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Bourgogne Lovers Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne

By John Szabo MSOctober 18, 2014

 

Some Regions & Producers to Seek Out, and a Buyer’s Guide of Currently Available Wines

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Part I last week surveyed some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne. But despite the doom and gloom outlined, all hope is not lost for Bourgogne lovers. In fact, there are several pockets within the region that remain relatively good value in this high stakes game, and the quality of Bourgogne wines in general is better than anytime before in history. Not even Bourgogne’s lauded name on a label is sufficient to sell mediocre wines in today’s hyper competitive market. Ironically, Bourgogne’s versions of chardonnay and pinot noir remain the yardstick for the majority of producers globally, even if not all will admit it, so there are plenty of excellent alternatives from every coolish climate between Ontario and Tasmania to buy instead of poor quality Bourgogne. So even the homeland has had to keep apace qualitatively.

But it’s important to be realistic: you’ll never find great sub-$20 red Burgundy, or sub $15 white. And $30 and $20 respectively are more probable entry prices. I’ll never tire of quoting Burghound Allen Meadow’s brilliant observation about pinot noir pricing: “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”. This is true not only in Burgundy, but just about everywhere else, too. So here, I’m talking value at the premium end of the wine spectrum, relative to the oft-inflated prices of wines from any well-known region. For the best of the originals, look for these regions and producers, or skip to directly to the Buyers’ Guide for wines currently available somewhere in Canada.

Chablis: Get It While You Can

For reasons I fail to fully understand, Chablis remains both a world reference for chardonnay as well as perhaps the single best value within La Bourgogne. Considering that many, including me, believe Chablis to be the world’s most unique, effortless expression of cool climate chardonnay, it’s puzzling, and even more so now that demand outstrips supply. How long can this last?

The Latest Developments

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel

If 1980 was a critical turning point for Chablis in the cellar, with the widespread arrival of stainless steel tanks (enamel-lined tanks or wood vats predominated before), the most important recent changes have occurred in the vineyards. “The pruning has changed quite dramatically”, Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel tells me. “Today, it’s much shorter, as there’s much less risk of frost damage.” Global warming has been keenly felt in this part of France, and production is more regular now than in the past, even if average quantities are down as a result.

Overall, viticulture has also improved dramatically. “Thirty years ago, Chablis was like the moon”, continues Michel, referring to the widespread use of herbicides. “Nobody ploughed their vineyards. Now it’s commonplace.” Bernard Ravenau, one of the region’s most celebrated vignerons, further explains: “Twenty years ago, the top producers were the ones who had the balls to harvest late. Now, the top producers are the ones who harvest earliest. The goal is not a wine with 14% alcohol”.

Bernard Raveneau

Bernard Raveneau

Raveneau’s extraordinary 2010s weigh in at around 12.5%, so it’s clearly not just talk. The net result, at least in the top tier, is better wine than Chablis has ever produced before. And there’s little excuse for thin, mean and acidic Chablis, unless you’re greedy with yields.

At its best, Chablis captures an inimitable profile and bottles its essence. It’s that electrifying structure and palpable minerality that blatantly defies the naysayer scientists who claim that soil cannot possibly impart the taste of its rocks to a wine, which keeps me coming back.

Yet even Chablis’ grandest expressions, a Raveneau or a Dauvissat grand cru for example, cost a half or a third of a top grand cru from the Côte de Beaune, for a sensory experience you simply can’t find anywhere else. These are not cheap wines – c. $250 is a hell of lot to pay for any bottle – but all things considered, they are awesome value in the rarefied realm of fine wine.

Maybe it’s because of Chablis’ relatively large size (just over 3,300ha producing a little more than 25m bottles annually), which is double the size of the whole Côte de Nuits, where yields per hectare are also much lower on average than in Chablis. Or perhaps it’s because the quality of the region’s bottom-tier wines is bad enough to scuff the luster of the entire appellation, keeping average prices down (about 40% of regional production is still made by négociants), or that the silly money of the punters is spent mostly on red wine.

Whatever the case, learn a few reliable names, and buy their wines. $20 gets you fine quality entry-level village Chablis ($30 in BC), while an additional $10 or $15 gets you into premier cru territory. $70 gets you Chablis from one of the seven grand cru climats, with most still under $100. I realize we’re talking about the ultra premium wine category here, but if you’ve read this far, you’re interested enough to know the deal.

Recommended Producers (Not an exhaustive list)

Domaine François Raveneau and Domaine Vincent Dauvissat

I include these two producers more as a reference – you’ll be lucky to ever find a bottle from either. Production is tiny, and every last drop disappears quickly into the cellars of the enthusiasts lucky enough to get an allocation. The quality of both Bernard Ravenau’s and Vincent Dauvissat’s (and increasingly his daughter Etienette’s) recent and future releases experienced during a tasting in May 2014 confirms the iconic status of these two producers. Don’t miss a chance to taste either; the Raveneau 2010 Montée de Tonnerre is about as fine a white wine as I’ve ever had. [Barrel Select, ON]

Domaine Louis Moreau

Moreau is a sizable 50ha domaine with an enviable collection of five grand cru parcels, the jewel of which is the Clos de l’Hospice, a 0.4ha duopole within the Les Clos grand cru, shared with kin Christian Moreau. Although wood was experimented with in the past, it has been abandoned for all but the Clos de L’Hospice, which is fermented in 500l barrels and aims at a richer style. Louis Moreau believes that wood fermenting/ageing sacrifices both finesse and the mineral signature of each cru, a sentiment heard frequently, if not uniformly, in the region. The left bank Vaillons is considered the most delicate 1er cru in the Moreau range, though even it shows satisfying depth. [Vins Balthazard Inc., QC; Lorac Wine, ON].

Domaine Louis Michel et Fils

Guillaume Michel works on 25 hectares spread over all four appellations in the region (Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er cru and grand cru) including six premier crus totalling 14ha, of which the highly priced Montée de Tonnerre is the largest. The house style has not changed here since Guillaume’s Grandfather Louis abandoned wood altogether in 1969. “He spent his time in the vineyards and didn’t have time to mess around in the cellar” says Guillaume. Wines ageing in wood are much more likely to go sideways than those sitting in a neutral environment like stainless steel.

The Michel style is all about tension and precision. From Petit Chablis to grand cru, everything is made in the same way: long, cool fermentations with wild yeast. Lees contact depends on the vintage: in 2012, for example some lees were retained to add texture, even if these are never remotely fat or creamy wines. The 2010 Grenouilles grand cru is a particularly special wine, though the 2012 Montée de Tonnerre and the 2011 Forêts are also excellent. [H.H.D. IMPORTS, ON]

Domaine de Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico, Domaines Pattes Loup

Thomas Pico is a rising star in the region. This fast-talking (literally) winegrower was born into the métier; both his father and grandfather made wine. Pico returned to the family estate in 2004 after oenology studies in Beaune and took over control of eight hectares, a part of his father’s Domaine Bois d’Yver. Control of the remaining Bois d’Yver vineyards will slowly shift to Thomas from his father; it was too much to take over all at once, and “my father had existing markets and relationships to respect” he says.

Pico immediately converted his parcels to organic farming (certified ECOCERT in 2009) and created the Domaines de Pattes Loup. Today he makes four premier crus and a village wine, including a delicate and mineral Vaillons and a rich and a powerful Butteaux (a 1er cru within the larger Montmains cru). Everything is barrel-fermented and aged in old wood, though like in all great barrelled Chablis, wood is rarely, or only very subtlely, detectable. The impact is rather more layered and textured, managing a seemingly mutually exclusive combination of richness and density with laser-sharp precision and freshness. I suspect Pico will be considered among the very best in the region in short order. It’s a shame that he refuses to deal with Ontario: “trop compliqué” he says, a familiar refrain from top growers who could sell their production twice over to importers who pay up within a reasonable time frame. (Oenopole, QC; The Living Vine, ON).

La Chablisienne

The cooperative La Chablisienne is well deserving of inclusion on this list. Established in 1923, this association of nearly 300 producers represents 25% of the entire production of the region (c. 2 million bottles), with an enviable collection of vineyards including eleven premier crus and five grands crus, of which the prized Château de Grenouilles vineyard is the coop’s flagship. It counts among France’s best-run and highest quality cooperatives, which, considering it’s size and relative influence on the image of the appellation, is a very good thing for everyone in the region.

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

The Venerable La Chablisienne Coop since 1923, with winemaker Vincent Bartement

Beyond the usual approach to quality of reduced yields and attentive viticulture, La Chabliesienne follows a couple of other notable qualitative protocols, such as extended ageing even for the ‘village’ wines, La Sereine and Les Vénérables, which spend a minimum of one year on lies in stainless vats and barrels, and the bottling of all wines in a single lot (as opposed to bottling to order). According to Hervé Tucki, Managing Director of La Chablisienne, “the aim is not to make fruity wine”.

Indeed, these are not simple green apple flavoured wines – chalkiness and minerality are given pride of place. The range is highly competent across the board from the “Pas Si Petit” Petit Chablis up to the Château Grenouilles Grand Cru. Of the 2012s tasted in May, I was especially enthusiastic about the left bank Montmains 1er Cru, 95% of which comes from the Butteaux climat, and the right bank Vaulorent 1er Cru, adjacent to the grand cru slope. Though it must be said that the “basic” Chablis “Les Vénerables Vieilles Vignes”, made from vines aged between 35 and over 100 years, is a terrific value and fine entry point to the region. [Vinexx, ON]

Northern Burgundy: Grand Auxerrois

I’m willing to guess that this is the least-known part of Burgundy. The “Grand Auxerrois” is a collection of regional appellations all beginning with prefix “Bourgogne”: Chitry, Côte-Saint-Jacques, Côtes d’Auxerre, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Épineuil, Tonnerre, and Vézelay. The exceptions are the appellations of Saint Bris, the only AOC in Burgundy where sauvignon blanc is permitted and obligatory, and Irancy, an AOC for red wine made from Pinot Noir and, more rarely, César.

Pre-phylloxera, this part of the l’Yonne department was heavily planted; I’ve read that some 40,000 hectares were once under vine. But the region was all but forgotten subsequently. Yet now with global warming, this could once again become an important source of Bourgogne.

Jean-Hugues et Guilhem Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Rocks and fossils on display at Domaine Goisot

Goisot is a multi-generational family Domaine with 26.5 hectares in Saint Bris and Irancy. After Guilhem Goisot had discovered biodynamics first in Australia and subsequently in France, he began trials on the family vineyards in 2001. In 2003 he converted the entire domaine and received the first certification in 2004. According to Goisot, a measured, deliberate thinker and speaker, biodynamics helps to “temper climatic variations”. After hail, for example, it used to take a couple of weeks for the vines to re-start the growing process. “Now with arnica applications, the vines get back to work after just two days” says Goisot.

All wines are bottled in single lots, and I’m reassured that place matters by the collection of rocks and fossils from different vineyard sites that Goisot has on display in the small tasting room. I have a terrific tasting here – from the tightly wound Irancy Les Mazelots  on highly calcareous soils, to the darker and spicy Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre La Ronce from a south-facing site on kimmeridgean blue marnes, each wine is clearly marked by soil, each like a window on the earth, pure and totally transparent. [Le Maître de Chai Inc., QC]

Marsannay: Last Refuge of the Côte de Nuits

As mentioned in Part I, top Côtes de Nuits wines are scarce. One village that remains accessible, however, is Marsannay, just south of Dijon. For myriad reasons the wines of Marsannay, the only Côte d’Or communal appellation to permit red, white and rosé wines, have failed to achieve as much renown as those from the villages to the south. Yet the name of the climat “Clos du Roy”, (formerly the “Clos des Ducs”) gives some insight on the degree to which certain vineyards were esteemed in the past. There are no official premier crus for the time being (the proposal has been made), but for single-parcel wines the appellation may be followed by the name of the climat as in “Marsannay Clos du Roy”. There are some 17 growers in the village with an average of 10 hectares each, far above the average for the rest of the Côte d’Or and one of the reasons that Marsannay is still reasonably priced and available. Stylistically the [red] wines of Marsannay resemble those of neighboring Fixin and Gevrey, which is to say pinots of darker fruit and spice character, and marked minerality, if lighter than most Gevrey.

Domaine Jean Fournier  

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Laurent Fournier, Domaine Jean Fournier

Jean and his son Laurent Fournier currently farm 17 hectares principally in the village, but also 1.5 in Gevrey, 1.5 in Côte de Nuits Village near Brochon and a half-hectare in Fixin, with another three being planted in Marsannay. Fournier began with biodynamics in 2004 and the domaine was certified in 2008.

On arrival I like the vibe immediately; the young Laurent Fournier is energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of vigneron who brings a smile to your face. It’s all the more pleasing when the wines, too, live up to expectation, and the range chez Fournier is uniformly excellent. The Clos du Roy and Longerois are the two red house specialties, the former made from vines over 40 years old on average, 50% whole bunch, aged in large tonneaux (half new) for 18 months and very grippy on the palate, a wine for cellaring another 3-5 years minimum, and the latter a more generously proportioned, plush and immediately satisfying wine. My favorite on the day however is the outstanding Côte de Nuits Village Croix Violettes Vieilles Vignes, from a half-hectare parcel of vines planted straight on the bedrock near Brochon between 1937 and 1943 in the days before tractors, and thus super high density.  It’s made with 80% whole bunch and delivers marvellous spice and firm tannins and minerals on the palate.

