Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some last thoughts, and Bruno Clavelier

I say goodbye to 2011 with fifteen random personal thoughts & remarks.

1. Being a wine merchant and a wine blogger is a difficult combination in December (hence the 20 days of silence).
2. Beaujolais Nouveau in general is not very popular these days. But Natural Bojo Nouveau of raving beauty appears to have a (small) group of very devoted followers!
3. The pivotal role of scent in wine is comparable with its role in sex.
4. My favourite website on wine is Chris Kissack's winedoctor.
5. This year's most popular posting on this blog is the Bordeaux 2010 recommendations posting of 2 May.
6. Bordeaux 2010 was, other than expected in the first place, a success: customers were again willing to buy at high prices.
7. If Bordeaux 2011 is going to be a bargain vintage like 2008 sales will be good, otherwise it will be very quiet.
8. Unfortunately raising prices in Bordeaux is easier than lowering prices; it's always 2 steps up and 1 step back. Sort of cheating.
9a. For a truly interesting read about Bordeaux check out Filip Verheyden's Bordeaux special of Tong Magazine.
b. One of the authors is Benjamin Lewin MW, author of What Price Bordeaux?, a highly recommended page-turner full of interesting Facts (and figures, and not myths) about Bordeaux.
10. Another fact: I drink more Burgundy than Bordeaux.
11. Then an opinion: a wine from a hot climate will never match the quality of its peers from cooler climates.
12. Wine is made for drinking, not for sipping (which doesn't mean that you have to drink a lot).
13. Fresh milk is an underestimated drink in most countries outside the Netherlands.
14. The high excise tariff on sparkling wine (3,4 times as high as on still wine!) are rubbish, they simply don't make sense.
15. Since I work with wine, my appreciation for beer has grown.

La Combe d'Orveaux, the little corner in the Musigny vineyard that did not become Grand Cru: Clavelier's grandfather never applied for that status, it would have meant higher taxes...

Last but not least: an announcement. A new top Burgundy producer has just entered the Bolomey Wijnimport selection: Bruno CLAVELIER from Vosne-Romanée. Clavelier makes pure, meaty, deep-dark pinots, convincing and seducing. Impressive stuff - organic wines made according to the principles of biodynamics.

I created a Primeur 2009 offer (pdf, in Dutch) in November already, but never found the chance to send it out. So let the blog - in the end - have the scoop. Early January this offer will be sent to a selection of Dutch Burgundy lovers; note that the available quantities are tiny for these sought-after reds.

A happy 2012 to all of you!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winemaking Apprenticeship, Mas des Dames 2011, part 1

Dwayne Perreault - It seems only natural to me that anyone seriously involved with wine would want to do a winemaking apprenticeship. It’s an idea I’ve had for some years now. Since I work in wine, I spend most of my waking hours with it. It is my profession and in the evening it is my joy and solace, a continually changing mystery: originating from all over the world, constantly differing and charming in so many ways.

Yet what is it, really? Fermented grape juice would be the most prosaic answer, yet in many cases I feel that good wine, like food, is art, the personal expression of the winemaker using grapes as material. It is the divine act of the alcoholic fermentation, the ancient alchemical transformation of grapes into a Bacchanalian elixir which has been a part of our history for 8,000 years, that interests me.

Lidewij van Wilgen at the sorting table

I’ve already written about Lidewij van Wilgen, owner/winemaker of Mas des Dames, who I met this past spring, while vacationing in the Languedoc. I received a tip that a Dutch woman produces great wines nearby and was about to publish a book about her experiences. Intrigued, I drove to her estate and met her briefly. She invited me the next day to a tasting for 13 sommeliers from top restaurants in London. After tasting the wines, I was thoroughly convinced. I contacted the importer, purchased the wines and invited her to do a tasting/launching for her book Het Domein, which took place in Wijnhuis Zuid on May 15th.

I thought Mas des Dames looked like a great place to do an apprenticeship: small yet not too small, and fully committed to producing the best possible biological wines from a domain with a great terroir and a broad variety of grape varieties, including 90 year old Alicante Bouschet vines. Not only that, it was a 15 minute drive from where I was staying, and Lidewij seemed to be just the kind of earnest and enthusiastic soul I was looking for as a teacher. So on a lark, I proposed the idea and she agreed.

I showed up on August 30th early in the morning and was able to stay until September 12th, too short a time really, as I just missed the vinification of the reds, except for a few choice plots of Syrah for the rosé. But as it were, I helped and learned with the vinification of two wines, the Mas des Dames Blanc and Rosé: 2011 was a particularly good and abundant year, especially for the Grenache Blanc, in Lidewij’s words “maybe the best year ever.”

Unmistakably Syrah

One of the most single important decisions a viticulturist/winemaker has to make is when each parcel of grapes should be harvested, in respect to ripeness and climatic conditions. This is also one of the most difficult aspects of winemaking, as the weather and managing a group of pickers can complicate things. But our day begins by collecting a random sample of 200 grapes in a particular plot, one of many such samples we will be collecting. These will be taken by the oenologist Xavier Billet to a laboratory in Béziers to have their sugar ripeness (potential alcohol), total acidity and Ph measured.

More often we simply walk through the vines, sometimes with a spectrometer in hand to measure the potential alcohol in the grape juice, but even more important, we taste the grapes, biting through their skins, sucking their juices, examining the pips to check for phenolic ripeness. This is still the most trusted way among farmers in France.

Healthy Grenache Blanc grapes at Mas des Dames

The challenge with the thin skinned but succulent Grenache Blanc is that it is prone to rot and is oxidative, so care must be taken that it enters the cave as rapidly and as intact as possible. The real work begins in the fields with the pickers and the freshly harvested grapes arrive stacked in crates on a flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor to the cave, where we wait at the sorting table. We work with tempo as the grapes are coming in by bunches: dessicated grapes are fine, as they are particularly sweet. Grapes with grey rot are removed, along with leaves, weeds, snails and insects like earwigs, spiders, ladybugs, and beetles. Yes, biodiversity does come with a biological vineyard.

From the sorting table the grapes go in whole bunches into the egrappoir, a machine which removes the grapes from the stem. The grapes are lightly crushed, then pumped through a large hose directly into a modern, horizontal air bag press. This ensures that the grapes are pressed gently and evenly, avoiding the crushing of pips which leads to astringent wines.

With white wine, we are only vinifying the juice, so this is directly pumped into a 80 hl vat which is sealed with CO2 to prevent oxidation. In total, we harvested 50 hl from 1.5 ha of land on two plots. Our first sample registered a densimeter/mustimeter reading for 12.5% potential alcohol, and the second lot, harvested later in the morning under the hot sun, showed 14.5%. For this reason, all work stops in the vineyard in the early afternoon. Fortunately, the juice had a measure of 3.8 acidity, which Xavier Billet says is very good for Grenache Blanc, and I agree: my experience with the Mas des Dames Blanc is that it has surprisingly good acidity and freshness for Grenache Blanc.

The quality of the juice is paramount: you can only work with the juice, it is the basis for everything. And it tastes simply delicious, unlike any juice I’ve tasted before, sweeter but also fresher, more alive. This is the basis for the wine, and now I understand the expression “winemaking is done in the vineyard,” as it is possible to make bad wine from good grapes, but it is impossible to make good wine from bad grapes.

[next week part 2]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today's RVF ranking of the 1855 classification

I can imagine that most non-French readers of this blog don't have La Revue du Vin de France, France's most well-known and probably most influential wine magazine. The latest edition (No. 557, Décembre 2011) presents in bold big letters the following question on its cover: Que vaut aujourd'hui le classement de 1855? Translated that is: What is today's ranking of the 1855 classification?

My guess is that the readers of this blog would be interested to know which crus are hot - and which not - according to RVF, or at least according to Olivier Poels who put together this overview. Poels' judgment is largely based on the tasting of the following 5 vintages: 1990, 1996, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

For every wine RVF also presents the percentage price increase from 1990 to 2010, an interesting number. For more stats, and for Olivier Poels' story behind the ratings you should find a copy of the magazine yourself.

Apart from the usual suspects there are surprises too. Some nice surprises, but a few of Poels' views made me frown, and foremost for 4 wines that are all mentioned in the category 15,5/20. I think Brane-Cantenac, Giscours, Talbot and Haut-Batailley should all have ended higher in this hierarchy, and perhaps d'Armailhac also. You can simply comment on this posting to share your (dis)agreements, and you are invited to do so.

