Showing posts with label biodynamic wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biodynamic wine. Show all posts

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Visit to M. Chapoutier

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

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

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

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

Ripe Syrah grapes at Les GréffieuxRipe Syrah grapes at Les Gréffieux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Comet Vintages

Dwayne Perreault − I'm fascinated by comet vintages. That doesn't make me any more cuckoo than a vintner who buries a cow horn filled with compost in his vineyard, right? Both ideas seem to me to be biodynamical in nature. Steiner in fact did write about comets, but what he had to say does not concern us here. But in a biodynamical world where the phases of the moon and alignment of the stars and planets play a role in viticulture, the idea of a celestial body like a comet having an influence on the grape harvest seems not so strange at all.

Clos des Jacobins 1989
What is a comet vintage? Basically, it is a vintage in which a comet which is visible to the naked eye appears during the grape growing season, especially directly before or during the harvest. This is supposed to have a propitious, perhaps even a mystical effect on the quality of the harvest. This may be folklore passed on by generations of winemakers, but in fact it is backed up by examples of outstanding and yes even mystical vintages like 1811 and 1858.

The complete list of recorded comet vintages is: 1811, 1826, 1839, 1845, 1852, 1858, 1861, 1985 & 1989. These were all considered great years in regions as diverse as Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rheingau and Tokaji in Hungary. This should of course be kept in perspective. There were many more great vintages, even in recent memory like Bordeaux 2000 and 2005, in which no comet was recorded.

In fact, comets pass by the earth routinely every year, but we are talking about comets which must be visible to the naked eye, which happens on average once a year on earth, and they must appear during the growing season in western Europe. There is a strange lack of comet vintages between 1861 and 1985, the reappearance of Halley's comet.

Whether the comet vintage is myth or reality, it seems to begin in 1811 which is generally regarded as the greatest vintage year of the 19th century, notably for cognac but also for western European wines in general, especially Bordeaux and Sauternes. Robert Parker, tasting the 1811 Chateau d'Yquem in 1996, awarded it 100 points, his absolute bench mark. 1811 was also the year Veuve Clicquot discovered the technique of remuage, which revolutionized the champagne industry and further romanticized the year. For the comet is not just an astronomical observation in 1811, it is a Romantic concept of the mystical cause and effect of physical nature. The Flaugergues comet was visible for most of the growing season of 1811 and coincided with (or caused?) optimal growing conditions that year. Outside of vineyards it had a less favourable aspect. The same comet was seen to be the harbinger of Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia and the War of 1812, America's lone failed attempt to invade Canada which led to the sacking of York (now Toronto) and the burning of the original White House. As you can see, comets have wide-ranging effects, not all of them good.

The last comet vintage was 1989. Okazaki-Levy-Rudenko 1989 r ('r' means it was the 18th comet discovered that year) was first detected on Augus 24th and was visible to the naked eye in western Europe from September to November. So, what about 1989? I was recently able to get my hands on 10 bottles of St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé Clos des Jacobins 1989 for a reasonable price through Winefield's Auctioneers in Amsterdam. Back in 1989 Clos des Jacobins was still owned by Cordier, whose name comes first at the top of the label. Parker would later write "the 1989 looked to be one of the finest offerings this property had ever made." In 1989 George H.W. Bush became President of the United States of America (I repeat, comets can have wide-ranging effects, not all of them good).

I admit, I couldn't wait to try the wine and within hours after arriving home, a cork had been pulled. The Dutch have a word which I find can best describe this vintage: boterzacht. Literally translated, it means soft as butter, but I’m telling you this is a wine with plump extremities: adjectives like full, round and even bacchanalian come to mind, and there remains something smoky in that glass of dark fruit. This is generous wine you can really get intimate with, and a few bottles are now available on my website.

When will the next comet vintage be? Alas, nobody knows because comets come and go and they often don’t pre-announce themselves. Short term comets (with an orbit of less than 200 years) are easier to predict than long term comets (with orbits up to millions of years). So you never know which comet will come cruising up next, an old friend like Halley (1985) or an unknown like OLR 1989-r. In the meantime, before more bad stuff happens, we can enjoy this last comet vintage. It is, after all, at its peak.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Loire part II: Domaine de Juchepie

The sweet white wines of the Loire region belong to the greatest sweet wines on the face of earth. Actually it is not valley of the Loire hosting the vines for these wines, but the valley of the Layon, a fairly small tributary of the Loire. The wines from this area, or actually some of these wines, deserve this statement about greatness. Because for many these wines remain more or less unknown. It makes the wines affordable, great, but obscurity is simply undeserved for the beauties produced here.