A Word on Coteaux Bourguignons AOC

In 2011, a new regional appellation called Coteaux Bourguignons was created. It covers essentially the former unfortunately-named Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire AOC, as well as Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains. Grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the four départements that make up greater Bourgogne. It was created in part to deal with the shortage of pinot noir over the last few vintages; even basic Bourgogne Rouge will be scarce and certainly more expensive – examples under $30 in CAD will be very hard to find. “The grapes have become too expensive” Thibault Gagey tells me, the man at the head of the formidable Maison Louis Jadot in Beaune. “In many cases the price of a pièce [a 228l barrel] have more doubled.”

But wines under this appellation will need to be selected with care. At the bottom end, Coteaux Bourguignon will become a dumping ground for poor quality gamay from the Beaujolais, while the best will incorporate a high percentage of pinot, or at least good quality gamay. Jadot’s very good version, for example is three-quarters gamay, but includes several declassified cru Beaujolais, including Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent from the Château des Jacques.

La Côte Châlonnaise: From the Miners to the Majors

Half way between Dijon and Mâcon, La Côte Chalonnaise, which is sometimes referred to as the “third Côte”, lies south of the Côte de Beaune a few kilometers from Santenay. It is the geological continuation of the Côte d’Or, sitting on the same fault line that gave rise to the Jurassic limestone and marls underlying the great wines of La Bourgogne, as well as those across the Sâone Valley in the Jura. The hillsides of the Côte Chalonnaise meander more erratically than the more uniform southeast-facing slopes of the Côte d’Or and this irregular topography means that site selection becomes critical.

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

Vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise

And the feel of the region changes too. The more compact, well-appointed villages of the Côte d’Or, fairly dripping with the prosperity of the last decades gives way to more sparsely populated villages worn with time. Former grandeur shows the cracks of neglect, like aristocratic Vieille France in need of a makeover. The countryside is beautiful, but the charm is decidedly more rural than cosmopolitan, and one gets the sense that this was once a more important place that has somehow been left behind, like a former capital after the politicians and ministers have decamped with their expense accounts.

It was more a series of historic circumstances, rather than inferior wine quality, that led to the relative obscurity in which the Côte Chalonnaise lies today. For one, the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise are far enough away from Dijon to have been overlooked by the Ducs de Bourgogne – it’s about 70 kilometers from Bouzeron to Dijon, a long road to travel by horse-drawn carriage.  And during the industrial revolution, the miners of the nearby mines of Montceau and Creusot and slaked their unquenchable thirst on the wines of the region, leaving little for outsiders, and little incentive for local vignerons to break their backs for quality. Phylloxera, too, dealt its decisive blow, and the region has never fully recovered. Today less than 50% of the previous surface area is planted.

Yet the miners and the dukes are gone, replaced by insatiable worldwide markets for Bourgogne wines. And considering the shortage of wine, for reasons outlined above, now is the time for the Côte Chalonnaise to recapture its former position of importance and realize its quality potential in the major leagues. This after all, the geographic heart of viticultural Burgundy.

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

Wines of the Côte Chalonnaise

From north to south the Côte Chalonnaise encompasses the communal appellations of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny as well as the regional Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise AOC. Each is authorized to produce both red and white wines from pinot noir and chardonnay, with the exception of Bouzeron, an appellation reserved for whites from aligoté – the only one in Bourgogne – and Montagny, which is exclusively white from chardonnay. Whites dominate reds overall.

Styles of course vary widely, but in general the wines are endowed with an exuberant and appealingly fruity profile, the reds redolent of fresh raspberries and the whites full of pear and apple. The entry-level wines are for the most part accessible and immediately pleasing, while wines of the top echelon deliver a minerality that has nothing to envy the Côte d’Or. I’d pick Givry and Mercurey as the two most reliable villages for red wines, and Rully and Montagny for whites. Considering that prices are about half to two-thirds of equivalent quality wine from further north, the value quotient is high.

Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise

An association of nine quality-minded, family-run domaines was formed in 2010 with the aim re-positioning the region in its rightful place of respect. Known as “Les vignerons des Climats de la Côte Châlonnaise”, the group is hoping that 2012 will be their breakout vintage. The vintage was excellent in the region, and both it and members of this association are an excellent starting point to discover the wines of the “third côte”.

Côte Chalonnaise Producers

Domaine Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Jean-Marc Joblot, Givry

Although not part of the association, Jean-Marc Joblot, a fourth generation winemaker, has been a quality leader in the village of Givry, and in the region, for years. It was in fact the wines of Joblot that first turned me on to the Côte Chalonnaise back in the 1990s, when he was already well-known and respected in Canada, especially in Québec. Joblot farms thirteen hectares including nine premiers covering both red and white. Vines are meticulously tended and he is a self-declared “constructionist”, believing that wine is “the result of a hundred things that are interdependent”. Little is left to chance, but although he approaches winemaking with the mind of a scientist, he is not an interventionist, nor a technocrat. “When you make an apple or a peach pie, you won’t go and analyse the fruit. You taste it. It’s that simple”, he says. Seasonal rhythms are strictly respected; if you show up for a visit in May for example, a period Joblot considers critical for vineyard work, don’t expect the door to open no matter who you are.

Admittedly I find his insistence on 100% new wood for all of his crus curious, and in youth they are certainly marked by wood influence, yet the fruit depth and structure to ensure harmony over time is clearly there  – I’ve had ten year-old examples that prove the point.  Indeed, these are wines built on tension and intended for ageing, not immediate enjoyment. He most representative crus are the Clos de la Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, both best a minimum of five years after vintage.

Domaine A et P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Purchased by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine (of Domanine de La Romanée Conti) in 1971, Domaine A et P de Villaine is run today by Pierre de Benoist, the nephew of de Villaine. This is a leading domaine, and both de Villaine and de Benoist were instrumental in the establishment of the association « Les Climats de la Côte Chalonnaise ». Of the 21 hectares under vine, ten are devoted to aligoté, coinciding with outcrops of granite where aligoté is most happy. Bouzeron is considered by most to yield the finest examples of this lesser-known variety in Bourgogne.

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

Pierre de Benoist, Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

De Benoist reflects back on a 1964 Bonneau de Martray aligoté that was life changing – it was then he realized than Aligoté, treated with care, could produce mesmerizing wines. Unfortunately over-cropping and the negative association with crème de cassis (to sweeten and soften the shrill acids of over-productive vines) in the infamous Kir cocktail reduced aligoté to anecdotal acreage. Even today the entire appellation of Bouzeron counts less than sixty hectares (even Puligny-Montrachet is over 200ha), so don’t expect a revolution any time soon. Though I wish there were more Bouzeron of this quality to go around.

In an interesting twist, the INAO has asked several times for local producer to assemble a dossier of 1er crus in Bouzeron, but de Benoist has refused each time. “It would be a shame to ruin the quality-price rapport of the appellation” he says in uncharacteristic anti-capitalist fashion.

But the domaine isn’t all aligoté; there are also exceptional pinots and chardonnays, especially the marvellously mineral Rully Blanc Les Saint Jacques, the fragrant and fruity Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise Rouge La Fortune, and the structured and brooding Bourgogne Côte Châlonnaise La Digoine from 65 year-old vines.

Domaine Paul et Marie Jaquesson, Rully

Henri Jacqusson established this domaine in 1946 in the wake of WWII when vineyards had been abandoned. Today Henri’s son Paul has passed the baton on to his daughter Marie to manage the thirteen hectare estate in the AOCs of Rully, Bouzeron and Mercurey. The Rully Blanc 1er Cru Grésigny is a particularly fine and layered white Bourgogne.

Domaine Ragot, Givry

Nicolas Ragot took over the family domaine from his father Jean-Paul, making him the 5th generation to farm vineyards in Givry. Nine hectares are divided between red and white all within the commune, and the wines are elegant, structured and refined in the old school style. The Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos Jus is especially impressive, succulent and structured.

Stéphane Aladame, Montagny

This domaine was created in 1992 by Stéphane Aladame, and counts today eight hectares under vine of which 7 are in premier crus. Aladame favours freshness and minerality, particularly in the Montagny 1er Cru  Selection Vieilles Vignes from over 50-year-old vines (partially fermented in steel).

Cellier aux Moines, Givry

Originally established by Cistercian monks in 1130, the Cellier aux Moines is run today by Philippe and Catherine Pascal. There are seven hectares under vine including five in the original clos surrounding the ancient cellar. Wines are classically styled and built to age, with the Mercurey Blanc Les Margotons and the Givry Rouge 1er Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines particularly fine and sinewy examples.

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey

Château de Chamirey

Château de Chamirey

The most important property in Mercurey since the 17th century, the Château de Chamirey is owned today by Amaury and Aurore de Villard. They are the fifth generation in this long family story, having taken over from their father Bertrand, who in turn succeeded from his father-in-law, the marquis de Jouennes. The style is more international, aimed overall at wide commercial appeal, though the Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru Les Ruelles is particularly sumptuous and satisfying.

Domaine de la Framboisière (property of Faiveley), Mercurey

The Domaine de la Framboisière is the recently re-launched domaine of the Faiveley family, formerly called simply “Domaine Faiveley”. La Maison Faiveley was founded in 1825, and the family remains one of the largest landowners/negociants throughout La Bourgogne. George Faiveley set up he first “ en fermage” contract with a Mercurey grower in 1933, and Guy Faiveley bought the family’s first property in 1963 in the same village. The domaine has since expanded into Montagny and Rully and counts now 72 hectares – one of the largest in the Côte Chalonnaise. The quality has improved greatly here in recent years with the arrival of a new winemaker. The style is pure, clean and generously fruity, perhaps not the most profound wines of the Côte Chalonnaise, but frightfully drinkable. The 1er cru monopole La Framboisière from which the domaine takes its name is especially enjoyable.

Domaine François Raquillet, Mercurey

Roots run deep in Mercurey; the Raquillet family has been here since at least the 15th century according to local archives. François officially established the domaine in 1963 and ceded control to his son, also François, in 1983. I find the house style a little heavy-handed, with grapes verging on overripe and the use of oak overly generous, though the wines are certainly not without appeal. The Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Les Veleys is the best of the lot.

Buyer’s Guide: Top Smart Buys

The following recommended wines are currently available somewhere in Canada (Merci to Nadia Fournier for adding her picks from the SAQ). Click on each for the details.

John’s Picks:

Jean Marc Brocard Vau De Vay Chablis 1er Cru 2012

Domaine Du Chardonnay Chablis Vaillons Premier Cru 2010

Louis Michel & Fils Chablis 2012

Sylvain Mosnier Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2010

Domaine Le Verger Chablis 2012

Jean Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 1er Cru 2011

Domaine Chenevières Chablis 2012

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin 2011

La Chablisienne Sauvignon Saint Bris 2013

Maison Roche De Bellene Côtes Du Nuits Villages 2011

Bouchard Père & Fils Côte De Beaune Villages 2011

Maison Roche De Bellene Montagny 1er Cru 2011

Caves Des Vignerons De Buxy Montagny Les Chaniots 1er Cru 2010

Les Choix de Nadia:

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2012

Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Chardonnay Les Ursulines 2010

Domaine René Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir Le Chapitre 2012

Domaine Faiveley La Framboisiere 2010

Jadot Couvent Des Jacobins Bourgogne 2011

Domaine Michel Juillot Bourgogne 2012

Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2012

Domaine De La Cadette La Châtelaine 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2012

Domaine Louis Moreau Petit Chablis 2012

Domaine Stéphane Aladame Montagny Premier Cru Sélection Vieilles Vignes 2012

Pierre Vessigaud Mâcon Fuissé Haut De Fuissé 2012

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: The Challenges

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names. Paid subscribers get immediate access to new reviews, while non-paid members do not see reviews until 60 days later. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Photo credit to John Szabo MS


Le Serein, the river that runs through Chablis Looking west onto Chablis from the top of Les Clos grand cru

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Troubling Times for Bourgogne Lovers

By John Szabo MSOctober 7, 2014

 

John Szabo MS

John Szabo MS

Short crops in the last four vintages, skyrocketing demand, rising land prices and the threat of a serious region-wide vineyard disease is just some of the troubling news coming out of La Bourgogne, one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Burgundy lovers are faced with the very real and unpalatable prospect of having to look elsewhere for their fix, or at least pay a hell of a lot for the genuine article. Considering that Canada is the fourth largest importer of Burgundy by value, that’s a serious concern in this country.But there’s also a silver lining: these unfortunate developments will give some of La Bourgogne’s lesser-known corners a chance to emerge from the giant shadow of the most famous Côte d’Or villages. There is, believe it or not, good value red and white Bourgogne still to be had. And at the same time, the very best of the region is better than ever before.

In part I of this report I’ll examine some of the challenges facing La Bourgogne, and follow that up in subsequent postings with a look at a few of the regions/appellations and producers where quality and value intersect: Chablis and Grand Auxerois, Marsannay, La Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Each section will include a Buyer’s Guide of the best kit currently available, somewhere in Canada.

(Editorial note: the anglicised name of the region, “Burgundy”, has been dropped from all marketing material by the BIVB, so I’ll respectfully follow suit and use the French name – after all, no other French wine region uses a different English name.)