Latour (Pauillac, 1er cru classé) +1980%
Léoville Las Cases (St-Julien, 2e cru classé) +1479%

Haut-Brion, (Pessac-Léognan, 1er cru classé) +2013%
Lafite Rothschild (Pauillac, 1er cru classé) +1838%

Margaux (Margaux, 1er cru classé) +1838%
Mouton Rothschild (Pauillac, 1er cru classé) +1838%
Ducru-Beaucaillou (St-Julien, 2e cru classé) +1083%
Léoville Barton (St-Julien, 2e cru classé) +535%
Montrose (St-Estèphe, 2e cru classé) +611%
Lynch-Bages (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +509%
Pontet-Canet (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +820%

Cos d'Estournel (St-Estèphe, 2e cru classé) +1444%
Léoville Poyferré (St-Julien, 2e cru classé) +618%
Pichon-Longueville Baron (Pauillac, 2e cru classé) +680%
Palmer (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +155%*

Gruaud Larose (St-Julien, 2e cru classé) +295%
Rauzan-Ségla (Margaux, 2e cru classé) +997%
Branaire-Ducru (St-Julien, 4e cru classé) + 374%
Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +427%

Pichon Longueville Comtesse (Pauillac, 2e cru classé) +717%
Calon Ségur (St-Estèphe, 3e cru classé) +403%
La Lagune (Haut-Médoc, 3e cru classé) +345%
Malescot Saint-Éxupéry (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +164%*

Lascombes (Margaux, 2e cru classé) +628%
Boyd-Cantenac (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +242%
Cantenac Brown (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +227%
Lagrange (St-Julien, 3e cru classé) +311%
Langoa-Barton (St-Julien, 3e cru classé)
Beychevelle (St-Julien, 4e cru classé) +442%
Duhart-Milon (Pauillac, 4e cru classé) +228%
Lafon-Rochet (St-Estèphe, 4e cru classé) +277%
Marquis de Terme (Margaux, 4e cru classé) +253%
Saint-Pierre (St-Julien, 4e cru classé) +380%
Batailley (Pauillac, 5e cru classé)
Belgrave (Haut-Médoc, 5e cru classé)

Rauzan-Gassies (Margaux, 2e cru classé) +240%
Issan (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +286%
La Tour Carnet (Haut-Médoc, 4e cru classé) +198%
Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc, 5e cru classé) +70%*
Clerc Milon (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) + 245%
Cos Labory (St-Estèphe, 5e cru classé) +207%
Dauzac (Margaux, 5e cru classé) +192%
Du Tertre (Margaux, 5e cru classé) +156%

Brane-Cantenac (Margaux, 2e cru classé) +345%
Giscours (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +224%
Kirwan (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +115%*
Pouget (Margaux, 4e cru classé)
Talbot (St-Julien, 4e cru classé) +304%
Armailhac (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) + 261%
Haut-Batailley (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +217%

Prieuré-Lichine (Margaux, 4e cru classé) +281%
Haut Bages Libéral (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +278%

Camensac (Haut-Médoc, 5e cru classé) +205%
Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +202%

Ferrière (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +40%*
Croizet-Bages (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +168%

Durfort-Vivens (Margaux, 2e cru classé) +207%
Marquis d'Alesme (Margaux, 3e cru classé)
Grand-Puy Ducasse (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +300%
Pédesclaux (Pauillac, 5e cru classé) +83%*

Desmirail (Margaux, 3e cru classé) +116%

An asterisk (*) means that the price raise is not for the period 1990-2010 but for the period 2000-2010. For some wines the price raise is unknown.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bordeaux 2009 UGC tasting Brussels

Last week Jan van Roekel and I drove up to Brussels to attend the annual Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux 2009 tasting with a line-up of 110 crus. These traveling UGC tastings are always very interesting, as you get to try the recently bottled Bordeaux vintage about 1,5 years after having tasted them at the UGC primeur tastings in Bordeaux.

It's also an extensive tasting and you need the full opening hours if you want to taste most of the wines. To try them all is nearly impossible, unless you are a red-toothed speed freak who doesn't care what people around you will think.

There's no doubt that you're attending a tasting of the Union des Grands Crus Bordeaux: there are many people in suits. Mostly dark suits. And some fancy suits but that usually doesn't make things better. Well let's not get into that.

The best thing about the tasting is that you get a good impression of the vintage. It is not the place to taste all your favorites top-down. Not because you won't have the time (you could descend as far as you could), but because there are many omissions. There are no premier crus, and hardly any Super Seconds. And there are many other omissions, for example there are only 7 Pauillacs and 7 Pomerols. And just 4 Saint-Estèphes: Cos Labory, De Pez, Lafon-Rochet and Phélan-Ségur.

So what did we think about red Bordeaux 2009? One striking - but known - vintage feature is the absence of hard, astringent tannins. Good! And another good thing is that only very few wines smell of freshly cut oak, perhaps just one or two go off the rails here.

The vast majority of the wines displays generous, ripe and fleshy fruit. Wines range from juicy to powerful-and-structured, depending also on the style. Acidity generally is good but not predominant, and that makes the wines all the more accessible.

Red Bordeaux 2009 makes a healthy, attractive impression altogether. These are wines with... a sort of natural beauty. As opposed to something that's put together by a winemaker. But this might come across a bit vague, so let's go to the whites.

White Bordeaux 2009. We have tasted some very beautiful, elegant examples, but also some fatter exponents that are sometimes a bit rustic, and sometimes worse than that. More than once the Riedel tasting glass vapored armpit sweat. Hurray Sauvignon! Sometimes I also missed acidity and - thus - freshness.

But I do not want to jump to final conclusions about these animal whites. These in-your-face features are possibly just an age-thing. Many 2009 whites might be true adolescents now, pimpled and blushing, and I'm keen to taste these 'extravagant' whites again!

There were only a handful of 2009 Sauternes to taste, and from these I thought the Guiraud (8++) was the most attractive, with its lovely freshness and purity. I also liked De Fargues (8+), Rayne-Vigneau (8) and Lafaurie-Peyraguey (8-).

I give a Dutch rating, up to a 10 for the best posible. Everything ranging from 8 and up is good to very good, and everything below 7 is not good. In between I shrug and walk on.

Domaine de Chevalier 2009 (8,5+) mineral and juicy, pure and fresh, quite broad base, lovely ripe fruit
Haut-Bailly 2009 (8,5) bit closed now, but after some time in the glas the wine starts to fan out from an intense and powerful core
Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2009 (8+) very round, seducing, modern and warm, broad; if this is your style, this is an interesting wine
De Fieuzal 2009 (8) lovely pure wine, dark depth combined with freshness
Malartic-Lagravière 2009 (8-) a bit sweet with a medicinal touch, yet a pleasant wine

The rest: Larrivet Haut-Brion 2009 (7,5), Latour-Martillac 2009 (7), Carmes Haut-Brion 2009 (7-), La Louvière 2009 (7-), Pape Clément 2009 (7-), Picque-Caillou 2009 (6,5), Haut-Bergey 2009 (6,5), Olivier 2009 (6,5)

- Domaine de Chevalier 2009 (8,5) modest breeze of butterscotch and delicate acidity, then concentration, quite tight also, a shapely & elegant wine
- Carbonnieux 2009 (8+)  more pointed, fresh, citric, and gentle in the mouth; good concentration
- De Fieuzal 2009 (8) more straightforward, quite tight, hint of oak, but simply good
Haut-Bergey 2009 (8-) bit sweaty (at this age) but nice round total with also a good acidity

The rest from what I tasted: Smith-Haut-Lafitte 2009 (7,5), La Louvière 2009 (7,5), Pape Clément 2009 (7+), Malartic-Lagravière 2009 (7+), Larrivet Haut-Brion 2009 (7+), Latour-Martillac 2009 (7), Bouscout 2009 (7), De France 2009 (7), Picque-Caillou 2009 (7-), Olivier 2009 (6,5)

- La Conseillante 2009 (8,5-9) striking minerality, exciting wine, and lovely, intense juice, great!
- Figeac 2009 (8,5-9) very special, quite lean (not an insult), refined and elegant, super!
- Larcis Ducasse 2009 (8,5+) strikingly fresh fruit, slender, subtile, juicy and intense
- Pavie Macquin 2009 (8,5) close to the Larcis but a bit more ripeness, a bit sweeter
- Canon 2009 (8,5) quite light, purple sweetness and attraction, fine texture, ripe tannins
- La Tour Figeac 2009 (8,5) slender, juicy and pure, very nice wine, refined
- Canon-la-Gaffelière 2009 (8++) distinct style, also rather slender, special, animal features
- Clos Fourtet 2009 (8+) sweet and modern yet elegant
- Clinet 2009 (8) more 'rough', full and powerful, ripe, dark

The rest from what I tasted: Beauregard (7+), Franc-Mayne 2009 (6), La Dominique (6,5)

- Poujeaux 2009 (8+) quite impressive, round & seductive, rather powerful, slightly tannic, hearty fat juice, broad and good
- Chasse-Spleen 2009 (8) a bit leaner, open, seducing as well but in a different manner; character, some medicinal touch that is either slightly awkward, or exciting
- La Lagune 2009 (8-) dairy-freshness, attractive solid fruit, good, pure
- Cantemerle 2009 (7,5) bit closed at the start, but a good middle-of-the-road Médoc, and that's not an insult, classic and what-you-see-is-what-you-get

