Monday, June 29, 2009

Visit to Burgundy

Hunger for exciting new discoveries (as well as for good food) led us to Burgundy again. Us? That is my friend Jan van Roekel and myself, we mostly do these travels together.

Thursday 18 June we arrived, and upon descending on our hotel we did nothing but strolled around a bit in Beaune and ended up in restaurant Le Goret, where everything is about the Pig. I had the best Andouillette I ever had. It was an Andouillette AAAAA, so that will explain the quality. AAAAA stands for Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique, which is a group of various Andouillette professionals who strive to make the very best Andouillette possible.

So, a true recommendation. Friday we were all ready and rested for our first visit (out of four that day). Our goal was to find a great Meursault, and we had selected several interesting producers to visit.

Our first two visits were to two upcoming domains, both run by young guys in the middle of a change process: the change from selling grapes to selling wines. Their fathers mainly sold grapes, and they wish to sell wines under their own label.

Christophe Bellang from Domaine Christian Bellang, MeursaultCHRISTOPHE BELLANG FROM DOMAINE CHRISTIAN BELLANG, MEURSAULT

The first visit was to Christophe Bellang from Domaine Christian Bellang. Christophe's father (Christian) was more interested - and involved - in distillation than in winemaking. Son Christophe is putting a lot of effort now in establishing a name, in the first place of course by making good wine. He owns vineyards in two regions: around Meursault (from his father) and around Savigny-lès-Beaune, from his mother's family. I preferred his whites, which are nicely balanced, well-made wines. His Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007 comes across light and refreshing, mineral, with a modest hint of oak, quite soft in the mouth and good acidity in the finish. The Meursault "Les Tillets" 2007 is more seductive, rounder; altogether there is a good harmony between acidity and roundness in this quite elegant Meursault.

Next we visited Arnaud Tessier. Youngest of the producers we visited, but without computer and thus, without e-mail! Anyway, it wasn't the easiest visit to plan...

Not only no computer, also no red wines. Because: ça tâche, he said. Where Christophe Bellang has already established quite a production under his own label, Arnaud has just started. He still sells 95% of the grapes to the négociant, and this year he will make about 1.500 bottles of his Domaine Tessier. We tasted the 2007, his second own vintage. Often it is the acidity that stands out in the young 2007s, but not with these Tessiers. These wines are rather suave, clearly matured in oak (about 10 months), with some sweetish spices.

Arnaud Tessier demonstrating effeuillageARNAUD TESSIER DEMONSTRATING EFFEUILLAGE IN HIS MEURSAULT CHARMES DESSUS VINEYARD (THESE VINES ARE ABOUT 25 YEARS OF AGE)

Arnaud showed us his vineyards, and demonstrated an effeuillage: a sort of striptease of the vine where most of the leaves on the lower side of the plant, at the sunny side, are removed to expose the grapes to the sun. More or less as a compensation - for proper photosynthesis to take place - the plant is allowed to grow a little bit higher. This is not something that only Tessier does, many quality producers work this way.

After a hearty lunch in a Meursault (Auberge La Goutte d'Or, by the locals referred to as a cantine) we went to Domaine David Butterfield in Monthélie. The reason that the Canadian Butterfield arrived in Burgundy is that his father started a bike rental company here. David chose to make wine. He didn't own any vineyards (and still doesn't) so he decided to buy grapes to make his wines. There are many newcomers working this way. For example Mischief and Mayhem (from the UK and Australia) and Oronce de Beler (from Paris) who we visited earlier, and Blair Pethel (from the US) who we were going to visit the day after.

David ButterfieldDAVID BUTTERFIELD SAMPLES HIS MEURSAULT 2008

David Butterfield makes a rich, generous, intense style of Meursault, sold behind a contemporary label. Like it or not, the label is as convincing as the wine − "here I am!" David's focus is finding the best grapes. His belief is that much ought to be done in the vineyard, especially working the soil, and less should be done during the winemaking. For example David does not practice battonage. He makes lovely wines, both whites and reds. As said, his Meursault is hard to spit out, it is just lovely stuff. More about his wines later (tasting notes etc.).