So why among the greatest? That's basically the combination of terroir (which comprises a whole range of factors...) and grape variety, chenin blanc.

To begin with the terroir. This northerly wine region produces wines with an attractive freshness, there is always good acidity countering the sweetness, it makes the wines digestible and pleasant. Then more local: the soil of the Layon valley. We visited Domaine de Juchepie in the commune of Faye, and the soil here consists of schist and heavy clay. Eddy Oosterlinck, who guided us around, advised us not to step into one his freshly ploughed vineyards, as our feet would soon grow into massive lumps of clay. In addition to this clay there is the local schist, which can be seen perfectly on the 'coteaux' of a little ditch along the road.

schist rock of the Coteaux du LayonTHE LOCAL SCHIST ROCK OF THE COTEAUX DU LAYON

And a third terroir-aspect: the mist that crawls up from the valley floor, up the slopes, in late summer and autumn. This helps the noble rot develop in the grapes. The pourriture noble that is so important for character of the sweet wines.

Then the grape variety. I have always found chenin blanc a fascinating variety, mainly for its ability to age. Tasting a matured chenin blanc can be an amazing experience. But Mr Oosterlinck pointed out another factor: the ability it has to express the terroir on which she (or he?) grows − the same which is said about the pinot noir. And it's true, both varieties are often at the base of very refined wines: wines that "let speak" instead of "speak". To compare: a speaking variety would be, for example, gewurztraminer or muscat (sometimes these types even scream...).


Oosterlinck − from Belgium − handles his plants and soil with great care. He practices biodynamic farming. That's beyond organic farming. For example Oosterlinck makes tea from nettle, horsetail and yarrow which he sprays on his vines. Horsetail (prêle) for example protects against downy mildew, a fungal disease which is most commonly fought by spraying copper. Thanks to the horsetail this quite inevitable practice can be minimised, and in some years even be completely skipped. And this keeps the soil healthy, alive.

Also, there is no vendange vert at Domaine de Juchepie. According to Oosterlinck, with green harvest the plant puts energy in shoots and bunches that are then later removed. Oosterlinck applies strict pruning before the growing season starts (leaving 10 buds for an adult plant, and 6 for a younger plant). A somewhat more risky approach, because with vendange vert you can decide later what you want to take away, and what not.


Well, we finally arrive at the winemaking, but this posting is getting to lengthy, so let I summarize that this is Slow and Non-Interventionist winemaking − e.g. no battonage and no soutirage. The wine always matures on oak barrels, this accounts for an open (and natural) character of the wines. Do not think you will taste oak, these super-intense sweets simply eat, devour, the oak, as Oosterlinck puts it − the oak has no chance...

The wine. I am drinking Les Churelles de Juchepie 2006, a sweet and super-intense moelleux (50 grams of residual sugar). Concentrated yet fresh. Spiced cookies. Mineral. The corpus is elegant, the texture suave, fat. Explicit acidity, giving character, freshness and 'line' to this wine. In short: very lovely and de-li-cious.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Loire part I: Philippe PICHARD

When I talk about my wine business, I tend to say that "I am in a constant search for great wines". I am not necessarily looking for organic wines, but with the outcome of my quests a great wine often turns out to be an organic wine, or even a biodynamic wine.

Another outcome, one which I used to mention to my audience quite regularly: most of the winemakers that I work with are young people − winemakers who decided to "do it their way", i.e. different from what the previous generation did. Most often heard: they bring down yields, start working organically, and try to intervene as least as possible during the process of vinification.

This weekend I returned from the Loire valley, where we spent a week long tasting wines (the first two days at the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers), and visiting winemakers.

On this trip I was happy to receive a clear message: the age of the winemaker is not related to him or her being innovative, i.e. being interested in new ways of farming and winemaking. We visited three older winemakers (just a coincidence), all three very passionate about the new directions they had chosen. Three youthful spirits: Philippe Pichard (Chinon), Eddy Oosterlinck (Coteaux du Layon) and Evelyne de Jessey-Pontbriand (Savennières). It was inspiring − especially for someone who just turned 40, then the mind is open for these kind of messages.

