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15 Great South African Wine Values

Photos and text by David Lawrason
with notes from John Szabo and Steve Thurlow

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In a recent Newsletter called the New World Order (VINTAGES Jan 10) I made the statement that South Africa currently heads the list of the best sources of wine value in the world; followed by Argentina and Chile. I stand by that statement and want to elaborate, then to point out 15 South African wines currently at the LCBO or VINTAGES Stores that stand as evidence. The WineAlign team recently had an opportunity to taste the entire South African General List category, plus some recent VINTAGES releases.

First, I want to define value. It doesn’t solely mean wines that are the lowest price. Value juxtaposes quality and cost, at any price level. Quality I define as true, balanced, complex and generous expression of grape and place. The problem for South Africa – and in the end for consumers – is that so many of the wines bought by the LCBO are based on low price only. They will claim we consumers won’t pay more for South African wine. I contend that we will gladly pay more once exposed to the right wines. I spent three weeks in South Africa last year, and was stunned by how many “more expensive” wines showed great quality, and were still good value. And I tasted hundreds.

This is of course the age-old problem with the LCBO one-buyer monopoly system. They simply don’t have shelf space for more than a token representation from any one country and to be fair to all they must list wines from all countries. South Africa has suffered most from this because their supply and quality was interrupted when in 1987 Canada stopped buying to protest racist Apartheid policies. To regain market share after the sanctions were lifted in 1994 the LCBO bought the cheapest and often least good quality wines – which left a poor impression. The industry was stuck in a quality rut during the sanctions period, which I witnessed on my first visit just after Nelson Mandela was elected president.

South Africa

Fynbos, a collective term for the varied native vegetation of the Cape, can lend its wild aromas to the wines.

But those days are history, and since then quality has improved dramatically, particularly in the last five years. I noticed it during a visit in 2011, and by the time I visited again last March it was crystal clear. The same conclusions have been reached by all WineAlign colleagues who have also recently been to South Africa – John Szabo, Anthony Gismondi, Steve Thurlow and Janet Dorozynski. Each of them has come back writing about how South Africa has turned the corner. You can scan our archives for their articles.

The current situation is that the LCBO selection is still ridiculously small given what is available to the buyers; and the selection is still governed to a large degree by low prices, with some loyalty being shown to brands that have just always been around, which makes entry more difficult for new brands that are upping their game. Even VINTAGES, with its average bottle price of $18.95, lists few South African wines that are over $20. But, the good news is that quality within that price band has increased a great deal. To me the average $15 Cape wine is on a quality level of the average $30 French or California wine.

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The quality surge has everything to do with better, often more natural grape growing. I was impressed by the level of ecological awareness in South Africa. It is also a result of better winemaking, with far fewer faulted “meaty and rubbery” wines. And there is also much more attention being paid to better location of specific varieties in the right climatic zones. I could go on and on about the latter in particular – the emergence of well-defined wine regions and regional styles – but that has already been covered before by our correspondents. And I will shortly be posting a detailed essay on pinotage which, by example, demonstrates these themes.

For now, I simply want to encourage those of you who have not tried South African wines to do so. To dip into our list of the best values on the shelf today. If you want an opportunity to sample first, some LCBO stores will be doing that on Saturday, Feb 14; and LCBOs with event kitchens will be staging mini-South African fairs.

And if you really want to dig into this subject by flying to South Africa itself, Wines of South Africa has a contest running until March 3rd that will send two people to the Cape with airfare, accommodation, meals and wine tours included. Enter at www.wosa.co.za/canadacompetition.

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

The Wolftrap 2013 WhiteThe Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape ($13.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is an amazing white for the money with its intensely flavoured palate and pure complex nose. Expect aromas of melon and baked pear fruit with lemongrass and floral heather plus some typical South African minerality. The palate is intense and very solid with some bitter tones nicely closing the finish. It’s a bit chunky and does not have the elegance of the 2012 vintage. Very good to excellent length. Match with sautéed pork chops.
David Lawrason – Totally agree on the value quotient of this intriguing white blend that is built around viognier (60%),  chenin blanc (21%) and less seldom seen grenache blanc (19%). It’s a combination of warmer climate (Rhone)varieties that provide opulence anchored in chenin blanc acidity. Partial fermentation and ageing in French oak adds even ore layers.  The emergence of Rhone varieties grown in inland areas is one of the great stories of the new South Africa

Goats do Roam 2013 White, Western Cape ($11.95)
John Szabo
– The first vintage of this whimsically-named, Rhône-inspired blend was 1998, and the quality has steadily risen. And now that the vines are over 15 years old, there’s more than enough complexity to put this into the sharp value category. It’s about 2/3rds viognier with roussanne and grenache blanc, mainly from the Fairview property in Paarl with a small percentage from Swartland, delivering pleasant citrus-pear-apple fruit, savoury herbs and light floral-blossom aromatics on a mid-weight, essentially dry and fleshy frame. This will please widely.
Steve Thurlow – This is a consistently great value white. I love the pureness and the vibrancy of the 2013 vintage. It is an aromatic blend of three white grapes with lifted floral fruity aromas and an intensely flavoured palate. The nose shows apple and custard with pasty, floral orange and white peach fruit. It is medium-full bodied with firm balancing acidity and a long firm finish. Very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Fleur du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape ($12.85)
Steve Thurlow – This wine has been sadly absent from our market for a few years and it is a welcome return to the LCBO list. It is an oaked chardonnay with just enough oak to add complexity to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of baked apple with vanilla, caramel, with lemon and cinnamon notes. The palate is rich and very smooth with intense flavours and very good length. It is old school but well done. Try with fish and chips.

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape  ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mulderbosch is happy to pay a premium price for this fruit, sourced almost exclusively from bush vines, many over 30 years old and all dry farmed (Swartland, Malmesbury). The extra concentration shows through on the palate with its rich, succulent texture and very good to excellent length. 20% gets barrel treatment, though wood is not a player in the profile, and this is virtually bone dry. A wine with genuine depth and character, drinking now, but better in a year or two.