- Rauzan-Ségla 2009 (8,5+) exuberance and ripeness, powerful yet quite smooth, attractive acidity, good all the way!
Du Tertre 2009 (8,5) expressive and somewhat animal, in the good sense of the word, firm acidity, hearty juice, well-structured
- Giscours 2009 (8+) quite ripe, some sweetness in balance with good classic acidic backbone, complete and refined
- Brane-Cantenac 2009 (8-) very closed at this moment and hard to judge, not sure here

The rest from what I tasted: Dauzac 2009 (7,5), Monbrison 2009 (7,5), Siran 2009 (7,5), Prieuré-Lichine 2009 (7), Desmirail 2009 (7)

- Langoa-Barton 2009 (8,5-9) electrifying wine, snappy, lively, pure and masculin
- Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2009 (8,5+) modest start, then ripeness, roundness and a touch of oak; good acidity with an attractive mineral quality, ripe tannins, well-structured, quite lovely
- Léoville-Barton 2009 (8,5) noble, powerful, bit tannic, very complete but way too young to taste
- Lafon-Rochet 2009 (8+) classic Médoc with attractive acidity and freshness; well-structured
- Phélan-Ségur 2009 (8+) fresh, powerful, spicy & peppery, hearty, good
- Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2009 (8+) elegance with a medicinal touch, modest and stylish, good structure and acidity; quietly developing
- Gloria 2009 (8+) expressive, whiff of oak, acidic (positive) and lively; yes I like this one!
- Talbot 2009 (8+) very complete and classic Médoc, nice and expressive, good
- Branaire-Ducru 2009 (8) expressive, sturdy, good acidity and harmony, spicy
- De Pez 2009 (8) round-full, bit oaky, bon matière, classic and complete; nice surprise!
- Lagrange 2009 (8-) elegant, classic and attractive
- Beychevelle 2009 (8-) bit sweet and seducing, juicy, also quite attractive, already
- Saint-Pierre 2009 (8-) difficult phase? not very expressive (now), bit oaky, and some sharpness; should be better than this, or will get better

The rest from what I tasted: Gruaud-Larose 2009 (7,5), Léoville-Poyferré 2009 (7+)

Again, this is definitely not a complete list, but it gives an impression of this beautiful Bordeaux vintage.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Summary of annual tasting. And coming up: Beaujolais Nouveau evening in Le Garage!

The 23th of October was one of the highlights of 2011 for Bolomey Wijnimport. Six producers from France visited Amsterdam to present their wines, and over 200 people came over to taste. Shall I be honest? It was a great day!

David Butterfield presenting his Meursault

I don't have a lot of pictures - at least I didn't have the time to shoot any - but these three will give an impression of the tasting. In this first picture David Butterfield is telling about his lovely Meursault, or about his Beaune 1er cru that was presented in Amsterdam for the first time. David is a rising star in Amsterdam, and you might find his wine in one of the restaurants here.

Eddy Oosterlinck presenting his Coteaux du Layon Faye

As you can see we had the luck of having a beautiful sunny day, with a great view from the tasting penthouse over the IJ, the water bordering the old harbor of Amsterdam. In the above picture the Belgian Coteaux du Layon producer Eddy Oosterlinck probably explains why his wines possess such a mouth-watering freshness along with the seducing sweetness characteristically for these sweet Loires.

David Clark presenting his red Bourgogne and Côtes de Nuits Villages rouge

On this third picture it's a bit hard to see but you've got to believe me that this is David Clark - bending over the table - who explains something about his red Burgundies. Probably people are wondering how a 'simple' Bourgogne rouge can taste like a lovely premier cru. As David is a very modest Brit, I wonder how he did this.

Not on these pictures: Damien Delecheneau, Hubert Piel-Montigny and Vincent Carême. A big thanks to all vignerons and tasters to have attended this day! The event will be repeated, so if you missed it there's a new chance next year.

Oh and I forgot to tell that we had a splendid dinner afterwards in Restaurant Le Garage. Thanks to Erwin Walthaus also for a lovely evening!

And this automatically leads me to the announcement of yet another great wine event. Friday 25 November there will be a Beaujolais Nouveau evening in Le Garage featuring the organic and un-sulfured (and dramatically pure) wines from Isabelle and Bruno PERRAUD from Domaine des Côtes de la Molière.

Isabelle Perraud herself will be in Amsterdam that evening. We will be drinking her Nouveau 2011 with an honest French dish. Drinking with us will be Nicolaas KLEI, Dutch wine writer and self-appointed lover of natural Beaujolais. I hope we will have enough bottles that evening (no worries, we will).

If you're into great natural wines you shouldn't miss this evening. More information (in Dutch) can be found on the Bolomey Wijnimport website. If you make your reservation in time, you can be there too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Château Rauzan-Ségla 2009

I have been neglecting this blog for 20 days, one the longest periods since October 2007. But the reason is good: the import of fine French wines is taking more and more of my time. A week ago 6 winemakers visited Amsterdam for the grand annual tasting, and over 200 customers came to explore the Bolomey Wijnimport selection. You can imagine that this resulted in some extra work, to put it mildly.

I will put up some pictures of the tasting later on.

This month Bordoverview blog has been around for 4 years. But we're not the only one celebrating. Château Rauzan-Ségla was founded in 1661 and has been producing wines for 350 years now. To celebrate that, the 2009 vintage of this wine has a special, very different label, drawn by Karl Lagerfeld.

Rauzan-Ségla even made a video presentation about the release of the 2009 vintage.

In November I will taste this 2009 - along with many other cru classés from this famous Bordeaux vintage - at the UGC tasting in Bruxelles. I am looking forward to explore all these 2009s, about 1,5 years after having tasted them at the UGC primeur tastings in Bordeaux. Anyway, I will post my findings on this blog.

Back to Rauzan-Ségla. It's an interesting wine, but not an easy one to taste en primeur. It's a Margaux that needs serious cellaring, it doesn't show its charm as a baby. In its youth you can sense that there truly is a lot to this wine, but it's all nicely wrapped up into a powerful core. When you look at the wine, you look at a bud. A beautiful, healthy and promising bud. Nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps I get a first glimpse of the flower next month.

There's one aspect that I like less about the recent Rauzan-Ségla vintages, and that's the price. The release price for the 2009 was high, and for the 2010 was very high. On 16 June 2010 the 2009 was released at an average consumer price of €83,50 (66,7% above the 2008 vintage), and exactly one year later (16 June 2011), another 40% was added, resulting in an average consumer price of €116,50. At the time this led to negative reactions, and demand was slow.

In comparison the 2008 is very good value, and there are still some cases available in the Bolomey Wijnimport cellar. My brief tasting note at the UGC tasting from November last year: "dark and quite supple, matière, blackberries, energy and power, long". A wine to be enjoyed between, say, 2015 and 2030. That is: almost one bottle every year.

I think I will keep at least one case to myself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Winefield's 20th auction in Amsterdam

Dwayne PerreaultWinefield’s Auctioneers completed their twentieth wine auction in Amsterdam on Sunday, October 2nd at a new location, the Diamantslijperij. It was once again a very successful day, with over 88% in value being sold.

This is an encouraging result, considering that auctions in 2011 have been challenged to repeat their record setting performances of 2010. Last weekend, Sotheby’s held their worst auction ever in Hong Kong. They have also closed their Amsterdam office, except for sourcing.

A couple trends seem apparent: the crazy prices for Lafite Rothschild have seemed to plateau, but Mouton Rothschild has come on strong, a shift of Chinese allegiance perhaps? Could it be the decision to use a Chinese artist for the 2008 label is helping promote interest in China, whether Mouton intended it or not?

The top 5 selling lots were as follows:

1. Château Lafite Rothschild 2000 (12 bottles), €20,880
2. Château Le Pin 2000 (6 bottles), €15,360
3. Château Pétrus 2003 (8 bottles), €10,800
4. Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 (12 bottles), €9,882
5. Château Latour 2003 (12 bottles), €9,760

You get a different perspective, however, if you rate the lots by prices payed per bottle. This is perhaps more the perspective of the connoisseur instead of the merchant. When I last did this, on Winefield’s Five Year Anniversary auction, Lafite and Mouton dominated the list. They’ve since had to make way for other treats, such as Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Château Le Pin and Château Pétrus.

Here is a top ten list of the top selling wines, rated by price per bottle:

1. Romanée Conti, Dom de la Romanée Conti 2003 (1 bottle), €6,405
2. Château Le Pin 2000 (6 bottles), €15,360
3. Le Montrachet, Dom de la Romanée Conti 2003 (1 bottle), €2,074
4. Château Lafite Rothschild 2000 (12 bottles), €20,880
5. Château Pétrus 2003 (8 bottles), €10,800
6. La Tâche, Dom de la Romanée Conti 2002 (6 bottles), €6,832
7. Château Pétrus 1953 (1 bottle), €1,037
8. Château Pétrus 1975 (2 bottles), €1,769
9. Château Pétrus 1992 (1 bottle), €829.60
10. Château Mouton Rothschild 2000 (12 bottles), €9,882

Obviously, the turnout was good on what was actually one of the hottest days of one of the coldest summers, on October 2nd! There were also many successful online bids made. The next Winefield’s auction is in Singapore on October 23rd, and then again in Amsterdam on Sunday, December 11th.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sunday 23 October: meet the winemakers

Some people will only know me through this blog. But in real life I'm a wine importer in the first place. Bolomey Wijnimport is the Amsterdam-based company, and we import wines from France (only), from the classic regions Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Loire Valley. The focus: natural, typical wines with lots of of energy and freshness. The majority is from small-scale production.