Fabien Duperray and Arnaud EnteFABIEN DUPERRAY AND ARNAUD ENTE

The last visit that first day was to Domaine Arnaud Ente, where we tasted an extensive flight of spectacular Meursaults with Ente and his French agent Fabien Duperray. Because I will be working with Ente's wines I won't dive into these beauties here. I will do that later.

We never go to Burgundy without visiting our favourite restaurant Caves Madeleine, and David Clark (from Morey-St-Denis, who I work with) joined us. I couldn't help ordering Pied de Cochon (pig's trotter) again.

Our first visit the next day was to Blair Pethel of Domaine Dublère. Blair comes from the US and more or less works in the same manner as David Butterfield. But he must have had more possibilities to invest. His chai is impeccable, and quite big. Blair lives in Beaune and his chai is nearby in between Savigny and Chorey. He makes a wide variety of wines and I especially liked the whites. "Like" is not the good word. I was impressed. Blair is a fiend of David Clark, and just like for David, 2004 was his first vintage. The words that kept popping in my head when tasting the whites: refinement, precision, elegance... in a way it made sense to taste these quite perfect wines in this perfect environment.

Blair Pethel from Domaine DublereBLAIR PETHEL FROM DOMAINE DUBLERE IN ONE OF THE FEW VINEYARDS THAT HE OWNS HIMSELF. HOWEVER PRIMARILY ACTING AS A NEGOCIANT, BLAIR SPENDS MOST OF HIS TIME IN THE VINEYARDS

Pethel is a fascinating person who had three 'careers' before he started making wine! First he was a concert pianist, then a Hollywood actor and finally a financial journalist. It seems that it is winemaking that gives him complete satisfaction.

David Clark was the next stop. We picked him up in his Au Pelson vineyard where he was carefully ploughing the soil.

David Clark carefully ploughing the soilDAVID CLARK CAREFULLY PLOUGHING THE SOIL

David left his tractor and we headed to his small domain in the heart of Morey-Saint-Denis to taste his 2008s from the vat. Besides the Bourgogne rouge and Passetoutgrains we tasted his one-barrel Morey-St-Denis, his new Côtes-de-Nuits Villages (from a well-exposed 1er cru-like vineyard in Brochon) and the even newer Vosne-Romanée (2008 will be the first production).

To summarize his 2008s: besides the fact that these wines are very young, and more or less reductive at this stage, they are very complete. The structure is impressive for every wine: there is good matière while at the same time the tannins are ripe and tamed. There's no hardness in these wines. These are very pure and powerful Burgundies, or will at least become that. The Côtes-de-Nuits Villages 2007 (from bottle, will be released towards the end of 2009) is tough yet seductive, complete and harmonious - a great achievement again.

David Clark in his cellarDAVID CLARK IN HIS CELLAR TASTING THE 2008S

Our last visit was to Thiébault Huber from the biodynamic Domaine Huber-Verdereau in Volnay. He presented us an extensive range of wines, both white and reds but mostly reds (Volnay and Pommard), and showed us the moon calendar that is used as a guideline in all that is done at the domain. Before Huber turned to winemaking he was a sommelier in Alsace, so his repertoire knowledge will be bigger than that of most winemakers. His whites are pleasant, pure and straightforward. From his reds I especially liked the dark and quite sexy Volnay Robardelle, as well as his Pommard. But these are wines for the longer term. Dark, quite concentrated and tannic at this stage. They are tough, honest reds with dark fruit and an earthy touch.

Thiebault Huber from Domaine Huber-Verdereau in his Volnay vineyardTHIEBAULT HUBER FROM HUBER-VERDEREAU IN HIS VOLNAY VINEYARD

At dinner we had a Mortet (from 2001) and it was interesting to see how you experience a blockbuster Burgundy like this: it starts with a wow, and the last sips are... difficult... heavy... But perhaps we were also a little tired from everything.

On the way back we stopped in Bouzy for a Champagne refill. Despite the time of year, and despite the crisis, the beautiful ánd affordable Champagne Barnaut keeps on selling.

