Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bordeaux 2009 – a backstage view

Bordoverview Blog invited Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen to share his insider's view with us on the Bordeaux 2009 vintage. Since 2003 Bache-Gabrielsen is technical director of Château Belle-Vue and Château de Gironville (both Haut-Médoc) and neighbouring Château Bolaire (Bordeaux Supérieur).

In addition, since the 2009 vintage Bache-Gabrielsen is also in charge at Pauillac classed growth Château Pédesclaux, and Château Lilian Ladouys in Saint-Estèphe. Both estates were acquired by Jacky Lorenzetti in 2008.

It will be worth following the developments at these two châteaux. Pédesclaux is known as a notorious underperformer since long, and with the change of ownership the future of this classed growth is shining.

With the malo ended, and in some cases still in progress, it is a good moment to take a closer, and detailed, look at the much talked about Bordeaux 2009 vintage. Bache-Gabrielsen's experience is focused on the Médoc, yet spans this area from south (Belle-Vue, De Gironville) to the north (Lilian Ladouys).

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Vincent Bache-Gabrielsen − In September 2008 Jacky Lorenzetti asked me to take charge of the winemaking at Château Lilian Ladouys. The aim was to revive the château's glorious past of the late eighties. A lot of hard work began in order to make this wine as good as possible. After having finished the 2008, we began to prepare the 2009 vintage. Pruning was redefined in order to have the best spreading out of the grapes. All interventions that can help create the best ripening of grapes are done. Unwanted branches and leaves are removed.

In May 2009, I also started at Château Pédesclaux, which was bought by Lorenzetti as well. We had the opportunity to put in place a very qualitative preparation of the vine for harvest. In both Lilian Ladouys and Pédesclaux, it was the first time that such work was done.

Weather in 2009 was quite perfect to make a great wine. Nevertheless, some rain in May and June allowed mildew to become a bit aggressive and we had to be watchful in order to protect leaves and grapes against this disease.

We also have to remember the hail that destroyed some vineyards in Entre-deux-Mers, Saint-Emilion and Margaux. The village of Labarde, where Belle-Vue has one plot, was affected. Luckily, we were at the edge of the cloud and we didn't have any damage.

In July, August, September and until October the 20th, we had very dry weather (only 19 mm in August - one third of the normal rainfall, and 20 mm in September). From the first of October to the 20th, we had no rain.

At the end of August, we waited for a little bit of rain, because some Merlots vines in gravelly soils showed some signs of thirst. The berries were very small and some grapes began to shrivel. Luckily, some rain arrived around September the 19th (15 mm) and allowed ripening to continue in good conditions. But the berries were still small. The juices would be very concentrated but the yields would probably be lower than expected. In Saint-Emilion and the Graves region, the rains were very important and reached nearly 100 mm, which allowed some vintners to accelerate their harvest while others waited longer in order to concentrate the grapes.

When we made the first samples of grapes at the beginning of September, we found an incredibly high level of sugar and quite low acidity. The question of when we have to harvest rises and will be the center of every conversation with others winemakers. Some want to harvest early, some want to wait.

The berries tasting, using the method that we created at Château Belle-Vue in 2003, will give the answer. While there is a lot of sugar and the color is very dark, the skins still are very tough, releasing some green aromas and tannins. We chose to wait until the end of September, but some prestigious neighbors in Macau or Saint-Estèphe began between September the 14th and the 19th. This period is always very difficult because there's a lot of pressure on our shoulders. A lot of owners or winemakers concede and harvest rapidly, in order to reduce risks. But I am convinced that decisions at this stage determine the quality of the future wine and that calculated risks are indispensable to make great wines.

An enormous amount of work of tasting berries begins at Château Belle-Vue, Lilian Ladouys and Pédesclaux. Lilian Ladouys has more than 170 plots and we have to taste the berries 2 or 3 times to settle the good harvest date.

The weather is still perfect for ripening. Days are hot and dry, nights are cold. Therefore, we have a good synthesis of aromas and tannins.

We started harvesting the plots of Merlot of Château Pédesclaux and Château Lilian Ladouys on September the 30th. We waited until October the 2nd for Château Belle-Vue. We harvested in order to protect integrity of fruit and conserve all the aromatic potential.

The grapes were healthy and the sorting was not hard to do before destemming. But it is hard to separate berries from stems. It is probably because of the small berries and the pretty hard skins. We put in a lot of work sorting after the destemmer and we are really happy with our new system of optical sorting, using a new machine that separates the green parts from the berries, using cameras and compressed air.

September weather concentrated grapes and sugar levels were very high. Some Merlots were higher than 16% alc vol and some Cabernet Sauvignons were higher than 14%! Luckily, the acidity was good (pH between 3.6 and 3.8) and the average of each vat was not higher than 15% alc vol. The Petits Verdots were perfect, with high sugar levels combined with big acidity and a huge color. These big levels of alcohol are moderated by freshness and intense tannins.

After harvesting the Merlots, we waited some days until starting the Petits Verdots and Cabernets. While walking along the vines, we found a few berries attacked by rot so we decided to continue harvesting.

We chose to use cold maceration before fermentation in order to extract fruit and soft tannins in aqueous phase. We succeeded in keeping the must at a temperature under 5°c for more than 10 days (until 28 days on a vat of Merlot).

Considering the high level of sugar, we think that it is imperative to use selected yeasts. We chose bayanus on Merlot (more security) and more qualitative yeasts on Petit Verdots and Cabernet Sauvignons that do not have so much sugar.

We were a bit surprised by the color which appeared slowly, even during the long cold maceration. On gravelly soils, it will be the same for the tannins. The first fermented vats of our neighbors analyzed by the laboratory show a light color and few tannins (IPT* are about 50). The 2009 vats need considerable work.

We use the technique of délestage exclusively at Belle-Vue and Lilian Ladouys and alternate with pigeage at Pédesclaux. Tannins are very soft and we extract very late in the fermentation. While we should have stopped extraction very early in the fermentation because of the alcohol levels, the numerous tastings indicated that we could continue our work.

We also have to be careful with fermentation temperatures. We control temperature to be under 25°c in order to have good conditions for yeasts.

After fermentation, we chose to empty a vat in order to fill the others. We want to have a long maceration in order to harmonize this big structure (some vats have IPT* between 100 and 141). The wines seem to be sensitive to oxidation.

We finished the pressing on November the 25th, about 2 months after the beginning of harvest.

Malolactic fermentations are finished at Pédesclaux and happening now at Belle-Vue and Pédesclaux. We have to be careful with brettanomyces that can develop during this period.

Ageing will have to respect fruit and the high quality of tannins. The high alcohol level in our wines will make them extract the tannins of wood and we have to be very careful on preserving these wonderful wines. We made a drastic selection of new and old barrels (one and two wines) in order to eliminate any imperfections.

Bordeaux 2009 is very special. Even with a high percentage of alcohol, they are not hot. They have freshness, density and are very expressive. They have the combined qualities of 2003 (aromas) and 2005 (structure). They present chalky tannins. Only the best vats of 2005 had this quality of tannins. They are already smooth, without aggression.

The challenge will be to preserve all these qualities and stabilize them with ageing. Cabernet Sauvignons show a very long mouth and will once again be the stars of the Médoc. Bordeaux 2009 is again an excellent year for Petit Verdot (and we are thinking about planting some at Château Pédesclaux).

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*The IPT (Indice des Polyphénols Totaux) is a measure of total tannins (including anthocyanins and therefore reflecting color) in grapes. The average in Bordeaux was 70 in 2000, 73 in 2003, and 78 in 2005. This shows a significant increase over time: in 1982 it was between 62 and 63. This means that total phenol levels have increased from 5 g/l to 6 g/l over 20 years [source].

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Follow the future updates on the Bordeaux 2009 vintage on Twitter, Bordoverview Blog, Bordoverview (from April 2010) and – for Dutch and Belgium readers – www.bordeaux-2009.nl.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On lunar golfing, Jefferson, Mozart and wine

Dwayne Perreault − It's one of those useless questions, sort of like asking "What is it like to play golf on the moon?" but sometimes when I'm drinking a great wine, like a Hermitage or a Bordeaux grand cru classé, I can't help but wonder, "What did this wine taste like hundreds of years ago?"

M. Chapoutier Hermitage Chante-Alouette
Well, guess what? During the Apollo 14 mission to the moon in 1971, Alan Shephard strapped the head of a six iron to a sampling instrument and purportedly drove a golf ball several kilometers in the direction of a crater, the largest sand trap ever. So that's what it's like to play golf on the moon.

As for how wine tasted in the 1700's, that's a little more difficult to determine. Obviously we can't taste the wines today, so we have no point of reference to compare them to contemporary wines. If wine is to be considered an art, it is like an ice sculpture which melts in the sun: temporary, fleeting, to be enjoyed before it disappears.

There are exceptions. I think of the 1811 Chateau d'Yquem Robert Parker tasted in 1996. He awarded it 100 points, his absolute bench mark. But most wines never live that long, and it is the privileged few indeed who get to taste such specimens.