Part One: The Challenges

A String of Small Vintages

The most serious immediate issue facing growers in Bourgogne is the loss of a significant proportion of the crop in all of the last four years, with certain regions also down significantly in 2014. The main culprits have been poor flower set and especially hail, and nowhere has been hit harder than the Côte de Beaune, with Beaune itself, Volnay and Pommard particularly unlucky, as well as Chablis.

Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director for Justerini & Brooks, a British wine & spirit merchant established in 1749, has this to report in his introduction to the 2012 offer:

Gerard Boudot of Etienne Sauzet has been making wine since 1974 and has never known such a small vintage, his Folatieres is just one example – he made two barrels instead of the usual ten. 2013 is also terribly small, and with 2011 and 2010 being short crops, too, Burgundy has effectively produced the equivalent of two decent sized vintages in four years. Cellars up and down the Côte d’Or look empty”.

Old Vinetages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d'Or to estate bottle wine

Old Vintages at Domaine Henri Gouges, one of the First Domaines in the Côte d’Or to estate bottle wine

Hugues Pavelot of Domaine Pavelot in Savigny-lès-Beaune confirms the situation: “the last four vintages have been the equivalent volume of two average years”, he tells me, referring to the years 2010-2013. It’s late May 2014 as he speaks these words, inadvertently forgetting to touch the wood of the bistro table at La Ciboulette restaurant in Beaune where we’re lunching. A month later, the Côte de Beaune would be struck yet again by devastating hail on June 28th, further compounding growers’ woes.

Estates from Beaune to Meursault reported damage affecting up to 40% of the potential 2014 harvest, after golf ball sized hailstones destroyed leaves, grape bunches and canes. Some areas were even less fortunate, like the famous Clos Des Mouches vineyard in Beaune where up to 90% of this year’s harvest was obliterated in a matter of minutes.

Even more discouraging is that the hail fell despite measures in place to prevent it. Thirty-four ‘hail cannons’ had been deployed every 10 kilometres in the storm-prone areas, which shoot particles of silver iodide and copper acetylacetone into threatening clouds to disperse hail pellets or reduce their size. But the measures ‘failed to work’ according to Thiebault Huber of Domaine Huber-Verdereau and also president of the Volnay Wine Council, or at least didn’t work well enough. This year’s damage has prompted discussions on other anti-hail measures like netting, as is practiced in Argentina. But hail nets are both expensive and reduce sunlight exposure – an estimated 10%-30% – which is not a problem in the intense sunlight of Argentina, but is a genuine concern in far less sunny Burgundy. In any case official INAO approval could be years away.

The slight increase in the 2013 harvest over 2012 is of little consolation for many growers, considering that 2012 itself was exceptionally small. Taking the average of the last five years, 2013 was down 7% and 12% for reds and whites respectively, and also down 12% for Crémant de Bourgogne.

For many, this could spell financial ruin, Thiebault Huber tells Decanter.com. “We have lost the equivalent of two harvests over the last three years”, he says, echoing Pavelot’s and many other grower’s difficult situation. Ultimately prices will have to keep rising to keep domaines solvent.

High Demand

And it seems the unprecedented demand for top Burgundy around the world will encourage and sustain those prices. “I’m not sure why you’re here”, Frédéric Mugnier says to me immediately after arriving at his highly-regarded domaine in Chambolle-Musigny. “I have nothing to sell”. It’s perhaps not a dramatic change of attitude, but noticeable nonetheless, from when I first started travelling to Burgundy in the late 1990s. Back then, doors at all but the very top estates were still open.

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

The essential tourist photo at Domaine de la Romanée Conti

But now Mugnier’s wines, like all of the top wines from the Côte d’Or and especially the Côte de Nuits, are on tight allocation, with importers/distributors bemoaning the few cases they are allotted to broker. Most growers are reluctant to even open their doors to prospective clients (or journalists), knowing that fueling more demand just causes more headaches. The world can’t get enough of sought after appellations like Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges and Morey St.-Denis (and of course all of the premiers and grand crus within them).

Exports to Hong Kong have tripled since 2008 when taxes on products with less than 30% alcohol were abolished, and growth shows no signs of abating with the first part of 2014 up another 12%. At the same time, Hong Kong importers have set up distribution in Mainland China, which has also increased demand. And it’s not just a handful of prestigious labels – Bourgogne is second only to Bordeaux now in China in terms of the number of different labels offered on average at points of sale.

Elsewhere, the United States remains the number one market for Bourgogne by value and is increasing despite a strong euro and weak dollar, indicating a buy-at-any-price attitude, while Canada also continues to grow, fuelled mainly by Québec, which accounts for 70% of Bourgogne sales by volume in the country. In the UK, allocations for the top wines are ever-tighter. Giles Burke-Gaffney of Justerini & Brooks warns prospective buyers of 2012s in no uncertain terms:

2012 is an extremely small vintage, one of the smallest on record, and in many cases wine will have to be allocated to customers. The crop ranges from 20-90% down on 2011. Add this to furious, ever-increasing demand and we have quite a shortage on our hands and producers will inevitably have to put prices up.”

That pretty much sums it up. Bourgogne lovers and collectors, buy what you can, while you still can.

Flavescence Dorée: The Phylloxera of the 21st Century?

Another spectre is haunting La Bourgogne and threatening to reduce quantities further: Flavescence Dorée. “La Flavescence” is a deadly vine disease – a phytoplasm to be more accurate (parasitic bacteria) – which first appeared in France in the 1950s in Armagnac. It has since spread across the south and into Northern Italy and beyond, and is moving further northwards. There is no cure for the disease, which spreads from plant to plant on vector insects, more specifically the sap-sucking “cicadelle de la vigne” (Scaphoideus titanus) or leafhopper, that also arrived in france in the 1950s, likely on vine rootstocks imported from the Great Lakes region of North America. Once a cicadelle becomes infected with the bacteria, which is harmless to the insect, it will in turn infect the plants with which it comes into contact, including grapevines. Flavescence remains asymptomatic for a year, making early detection difficult, but the bacteria then works quickly to kill the vine within a year or two.

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Clos des Epenaux, Pommard

Jean-Philippe Gervais, Technical Director of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionelle des Vins de Bourgogne), tells me that Flavescence Dorée first appeared in Burgundy in the late nineties near Puligny but was quickly eliminated. More recently it appeared again but in a much larger area in northern Mâcon around 2011 and has spread. He considers the disease a threat on par with phylloxera: “it’s really epidemic”, he says. “It multiplies almost exponentially. In the beginning you have one vine infected; by the following year, thanks to the movement of the cicadelle, you can infect all of the surrounding vines”. It’s believed that many phytoplasm-infected vines were sold by nurseries up to the mid-nineties, before obligatory hot water treatment was introduced to kill the bacteria. Thus nurseries unwittingly helped to spread the disease to many parts of France. And now with the increasing population and movement of leafhoppers, there is a very real danger that Flavescence Dorée could spread out of control.

Ironically, it’s been the dramatic reduction of insecticide use in Bourgogne over the last 15 years that has allowed the population of leafhoppers to grow virtually uncontrolled. It’s estimated that Bourgogne has 100x more leafhoppers than some other affected regions. The solution to the problem is two-fold: 1) identify and rip out all of the vines infected with the bacteria, and 2) reduce the population of leafhoppers with insecticide sprays.

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Rolling barrels at Domaine Philippe Pacalet

Action last year was swift and decisive, some would argue excessive and reactionary, others necessary. In 2013, all communes of the Saône-et-Loire and Côte d’Or départments (covering a large part of Bourgogne the wine region) were ordered to spray three times against the insect. “We didn’t know how many infected areas there were”, reveals Gervais “there wasn’t time to inspect the entire region. But there were definitely large areas – eleven hectares [in Mâcon] were ripped out after all”. A commune-by-commune inspection of every single vine was also ordered to be carried out just before the 2013 harvest, when the symptoms are most visible. The inspections were preceded by work shops for vignerons on how to identify the symptoms of the disease: coloration of the leaves (reddish for pinot noir, yellow for chardonnay), poor lignification of canes and withering of berries, for example.

The action was considered largely successful, and in 2014, only thirteen communes in the southern part of the Côte d’Or, in which or near which Flavescence was detected, were required to spray, and even then only according to a 1+1 strategy, meaning that a second treatment is required only if the cicadelle population remains above a certain threshold. In the regions where the greatest incidences of Flavescence have been detected, namely in Mercurey (Côte Châlonnaise) and the northern Mâconnais, two obligatory treatments were ordered this year, with a possible third if deemed necessary. “The goal of course is to reduce treatments”, says Gervais. Nobody wants to spray insecticides unecessarily”.

But despite the seriousness of the problem, the severe approach has not been universally lauded, as could be expected from hundreds of individual vignerons each with varying winegrowing philosophies. The highest profile case involved organic/biodynamic grower Emmanuel Giboulot, who refused outright to spray insecticides on his grapes, though he was not alone. Even more dangerous are the countless growers who feigned to follow orders, purchasing the insecticide spray in order to be able to show the authorities the receipt, yet never used it.

Although Flavescence appears to be under control, the danger is still present. And the stakes are very high.

Land Prices Beyond Reach

Another long-term problem, but without any solution, is the skyrocketing cost of land in Bourgogne, some of France’s, and the world’s, most expensive vineyards. According to government figures, vineyard prices in the Cote d’Or rose by 5% on average last year versus 2012, to €515,600 per hectare, though the top grand crus can change hands for the princely sum of €9.5m per hectare ($14m CAD). Headlines were made when luxury goods giant LVMH purchased the 8.66 hectares of the Clos des Lambrays grand cru for a reported €100m.

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

Priceless grand cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits

This of course puts upward pressure on the cost of wines from the most prestigious sites. But even more seriously, it puts into question the long-term viability of family-run domaines. According to French inheritance laws, descendants pay 40% of property value in taxes in the succession from one generation to the next. Considering the astronomical value of the top estates, few families will be able to afford the taxes without serious succession planning.

“Our concern is that, in a couple of years, family domaines will have to sell their vineyards to big financial groups,” Caroline Parent-Gros, of Domaine AF Gros, said in the July issue of Decanter magazine.

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

Benjamin Leroux standing in the Clos des Epeneaux (He has sinced moved on to focus his own wines under his name)

The large number of family-run domaines in Bourgogne is one of the defining features of the region, compared to more corporate-run regions such as Bordeaux or Champagne. The family estates have also been instrumental in pushing up average quality across the region over the last couple of generations, in what was before a market dominated entirely by négociants and cooperatives. To see the region fall predominantly into the hands of large multinationals would indeed be a shame.

Impossibly high land prices also stifle development. Anyone with less than a massive fortune can only dream of buying vineyards in the famous communes of the Côte d’Or, which makes the region the playground of a small elite. The only way in for any outsiders is through the route of the “micro negociant”, a business model whereby individuals purchase small lots of grapes or juice, or finished wines in barrel or bottle to sell under their own label, like Canada’s own Thomas Bachelder. And even in this case, you need to be extremely well connected to have access to the best lots, like Benjamin Leroux for example, former régisseur at Compte Armand in Pommard from 1998 until this year, who’s striking out on his own, or Nicolas Potel, whose father, Gérard Potel ran Domaine de La Pousse d’Or in Volnay, who now operates a negociant business under the Maison Roche de Bellene label, and offers an impressive collection of crus. But they are luckier than most.

Part II next week takes a look at where to find value in Bourgogne, along with a buyer’s guide of the top, currently available wines.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part II: Finding Value in Bourgogne


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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 12, 2013

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s release sets up a tasting of Burgundy and Barolo, two regions frequently compared for their similar philosophical approach to wine making. I recommend a pair from each with which you can make your own connections. There’s also rash of Californian wines to be stocked on shelves October 12, headlined unsurprisingly by Napa Valley cabernet. While prices are uniformly high, quality is not, and styles vary significantly. I highlight the wines that bring it all together. In the rest of the smart buys, you’ll find some fine fizz, crisp aromatic whites, and serious reds for autumn dining. Read on.

Smart Buys: Serious Reds, Crisp, aromatic whites & Fizz

This week’s smart buys feature a trio of superlative Languedoc-Roussillon reds all for under $20, an arch-classic Coonawarra cabernet celebrating its 53rd vintage, and a sumptuous Priorat from one of Spain’s most iconic names. You’ll also find a pair of very fine, $20 traditional method sparkling wines for your champagne dreams on a crémant budget, and a vibrant pair of aromatic whites, including a remarkable $14 Beamsville Bench Riesling – the best yet from this winery. See them all here.

Burgundy vs. Barolo?

One single grape, a multitude of expressions. Such is the wine making approach that philosophically binds the regions of Burgundy and Barolo. In contrast to regions such as Bordeaux or the southern Rhône Valley, Valpolicella or even Chianti where most often several grapes are enlisted, as some observers would say, to increase complexity, or less romantically, to mitigate the risks of seasonal variation, both Burgundy and Barolo rely on a single variety to articulate their respective terroirs. Furthermore, both have refined the concept of a cru, that is, a discreet parcel of land with unique characteristics and quality potential that differs even from adjacent parcels, to its most triumphal and sophisticated heights. Both regions produce wines from regional blends, from single villages, and from single superior vineyards within a village. And in both regions, producers and vintages make all the difference, and since land is strictly limited, the stakes are high.

