Tuesday, 9 September 2014

New discoveries in Burgundy

We are just back from our summer holidays during which we worked tirelessly to find exciting new wines to bring across the channel to the discerning UK consumer. Something like that, anyway.

Actually, we left with no plans to buy any more wine than was strictly necessary for the time we were away but, inevitably, things didn't quite work out that way. On day one of our trip, I received an email from a young Burgundian grower that pricked up my ears and, given that we were in the region, just half an hour away from his home in Santenay, I felt obliged to pop along to meet him.

I arranged to meet with Justin Girardin, winemaker (and everything else) of Domaine Jacques Girardin. Jacques' brother is the renowned Vincent (who retired a couple of years ago although his eponymous enterprise lives on with much the same team in place as before).

Jacques started the estate with just 3ha but this has risen to 17ha of vines which are organically cultivated if not actually certified as such. From 2012, his son Justin took over the helm and it was this serious young man we met on a cool August Tuesday with a range of well-crafted wines - proper Burgundies - on the table.

Of the two whites, I much preferred the Santenay 'Les Terrasses de Bievaux' from steep, terraced, chalky slopes which is minerally, citrusy with stoned fruits and just 20% oak providing support rather than flavour. As someone who generally drinks red wines, even on southern French evenings when the thermometer has failed to slide under 30 degrees, you will appreciate that I really do like this wines when I say that most of the box I bought from Justin failed to last the rest of the trip.

The reds were almost universally to my liking - only the Savigny 'Gollardes' needed time to shape up and show what it has to offer. The Santenay 'Vieilles Vignes' from 50-year-old vines is well-rounded with a good Pinot nose and just a touch of oak building to a long, silky finish.

There are three premier cru wines from Santenay here and all follow the same vinification techniques, so a good lesson in terroir (along with the Joblot range from Givry). 'Beauregard' offers classic Pinot character in a fairly opulent style with smooth tannins giving it good length- archetypal Santenay. 'Maladiere' is more tightly wound, more structured with a more evident tannic backbone. More feminine on the nose but more muscular at the finish (no comparisons with female tennis players please). Finally, 'Clos Rousseau' has more depth on the nose and beautiful fresh fruit and is somewhat easier on the tannins than the previous wine. Very elegant.

Elsewhere, the family has small holdings in Savigny-les-Beaune from whence its 1er Cru 'Les Peuillets' is rounded and accessible with a sweet nose, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 'Morgeot' (floral nose, big wine, quite creamy oak and slightly smokey - very small production) and Pommard with a 'Tete de Cuvee' which is spicier, richer, more refined but also more tannic than the earlier wines, demanding a few years hiding away in the cellar.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Italians have arrived

It's always a wonderful thing to open cases from the new vintages of any wine so when twenty of so different new wines arrive together it's rather like being a kid with a key to the candy store. Actually, this surprises me as I always rebuff any notion that the pleasure in wine has anything to do with anything other than what is inside the bottle yet I  seem to be saying that the aesthetics of the packaging, and in particular the label, brings something to the table.

Yes, I was interested to see that the 2010 Broccardo is in a sloping 'Burgundy' bottle in contrast to the square-shouldered 'Bordeaux' bottle of the 2009 vintage and I noted the new look label which I admired for its more traditional look than the more modernist 2009 but what of it? I know the real enjoyment will come when, all too prematurely, literally, I crack open the first bottle for my first tasting of this magnificent vintage since I was at the winery back in April. 

One of the other wonderful things about new arrivals is that, according to a chap at DEFRA who pops along from time to time, I must test them for consistency with the wine tasted at the estate. I think they are really looking for alcohol content but there has never been any suggestion that I should buy an Alcohol Meter; rather, I am, apparently, obliged to crack open a bottle and perform that questionably scientific test known to those in the trade as tasting and to everyone else as drinking. Apparently you'll find out sooner or later what the alcohol content is that way! Oh well, at least it's tax deductible (well, the first sip, anyway).

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sacrilege

What a great name for a wine! The back story is a little tricky to tell but only because of archaic French wine laws which designate this a mere vin de France The problem is that this is a blend of the two main grapes from the region where Xavier Vignon is based (I don't know if I am allowed to give any more detail than this!), one of which is allowed to declassify the wines from the prestigious AOC to the generic, regional one, the other of which isn't.

Confused? OK, I will delve into the hypothetical. Let's say the region is the Rhone Valley in France and the two grapes are Syrah (the king of the north) and Grenache (the powerhouse of the south). In the north, there are appellations such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage which produce, most would agree, the world's greatest Syrah wines but if, for any reason, a producer wishes to declassify the wine, he can release it as a mere Cotes du Rhone.

