Monday, January 26, 2009

Bordeaux 2008 - what about the primeur campaign?

While Bordeaux is recuperating from a heavy storm, a real one, the big question is if there will be any storm in Bordeaux in April − I mean: any real fuss around Bordeaux 2008.

Yes, there will be a 'campaign week' at the start of April (Monday 30 March − Friday 3 April, invitations are sent out): there will be wines to taste, and there will be people to taste the wines. I guess I will be one of them (but I think I will mainly focus on older vintages...).

But then? Usually the rest of the campaign − the weeks after the tastings, in April and May − is not so much about the wines, but about prices, and business. What are the release prices, what are the most interesting buys etc. But wait... that's how it used to be. Is there much reason to think that buyers are eager to buy this year?

The idea behind buying en primeur is to have a better price now than in the future (and also to be certain about an allocation of a certain wine, but that only really matters in years of big demand). In these days however, with a roaring credit crisis everywhere around us, who will think he will get a better price today? Or in other words: who seriously thinks about making investments, about speculation?

Then from the other side, the sellers (or should I say the cellars): is selling the wines en primeur a necessity? For some yes, for most no. The yes-category: those négociants (and perhaps some châteaux also) that fully rely on the primeurs campaign, that need to raise cash during the campaign (or actually: send invoices, for payment conditions were already being loosened the last years).

The no-category: châteaux and négociants in a healthier financial position, and with plenty of stocks. And there are stocks. After 2005 we have had two 'difficult campaigns', i.e. in terms of selling. The year 2006 was difficult, and 2007 was even more difficult. Much less is sold, hence there are stocks in Bordeaux − be it at the châteaux or at the négociants.

(There is a rumour going around that stocks are low, but that rather seems a trick to spark interest for the new vintage − thanks Jane for alerting me.)

The châteaux and négociants that do not really need the primeurs-cash might prefer to hold on to the Bordeaux 2008 wines − possibly a vin de garde anyway − instead of trying to sell it to an uninterested audience, for a low price. The fact that yields have been very low in 2008 will contribute to the reluctance to sell at (very) low prices. I think the châteaux will offer their Bordeaux 2008 primeurs, but not at much lower prices. I guess the producers rather keep their wines cellared than selling for low prices.

And if these châteaux and négociants want to earn money, they can also choose to work with their 2006 and 2007 stocks. Bordeaux 2006 is becoming available in bottle these days, and the price is not much higher than it was two years ago during the campaign. For both buyers and sellers these wines might be more interesting to look at than the primeurs.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Champagne Barnaut

For most drinkers (I hate the word consumers, one might consume margarine, but not wine) it is difficult to say which Champagnes are good, or great, and which Champagnes are not so good. The only classification available is the échelle des crus with 17 grand cru villages followed by 41 premier crus. But who knows the names of these villages − apart from the fact that today some of these classifieds fail to produce top quality.

Bouzy: one of the leading grand cru villages in ChampagneBOUZY: ONE OF THE LEADING GRAND CRU VILLAGES IN CHAMPAGNE

For the region as a whole this is a strength. As a brand Champagne is France's strongest appellation. But it means that one will have to put some effort in finding the real treasures. Or make a safe bet by choosing for Moët's Brut Impériale − or a comparable well-known Champagne.

a view towards the village of BouzyA VIEW TOWARDS THE VILLAGE OF BOUZY

This posting is about our visit last weekend to Champagne Barnaut in Bouzy, a leading Récoltant-Manipulant producing Champagne in one of the grandest grand crus, the commune of Bouzy in Montagne de Reims.

Barnaut can best be characterised by its freshness, its purity and its elegance. Be it the refreshing and straightforward Brut, the fascinating Extra Brut − almond, grape skin − the lively-elegant-fruity Rosé, the vinous Blanc de Noirs or the suave and complex Millesimé... you will never see me spoil any of these wines. When I tasted Barnaut in 2008 for the first time, I knew I wanted to work with this Champagne.