As kindred spirits, Burgundy and Barolo both tend to attract the same souls: drinkers looking for wines that are intimately connected to the land, in which vineyard expression sings lead vocals over backup varietal character. In Burgundy, pinot noir is of course the red variety elected over centuries of trials as the maximum vector with which to reflect the nuances of the Côte d’Or, while Barolo calls upon the aristocratic nebbiolo to channel the myriad soil types and slope aspects of the Langa Hills. Yet travel in either region and you’ll notice that grapes are rarely ever mentioned. It’s more about the village, or the cru, where the wines were born.

One region thus leads inevitably to the other, linked as they are by a direct portal in the wine universe. For me, Burgundy came first, but soon after I succumbed to the spirit of Barolo. Indeed, it’s exceedingly rare to come across Burgundy lovers who don’t appreciate Barolo, or vice versa, and, tellingly, you’ll find many bottles of Barolo in the cellars of Burgundian wine producers, and vice versa. The connection is strong. So it’s not Burgundy vs. Barolo, but rather Burgundy AND Barolo.

So, if you love either one of these regions but haven’t already made the connection, tarry no longer.

Giacosa Bussia Barolo 2008Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo 2006From the October 12th VINTAGES release, the 2006 Aurelio Settimo Rocche Barolo ($52.95) shouldn’t be missed. It’s a classic old school Barolo from the brilliant Rocche cru in La Morra, in a powerful vintage. Vinified traditionally with long maceration in concrete followed by 2 years in large, old oak casks (2500-3500 liters), it’s garnet coloured, with superbly complex savoury, earthy, tar, pot pourri, dried red berry fruit and dried leaf character. The texture is firm and dusty – evidently not a wine for casual sipping, but rather a concentrated, intense Barolo best enjoyed at the table with savoury protein, or left in the cellar for another 3-5 years. Decant before serving in either case.

From a lighter but very pretty vintage, the 2008 Giacosa Bussia Barolo ($39.95) is another traditionally made wine from the storied Fratelli Giacosa estate (not to be confused with Bruno Giacosa; as in Burgundy, the splitting of families over centuries has resulted in multiple domaines with the same family names). In 1895, Giuseppe Giacosa learned of a prime property in Neive that had come on the market for the princely sum of three thousand lire, well beyond his means. Yet that night he had a dream, and the following morning bought a lottery ticket, playing the numbers that had come to him in his restless sleep. With his winnings he purchased the vineyards that still belong to the family.

Bussia is a large cru in the commune of Monforte d’Alba, generally regarded for its big, sturdy wine. But the cooler conditions of the ’08 vintage and gentle handling have yielded a more modestly structured Bussia, yet still authentic and pure, with typical red berry, licorice and tarry-resinous herbal flavours leading the way. This is ready to enjoy now with decanting thirty minutes or so ahead, or hold short term.

Domaine Albert Morot Beaune Aigrots 1er Cru 2009Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis 2010Over in Burgundy, the 2009 Domaine Albert Morot Beaune Aigrots 1er Cru ($53.95) is my top pick of the release. Les Aigrots is on the mid-to upper slope at the southern end of Beaune’s Premier Cru vineyards, adjacent to the more famous Clos des Mouches cru towards Pommard. This is a fine example of the generous 2009 vintage, fully ripe and fleshy without slipping into the overripe/exaggerated spectrum. Tannins are silky but firm, acids balanced, and flavours firmly in the ripe red berry range. This is genuine and complex red Burgundy, best after 2015.

In general I prefer the firmer, tighter, more classic 2010 Burgundies, and the 2010 Aurélien Verdet Morey-Saint-Denis ($44.95) is a solid example. It’s a firm and grippy Morey-Saint-Denis, built on a svelte, lean frame, with brisk acids, modest concentration and extract, and light but dusty tannins. This too, will be best after 2015, though there’s no need to hold it long term.

Premium California

By press time, I’ll have just spent six days touring in the Golden State’s wine country, attending the first ever “California Wine Summit”, put on by the California Wine Institute. I’ll be issuing a special report on my discoveries towards the end of October with a focus on the future direction of Californian wine, and will be posting all of my tasting notes on WineAlign.

In the meantime, California wine sales continue to crack glass ceilings across Canada. The US leads all other imports in VINTAGES sales in Ontario, propelled by California, and especially by Napa and Sonoma. So it’s not at all surprising to see yet another sizable list of ultra-premium labels hitting the shelves on October 12th, in time for holiday excess.

As I see it, California is at a major crossroads. The prevailing mood within the wine trade (sommeliers, journalists) is that a change of philosophy is needed. At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, many producers appear content to continue along the road taken over the past fifteen or so years, banking upon the bigger-is-better model of winemaking – alcohol, ripeness, wood: the more the merrier. Any nuance of “green flavour” is morbidly feared, as though its presence were a health hazard. But the tide of preference for these wines is retreating out to sea. How long they will remain commercially popular is the question.

To be sure, the pendulum has already started to swing back from the extremes, but there are still extremists out there. Few producers resisted the commercial pressure to play the same game during this period, though they exist (see Corison below). And now, a new generation of winemakers, once marginalized as counter-culture radicals, are becoming ever more mainstream figures, and taking Californian wines in new directions.

These individuals (check out radicals like Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project, Arnot-Roberts, Brock Cellars, Donkey and Goat, for example) are eloquently demonstrating that complexity and depth needn’t come at the expense of balance and genuine freshness, even under the California sun, and they are enriching the diversity of the wine scene.

For regular WineAlign readers, my preference is clear: overripe grapes stuffed with oak don’t result in better quality. Such wines blur any regional, vineyard or varietal character in the pursuit of a stylized commercial product, and one that’s not very pleasurable to drink at that in my view. But perhaps that’s also the point. As I’ve said many times, wine is profoundly undemocratic. Without the right patch of land, even the most skilled winegrowers are handicapped from the start. So with second-rate terroir, squishing raisins into new wood may be your only option for impact if you want to break into the high stakes commercial game.

I’d like to recognize a couple of the new releases of cabernet that convey a deeper and more complex meaning of Napa. While I’d still have a hard time convincing anyone, including myself, that these are good values, they are nonetheless excellent wines in their own right.

Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2005Cathy Corison is now into her 27th vintage in the heart of the Napa Valley, farming benchland vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena to organic standards. Her wines rarely surpass 14% alcohol, and her stated philosophy is to “make complex wines that walk the fine line between power and elegance”. I’ve tasted at least a half dozen vintages of Corison cabernet and they are always impeccably balanced and fresh, notably free of excessive pomp, elegant in an understated way. The 2005 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon ($113.95) is on offer this week, from a cool, late vintage. It’s a lovely and classic representation of the grape and region, complete with noted herbal character, lively fresh black berry fruit just starting to offer some evolved, tertiary complexity, and beautifully poised and balanced acid-tannin structure. Alcohol is a refreshing 13.6%, and the length is terrific, finishing on classy licorice and savoury black fruit notes. Enjoy now or hold another 10-15 years without a stretch – the way fine Napa cab, and wine in general, should be.

Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2007Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2010Another wine of superior depth and class, and an indelible sense of place, is the 2010 Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon ($137.95). Although labeled simply as Napa Valley, this is an estate wine from vineyards planted at over 600 meters in the Spring Mountain AVA, at the northern end of the valley on the steep terraces of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa from Sonoma, on a low-yielding mix of volcanic and sedimentary soils. Expect plenty of scorched earth and dried herbs, roasted red peppers and sulphurous, volcanic-like minerality on the nose among many other things. The palate is firm and juicy, structured and succulent, with superior depth and genuine complexity. This is very fine wine, expressive of place. Lovely now, but better after 2015 no doubt.

Also worth noting in this release is the 2007 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon ($83.95), a classy, high-toned, floral, elegant example of Napa cabernet, as I’ve come to expect from Heitz, with polished tannins, well-integrated oak, and long, perfumed, dusty finish. And for those wishing to spend a smaller fortune, check out the 2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.95), a generous, ripe, rounded style that sits about mid-way on the continuum from understated to exaggerated, and should please widely as such.

Closer to home, my WineAlign colleague David Lawrason is hosting an event with Flat Rock Cellars‘ engaging proprietor Ed Madronich and winemaker Jay Johnston. Our winemaker events have be selling out quickly, so you might want to check this out.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier

Editors Note: You can find John Szabo’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names or bottle images highlighted above or by jumping to the lists with the links below. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

From the October 12, 2013 Vintages release:

Top Smart Buys
Burgundy & Barolo
Premium California
All Reviews


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Penfold's Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon


Taste Ontario - Ottawa & Toronto dates

Filed under: News, Wine, , , , , , ,

2011 Burgundy: A snapshot via the Wines of Bouchard Père and Fils and William Fèvre

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

On March 12th, Woodman Wine & Spirits hosted their annual Bouchard/Fèvre new Burgundy release tasting at the RCYC clubhouse in Toronto. Considering the wide range of wines offered, from village to grand cru, this always provides a nice snapshot of the vintage. All of my reviews are now posted on WineAlign (see below for links).

Following are some general observations on the vintage as gleaned from the tasting, and from a brief interview with Luc Bouchard, on hand as usual to present the wines.

According to Bouchard, 2011 is a “very approachable vintage, producing wines with nice fruit balance, more open and not as tight as the 2010s at the same stage. But this doesn’t mean that they won’t age”. I believe they will age, but will show best through the mid-term, until the end of the decade for most cuvees.

Vintage Conditions

Budburst was several weeks earlier than the norm, but poor weather during flowering led to uneven crop loads. In some vineyards, leaf plucking was essential to open up canopies to promote ripeness and reduce disease pressure; other sites required green harvests to drop excess fruit, while some parcels had been already naturally reduced. Despite a relatively cool growing season, harvest got underway on the 29th of August, the second earliest start after the notoriously hot vintage of 2003. Bouchard’s aim was to preserve acidity and freshness, a feature that reappeared throughout the tasting.

Côte d’Or White Wines

While the 2010s are considered ‘classic’, very tight and focused, and the 2009s considerably fatter, softer and riper, 2011 falls somewhere in between. Wines displayed more acid than the 2009s, yet are more open and aromatic at this stage than the locked up 2010s. Aromatics are fresh and particularly floral, with great energy and tension, as well as minerality in the top sites. These are good restaurant wines, and for collectors who don’t want to have to wait ten or more years to enjoy.

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand CruI found that most from top village level and up are still 1-3 years away from their optimum drinking window, but are not in any case wines for long term cellaring. Bouchard says they remind him of the 1992s, “because of the generosity and transparency”. I found that the top wines showed deceptive power and length – the frame seems light and lean, but flavours have remarkable staying power on the palate.

Top Pick: Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru ($383)

Smart Buy: Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Puligny-Montrachet Villages ($70)

Côte d’Or Red Wines

In general, reds from the Côte d’Or are light, relatively lean, fine-grained wines with classic structure and elegant styling all around, for mid-term cellaring. They lack the flesh and depth of the really top vintages, but I think these will show considerably better within a couple of years and enjoy thereafter a relatively short window of prime enjoyment before the fruit fades. They have more fruit and richness than the 2007s, and a structure similar to the 2010s, but again, like the whites, are more open-knit and enjoyable even at this early stage.

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Beaune Greves Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus 1er CruReds from the Côte de Beaune, especially Beaune itself and Volnay, appeared to be particularly successful. The traditionally more rustic appellations like Nuits, Corton and Pommard are rather burly and angular, and will take a few more years to settle out, but again will remain on the firmer side, absent cushioning flesh.

Top Pick: Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Beaune Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus 1er Cru ($130)

Smart Buy: Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chambolle-Musigny Villages ($67)

Chablis

2011 is a lean, tight vintage for Chablis, with significant acidity and pronounced mineral character from the top sites. It’s certainly not a full and fleshy year like 2009 or even 2006, but the wines have excellent tension and energy, and like the Côte de Beaune whites, an underlying driving mineral seam that lingers unexpectedly long on the palate. An unusual green/pyrazine character marks a few of the cuvees, but is well managed chez Fèvre.

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Les Clos Grand CruVillage wines are open and more or less ready to enjoy, while 1er crus will benefit from another 1-2 years of integration, and the top kit, 2-4 years. Mid-term cellaring, to the end of the decade is recommended, with only the very best (Les Clos, Preuses) worth keeping beyond that.

Top Pick: Domaine William Fevre 2011 Les Clos Grand Cru ($117)

Smart Buy: Domaine William Fevre 2011 Vaillons 1er Cru ($52)

All Wines Reviewed:

Côte de Beaune red

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru ($248)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Le Corton Grand Cru ($149)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Beaune Marconnets 1er Cru ($62)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Beaune Greves Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus 1er Cru ($130)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Nuits St. Georges Les Cailles 1er Cru ($127)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Pommard Rugiens 1er Cru ($105)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Savigny les Beaune les Lavieres 1er Cru ($55)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvee Carnot 1er Cru ($97)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chambolle-Musigny Villages ($67)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin Villages ($58)

Côte de Beaune White

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru ($383)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru ($211)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Beaune Clos Saint-Landry 1er Cru ($69)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Meursault Genevrieres 1er Cru ($103)

Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils 2011 Puligny-Montrachet Villages ($70)

Chablis

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Bougros Grand Cru ($85)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Bougros Cote Bougerots Grand Cru ($103)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Les Preuses Grand Cru ($103)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Les Clos Grand Cru ($117)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Beauroy 1er Cru ($52)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Vaillons 1er Cru ($52)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Les Lys 1er Cru ($52)

Domaine William Fevre 2011 Vaulorent 1er Cru ($76)

All in all, 2011 Burgundy is for fans of ‘classic’ vintages. For more information about the availability of these wines, please contact : Woodman Wine & Spirits

Cheers,

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

Filed under: Featured Articles, Wine, , ,

The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Collecting French Wine – Part I (Bordeaux and Burgundy) ~ Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Collectors and top regions of France:  Not all wine buyers are the same.

