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.