The Grand Cru village of Bouzy home town of Champagne BarnautTHE GRAND CRU VILLAGE OF BOUZY, HOME TOWN OF CHAMPAGNE BARNAUT

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Domaine de la Laidière, Bandol rosé

Dwayne Perreault − In this time of rosé confusion, let's make it a point to drink quality rosé.

By confusion, I'm referring to the recent decision in Brussels to allow EU wine producers to make rosé simply by mixing red and white wines. Bah. I'm sure there are people somewhere who've been doing this at home for years. Thankfully, this ridiculous legislation has been rescinded.

But by quality I could be talking about rosés from a wide range of regions, as quality rosés are made everywhere from Rioja to Hungary (and strangely, not so very many in Italy).

But if I think of top rosé, I think of wines from the Loire, Bordeaux and Provence. I've previously posted on an elegant rosé from the Loire with some (limited) ageing potential, Reuilly, François Charpentier and I recently tasted a beautiful, more fleshy rosé from Bordeaux which David wrote about, le Rosé de Soutard. So now a wine from Provence, where a great many rosés are made, including some of the best like this Bandol, Domaine de la Laidière 2007.

Bandol is primarily Mourvèdre country, which makes for dark, earthy and tannic reds such as the excellent Domaine Tempier 'Cabassaou' 2000 and 1998, which I both recently tasted. But this rosé also contains some Grenache and Cinsault, which results in a highly refined, very pale rosé with a mineral structure and extremely well-balanced acidity. This wine is not nervous, but very firm. A solid, dry rosé with practically no sweetness, other than a fleeting hint of strawberry. A perfect wine for a Mediterranean fish like a Dorado, which due to global warming is now showing up in North European waters. I baked one in the oven with Italian herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, and added a splash of the Bandol. Yum. While drinking the wine I could smell the fish on my fingers, and it felt for a moment I was in Bandol itself, sitting on a terrace near the sea. Instead I'm just sitting in Amsterdam, smelling my fingers. But I'm drinking excellent wine.

But speaking of rosés with ageing potential, this article claims this wine can age for 20 years.

Domaine de la Laidière is normally available only in the better restaurants in Holland, but if you live in Amsterdam you can also order it here: www.wineontime.nl.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tastings, tastings and more tastings (poor teeth)

There have been many tastings over the last days and weeks, tastings that I actually ought to write about, because of the wines that I tasted. But writing takes time, and time is limited, so in this posting I briefly bundle some impressions.

Last Monday I attended an impressive tasting at Paleis Het Loo - the former royal residence in the town of Apeldoorn - hosted by P. de Bruijn Wijnkopers. Most of the wines were presented by the winemakers (or châteaux managers) themselves, so the wonderful Leflaives (a/o Clavoillon, Les Pucelles, Chevalier Montrachet) were poured by Anne-Claude Leflaive, the gracious Comte Lafons by Dominique Lafon, Giscours and Du Tertre by Alexander van Beek, and Haut-Bailly by Véronique Sanders, to mention just a few. For me one of the highlights was to taste the - lovely - Du Tertre 2006 again: I worked on the vinification of this wine [pdf].

From Véronique Sanders I finally got the explanation for the word "Parde" in La Parde de Haut-Bailly. It is nothing more than the name of a parcel, a vineyard, and this, for its part, is called after an old indigenous grape variety. Sanders and her team are thinking of altering the name of Haut-Bailly's second wine, but I hope they stick to this original name - it just sounds good to me.

Earlier, on 5 June, there were two tastings on one day. The first one I hosted myself, I presented the wines that I import to a group of Dutch wine writers: Nicolaas Klei, Hans Melissen, Frank Jacobs and Mariëlla Beukers (she already blogged about the event, in Dutch). I should be honest with you, dear reader, as always, so it must be said that these professionals were very enthusiastic about the wines. The proof: they bought. It had not been my intention to sell that day, but well, I wasn't really against it either.