In the south, this is possible in appellations such as Gigondas but not, for some reason, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape so if, in this hypothetical world, a producer, by accident or design, blended Syrah from, say, Cote Rotie with Grenache from Chateauneuf, it can't be a Cote du Rhone.  For some reason, it can't even be a vin de Pays, rather it is a lowly vin de France. I think the authorities would just be being spiteful in such a scenario but who really cares about the difference between a "country wine" and a "wine of France". Would such a wine be greeted by any more enthusiasm if it did carry the Cotes du Rhone  insignia? Probably not.

The real spite in the appellation rules is to refuse to allow the producer to give any information about the wine on the label or anywhere else - which is why my example above is purely hypothetical, of course.

So, what of this lowly vin de France that sells for £36/bottle? Well, I think I have written quote enough on the subject and really don't want to fall foul of the authorities. If I told you it has delicious black fruit intertwined with.... No, really, I mustn't. You'll just have to find out for yourself.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

TN: Joblot 2011 Clos du Cellier aux Moines

Did the monks have this in mind when they walled this vineyard? Presumably so; why wouldn't they want a fabulous wine like this? After all, they had a pretty good life compared with many at that time. What is fascinating is how different this cuvee is to others in the range, all from the same Pinot clones, of similar age, and all from Givry vineyards.

This wine is more Chambolle than Gevrey but actually it's a Givry so a fraction of the price of either. Its intense red fruits with violet combine in a palate that's oh so smooth and delicate but not without substance. What a mass of wonderful contradictions! Hints of underbrush and more to come but, for now, there is a silkiness coating my mouth and some perky acidity dripping from the sides of my tongue that makes me want to come back for more.

I have been tasting a lot of Burgundies recently at all price points and there are many over-extracted disasters or weedy wines out there, even now. Not this one though. And it's 2011. All you Burgundy detractors out there: don't tar them all with the same brush (or, even, brushes). try this - it's (as Tony the Tiger would say if he hadn't been canned) Grrrreat!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Mid-June update - where have I been?

First of all, a huge apology to anyone who bothers to check in from time to time. My long silence was caused by a family matter which has distracted me somewhat. Anyway, enough of that. What have I been up to wine-wise?

Easter saw my annual trip to the Rhone and Piedmont, now firmly part of the routine. The Rhone was all about the 2012 vintage which is an extremely attractive and quite user-friendly year with wines offering attractive fruit that is a joy to let pass one's lips. More about this here.


Italy provided a much needed break but it was still very busy and, at times, hard work. We arrived on the Saturday evening at our accommodation and had clearly been forgotten. After going out for a simple dinner, we managed to get into the apartment we had arranged, overlooking the valley towards Alba and hilltop villages including Barbaresco in the distance. The following day had us back in the car again to meet with the Ghio family who have spent the last decade or so planting and producing Gavi and other wines from their small (but stunningly situated) estate - Binè - in Novi Ligure. A charming family - lots of jokes and surprisingly little need of translation on either side.


The following day was busy: a late start with Maura and her brother at Cascina Saria was followed by a spectacular seven course lunch with the family. The new vintages are appropriately excellent with the Riddolina needing a little time, understandably, but the San Lorenzo providing a delicious Barbera to enjoy while you wait. The star of the show was undoubtedly the 2010 Barbaresco. These wines are now in stock so I am looking forward to enjoying them again.


Slightly later than planned: next stop, Grasso Fratelli in Treiso. We kept to the reds here and, inevitably enjoyed their maturing Barbarescos, especially the 2006 Valgrande, but we were taken by a new wine called Trej. This is a play on words: short for Treiso and also three grapes (Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto). As well as being a very good wine, I thought it an excellent introduction to Nebbiolo for the uninitiated given the variety's eccentricities. The Barbera and Dolcetto, in small proportions, do not detract from the Nebbiolo character but take the edge off its tannic inevitability and add a touch of depth and sweeter fruit. Perhaps, then, not one for purists but lots of fun anyway.


Moving onwards and upwards, literally, because Nada Giuseppe is just up the hill in the Valle Grande in a location called Marcarino. In 2011, Enrico has produced two cuvees of Barbaresco Normale, one quite gutsy one (certainly more so than usual) from Casot which will need a couple of years in the bottle to flesh out and integrate the tannins, the other more immediate and juicy from the area around the house, Marcarino. The finale of the tasting was, of course, the 2009 Riserva I had high hopes, given my fondness for the 2009 Normale. I was not disappointed. the Riserva is everything the Normale is but with more backbone, deeper fruit, more promise.


The final tasting of the day was with Fabrizio Battaglino in Vezza d'Alba, Roero. Either we were early or he was late which gave us an opportunity to practice speaking Italian with his parents. I was impressed with how much I could put together from a few hours of Michel Thomas tapes! 2012 produced a superb Barbera 'Munbel' for Fabrizio whilst the 2011 Sergentin is, without doubt, the best wine he has made and would challenge any good Barolo or Barbaresco at twice the price. the Colla is rather good too!