In this posting I briefly present Philippe Pichard − the rest follows later.

Thursday 5 February 2009:
Philippe PICHARD, Domaine de la Chapelle, Chinon

Avoir l'amour du vin, c'est d'abord aimer sa vigne. The poet is Philippe Pichard, vigneron in Cravant-les-Coteaux, the best known village of the Chinon appellation (besides the small town of Chinon itself). These words might come across just romantic, but it is a simple truth that if you want to make a great wine, at least the grapes for the wine should be great. And although already in his fifties (I would guess...) Pichard's love for the vigne recently made him convert to the principles of biodynamic winemaking. A big step, showing his determination.


But my interest in his wines started with tasting his wines, which I did in Angers at the Salon. Chinons can be lovely, but there are plenty of Chinons that aren't (they can be unripe, they can be hard, they can be rustic etc.). Pichard's Chinons are full of life, with vital fruit. His wines are supple and pure, with a pleasant texture and an attractive freshness. Wine as it is meant to be.

Red Chinon is exclusively made from cabernet franc, and Pichard makes four different wines from this variety, from different soils. For this moment I brought to Amsterdam his basic Chinon, the fruity and straightforward Gravinières 2007. This wine comes from the gravelly plains close to the river Vienne, from vines ranging in age from 10 to 30 years. This is a fairly light, and easily digestible Chinon. It nicely combines the love-it-or-hate-it idiosyncrasies of the cabernet franc (e.g. the hint of school paint in the nose) with the ease and accessibility of a lunch wine. And I like the slight mineral touch it has.


His Varesnes and Trois Quartiers both have more structure and intensity, but more or less belong to the same league of wines. The barrel-aged l'Ancestral is different, somewhat more like a Bordeaux si vous voulez. Oak, darkness, power... a serious wine for on the dinner table. It comes from older vines from siliceous and clay soils.

Anyway, according to Chinon-based courtier Charles Sydney Pichard belongs to the category of "Fastest-Improving Producers" (in Tom Stevenson's Wine Report 2009). I think I have nothing to add to that.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Visit to Burgundy, day III

Our last day in Burgundy was also the longest day, with four domain visits. But what a reward: dinner at Caves Madeleine, my favourite restaurant in Beaune.

1. Domaine Philippe Garrey, Saint Martin sous Montaigu (Mercury)


Saturday morning we drove up to the appellation Mercurey, part of the Côte Chalonnaise, just South of the Côte d'Or. Côte Chalonnaise: the first region that falls off most Burgundy maps. The good news: the region has just been taken up in Clive Coates' brand new The Wines of Burgundy: Revised Edition (this was not the case for its famous predecessor Côte d'Or).


Phillipe took over in 2002 from his father Pierre. Mr Garrey senior is currently observing his son converting the family domain to biodynamic principles − he is a little sceptical now and then, but then again, he realises it's his son's turn now, and Phillipe seems determined to produce great Mercureys. He filters nor fines his wines, he doesn't chaptalise (i.e. add sugar) and only works with the natural yeasts that live in the vineyards. For his reds he ferments the uncrushed berries, allowing the wines to be light, fruity and gentle.

We tasted the 2006s from bottle and the 2007s from vat, the ambiance his old cave (see the picture above). It is a pleasure to taste these well-balanced, ripe, and even somewhat polished Burgundy's. Very well made, and very pleasant wines − made for drinking, not for sipping.


2. Sylvain Loichet, Chorey-lès-Beaune

We had to wait ten minutes in the car before we could get out: the rain was spectacular (to put it mildly). The young and casual looking Sylvain Loichet invited us in his newly renovated cellars in Chorey-lès-Beaune. A cellar under an enormous (and long abandoned) ruin. But once this project is finished Mr Loichet will have an incredible mansion.

Sylvain Loichet in his just renovated cave in Chorey-les-BeauneSYLVAIN LOICHET IN HIS JUST RENOVATED CAVE IN CHOREY-LES-BEAUNE

Loichet owns a few vineyards (these belonged to his family) but he also works with fruit from other growers. The standards however are equally high, and this young guy is doing an incredible job. Personally I was especially impressed by his whites, and then more so by the 2007s (from vat) than the 2006s. Here also: the wines are natural (and not just regarding the vineyard-work, but also with respect to what happens in the cellar). Again no filtration, no fining, and only the whites undergo a modest chaptalisation. For my taste the reds were quite round and somewhat sweetish (but definitely attractive). The Pernand-Vergelesses "Les Belles Filles", the Meursault and the Puligny-Montrachet (all 2007) I thought were great. All three quite different, but all more or less intense, mineral, supple and refreshing.