This October will mark the start of a new tradition: once a year, in October, I invite the winemakers to Amsterdam. This year will be the second time, hence the start of a tradition. Te winemakers that I work with come from different regions, and make different wines. But they share the same spirit, they share certain ideas about viticulture (say, natural) and winemaking (that is: don't intervene too much).

I am excited to tell you the following six winemakers will be coming to Amsterdam in October:

- Damien DELECHENEAU (Amboise)
- Vincent CARÊME (Vouvray)
- Hubert MONTIGNY-PIEL (Orléans)
- David CLARK (Morey-St-Denis)
- David BUTTERFIELD (Meursault)
- Olivier COLLIN (Champagne)

To get an idea about the event, here's the summary of the 2010 tasting. It's a small-scale event, most of what is imported is open to be tasted, and foremost, it's lots of fun.

If you would be interested to be there, subscribe on the Bolomey Wijnimport website. There will be two tasting days: Sunday 23 October for the private customers, and Monday 24 October for sommeliers and press. Perhaps we meet there!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"We will sell no wine before its time"

Dwayne Perreault — If you are old enough and from North America, you may remember the wines of Paul Masson, and the TV commercials from the 1970s featuring Orson Welles. These were some of the first wines I remember drinking, but strangely the memory was half buried and the name was forgotten. I thought the wines were from Paul Mas, but as Brigitte Barreiro, Paul Mas’ marketing manager wrote to me, “Paul Mas wines were not yet available then, but you were already dreaming of them!”

No, it was Paul Masson, who moved from Burgundy to California in 1878 and released his first “champagne” in 1892. Masson eventually became known as “the Champagne king of California.” The commercials featuring Orson Welles are priceless. At this point in his life, Welles was eating and drinking far too much, and the results were sometimes comical. Here is an actual commercial from that time:

If you looked closely, you noticed that Welles was not actually talking but the audio was dubbed over the footage. This is because Welles was completely drunk on the day of the shooting. The following are some actual, unedited takes of the same commercial:

What was Welles drinking that day? We don’t know, but it wasn’t Paul Masson wine. Despite having a lucrative contract which included large amounts of free wine, Welles was fired in the early 1980s after admitting on a US talk show that he never drank a Paul Masson wine in his life. As for the commercial, it has become something of a cult classic by now. As Welles himself might have said, the following parody is eminently worth watching. My favourite part is when he gesticulates to the bottle with an entire chicken in his hand…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Harvest 2011 at David Clark, a summary in pictures and 2 movies

Last weekend Jan van Roekel and I paid a flying visit to our beloved Burgundy to participate in the two-days harvest of David Clark. This posting is a summary, focusing more on image than text.

David Clark in his Vosne vineyard
Friday morning we started with David's most prestigious, and ripe, vineyard, the Vosne-Romanée. Harvesting is not just picking, so we got some explanations.

We picked with a small but very international team: the pickers had flown in from Canada, the US, Scotland, Holland (ourselves) and of course France. Besides picking we exercised in drinking great wines. The blast of the weekend was the Echezeaux 1966 from Domaine Leroy, a fascinating wine of unbelievable beauty. Thanks Gavin (an Australian living in Beaune) for sharing!

Picking grapes in Morey St Denis
The smallest vineyard of Domaine David Clark (based in Morey Saint Denis) is the Morey Saint Denis vineyard: just the three northern rows of Les Porroux, a villages vineyard close to Chambolle. The production: one barrel.

In this first video you see the sorting and then I walk outside. My friend Jan van Roekel was appointed Chef Container Cleaning (not for the whole time, don't worry). When I walk outside the domain you see the Morey vineyards in the background: part of the grand cru Clos de Tart.

In the second video you see the line-up of instruments. The grapes travel from the selection belt to the destemmer (about one third is not destemmed but processed (fermented) as "whole cluster". The grapes end up in the fermentation vat in this movie.

Weighing the Morey harvest: 339 kg
Or in kilograms: 339 kilograms, including the pallet and the plastic containers.

The Morey harvest
After weighing a lid is placed on top of the containers, the blackboard saying "Morey" and the amount of kg's. Sorting is next.

Jasper Morris checking the quality
During the sorting local god and BBR buyer Jasper Morris stops by to taste the grapes. He seems satisfied with the results. After 10 minutes he's off again.

Oops I cut myself
This picture I tweeted, but it was removed after a few minutes as it apparently violated the terms and conditions. Besides sex and nudity blood apparently isn't allowed. And that while I'm just warning that picking grapes can be dangerous.

David Clark in his Brochon vineyard
Here is a happy David Clark in front of his Côtes de Nuits Villages vineyard in Brochon. We're done picking. These were two great days. We drove home happily, but not after having stopped in Champagne to briefly visit Georges Laval and taste his breathtaking Brut Natures. More about that later, perhaps.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Elk Run Vineyards, Maryland

Dwayne Perreault — It’s a simple fact, most people here equate American wine with Californian wine. There’s California, and then there’s Oregon and Washington state. Some quality wines are also made in New York state, in the Finger Lakes region (where Château de St. Cosme recently entered in a partnership with Forge Cellars) and on Long Island, but these wines are mostly consumed locally and never make their way overseas.

Elk Run Vineyards
But the U.S.A. is a big country. Eastern U.S. wines are not limited to New York, as Virginia has over 120 wineries, and there are another 44 in Maryland. A recent trip there brought me to Elk Run Vineyards on Mount Airy, in Frederick County.

Fred Wilson (photo) began the first all vinifera winery in Maryland in 1980, after studying under Dr. Konstantine Frank in the Finger Lakes region for serveral seasons. Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris were planted, along with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Fred Wilson
Elk Run produces 5,000 cases of wine per year from 9.7 ha of vines from two different sites: Liberty Tavern Vineyard, planted in 1980 and Cold Friday Vineyard, planted in 1995. Soils are mainly shale and schistes on top of sand, with good drainage. Grapes are destemmed, with whole berry pressing for the Chardonnay. Reds are fermented in open top bins, getting a malo in the spring.

The winery itself is a very modest structure, though the site has historic significance, as Liberty Tavern, which is now the house where the Wilsons live, was a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty prior to the Revolution.

Upon seeing the vineyard, I remember thinking something like “I can’t see the forest from the trees,” as for my European eye, the vines looked wild and crowded together, almost forming bushes. At first, I wondered if the vines simply weren’t being overcropped, but Fred assured me that isn’t the case. Average yields are 300 gallons per acre, which is 33.6 hl/ha, which would be the norm for a quality vineyard in the Languedoc.

Elk Run Vines
Elk Run Vineyard’s own website has the following information: “Recent research has convinced Elk Run to more densely plant their vineyards. This permits a lower crop load per vine, which has shown to produce better quality and color in the wine.”
The proof of a wine is, of course, in its tasting. We started with a couple Chardonnays which receive French oak ageing. The Cold Friday Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($14.15) has a silky texture with smokey, nutty flavours. Straightforward and pleasing with medium low acidity, but still remains quite fresh. The Liberty Tavern Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($24.53) has much more oak, almost Burgundian in nature, very smooth and mellow with a solid finish. Barrel fermented and aged in Allier oak, this is very well done.

The Gypsy Rosé 2010 ($15.09), made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir has a light salmon pink colour and light cherry fruit with peppery tones. Nice!

Gewurtztraminer does well in Maryland and finishes in early-mid season. The Cold Friday Vineyard Gewurtztraminer 2010 ($24.53) had a pale gold colour with a sultry nose, thick in the mouth, more off dry than sweet with medium low acidity. Very Gewurtztraminer with spicey notes, but this one did not work with an Indian curry very well.

As for reds, the Cold Friday Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2009 ($28.30) has strawberry jam and chocolate in the nose, dark cherry fruit and medium tannins. Quite an honest expression of Cabernet Franc.

The Liberty Tavern Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($49.95) might be considered the flagship wine. Very dark fruit with some residual sweetness and cacao, soft in texture and not overy tannic. 13.5% alcohol.

Finally, the Vin de Jus Glacé 2008 ($27.36/half bottle), made from Riesling, is one of those examples of cryoextraction wines American vintners are fond of making. Randall Grahm introduced the vin de glaciere on the public with his Bonny Doone wines, but here not the grapes but the actual juice is frozen! I wish I had spent more time asking Fred how this actually works but it does smell like icewine, with a slight Riesling petrol. Not overly sweet, but lacks the acidity, sweetness and thickness of real icewine. There’s still nothing like the real thing, it would seem.