Boschendal The Pavillion 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, ($10.95)
John Szabo
– Here’s a lovely little value from Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest farms founded in 1685 and set in the dramatic Drakenstein Valley surrounded by the Cape’s staggeringly beautiful landscape. There’s genuine substance on the palate and plenty of ripe citrus, pineapple and melon flavours bolstered by a welcome impression of sweetness. I’d happily sip this, a wine to keep around the house to pull out on those ‘whenever’ occasions.

Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014

Simonsig Chenin 2012 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch  ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fine example of Cape chenin, a quite full bodied, fleshy yet balanced example with classic green pear/honeydew melon fruit sewn with subtle fine French oak spice  and vanilla in the background. With chenin’s growing popularity, different styles are also proliferating, with varying levels of oak involvent. So check out labels before you buy. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V Contemporary Collection 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape ($9.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious amazingly well priced alternative for pinot grigio lovers. The 2014 vintage of this wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows fresh melon pear fruit with grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Very good length with a nice bitter tone to the finish. Try with seafood or white meats.

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, Swartland ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mark Kent of Boekenhootskloof settled in the Franschhoek Valley, but has slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s a difficult region in which to grow grapes. Slowly but surely he’s pulled out vineyards (with the exception of some exquisite, old vine semillon) and replanted in other regions, especially Swartland, which he believes has enormous potential. And this all-Swartland syrah is a very strong argument in his favour, a wine that delivers all one could want at the price and more. The palate is rich and mouth filling, ripe but still grippy, with substantial flavour intensity and depth, as well as length. You won’t go wrong here.
David Lawrason – Not much to add here except “a high five”, especially if you are one who likes your syrah meaty, big and bouncy. This has been going strong since WineAlign first went on the air – scoring 87 points or better in every vintage since 2007.

The Wolftrap 2013 Syrah Mourvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
John Szabo – Although a small step below Boekenhootskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range in terms of depth and complexity (and price), this is a thoroughly delicious, savoury-fruity, well-balanced blend that hits all of the right notes. It’s also less oak-influenced, and as such will appeal to fans of classic Mediterranean blends (i.e. Côtes du Rhône). Infinitely drinkable all in all, especially with a light chill.
Steve Thurlow – This wine captures in each vintage the essence of a Rhone red and this is probably the best yet. It is made mostly from syrah with about 30% mouverdre and a splash of viognier. There are no jammy tones and the palate is firm with acid and tannin for balance. The tannins are ripe which gives it structure for food balance. Expect earthy black cherry and bramble fruit aromas with some smoke and black pepper spice and hints of dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied yet it feels lighter and the length is very good to excellent. Try with BBQ meats.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red, Stellensbosch ($12.95)
Steve Thurlow – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. The lifted nose shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit with black pepper, mild oak spice and floral complexity. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Very good length. Try with pizza or burgers.
David Lawrason – Excellent value, once again from a leading producer that was among the first to upgrade its style and quality in the post-Apartheid era. (I first tasted and was thoroughly impressed by their wines at a trade tasting in Toronto in 1995 – I believe). The blending of several grapes is very much in vogue in South Africa and this a good example.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red, Western Cape  ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – Fantastic value here. The 2013 is another excellent vintage with its lifted aromas of plum and black cherry, dark chocolate, mild oak spice, and smokey blackberry jam. It is midweight and well balanced with lively acidity and spicy black fruit and soft tannin. Very good to excellent length. It is a great food wine to be enjoyed with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Goats Do Roam Red 2013 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Boschendal The Pavillion 2013 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red. It is midweight with aromas of red cherry with white pepper spice, and modest oak treatment, so the fruit shines through. The fruity palate is well balanced by soft tannin and some racy acidity makes it feel quite light. Good focus and very good length. Try with grilled meats.

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks 2011 Pekin Red, Paarl ($14.95)
John Szabo -
Well, this is quite a wine for $15. John and Ginny Grieve, owners of Vital Health Foods, bought the 300 year-old Avondale farm in 1997 and set about converting it to organic/biodynamic culture (actually, they’ve invented their own system called BioLogic). The same balanced approach is taken in the winery. And the results? Well, everything I’ve tasted from Avondale has been worth a look. Jonty’s Ducks is a second label of sorts, which blends about 2/3 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the Bordeaux grapes. It’s wholly satisfying and highly drinkable, either on its own for contemplation or with roasted meat preparations.

K W V Roodeberg 2012

Rustenberg 2011 ShirazRustenberg Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch that first bottled wine in 1892!  It is also the site of one of the finest restaurants and tasting facilities in South Africa (I was stunned by the sophistication of the hospitality scene in and around Stellenbosch.) Because Rustenberg is a classic old-school estate expect leaner, very Euro and very complex reds. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a medium bodied Cape classic that as usual offers good value with the 2012 vintage. It is well balanced and quite complex. It is styled like a French southern Rhône red with red and black cherry fruit, white pepper, with herbal and mineral tones. Good to very good length, try with rack of lamb.

Cheers,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Treve’s Travels – Australia Today – Part 1

Australia Today – Part IJanuary 28, 2015

Text and photographs by Treve Ring

IMG_8093I spent three solid weeks in Australia last fall, hopping across wine regions in search of Australia TODAY – what’s really happening in the exciting wine world of Oz. It’s as easy to be inspired by what I tasted – unbridled, original, innovative and fearless wines – as it is the landscape and wildlife. YES there are kangaroos everywhere. And sightings of wombats, koalas and other crazy creatures (did you know they have wild camels in Australia?!)

There is a distinct energy, even amongst established producers, that authentic Australia’s time has come. Seems redundant, albeit necessary to state that Australia today is not Australia of the past. Respecting wine tradition and embracing modern technology while relentlessly striving forward with the pluck of Aussie pride equals interesting, authentic wines.