Madame Secondé: explaining in detail about her ChampagneMADAME SECONDE: EXPLAINING IN DETAIL ABOUT HER CHAMPAGNE

Champagne Barnaut: some interesting facts

Barnaut's non-millésimé's contain about one third of older vintages − the vins de réserve −, stored in stainless steel vats. The 1/3 cuvée de reserve is a mix of wines with different ages, up to 8 years. This is old, but it adds to the quality, the refinement of the Champagne.

When the new vintage and cuvée de reserve are blended, the average age of the resulting wine is 3 years. It happens that the amount of millésimé-wine is brought down in order to keep up the quality of the non-millésimé's... all for the sake of quality!

Besides the new press the old one is still in useTHE OLD PRESS IS STILL IN USE

What is not shown on these pictures: the new press (a huge cylinder which, when being loaded, sinks in the floor), and the modern gyropalettes for the remuage of the bottles.

from around 1970: this curious machine gently but constantly rocks the yeast in the direction of the bottle neck. Today still only used for the RoséFROM AROUND 1970: THIS CURIOUS MACHINE GENTLY BUT CONSTANTLY ROCKS THE YEAST IN THE DIRECTION OF THE BOTTLE NECK. TODAY STILL ONLY USED FOR THE ROSE

Champagne Barnaut: the cellar

The most exciting part of the tour was the visit to the cellar, which we reached by means of a slow elevator. We sank deep into the prehistoric sea, from about 80 million years ago: a vast layer of chalk. As said, the elevator was slow, so we fully experienced the depth of the cellar: 15 metres!

The cellar, about 200 years old15 METRES DEEP: THE CELLAR, ABOUT 200 YEARS OLD, IN THE CHALK FROM ABOUT 80.000.000 YEARS OF AGE

With the tirage yeast and sugar are added to the blend. Then the second fermentation takes place (in the bottle). This cellared stage takes two years. So once Barnaut reaches the consumer its average age (for a non-millésimé) is five years. Yes, we may call this Slow Wine.

Blanc de Noirs: tirage 27 june 2008, yeasts shaken 17 january 2009BARNAUT BLANC DE NOIRS: TIRAGE 27 JUNE 2008, YEAST ESPECIALLY SHAKEN FOR THE PICTURE ON 17 JANUARY 2009

Dutch readers who now got thirsty, do not worry, just see here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bordeaux 2008 vintage report − an update

This week I talked about the topic Bordeaux 2008 with John Kolasa, winemaker at Château Rauzan-Ségla and Château Canon, and with Arjen Pen from Château Richelieu (Fronsac).

Since my previous (and first) posting about Bordeaux 2008 (30 October 2008) the wines have evolved a bit further, most importantly the malolactic fermentation has ended. As I wrote before, one of the characteristics of Bordeaux 2008 is its acidity level, which is relatively high. With the "malo" finished, this level has come down. And according to Kolasa a little bit more than expected. The current acidity level is now slightly above that of 2006 and 2007. It gives freshness to the wines.

More in general, Bordeaux 2008 seems to be becoming a vin de garde. However irregular (for details see my previous posting), the growing season was long and relatively warm. As a result the natural alcohol level is quite high, and the wines have a solid structure and much colour. The low yields contribute to this − Bordeaux 2008 showed the lowest yields since the 1991 vintage.

Earlier I mentioned the good results for the cabernets, and the difficulties with merlot (particularly in the Graves region) but this point needs some differentiation, or nuance if you want.

John Kolasa pointed out that on the right bank − in general − the merlot recovered quite well from its difficult start. On the left bank it suffered more. This has to do with the difference in soil type. Simply said, the right bank soil (more clay) is less demanding to the vine − it will be able to show more lenience throughout the growing season. Actually Kolasa thinks the merlot he harvested is of very good quality, perhaps not as great as it was in 2005 and 2006, but better it seems than in 2000 and 2001 for example. A specific year to which we can compare the 2008 right bank? Well, perhaps 1990. For Kolasa the left bank is − more or less − reminiscent of the 1998 vintage.

Arjen Pen is also very satisfied with his merlot, even more so than with his cabernets (but he is most satisfied with his malbec!). He points out that for various domains the amount of rot in the vineyards − in the end − determined the moment to harvest the cabernets − simply the result of the very long season.