But there are historical records of great wines which give us an idea of how they tasted. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was a fine wine lover and while French ambassador from 1784-9 he travelled extensively throughout France, Germany and Italy noting his impressions of the wines he tasted.

According to James Gabler's book Passions: the wines and travels of Thomas Jefferson, "Jefferson considered white Hermitage and Champagne the two best white wines of France. He held white Hermitage in such high esteem that he called it 'the first wine in the world without a single exception.' During his presidency he purchased 550 bottles of white Hermitage from the House of Jourdan. The Jourdan vineyards were eventually inherited by the Monier family who, because of their ancestry, revived the name Chastaing de la Sizeranne. The Jourdan vineyards presently belong to the house of M. Chapoutier who calls his red Hermitage, La Sizeranne and his white Hermitage, Chante-Alouette (Lark's Song). To drink a white Hermitage from the same vineyard, and made from the same grapes that Jefferson shared with dinner guests at the President's House, one need only buy M. Chapoutier's Chante-Alouette."



So I did (see the picture of the bottle above). For tasting notes, please refer to my posting, Visit to M. Chapoutier.

Meanwhile, at the same time Jefferson was whetting his wine appetite in France, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was in Vienna composing the operas The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787). Unlike Jefferson, Mozart was not a collector of wines, but he was an avid drinker. It would appear that his favourite wine was the Marzemino from Trentino, for in his opera, Don Giovanni, just before being delivered into hell, sings "Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzemino!"

Eugenio Rosi 'Poeima' 2003 Marzemino
It may be that Marzemino was widely available in nearby Vienna at the time, or it may have to do with the fact that Roverto, the second town in Trentino, hosted Mozart several times; in fact, the thirteen year-old Mozart gave his first public performance there. But today, Marzemino is a relatively obscure varietal wine with just a handful of producers in Trentino.

What does good Marzemino taste like? Well, I happen to sell one: the Eugenio Rosi 'Poeima' 2003. This is an outstanding example of this variety, worthy indeed of some bottle ageing despite possessing medium tannins; this is perhaps due to the good acidity in the wine. Silky in texture, the focus here is on wild berries, plums and dark fruit, a balanced wine that accompanies both white and red meat dishes, or simply drinks itself away. If it tasted like this in the 1780's, I can understand why Mozart enjoyed it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What we've been drinking lately

Busy times for a wine merchant, December, but a blog needs to be fed. Perhaps my postings will be a little shorter these days. In this one I briefly mention some of the wines we've been drinking − some interesting, and some great.

Barnaut Millésime 1999 and Dauvissat Chablis Premier Cru 'La Forest' 2004
These first two bottles both unquestionably belong to the category "great". I love Barnaut, but I hadn't tasted their Millésimé yet. Wow! This is a different world − another dimension added, an extra depth, call it complexity. You smell this champagne from a distance. The wine is ripe but there is - still - plenty of freshness in this 1999. Bread and some yeast in the nose, and a certain creamy touch. A very soft champagne, and simply delicious. Then the Dauvissat, another experience! Tight and intense, mineral. Ripe and somewhat spiced, plus a hint of honey. These are two wines I do not mind waking up for.

Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet white and red
One evening we opened two Chassagne-Montrachets from Domaine Ramonet, one white, a Villages from 2004, and a red, the Premier Cru "Clos de la Boudriotte" 1999. I didn't take any notes, only a picture. The evening was very good, and these Ramonets without doubt contributed to that. These two wines simply prove (again) that Ramonet is a great producer. Both wines were very 'drinkable', digestible, elegant and characterful. This is the style of Burgundy I like.

David Léclapart L'Amateur
David Léclapart is a purist. Organic, to start with. And no liqueur d'expedition after dégorgement. But not just that: the little bit of champagne that is lost with the dégorgement is not compensated - the bottle is not topped up. So Léclapart takes "no liqueur d'expedition" very literally - simply nothing is added. At first we had to get used to the taste of this champagne; it is truly very dry, like chewing on stone. But very pure and fresh too. And the further we got (towards the bottom of the bottle) the more we liked it. Always a good sign, but I wouldn't really call this a "commercial" champagne. Something for devotees for sure.

Frank Phélan, Labégorce-Zédé & La Parde de Haut-Bailly 2006
Finally some Bordeaux 2006 samples crossed our path. They were very young, so I retasted the day after. My final verdict: I prefer La Parde de Haut-Bailly. The first evening it was the Labégorce-Zédé that came across best, for it is more approachable - a slightly lighter structure with more obvious oak (and fresh leather and mint). What I was wondering also: am I sensing the hand of the new owner, is there a bit more make-up (and modernity) in this wine, compared to the 2005?

La Parde de Haut-Bailly especially showed its beauty the second day, when the tight fruit had opened itself somewhat. It is a powerful wine, energetic, with healthy and tough purple young fruit. It has a bright future.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Taste Champagne and Sparkling 2009

Dwayne Perreault − There were plenty of corks popping, and that is always a happy sound. Proef Champagne en Sprankelend (Taste Champagne and Sparkling), Holland's largest sparkling wine trade show, took place at the Mövenpick Hotel in Amsterdam on November 22nd. This event used to be called "Champagne aan Zee" and indeed used to be held on the beach at Noordwijk. The reason for moving it indoors is unknown to me, but given that Dutch weather is unpredictable at best, plus a windy, sand-strewn beach is not the best venue to seriously taste wines, it seemed like a logical decision.

The event was held in two large rooms: one for champagnes and one for other sparkling wines. To say it was busy would be an understatement: at every table a large group was gathered, champagne glasses in hand, eagerly waiting to be served.

I managed to taste about 40 different wines; here are some of my impressions, starting with the sparkling non-champagnes: the Ferrari Spumante Maximum Brut, Chardonnay (imported by Vinites) was my favourite in this category. Soft and elegant with good persistent fruit and healthy acidity, this was actually better than certain champagnes I tasted. The cava Giro Ribot Tendencias, Brut Extra 2008 (imported by Cava.nl) is very creamy with spicy notes of cinnamon and the lesser acidity cava is known for. The biggest surprise here was the Deutscher Sekt Weingut Am Stein, Silvaner 'Winzer Sekt' Brut 2006 De Wijntherapeut), with notes of pepper and spice above a bed of apples, with a very light sweetness in the aftertaste.

As for champagnes, it seemed to me that Taittinger (imported by Oud Reuchlin & Boelen) simply blew the competition away. The Prélude Grand Cru Brut has flinty gunsmoke in the nose with beautiful autolysis, bread and yeast notes with a chalky, mineral undertone. The Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2004 is sublime. Priced at €260 per bottle, it has a beautiful salmon-pink colour and is very soft and full in the mouth with lower acidity and a delicious hint of red fruit, a rosé champagne with real character. A special mention goes to the Gosset Grande Réserve (imported by Résidence Wijnen), showing some autolysis and a very clean and strong attack, with great mineral character.

There were of course many other great wines to try; there simply isn't enough room to include them here. The following is a list of the winners, chosen in a blind tasting by the Perswijn panel:

Winners Sparkling Wine
1. Ferrari, Giulio Ferrari 1999, Trento (
Vinites
)
2. Codorníu Reserva, Reina Cristina 2006, Cava (
Intercaves/Vos & Partners)
3. Bellavista, Satèn, Chardonnay, Franciacorta (
Vinites)

Winners Rosé Champagne
1. Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne 2004 (
Oud Reuchlin & Boelen
)
2. Bollinger (Verlinden)
3. Laurent Perrier (
Kwast)

Winners Millésimé Champagne

1. Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millenaires, Chardonnay 1995 (Goessens
)
2/3. Bollinger, La Grande Année 2000 (
Verlinden)
2/3. Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne 1998, Blanc de blancs (
Oud Reuchlin & Boelen)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Drinking Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929

Yesterday was one of those rare extreme wine experiences. We stepped into a time machine by drinking the Château Prieuré de Cantenac (or Prieuré-Cantenac) 1929, the Médoc 4th classed growth today known as Château Prieuré-Lichine. This bottle was a miracle, superbly cellared, almost 80 years in the same pitch-dark spot.

The label of Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929The label of Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929

This bottle, and a series of other bottles including Château Brane-Cantenac 1920 which we opened a few years ago, had been forgotten for many decades. Around 1940 these wines had been tucked away safely in a sort of secondary cellar, behind a second wall, preventing the German invaders to find and confiscate the wines. By having done so the historic fate of this bottle changed: instead of being downed by some German officer in 1941, we drank it. In Amsterdam, in 2009.

It is crazy to realise what all has happened since this bottle was put away. World War II, the invention of television, the landing on the moon exactly halfway into the bottle's life, the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, and not to forget my own humble history, going to school, growing up etc...

Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929
We imagined the then owner of Prieuré de Cantenac, Frédéric Bousset*, driving by the vineyard in his T-Ford inspecting the harvest, and the harvesters - helpful young farm hands wearing grey caps, and very ignorant of the fact that some wine emerging from the grapes they were picking would eventually be drunk by a hybrid car owner in 2009 (i.e. Jan van Roekel).