Striking labels of Longview

Striking labels of Longview

This two-part series overviews the main regions and highlights a few producers and wines that are worthy to know about. Of course, with Vancouver International Wine Festival around the corner, and the theme region being Australia, I will make special note of the producers and wines available for tasting at VIWF.

But First, A Brief History

New World my ass.

Australia has been making wine for 200 years, with vines arriving with the First Fleet in 1788. The first significant vineyards were established in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until James Busby’s European vine souvenir trip in 1831 that the industry really started to self root. Busby returned to Australia with 362 varieties, cuttings of which spread throughout South Eastern Australia and to which many of the country’s old vines have traceable lineage to today. That’s Old World.

And old soils – as an individual landmass for over 100 million years, Australia claims title to the oldest, and therefore most eroded continent, with very ancient and complex soils. The oldest things on earth are found in Australia – dating back 4.4 billion years. Eons of younger soils of sand, limestone, volcanic and all variants within are found, and today increasingly planted to grapes and styles that specifically suit both soils and climate.

Of course, the Australian wine industry was not always as selective, at least on a large scale, and subsequently became a victim of its own success. A wine sea of cheap and cheerful critter labels, multiregional blends and globally omnipresent bottles created an image of low quality, cheap, industrial wines and a consumer backlash that persists today. There’s no denying that Aussie wine is big business; however, there are also signs that consumers are ready to accept Australia’s diverse wine regionality, progressive modernity and adventuresome spirit.

The average value of Australian wine exports into Canada continues to rise, while quantity in litres has dropped. Data obtained from Wine Australia (Dec. 2014) shows that quantity of bottled exports to Canada is down 3% to 30 million litres. However, the average value of bottled exports increased by 2% to A$5.22 per litre. Exports priced at above A$5 per litre, a more premium category, increased by 5% to 12.6 million litres. Trading up, education, exploration all play a part in this trending, raising Australia’s image and widening exposure for small scale, quality producers.

Remarkable Regionality

Just as one would think it impossible to typify the wines of France, or even Burgundy, it’s insane to characterize the wines of Australia. In fact, if you laid a map of Europe on Australia, you can easily fit in the top of the UK down to the north of Egypt, and from the ocean west of Portugal across past Ukraine.

Australia Map w Europe Overlay

Australia’s huge diverse wine community is divided into more than 65 recognized regions, known as Geographic Indications (GI). These regions support more than 100 grape varieties, and winemakers have been studiously dialing in what works well where and why. Most of Australia is currently untouched by phylloxera, meaning most quality vines are self-rooted and ungrafted. The absence of wide-spread phylloxera also means that Australia is home to some of the oldest producing vines in the world, dating back to the mid 1800s.

Here in Part I, I’ve highlighted a few regions in Western Australia and South Australia along with producers and wines I recommend seeking out.

VIWF indicates wines and/or producers present at Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Wish You Were Here is part of WineAlign’s ongoing series signifying wines not yet available in Canada.

Wines without titles means you can purchase this wine in Canada now.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Margaret River

This relatively recent wine region (established in the 1970s) is geographically isolated on the far south west corner of Australia. Brisk ocean breezes and a marked maritime climate contribute to the acclaim for its stylish, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and concentrated Chardonnay.

VIWF
Devil’s Lair Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Vasse Felix Heytesbury 2011

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

IMG_8810Clare Valley

Clare Valley rocks. Literally and physically. Undulating, picturesque hills of twisting gumtrees cover a patchwork of highly varied soils, spanning alluvial plains up through rocky ridges in the northern Mt. Lofty Ranges. Resting in one of the highest sunshine areas in Australia contributes to Clare Valley’s stunning, generous and weighty rieslings, structured and finessed shiraz and dark chocolate, dark berried and lengthy cabernet sauvignon.

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Wish They Were Here
Grosset Wines Polish Hill Riesling 2014

 

In the vineyard with John Duval

In the vineyard with John Duval

Barossa Valley

This historic wine region reaches back to 1842, and preserves and protects their aged vines through the Barossa Old Vine Charter, an initiative by Australia’s oldest family owned winery, Yalumba (now in 6th generation). Full bodied, pure-fruited and plush shiraz rules here, making up 50% of plantings. GSM blends also shine with their well knit spicy, peppery and ripe red fruits.

VIWF
Yalumba The Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz 2012
Peter Lehmann Wines Stonewall Shiraz 2009
Teusner Wines Avatar 2013
John Duval Wines Plexus 2012
Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2009

Wish They Were Here
Spinifex Wines Esprit 2012

 

Drinking Contours Riesling in Contours Vineyard

Drinking Contours Riesling in Contours Vineyard

Eden Valley

This verdant high country is part of the Barossa Zone, beginning in altitude (380m) where Barossa Valley ends. Cooler climate, with bloody cold whistling winds helps preserve vibrant acidity in Eden’s pristine lime-laced rieslings and peppery, sage and cassis imbued shiraz.

Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2009

VIWF
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2012

 

 

Adelaide Hills

The Adelaide Hills are alive. Alive with crisp sauvignon blanc, fragrant pinot noir and vibrant chardonnay. As the name implies, the region is very hilly, cooler climate and remarkably picturesque; a hidden treasure. The relative youth of this wine region means there are many envelope-pushing folks here. Exciting stuff.

IMG_8616

Longview Vineyard, Adelaide Hills

VIWF
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2013
Longview Vineyard Saturnus Nebbiolo 2012
Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2013

Wish They Were Here
BK Wines Skin & Bones White 2013
Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2013

 

McLaren Vale

The ocean influences all parts of this valley, nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the sandy beaches of the Gulf of St Vincent. The dramatic, hilly and diverse landscape affords it the name of the greenest wine region, both in scenery and in organic and biodynamic viticulture (nearly every plot is used for grapes). While pure, dark berry, spicy shiraz is king, grenache is gaining acclaim through its striking raspberry scented fruit and juicy liveliness.