3. Maison Oroncio, Vosne-Romanée

Oronce de Beler in his cellar under his house in Vosne-RomanéeORONCE DE BELER IN HIS LITTLE (SECRET) CELLAR UNDER HIS HOUSE IN VOSNE-ROMANEE (TASTING 2007)

Oronce de Beler is a Parisian guy who exchanged Paris for Burgundy. His dream: to make great wines. And there are various ways to begin. You can either buy a patch of (affordable) land, start growing vines and make wine. An honourable but slow way. Or you can become a négociant, buy grapes (from various appellations) and make wine. But then you need to find out who to buy from (and if you succeed, the question remains whether these great grapes owners will sell to you...!).

Oronce de Beler tasting 2006 in his office slash living roomORONCE DE BELER TASTING 2006 IN HIS OFFICE SLASH LIVING ROOM

Oronce did something cunning, and fun: he bought a horse and a plough and offered himself for rent. And this is why: only ambitious land owners searching for quality will use a service like this. And this is how Oronce soon got to know the right people (and of course everyone likes his horse-initiative), and he could start making wines. Interesting wines. His style: tender, female, attractive, elegant, stylish wines. For details check out Jan's website (Jan visited Oronce both in June and July this year).

Aurelien Verdet, ArcenantAURELIEN VERDET, ARCENANT

4. Aurélien Verdet, Arcenant (Hautes-Côtes de Nuits)

Our last visit (around 18h30) was in the little village of Arcenant, high up in the Hautes-Côtes. Here the family Verdet have been making organic wine for years − they were one of the first to start working this way. Well actually, the only wines that are organic are the wines that come from their own vineyards in the Hautes-Côtes (white and red).

Next to that Verdet acts as a négociant and buys grapes from various Côtes de Nuits appellations: Nuits-St-Georges, Morey-St-Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. And despite the late hour of our visit we tasted more than ten wines − and I'm glad we did. What a winemaker this young guy is! I loved his (organic) white Burgundy, a wine that has 'just the right balance of everything'. Another highlight: the Nuits-St-Georges 1er cru "Aux Boudots" 2006 (almost Vosne-Romanée): depth and darkness, attraction, refinement, strength, yet a velvetly texture... super!

We ended the evening, as said, in Caves Madeleine. Starting with: the obligatory Salade de gésiers à la crême d'ail (gizzards) followed by the Andouillette 5A de chez Thierry (chitlings). Exciting, and delicious. The wine was interesting (and expensive): a Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru "Les Charmes" 2004 elevated by Lucien le Moine. Supposedly a magician, who is allowed to buy must from all the big guys (possibly DRC included) to make his wine; his interpretation of a certain terroir should be interesting for the selling winemaker, to compare it with what he himself is achieving. A good wine, but I'm afraid not so much for me.

So we ended the evening at Caves Madeleine. Quietly. Taking our time...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Visit to Burgundy, day I

As I wrote in my previous posting: last Thursday Jan and I left early in the morning, and before we arrived at our first date − Chenu at Savigny-lès-Beaune − we perched down on the heavenly terrace of La Miotte in Ladoix-Serrigny to refuel with an Andouillette sause moutarde à l'ancienne (chitlings) − which I washed down with a slightly cooled Ladoix 2005 from Capitain-Gagnerot. A mediocre wine, but fine for this honourable purpose.


Domaine Louis Chenu et Filles, Savigny-lès-Beaune

Then off to our first visit in Savigny-lès-Beaune. Where the two daughters of Louis Chenu run the family domain: Caroline is the winemaker, and Juliette does the commercial part of the business.

The domain, like most serious domains these days, is transferring to organic viticulture. A process that takes about five years, and it is done step by step. Experimentation is part of this process.

Chenu's vinification can be characterised as gentle. After the berries are gently crushed, they enter the vinification vat. During fermentation a vat will undergo just one remontage (pumping over), and per day one manual pieage, i.e. stirring of the must. We tasted the 2006s from bottle, and the 2007s from vat.