About 5 years ago I tasted the same wine, but this bottle presented itself a lot better. The ullage, the gap of air between cork and wine, was not particular big for a wine of such age, and also the cork was in a surprisingly good condition - I was able to pull it out without making any mess.

The ullage, the gap of air between cork and wine, not big for a wine of such ageThe ullage, the gap of air between cork and wine, not big for a wine of such age

In general this wine presented itself much younger than what we expected, it really could have been decades and decades younger. This will definitely be related with the exceptional vintage, the perfect storage condition of the bottles, and of course the quality of the wine itself.

What did we experience? The nose is surprisingly lively, a little sweet, and - less surprisingly - ripened. There is a round-deep scent, soft-autumnal, like a fresh(!) forest floor. The intensity of the nose is simply impressive. There is also something metallic there, blood and iodine. And old leather, and perhaps even a hint of chocolate. Once in the mouth the wine comes across soft yet spirited. The level of acidity reveals its age, but the total impression is that of a vital and wonderful wine. A wine with a texture of worn away velvet, bearing secrets that I am attempting to unmask - what a pleasant task.

The beautiful cork of Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929The beautiful cork of Château Prieuré de Cantenac 1929

The wine has a whispering finish - tender, mysterious. It doesn't have the strength of a young(er) wine that just keeps on going, and you have to listen carefully to what this wine has to say when it lingers in the mouth.

While feeling the wine I kind of dreamt away, envisioning planet earth and its orbit around the sun, thinking that this stuff has made 80 round-trips before it ended up on my tongue. And this image did not arrive at random: it corresponds with the shape of the after-taste of the Prieuré: a gently, harmoniously hovering field of energy, a far voice talking from a dark past.

It was a spectacular time travel, and a wonderful wine experience.

*It was through Chris Kissack's website The Winedoctor that I found that Frédéric Bousset was the owner of Prieuré de Cantenac in 1929. It needs to be said: Kissack's free source of information is one of the very best sources on the web. If you're looking for specific domain information there is no other free website that even comes close to what Kissack is offering.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Labégorce Zédé flung away

Driving over the Afsluitdijk at night, this weekend, Jan van Roekel and I discussed a wine that we had recently tasted, the Labégorce-Zédé 2006. The name will disappear, Jan had read somewhere. It didn't surprise me, but I found the news a little bit sad.

Since 2005 neighbouring Labégorce and Labégorce-Zédé were in the same hands again, after the split in 1795. Hubert Perrodo brought the two domains together by buying Labégorce-Zédé from Luc Thienpont, but shortly thereafter he died in a skiing accident (2006). As Jane Anson now reports, his daugther Nathalie has taken over the property and will start carrying out 'the original plan' of uniting the two châteaux (see Decanter.com).

I said to Jan: and the second wine will then be called "La Zédé de Labégorce". It was nothing more than an obvious, and perhaps even somewhat silly remark. But today I read that this will indeed be the name of the second wine...

Thus: it will be the estate's second wine that will keep the memory of Labégorce-Zédé alive. While Labégorce-Zédé was the better performing estate − thanks to Luc Thienpont, who sold it.

Too bad for the beautiful name (and the beautiful label) but I'm afraid that with this development also the more classic and elegant approach of Labégorce-Zédé will be history.

From my own limited experience: the 2005 has more 'energy' than the 2006. It is difficult to make a firm judgement as the vintage differs, but I would be inclined to say that there is a slight difference in style. The 2006 has a more modern appearance and seems a little bit more oaky. Well, this is walking on thin ice, I should taste the two wines side by side.

But I wonder, from a 'branding' perspective: is it smart to abandon a famous name like Labégorce-Zédé? I wouldn't say it is.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The downside of organoleptic development

Dwayne Perreault - Funny thing, the nose. We all have one and tend to take it for granted, but the nose is the most important organ used to judge wine and particularly to recognize wines. Furthermore, what we taste is directly related to what we smell, so the senses of smelling and tasting are connected.

So it is that Robert Parker insured his nose for $1 million, an outstanding feat at the time. Years later, Holland’s own Ilja Gort, maker of such fine supermarket wines as La Tulipe and French Rebel, insured his own facial protuberance for $8 million, a master publicity stunt in its own right. I wonder how much his premiums cost? In any case, Gort seems to be enjoying success.

The nose is like a hyper-sensitive muscle: it can be trained, made stronger. It just takes practice. When you start seriously nosing wines is around the same time you start smelling everything else: vegetables, flowers, cheeses, books, old socks. Not that you never did these things before, right? And this is how you eventually learn to haul the old sock odour out of certain Chenin blancs, though you would never be stupid enough to admit that unless you happened to write for a blog.

Incidentally, I am a smoker. Now some people may say smokers lose something between 20-80% of their sense of smell, but it is my understanding that numerous studies have tried to prove this true in regards to vinology, without success. But I freely admit, I could be wrong. I just enjoy smoking.

But I wanted to talk about the downside to all this organoleptic development. It was quite awhile ago that I recognized that the flip side to being able to recognize the hereditary smells of certain wines was that I could also smell unpleasant odours more prominently. I don’t just mean odours in the wine, I mean odours.

There are smells we all find offensive, like rotting garbage and sewage, then there are those other smells, which one person finds obnoxious and the other is not bothered. An example is patchouli. I think anyone who wants to smell like mothballs needs to be legally restrained, but to each his own.

A few days ago my girlfriend was cooking what the Dutch call snijbonen (translated as “French beans,” you must know them) and I wanted to leave the house. It was like a steady stream of rancid farts was rising with the steam from the pan.

Last evening I met a friend at my favourite wine bar in Amsterdam and upon entering, I was hit by the overwhelming odour of detergents they had used to clean in the morning. This is an unspeakable offense in an establishment where one comes to taste quality wines. No-one else seemed to notice!

I am not squeamish. I’ve backpacked over South America and Asia; I woke up next to a dead rat once in India. It’s when I smell the jenever-saturated sweat of an old alcoholic on his way into the Gall en Gall at ten in the morning that I fully recognize that there is a downside to organoleptic development.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Exploring fine wines at Christie's

Today Jane Anson twittered about Emma Thompson's wine cellar. So I read that in her dream cellar the Meursaults from Arnaud Ente would not be missing. Quite an unequivocal statement.

Yes, I import Ente's wines, since last summer, in The Netherlands. In England Ente is imported by Berry Bros. & Rudd and the wine is better known there; here I still have to do some missionary work, and a publication like this is... supportive.

Another interesting article I came across was retweeted by Amy Atwood: about the relativeness of wild yeasts. There's much to do about using wild yeasts or industrial yeasts, and this Los Angeles Times article at least puts things a bit in perspective.

Any personal adventures this week? Yes, I attended a lovely dinner organised by Christie's Amsterdam. This weekend a big private collection was brought under the hammer, and Friday some lucky dogs were invited to sample about 50 wines from this interesting collection.

In my previous posting I wrote about Anne Gros, and Friday the - simple - red Burgundy 2002 was one of the wines to taste. A good vintage, but still I was surprised by the sheer energy of this wine. Pure, lenient, healthy and balanced, and strikingly youthful. Towards the end of the evening I went back to this wine (definitely not the eye catcher of the evening), and shared it with my neighbour. Her plan was to bid on this wine, with the idea to split the lot between the two of us. At the time of writing this I don't know yet if I will be the new owner of some 2002's and 2005's (part of the same lot).

The most lovely wines that I tasted were the Buisson Renard 2005 from Dagueneau (intense, perfumed, soft, open), the Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru "Les Champs Canet" 2004 from Carillon (velvety, well-balanced, elegant, a modest beauty) and the Corton-Charlemagne 1992 from Bonneau de Martray (vital, convincing, sesame seed, just very beautiful).

Interesting were some older red Bordeaux's, especially two 1978's: the autumnal La Lagune (a little awkward also, and tannic) and the Haut-Bailly. I just consulted Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine and his only one 1978 Haut-Bailly (in 2001) wasn't very good. He wonders: "Just the bottle?" and perhaps that might have been the case. What I tasted was an open, rather quiet, harmonious and friendly old Bordeaux. Not impressive, but not bad either.

Anyway, I was very happy to be there. And gosh, I hope my neighbour has won those lovely Anne Gros bottles...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lovely Burgundy!

I still didn't tell you that my wine-web-shop bolomey.nl was chosen 4th best from more than 250 Dutch wine-web-shops. Of course I had preferred to be the number 1, but when I take into account that my company is small and young, and that the numbers 1-3 are big, I am satisfied after all. The only problem is that hardly anyone notices a number 4... but enough about this. In the end it is not the shop that counts, but the wines in the shop.

Arnaud Ente and Benoit EnteMeursault "Clos des Ambres" 2006 from Arnaud Ente [ buy ] and Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru Les Folatières "En La Richarde" 2006 from Benoit Ente.