VIWF
Serafino Wines Sorrento Dry Grown Grenache 2012
Yangarra Roussanne 2012
Nugan Matriarch Shiraz 2006

Wish They Were Here
Dodgy Bros Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot 2012
*Dodgy Bros has recently been picked up by a BC agent, so watch for this winery on our shelves this spring! Success!

 

Langhorne Creek

This flat, river delta landscape is nestled amongst gum trees on the Bremer and Angas rivers. The fertile, deep sandy loam soils produce soft, accessible and chocolatey cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, oft utilized to plump out blends.

VIWF
Bleasdale Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

In Australia TODAY Part II, I will continue east to Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.

~ Treve

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


Very cool stuff from Adelaide Hills - BK Wines & Ochota Barrels

Very cool stuff from Adelaide Hills – BK Wines & Ochota Barrels

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The Successful Collector – The First Growths of Bordeaux

Julian Hitner reports on some of the top châteaux of Bordeaux after visiting one of France’s most celebrated winegrowing regions in 2014. Read on to learn more about the classifications of Bordeaux, a typical visit to first-class estate and an overview of some of the region’s most revered properties.

A spiritual experience:
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

A visit to a First Growth is unlike any other wine pilgrimage. The closest thing it resembles is a pseudo-religious experience: setting foot on sacred vineyards, entering sanctified estate interiors and partaking of wines officially consecrated as the best of the best, the latter a deceptively secular means of declaring such contents divine. Of course, this is mere melodramatic testament to perfectionist winegrowing, acknowledged by centuries of near-universal adulation, exorbitant price structuring and begrudged rarity of genuine appreciation by all but the most deep-pocketed of wine collectors. Yet these are the terms in which the most illustrious estates of Bordeaux must be understood, in that they are grandiose, that they are picture-perfect, and that the wines they produce are among the greatest in the world.

But how does one account for this situation? For wine historians, the success of Bordeaux’s greatest estates has as much to do with the quality of their flawless vineyards as it does with the long-standing endurance of the classification systems to which they belong. Of these, the most famous is the 1855 Classification of the Médoc (or Left Bank) and Sauternes-Barsac. This is the classification, or hierarchy, that includes the most prized châteaux of the Left Bank as First Growths: Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild (promoted in 1973), Margaux and Haut-Brion (the latter based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves). All other estates fortunate enough to be included belong to four other categories: Second Growth, Third Growth, Fourth Growth and Fifth Growth. In Sauternes-Barsac, there are three categories: Premier Cru Supérieur (a status enjoyed only by Château d’Yquem), Premier Cru and Second Growth.

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

Château Lafite Rothschild vines and buildings

In the Graves, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan employs a one-category classification of Grand Cru Classé, or variations thereof, for both its red and white wines. Unlike the Left Bank, where all whites must be labeled, appellation-wise, as generic ‘Bordeaux’ and may not even mention the estate’s official ranking, those of Pessac-Léognan are permitted to state the actual name of the appellation as well as the official classification of the estate. All of this stands in contrast to the much larger, reds-only classification system of St-Emilion, the most significant appellation of the Right Bank sector of Bordeaux. Subject to revision every ten years or so, a sizeable number of estates are placed into four categories. The first is Premier Grand Cru Classé A, widely considered the equivalent of the First Growths of the Left Bank. For the longest time, only Châteaux Ausone and Cheval Blanc were ranked as such, having recent been joined (not without controversy) by Angélus and Pavie. Following this are Premier Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru. Over the border in the appellation of Pomerol, there is no classification system in place, though few would dispute that immortal Château Petrus along with a few others may be considered equals to the First Growths of the Left Bank or St-Emilion.

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

Fairy Tale Second Growth Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

 

All spiritual jargon aside, there is indeed something to be said for visiting nearly all of the First Growths of Bordeaux, along with a host of other magnificent properties, in only roughly one week. As appearances go, such properties are immaculately tended, with luxurious gardens, aristocratic exteriors and interiors and perfectly tended vines. Yet strangely enough, visiting the finest châteaux is not an entirely complicated concern, for most estates nowadays are eager to accept visitors. Advanced planning is key. Appointments must be made well ahead of time, in some cases as much as several months, and travel by car or perhaps bicycle is highly recommended. Most estates have special sections on their website on how they may be contacted for making an appointment. Furthermore, most estates, First Growths included, now retain public relations staff in their employ, many of whom are extremely courteous and knowledgeable. Excepting fellow winegrowers and professional journalists, it is highly unlikely that visitors will be greeted by the owner, chief viticulturalist or director of winemaking.

From personal experience, the course of a visit seldom varies from one château to another: a tour of the vineyards and cellar, followed by a tasting of the latest vintage, typically from barrel. The length of one’s stay depends almost entirely on one’s depth of interest. In most cases, First Growths are extremely large properties, consisting of substantial vineyard parcels, work-specific and residential buildings, elaborate garden spaces and below-ground cellars. Any self-respecting claret lover should make a point of viewing as many of these components as possible. Photos are almost always permitted.

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

Château Latour pigeon house and vines

 

As it so happens, those expecting an abundance of different wines to taste will be left out in the cold. Except on rare occasions, even professional journalists are only provided with a sample of the latest vintage to taste. Compared to many other types of wineries, many of which possess a vast range of wines on offer, most Bordeaux estates produce only a handful of wines every vintage. In the case of First Growths, this may consist of as a little as two wines: the grand vin (the top wine of the estate) and the second wine (usually crafted from parcels or vat selections deemed to be of lesser quality). Those that also produce white wines, such as Château Margaux or Haut Brion, seldom make these available for tasting, as they are produced in very small quantities. This said, tasting the latest vintage of Margaux or Cheval Blanc is anything but immaterial, for such wines are nowadays remarkably appreciable and understandable even in infancy, providing enthusiasts with invaluable insight into the reasons for which these estates are held in such sensational regard.