The Chenu sisters produce fairly light reds, typical for this region. But with character and spirit, and very pure and sappy. I would almost call these elegant wines female. They also produce a white Savigny, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (common in Savigny) and an Aligoté.


I especially liked their reds. And then with a slight preference for those produced at Les Vergelesses, the hill between Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny that resembles the neighbouring Corton hill. According to Caroline the 1er cru "Les Lavières" (see picture above) is their most typical red. This wine, which matures one year on oak (20% new) and half a year on tank, is also a little more hearty. Altogether a very interesting domain.

Domaine Pierre Guillemot, Savigny-lès-Beaune


The second and last visit of our first short day was at Domaine Pierre Guillemot, also in Savigny-lès-Beaune. It was Philippe (early 20, and meant to run the domain in the future) who introduced us to his wines. Good to very good wines, quite classic style, and generally with a little bit more matière − wines that need just a little extra time to fully present themselves. My personal favourites were Les Serpentières 2006 (close to Les Lavières, see picture below) and Corton 2006.


We concluded the day in an utmost pleasant manner: at the famous restaurant Ma Cuisine in Beaune, where we met up with David Clark (winemaker in Morey-St-Denis). All interesting wine talk, and that accompanied with a Salade de Foies de Voilaille (tiny little livers in salad), Rognon de Veau Moutarde (kidneys) and as desert Epoisses au Marc − super ripe delicious cheese, melting off the plate... And all this completed with a Meursault 2001 from J.-F. Coche-Dury (super!) and a Volnay 2002 from Michel Lafarge (OK). To be continued.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Biodynamic opulence: Leflaive and L'esquisse

Others have said the same, but if you look at the ongoing improvement in quality of the wines from Giscours and Du Tertre, until today,− if you look at the enormous investments that have been made throughout the last 10-15 years,− if you take into account that Eric Albada Jelgersma had earned enough money to buy Giscours, and later Du Tertre, with the purpose and challenge to transform these potentially grand wines from mediocre crus to truly grand crus, it simply does not make sense to think that Mr Albada Jelgersma commanded to mix up some Haut-Médoc with wine from the Margaux appellation;− to make some minor short-term profit. On announced appeal yesterday's court judgement will probably − and hopefully − be reversed.

Then for something completely different: drinking great wines. Yesterday I enjoyed two beauties: first a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" 1997 from Domaine Leflaive, and thereafter a L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac 2001. Two very different wines that have one thing in common: advice on biodynamics from guru François Bouchet. Bouchet also consults at Leroy and Chapoutier.

Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru
To start with the last wine: L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac − the second wine of Château La Tour Figeac − has quite an impressive background, and I could name it "a small Cheval Blanc" (a description that commercially always works well). The reason: until 1879 La Tour Figeac was part of Figeac, and until 1830 Cheval Blanc and Figeac also belonged together. Ergo: La Tour Figeac and Cheval Blanc belonged together.

And with the following the connection is even tightened: Cheval Blanc is known for its high proportion of cabernet franc, and such is the second wine of La Tour Figeac (70% for the 2001 vintage). The vines used for the L'esquisse de La Tour Figeac are also mainly found in the 'Cheval Blanc corner' of La Tour Figeac.

Nice fun facts, but is the wine drinkable? Yes, very much! Beautifully à point now after seven years. Lots of depth and tension. Pure, and a little earthy. Delicious black fruit, succulent and supple.

The second biodynamic wine was the one that we started the evening with: a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru "Clavoillon" 1997 from Domaine Leflaive.

Tasting note: fat, ripened nose. Hint of hay, as soft as butter on the tongue, and in the mouth. Broad and complex, yet refined − a perfect whole. Round acids in a long tender finish. Hazelnut. An exalted white, and so vital for its age.

Anyway, all honour to the biodynamic wines. Again a great experience.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Biodynamic winners, but long term impact of 2007 feared negative

Well, I seem to have done the unthinkable. I rang up a wine merchant to do a quick interview about the grimness of the 2007 primeur campaign and ended up spending nearly 700 euro.

I am shocked. How did it happen? I was never planning to buy any 2007 primeurs. And he was not trying to sell, just answer a few questions.

