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!
Saturday, December 31, 2011
I say goodbye to 2011 with fifteen random personal thoughts & remarks.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
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.”
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]