In the Information Age, where everything and everyone is divided—and then subdivided—into unique demographics and groups, there isn’t one type of wine buyer, but many. However, to list them all here would be impossible, not to mention superfluous. For the purpose of this column, our subject is wine collectors and, with special emphasis, top regions and estates to buy from.

Speaking of which, what are collectors? And how do their wine buying habits most significantly differ from others?

At its simplest, a wine collector is a buyer that seeks out fine wine, usually to cellar for the long term. Types of wines purchased? While not a prerequisite(!), usually ones with higher prices and top critics’ scores, sourced from very specific regions in countries throughout the world.

But what are these countries and regions? And is there one country whose regions stand out above the rest?

For most collectors, this would be France. The reasons for this are complex. Some have attributed it to France’s having identified and categorized its best winegrowing regions and most famous wines so early on—a by-product of French culture, whose standards in gastronomy remain in essence unmatched. Others have pointed to the remarkable types of terroir found throughout France, as if the French were meant to lead the world in fine winegrowing since time immemorial.

Whatever the case, collectors are the beneficiaries.

Of regions, Bordeaux and Burgundy vie for top spot. On the Left Bank of the Gironde, the Cabernet-blends of Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe are most lauded. On the Right Bank, the best Merlot-dominant wines of St-Emilion and Pomerol are eagerly sought out. In Pessac-Léognan, the finest Cabernet-dominant reds and Sauvignon-centric whites are increasingly the talk of the wine world. And let’s not forget Sauternes and Barsac, where collectable stickies crafted predominantly from Sémillon are the order of the day.

With just a few exceptions, the most esteemed wines, or estates, in the Médoc are part of the 1855 Classification. In Margaux, the eponymous First Growth Château Margaux leads the way, closely followed by Château Palmer. Other must-haves are Châteaux Rauzan-Ségla, Brane-Cantenac, Kirwan, Giscours, d’Issan, Malescot-St-Exupéry, and Cantenac-Brown. In St-Julien, the greatest estate, and First Growth pretender, is Léoville-Las Cases, followed by Châteaux Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville Barton, Gruaud Larose, Léoville-Poyferré, Branaire-Ducru, Langoa Barton, Talbot, St-Pierre, and Beychevelle.

Châteaux Latour & Lafite Rothschild

In Pauillac, the three First Growths of Châteaux Latour, Lafite Rothschild, and Mouton Rothschild are among the most fought-over wines at auctions and en primeur campaigns every year. These are closely followed by the likes of Pichon-Comtesse and Pichon-Baron, Lynch-Bages, and Pontet-Canet; which, in turn, are closely matched by Châteaux Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Duhart-Milon, and Clerc Milon. Also stockpiled by collectors are wines from Châteaux d’Armailhac, Haut-Batailley, Batailley, and Haut-Bages Libéral, to name but several of the best estates in most collectors’ opinion.

In St-Estèphe, Château Cos d’Estournel nowadays heads up the company, with Montrose consistently hot on its heels. Other estates collectors routinely watch out for are Calon-Ségur, Lafon-Rochet, and Cos Labory.

Then, there are the Médoc estates not included in the 1855 Classification. In St-Estèphe, the most esteemed names are Châteaux Haut-Marbuzet, Phélan Ségur, and Les Ormes de Pez. In Pauillac, these are Pibran and Fonbadet. In St-Julien, Château Gloria stands out. In Margaux, Châteaux Siran, Clos des Quatre Vents, and Marojallia each have their own followers.

Châteaux Sociando-Mallet

As if this wasn’t enough, a few estates outside these four appellations, in both the Médoc and Haut-Médoc, are also greatly acclaimed. In the former, top châteaux are Sociando-Mallet and Potensac. In the latter, Poujeaux and Chasse-Spleen, both based out of Moulis, are seldom overlooked.

Châteaux Ausone

On the Right Bank in Merlot-dominant St-Emilion, choices are almost as prolific. At the very top of the St-Emilion Classification (last revised in 2006), Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc, the only two estates granted Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) status, are both universally revered. Next in line are those of Premier Grand Cru Classé (B) status, of which Châteaux Angélus, Pavie, and Figeac routinely rank highest in terms of veneration and price. Other collectibles of equal official status include Beau-Séjour Bécot, La Gaffelière, Magdelaine, Pavie-Macquin, Troplong Mondot, and Bélair-Monange (formerly Bélair). Rounding out the ‘B’ category are Châteaux Canon, Clos Fourtet, Beauséjour (Duffau-Lagarrosse), and Trottevieille.

However, some of these names are often outshone by wines of Grand Cru Classé ranking or lower. La Mondotte, a single-vineyard wine owned by Stephan von Neipperg, along with Grand Cru Classés Canon-la-Gaffelière, Tertre-Rôteboeuf, Pavie Decesse, and Monbousquet; plus garagiste operations Valandraud, La Gomerie, and Le Dôme are just such examples. Other St-Emilions of similar, slightly less expensive disposition are Grand Cru Classés Larcis Ducasse, L’Arrosée, Destieux, and La Couspaude; as well as Grand Cru estates Bellevue-Mondotte, Gracia, Rol Valentin, and Moulin St-Georges. There are at least a dozen others.

Châteaux Petrus

Over in Pomerol, where there is no official ranking, collectors also have their hands full. More talked about than drunk, Château Petrus is widely considered the Holy Grail of claret collectibles, matched/surpassed in price by Château Le Pin. Then, there are all the other estates Pomerol is famous for. From a standpoint of quality and price, the most sought-after are Châteaux Lafleur (almost as expensive as Petrus), Trotanoy, Vieux Château Certan, L’Eglise-Clinet, L’Evangile, and La Conseillante. Other star estates of considerable acclaim include La Fleur-Pétrus, Hosanna  (formerly Certan-Giraud), Clinet, Latour à Pomerol, Clos L’Église, Certan de May, Le Gay, Le Bon Pasteur, and Gazin. Not to be left out, La Providence, La Clémence, Petit Village, Beauregard, Rouget, Nenin, and Bourgneuf all command serious prices. All of these, plus several others, are arguably considered the greatest collectibles in Pomerol.

Châteaux Haut Brion

In Pessac-Léognan, where the best whites, crafted from Sauvignon Blanc (usually predominant) and Sémillon, are as highly valued as the best reds (crafted largely along Médoc Lines), certain favourites emerge. Sparring for top honours annually, First Growth Château Haut Brion and leading Graves Cru Classé La Mission Haut-Brion lead the way—both the red and white versions are treasures. Pricewise, these two estates are followed by the reds and whites of Cru Classés Pape Clément, Haut-Bailly (red only), Smith Haut Lafitte, and Domaine de Chevalier. Other red/white estates routinely on collectors’ circuits are Châteaux Malartic-Lagravière, Carbonnieux, and de Fieuzal. In the Graves AOC, Château Branon is very expensive.

Châteaux d'Yquem

Next come the stickies of Sauternes and Barsac, of which the legendary Premier Cru Supérieur Château d’Yquem is considered unbeatable. After this are the best of the Premier Crus, usually Châteaux Climens (second only to d’Yquem), Rieussec, Suduiraut, Coutet, and Lafaurie-Peyraguey; Château de Fargues and Raymond-Lafon, both non-classified, are also considered gems. Other Premier Crus of high regard are Châteaux Guiraud, Sigalas Rabaud, and La Tour Blanche. Of the Deuxièmes Crus, Doisy-Daëne and Doisy-Védrines are must-haves.

Indeed, the choices of collectable clarets seem endless. However, when collecting Bordeaux, quality and price at time of purchase, while both paramount, are not the only factors at play. Nowadays, collectors have an extra reason for laying their hands on the best bottles: investment.

A relatively new trend, many collectors seek out specific clarets from great vintages that, having been scored highly—usually by very specific critics—will likely increase in value over the long term. Such wines are often bought be the case, to be sold down the road. As blue chip investments, some analysts have referred to such wines as ‘alternative investments,’ much like jewellery or works of art.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for Burgundy, where the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are produced. Here, however, collectors already have their hands full in just trying to memorise the best vineyards and domaines.

For white Burgundy fanatics, the most highly prized are the Grand Crus and best Premier Crus of Puligny- and Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault (only Premier Crus), Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton (Corton-Charlemagne), and Chablis. There are a few others, but these are the standouts.

Joseph Drouhin Montrachet

In Chassagne-Montrachet, the Premier Crus of Caillerets, Ruchottes, and Morgeot are usually considered best. In contrast, shared between Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet, the Grand Cru of Le Montrachet has long been considered immortal, closely followed by Chevalier-Montrachet and the more variable Bâtard-Montrachet; the seldom-seen Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Les Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet are also both potentially stunning. In Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Crus Les Pucelles, Les Caillerets, Les Folatières, Les Combettes, Les Perrières, and Clavoillon are all considered superb. In Meursault, Les Perrières and Les Genevrières lead the way, closely followed by the upper parts of Les Charmes; Les Poruzots and Les Gouttes d’Or are also superb. In Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton, the finest examples of Corton-Charlemagne are often lauded as some of the greatest of white Burgundies. Finally, in Chablis the Grand Crus of Les Clos, Les Preuses, and Vaudésir, to name but three favourites, all have an earnestly loyal following.

For red Burgundy connoisseurs, the choices are even more varied. By price, the best Grand Crus and Premier Crus of the Côte de Nuits, located between Beaune and Dijon, tend to attract the most serious collectors. From south to north, the most lauded Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards are located in the villages of Nuits-St-Georges (Premier Crus only), Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis, and Gevrey-Chambertin. Within Beaune and throughout the rest of the Côtes de Beaune, the finest Premier Crus in Pommard, Volnay, Meursault (listed as Volnay-Santenots), and Chassagne-Montrachet are also much in demand.

Grand Crus La Romanée-Conti

In Nuits-St-Georges, the Premier Cru of Les St-Georges is ranked highest, followed by Les Vaucrains, Les Cailles, Les Porrets, and Aux Boudots. In Vosne-Romanée, both Grand Crus La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche, both solely owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, are among the most expensive wines in the world; while the best examples of Le Richebourg and Romanée-St-Vivant often outstrip demand. Not to be outdone, the Grand Crus of La Romanée and La Grande Rue, respective monopolies of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair and Lamarche, are nowadays prohibitive in claim. On a much more variable level, the same can be said of the best wines of Grand Crus Les Grands Echézeaux and the even more variable Les Echézeaux. Finally, the Premier Crus of Aux Malconsorts, Les Suchots, Les Beaux Monts, Cros Parantoux, and Aux Brûlées routinely sell for small fortunes when denoted by case.

Comte de Vogue Musigny

Heading northward to the next commune, in Vougeot the Grand Cru of Clos de Vougeot is world famous; though collectors are well advised to stick with only the best, most reliable producers. In Chambolle-Musigny, the Grand Cru of Musigny, a top collectable, is widely considered the most seductive of red Burgundies; in the same village, the Grand Cru Les Bonnes Mares is also remarkably extolled, while Premier Crus Les Amoureuses, Les Charmes, Les Fuées, and Les Cras are all greatly admired. In Morey-St-Denis, wines from the Grand Cru of Clos de la Roche take top honours, followed by Les Bonnes Mares (a tiny part), Clos de Tart, Clos des Lambrays (a virtual monopoly of Domaine des Lambrays), and Clos St-Denis. The Premier Crus of Clos de la Bussière, Les Charmes, and Monts Luisants also possess collectable attributes.

Armand Rousseau Chambertin

In Gevrey-Chambertin, wines from the legendary Grand Cru Chambertin vie with La Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, and the finest Musignys for consideration as the most omnipotent of all red Burgundies. On occasion, those of neighbouring Chambertin Clos de Bèze also merit the same adulation. Then there are the remaining seven Grand Crus of the commune. Though subject to debate, most view Mazis-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, and Ruchottes-Chambertin as the next best three, followed by Charmes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, and Mazoyères-Chambertin. Of Premier Crus, Clos St-Jacques is in a league of its own, while Les Cazetiers, Lavaut St-Jacques, and Les Varoilles are all ranked highly.

Lafarge Volnay Clos de Chenes

South in the Côte de Beaune, there remains a bevy of lighter-styled selections for which this particular part of Burgundy is famed. In Beaune, top Premier Crus collectors routinely watch out for are Les Grèves, Clos de Mouches (lower slopes for Pinot Noir), Les Fèves, Les Teurons, Les Marconnets, and Clos du Roi. In Pommard, the best parcels of Premier Crus Les Epenots and Les Rugiens are hugely adored. In Volnay, Premier Crus Clos des Chênes and Les Caillerets are infallibly seductive. In Meursault, the Premier Cru reds, on occasion excellent, are labelled as Volnay-Santenots. Skipping Puligny-Montrachet (no reds allowed), in Chassagne-Montrachet the most collectable reds generally hail from La Boudriotte, Morgeot (also known for great whites), and Clos St-Jean. As with all other communes, there are invariably too many vineyards to list.