That's enough for now but I will type up my notes from the rest of the trip later.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

MDG and CDP in Decanter

Some good reviews in this month's Decanter, starting with Steven Spurrier's reflections on Mas de Daumas Gassac's current release, the 2011:

'An elegant concentration produced from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1973 blended with 15 other grapes. Midi warmth softens the Cabernet austerity to give vigorous individuality. A brilliant wine.'

I rather like that last sentence, I must admit. However, I slightly disagree with Steven over the wine's drinking dates: he suggests it can be broached this year which is, of course, true but, as with all vintages of this wine, it will be so much improved with time. I wouldn't touch it until 2018 at least. I also note that he cites the price as £30; I must be undercharging!

A few pages on in the same issue sees a review of the 2011 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. After 2010, this was never going to wow anyone but there are some superb wines nonetheless. It is a shame that none of Raymond Usseglio's wines were tasted as I suspect they would have done rather well in this tasting, especially the Mourvedre-rich Part des Anges. Beaucastel was also missing too, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather like you don't often see Latour in a round-up of left bank Bordeaux.

A very respectable 17/20 was awarded by John Livingstone-Learmonth, the UK's leading expert on Rhone wines, to Domaine de Cristia's wine - 'Ripe berry and plum nose with sweet meat, liquorice and spiced new oak. Palate shows red fruit with a fine-tuned pickup of tannin. Garrigue finish.' - and also to Christophe Coste's Chateau Capucine - 'Attractive, fragrant garrigue notes with savoury, toasty oak. A good heart of richness with thyme and flint. Garrigue touches along the late stages.'

I confess I haven't even tasted this last wine yet. Christophe hasn't put any of the Capucine wines in front of me since the debut 2009 vintage. This was one of the wines I showed at Trinity last month then had to vacuvin after the tasting because I was just starting the Dryathlon. I expected it would have fallen apart by now but when I pulled the stopper off, it was as fresh as it had been three weeks earlier. I should probably reassess my views on vacuvin as a means of preserving wine. The 2009 was a superb debut but, for me at least, still needs a couple of years to develop some secondary characters.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Wine Advocate success for Domaine des Anges


'The Porker has grunted' was the headline of an email received today from Domaine des Anges boss, Gay McGuinness. Perhaps the citation in Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate will be short-lived for DDA given this but the reviews are well merited and, frankly, long overdue. I know Ciaran spent many hours in frustration that, without a reputable American importer, it was seemingly impossible to get the team at the wine world's most influential publication to look at his wines. Now, fate has played a cruel hand: just as Ciaran has moved on to vineyards new, Parker has handed over the tasting of Rhone wines to Jeb Dunnock who has reviewed the current crop of 2011s from what must rank as the Ventoux' highest vineyard.


First, though, the 2012 Ventoux Blanc, a perennial favourite for its easy fruit and crisp structure. This was awarded 87 points which is really quite remarkable for a Ventoux Blanc:


'Offering up notions of mulled pears, citrus rind and subtle minerality, the 2012 Ventoux Blanc (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc) is a medium-bodied, clean and nicely balanced white to drink over the coming year or so.' BUY THIS WINE

I have only tasted the 2011 Ventoux red but this wine received a rather good write up, especially considering its lowly price tag. A very respectable 88 points accompanies the following words:


'A serious value, the 2011 Ventoux is a blend of equal parts Grenache and Syrah that was aged in a combination of stainless steel and concrete tank. Exhibiting plenty of spice, ground pepper, old leather and both red and black fruits on the nose, it flows onto the palate with loads of fruit and texture, no hard edges and excellent purity of fruit. Enjoy this balanced, delicious and character filled red over the coming 3-4 years.' BUY THIS WINE

The two prestige reds, L'Archange and Seraphin both received even better ratings (90 points apiece) so I am looking forward to sampling these on my next visit.


L'Archange: 'A step up (and more expensive), the 2011 Ventoux Archange is a beauty! Offering up gorgeous blackberry, currants, smoked meats and scorched earth like aromas and flavors, this expressive, pure and fruit loaded effort has a touch of modern flair, yet has loads of character and soul.'


Seraphin: 'Along the same lines, the 2011 Ventoux Seraphin is a classic, textbook Ventoux that offers massive spice, pine bough, cracked pepper and underbrush that’s ground by a core of sweet fruit. Medium to full-bodied, supple and beautifully textured, it finishes with chewy, savory tannin. I’m a fan, and it too should dish out loads of pleasure.'


Well done guys - about bloody time!