Unfortunately these days, the greatest names of Bordeaux are entirely unaffordable, demand far outstripping supply even for the second wines, a single bottle of which now cost at least a few hundred dollars. Not that such wines were ever low-cost, there was nonetheless a time, only a decade or two ago, when enthusiasts could put aside a few monies and lay their hands on a bottle or two for the cellar. This makes a pilgrimage to the First Growths all the more singular, for it is genuinely the only means nowadays of partaking of a small quantity of ostensibly hallowed wines traditionally reserved for a select few. As it appears, pseudo-religiosity knows very few bounds when discussing First Growths.

The greatest estates:

The First Growths of the 1855 Classification:

Château Latour:

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012 Château Lafite Rothschild 2001 Château Latour 2004As name recognition goes, Château Latour is perhaps the most famous of the First Growths, a name that evokes not unfounded notions of regality, grandeur and longevity. Owned by François Pinault, much of this 78-ha estate is located on the southern boundary of Pauillac, right across from Second Growth Léoville-Las Cases in St-Julien. The director of winemaking is Frédéric Engerer. The second wine is Les Forts de Latour. The estate also produces a third wine known as Pauillac de Château Latour, which has been produced every year since 1990.

Not long ago, Latour stunned the wine world by announcing that it is no longer participating in the annual en primeur (futures) programme, instead releasing specific vintages direct from the château only when they believe the wine is ready to be drunk. This is meant to discourage price speculation, bolster traditional markets and ensure the best possible quality for the connoisseur. Enthusiasts everywhere may look upon this as a positive development.

Château Latour 2004, Pauillac hails from one of the most classic vintages of the new century, possessing wondrous precision, harmony, layering and breed. Like so many other vintages before it, those fortunate enough to possess a bottle or two need not fear of carefully cellaring it for a few decades, perhaps for a child’s graduation. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Lafite Rothschild:

The epitome of pedigree and positive life forces, Château Lafite Rothschild may be considered the very embodiment of great claret production, for centuries compared and contrasted with Latour as the more aristocratic and graceful of the two. Owned by Baron Eric de Rothschild, this 112-ha property is situated on the northern boundary of Pauillac, directly across from Second Growth Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe. The director of winemaking is Charles Chevalier. The second wine is Carruades de Lafite.

Over the past decade, prices for Lafite have risen considerably in many parts of the world, mainly (though not exclusively) a result of its burgeoning popularity among well-heeled buyers in Asia. Although the wines of Lafite were never cheap, this dilemma has certainly shed light on the growing contrast of prices between those of the First Growths and its counterparts lower down the ladder. No solution has yet to be found.

Château Lafite Rothschild 2001, Pauillac is quite possibly the greatest wine of the vintage. Retaining indomitable authority, harmony, structure and gorgeousness, every claret enthusiast should discover the means of appreciating, if only once in a lifetime, a wine such as this, preferably on an occasion lending itself to quiet reflection and the company of one or two good persons. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Mouton Rothschild:

First Growth Château Mouton Rothschild has the extraordinary honour of being the only estate to have ever been promoted in the 1855 Classification, a status to which few would dispute it is rightly entitled. Owned by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, this 84-ha establishment is bordered next to Lafite in the northern sector of Pauillac, where wines of miraculous depth, exuberance and breed are produced to worldwide acclaim. The director of winemaking is Hervé Berland. The second wine is Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild. The estate also produces small amounts of white wine known as Aile d’Argent, largely regarded as a work in progress.

For every vintage since 1945, Mouton has commissioned some of the world’s most famous artists to design the front label of the bottle, including Salvador Dalí, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and acclaimed director John Huston. Few châteaux are as creative and dynamic as Mouton Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2012, Pauillac is a wine like few others, delivering unbelievable structure, radiance, harmony and breed. For decades, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) worked tirelessly to have Mouton promoted from Second to First Growth, finally achieving his dream in 1973. Nearly forty vintages later, wines like ’12 prove precisely why this advancement was necessary. Drink now or hold through 2065 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Haut-Brion:

Château D’yquem 2011 Château Margaux 2008 Château Haut Brion 2007Based out of the appellation of Pessac-Léognan in the Graves, Château Haut-Brion is the only estate outside of the Left Bank to be included in the 1855 Classification. Owned by Prince Robert of Luxembourg, this 46-ha estate is by far the oldest of the First Growths in terms of name recognition and quality. Long-established hallmarks for both reds and whites (the latter produced in extremely small quantities) are precociousness of texture, sophistication and fragrance. The director of winemaking is Jean-Philippe Delmas. The second wine is Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.

In 1983, Haut-Brion managed to acquire the 26-ha Château La Mission Haut-Brion from across the road, running the property as a separate entity yet with the same perfectionist standards. In some ways, La Mission may be rightly deemed a sixth First Growth, for the quality of its wines, both red and white, is virtually identical to that of Haut-Brion (to which it is most often compared) and the four others. For now, however, the estate is only included in the one-category classification system of Pessac-Léognan. The second wine is La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.

Château Haut-Brion 2007 Pessac-Léognan is very possibly the most inspiring claret from this difficult vintage. Tasted twice (most recently at the estate), it is probably the most ‘backward’ of the graduating class, featuring mindboggling layering, texture, elegance and harmony. With almost as much merlot as cabernet sauvignon, it is approachable even at present, though it will cellar for an extremely long time. Drink now or hold through 2060. Decanting is recommended.

Château Margaux:

Unequivocally the most sensual of the First Growths, Château Margaux is renowned for is unsurpassed spirituality of fragrance, elegance and structural dimension. Owned by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, this 92-ha estate is located in the appellation of the same name, with vineyards scattered among the choicest locations. The director of winemaking is Paul Pontallier. The second wine is Pavillon Rouge, and the estate also produces very small quantities of a miraculous white wine known as Pavillon Blanc.

Like many of the other First Growths, Margaux has spent the past several years tightening up quality, in the process creating a third wine, Margaux du Château Margaux. Now that two of five estates have launched such a label, it is likely only a matter of time before the rest of the pack does the same. Reactions to this development have been mixed. While quality of the Grand Vin and second wines are bound to go up, prices are likely to ascend just as rapidly.