But overall, I’d have to say I was very impressed by my first tasting of wines from an area still unmentioned in most contemporary wine guides, and in Robert Parker’s backyard as it were.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Visit to Château Guiraud, Sauternes

On our way from Château de Pressac (previous posting) to Château Guiraud we stop for lunch in the ancient village of Castillon-de-Bataille. We’re always looking for that certain place, and our nose to find that certain place is getting better all the time.

And there it is, no doubt. We see the sign saying “andouillette” and it is as if the car parks automatically. There’s no discussion. Once inside it is crystal clear that we made the right choice: half of Castillon is having lunch here.

Les Voyageurs
When the waiter hears us say “three times andouillette” his face changes. “Wow, you’re sure?” From that moment he is our friend. We have to come and see the sausages being grilled on an open charcoal fire.

Charcoal-grilled Andouillette
And at the table something happens that I have not seen before: with a sharp knife the waiter makes a perfect incision over the length of the andouillette (in Holland we do that with a frikandel to stuff it with curry, mayonnaise and onions, and call it “an open leg”). Next he scatters freshly cut onion chips over the sausage, and then the final touch: a generous pour of red vinegar. It turns out to be one of the best andouillettes that I have ever tasted!

Red vinegar being poured over andouillette
Later Pauline Vauthier, daughter of Château Ausone’s Alain Vauthier, sits down at the table next to us and that is the final proof that we have found the place to be: Les Voyageurs.

Fueled and happy we drive south through the beautiful but less prosperous part of Bordeaux called Entre-Deux-Mers: policultural land, as it’s not just vineyards that one sees here. Once we cross the river Garonne the landscape again turns into broad carpets of vineyards: Barsac and Sauternes. And soon we drive up the long, Roman driveway that brings us to the buildings of Premier Cru Classé Château Guiraud.

Chateau Guiraud, entrance
Guiraud is the first Sauternes grand cru to turn to organic farming, a process of several years, and the first officially certified vintage will be this year, the 2011. It is interesting to look at Guiraud’s alternatives to the various conventional means of agriculture:

1. Fungicides: to protect Guiraud’s vines from malicious fungi, organic products are applied.
2. Herbicides: not used. Grasses and weeds, adding to the biodiversity in the vineyard, are welcome. Competition between vine and other growths forces the former to dive deeper into the soil. Every once in a while the vineyard is ploughed.
3. Insecticides: not used. The most common natural answer, sexual confusion, is not used either. Sexual confusion is about getting rid of the insects. Guiraud has chosen to recreate natural balance by restoring biodiversity.

With that Guiraud has opted for a more complex, but very fascinating route: it’s a true example of sustainable development. The following things have been done to restore natural balance:

• Hotels for insects: little open ‘houses’ with ‘rooms’ holding different kinds of wood to attract a wide variety of insects. The vineyard is the hotel’s garden.
• Bird houses: there are as many as 40 houses for tits and these little birds eat the insects.
• Plantation: between the different vineyards, patches with other plants are grown.
• Clones: at Guiraud they make their own clones. Per vineyard up to 15 different clones are used (instead of 1 optimal one) to strengthen biodiversity.

As a result the vineyards, vines and grapes at Château Guiraud are not just clean, they are also healthy and hence more energetic and strong. I am impressed by their approach.

One of Guiraud's hotels for insects
But there’s more. There seems to be a relationship between working naturally on the one hand, and the desired development of noble rot on the other hand.

In the tourist version of the botrytis story the morning mist that occurs during late summer still plays an important role. In reality this mist is quite a rare phenomenon and cannot be the key driver for the growth of noble rot.

Recent research shows us that the fungus that causes the noble rot comes from within the grape. It has been sitting there – dormant –since the end of flowering and wakes up at the end of the season to do its noble work for us. The mentioned relationship between working naturally and the development of noble rot is simple (or at least seems simple): chemical fungicides used during the growing season have a negative impact on the development of noble rot.

It explains why at Guiraud picking usually takes place rather early, and it explains the lovely freshness that distinguishes Guiraud from many of its Sauternes peers. And to be complete: the relative high proportion of Sauvignon in the blend helps here.

So if we take the mist out of the story, what unique circumstances remain in Sauternes? Not much I’m afraid, and that’s why this mist-thing is so persistent. I’m definitely not saying that there’s no great terroir, as the terroir (gravels over limestone) is great for growing grapes. But it seems that the production of sweet whites in this region didn’t so much sprout from some microcultural uniqueness, but above all from the plain economic necessity to make a preservable wine. But that’s another, less romantic, story.

The 3 Guiraud cuvees
Let’s go to the wines. From the grand vin Château Guiraud we tasted 2002, 2007 and 2009 with sugar levels ranging from 120 grams/liter (2002) to almost 140 grams/liter (2009), with the 2007 precisely in between. All very elegant wines. There’s marked acidity for the 2002, the 2007 is gentle, refined and harmonious, and the 2009 also but as a whole the 2009 is a bit more impressive, simply a very complete wine.

The second wine has just been renamed and restyled to Petit Guiraud and the attraction here is accessibility. We tasted the 2005 and the 2009. Lighter wines with lots of freshness and and a pleasant hint of bitterness. A wine that needs attention! Specific parts of the domain are now designated for this second wine.

The view from Guiraud towards the town of Sauternes
And the same is true for the estate’s dry white wine, Le G de Château Guiraud. The grapes for this wine come from the vineyards close to the village of Sauternes that are not classified as AOC Sauternes, and most of these are planted with Sauvignon. The “G” is made with the same dedication as the sweet wine. The yields are low (25 to 30 hl/ha) resulting in an intense wine.

It’s uniqueness however comes from the ripening of the wine in 2 year old barrels that were previously used for the grand vin. This doesn’t make the wine sweet, yet gives it its particular spicy and fragrant nose. Together with its intrinsical purity (read: beauty) the “G” is as surprising as irresistable.

Readers who got thirsty may be able to find some of these golden treats at Bolomey Wijnimport in Amsterdam.

Also for this posting: photography by my friend Joris Roelants.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Visit to Château de Pressac, Saint-Emilion

At the east end of Saint-Emilion, perched at the top of an impressive limestone hill, we find Château de Pressac. An unknown little gem on great terroir: steep limestone slopes all around, reminiscent of those from the premier grand cru classés that we find on the famous hill a bit to the west, indeed the one with the town of Saint-Emilion on top. It is early August.

De Pressac - the viewThe view from Château de Pressac down towards the Dordogne valley

While looking down over the terraced slopes, and overlooking the Dordogne valley – what an impressive view! – owner Jean-François Quenin elaborates on De Pressac’s unique location, and it doesn’t take much to convince us. He tells about the connection between the limestone around the town of Saint-Emilion, and the limestone here at De Pressac. Later Quenin shows us Kees van Leeuwen’s map with the Saint-Emilion soil types, and yes, that map serves as a sort of proof: the De Pressac hill is like a limestone bulge at the right side of Saint-Emilion.

De Pressac - the soilKees van Leeuwen's detailed map of the Saint-Emilion soil. The white circle indicates the location of Château de Pressac, sitting on limestone (yellow)

With its viewpoint location close to Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, and more importantly close to the town of Castillon-la-Bataille, De Pressac has a rich history. One of the first owners came from the Lot around Cahors and brought the Malbec grape to this place. Soon Malbec was called Pressac, after the name of the château. Today Malbec again forms part of the blend, re-introduced by Quenin who put much effort into tracing the original clone.

Quenin did what most people can only fantasize about: buying a potentially great domain in a miserable state, and from close to scratch restore its grandeur. A management buyout led to Quenin’s fortune, and it seems every penny goes into the resurrection of De Pressac. Today the estate covers some 14 hectares (planted with 72% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec and 1% Carmenère).

De Pressac - the cellarConcrete (temperature controlled) vats in the cellar, original ones at the left and new 'copies' at the right side

The cellar is at the same time impressive, and not. Not, because there is no bling bling, everything is functional. From the custom made pigeage devices to gently push down the grapes in the concrete fermentation vats, to the very high tech and very expensive optical sorting machine. No compromise, but no decadence either. Or it must be the prestigious oak barrels made by Quenin’s own cooperage. Is he perhaps, with Château Margaux, the only producer in Bordeaux who makes his own barrels? Well, Quenin clearly does not leave anything to chance.

De Pressac - the barrelsQuenin's own barrels "Vent d'Autan"

We taste several vintages of De Pressac. The wines exhibit the lush and attractive right bank features with juicy sweetish ripe red fruit, some (more or less) oak, and an attractive dark-purple depth. These are friendly wines that will please most people, gentle and supple in the mouth. I prefer the recent vintages 2008 and 2009, showing a lovely freshness and minerality (2008) counter-balancing the generous fruit.

De Pressac - the chateauFairytale-like Château de Pressac

Jane Anson mentioned De Pressac as one of the likely candidates for promotion to Grand Cru Classé later this year, or early next year. It wouldn’t surprise me. Or in fact, not at all.