One of these wines is the Meursault "Clos des Ambres" 2006 from Arnaud Ente which was my contribution to an interesting Burgundy tasting with Jan van Roekel (burgoholic.com), Karel de Graaf (Burgundy agent & Meursault winemaker), Frank Jacobs (wine journalist) and Job Verhaar (wine seller & Burgundy lover). We compared this Meursault with a 2006 from his brother Benoit Ente: the Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru Les Folatières "En La Richarde" 2006. They both persuade, but in a different way.

The Meursault comes across younger, with more intensity and energy. It has an imposing corpus with singing acidity, at first on the background, lingering, and then kicking in, structuring a convincing finish. A rich wine with a full and soft-smooth texture. The Puligny is soft par excellence. It is round in the nose, and has a velvety mouth-feel. It seems a little more mature, the oak has blended in perfectly and the wine is balanced and ripe.

Echezeaux 'Les Loachausses' 2007 from Anne GrosEchezeaux "Les Loachausses" 2007 from Anne Gros

Then the reds. My favourite: the Echezeaux "Les Loachausses" 2007 from Anne Gros. This wine is just de-li-cious. Very pure, very forward, very healthy pinot fruit. Very elegant, outspoken and intense. What should I say more? Perhaps that I am glad that there are a few sleeping in my cellar. The wine that follows belongs to different school, but is also from a different time: stil clearly pinot, but this time ripe, rich and mature. And the style is full, round, I'd almost say this wine is 'spherical'. What I am trying to describe: the Corton-Bressandes 1998 from Vincent Girardin.

The next wine was an interesting one as well: the Chambertin 1981 from Louis Trapet. It was not a grand year, 1981, but this Chambertin was still alive. Light and old, matured and modest pinot noir. An elegant old man in a red-brown suit.

The pirate of the evening: the rightfully famous Saumur-Champigny Clos Rougeard 2005 "Les Poyeux". This cabernet franc is difficult to describe, because it is difficult to describe a wine that nears perfection. Also, it was late. My suggestion: taste this very complete wine and you will not be disappointed.

Tonight we will conclude the week (or start the new one?) with... a Burgundy tasting. But this tasting will be work.

Not that it makes any difference....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bordeaux 2009, and Bordeaux 2006 revisited

Hardly have I gotten over the fuss of the Bordeaux 2008 primeurs - high quality for interesting prices - and the next carnival procession arrives with infernal noise: we can look forward to another grand vintage. The reason: weather has been perfect this year. Dry and sunny, warm but not too hot, and at the right times some rain, just when it was needed for the vines. Sounds familiar? Yes, it does. Bordeaux 2005 was announced in the same way. One difference: Bordeaux 2009 is supposedly even bigger than Bordeaux 2005...

This might sound a little sceptical, and perhaps it is. Okay, weather data are factual, but so short after the harvest it just comes across a little frenzied to state that Bordeaux 2009 will outperform the legendary 2005 vintage. But don't get me wrong: I am not against a good vintage. And I will soon dive into the subject, perhaps when the vinification has been completed.

Also, already quite a few articles about Bordeaux 2009 were published last week. From what I have seen the most interesting, in-depth read is on the Liv-ex Fine Wine Market Blog Bordeaux 2009 - an insider's view by local grower and winemaker Gavin Quinney.

As said, this topic will be continued.

Decanter Award for Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2006Decanter Award for Château Pichon-Longueville Baron 2006 (Decanter Magazine November 2009): "Very serious, long-lasting, multi-faceted. Fine, tight, long, intense with lovely freshness too. Still a baby, but the real McCoy. Fine-grained, powerful, yet delicious. From 2018." [ buy ]

Next, let's go back three vintages: this year the Bordeaux 2006 vintage has been retasted by various journalists. Early 2009 Robert Parker presented his final 2006 scores, La Revue du Vin de France revisited the vintage in their September issue and Decanter just did the same in the brand new copy of November. For now, let's see if there are any interesting shifts in the RVF ratings. I will look at the new Decanter scores in a later posting.

Up:
Kirwan 2006 from 14-15/20 to 17
Pontet-Canet 2006 from 16,5-17,5 to 19
(isn't everyone enthusiastic about this château these days)
Lynch-Moussas 2006 from 11 to 14,5
La Clémence 2006 from 14,5-15,5 to 17,5
Le Gay 2006 from 14,5-15,5 to 17
Latour à Pomerol 2006 from 14-15 to 16,5
Trottevieille 2006 from 14-15 to 16,5
Domaine de Chevalier rouge 2006 from 15,5-16,5 to 18
Domaine de Chevalier blanc 2006 from 14-15 to 18
De Fieuzal 2006 from 13-14 to 15,5
Bouscaut 2006 from 12-13 to 15
Malartic-Lagravière blanc 2006 from 14-15 to 18
Latour Martillac blanc 2006 from 14-15 to 17

Down:
Du Tertre 2006 from 15-16 to 13,5
(I do not agree but I am not unprejudiced as I worked at Du Tertre in 2006, I like the wine and I see Decanter likes it too...)
Cadet-Bon 2006 from 15-16 to 13
Guadet 2006 from 14,5-15 to 13

Anyway, most châteaux got some extra credits, and some of these could be interesting buys. We see the biggest shifts in Pomerol, and especially in Pessac-Léognan for the white wines. I am not sure if these variations have to do with the wines, or with the tasters involved.

The new Bordeaux 2006 RVF list is led by Léoville-las-Cases, Lafite-Rothschild, Pontet-Canet, Pétrus, Haut-Brion and Laville Haut-Brion (white) (19), Margaux, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Barton, Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Figeac, Pavie, l'Eglise-Clinet, Trotanoy, Haut-Bailly, Haut-Brion blanc and Climens (18,5) and Léoville-Poyferré, Cos d'Estournel, La Conseillante, La Violette, Angélus, Pavie Macquin, Domaine de Chevalier rouge & blanc, La Mission Haut-Brion, Pape-Clément rouge & blanc and Malartic-Lagravière blanc (18).

Nerdy stuff, these lists, but fun every once in a while.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Visit to M. Chapoutier

Dwayne Perreault - The Rhône is strangely disparaged by some and venerated by others. While everyone seems to blindly agree that Bordeaux and Burgundy make excellent company, putting Rhône wines on the table is like inviting the in-laws to your house: you either like them or you don't. I do, and in fact southern Rhône wines like Gigondas and a good Chateauneuf du Pape (I happen to sell Château Fortia) are some of my favourite wines.

The bridge over the Rhône at Tain l'HermitageThe bridge over the Rhône at Tain l'Hermitage

But it is the northern Rhône which gets the serious wine lover's attention, and this is largely due to its noble grape, Syrah, seen by most to be superior to its thin-skinned southern neighbour, Grenache Noir. In fact, I was told at WSET wine college by a Master of Wine that Grenache is almost to be despised: low in tannins, oxidative and one-dimensional, it is incapable of producing vins de garde. But for the French, opinions are like wines; everyone has some.

As for white grapes, Viognier has emerged from its palace in Condrieu and has now travelled around the world, finding second homes in the new world and in the Languedoc where it is used to make mostly fruity, off-dry vins de pays. Marsanne and Roussanne are lesser known and Marsanne is described by most as being rather flabby and low in acidity, hardly positive references for any white grape. But Marsanne is the grape most commonly used to produce white Hermitage, France's most long-living white wine. Despite its low acidity, this is a grape capable of producing world-class whites which can easily be aged 15 years.

Ripe Syrah grapes at Les GréffieuxRipe Syrah grapes at Les Gréffieux

Camping underneath a rock escarpment near a town called Saou (which sounds like the French word for 'drunk'), I noticed that Marsanne is also a village, and being only a 15 minute drive away I decided to visit. It's a pretty little place on the hot plains of the valley, and I immediately parked myself in a shady spot of the local cafe and asked if their house wine was made from Marsanne. The waitress seemed confused. "We do not grow grapes in Marsanne," she said." It's too hot here. We grow grains, cereals."

"Yes," I replied, "I can see that, but surely you've heard of the Marsanne grape?" She hadn't. Like Jesus, poor little Marsanne is unrecognized in its own village.

No visit to the Rhône would be complete without seeking out one of its top producers, and few (if any) are more highly regarded than M. Chapoutier. Founded in 1808, Chapoutier uses traditional (now biodynamical) methods to produce its wines; in fact, they own the largest area of biodynamical vineyards in the world. I was received very warmly here by Odile Misery, regional export manager, who took the time to show me the vines at Les Gréffieux, with l'Hermite and its chapel at the top of the hill above. Odile pointed out that though the chapel belongs to Jaboulet, all the vines around it are Chapoutier's.

L'Hermite with its famous chapel. The chapel is owned by Jaboulet but the vines are Chapoutier'sL'Hermite with its famous chapel. The chapel is owned by Jaboulet but the vines are Chapoutier's

Seeing how Chapoutier's and Jaboulet's vines are adjacent to each other in places, I asked Odile if Chapoutier, being a biodynamical producer, was concerned about Jaboulet's viticultural practices, for example spraying with pesticides. Her response was diplomatic, downplaying the effect this might have on the biodiversity of Chapoutier's vineyard. "As you can see, it's too steep to use machinery, so any spraying is small and done by hand."