After this tasting I felt content, and also a little tired. So I attended the next tasting without notebook (which I never do), to sit back, relax, and taste. Ignorant of what was to follow...

...instead of tasting notes I simply present the wines in some pictures (showing 6 of the 10 wines), and I refer you to the notes made by my friend Jan van Roekel, with whom I travel to Burgundy again tomorrow. More about that later of course.

Dauvissat and d'AuvenayVINCENT DAUVISSAT CHABLIS 1ER CRU "LA FOREST" 2004 AND DOMAINE D'AUVENAY AUXEY-DURESSES "LES BOUTONNIERS" 2004 (A-MA-ZING WINE)

2x Vosne-Romanée 1er cru Les/Aux Brulées: René Engel & Méo-Camuzet2x VOSNE-ROMANEE 1ER CRU LES (or AUX) BRULEES 2001: DOMAINE RENE ENGEL AND DOMAINE MEO CAMUZET. DIFFERENT BUT BOTH GREAT.

2x MAISON LEROY: BOURGOGNE BLANC 2002 AND MEURSAULT 1ER CRU "LES PERRIERES" 1995 (WHAT A GREAT MEURSAULT!)

Further reading: Jan van Roekel's tasting notes on Burgoholic...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

William Fèvre; real Chablis

Dwayne Perreault − "Real Chablis," I was told while still an apprentice, "comes from Kimmeridgian clay, and if it doesn't, it isn't Chablis." So what is this magical clay, so important that it determines the very essence of France's most famous white wine?

ChablisTHE SECRET TO CHABLIS' TERROIR: AMMONITE WITH OYSTERS ATTACHED

About 150 million years ago, in the Kimmeridgian era (the upper Jurassic geological period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth), Chablis and all of Burgundy was an inland sea. Today, Chablis' marl and clay limestone soils contain copious amounts of oyster fossils and ammonites from that period, and it is these fossils which give Chablis its mineral character, and in the better crus its gunsmokey, flint-like bouquet.

Kimmeridgian clay, by the way, also supplies 95% of the petroleum in the North Sea. Handy stuff.

I'm always up for a good bottle of "oesterwater," as the Dutch call it, so I was delighted to attend a tasting of six different wines from William Fèvre, one of Chablis' bigger and better known producers. In fact, 15% of all Chablis Grand Crus come from this house.

We began with a Petit Chablis 2007. These wines come from less favourable sites as their name suggests. No great complexity here, but a nice neutral wine with a steely green mineral tone. This was followed by the Chablis 2007, also mineral in character but thicker in the mouth with more citrus and white fruit, and what I would describe as a bit of sheep's cheese in the nose.

It was then time to try the Premier and Grand Crus, which come from the best sites, often on hillsides which offer some protection against frost, and all Grand Crus facing south for maximum exposure to the sun. First, Premier Cru Fourchaume 2006, slightly smokey with small citrus fruit and an impressively long aftertaste. I'm always amazed by how long Chablis' strange sour aftertaste can hang around in the mouth. This was followed by Premier Cru Montmains 2006, less fruity than Fourchaume, more mineral in character, full, fat and silky in texture. My personal favourite thus far.

Grand Cru Valmur 2006, however, made all the others pale a bit in comparison. A mineral wine with smokey flint and firestone in the nose. Beautifully integrated acidity with complicated tones of stoney minerals: in a word, fossilific.

We finished off with a trick wine. It didn't taste like Chardonnay, because it wasn't. Saint-Bris is the only area within Chablis where wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc. The 2006 seemed a bit silent, but then what should one expect after tasting these top Chardonnays?

What did we eat with our Chablis? A five year old Dutch farmer's cheese, sushi and... oysters, of course! Both fin de claire and Zeeuwse. Delicious. Thanks to Esmee Jongedijk for hosting this evening.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Médoc 1990s tasting: Pauillac & St-Julien

Last weekend I coincidentally spent both evenings with – different – expats. Amsterdam hosts many expatriates, but none of them are actually in my own circle of friends.