Château Margaux 2008 Margaux is a claret of sensational layering, precision, harmony and grace. In many ways, it is a testament to the colossal aptitude of Paul Pontallier, Margaux’s managing director for nearly twenty-five years. Yet even Pontallier is the first to admit that his role at Margaux comes at a distant second to the estate’s unmatched terroirs. A very modest individual. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château d’Yquem:

Not only the greatest sweet wine producer in France, Château d’Yquem is easily one of Bordeaux’s most lauded and legendary institutions. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 110-ha property is the only estate in Sauternes to be designated as Premier Cru Supérieur, its wines considered, at least historically, to be so much finer than any of its peers that to rank them as equals was unthinkable. The director of winemaking is Sandrine Garbay. Although there is no second wine, a small amount of dry table wine, known as Ygrec, is produced every vintage.

For the extremely challenging 2012 vintage, d’Yquem generated a great deal of controversy by announcing that it would not be producing a sweet wine. This has placed other estates in Sauternes and Barsac in a difficult position, with many winegrowers lamenting the effect d’Yquem’s decision has had on the market and overall expectations. While some producers have stayed the course and claim to have made excellent wines, others such as Rieussec, Suduiraut and Raymond-Lafon have gone the way of d’Yquem. Instead, many will only be bottling a wine under their second label. Was d’Yquem’s course of action justified? Time will hopefully tell.

Château d’Yquem 2011 Sauternes clearly reflects the quality of this magnificent vintage, delivering astounding glamour, harmony, energy and decadence. Put simply, few other estates in Bordeaux, France or any other part of the world are capable of routinely crafting wines of this type at such a stupendous level of excellence. A shame one vine at d’Yquem averages only a single glass of wine. Drink now or hold through 2060 and beyond.

Other illustrious estates:

Château Léoville-Las Cases:

Château Palmer 2004 Château Ducru Beaucaillou 2001 Château Léoville Las Cases 2008Were the 1855 Classification ever revised, Second Growth Château Léoville-Las Cases would likely join the ranks of the First Growths in a heartbeat. Owned and operated by Jean-Hubert Delon, this 98-ha institution is located in northern St-Julien, just opposite Château Latour in Pauillac. For decades, its wines have overwhelmed connoisseurs with their immaculate sense of structure, refinement and capability. The second wine is Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases, while another, more famous wine known as Clos du Marquis is sourced from extremely high-grade parcels adjacent to the main holdings of the estate.

The Delon family is also the proud owner of Château Potensac in the appellation of Médoc, one of the greatest overachievers in this rather northerly part of the Left Bank. Planted on atypically gravelly soils at slightly higher elevations (unusual in much of this appellation), wines from this 84-ha property are routinely of extremely high quality and are rarely overpriced. If only more entities were as perfectionist as Léoville-Las Cases and its sister property.

Château Léoville-Las Cases 2008 St-Julien is one of the most affordable wines I have ever encountered from this estate in modern times, at least judging by the profound reverence for which this Super Second is held. Sustaining spectacular harmony, layering, style and pedigree, it begs the question why the 1855 Classification has only once been meritoriously revised to accommodate Mouton Rothschild. Drink now or hold through 2050. Decanting is recommended.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou:

Along with Léoville-Las Cases, Second Growth Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is the pride and joy of St-Julien, an appellation with no First Growths yet possessing an awfully impressive résumé of revered properties. Owned and operated by Bruno Borie, this 50-ha establishment nowadays yields wines of prodigious finesse, harmony and excitement. The second wine is La Croix de Beaucaillou.

An overachieving Second Growth, Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the most sought-after of the ‘Super Seconds,’ a nickname used to describe estates in the 1855 Classification that either perform well above their rank and/or are much more expensive than their peers. These include: Léoville-las Cases in St-Julien; Second Growths Cos d’Estournel and Montrose in St-Estèphe; Third Growth Palmer in Margaux; and Second Growths Pichon-Longueville Baron and Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac. Also worthy of mention are Lynch Bages and Pontet-Canet, two Pauillac Fifth Growths of Super Second quality and cost.

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 2001 St-Julian is now entering its peak, possessing uncanny sophistication, harmony, refinement and breed. From one of the most underappreciated vintages of the new millennium, wines like these serve as a valuable reminder that premium clarets need not nowadays be aged for decades on end in order to be fully appreciated. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting is recommended.

Château Palmer:

Though only ranked as a Third Growth, Château Palmer has been known to eclipse even neighbouring Château Margaux in some vintages. Owned by the Sichel and Mähler-Besse families, this 55-ha property has for decades produced wines of irrepressible beauty, profoundness and harmony. The director of winemaking is Thomas Duroux. The second wine is Alter Ego.

Although cabernet sauvignon is usually the most significant grape throughout the most prestigious appellations of the Left Bank, some estates like Palmer prefer to use near-equal amounts of merlot in the final blend, contributing extra concentration and beguilingly velvety textures to the wines. As of 2014, the estate also switched to 100% biodynamic farming. The future of Palmer has never shone brighter.

Château Palmer 2004 Margaux is already ten years old and yet only just beginning to open up. Endowed with astounding posture, refinement, harmony and style, its best days are still well ahead of it. For claret enthusiasts with the means of acquiring a bottle or two, it is thus a prime candidate to lay aside for the birth of a grandchild or long-awaited natural passing of a reviled in-law. Drink now or hold through 2050 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Château Cheval Blanc:

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Château Cheval Blanc 2006Along with Château Ausone (not visited), Château Cheval Blanc has long been recognized as the leading estate of St-Emilion, ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé A in the appellation’s classification system. Owned by luxury goods group LVMH, this 37-ha establishment is situated on the border with Pomerol, and is known for wines of extraordinary pedigree, durability and envelopment. Prices are routinely equal or higher than the First Growths of the Left Bank. The director of winemaking is Pierre Lurton. The second wine is Le Petit Cheval.