Then, the issue of biodynamics came up, and bingo, a case of 2007 Château Pontet-Canet was mine. Well, mine when I send over the cheque. And mine in two years time when I pay the bits and pieces left over and it actually arrives. I've not told my husband – you know how it is with shopping – or anyone actually. It all seems a bit not quite the right thing to be talking about. So I just thought I would write about it quietly in my blog. Thank god he never reads it. My husband that is.

I was supposed to buy a new computer.

Now if we had been talking about an organic wine, I doubt I would have flipped like that. But say biodynamic and I get a bit irrational. It ticks all the boxes for me. Moon, homeopathy, care and attention, understanding cycles of things like life. And it is good for the planet. And I feel better drinking it. Never get hangovers either. That of course might be the fact that I drink less of it, but either way, it works. Please God I never find an organic whiskey.

In fact I have now gone so far down the anti agri-chemical road I only buy things if they are organic. And I mean things like jeans and vegetables and shampoo and bread and face cream. Yes, for those of you who don't know, there is such a thing as biodynamic skin cream. It is more expensive and harder to find but that also means I buy less and spend less time choosing it. Where there are 100 different kinds of face cream and shampoo there is usually one or two organic/biodynamic ones. Easy.

Having agreed to buy the stuff, the wine, I then of course had to finish my article all about how 2007 was not worth buying, and would be in the shops in two years time for half nothing and all that.

But still. Buying cheaper is only one half the primeur equation – one that does not for the most part function in relation to 2007. But the other half of the logic still works – that if you want something you probably won't find in the shops in two years time, buy it en primeur.

It could be, of course, that there will be bottles of Pontet-Canet in the shops in 2009. But I am prepared to take that risk. Anyway, it never, ever seems to be in the shops I am in at the moment. The second wine, yes, Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, but not the grand vin.

Having finished the article and stopped thinking about the whole 'I just bought a case of primeurs' thing, I was comforted to see that the June edition of La Revue du Vin de France (RVF) is full of comments on biodynamics.

Back page interview: biodynamics, page 32 on the issue of terroir, Michel Chapoutier saying real terroir only exists in biodynamic vineyards, and a few other references here and there. Plus Pontet-Canet got a RVF score of 18.5 so that was encouraging.

As to the broader subject of primeurs the whole thing continues lacklustre, possibly now downgraded to washed out. The only bit of upcoming interest is to see whether any of the stars, right or left bank, manage to actually lower their prices in any meaningful way. Well, meaningful to the consumer that is.

Or if they actually dare put their prices up. Now that will be testing the law of demand exceeding supply given that UK merchants have been heard to say they may not be buying the premier crus – can they mean it? – and US ones have said nothing at all.

A further, future bit of interest, might also come from the rumours that the 2007 campaign might in fact damage Bordeaux's share of the fine wine market long term. I have only actually heard one négociant say it – and he is not a French native, though he's been here 20 years selling primeurs – but I have heard mutterings of the kind all over the place.

What they are saying is that 2007 might mean Bordeaux cedes market share to Spain, Rhône and the new world in general. Unthinkable surely. As much as me buying a 2007 primeur?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lightening Up

Life, which maintained a reasonably civilized tone for most of the start of this year, regained a bit of imbalance this weekend with the arrival of my sister and her boyfriend from Dublin to check out alpaca farms around Bordeaux.

I know, for many, the connection between alpacas – a lama like creature with three stomachs that hums or whistles when happy or worried – and Bordeaux – the world's best known wine region – might be zero. But believe me, it exists. I have seen them, and heard their little hums and whistles.

The weekend before the sister arrived, I ended up in Spain, at a conference* on the increasing quality of wines being the enemy of their diversity. Lucky I did, partly in terms of it being a total eye-opener into extreme winemaking, and partly because I got my liver slightly back to abnormal by closing a bar in the tiny but picturesque town of Ronda. If I hadn't I think my sister might have caught me unawares.

But to go back to extreme winemaking, am I the only one that didn't know about evangelical types like Alvaro Palacios, Ales Kristancic and Dirk van der Niepoort from Spain, Slovenia and Portugal?

Kristancic is the inheritor of his family's wine business established in 1820. As well as his existing range of Movia wines – all biodynamic – he now produces about 2,000 bottles per year of Lunar, a moon wine, which takes an impractical three days to settle after transportation.

"I bury specially built wooden barrels, with no metal to distort the power of the moon, full of grapes for eight months," he said. The barrels are left underground so the grapes into wine process benefits more fully from the moon cycles.