When I asked the same question to Nicolas Joly at the Renaissance des Appellations in Amsterdam, he was a little more direct with his answer: "Chapoutier is doing his neighbour a favour, and his neighbour is doing him a disservice."

I tasted 16 different wines at Chapoutier; that's too many to review here, but here are some of them, starting with whites: St. Péray Les Tanneurs 2007 is made from 95% Marsanne and 5% Roussanne and has a bouquet of straw and acacia honey with a medium thick texture and low acidity. Prominent apple and spice flavours combine with vanilla, almond and wood tones in this full-bodied dry white with 13,5% alcohol.

The Condrieu Invitare 2008 (100% Viognier of course) has great viscosity and a strong attack with smokey, mineral white fruit in the mouth. There is persistent fruit in the long-lasting aftertaste, with wonderfully blended alcohol and minerals: you really can taste the granite.

Chapoutier's Hermitage Chante Alouette (100% Marsanne) is one of the most famous white wines of the Rhône, notable for its longevity. The 2006 had a sweet bouquet of raisins and figs and had a noble taste sensation of fruit poking through incredible alcohol (14,5%). Someone once asked me what I meant when I said at a tasting that a wine had "really good alcohol." This wine personifies what I mean.

The St. Joseph Les Granits 2000 gave me an indication of how Marsanne can age. Made from the oldest vines in the estate, it has a golden bouquet of nectarines and dried flowers. This was drier and more mineral in character than the Chante Alouette 2006, with a delicate balance of fruit and alcohol. I wonder how that Chante Alouette will taste in 2015. I have one bottle and hope to find out.

After a lunch break, we continued with the reds. None of Chapoutier's wines should be underestimated, and that includes the affordable Rasteau 2007 (80% Grenache, 20% Syrah), very refreshing with tangy berry flavours. The Gigondas 2007 (90% Grenache, 10% Syrah) is more complex, with a soft bouquet of sour dark fruit and cocoa and a taste of extremely concentrated dark berries with zesty acidity and a solid tannic structure. Curiously, the Chateauneuf du Pape 'La Bernardine' 2006, made from the same grapes had more red fruits in the mouth, but with solid tannins backing it up. The 2005 had more noticeable mineral concentration, with a hint of iodine and licorice.

The last three wines were sublime. The Côte Rôtie 'Les Bécasses' 2006 (100% Syrah) had stuffy red fruit and something like old socks in the nose. Silky in the mouth, it had amazing tangy red fruit expression with softer tannins backing it up in a long aftertaste. L'Hermitage 'Monier de la Sizeranne' 2006 has a dark, smokey and sweltering bouquet with strong notes of pepper and even goat's cheese. Possessing a strong attack of dark fruit with notes of something indescribable--I thought of truffles--it is mouth-dryingly tannic but with a very long aftertaste. These are wines which clearly deserve ageing.

As a testament to Chapoutier's expansion into other countries (100 ha are planted in South Australia), we finished off with a Portuguese wine, the Extremadura Ex Aequo 2006, made from 75% Syrah and 25% Touriga Nacional. A very well-balanced oak-influenced wine with notes of leather and tobacco in extremely strong and expressive dark fruit.

It was a hot and sunny day, but late into the tasting it suddenly began to pour rain. This was good news; it had been so hot and dry that the rain was needed. I haven't heard how the harvest went, but 2009 was shaping up to be an excellent vintage, far better than 2008 and possibly as good as the exceptional 2007.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

May I have your votes please?

If you like my blog you now have the chance to "express" that. It doesn't cost a penny, just 2 minutes of your time: vote for my web shop www.bolomey.nl as this year's best Dutch Wine Web Shop. Of course you should only do this if you think the shop deserves this praise...

Well, if you do want to vote simply follow this link. The pink-and-yellow banner "Stem nu!" then brings you to the voting form. In the drop down list you find my shop "bolomey.nl", and there are some additional questions which are mainly about your own online wine shopping experience.

Anyhow, I hope you will take the time to cast your vote. Thanks!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Visit to Le Macchiole

It was Francesco Tonninelli (from Enoteca Castagnetana in Castagneta Carducci) who, over the last years, introduced me to the most interesting wines from Bolgheri (Tuscan west coast). As a result I visited Grattamacco in 2008, and this year Le Macchiole.

Le Macchiole Bolgheri: the vineyard behind the cellarLe Macchiole: the vineyard behind the cellar, with the typical pine trees on the background (on a rare cloudy day).

Bolgheri is a modern Italian wine area: the development towards today’s typical Bolgheri wines has only begun in the second half of the last century. Grapes have been grown here since long, producing more or less anonymous, local wines. But today’s famous wineries are mostly the result of investments from newcomers, people from the classic Chianti and Piedmont regions (for more details also see the Grattamacco-story from last year).

In contrast, Le Macchiole emerges from the local winery from the Campolmi family, originally about 4 hectares producing Sangiovese and Trebbiano/Vermentino. The old winery was located in the lowlands towards the sea, surrounding the Campolmi restaurant, at the time the family’s major source of income.

From about 40 – 50 years ago interesting developments took place on the hillsides just behind the Campolmi premises, intriguing the young Eugenio. In the 70’s he went to France, to learn about the French way of winemaking, and in 1983 he joined the Bolgheri pioneers (a/o Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Grattamacco) by selling his old vineyards in the plains and acquiring his first 6 hectares in the Bolgheri foothills. With the last acquisition of land in 2004 the estate now counts 22 hectares. Today the domain is led by Cinzia Campolmi, after her husband Eugenio passed away in 2002.

Le Macchiole: sorting before and after destemmingLe Macchiole: first sorting table at the right side. After destemming there is a second manual sorting of the individual berries (belt on the left). Then the whole, uncrushed berries are fermented.

The primary reason to call the region ‘modern’ is the use of international grape varieties. Campolmi knew the potential of various wine grapes (the Merlot in Bordeaux, the Syrah, or actually Shiraz, in Australia) but decided experimentation was needed to see how the different varieties would behave on the Tuscan soils. More specific: in the early days of the winery it was necessary to search for an identity, the identity of the new estate.

So in 1983 the first 6 hectares were planted with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, sangiovese and barbera, and for white with Vermentino, Chardonnay and sauvignon. For red survived: cabernet franc (40%), merlot (35%), Syrah (15%) and Sangiovese (10%), for white Chardonnay (50%) and Sauvignon (50%). Interesting detail: around 2000 all rootstocks hosting Cabernet sauvignon were re-grafted with Cabernet franc. In the Bolgheri climate the Cabernet franc ripens well, and at the same time the grape keeps a good level of acidity. The Cabernet sauvignon sometimes lacked this acidity, giving less elegant wines.

In the early 80´s the vine density was low (5,000 plants per hectare) and natural yields were high. The vineyards that were acquired later were planted with 10,000 vines per hectare, and in the first vineyards an additional row was planted between two existing rows. With this the natural yields are lower, and close to what is aimed for. In the vineyards with the best natural balance no green harvest is needed.

In most years de-leafing takes place. Amount and manner differ per year, but other than in France mostly the leaves at the sun side are kept (to protect the berries against the hot sun) while the leaves at the shaded side are taken away (to allow for sufficient aeration of the grapes).

Various fermentation vats at Le Macchiole: oak, steel and concrete.Various fermentation vats at Le Macchiole: oak, steel and concrete. The bucket in front shows that Le Macchiole applies remontages during fermentation. délestages are also practiced. If you want to learn more about remontages, délestages etc. see my summary about the vinification at Du Tertre (pdf).

Le Macchiole produces four wines, three of these are cépage wines, yet all four are actually blends of different parcels that are separately fermented. Making up the perfect blend is one of the key factors in producing Le Macchiole. And this is one of the moments where consultant Luca D’Attoma steps in, who has worked closely with Le Macchiole since 1991.

Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso is the estate’s ‘entry wine’. It is the only red that is a blend of several grape varities (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet franc, 10% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese) and the only Macchiole which is a DOC (Bolgheri Rosso). The 2006 exhibits round, hearty sweetish fruit, is abundant and clearly matured on wooden barrels. Very accessible and with a good freshness, this “clear” wine is a sort of second wine for Le Macchiole, and presented as a summary of what the estate is capable of.

There is a white Macchiole, the white Paleo, I didn’t taste it, and I will write about white Bolgheri’s in a future posting. This time I only sampled reds, and the three grand wines of Le Macchiole are Messorio (Merlot), Paleo (Cabernet franc) and Scrio (Syrah).

All three wines are abundant, round and ripe. The Scrio 2005 shows ink, dairy and oak. The wine is somewhat spicy too. The slightly vegetal tones in the background account for a pleasant freshness with a good (chalky, fresh) finish.

The Paleo 2005 (my favourite) is a little leaner with some smoke in the nose, and with sweetness and yellow peppers. It is a clear, precise, powerful wine, spicy and fresh. The Messorio 2005 is clearly the biggest, most seductive wine. I scribbled down sweet-ripe-deep-round. It does not have the freshness of the Paleo and Scrio, it does have a big and powerful finish.

