Monday, 22 August 2011

Domaine Joblot visit

Having stayed very near to Givry last night, I was able to slip in a quick visit to Clos Saloman before my 10.30 appointment with Jean-Marc Joblot. Here I tasted the 2009s from Montagny (white - very aromatic) and Givry (red, a Premier Cru with excellent fruit and good structure, almost as good as the 2005).

When I arranged the Domaine Joblot appointment, this really was the last day Jean-Marc was prepared to see me as the harvest will be started on Thursday! Incredibly early and still lots to do. Still, he was generous with his time and proved a good communicator. Of course, he knew nothing about me so we discussed my interests in wine and knowledge of the wines of Givry in particular (I have been following the wines of Domaine Joblot for over a decade so knew something of what today's tasting would have in store. Fortunately, Jean-Marc agreed that the other two Givry estates I know well, Clos Saloman and Michel Sarrazin are both excellent producers; the man who is the undisputed leader in his appellation can afford this generosity, of course).

We spent a good while getting to know each other before heading for the cave. I warmed to him immediately: his enthusiasm is infectious and he has a slightly mischievious glint in his eyes which betrayed a wicked sense of humour.

In the cave, we tasted only 2010s, the 2009s having all sold out. The 2010s were all in new barrels although there is another cave with wines maturing in older barrels too. The taste of the new oak has to be compensated for, of course, but before we tasted anything at all, Jean-Marc instructed me to put my nose deep into a barrel already in place for the fermentation and ageing of the 2011 white. There was little in the way of toast; rather, a sweet smell with notes of confection. When we later tasted the 2010 white, I was brought back to this point; the fruit is in no way overwhelmed by the oak. In fact, it took me back to my earlier tasting at Clos Saloman where the nose of the Montagny was more expressive than Jean-Marc's but the palate less complex. The barrel may well have had something to do with this.

Jean-Marc discussed the importance of barrels to him (coopers being part of the winemaking family along with the nursery and, of course, the vigneron). He has a longstanding relationship with the great Burgundian tonellerie at St Romain, Francois Freres, so they know exactly what he likes. With the nursery, again, they know the clones he likes to use; for Jean-Marc, it is not the age of the vine that matters but the quality of the wine it produces.

There were five reds, all remarkably different given the raw materials were virtually identical. From the (comparitively) soft Clos des Bois Chevaux to the powerful and structured Cellier aux Moines then the rounded Pied de Chaume and the complete Clos de la Servoisine and, finally, a blended cuvee (that is, a blend of wines matured in new and old oak; Jean-Marc doesn't like to blend the different lieux-dits) from Maroles, this was a superb lesson on terroir. Jean-Marc pointed out that the vines were the same, the vinification was the same, the barrels were the same... only the soil was different and yet the wines themselves are so very different already and, in time, they can only grow further apart. Truly fascinating. I have never properly understood Burgundian terroir before this.

And what of the oak? Yes, there was more in the samples I tasted than I would want to drink but these had not been blended with the old barrel-aged wines, much less aged in bottle for up to 15 years (Jean-Marc reckons their potential to be at least this long). From experience, two or three years in the bottle, then two or three hours in carafe should bring these wines close to perfection.

Jean-Marc was adamant that his job was easy; all he did was let the wine ferment and put it into the barrels where he left it untouched until it was time for bottling: C'est simple! Of course, his eyes were twinkling as he spoke. 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Piedmont dinner at the Lido - 26th October

Both Enrico and Fabrizio are going to be in London during half-term week for a posh dinner at the IOD but we have lined up another meal where they will be presenting some of their wines for only £40 for a three course meal including the wines.

The Lido Cafe in Brockwell Park is a hidden gem in south London (near to Dulwich). If you are interested, contact the Lido to reserve a place - or call  020 7737 8183

The Lido Cafe
Dulwich Road
Brockwell Lido
SE24 0PA

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fabrizio Battaglino visit

Satellite Navigation will be the making of Fabrizio Battaglino. His family estate is tucked away from the rest of the world so you would need an incredibly detailed map to find him - he did offer to come to meet me and bring me back to the estate but I was determined to try on my own.

Obviously we made it there and, once installed, spent some time getting to know Fabrizio and his mother who was exceptionally hospitable (when the children eventually got bored of our conversation, they went to play outside; next thing we heard them playing in the house above our heads which was quite warming to hear on the grounds that our children have only a handful of words in Italian and Signora Battaglino seems not to know any English at all).