It looked funny, but it tasted great.

At an earlier session – on the issue of whether vineyard management techniques contributed to a wine's character (I know, I know, silly question) – Alvaro Palacios, who runs his winery of the same name, was declaiming his belief that truly great wines only come from vineyards planted hundreds of years ago by monks.

"I just can't understand why no one understands this," Palacios said, frustrated at having being told by the moderator that he was out of time. "I am not crazy, the monks chose the best places," he said. "It's in the wine – the calm of these vineyards that have been here for centuries. You feel it inside you when you drink, it is not just a taste," he said.

I never got to taste it, but if I ever see it I will buy it, simply on the strength of that. Imbibing centuries old calm just can't be bad thing.

On the issue of taste diversity, and the inexorable trend toward riper, sweeter wines – as well as foods – Dirk van der Niepoort who works in the Douro, said it is partly down to it being easier to talk about big things.

"It is difficult to describe the lack of something," he said of the difficulty of recreating a demand for more subtle wines. "Everyone wants the number one, best, biggest. It is not easy to say a wine is less, and then expect people to pay the same for it."

He also believes that wines need to lighten up in other ways. "Modern consumers are forgetting that wine is supposed to be fun," he said.

"My parents went to restaurants to drink wine because it was fun. They are not able to tell me what those wines tasted like, even when I ask them over and over. They just say it was fun."

Oh, and as for my sister, who is serious about fun, it was her fault, and no one else's, that I ended up organising a Riverdance session at 3am in my local bar where they serve really good whiskey really cheap. Six euro's a glass for Irish and seven for the Scottish version. Poor liver.

*WineCreator (Ronda, Spain) "Towards Diversity and Innovation in Winemaking"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I can’t believe it. I am in shock.

I went away this week, to Montpellier for VINISUD, the 'Mediterranean wine trade fair' is what they call themselves for 'wines of the south', and it was great.

Almost every wine I tasted a) tasted good b) was organic or biodynamic and c) was affordable – in the 5 to 15 euro retail price range. Now maybe I was just lucky but I got the impression that as long as I avoided the fruit lozenge coloured ones, the shimmery pinks and bright yellows lined up all over the place, I could not go wrong.

Corbières and Minervois were my two favourite areas – not to be too romantic about it but they actually have a dry taste that I associate with the winds I have seen blowing over the vines, forcing them half flat. Plus the best ever tasting red organic wine I have ever encountered from Domaine de Clairac, a Vin de Pays de l'Hérault. It will become my house red after Château Fonroque (Saint-Emilion biodynamic red which is wonderful but 22 euro a bottle so not an every night wine).

But none of that is why I am shocked. I am shocked because I got back to Bordeaux to find out that the primeur tastings had started. I swear. At least I do according to the Figaro website which has not only already tasted them, but has taken to putting "L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération" at the end of their ARTICLES. I am not joking. I know the whole ANPAA thing was a bit seismic, but really, there is no need to do that on a printed article, with no pictures. I must check if it is the same in the paper. It CAN'T be. That would be mad and auto-censorship from a height. But maybe they are just covering themselves.

(That is what RTE, the national Irish broadcaster, used to say anyway when they used the 'voice of an actor' for Gerry Adams in the days when they were not allowing themselves to be used as a propaganda machine. Well, at least that is what they said they were doing. So you would see him and hear his words but he would not be speaking it was 'voice of an actor' which was written on the screen. Mad and totally funny when you look back on it now. But that is what auto-censoring does to one.)

Like when all the French wine growers moan and say they were never allowed to put the name of the grape variety on the label because it was forbidden by INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine). Well, INAO declared they had never said any such thing. But that was the kind of climate. And this is the climate now. I suppose I had better put "L'abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération" at the end of this article. God be with the days when someone dared to put "Drinking this may cause pregnancy" on a bottle of Bordeaux. He was Dutch if I remember right. And it was a JOKE – always the first thing to go when auto-censorship arrives. Humour.

Anyway, the point about the primeurs is that, although The Figaro has the headline "First impressions on the primeurs" it spends the next paragraph explaining that it is much too early for first impressions. And then the third paragraph saying that the 2007 has more elegance, finesse, l'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération - ooooo sorry, that just slipped in by accident – and less concentration. Well great. Can't wait to abuse it. I mean taste. Taste it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guinness and wine in Ireland

Being home in Ireland for Christmas has meant two things drinkwise. Good Guinness and an international selection of wine.