So time will tell if we can talk about a left or right bank vintage, and as Arjen Pen rightly points out, it is often too simple to summarise a vintage as − just − a left or right bank vintage. But most important, it seems that with 2008 we are looking at a good Bordeaux vintage!

My next posting will be about the Bordeaux 2008 primeur campaign − what to expect from it (or not) in this period of financial crisis… but first I will be visiting… la Champagne!

Added April 2009: More Bordeaux 2008:
Bordeaux 2008 on Bordoverview
Bordeaux 2008 offers
and various other postings on this blog

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Best Burgundy still made at home

It must have happened at least once to every wine lover: a particular vintage passes your lips and, just like that, you realize the wine you are drinking surpasses anything you have ever tasted. Though the word wine is used to describe so many vintages fermented from so many kinds of grapes and vinified in so many ways that imply sheer diversity and range, yet it is true: every wine you drink from now on will in some way be compared to this one. Because this is the best wine you have ever tasted.

THE NOBLET VINEYARD IN VOSNE-ROMANEE. THE N74 RUNS BETWEEN THE VINES AND THE BUILDINGS IN THE DISTANCE.

I am no millionaire, so I have never tasted La Tâche or Le Montrachet; no bottle of Romanée-Conti has ever graced my table. These remain only names to me which make me think of a higher purpose, that I should be earning more money.

But in July of 2007, while on a camping vacation in France, I pulled my old Renault 5 off the N74 into Vosne-Romanée and bought a single bottle of wine from the village wine shop for €16. The teenage girl who was working there said it was good. A week later I was sitting in a campground in the Rhône, overlooking a purple field of lavender, when I decided that the Crozes-Hermitage I was sipping was not bringing me any pleasure. So I fumbled under a pile of luggage in my Renault and unceremoniously pulled out the bottle I had bought in Burgundy: Vosne-Romanée, Martin Noblet 2000.

It was after sunset, so the light was not appropriate to judge its colour. But the bouquet was seductive: red fruit, spicey with a bit of garden tomato, leather and oak. A full-frontal rush of intoxicating dark berries with a little pepper in the mouth. Absolutely blended tannins with fruit in an extremely long-lasting aftertaste. Perfect finish. I sat in the dark in my car, savouring it.

Back in Amsterdam I could not find the wine; even an internet search gave me little, other than a contact address and what appeared to be a review in Japanese. It seemed no-one had heard of Martin Noblet. So I decided I would go back to Vosne-Romanée and meet him. On a scorching hot day this past August I walked up the drive of a modest house in the village, with Pinot Noir vines stretching in rows to the nearby N74. Bernard Martin came out to greet me. This quiet, unassuming man, now 70 years old, has lived in the village since 1966 and owns 3,5 ha of vineyards in Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin. He started winemaking in his twenties but his son Fabrice makes the wines now, by the name Martin Fabrice. He must be proud but he is certainly not boastful: upon hearing me praise his 2000 vintage, he merely raised one eyebrow and said, "Ah, then you must try the 2001, it is far better."

So we sat in his basement and he pulled the cork out of a 2001. Anticipation. The nose was familiar: fragrant cherry, fresh-cut tobacco, leather and oak, this time with a hint of vanilla. Even the garden tomato was there. Taste: delicate red fruit, lightly peppered, with modest oak and good acidity. A beautiful, elegant wine, perhaps even faultless, but... I could not help feeling a little disappointment. As good as it was, it did not in my mind surpass the wine I had drunk a year before, which is now enshrined in my memory. But is memory faultless?

Back in Amsterdam again, I let two friends taste the 2001: Ron Cavé, owner of the wine shop Van Bakel en Cavé, and Ed van der Berg, owner of Ed's Wine Import. "Beautiful, honest Burgundy," they told me, "precisely as it should taste."

When the 2000 vintage was made, Bernard Martin was 62 and the wine was made at home, in the garage and basement, as has traditionally been done by small producers in Burgundy. This is in stark contrast with the modern vinification methods employed by larger houses. To each his own. You can keep the Drouhin. For me, the best Burgundy is still made at home.