The tasting began with the white, Fabrizio's Roero Bianco 2010. Roero is a fairly young region next to the Barbaresco zone and its reds are based on Nebbiolo too but for the whites, the local Arneis variety is used. The fruit is not dissimilar to a southern Rhone white but with more pronounced acidity giving the wine greater ageing potential. Fabrizio agreed although he admitted not many bottles get the opportunity to see this through.

The reds began with his (young) 2010 Barbera which has a really wild animal nose. Fabrizio thought it would evolve well for drinking in another couple of months. I like its savageness now though but can see it would probably have wider appeal later in the year. The acidity is good and, when tasted with a slice of salami, it is easy to appreciate the need for many Italian wines to have food to show them at their best.

There are three reds: first a relatively straightforward Nebbiolo which spends most of its life (prior to bottling) in stainless steel tanks with just a short spell in barrel to soften it slightly. Fabrizio doesn't like to use too much new oak so he uses them for three or four years which gives the wines all the benefits of barrel ageing (aeration) without the flavour (another advantage of this approach is cost: new barrels cost over 500€).

There is only one red labelled as Roero for marketing reasons (long-standing customers know the top wine, Colla, as a Nebbiolo d'Alba even though it is entitled to Roero status). The Roero "Sergentin" 2009 has more weight - and more tannin - than the simple Nebbiolo and it is apparent that given some more bottle age, this will be rather good. The "Colla" was presented last and is stylistically quite different to the "Sergentin" although both betray a house style of pensive sophistication. Again, it needs to age to show at its best.

All these last three wines show another side of the Nebbiolo grape: more subtle than any of the wines tasted over the previous couple of days. Is it the winemaker (intelligent, sensitive and throughtful compared with Enrico's exuberant confidence, for example) or the terroir,  I wonder? Well, I have to go back to France now so I will have to return another time to explore the region in greater depth to discover the answer to this.

Post script. We didn't taste the wine at the estate but Fabrizio gave me a bottle of his Bric Bastia, a late harvest Arneis, to taste later. Following an attempt to make a proper Italian ragu for Sunday lunch, I opened it with a simple dessert (Amaretti di Mombaruzzo - delicious). When I tasted it before, I thought it reminiscent of tinned peaches but, actually, there is far more here including grapefruit. Actually, it reminds me of Domaine Rotier's Gaillac Doux "Renaissance" which is one of my very favourite sweet wines so I am going to be doing everything I can to extol the virtues of Fabrizio's range if only for this wine!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tenuta Serradenari visit

Gabriella Spallino billed Serradenari as the highest vineyard in Barolo and, certainly, our old camper van didn't seem to enjoy the journey up the hill as much as it might have done. We had lunch in La Morra before the visit so most of the work was done. It is a shame that just behind the vineyard are all the telephone masts of the region but Gabriella explained that, as the highest hill around, Serradenari had little alternative but to host these. Still, the estate looks the other way, across the valley (an ocean floor in prehistoric times) towards the Alps. A stunning view.

We spent an hour walking (hiking) around the tiny estate which includes vineyards planted to Nebbiolo (of course) and Barbera but also Pinot Noir (Gabriella clearly has a passion for this variety and hopes, one day, to produce a world class mono-varietal Pinot) and Chardonnay grafted from vines in Meursault which already makes a fabulous wine with an Italian twist (I enjoyed it sufficiently to buy some for my own use). There is a small vineyard of older vine Nebbiolo and Chardonnay planted on sandy soils which produces stunning wines under the Giulia Negri label (these will be included in our next import!), next to the truffle forest.

A thirsty hour or so later, we had consumed a bottle or more of water and now it was time to taste some new (to us) wines, principally the whites. At room temperature it would be reasonable to expect these to be far too warm but, actually, fridge cold would have been far too far the other way. We agreed with Gabriella's suggestion that they would be best enjoyed around 15 degrees to allow the fruit to give its all.

The basic Chardonnay was fleshy and fruity with good acidity. A couple of degrees lower and I would have enjoyed drinking it rather than just tasting it (it is very hot today!) and I did sneak a small sip, I must admit. Then came the Giulia Negri Chardonnay, more obviously oaked but not overly so, with incredible flavour nuances, many reminiscent of the earlier walk around the vineyard. Clearly not a cheap wine at all but when Gabriella told me the price, I calculated it to be around £25 in the UK and figured it is not possible to get a Burgundy as good as this for that sort of money.

