the four chateaux owners might at least have a point. In general, the Bordelais do not seem to be so handy with new classifications (the left bank 2003 cru bourgeois classification was also annulled recently). Anyways, enough food for lenghty articles, or a sappy book I would say. And I am sure some sappy book will soon be published about all the powers behind the new classifications... to bad I do not have the time to go investigate and write...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Biodynamic opulence: Leflaive and L'esquisse

Others have said the same, but if you look at the ongoing improvement in quality of the wines from Giscours and Du Tertre, until today,− if you look at the enormous investments that have been made throughout the last 10-15 years,− if you take into account that Eric Albada Jelgersma had earned enough money to buy Giscours, and later Du Tertre, with the purpose and challenge to transform these potentially grand wines from mediocre crus to truly grand crus, it simply does not make sense to think that Mr Albada Jelgersma commanded to mix up some Haut-Médoc with wine from the Margaux appellation;− to make some minor short-term profit. On announced appeal yesterday's court judgement will probably − and hopefully − be reversed.

Then for something completely different: drinking great wines. Yesterday I enjoyed two beauties: first a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" 1997 from Domaine Leflaive, and thereafter a L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001. Two very different wines that have one thing in common: advice on biodynamics from guru François Bouchet. Bouchet also consults at Leroy and Chapoutier.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
To start with the last wine: L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac − the second wine of Château La Tour Figeac − has quite an impressive background, and I could name it "a small Cheval Blanc" (a description that commercially always works well). The reason: until 1879 La Tour Figeac was part of Figeac, and until 1830 Cheval Blanc and Figeac also belonged together. Ergo: La Tour Figeac and Cheval Blanc belonged together.

And with the following the connection is even tightened: Cheval Blanc is known for its high proportion of cabernet franc, and such is the second wine of La Tour Figeac (70% for the 2001 vintage). The vines used for the L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac are also mainly found in the 'Cheval Blanc corner' of La Tour Figeac.

Nice fun facts, but is the wine drinkable? Yes, very much! Beautifully à point now after seven years. Lots of depth and tension. Pure, and a little earthy. Delicious black fruit, succulent and supple.

The second biodynamic wine was the one that we started the evening with: a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" 1997 from Domaine Leflaive.

Tasting note: fat, ripened nose. Hint of hay, as soft as butter on the tongue, and in the mouth. Broad and complex, yet refined − a perfect whole. Round acids in a long tender finish. Hazelnut. An exalted white, and so vital for its age.

Anyway, all honour to the biodynamic wines. Again a great experience.