La Tache

Yet surprisingly, once getting past all the top vineyards to memorize, there are far fewer famous domaines and négociants to account for when compared to Bordeaux, as virtually all winegrowers have plots in multiple vineyards. Still, to help readers out, many labels of the crème de la crème have been included in this column possible.

And yet, Bordeaux and Burgundy are but the tip of the iceberg. For many collectors, no cellar would be complete without a proper selection of wines from the Rhône and Champagne, not to mention all the other regions that make France the greatest winegrowing nation in the world. But such regions, I am afraid, would take up far more than the one sentence I have left—which I shall simply conclude by raising my own glass, filled with claret, to the two titan regions of the French winegrowing world; without you, there’d be no point.

Click here for a few gems from the 31 March 2012 Vintages Release along with several others

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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28th – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys and Nifty Pinks by David Lawrason

Lawrason’s Take on Vintages May 28 Release – Burgundy Re-Visited, California Best Buys, Plunkett-Fowles of Oz,  Incroyable Le Croix de Gay, Alsace Muscat and Nifty Roses 
David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Burgundy Re-Visited

California and Alsace are featured on this release but I am writing this from Burgundy in France so it is difficult to not be thinking Burgundy. I am just finishing up a tour with a group of 60 Canadians from St. John’s to Vancouver who bid on an eight day trip to Provence and Burgundy through Gold Medal Plates, all to raise funds for the Canada’s Olympic athletes. We were accompanied by the young, incredibly poised and friendly freestyle skier Alexander Bilodeau, who won Canada’s first gold on Canadian soil last year in Vancouver. It was fun to watch him learning about wine – rushing out to buy his birth year vintage (1987). And it was also wonderful to watch others in the group catch the Burgundy bug and taste for themselves the intricacies of terroir, even though we all still struggle to verbalize it.  In short, if you don’t become fascinated by fine wine in Burgundy, it may not happen for you anywhere.
Domaine Latour Giraud Les Narvaux Meursault 2008Louis Jadot Beaune Clos Des Couchereaux 1er Cru 2007I had not visited for several years myself so it was great to return for a booster. Among the highlights, a preview tasting of several wines from Pascal Marchand, the Montreal-born, Burgundy raised winemaker who is now in a Burgundy-based partnership with Niagara vintner Moray Tawse (the wines will be coming to Vintages later this year).  Another highlight was visiting the small Domaine de Courcel where the charming, mischievous winemaker Yves Confuron pulled some stunning Pommards from his cellar. We also did great tastings at Chanson, Bouchard Pere et Fils and Louis Jadot, where each very generously offered wines from village to Grand Cru levels, exposing our group to the full quality range. Personally I re-discovered how much I love great white Burgundy, especially Meursault, and how fine many are from the 2008 vintage, with its great acidity. Before leaving Toronto I had made special note of DOMAINE LATOUR-GIRAUD 2008 LES NARVAUX MEURSAULT ($44.95) from the May 28 release, and now I understand why.  I also tasted several 2007 red Burgundies that if not powerful, are ripe and charming and just beginning to drink nicely. You can experience this yourself with  LOUIS JADOT 2007 BEAUNE CLOS DE LA COUCHEREAUX 1ER CRU being released Saturday at $42.95.
California Best Buys
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2008Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006The May 24 release spotlights California. We have been so inundated with iconic often overpriced California labels that we are oblivious to some newer wineries, regions and styles that are emerging. This release begins to cover that territory – two excellent Sonoma pinots, Paso Robles syrahs, Lodi zinfandels, Santa Barbara chardonnay. There are a few pricy Napa wines still in the mix, and they still tend to under-deliver value-wise, but I was happy to find two exceptions. One is ROBERT MONDAVI 2008 FUMÉ BLANC from Napa Valley, at great buy at $22.95. The rest of the Mondavi portfolio has become largely uninteresting since the iconic property was purchased by Constellation, the world’s largest wine company, a few years ago.  But this Bordeaux-inspired, barrel aged blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon has held its quality course, and the price has continually declined. The other very good deal for Napa cabernet lovers is VILLA MT. EDEN 2006 GRAND RESERVE CABERNET SAUVIGNON at $24.95.  Villa Mount Eden has a long heritage as a Napa-based producer but has branched out to showcase specific varietals from specific regions.  The 2006 Napa cabernet (above) is a particularly well done for the price, with 8% malbec adding a bit of aromatic charm, and 24 months in French and American oak, providing layers of complexity.
Plunkett Fowles Stone Dwellers Merlot 2008Discovering Plunkett Fowles of Oz

Fans of New World Bordeaux-style blends should also reach for PLUNKETT FOWLES 2008 STONE DWELLERS MERLOT from the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria in Australia. It’s a steal at $19.95. I only came to know this winery a couple of months ago when their companion Stone Dwellers Cabernet Sauvignon joined the slew of new regional Aussie wines that arrived this spring on the LCBO general list. The Plunkett family has made wine on a rolling plateau up in the Strathbogie Ranges north of Melbourne for almost 30 years, recently forming a partnership with the Fowles family. Together they opened a architectural showpiece winery and began ramping up their export program. There is just something in both their offerings so far that captures the essential, authentic character of cabernet sauvignon and merlot very well, dressed with exactly the right level of New World ripeness.

Château La Croix De Gay 2007Incroyable Le Croix de Gay
Chateau Le Croix du Gay is not one of the iconic estates of Pomerol in Bordeaux, but it is a very good property that I have followed somewhat over the years. So I was very surprised and delighted to see CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DE GAY 2007 land on this Vintages release at only $34.00. Either times are tough overall, or this specific vintage has failed to attract sales elsewhere. I suspect the latter because with all the fuss over great vintages like 2005 and 2009 those in the middle get lost.  As with the 2007 red Burgundies, I like 2007 Bordeaux in general for its ripe, charming if not highly structured style. Most of the growing season was nicely warm and dry so the grapes did ripen (the wines are not green). It was only that a cooler, wetter harvest robbed the grapes of a longer hang time and more concentration. So the 2007s are ready to drink sooner, indeed this is just heading into prime, and it is packing very good complexity.
Joseph Cattin Muscat 2009
Alsace Feature
Alsace is a mini-feature on this release with a half dozen wines that are decent, but fail to inspire. Over a long period of time I have sensed this general malaise with Vintages/LCBO selections from Alsace –most crowding just under the $20 price point. Whereas of course all of Alsace’s truly magnificent wines are more expensive (but not that much more expensive). The one that caught my eye on this release is JOSEPH CATTIN 2009 MUSCAT, a bargain at $14.95.  Muscat is always the under sung variety in Alsace, perhaps because its billowing aroma is just too exaggerated for those who with more refined and nuanced sensibilities. But whereas others in the release come across as a bit dull, this one soars, lifted by the ripeness of the fruit in 2009. It’s an ideal garden sipper when all around you is in  bloom.

Nifty Pinks

So far this season Vintages rose selection has not had many “must buys”.  There have been some good European versions, but those from the New World, including Ontario, have been all over the map. The problem, I think, is that producers in hotter climes like Chile, Australia etc just don’t know what to do with abundance fruit their regions deliver when it comes to pink wine. If they set out to make a simple, patio style of rose they have become too fruity, confected and sweet.  And they just can’t seem to make a more refined, dry style. Having just spent four days in the south of France, where I enjoyed rose at least twice a day, it is apparent that hot climates can indeed do it – with blends of the right grape varieties, including grenache, syrah etc.  So maybe the success of EMILIANA 2010 ADOBE RESERVA ROSÉ SYRAH from Chile’s Rapel Valley, has something to do with syrah as the base. Or maybe it has to do with the organic farming of the grapes. Anyway, at $11.95 this is a nifty, well balanced, restrained and fresh pink wine – the best deal so far in 2011 pink season.  For slightly more money spent closer to home you might also want to crack  a screwcap of the cabernet-based SOUTHBROOK 2010 CONNECT ORGANIC ROSÉ from the Niagara Peninsula ($18.95).
Emiliana Adobe Reserva Rosé Syrah 2010  Southbrook Connect Organic Rosé 2010
That’s it for now. Watch in the days ahead for a report on Vintages ShopOnLine selections that are going on sale.  Cheers,
To see all my ratings from the May 28th release click here.Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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The Successful Collector ~ Understanding the Côte d’Or: a project of pure Burgundian pleasure ~ Vintages April 2nd – By Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The benchmark brilliance of (just) two grapes:

‘Golden Slopes’ of the Côte d’Or

‘Golden Slopes’ of the Côte d’Or

For hundreds of years, the ‘Golden Slopes’ of the Côte d’Or in Bourgogne (Burgundy) have yielded some of the finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs ever crafted on Earth – it’s just that simple. Though but one part of the entire Burgundian winegrowing region, few would deny that the Côte d’Or is the best, with only Chablis to the northwest being able to lay claim for producing wines (i.e. Chardonnay) of qualitatively equal (sometimes superior) calibre.

But what are these ‘Golden Slopes’ (alternatively referenced in the singular as the ‘Golden Slope’) of the Côte d’Or that have been the source for so many exquisite Pinots and Chardonnays for centuries? Put simply, the ‘Golden Slopes’ are a set of rolling hills that stretch from just south of Dijon (around the village of Marsannay) around fifty kilometres to Dezize-lès-Maranges (just west of the village of Santenay) in the south. For wine-loving geologists, there is no greater pleasure than analyzing the widely disparate (and ceaselessly debated) soils of these hills for hours (or years) on end, most of which are principally dominated by varying traces (and differing formations) of limestone and marl – to delve into any greater specifics is best left for more serious readers.

2007 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier MontrachetIn terms of what is to be found on the label, the winegrowing region of Burgundy (and the Côte d’Or in particular) is based on a four-tiered hierarchy. At the very top are wines labelled ‘Grand Cru’: these are wines that hail from a specific vineyard, and are considered (with very few exceptions) to be the very best wines that Burgundy has to offer. The next level consists of wines labelled ‘Premier Cru’ on the label: these wines that also (with a couple of exceptions) hail from specific vineyard sites, the best of which can be easily considered as qualitatively sound as their Grand Cru counterparts (ex. Les Perrières AOC in Meursault). After this follows the ‘village wines’: these are wines that (with exception) do not come from a specific vineyard site, but from (usually) multiple vineyards of a specific village (ex. Puligny-Montrachet), usually from vineyards not deemed qualitatively high enough to be mentioned on the label. Finally, the last category is Bourgogne AOC: these are generic wines that have no specific vineyard origins at all, and are thus deemed (quite legitimately) to be of the lowest quality in the Burgundian hierarchy. In the end, the specific vineyard site, cultivated by a quality-minded producer, counts for everything!

Côte d’Or

Côte d’Or

Officially, the Côte d’Or is divided into two separate regions: the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. The former begins just north of the lovely, oftentimes enchanting medieval town of Beaune, stretching from the village of Ladoix-Serrigny all the way south to the village of Santenay. These are where (at least arguably) the finest Chardonnays in the world are produced. Just think of all the famous villages and the most prized vineyards that can be found within their boundaries: Aloxe-Corton (Corton-Charlemagne AOC); Beaune (Clos des Mouches AOC and Les Grèves AOC); Pommard (Les Rugiens AOC and Les Epenots AOC), Volnay (Clos des Chênes AOC and Les Caillerets AOC), Meursault (Les Perrières AOC and Les Genevrières AOC), Puligny- (and Chassagne-) Montrachet (Le Montrachet AOC and Chevalier-Montrachet AOC); and Santenay (Les Gravières AOC) – just to name a few. Just remember: any label will indicate whether or not the wine comes from a Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyard.

Generally speaking, the Côte de Beaune is more renowned for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir, the former of which should (as a general rule) be planted on limestone-dominant, primarily chalky soils. This said, there are several notable villages whose vineyards offer some of the finest, silkiest (albeit lighter-bodied) Pinots that can be had on the planet, most notably those of Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, and Santenay. Even Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault (best known for Chardonnay) can be a source of exceptional Pinot Noir, though red from the latter cannot be named Meursault, but Volnay-Santenots AOC.

What’s more, wines from each of these villages (most especially their most prestigious vineyards) will taste remarkably different from one another – a hallmark of understanding the wines of the Côte d’Or as well as all of Burgundy, in general. At times, these differences in style (and quality) will seem only marginal; sometimes, these differences are so profound – even amongst neighbouring vineyards – to make one recoil in viticultural terror … or, if you will pardon the humour, terroir.