I visited De Pressac together with my friends Igor Bijlsma and Joris Roelants. Joris was so kind to take care of the photography.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Visit to Paul Mas, Part 2

Dwayne Perreault — To continue from my last posting, on visiting Domaine Paul Mas near Pézénas in the Languedoc, the red wines were presented by Cédric Deniset, European Sales Manager.

We first tasted the Vignes de Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2009 (€8.50). A very fragrant, ruby red wine with cherries and some strawberry jam in the nose. Tart red fruits, also some black currants, quite full bodied and very pleasant to drink.

Chateau de ConasChâteau de Conas, seated within the Domaine Paul Mas

The Vignes de Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2009 (€8.50) is much darker, both in its colour and bouquet, but the taste is still predominantly red fruits, with very strong tannins backing it up. This is a solid wine.

The next two wines were both Languedoc grand crus. Many people may still be unaware that the Languedoc has grand crus; there are now ten. According to Rosemary George MW, the complete list is:

- Minervois la Livinière
- Corbières Boutenac
- Saint Chinian Roquebrun
- Saint Chinian Berlou
- Terrasses du Larzac
- Grès de Montpellier
- Pic Saint Loup
- Pézenas
- La Clape
- Limoux (still white and some sparkling wines)

First up, the Terrasses de Larzac, Mas de Mas 2007, made from Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache. Terrasses de Larzac is a small new appellation created in 2005, and home to Mas de Daumas Gassac. This wine has luxurious fruit with dark jam notes and some residual sweetness, yet remains dry. Softer tannins, really nice and ready to drink, but can easily age another 5-6 years.

Jean-Claude MasJean-Claude Mas

The Grès de Montpellier, Mas de Mas 2009, however, is clearly not ready yet. Some dark fruit in the nose, with a slight acetone. The taste is extremely tannic. It was interesting to taste this wine in its development, as some bottle ageing is needed.

The last wine I’ll comment on was actually a gift from Cédric, which I enjoyed six weeks later back in Amsterdam. The Côteaux du Languedoc, Château Paul Mas, Clos des Mures is one of the first wines Jean Claude Mas made. Cédric recommended decanting this 2009 and it was remarkable, very nice silky texture with bright red and black forest berry notes. Full bodied and with fresh acidity, very well balanced in a long, shining aftertaste.

If you happen to live in the Amsterdam area, I am hoping to organize a tasting by Paul Mas hopefully in late fall in Wijnhuis Zuid. If I am successful, information will appear on our website.

I will be returning to the Languedoc in a few weeks, to do a short apprenticeship at Mas des Dames. More on that to follow. But before that, I have a report to make on a winery in Maryland of all places, right in Robert Parker’s backyard.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Visit to Paul Mas, Part 1

Dwayne Perreault — I sell a lot of Paul Mas wines, as these are very well made Languedocers ranging in price from €5 to €9, which come in a broad range of varieties and styles. It is not uncommon to see a full pallet arrive at the shop door, only to have to order more the next week. But of course, I’m not the only one. In fact, Paul Mas exports to more than 40 countries.

The modern business begins with Jean-Claude Mas, son of Paul, who together with his brother inherited 70 ha of vines at Château de Conas, just outstide of Pézénas.

Jean-Claude expanded the estate by acquiring Domaine de Nicole (40 ha) by Montaignac overlooking the Herault valley, Mas des Tannes (40 ha, half of which are certified organic), and Domaine Astruc (70 ha) at 300 metres in Limoux, with a cooler mid-Atlantic climate which favours white grapes, as well as Pinot Noir.

That’s a total of 220 ha, but that’s not all. Jean-Claude also contracts 80 growers who run a total of 780 ha to produce 500,000 cases per year of Arrogant Frog. You may know these wines, exported around the world and easily recognized by their cartoon frog characters. In the Netherlands, they are sold by Gall & Gall.

Since Pézénas is not far away from Roquebrun, where I like to spend part of the summer, I decided to visit Château de Conas. I was welcomed by Brigitte Barreiro, Marketing Manager and Cédric Deniset, European Sales Manager. Brigitte took me on a tour of the winemaking facilities and storage complex, picking up bottles for our tasting on the way.

Paul Mas wines strive for a consistent style and quality year in and out, and this is made in part possible by the dependable Languedoc climate, where it rarely ever rains at harvest time. But Jean-Claude personally plays a large role himself, by constantly tasting and blending wines from different plots. “The worst thing that could happen on any day,” says Brigitte, “is that Jean-Claude loses his tasting notebook.”

Jean-Claude clearly understands today’s wine market, where consumers are enticed by funny labels (thus Arrogant Frog) and identify a wine by a grape variety. This is, clearly, the influence of the New World. For this reason, the entire range of Paul Mas VDP wines are varietals, with the grape variety in bold letters on the label.

We started our tasting with some white wines I know well, since I sell them. These are just some of the wines I tasted. The prices given are what the wines cost at Wijnhuis Zuid in Amsterdam, including taxes.

The VDP d’Oc, Paul Mas Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€5.95) has apple and citrus fruits with some viscosity and very fresh acidity, which is clearly the result of the cooler climate in the Aude valley. I tend not to be a fan of warm climate Sauvignons, but everything is in balance here.

VDP d’Oc, Paul Mas Vermentino 2010 (€5.95). Vermentino, mostly called Rolle in the Languedoc, produces a wine with a pale robe with a yellow hue, blossom and some tropical fruit in the nose. Mid-viscous texture, expressive white fruits with medium high acidity and a well rounded aftertaste, which makes this an easy drinking wine, perfect as an aperitief.

VDP d’Oc, Paul Mas Estate Marsanne 2010 (€8.50). The Estate wines are from single vineyards. Marsanne, one of the northern Rhône grapes, does well here. More golden in the glass with yellow blossom in the nose, and a hint of oak. Thicker in the mouth, but still with some fresh acidity where tropical fruit and a tangible 13.5% alcohol linger in a dry aftertaste.

The Pays d’Oc, Vignes de Nicole Chardonnay/Viognier 2010 (€8.50) is in fact 70% Chardonnay, fermented and aged in oak barrels. Very floral bouquet, full bodied and oak influenced, but well tempered. There is a tiny bit of residual sweetness as the end, which is pleasant. Brigitte says they enjoy it with foie gras.

And finally, the organically certified Mas des Tannes Réserve Grenache Blanc 2009 (€9), considered one of Jean Claude’s best white wines and fermented 4-5 months in oak barrels. Grenache can take a lot of oak and here it forms a major component in both the bouquet and taste, along with clean white fruit.

At this point, Jean Claude strolled in, so we chatted for a bit. I will provide an update soon on the red wines I tasted, which were presented by Cédric Deniset. Included were a couple Grand Crus du Languedoc!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Understanding Fine Wines: Frank Smulders

Dwayne Perreault — Frank Smulders MW received his degree in 1992 and is to this day Holland’s only Master of Wine. I was his student while doing my WSET Advanced course, and I’ve also made a posting on this blog about a memorable Austrian wine trip Frank organized.

I was able, with great pleasure, to sit in on a recent lesson Frank gave, as part of his course on Understanding Fine Wines. The theme was Syrah, Grenache and Tempranillo, so there were top bottles from the Rhône, Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Priorat and Australia to be tasted.

We began with a discussion of Tempranillo and a tasting of some top Spanish specimens. Tempranillo recently overtook Garnacha to become Spain’s most planted grape, and its character is very much determined by the climate. Frank underlined how important this is, by pointing out that Tempranillo produces clearly different wines in each of the three best known regions where it is grown: Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro.

In Rioja, Tempranillo has an almost Pinot Noir-like character, lighter in colour and structure, tending toward elegance. The art of blending with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano produces different styles of wine. In Ribera del Duero, it is called Tinto Fino and the added elevation provides extremely hot days and cold nights, which produces grapes with more sugars, tannins and acidity. Varietals are much more common here, as they are in Toro, where Tempranillo is called Tinto de Toro. Of the three, Toro with its richer soil produces the most powerful wine, yet it is Frank’s least favourite.

Frank is more a new style Rioja lover, embracing more fruit and use of French oak, which is less porous than American oak and leads to a less oxidative style. But there are still some wonderful old style producers out there, and as an example we tasted the 1997 La Rioja Alta S.A. Gran Reserva 904, an American oak-aged wine with a light brownish rim. Fragrant notes of tobacco and licorice, with very luxurious dark cherry fruit and a touch of cacao.

The Marqués de Vargas Reserva 2000, also Rioja Alta, is much darker and younger in style, with coffee and black fruit notes. It contains some Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian oak, which is similar to French oak, was used.

The Ribera del Duero, Pago de los Capillanes 2002 contains 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. There are wild berries and something animal in the nose. The taste has tart but elegant red fruit with black currants, somewhat sweet and quite tannic.

As for Grenache, I know from having studied under Frank that he does not value this thin-skinned grape much. So it was amusing to hear his experience at the Wine Future Conference in Rioja in 2009. Robert Parker had been invited by Rioja producers to host a private tasting, for more than 600 wine professionals. Parker confounded the Rioja producers by choosing Garnacha as his theme, a grape which is in general decline in Spain and accounts for less than 9% of all plantings in Rioja.