What all Macchioles have in common is that they are precise and well-composed, and that on a high quality level. Ripe and round, yet clean and - especially for this warm type of wine - with a pleasant freshness.

Francesco Tognoni in front of his Enoteca Tognoni in BolgheriFrancesco Tognoni in front of his Enoteca Tognoni in Bolgheri.

Last year I recommended Francesco Tonninelli’s enoteca in Castagneta Carducci, and I visited him again this year. Here's a second recommendation: Enoteca Tognoni from Francesco Tognoni in Bolgheri (Via Lauretta, 5). With a beautiful spacious tasting room, great selection and good prices it is, just as Le Macchiole, worth a visit!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Italian intermezzo

This is what I should do: scale up Bolomey Wijnimport and add Italian wines to my portfolio. I love exploring wines from different countries, but only with Italian wine I repeatedly feel the inclination to do something with it, to start importing it. I love France and its wines, and in the same, but totally different manner I love Italy and its wines. The diversity, the classic originals such as Barolo and Brunello, side by side with original modernists such as those from the Bolgheri region. And all that in a country with unparalleled beauty – the Arcadian landscape, the ancient culture, the untouched villages, the climate, the elegantly dressed and good-looking people, the delicious food…

These days I am relaxing at the Tuscan west coast. Just around the corner from Bolgheri, the young wine region where, at its best, totally seducing deep velvet reds are being produced. These are the result of the Italian sun, soil and spirit at the one hand, and French grape varieties and winemaking principles on the other hand. When I entered the spacious vat room of Azienda Agricola Le Macchiole last week I couldn’t suppress a strong association with a random top Bordeaux estate. The looks, the smells (it was during fermentation, with remontages etc.), the high-end touch of it all. A detailed account of my visit to this highly interesting estate will be published in about a week.

And yes, I did find out why the phone was never answered at star San Vincenzo restaurant Gambero Rosso Pierangelini… it is closed. Perhaps temporarily. Does anyone know why?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A success story: Giovanni Negro

Dwayne Perreault - It can get very hot in Piedmont, and this is primarily red wine country, but fortunately white wines are also made to quench the thirst of locals and visitors on sweltering sunny summer days. The favourite house wine of most osterias is made from the Favorita, an uncomplicated grape which renders fruity, quaffable wines. More complex whites come from the Arneis variety, with its distinctive tones of apples and chalky minerals.

Amphitheater-like landscape of RoeroAmphitheater-like landscape of Roero

But in introducing the wines of Giovanni Negro, I want to begin with something more rare than a white Piemontese truffle, and just as delicious: his Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005, a beautiful sparkling wine made in the traditional method, with two years bottle ageing with lees contact. Thank goodness someone had the common sense to do this, for as we all know, nothing refreshes better on a hot day than a bottle of bubbly. Negro is the only producer in the world to make a sparkling wine from 100% Arneis grapes, and the result is something quite like champagne, a wine with great acidity and minerality, full-bodied and extremely refreshing.

Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005

Located in the hills of Roero, the Negro family has been making wines since 1670 but the modern business started 30 years ago with a modest 2 ha. This has now grown into an estate of 70 ha with an annual production of about 350,000 bottles per year. Great care is taken to make authentic wines which express the terroir of calcareous and alluvial soils found in this corner of Piedmont, and they are exported all over the world, even to my native Canada with its communistic Liquor Control Boards.

Clearly, Negro is doing something right. The winery beams a sense of accomplishment, and a visit there is an eye-opener. A large new cellar has just been constructed in a classical style, made of brick, not cement, with massive stainless steel fermentation vats and room enough to age thousands of hectoliters of wine in barriques, tonneaus, botti and bottles. These are friendly, industrious and busy people.

Giovanni Negro's brand new cellarPart of Negro's brand new cellar

I'm proud to sell a number of Negro's wines, including the Spumante, Sudisfà and Nebbiolo d'Alba, but the list of produced wines is long, so there was room for new discoveries in the tasting. One such wine was the Perdaudin Roero Arneis 2007, more golden than green in the nose, very soft and creamy with a mineral dry aftertaste.

Red wines are still the order of the day here, and they did not disappoint. The 2005 Roero Sudisfà (which means 'satisfaction' in Piemontese dialect) Riserva was indeed very satisfying. This is Nebbiolo aged two years in used barriques and six months in the bottle, very fruit driven, dark and inky (by the way, when I say 'inky' I mean that in a good way).

Cleaning barrels with hot waterBarrels are cleaned using water with a temperature of 80˚ Celsius

The Barbaresco Basarin 2005 has a complicated ageing process: 20 months in big Slovenian oak barrels, 4 months in tonneau and 6 months in bottle. Barbarescos are known to age slightly quicker than Barolos, and this is a good thing in today's impatient wine market. The wine is more oak influenced than the Sudisfà, and it is a matter of personal taste to determine which is better, but both are extremely good and similar in price.

We finished off with a Piemontese curiosity: the Langhe Rosso Millon 2006, made from 50% Nebbiolo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Bonarda Croatina, a regional grape which adds freshness and acidity to the wine. Only 4,000 bottles are produced annually, and apparently the Piemontese do not care for it, which does not surprise me since the nose took me straight back to Bordeaux. I found it delicious, something like marrying a Haut-Médoc with a Barbaresco.

If you live in Amsterdam and can't make it to Piedmont, don't worry: you can order some of Negro's wines through my website wineontime.nl, as they are imported into the Netherlands by Claudia Mario, who deals almost exclusively with better restaurants.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What to write about this evening?

It is time to give a sign of life. But what to write about this evening?

Should I mention the smell of lime blossom and honey in the just-not-dry (sugar 15 gr/ltr) Vouvray "Le Peu Morier" 2006 from Vincent Carême that I am drinking right now? Last weekend I presented Carême's dry Vouvray at a public tasting. Some people do not know what to say, and some people get very excited. A good sign, I like these extreme reactions. Especially from those people who DIG! the wine, and almost get emotional.

Or should I mention that La Revue du Vin de France writes: "Bordeaux 2006 très prometteur, 2007 trop cher"? I am still glad I didn't stock any 2007s. Not that the 2006s are easy sells, but... they are promising! And some are delicious already.

Or should I mention that more and more of my customers get hooked on the - original - wines from Orléans that I import? Dutch wine writer Harold Hamersma just wrote an article about both the red (pinot meunier 80%, pinot noir 20%) and the white Clos St-Fiacre 2008 (100% chardonnay, unoaked), and earlier this summer wine writer Nicolaas Klei had bought a stack of cases for himself. To be honest, it is great to see people pick up something that I found.

Or should I mention that in the new Decanter (September) Beverley Blanning MW writes an interesting article about Morey-St-Denis, and that one of the four producers that she mentions is David Clark!? Only too bad that she says "he sells all of his production, in the UK, US and Japan" and simply forgets that there is one importer on the European mainland to whom a modest portion is sold... By the way, the featured Côte de Nuits-Villages is the 2007, not the 2005 as is printed. 2007 is also the first vintage in which Clark produces his Côte de Nuits-Villages. Available at the end of this year.

Peugeot 505 V6 3.0 1987
Or should I mention that we did Amsterdam-Paris-Amsterdam with a truly kick-ass car, a Peugeot 505 V6 3.0 from the year 1987? What an unbelievable car! In Paris we did what we like most: walk and walk, and go from the one restaurant to the other. People who follow this blog know what I have been looking for. Correct: all kinds of exciting offal. The St-Sulpice quartier again offered plenty to enjoy.

Or should I wonder why the phone is never answered at Gambero Rosso Pierangelini, the famous restaurant in San Vincenzo (Tuscany) when I try to book a table? I will soon be in San Vincenzo, and I think it is worth checking out this restaurant.

Well, actually the last hour of the Sunday I will enjoy my - just opened - Château Arnaud 2001 (Haut-Médoc). Summer has disappeared at once here in Amsterdam, and the last days have been dark and wet. So this autumnal wine is... very pleasant now. The wine smells dark and deep, oaked and leathery... a sort of welcome to the dark days ahead of us.

Yes, this wine, it makes it easier to say goodbye to the summer.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

King Barolo and his friends

Dwayne Perreault - Ah, Barolo. As they like to say here, "the King of wines, and the wine of Kings." If you want to appreciate it, you need to have patience, and let's face it, few people possess this trait nowadays. Really, a good Barolo should not be drunk until it's 10 years old, but if you want to purchase one of these finer old specimens in a shop here, count on spending between 50 to 100 Euros for a bottle. You can buy them for about a third or a quarter of the price when they're young, but you need to have a cellar and you need to have patience.

The rolling hillside vineyards of BaroloThe rolling hillside vineyards of Barolo

Barolo the place is eye-candy: rolling land stretches out from the foothills (Piedmont literally translated) of the Alps where medieval castle towns sit perched on the tops of escarpments, looking over geometrically aligned terraces where virtually every square meter is planted with a Nebbiolo vine. I came here in a used VW Polo and on a budget, but what I found was winemakers consumed with a passion for their craft, good honest people ready to share their enthusiasm with a devotee, and willing indeed to share the wine itself. This place represents southern European hospitality at its best.