Finally, the jewell in the crown: the Giulia Negri Barolo 2007. We had tasted the 2005 and 2006 before which both showed immense promise behind the brooding tannins but this 2007, like the regular Serradenari Barolo from 2007 (from the vineyard at the top of the hill with more clay in the soil), is remarkably approachable. Some oak is evident but the fruit dominates, together with a sublime texture. With a slice of 30-month-old Parmesan to accompany the wine, we felt extremely privileged to be sitting in Gabriella's house enjoying this incredible wine with views of the snow-capped Alps across the valley floor.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nada Giuseppe visit

Having arrived in Piemonte yesterday afternoon, we agreed it would be better to visit Enrico this morning when we had had a chance to freshen up from our journey (we had been travelling - slowly - for five days to get here from Cahors). Probably a good idea.

Enrico is quite young (the right side of 30) and confident. He speaks good English (which bodes well for the forthcoming tasting dinners in London) and clearly knows where he wants to take the family estate. Enrico has plans to capitalise on his father's successes (Giuseppe began bottling the wines back in the 1960s, just before Barbaresco received DOC status and built the estate from there).

One thing immediately struck us: the overwhelming friendliness of this family. Enrico sat us down at the family table and we chatted about ourselves, our businesses and our interest in wine. It was a good half an hour before we even thought about opening a bottle. By the time he was pouring the first wine, his white Arneis, called Armonia, his mother, Nella, had brought snacks to the table to accompany the wines and some specifically for the children who were patiently drawing and reading throughout all of this.

We didn't really taste anything new: the Dolcetto was from 2010 (and superb: usually I am not enamoured with this variety but in Enrico's hands it is much more than the Beaujolais of Piemonte) but otherwise we tasted his wines together for the first time: the Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco 2007 and 2008. These last two impressed most, not only because they should but also because of their development since Easter when we first tried them. Then they showed promise but were, at the same time, quite hard and I felt the difference between these and the Riserva quite marked. Now they are singing and I am regretting not buying more! Still, there is always next time.

One thing we learnt from this and subsequent visits: when in Piemonte, there is no such thing as a lightening visit. If you come here (and I strongly recommend you do), make appointments in advance and allow at least two hours per visit.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Chateau du Cedre visit

Pascal Verhaegue began by introducing us to another vistor, one of the writers from the Revue du Vin de France, then we all piled into his car for a quick tour of the vineyards to see the two distinct terroirs which make up the estate: chalky, sometimes sandy soils giving finesse to the wine and clay soils with galet stones providing the power. These are blended together in the final wines.

Back in the cellars, we tasted the component parts from the 2010 vintage, first for Chateau du Cedre, then for "Le Cedre" and finally for "GC". After each cuvee was tasted in components, Pascal put together an approximate blend of the finished wine which, in each case, was greater than the sum of its parts. The sandier soils did, indeed, offer refined characters and the clay more powerful ones which, at this stage, were more attractive (they stand up better to the oak). The difference between the wines is, essentially, vine age although the first cuvee does include a very small amount - around 5% each - of Merlot and Tannat. "GC" also has its primary fermentation in the same barrels it spends the rest of its elevage in, starting out in upturned, open-topped barrels which are then sealed and laid on their sides for the extended ageing.

As a vintage, 2010 is clearly extremely good and I am looking forward to finalising my en primeur order for these wines. However, they were eclipsed by the more complete 2009 wines, all of which had extra flesh, as you would expect from wines which have had longer to develop. I left there very pleased that I had personally bought quite a lot of both "Le Cedre" and "GC" which has the texture of a top Pomerol but, I think, more interesting fruit.

We finished off with a tasting of the current vintages in bottle, mostly 2008. Having tasted , and enjoyed, the 2007s last year, I agreed with Pascal's assessment then that whilst 2007 is better than 2006, 2008 is better still and 2009 and 2010 are probably going to be excellent vintages to round off the decade. I left with a case each of the Chateau du Cedre and "Le Cedre" in the boot for current drinking (proviso: current drinking in Cahors means in about 5-10 years time).