Côte de Nuits

Côte de Nuits

The Côte de Nuits, on the other hand, is where Pinot Noir reaches its apogee of sensuality and allure, stretching from Marsannay all the way south to the village of Prémeaux-Prissey. Here, Pinot Noir is typically more powerful (though in some cases just as delicate) than those hailing from the Côte de Beaune. Top villages (and vineyards) to watch out for are: Gevrey-Chambertin (Chambertin AOC and Chambertin Clos de Bèze AOC), Morey-St-Denis (Clos St-Denis AOC and Clos de La Roche AOC), Chambolle-Musigny (Musigny AOC and Les Bonnes-Mares AOC), Vougeot (Clos de Vougeot AOC), Vosne-Romanée (La Romanée-Conti AOC, La Tâche AOC, and Le Richebourg AOC), and Nuits-St-Georges (Les St-Georges AOC and Les Vaucrains AOC) – just to (once again) name a few.

Ultimately, what is mentioned here only represents (or even just hints at) a mere fragment of the incessant complexity and pleasure that (Côte d’Or-derived) red and white Burgundy can give. Indeed, as you re-examine the villages and vineyards I have listed, you will quickly discover that I have omitted dozens upon dozens of single-vineyard sites that have every right to be mentioned. And yet, this is but one column pertaining to the ‘Golden Slopes’ of Bourgogne, hopefully one that will open the door to those that have, up until now, been just a little too timid to discover the true awesome nature of the Côte d’Or and the countless treasures it sustains.

Click here for a few gems for collectors from the April 2nd, 2011 Vintages release .


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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages April 2nd – Solid Burgundies, South Africa & Comfy Old World Reds

David LawrasonThis will be a slightly abbreviated blog sandwiched among events at the annual Vancouver Playhouse Festival.  There are 176 wineries here this week, pouring 1,650 wines, over seven days for 25,000 people.  Aside from the main trade and public tastings there  are 62 seminars, lunch time grazes and dinner events. The scale of this undertaking – all by volunteers – is breathtaking. I have come to Vancouver often over the years, and during Playhouse I always hear the lament – why can’t Ontario do this?  It’s a long story, but I have stopped asking the question. It is a great  Canadian event that has earned a unique stature for the way it brings winery principals and consumers together in an arena of mutual respect and self-education. I don’t ever recall hearing a cynical word about this festival.  It won’t duplicated and it is accessible to anyone in Ontario who cares about wine. Next year book a week’s holiday and come on out. www.PlayHouseWineFest.com.
Domaine Gille Côtes De Nuits Villages 2008
Burgundy Blooms

Back home wine lovers have a grand opportunity to buy some very fine, generally well chosen white and red Burgundies on April 2.  The over quality level is excellent, with several wines over 90 points, which is where Burgundy should always be when it’s about $40 or more.  The real rarity is finding exciting Burgundy for less, and I am pleased to recommend DOMAINE GILLE 2008 CÔTES DE NUITS-VILLAGES, $24.95, a pinot noir with surprising lift and precision and just a bit of edge. I expect this element of unexpected complexity in Burgundy, and this really delivers. I also enjoy gentler, fruitier pinot, although I might look more to New Zealand for this style, or perhaps California.  But I also found it in some of the first Burgundies from the very ripe 2009 vintage that I encountered at Vintages special event at the Art Gallery of Ontario earlier this month.  There will always be debate as to whether the 2009s are classic or New World in style. I like them both.

South Africa’s Other Wines

South Africa has been stuck in a rut in Ontario, sending us wave after wave of cheap red cabs, merlots, shiraz and sauvignons. Some actually have surprising depth and complexity for the money, and when well made they are very good buys. But often they are too raw and funky.  Meantime, Cape winemakers have been hard at work upping their game by creating some excellent, more refined cab-merlot blends. This release features a dandy called VILAFONTÉ 2006 SERIES M from Paarl, $39.95, a delicious, elegant collaboration by ex-Napa winemaker Zelma Long and Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe.  But to me this kind of wine is not really the soul of South Africa.  That can be found by going off the cabernet axis and off the beaten track into areas farther from the Paarl-Stellenbosch into regions like Swartland, and into grape compositions/blends involving non-irrigated bush vine-grown varieties like carignan, shiraz, mourvedre and others. There are two notable examples on this release, although one called Serenity I found to be a bit too oxidative.  I was much more enthused by a cheaper blend THE WINERY OF GOOD HOPE 2007 BLACK ROCK RED from Swartland, a very good buy at $18.95. If you are fan of Spain’s Priorat and Montsant wines you will notice a tense similarity. By the way, I was very disappointed by three separate bottles of overly mature, tired Lammerschoek 2008 Roulette Blanc; a wine I once loved and purchased by the case in a previous vintage. I suspect some problem in the shipping or handling of this wine.

Vilafonté Series M 2006 The Winery Of Good Hope Black Rock Red 2007
Chateau Musar 2002

Marvellous Musar

One often hears how a particular wine, like a song, will forever evoke a specific memory of a time and place.  I had been fan of Chateau Musar for a long time, doing the occasional vertical tasting of the Middle East’s most famous wine; and amazed at the stoicism of Serge Hochar’s effort to keep every vintage going in the war-torn Bekka Valley of Lebanon. But I had never sat down over dinner with Musar until last summer in Windsor, Ontario at a Lebanese restaurant called Mazaar.  Maybe the name was too close, but the atmosphere, cuisine and passion of the restaurateur was in amazing synch with gregarious, spicy character of the mature Musar we had that night, 1979 I think.  So here is your chance to sample one of the most interesting wines of the Old World, 109413 CHATEAU MUSAR 2002. I can understand reticence to pay $50 without knowing this wine; but now you know.

Comfy Italian Bargains

In very much the same spirit I found two Italian reds on this release that are built for comfort, not speed, and they seem to capture the same ambiance of Musar.  One is LE RAGOSE 2006 RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE, $18.95, a wine from a great Veneto vintage that is drinking beautifully. Upon reflecting I realized that years ago I had purchased several bottles of Le Ragose, and that it aged very well.  At under $20 it is a great buy, especially in a world of often disappointing ripassos. The other, RIVERA CAPPELLACCIO 2005 RISERVA AGLIANICO, hails from the Castel del Monte appellation of Puglia region of southern Italy. It is also $18.95, and it too has a fine, mature softness and richness; surprisingly so for the aglianico grape that is famous for its sinewy tannin.

Le Ragose Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2006 Rivera Cappellaccio Riserva Aglianico 2005
Freestone Ovation Chardonnay 2007Very Cool Sonoma Chardonnay
It may seem like heresy to be highlighting a California chardonnay with so many good white Burgundies on the April 2nd docket.  And excuse me for taking off on Ontario’s seriously cool chardonnay theme. But I was really taken by FREESTONE VINEYARDS 2007 OVATION CHARDONNAY from the Sonoma Coast, $39.95.  The region has only been seriously and more commercially planted in the last decade, with Joseph Phelps’s Freestone being one of the most successful.  Maybe the biodymanic farming of the site is another the reason the wine is so good. Or perhaps the gravity flow winery. Or the talents of winemaker Theresa Heridia. Whatever the case, if you are chardonnay fan too, don’t miss this.

Read my reviews on over 100 other wines on this release here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign

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John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for April 2nd, 2011: Burgundy and South Africa

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

In this article: Burgundy Report: vintages 2007-2008-2009; what, for the love of Burgundy, is the difference between a cru, a lieu-dit and a climat? Measuring the label font sizes on a bottle of Burgundy;  90+ point Burgundies from The LCBO and a smattering of recommended private consignment wines;  April 2nd’s Top Ten Smart Buys and a trio of Solid South Africans.

Burgundy WineThe Burgundians are smiling. While the news is not universally positive, the sales of Burgundy wines are finally looking up after the previous gloomy year of double-digit declines in all of the major markets. The health of the Burgundian wine industry is as dependent on exports as it is on sunshine: 1 out of every 2 bottles is exported to one of 150 countries. Of course, global economic recession and unfavorable currency exchanges contributed to the decline in sales; Burgundy is most definitely positioned in the upper tier segment of wine prices, and particularly sensitive as such to dips in purchasing power. Canada has done its part in the recovery, with 2010 growing by nearly 30% by value over 2009.

Yet the statistics are somewhat misleading. In reality, at the top end, there was no decline. The best wines of Burgundy are as recession proof as a hand-made Bugatti sport car: the quantity produced is so tiny that there’ll always be a buyer around. Fluctuations in sales affect the only the bottom tier, mainly the regional appellations and the most branded of all of Burgundy’s regions, basic Chablis. All of the big name domaines, with wines from the most famous villages and vineyards, operate on an allocation basis, invariably unable to supply the quantities required by all of their importers/distributers. And demand looks set to continue to rise. As Yang Lu, sommelier at the Peninsula Hotel in Shanghai, recently pointed out in a press release from the Burgundy Wine Board: “In China, the rarer something is, the more we want it. Watch out for the moment that the people currently buying Château Lafite discover that the production of Romanée-Conti is much smaller…. Even if half of them want to start drinking it the market will go crazy”. Frightening thought.

Ultra rare cult wines aside, there’s really never been a better time to get into Burgundy. According to François Labet, owner of the Château de la Tour at the Clos-Vougeot, the average quality in Burgundy has never been higher, and I’d agree. This past week a tasting of Burgundy in Toronto featuring 35 producers and their wines from the last three vintages (2007-2008-2009) was astonishingly consistent. Out of several dozen wines tasted there were no truly poor wines, only good, very good and excellent ones in many cases.

Track down a bottle of any of the following (all represented in Ontario, though either in consignment or private order, pricing unconfirmed) to see what I mean:
2009 Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons Domaine Christian Moreau Père & Fils (Rouge et Blanc)
2009 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, Domaines des Malandes (Tastevin Selections)
2006 Chalis Grand Cru Preuses, Domaine Marcel Servin (Groupe Soleil)
2006 Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru Les Cailles, Maison Gilles (United Stars, )
2007 Pommard 1er Cru Les Chaponnières, Domaine Parent (Tastevin Selections)
2008 Mercurey 1er Cru Clos Tonnerre, Domaine Michel Juillot (The Case for Wine)
2007 Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru Clos du Val, Domaine Michel Prunier et Fils (Le Sommelier)
François LabetWhy are things looking up for Burgundy? Several reasons. “Burgundians have always been the best farmers in the world”, says Labet, “but they haven’t always been the best winemakers”. The vineyards of the Côte d’Or have been meticulously farmed for over a thousand years, but much excellent fruit was miss-used in the winery. That’s changing. Despite high demand and a small surface area, Burgundians have had to tidy up their winemaking practices to compete nationally and internationally, or give up winemaking and just sell their grapes to the growing number of micro negociants, often talented, young winemakers looking to break in to Burgundy but who simply can’t afford the nearly impossible prices for vineyard land.

Better wine making was evident across the board at the tasting, especially from the challenging 2007 and 2008 vintages. In the past, tough years would result in poor wines that still demanded high prices, creating the general impression that Burgundy is a minefield of sometimes brilliant, sometimes terrible, but always-expensive wines. Consistency was the bane of the consumer, and knowing the producer, not just the reputation of the appellation, village or vineyard, was the only way to guarantee a good bottle. But given the hopelessly fractured landscape with some 100 different appellations in the tiny Côte d’Or alone (the famous 60km strip of east-south-east facing slopes from Dijon to Chagny further divided into the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune), 35 communes, 1,394 named vineyards, and thousands of bottling domaines, negociants and co-ops, many of which share the same or very similar family names, this is more than a daunting task.

2007-2008-2009

Today, the wines are incomparably more consistent, and expensive disappointments fewer and further between. Witness the charming, forward 2007s, as evinced by my top wine from the upcoming April 2nd Vintages release, the superb 2007 DOMAINE TAUPENOT-MERME BEL AIR GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU AC $83.95.
Domaine Taupenot Merme Bel Air Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru 2007

The 2008s, on the other hand, are more firm, more angular or “classic” and ageworthy. Both vintages required not only conscientious farming, but also some masterful handling in the winery. I found the 1998s in particular to be generally excellent: less fleshy, leaner, but very accurate reflections of their typical village or vineyard style, and highly age-worthy in the best appellations. In fact, my number one smart buy this week is the 2008 DOMAINE GILLE CÔTES DE NUITS-VILLAGES AC, Prop.-Récolt. $24.95, which has classic Côte de Nuits character and drinks like a village or even decent premier cru red for a fraction of the price.

Domaine Gille Côtes De Nuits Villages 2008

Then there are the 2009s, which have been hyped up in the press. Lots of sunshine and high temperatures yielded very ripe fruit and it shows in the wines. The reds have super ripe, almost candied red fruit flavour while the whites verge on tropical fruit. Acidity is low and tannins are very soft, meaning that these wines are showing really even now – a perfect vintage with which to get to know Burgundy. It was also a generous year so quantities should be in decent supply at least. Try the 2009 DOMAINE ROUX PÈRE & FILS LES CHAUMES CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET 1ER CRU AC $38.95 for an example of the ripe, almost new world style of the 2009s.

Domaine Roux Père & Fils Les Chaumes Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru 2009

Cru-Lieu-Dit-Climat: Reading the labels

But even if more consistent, the region is still complex, and that’s a good part of the allure of Burgundy for wine lovers. Don’t expect to understand it all. Ever. Au contraire, revel in the mystery and the deliciously puzzling classification of plots of land, so scrupulously delineated over the past thousand years. English author Stephen Gwynn summed it up nicely back in 1934: “Burgundy is not the designation of a wine produced and standardized in immense quantities. It is the general description of a great number of closely related wines, having kindred excellence conforming broadly to one type, but varying infinitely by fine shades, which is the pleasure of connoisseurs to distinguish.”