In fact, Grenache is one of Parker’s favourite grapes, and he has particularly had a great influence in changing the style of Châteauneuf du Pape. Under Parker’s influence, the barrique came to be used, and the top cuvée was produced. Frank believes that Châteauneuf du Pape has become better because of Parker, but also more expensive.

We tasted a very old-style Châteauneuf du Pape first, Clos Saint Jean 1986. Somewhat funky, with chocolate and animal Brett tones. This wine began a discussion on what Brettanomyces is and how it played a conscious role in certain old Papes. Admittedly, in smaller proportions Brett can add an intriguing complex note to the wine, but once that threshold has been reached, it goes bad. According to Frank, the Brett generally tastes as unripe tannins.

Château de Beaucastel was known to have Brett up until 2000. We tried the 2004. Containing over 40% Mourvèdre, this is an extremely powerful wine, and still very much in its youth. Very dark rich fruit with strong tannins.

Finally, the Priorat, Fra Fulcó 1996, a blend of old Garnacha and Carineña vines from a house that unfortunately doesn’t exist any more. Very ripe dark fruit with pepper, and very powerful tannins.

As for Syrah, we started off with two Australian wines. The McClaren Vale, Rosemount Estate “Show Reserve” Shiraz 1997 had super ripe sweet and sour dark fruit with nicely balanced acidity. The “Show Reserve” designation means that it comes from a particularly good vat reserved for trade shows, which are very important in Australia. The Barossa, Peter Lehmann “Stonewell Shiraz” 2005 was less interesting, a dark fruit bomb, overly tannic, perhaps too young.

The northern Rhône is where Syrah finds its truest expression, and the Côte Rôtie, Domaine Jean-Michel Stephan 2002 is a much leaner wine, with wilder red fruits and spicey overtones. Elegant, softer in structure than the Aussies. Tasted the following day after a full night’s decanting and still wonderfully fresh.

Finally, the Hermitage, Domaine de Valloit, Les Greffières 1988 had everything I expect from a Hermitage bouquet: sweaty socks and red fruits. Quite elegant in the mouth, where more acidity is to be perceived than in the southern Rhône. A beautiful and almost delicate wine, with still enough bones to hold itself up.

Thanks again to Frank for allowing me to attend, learn about and taste these wonderful wines!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not a Bordeaux 2010 wrap up (but some last personal, subjective recommendations)

It is a day after the fair to post about the wrap up of the Bordeaux 2010 campaign. It's over, for days already. I am finalizing things, the last sales, and lots of paper work.

A little while ago an anonymous reader replied to one of my posts wherein I suggested some 'good value primeurs'. He wrote something friendly like "you seem to see good value everywhere". He wasn't too happy about the high prices, plus he thought that I, as an importer, wasn't the person to give buying advice: I simply couldn't be objective.

And he is right, this anonymous reader, I am an importer, and I am subjective also. As is every critical taster with a clear preference. The good news: as an importer I decide what I buy.

With primeurs the choice is broad, and there's definitely no need to confine oneself to a limited array of wines (that need to be pushed). No, we visit Bordeaux for a full week, taste a shipload of wines, and then I share my personal thoughts with the readers of this blog. My preference? Pure, terroir-driven, classic and elegant wines. Of course with an exciting exception here and there, for variety is the spice of life.

And I am a salesman. This time I won't point out the great value wines, I will look at some alternatives for the premier crus, for those readers who simply want the best without spending a 1000 euros on a bottle of wine.

We look at the Médoc, the home of most premier grand crus. Two monumental wines, not to miss for the true collectors, are Ducru-Beaucaillou and Léoville-las-Cases. Both released with a price lower than last year, while quality is outstanding. Look at almost-premier-cru Léoville-las-Cases for example: its terroir is adjacent to Latour, on a very comparable gravel croupe. And it is sold at a fraction of the price (yet still around 260 euros).

Then there's brilliant Pontet-Canet of course, so pure and beautiful, but hard to find in the meantime.

So what are the not-to-miss 2010 Médoc classics? For example these two: Grand-Puy-Lacoste (simply excellent) and Léoville-Barton (I don't dare to say Value for Money). And if these are still too expensive, look at the related Clos du Marquis and Langoa Barton. These, and more offers can be found on

It's late, I'm going to continue in the new TONG Bordeaux issue. I will write some more about this great magazine in a later posting, but I can already say that this new TONG issue is a must-buy for all Bordeaux lovers. No commercial interest here. Just an opinion, subjective, but straight from the heart.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Short trip to Burgundy, a summary

It's the Monday after the Vinexpo week, it is gorgeous weather, but the Bordeaux trade is locked in behind the computer because, as expected, the finale of the lengthy Bordeaux 2010 campaign is still being played. This morning Cos d'Estournel kicked off with 'friendly' price of - more or less - € 275 average consumer price. Friendly, because the price dropped a bit, by 5,7% to be precise.

Cos was followed by Margaux. The first rumours said the ex-négociant (the ex everything) price was € 500 (-7,4% on 2009) but after some discussion on Twitter it was 'agreed' that the first tranche was released at € 600 (+11,1% on 2009). Perhaps some very lucky guys were able to buy at € 500, but the general offer clearly was at € 600. A tiny offer, and there will soon be a second tranche.

The second wine, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux, was released at around € 150 consumer price, which is 80% on the 2009. Dramatically on the one hand, but in light of the recent price rises of the second wines of the first growths in general, and that of Pavillon Rouge in particular, this new price - unfortunately - makes sense. A new third wine will soon fill the gap. The amount Pavillon made is down seriously, thus the allocations are smaller this year (about 50%!). The lovely and rare Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux was also released, at - more or less - € 133 consumer price (12,9% on 2009).

Now it's lunchtime, which allows me to write something about our Burgundy trip. As a guideline I will use the 5 tweets that Jan van Roekel posted after we returned (I did you some tweets while we were there). Here we go:

Jan van Roekel, tweet 1: "Recap of short trip to Burgundy: Aurélien Verdet: great range of 09s, from Bourgogne rouge (Vosne in disguise) up until lovely NSG 1er crus"

Aurélien Verdet' cellar. Perfect from the inside, simple from the outsideAurélien Verdet's cellar. Perfect from the inside, simple from the outside

Aurélien Verdet's father has been farming organically since 1971, and Aurélien (under 30) has of course continued doing that. Their vineyards are in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits near Arcenant where the cellar is located. A 100% functional cellar, nothing fancy about it, see the picture. Perhaps I'm the first merchant to shoot this bare barn, but it does tell something about Aurélien's wines: 100% purity, 0% bullshit.

Aurélien extended the domain and now produces a complete range of wines from the Côte. In most cases he is the one to work the vineyard, and in that case it is currently in conversion to organic farming (certification expected in 2012).

Jan points out the Bourgogne Rouge that was added to his portfolio. This is one of the wines which is in conversion to organic. It comes from land located just across the D974 from the appellation Vosne-Romanée. The wine has a lively nose of explicit Pinot, and some smoke, and it has a slightly creamy texture. For the rest it has what it should have: agility, freshness and intensity. Great affordable Pinots are always more than welcome! This one will be in Amsterdam soon.

Jan van Roekel, tweet 2: Recap pt.2: '10 from barrel at Anne Gros, all finesse, purity and fraicheur, A+ Dom. Arlaud: expressive, refined wines in '09 + '10, love it

The beautiful barrel cellar for the reds from Anne Gros, Vosne-RomanéeThe beautiful barrel cellar for the reds from Anne Gros, Vosne-Romanée

Two more favorites. Anne Gros belongs to the category 'artist'. She makes true "fine wines". It is curious to see all the new and quite new oak lined up in her meticulous cellar in Vosne-Romanée, as oak never stands out in her wines. What Gros makes could be summarized as very harmonious, pure and juicy. It's always hard to find and I tend to buy bottles here and there, and sometimes at auctions.

Number two is Domaine Arlaud. This is a fast rising star. One way to describe the wines is that - in comparison to Gros - they are a bit more masculin, without being tough or hard. The wine is kind of sketched, instead of painted. A different artist, and a different terroir. Every time I visit Burgundy I buy a case Arlaud at the Caveau des Vignerons in Morey Saint Denis. From the decreasing availability it is clear that this (organic) wine is more and more sought-after.

Tasting with Cyprien Arlaud in his cellar, Domaine Arlaud, Morey Saint DenisTasting with Cyprien Arlaud in his cellar, Domaine Arlaud, Morey Saint Denis

Jan van Roekel, tweet 3: Recap pt.3: DDC (Domaine David Clark) great as always, ultimate purity! Picked up my harvest pay (bottles) so I now have a decent stock :-)

Close to perfection. These wines are so gentle, these dance in the mouth. I have written several times about David Clark, the story about his technical past, about the vineyards which he tends as grand crus, about his extreme perfectionism which for example makes him design and construct a - thus homemade - bottling machine because the ones on the market aren't good enough. Or what to think about the near robotic vineyard buggy? On the photo you see David's machine, and everything is focused on... quality.