But I want to talk not only about Barolo but all of Piedmont and Nebbiolo's neighbours, the Barberas and Dolcettos, the Freisas and Bonarda Croatinas and the white cousins, the Arneis, the Favoritas and Corteses. Piedmont is a cornucopia of grape varieties, and they are all delicious. Unfortunately, it takes less time to drink wine than write about it.

Camping in a hazelnut grove in Vergne, a steep two kilometers west of Barolo, I awoke the first morning and realized I was a mere hundred meters away from G.D. Vajra, a quality vintner of the Nebbiolo juice. That's the way it is here: you can't throw a cork without hitting a winery.

Another view, showing densely planted Nebbiolo vines.Another view, showing densely planted Nebbiolo vines

Owning 38 ha of vineyards (and renting another 12), Aldo Vajra started winemaking in 1972 and now produces about 250,000 bottles of different Piedmont wines per year. The winery is truly modern in nature, both functional and beautiful. I tasted 11 different wines, too many to explore in detail here, but these were some of my favourites: the Langhe Bianco Pétracine 2008 is a Riesling, which performs surprisingly well in this rather hot climate. Expressing white fruit with a citrus tint and mineral tone and 14% alcohol, this is a powerful wine which should be aged 3-7 years.

Few Piedmont wines are made to be enjoyed young, but the Dolcetta d'Alba is an exception. Coste & Fossati 2007, from clay soils, has concentrated dark fruit with something dusty and dry in the aftertaste. 2007 was a very hot year and this is a powerful Dolcetto with 14,5% alcohol, very expressive.

The Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2006, made from 50 year old vines and aged in new oak barriques, is quite tannic. It needs to be aged up to 10 years, but shows promise, with plummy ink and wood tones in the nose.

Barolo, yet another viewBarolo, yet another view

The 2005 Langhe Freisa 'Kyè' (which is the Piemontese dialect for 'who?') has a very fragrant bouquet of red fruit but is extremely tannic and needs another 7+ years of bottle ageing, after having experienced one and a half years in oak. DNA research has proven that the Freisa is the ancestor of the Nebbiolo. This is a wine for game dishes.

And now, the Barolos. The Bricco delle Viole 2005, a cask sample having undergone 40 months used oak ageing, has so much going on: ink, leather, tobacco, dark fruit and violets (as its name suggests). It shows incredible potential.

The Vajras have purchased for their sons 5 ha of vineyards from the respected producer Luigi Baudana, who had no children himself. The Baudana name will be kept on the label out of respect for family tradition, and the Barolo Cerreta 2005 (barrel sample) is all dark fruit with good structure, already showing great tannic balance.

By the way, Vajra also makes a Moscato d'Asti, and its just grapey and great.

Small but good: Stra's cellar.Small but good: Stra's cellar.

A much smaller producer is Roberto Stra in nearby Novello, just 3 kms away, working just 7 ha, but 3 of them in Barolo. This is an old-fashioned producer making traditional wines in an almost Burgundian way: the cellar is small but functional. In fact, only half of the harvest is vinified at home and the rest is sold to larger producers, as there is simply no room to keep the wine. Plans are being made to expand the cantina and hopefully in the future some wines will be available for export. Currently, all 15,000 bottles produced yearly are enjoyed locally. The Barbera d'Alba 2007 is pure delight: honest dark fruit expression, extremely straightforward, it simply drinks itself away.

The Barolo 2005 is already stunning: forest smells and truffles intermingle with a still rather raw but developing alcohol in a taste sensation that is both noble and enticing. The 05 vintage is generally known to be very fruit-driven; it will be interesting to see how this wine develops.

I don't pretend to speak Italian, but I can still understand a fair bit. Talking with the 80+ year old grandfather Giovanni in the courtyard under a blistering early evening sun (the azienda is in the valley, and so much hotter) I understood that the famous 04 vintage won first prize in a local tasting event, and that says a lot, considering nobody understands the wine better than the local Piemontese. I couldn't resist picking up a magnum; I only hope I can keep my hands off it for another 5 years!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bordeaux 2009: Jane Anson's video update

Wine journalist Jane Anson, based in Bordeaux, is one of my favourite information sources for the wines from Bordeaux. These days she is talking to producers to hear about the development of the new vintage, Bordeaux 2009.

Only after the harvest something more or less definite can be said about the potential of the new vintage, in this stage it is just... an update on the development so far.

Recently Jane interviewed Lafite's director Charles Chevallier, in a sunny Lafite vineyard. Let me summarise the main points on the development of the Bordeaux 2009 vintage (most points taken from the video):

- The start of the growing season in April was in good conditions; there was no frost. To compare: in 2008, there was the Graves region was hit by spring frost, which - more or less - diminished the crop.
- Pauillac was not affected by the hailstorms that hit large parts of Bordeaux in early May. Damage, sometimes severe, was recorded in Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Entre-Deux-Mers, Graves and the Southern Médoc including Margaux - the affected properties are likely to produce less Bordeaux 2009. Lafite's crop however is of normal size, slightly bigger than last year's crop.
- In May and early June the weather was less ideal: there were substantial fluctuations in temperature between the one week and the other, and at times it was quite wet. As a result it was necessary to spray against diseases.
- From mid-June onwards the weather is good again. I was in Bordeaux in the beginning of July, and it was sunny and warm then. Due to drought and warmth the vines do not suffer from diseases such as mildew and oidium.

According to Charles Chevallier Bordeaux 2009 is "OK" at this stage. Now we have to wait for the harvest next month. For the complete interview see the YouTube video below - which can also be found on Decanter.com and Lafite.com (new website!).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back to Ticino: Werner Stucky

Dwayne Perreault - As I noted in the first posting I made for this blog, few Swiss wines will ever find a public outside of Switzerland, because they are practically all consumed in their home country. There are two major reasons for this, and they are both economical in nature. Swiss wines are expensive to export, given that land is costly in this tiny mountainous country and production costs are high. Secondly, foreign wines are heavily taxed in Switzerland, which gives local wines an advantage for the Swiss consumer.

But the Swiss know a good wine when they drink it, and there is little doubt that Ticino is the country’s rising star. When Hugh Johnson compiled his Wine Companion in 1983, he listed no more than five producers. But there has been a renaissance happening here in the last 20 years, and the region is now producing some outstanding Merlots, some of which can rival St. Emilion and Pomerol, both in quality and price.

Werner Stucky TicinoWerner Stucky in his "garage" in Rivera, Ticino

One of the winemakers Johnson mentioned in his guide is Werner Stucky in Rivera, a small producer working 4 ha of land, who studied both in Switzerland and in Bordeaux under the famous oenologue Emile Peynaud. Stucky is an unpretentious man who makes only three wines, all of them seriously good vinos da tavola. When I asked him why he doesn’t produce wines which fall under the DOC classification, he simply replied that that doesn’t interest him. His customers, all restaurants and private individuals, know that a Stucky wine stands for quality.

Stucky might indeed be called a garagiste: his wines are made in the garage, where every square centimeter is put to good use. After a short tour of the premises, we retired to his house to get to the business at hand, the tasting.

First up was a truly unique white wine, Temenos, made from Sauvignon Blanc and Completer, a rare Vinifera sort originally brought by the Romans from Lazio some 2,000 years ago. It is eschewed by most producers, largely because it is extremely oxidative, but here it is used to give the wine acidity, as Sauvignon Blanc tends to be more fruity than dry in this sub-tropical climate. Golden in the glass, it has a bouquet which is rather difficult to describe, but is rather like sticking your nose into a deep well, earthy and fresh at the same time. Aged 10 months in oak barriques on lees, its taste was dry with some minerality, but also quite complex with wood tones and a nutty flavour due to the lees contact and the oxidative Completer. Stucky produces only 2,000 bottles of this wine per year, admittedly to suit his own palate, though I must agree, this is a wonderfully complex white which would accompany a wide variety of fish dishes. I feel privileged to have tasted the last bottle of the 2007 together with him.

Next up was the Merlot, Tracce di Sassi 2007, made from old vines on gneiss soils which provide excellent drainage. This lustrous ruby red wine had both cherry and blackberry in the bouquet, with abundant leather and tobacco. The taste was concentrated dark fruit, full bodied with a hint of licorice. This is not Merlot in a simple style: it aims to please, and wants to be enjoyed with a good piece of red meat or a hard, aged cheese. Aged 12 months in barrique, it is sensual and enticing.

We finished with Conte di Luna 2007, Stucky’s most popular wine, although only 3,000 bottles are produced yearly. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend which sees 16 months ageing in new oak, with a dark garnet colour and very dark fruit in the nose. A powerful wine with strong tannins, my feeling is that it could use some bottle ageing, although Stucky professes not to be a lover of old wines, preferring pure fruit expression.