In even the smallest shop down to the local garage in Dalkey­ there are reasonable wines from South Africa, Chile and Australia.

In larger shops you will also find French wines, mainly Burgundy and Bordeaux, but the prices are so outrageous, I only look at them for a laugh.

On average, a bottle of wine that costs about 6 euro in France will cost about 16 euro here. Partly, that is the result of VAT at 23 per cent, and partly shipping and transport costs, but that still leaves quite a wide profit margin. And since VAT and shipping apply to all wines, not just French, quite why Bordeaux and Burgundy prices are so crazy compared to the New World selection is not clear.

Turning away from the French shelves, the New World is laid out in force. America, Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa all have major presences. And asking the often fruitless question about biodynamic wines I am actually taken to shelves, small ones, but shelves dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines­ and they are not from France.

Being a bit lost in the New World, apart from South Africa, I have been advised by a family friend to always go for Argentina over Chile. I'm given lots of other advice too, mainly in the pub, and mainly about top hole Australian vintages that compare more than favourably with Bordeaux - but I don't remember it all because I am too busy savouring the Guinness.

Either my palate has woken up after three years of wine tasting in Bordeaux or there is now a significant difference between the taste of home brewed Guinness and that made abroad.

In Ireland it has a depth and richness that I realise I have been missing. It's a bit like going from two dimensions to three. We order more. After one lunchtime gathering I have managed three. And discussed the Irish property market crash in detail the word is that prices are down by 10 to 12 per cent. Not the official four. Absorbing this we order another round of what are simply called pints - if you want something other than Guinness you need to ask for 'a pint of X'. It tastes even better than the first three. I am home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wine energy, biodynamics, Nossiter and Bridget Jones

Having read Jonathan Nossiter's new book Le Gout et Le Pouvoir, and realised that he, like Bridget Jones, is a great believer in wine energy, I am ever more energetically seeking out biodynamic wines.

Nossiter likes energy in his wines, and, is also an advocate of finding new ways of talking about wine, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive.


What could be more inclusive, in vocabulary terms, than talking about a wine having energy or not? We all understand energy and the lack of it. I think he might like to know, however, that it was Bridget Jones who first mentioned the concept of wine energy, when using chardonnay to 'get energy back' due to being shagged out and tired by work and life.

So now, in my latest tasting notes - the ones I speak out loud more often than actually write down - gone are the searches for hints of liquorice, or cinnamon notes, and in are words like energetic, lively, flat and dull. In also are feelings. Does the wine make me want to talk, recite poetry and generally give my opinions freely? Or does it make me want to collapse silently on the sofa in front of the fire? Whether I actually like the taste or not, is also back in – something that got a bit lost in all that identifying of flavours.

Searching around the other day for new words to describe a wine that just didn't taste quite right, the words 'no energy' came immediately to hand. But so did separated. It was exactly as though a mix of heavy, musky, unsweetened grape juice had had a layer of alcohol poured over it, and been neither shaken nor stirred. There were two separate entities in the bottle. There may be a technical term for it, but separated worked for me.

The trouble with language, though, is that it has to work for other people as well as oneself. That is in fact one of the main points of language. So when I enthusiastically told someone else it tasted separated, and they looked blank, I realised I still had a way to go. Oh, well. Next time I taste something like that I will try and find another word.

But anyway, hence the search for biodynamic wines that are supposed to be full of energy. And variation. Variation from vintage to vintage – so sorry to Hugh Johnson, but I disagree in this case with his recent claim that vintages do not matter anymore. In biodynamic wines they do. Which I am in favour of – mainly because I have now lived through three Bordeaux summers, and I like being able to think, well that was the one that was hot in April, or wet in September or whatever, and see if I can 'taste' it in the wine.

Such is the current biodynamic wines have over me, I have to stop myself opening one every night, despite the fact that the only one I can currently find in my local Carrefour costs 17 euro. And that is on special offer. I think when it goes back to its normal 22 euro price I will have to restrain myself. Or find another.

Biodynamic wine – Château Fonroque 2002, Grand Cru Classé de Saint Emilion, 17 euro at Carrefour on special offer.