In 2011, the estate completed a major renovation and expansion of its main building and adjacent facilities. Reactions to its unapologetically ultramodern design have been mixed, with some (mostly Cheval Blanc affiliates) lauding its savvy technological features, while others have bemoaned its outward ostentation and contrast with the traditional appearance of neighbouring estates. So long as quality remains the same, or is even enhanced, such developments are likely of small consequence to claret enthusiasts.

Château Cheval Blanc 2006 St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A is one of the most majestic wines I have tasted from this estate to date, conveying spellbinding structure, pedigree, texture and balance. Containing 55% merlot and a whopping 45% cabernet franc, it is unquestionably the qualitative equivalent of a Left Bank First Growth, albeit one derived from a distinctly different set of winegrowing criteria. Drink now or hold through 2055 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Vieux Château Certan:

With absolutely no classification system, claret aficionados are entirely left to their own devices when ranking the estates of Pomerol. Even still, few would disagree that Vieux Château Certan is one of a handful of estates meriting highest standing. Owned and operated by Alexandre Thienpont, this 14-ha property has for decades borne wines of magnificent stature, elegance and authority. The second wine is La Gravette de Certan.

Unlike other prestigious appellations in most other parts of Bordeaux, châteaux in Pomerol are often small-scale affairs, with vineyards typically only adding up to several hectares. Usually family-owned, there is an almost peasant-like mentality in how winegrowers view their properties. At Vieux Château Certan, Monsieur Thienpont takes a very hands-on approach, personally receiving visitors and sharing his ideas with them. If only top estates elsewhere could assume a similar attitude, though property sizes in many cases renders this unrealistic.

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol was grabbed right off the bottling line by Alexandre Thienpont during a recent visit. Possessing tremendous harmony, attitude, elegance and breed, it almost singlehandedly defies the difficulties many winegrowers faced throughout this troublesome vintage. From one of Pomerol’s most historically renowned estates, if only there were more of its wines to go around. Drink now or hold through 2048 and beyond. Decanting is recommended.

Stay tuned next month for my report on the 2012 vintage. Plenty of choices for both the budget-minded and serious collectors alike.

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s massive list of Bordeaux red wine recommendations

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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A History, a Lesson and a Tour…

Whites from Loire & Bordeaux
by Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

Janet Dorozynski

While Bordeaux may be better known for its classified growth red wines and the Loire Valley for Sancerre, both regions have long been producing white wines, across a range of styles. Dry white blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon are found throughout Bordeaux and the “other whites” from chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne are common in the western end of the Loire Valley.

I revisited both regions this past spring after a long absence and many changes in the French and global wine industry. Although France is now again the largest wine producer in the world, with 46 million hectolitres (more than 6 billion bottles) in 2014, according to latest International Organisation of Vine & Wine (OIV) figures (see infographic @ Decanter.com), this news comes amid a decline in global and French wine consumption and the lingering economic crisis of the last decade. In spite of this, dry white Bordeaux blends and wines from chenin blanc are experiencing renewed interest among both wine producers and the wine cognoscenti around the globe.

What follows is a brief history of these storied and savoured white wines of the Loire and Bordeaux, plus suggestions where and when you can pair these whites throughout the winter season.

THE LOIRE VALLEY

Chenin Blanc, Queen of the Loire

Chenin blanc is currently one of the darling white grapes among sommeliers, due in part to the quality wine focus in places where it is widely planted like South Africa and the US, as well as along the western reaches of the Loire Valley from Blois to Savennières, where chenin reigns.

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

Chateau Angers Chenin vines

The Anjou region is south and southwest of the city of Angers, where Château d’Angers houses the hauntingly beautiful Apocalypse Tapestry series of the late 14th century. Here, 140 chenin grape vines were planted atop and within the fortressed walls as a testament of King René the First of Anjou’s interest in this noble grape. It is in this part of the Loire where chenin blanc, known locally as pineau de la Loire, is made into a range of wine styles including the fascinating dry Savennières, the long-lived botrytis-affected sweet wines from Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, and méthode traditionelle sparkling wines known as Crémant de Loire.

Chenin when it Sparkles

Bouvet Ladubay, of the adjacent Saumur appellation, has been making sparkling wine since 1851 when the family purchased eight of the hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels resulting from excavations to build the Loire’s famous castles and palaces. These passageways now house the maturation cellars for the chenin blanc-based sparkling wines of the region. In the late 1800’s, Bouvet Ladubay was the largest shipper of sparkling wine in the world and has continued with a specialization in sparkling wine in a range of styles. In addition to a visit and tasting at the winery, visitors can get a sense of history and space thanks to a guided bicycle tour of their sparkling wine cave carved deep into the tuffeau limestone underneath the winery and vineyards. Bouvet Ladubay Brut de Blancs Saumur is a great introduction to this house.

While a number of grape varieties can be used to make Crémant de Loire, chenin blanc is the most common. Naturally, sparkling is well-suited to festive occasions but because crémant tends to be well-priced, it is also a perfect everyday wine and ideal as an aperitif. Crémant blanc matches well with seafood such as oysters and crab, while crémant rosé is a good partner for spicy Chinese dishes, salmon carpaccio and vegetable or meat terrines.

Dry and Complex Loire Whites

Beyond bubbles, chenin blanc is also responsible for the region’s impressive dry and sweet white wines. Domaine des Baumard, whose property has been in the family since 1634, produces a series (Clos de St. Yves and the Clos du Papillon) of dry, structured and nervy whites from the Savennières appellation, sweet wines from the Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, along with Crémant de Loire – white and rosé, in both dry and off-dry styles. Like many estates in this part of the Loire, the majority (80%) of their production is dedicated to white wine, with sparkling comprising over half of overall production.