One of the key concepts to understanding the region is that of the cru, or lieu-dit, or climat, or whatever they call it. Just when I thought I had understood the concept, a little research pulled me deeper into this mystery of Burgundian proportions. But I find it fascinating, with more than a trace of Aristotelian division and sub-division. So here’s how it works, I think:
Wine Map of Burgundy

The appellations of Burgundy function like a set of nesting Russian matryoshka dolls. The largest, outer doll represents the regional appellations: basic Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Bourgogne Passe Tout Grains. The fruit for these wines can come from anywhere within the viticultural region of Burgundy; it is all-encompassing. The next doll/set of appellations covers a slightly smaller area: the sub-regional appellations such as Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, etc., essentially any appellation containing the word “Bourgogne”. The fruit for these can be sourced in relatively broad areas, but not from not from the entire region. The next doll as we crack our way down to the smallest represents appellations such as, Mâcon or Mâcon-villages, Côte de Nuits-Villages, Côte de Beaune-villages. These again are slightly smaller, more specific regions, clearly demarcated. Next step down would be specific village or communal appellations, for vineyards located within the communal boundaries. There are many, but some of the more famous village appellations are Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Meursault, Puligy-Montrachet and Pouilly-Fuissé, for example.

Burgundy Wine LabelYet another layer down, it starts to get really exciting. You see, since the Burgundians have had a couple thousand years to get to know their terroir really well, they have given individual parcels of land within each village’s borders their own specific names. These are called lieu-dit, or literally “place called”. The names, established from regular usage since the middle ages or even Gallo-Roman times, derive most often from some historic connection or physical feature. The origins of some names are simply mysterious, while others more obvious, such as the type of vegetation found in the parcel: Les Charmes, Les Genevrières; the soil type: Les Perrières, Les Grèves, Les Cras, Les Caillerets; the location of the parcel: la Pièce-sous-le-Bois (“the parcel under the woods”), Derrière le Four (“Behind the [ancient coal] oven”), La Romanée (next to an ancient Roman road); former proprietors: le Chambertin (le champ de Bertin, or, “Bertin’s Field”), Le Clos du Roi (‘the King’s Clos”), etc. One can only imagine how the lieu-dit Les Amoureuses (“the Lovers”) in the village of Chambolle-Musigny got its name.

If a wine is grown exclusively in one of the lieux-dits, then it is entitled to put the name of the parcel on the label, along with the name of the village in which it’s located. But hold on: it’s not that simple. Just because the parcel is named doesn’t mean that it’s equal to all others. Burgundy is all about hierarchies of potential quality. Over the centuries, certain lieux-dits developed a better reputation for their wines than others. Early on, these superior parcels were refered to as hauts lieux, that is, higher [better] parcels. Later on, under the official AOC regulations introduced in France in 1935, these superior vineyard parcels became enshrined as premier cru vineyards, and in just 33 out of 1394 cases, grand cru-classified, for the really special parcels that have proven their worth over centuries.

The term cru derives from the past participle of the French verb crôitre, to grow, and is usually translated into “growth” as in “1st growth” or ‘great growth”, or is just left in the original French. But in inner Burgundian circles, amongst the connoisseurs, you’ll more often hear the ancient term “climat” used instead of cru to refer to the top vineyards. ‘Climate’ refers to the unique conditions of a micro piece of land – soil, aspect, drainage, orientation, elevation, etc. Simple enough, right? Well in the 1986 Nouvel Atlas des Grand Vins de Bourgogne by Pitiot and Poupon (revised in 1999), the definition of climat and it’s variations in meaning stretch on for over 3 pages. It seems lieu-dit and climat were once used interchangeably, and then later on, for unknown reasons, the meanings diverged. I’ll spare you the historical details of this philosophical meandering, and skip to the definition that Pitiot and Poupon propose, and that one that is most widely accepted today (my translation): “The term climat is applied above all to those territories classified in the AOCs premiers crus and grands crus… One must then know that the notion of climat can be either restrictive or encompassing with respect to that of the lieu-dit”.

And here’s where it gets more fun. As it turns out, a climat can be just a small part of a larger lieu-dit, for example: Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru “Porrets Saint Georges”, where Porret Saint Georges is just a small portion of the lieu-dit “Les Poirets”. In other cases, a climat can contain certain parts of several lieux-dits, i.e. Pommard Premier Cru “Clos des Epeneaux”, where the Clos des Epeneaux is actually composed of part of the lieu-dit “Les Grands Epenots” and part of “Les Petits Epenots” (note the different spelling of Epenots vs. Epeneaux). It follows logically, of course, that a climat could contain within it’s boundaries the entirety of one or more lieux-dits, as in Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Pucelles”, which encompasses the whole of the lieux-dits “Les Pucelles” and “Clos des Meix”, or that it could include the entirety of some lieux-dits and only parts of others, as in the “Clos des Lambrays Gran Cru”, where the Clos des Lambrays lieu-dit incorporates the lieu-dit “Les Larrets ou Clos des Lambrays” in its entirety, the lieu-dit “Les Bouchots” in totality and just a part of the lieu-dit “Meix Rentier”. I shouldn’t neglect to mention that a climat can actually be referred to under the nickname of an existing lieu-dit, as in Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru “Lavaux Saint-Jacques”, even if one might not naturally realizes that Lavaux Saint-Jacques is the nickname for the lieu-dit “Lavaut”!

Isn’t it marvelous! Such fantastic complexity! Only in Burgundy, say the Burgundians. I suppose if you lived in very close proximity to your neighbors for a thousand years and cared so deeply for the land that every piece of it was given a unique name for identification, your neighborhood might have a complex web of intermixed whimsical names as well.

The Appellation authorities have fortunately devised a system to make the differences between the good, very good and the best named-sites readily apparent on the label. First of all, any vineyards classified as premier or grand cru will state as much on the label, as in: Vosne-Romanée (the name of the village) “Les Beaux Monts” (name of climat) Premier Cru (classification of the climat); or Chambertin Grand Cru (Climat, classification). Further more, if the wine comes from a lieu-dit within a village that is not rated premier or grand cru, the name of the parcel can still appear on the label but only in a font size half of that of the village font size, as in MEURSAULT CLOS DU MAZERAY (Meursault is the village and Clos du mazeray is the name of the unclassified lieu-dit; but: PULIGNY-MONTRACHET LES COMBETTES, where the name of the village and the name of the premier cru-classified climat appear in the same font size.

So that should straighten things out I hope….The real point is that the notion of lieux-dits and crus and climats all intend to evoque the spirit of the winegrowers who have worked this land for so long, and have come to know and understand the most minute variations in soil, slope, altitude, orientation and surroundings that consistently give wines of a certain character. Once you’ve grasped that, then you are on your way to understanding burgundy. The rest is just the enjoyable homework of reading, traveling and tasting. Or to make life even easier, check out these 90+ point Burgundies, each guaranteed to fairly represent their village and vineyard.

From the April 2nd, Vintages release:
Top Ten Smart Buys
90+ point Burgundies
Solid South Africans
All Reviews

Cheers,

John S. Szabo, MS
John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Oct 16th Vintages Preview – Reveal your True Colours: Are you Bordeaux or Burgundy?

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this posting do not necessarily reflect the views of WineAlign nor any of the wine reviewers associated therewith.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS


There’s a clear dividing line between serious wine drinkers. You can’t see it; it isn’t painted anywhere. It’s not a secret, yet nor is it often discussed outside of inner circles. Nonetheless, this imaginary line, this philosophical divide, neatly cleaves the followers of Bacchus into two irreconcilable factions. It’s the equivalent of a two-party political system, whereby anyone deeply engaged in the democratic process has a clear allegiance to one side or the other. No fence sitting, no floor crossing or flip-flopping. In order to expose the vinous leaning of a stranger at a dinner party, without intention to outwardly offend, one must employ the same tentative, indirect line of questioning that might be used to draw out someone’s position on a potentially explosive issue such as abortion or capital punishment. A few oblique inquiries, carefully crafted will inevitably draw out the truth, just as border guards employ are trained to employ a befuddling succession of seemingly irrelevant questions in order to back you into a corner and eventually cause you to admit your transgressions. I don’t have space here to beat around the bush, so I’ll just brazenly come right out and ask: are you Bordeaux or Burgundy?

If affirmative on the former, grab a bottle of 2004 CHÂTEAU DE LAMARQUE AC Haut-Médoc $28.95, a superb wine from a less-heralded vintage, which means value opportunity. If you lean to the latter, then the 2007 DOMAINE BOUCHARD PÈRE & FILS BEAUNE DU CHÂTEAU AC 1er Cru $39.95, is your wine. Same score, but anything but equal pleasure. As the French love to say, ça dépend.
Château De Lamarque 2004  Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune Du Château 2007
You see, you may switch cell phone companies, belong to more than one airline rewards program, or even go back and forth between PC and Mac. But if you are true to yourself, you can’t be both a Burgundy lover and a Bordeaux lover at the same time, not if you’re serious about wine. One can’t truly argue logically and soundly for supremacy of one over the other, only passionately. Despite being geographically within the borders of the same country, and the language spoken in both regions is, on the surface, substantially similar, Bordeaux and Burgundy occupy two entirely separate universes. Both regions grow grapes and are virtually synonymous with wine. Both strive to make wine that will be admired around the world and poured at the best tables. Both regions have become standard-bearers and archetypes for their respective styles. And both believe that their wine is the best. But the similarities end there.

 

Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux

Pichon Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux

For starters, Bordeaux is maritime, Burgundy is continental. But that’s the least of the differences. The heart of the differences lies in the philosophy. As has been repeatedly written over the centuries, Bordeaux speaks to the intellect, Burgundy speaks to the heart. The Bordelais are clever: they use a blend of grapes to mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns and flatten the inconsistency curve in a marginal climate. The Bourguignons channel all of their hope, their yearly prosperity, through a single grape, red or white. The Bordelais, or more correctly the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce drew up the famous 1855 classification hierarchy based purely on the commercial success of each château; nary a soil profile hole was dug, nor slope angle measured. The Burgundians, or more correctly the Cistercian monks of the local abbeys, spent about 700 years empirically examining every square inch of the Côte d’Or, vinifying each plot of vines separately and evaluating through the vector of a single transparent grape the differences that emerged, before drawing the lines around the good, better and best vineyards. The domaine, or producer, doesn’t even factor in; only the land speaks.

 

Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy

Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy

In Bordeaux to increase the production of your Grand Cru, all one need do is purchase more vineyards. Any vineyards within the same appellation. In Burgundy, to increase the production of your Grand Cru, you must purchase more vines, in the same demarcated grand cru-rated vineyard, not adjacent, not next door, not above or below. Bordeaux wine prices fluctuate like the stock market, Burgundy prices don’t, because they’re not publicly traded. You have to know someone who knows someone to even make an offer. In Bordeaux, money talks. In Burgundy, you can talk, but nobody listens because they’re probably out in the vineyard working. In Bordeaux, the wine world heavy weights are invited for one week every year in March or April to taste raw, unfinished wine from barrel in order unofficially re-draw the château rankings like a top 100 pop chart, or to put money down on the barrel head to secure precious allocations of the top kit. In Burgundy, the other half of the wine world heavyweights are invited for three days each November to raise money for charity and then seriously party.

If you love Bordeaux, than you also love super Tuscans, Amarone, Napa Valley cabernet, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, cuvee prestige champagne, Barossa shiraz, Maipo Valley cabernet, Priorat in Spain, Portugal’s Alentejo, and anything in magnums and even larger format bottles. From this release you’ll enjoy the excellent 2007 TORRES SALMOS DOCa Priorat Spain $33.95,  the rich and flavourful 2008 PAUL HOBBS CHARDONNAY Russian River Valley California $44.95, and the sturdy, densely-packed-for-the-money 2008 FINCA FLICHMAN RESERVA MALBECMendoza Argentina $12.95.

Torres Salmos 2007 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2008 Finca Flichman Reserva Malbec 2008

If you love Burgundy, then you also love German riesling, northern Rhône syrah, Vouvray, Barolo and Barbaresco, Sonoma Coast or Santa Barbara, Chile’s San Antonio or Leyda Valleys, South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and the Clare/Eden Valleys, Spain’s El Bierzo, the Dâo and Douro in Portugal. From this release you’ll enjoy the spicy and complex 2004 LA VELONA BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO DOC Tuscany $43.95, the bio-dynamically grown 2008 MILLTON RIVERPOINT VINEYARD CHARDONNAY New Zealand $17.95, and the characterful and surprisingly ageworthy 2008 CUATRO PASOS MENCÍA DO Bierzon Spain $16.95 .
La Velona Brunello Di Montalcino 2004 Millton Riverpoint Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Cuatro Pasos Mencía 2008

See more top picks including the customary top ten smart buys (for both sides), as well as my top ten Bordeaux, the main theme of the release, and the top five bubblies from France the mini-thematic of October 16th.

Of course, as a professional taster, at least when I’m being paid to taste wines, the lines are erased and two worlds collide. But on my dime, the lines are drawn, the distinction is clear. Have you guessed which side I’m on?

Click on the following to see my:
Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten Bordeaux
Top Five French Fizz
All Reviews

Cheers,


John Szabo, Master Sommelier

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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008