Holland may be an open society, with many foreigners living here, yet the various social circles around seem rather closed. A friend from New York noticed this fact long ago, and last Saturday the same conclusion was drawn by a guest from Bulgaria. In her eyes the Dutch more or less exist in quite static cliques, groups of people that know each other since long. I’m afraid her observation is correct.

Interesting though: we, the Dutch, say the same about the French. Perhaps it’s more of a (West) European habit, as opposed to the hospitality of the Americans.

Anyway, it was pure American hospitality that I experienced last weekend. In an expat setting. The American hostess has an interest in wine, loves wine, but is so to say not a wine geek. Her thing (let’s call her Angela) is to invite wine lovers, and wine geeks, at her house and taste great wines together, while enjoying great food that she cooks. Furthermore ‘her thing’ is the thrill of winning special wines at Christie’s wine auctions.

I did not have to think long to accept the kind invitation. A friend of Angela acted as the chairman of this evening, and he professionally guided us through the following wines, asking one after another to share his or her impressions. Below I will share with you my tasting notes.

Lagrange 1999, 3rd cru classé de St-Julien
A rather slender appearance this wine, unmistakable impression of classic Bordeaux, with old wood. Earthy, and quite ripened, with some iodine, or blood if you want. In the mouth the Lagrange is supple and à point. There’s good intensity, but I would say this lean Bordeaux ought to be drunk these days (8-/10).

Léoville-Barton 1998, 2nd cru classé de St-Julien
Powerful fruit, like a clenched wrist, and a certain freshness. Sweet cherries. Lively-powerful fruit, dark and fresh, energetic, good and explicit acidity (8,5/10 – fail to deliver a complete TN here).

Lynch Bages 1998, 5th cru classé de Pauillac
The wine starts off very modest, or closed, with just some sweetness. But then it gradually unveils itself, first some leather, and then also dark fruit and cookies. The wine is medium bodied, suave and accessible, but there is still a slight astringency in the finish. The wine is showing the first signs of seniority, maturity. Very pleasant Pauillac altogether (8+/10).

Lynch Bages 1996, 5th cru classé de Pauillac
Also closed at the start! But after about ten minutes the wine has woken up, the nose even showing roundness and fullness. And in a modest way, there’s some true seduction. Notes of leather again, and pencil shavings. In the mouth there’s roundness too. There’s softness and dark fruit. Very pleasant wine, 1996 can be so tough, but this wine is lovely. Perhaps only lacking some true distinction (8,5+/10).

Branaire-Ducru 1996, 4th cru classé de St-Julien
Classic and modest nose. Slightly edgy, slightly green. But with the word 'slightly' stressed. Plenty of intensity in the mouth, a fairly good drink but altogether not really impressive. Classic, modest Bordeaux (8-/10).

Pichon-Longueville 1995, 2nd cru classé de Pauillac
Striking difference with the previous wine, the Baron is very open, forward, and it exhibits an unmistakable oakiness. Black currants, and even some chocolate. Convincing wine. In the mouth a good intensity, some sweetness. A soft and sexy wine (8,5/10).

Grand-Puy Lacoste 1995, 5th cru classé de Pauillac
The winner of the evening. Why? Because this wine struck me (and not just me) with its contagious energy: there’s an impressive freshness in the (sweetish) fruit, this wine is very alive. Youthful, juicy, just some dryness in the finish (9-/10).

Furthermore we drank some whites, we began the evening with a pleasant Carbonnieux blanc 2006, and finished with the Sauternes Raymond-Lafon 2001 and 1990. The first is what you may expect from a good Sauternes, the 1990 is simply very special, orange skin intermingled with a hint of Sherry, but it was way past midnight, so no tasting notes any more.

The only other wine that I shouldn’t forget to mention is the Lynch-Bages 1975, served blind. All of us were very enthusiastic, all of us guessed it was an Eighties-Bordeaux. Unbelievable how youthful this 1975 still is! A velvet beauty, beautifully mature but not old, and balanced. A true surprise.

So, this was my introduction to expat life in Amsterdam. Not bad at all. I definitely should act un-Dutch and widen my offline social circle here...