If you are visiting Lugano or Locarno, and like to drink quality wine that is artisanal in nature and eschews everything that is commercial, I strongly recommend you visit Werner Stucky, where you may purchase his wines by the bottle or case. This warm-hearted and friendly man will change your conception of Swiss wines forever.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bolomey Wijnimport new Dutch importer for Domaine Arnaud Ente

In my blog posting of 29 June I briefly mentioned our visit to Domaine Arnaud Ente in Meursault. We tasted all Ente's whites, and our undivided conclusion was that these wines are of extraordinary quality. Jan van Roekel wrote a summary of this tasting on his website Burgoholic.

The current state of affairs: Bolomey Wijnimport has just become Ente's exclusive importer for The Netherlands. Certainly worth mentioning I would say. But what makes Ente's wines so special?

Arnaud Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2006Arnaud Ente Meursault Clos des Ambres 2006

First: a ruthlessly ambitious winemaker is working at one of the finest terroirs for white wines on the face of earth - the appellation Meursault. Ente is uncompromisingly dedicated (all year round there are four people for just over four hectares!) to make the very best wine, according to his own ideas. Ente produces a harmonious, natural style of wine, which can in fact be found between the thick-oaky-style on the one side, and the lean-mineral-approach on the other side of the Meursault spectrum.

Second: Ente is successful. If I try to summarize his wines, the common denominator - from Aligoté to Premier Cru - is balance, and, partly as a result of this, richness and versatility: it is due to this harmony that every facet present in this wine can shine. This makes drinking Ente an exciting, almost sensual experience. Moreover: these natural, not too heavy wines never tire. They are complex wines, yet made for drinking.

Combine this with the fact that Ente's production is small (just 4,25 ha), and we get a sought-after wine.

If you don't live in The Netherlands but would like to taste Ente's wines, you might try booking a table at one of the following restaurants: La Bastide Saint-Antoine (Grasse), Bernard Loiseau (Seaulieu), Petit Nice (Marseille), Michel Bras (Japan), Alain Chapel (Mionnay), Daniel Boulud (New York), Manoir d'Hasting (Tokyo), La Rotonde (Charbonnières Les Bains), Hameau Albert 1er (Chamonix), L'oasis (La Napoule), Enoteca Pinchiorri (Florence) and Gambero Rosso Pierangelini (San Vincenzo). Next month I will be in San Vincenzo myself, and am definitely intending to check out Fulvio Pierangelini's Gambero Rosso. More about that later.

If you are able to read Dutch and are interested in further information, I would suggest that you check out the Bolomey Wijnimport website.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

WSET Trip to Austria

Dwayne Perreault - Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn't know much about Austrian wines, but my impressions from what I had tasted were generally positive. So I jumped at the chance to take part in a trip organized for Dutch WSET diploma course students by Holland's only Master of Wine, Frank Smulders. This was a four-day trip where we visited some of Austria's top wineries. It would take too long to cover them all or to delve into every wine, but here are my favourites:

Weingut Bernhard Ott, Wagrum

"Mr. Veltliner," as he is called, as 95% of his 30 ha are planted with this variety. Ott is a giant of a man in stature physically, but also in terms of his international reputation, exporting to 15 different countries. Biodiversity and biodynamism are what he preaches, but as a means to an end, which is to produce the best wines possible. It doesn't hurt to have a great terroir, and Wagram is particularly blessed with mineral-rich loess soils which can be 20 meters deep. These loess drifts were deposited in prehistoric times by violent wind storms and they are particularly kind to Grüner Veltliner.

Frank Smulders MW and Bernhard OttPre-tasting at Ott's vineyard. (L to R, foreground): Frank Smulders MW, Bernhard Ott, Ott's marketing director.

These were my favourite Veltliners, mineral wines with many fruit and spice nuances, and alive with complex acidity. It was here where I learned that the "sour milk" smell I get from Veltliners is not due to malolactic fermentation but is a natural component of GV's bouquet, as it was clearly evident in "Der Ott" 2008, which did not have a malo. The 2007 did, and was also more complex. "Rosenberg" comes from a deep loess site and is meant to age several years in the bottle. This was evident as we tried the last three vintages: the 08 was a bit alcohol-rich, the 07 was already better, lighter and more elegant, and the 06 was rich with lemon and tropical fruit with floral tones, beautifully thick in the mouth with a long aftertaste.

Ott's marketing director confirmed that there was a cowhorn buried somewhere in the vineyard, but wisely wouldn't tell us where it is.

Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau

Wachau is famous for its Rieslings, even if this grape only represents one-eighth of all plantings. The region has embraced Grüner Veltliner, since unlike Riesling it has no competition from Germany. Hirtzberger has 20 ha of mostly terraced vineyards on granite and slate soils rising steeply from the north shore of the Danube. As in the Rheingau in Germany, this creates perfect conditions for Riesling, which thrives on slate's high mineral content.

Hirtzberger's terraced vineyards in SpitzHirtzberger's terraced vineyards in Spitz, on the north shore of the Danube in Wachau.

There are three styles of white wine in Wachau. Steinfeder is made from early harvested grapes to provide a lighter style dry wine with crisp acidity. Federspiel is medium-bodied, and Smaragd is a powerful wine made from late-harvested grapes. The top Riesling tasted here was the "Smaragd Singerriedel" 2008, a powerful wine with great minerality. A special mention goes to the "Smaragd Honivogel" 2008, a benchmark for Grüner Veltliner in its own right, very full and fat, showing great promise despite having been bottled only at the end of April.

The Hirtzbergers are passionate about Austrian wines and are eager to know how it goes with their fellow vintners. This was confirmed by a look in their glass dumpster, which was filled with empty bottles of vintages from all over Austria.

Weingut Bründlmayer, Kamptal

Bründlmayer exports 35% of its wines to 27 different countries, making it a truly international winery. We were guided by the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic Thomas Klinger, Marketing Director for the business.

Brundlmayer's vines at the Heiligenstein in KamptalBründlmayer's vines at the Heiligenstein, in Kamptal.

Bründlmayer's success can be attributed to its 12 ha (more than one quarter of all plantings) on the Heiligenstein, the crown jewel of the Kamptal, as close as one gets to a Grand Cru in Austria. This is a hot micro-climate (it was originally called "Hellenstein", because of its hellish daytime highs). The varied sandstone, mica, slate and volcanic soils, as well as the cool night-time temperatures, produce tremendous white wines of character.

We tasted extensively here from a broad range of styles. The 2007 "Zöbinger Heiligenstein Lyra" was a magnificent Riesling, with a flowery pollen and acacia honey bouquet. mineral and beautifully dry. The 2002 and especially the 2001 were touched by botrytis, resulting in slightly sweeter wines with less acidity. The 2008 "Alte Reben", made from Grüner Veltliner, had great white fruit concentration and white pepper, along with what I call the GV sour milk in the bouquet. I was impressed that the 2002 still had very crisp acidity, a sign that Veltliner is a white wine with true ageing potential.

Bründlmayer also makes Eiswein, and according to Klinger, harvesting in November is attractive to forego the problems of rot and bird predation. Since the harvest temperature is set at -9° C by Austrian law, I (as a Canadian) have trouble seeing how this is possible, since even in Canada icewine harvests usually take place in January.

Weingut Wellanschitz, Mittelburgenland

Austrian red wines are even harder to come by on the export market, but the best ones come from the Blaufränkisch grape in Burgenland. This little-known and underrated grape prefers heavier loam soils and the hot continental climate of the Pannonian plain bordering Hungary, where Blaufränkisch is known as "Kekfrancós". In a simpler style, these are tasty fruit driven wines, not unlike Sangiovese, with dark cherry fruit, medium-high acidity and medium tannins.

Everything we tasted at Wellanschitz was an honest expression of Blaufränkisch, and refreshingly good. Their "Blaufränkisch Reserve Well" 2006 showed this grape’s potential: a deep wine with spicey caramel, dark cherry and chocolate. Blending with Bordeaux varieties is common here, as could be tasted in the "Fraternitas" 2006, which contains 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and a darker, cassis-like flavour.

Wellanschitz is a true (6th generation) family business, and they enjoy drinking champagne, so they make their own Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay vines "because it's cheaper to make it than buy it."

Weingut Krutzler, Südburgenland

Krutzler is a fifth-generation winery and considered by some to be Austria's best red wine producer. Their 12 ha of vineyards are concentrated in an amphitheater of iron-rich loams sheltered by forests on the Pannonian steppe. Hungary is clearly visible in the distance, but as in St. Emilion, this iron-rich soil produces red wines with great mineral character. Krutzler must see the similarity, as their Merlot 2007 had a right-bank concentration.

The Blaufränkisch wines go further though. The 2007 Reserve had even more fruit than the Merlot, with a darker character. And the flagship wine is the "Perwolff". The 2007 was a dark-fruit bomb, with full but soft tannins to back it up. It was amazing to taste Blaufränkisch at this level, for Krutzler would be a first class Grand Cru if Austria had such a classification system.

A curiosity of Südburgenland is the Uhudler grape, a vitis labrusca variety used to make rustic rosés and brought over during the phylloxera era in the late 19th century. Say it out loud: OO-HOO-DLER. It's not very good.

Young Gelber MuskatellerYoung Gelber Muskateller (Muscat) grapes, used to make a locally popular light and fruity summer wine.