It's hard to find the right words to pinpoint this wine. Perfection is difficult to describe. I. Just. Love. It.

David Clark showing his vineyard buggyDavid Clark showing his vineyard buggy, Mark 4 I think it was

Bolomey Wijnimport is the only importer on the European mainland and I am glad the wine is not too popular: most people have never heard of it. I am always scared that it sells out too quick. Anyway, a vintage never lasts a year so often availability is zero. Funniest allocation is that of the Vosne: 12 bottles.

Jan van Roekel, tweet 4: Recap pt.4: If you think '09 is a great vintage only for reds, think again. Mouth-watering mix between richness and freshness @ Arnaud Ente

That's well put, Jan. I agree! To write a blog posting it is easier to visit some less great domains too. It's more difficult to be enthusiastic again and again. But anyone who knows the wines from Arnaud Ente knows that I am not exaggerating. We simply had a great line-up of visits again. A mouth-watering mix between richness and freshness, what to add to that... dear sommelier, if you were still snoozing this is the moment to wake up!

Jan van Roekel, tweet 5: Recap pt.5: incredible stuff at Dom. de la Bongran, truly unique wines. David Butterfield: very convincing wines at this micro-negociant

About three years ago we made our first visit to Domaine de la Bongran (Gautier Thévenet) in the tiny village of Quintaine beween Viré and Clessé. We brought back some bottles, and enjoyed them a lot. This is different, and very special. This is slow wine pur sang. The youngest vintage available is 2005, and we bought some 2004. Very rich and ripe, with honey and butter, this is simply a different league. If you want to know more, follow the link to the story I wrote about them back in 2008.

And then David Butterfield. Here I'm even the sole importer for all of Europe! Yes, truly convincing stuff. Despite the name it's not so buttery, a bit perhaps, it's definitely also refined and fresh. It's actually the same as with a good and affordable Pinot, it is great to have a quality-Meursault for just under 30 euros. In a few years time that won't be the case anymore, but at this moment the young David has not yet been widely discovered...

Reading back it almost seems like a sales story, but believe me, it's all true and straight from the heart.

In the meantime it's not lunchtime anymore, but this afternoon has been very quiet. Next round of releases expected tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vinexpo? No, Burgundy!

Time to take a break. Last week was extremely busy with Bordeaux 2010 primeurs being released. They all came at the same time, very convenient (just to be sure that there's no misunderstanding: I'm not serious: to process all these wines was quite a job). But things are rolling now and that's good.

I've been micro-blogging all the time so readers who follow me on Twitter have seen the releases flooding in, but I will repeat the major ones here (reds and Sauternes only, prices are compared to the 2009 vintage).

Tuesday 14 June
- Léoville-Barton @ ± € 100 (+15,2). Still relatively good value.
- Smith-Haut-Lafitte @ ± € 107 (+24,2%). Good but expensive.
- Gloria @ ± € 40 (+15%). Recommended!
- Climens @ ± € 100 (0%). Not tasted, but will be great.
- Lagrange @ ± € 56 (+6,5%). Quite modest price rise.
- Grand-Puy-Lacoste @ ± € 81 (+20%). Superb!
- Canon-la-Gaffelière @ ± € 83 (0%). Good wine, good price.
- Clos Fourtet @ ± € 100 (+20%). Liked this one also.

Wednesday 15 June
- Beau-Séjour Bécot @ ± € 68 (+11,1%). Fair deal, good wine.
- Lynch Bages @ ± € 139 (+38,9%). Copying Pontet-Canet, selling.
- Branaire-Ducru @ ± € 68 (+11,1%). Quite good deal.
- Larcis-Ducasse @ ± € 70 (+38,3%). Very good, wanted, selling.
- d'Issan @ ± € 68 (+21,2%). Missed this one, apparently great.
- Montrose @ ± € 182 (+22,2%). Sold fast. Not my favourite this year.
- Canon @ ± € 125 (0%). Liked Canon a lot, very pleasant.
- Pichon-Baron @ ± € 182 (+46,7%). This price! Parker 97-99+ effect.
- Clos du Marquis @ ± € 51 (+7,1%). Good wine, good deal!
- Petit Village @ ± € 63 (+23,6%). Liked it, but serious price.
- Brane-Cantenac @ ± € 76 (+25%). Like the wine, not the price...
- Montrose second tranche after 5 hours! ± € 200...
- Pape Clément @ ± € 132 (+2,6%). Not my wine, but like the 2,6%.

Thursday 16 June
- Haut-Bailly @ ± € 124 (+15,9%). Star wine, selling!
- Saint-Pierre @ ± € 72 (+13,2%). Quite interesting deal.
- Pichon Lalande @ ± € 191 (+9,5%). Ending up closer to the Baron.
- Pavie Macquin @ ± € 109 (+59,2%). Great wine, big price but wanted.
- Lascombes @ ± € 100 (+20%). Wow, Lascombes at € 100...
- Nénin @ ± € 59 (+9,4%). Preferred the 2009.
- Rauzan-Ségla @ ± € 117 (+40%). Surprising price hike.
- Haut-Bailly second tranche after 7 hours! ± € 145.

Next week it's Vinexpo and I'm glad I'm not going there, but instead to Burgundy! We'll be visiting some very interesting domains, and some lovely restaurants too of course. More about that later, if I find the time...

If you're interested in acquiring some Bordeaux 2010s you find our offers online: It's an expensive year, but there are definitely some very good value wines to be found.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bordeaux 2010 campaign finally accelerated

Finally some fireworks last week. After a quiet Monday we saw a number of interesting releases on Tuesday 7 June, a/o De Fieuzal, Haut-Bages Libéral, Quinault l'Enclos, La Tour du Pin, Gruaud Larose, Haut-Batailley and Latour-Martillac.

But things really started going on Wednesday 8 June when the hottest wine of all came out: Château Pontet-Canet. This "flying fifth" flew in with a 38,9% higher price than last year's, and this first tranche sold out in one day: hot cakes at about € 140 per bottle. Extreme, but it must be said, the wine is of extraordinary quality.

The annoying thing is that it seems perfectly normal that prices are up again. As if the châteaux forgot that the 2009 prices were extreme already. The defence will be that the market has changed with the new demand from China. But for some wines it almost seems as a natural reflex, not every wine is a Pontet-Canet.

The average price rise so far isn't too bad actually. I was surprised to see that we're looking at about 4,5% on 2009 at this moment. Note that this number will grow the coming weeks. Because this is one of the strange rules in Bordeaux: the more expensive the wine, the more steep its relative price rise will be. So be prepared.

Let's look at the extremes. From the ± 35 wines that went down in price these 5 are the most extreme:

1. Balestard La Tonnelle -28% (9 Jun)
2. La Croix Taillefer -19% (19 Apr)
3. Les Gravières -18,9% (19 May)
4. Sociando-Mallet -15,9% (24 May)
5. De Fargues -13,3% (30 May)

It's always good to put these wines in the spotlight. Personally I would say Sociando-Mallet is a good pick.

At the other side, here's the top 10 with the biggest price rise:

1. Faugères Cuvée Péby +50,8% (9 Jun, curious release)
2. Pontet-Canet +38,9% (8 Jun)
3. Pédesclaux +32,1% (9 Jun)
4. Durfort-Vivens +29,8% (9 Jun)
5. Boyd-Cantenac +28% (10 Jun)
6. Marquis d'Alesme +27,9% (9 Jun)
7. Grand-Puy-Ducasse +24,3% (10 Jun)
8. Beychevelle +22,7% (19 May)
9. Croix de Labrie +21,2% (9 Jun)
10. Giscours + 20,3% (8 Jun)

Note that these releases are all from this week, except for Beychevelle. Another indication that the +4,5% average will grow. In hindsight, the Beychevelle price jump wasn't so shocking, it now fits perfectly between its peers.

The price development over time reminds me of that of 2009. Wines that were perceived as expensive at first, later seemed quite reasonably priced. Those wines will get sold out the coming weeks.

I will conclude with some personal picks, based on quality and price, released this week:

- Giscours: not a bargain, but future joy guaranteed
- La Tour du Pin: made and owned by Cheval Blanc, very good!
- Haut-Batailley: great classic, precise, and still affordable
- Calon-Ségur: yes, but the real pick is little brother Capbern
- Pagodes de Cos: not cheap, but a great 2nd wine
- Phélan-Ségur: super this year, not cheap but value for money
- Langoa-Barton: tough pure honest classic
- Domaine de Chevalier: a favourite, refined and exciting

Next week will be busy, the last week before Vinexpo. During Vinexpo I take the opportunity to escape to Burgundy for a few days. We have some very interesting visits ahead of us, more about that later. And thereafter, in the first half of July, it will be time to wrap up this lengthy primeurs campaign, with the releases of the premier cru's. Also about that, more later.

In the meantime: our Bordeaux 2010 offers are updated daily.