Others such as Pithon-Paille are newer to the scene and since 2008 have been negociants in addition to wine growers, producing predominantly dry white wines from chenin blanc, with a smattering of red from cabernet franc and grolleau. Although their production is small (approximately 7000 cases a year), they export slightly more than 50%; Quebec is their largest market with the 2010 Chenin Blanc and 2011 La Fresnaye available.

Chateau-de-La-Roche-aux-Moines---Coul-e-de-SerrantSavennières is also home to famed biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly of Château de la Roche-aux-Moines. Originally an investment banker in the US and UK, he took over the family estate in the late 1970s and produces just three wines: Les Vieux Clos from the Savennières appellation, Clos de la Bergerie from the Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines appellation and Clos de la Coulée de Serrant from the Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant appellation, a seven hectare appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) of its own, under vine since it was planted by Cistercian monks in 1130 and belonging all to Joly. A vertical tasting of Clos de la Coulée de Serrant in the 1990s was my first Road to Damascus moment in wine, so it was a special treat to taste recent vintages and meet the man behind the wines. In recent years Joly has handed over much of the winemaking and management of the estate to his daughter Virginie.

The whites of Savennières show depth, concentration and richness and with higher levels of acidity, can definitely benefit from longer aging in bottle, These are rich, medium-to-full bodied, dry white wines, with no oak and a backbone of palate cleansing acidity. Because of this, they are well suited to hearty winter dishes such as fish in cream or butter sauces, grilled and roasted pork dishes or veal in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Maritime Muscadet

Just west of Anjou near the mouth of the Loire River is the Pays Nantais. This is France’s largest white wine appellation and the region known for Muscadet made from the melon de bourgogne grape. In contrast to the full-bodied dense whites of Savennières, Muscadet is lighter in body and style, displaying a tangy crispness and salty (some would say maritime) influence. Due to the process of aging on the lees or sur lie, many of the wines like the Château du Cléray Sur Lie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine are crisp but layered with good complexity though often overlooked in favour of similar trendier wines like Albariño. A newer generation of winemakers, such as Rémi Branger of Domaine de la Pépière, are also making complex and age-worthy Muscadet using a combination of new and traditional techniques and lower yielding clones. Standouts include the Cru Clisson and Château-Thébaud, benefitting from older vines, stony well-draining soils, 2 to 3 years of lees contact and stirring.

BORDEAUX

Boosting Bordeaux

Bordeaux is an historic area for premier wine production in France. Unfortunately, this history also works to its disadvantage; the region is often thought of as being too complex, with too many appellations, and in the case of North American consumers, no varietal labelling to indicate what grapes are in the bottle. Though the region is better known for red blends, ranging from good value generic Bordeaux to stratospherically priced first growths, dry whites have been made in Bordeaux for centuries and outpaced red wine production up until the 1970s. Currently, dry white wine production represents around 8% of the total of AOP wines in Bordeaux.

As with other wine regions in France and throughout the world, the Bordelais are interested in attracting new consumers, in particular, seizing new-found market opportunities in China and throughout Asia. A new international promotional and branding campaign focused on authenticity, diversity and innovation aims to stimulate curiosity and a re-discovery of Bordeaux as a world reference in terms of wine quality and expertise. While much of the focus centers on the region’s red wines, there is a tacit acknowledgement that dry Bordeaux whites are not as well-known as they could be. Since consumers have globally embraced sauvignon blanc the goal is to promote the “original” white Bordeaux blends from sauvignon blanc and sémillon as exceptionally food friendly and emulated by winemakers from Australia to Canada.

Sauvignon blanc is the main white grape planted in Bordeaux (55% of all white plantings), followed by sémillon (34%) and muscadelle (7%). It is thought that sauvignon blanc originated in Bordeaux. Furthermore, the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, led by Denis Durbourdieu, has conducted extensive research on sauvignon blanc aromas and the ways in which viticultural and wine making practices can enhance quality wine production and aging potential.

Back to (Bordeaux) School

A good start to learn about Bordeaux whites, or any of the wines from this region, is by going to wine school. Bordeaux’s École du Vin de Bordeaux in the city centre is where professionals and consumers alike can learn about the region, history, grape varieties and winemaking, while tasting examples of the main wine styles.

Ecole du Vin Bordeaux

Courses at the École du Vin range from two-hour workshops to intensive multi-day technical courses that include vineyard visits and dinner at a wine estate. If you can’t make it to the École du Vin, check out their partner schools and global tutors and find out more information on their website.

Winter Weight Whites from Bordeaux

While most shift to heavy, full-bodied reds during the cold winter months, there is still a place at the table for the two main styles of dry Bordeaux whites. The first is the fresh and vibrant whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers and Cotes de Bordeaux. These generally are unoaked, light in body and made to be drunk young with lighter lunchtime fair such as salads or grilled fish or platters of oysters from the nearby Bay of Arcachon.

The second style is the richly textured and well-structured dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan appellations. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, usually vinified and aged in oak and can benefit from aging as well as decanting when served. This type of wine makes a great accompaniment to creamy soups and fish in cream sauces.

A Sea of Lively Whites

Entre-Deux-Mers is a pretty region located between the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, hence the name meaning “between two seas”. After Bordeaux Blanc, it is the largest appellation for dry white wines, which are made predominantly from sauvignon blanc with sémillon added for weight and complexity and muscadelle for aroma. Producers like Château Sainte-Marie also add some pink-skinned sauvignon gris to their Entre-Deux-Mers for mouthfeel and aromatics. Most Entre-Deux-Mers are fermented and aged in stainless steel, resulting in dry, crisp and fruity wines with floral and citrus aromas. They are meant to be uncomplicated and consumed within a year or two of release. Chateau Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers Vieilles Vignes 2013 is a more stately example, not to be missed.

White Graves and Pessac-Léognan

The region of Graves and the well-known appellation of Pessac-Léognan lie to the south of the city of Bordeaux, encompassing some of its southern suburbs and on the left bank of the Garonne River. While Graves is considered the origin of red Bordeaux wines, dating back to the Middle Ages, the appellation of Pessac-Léognan is a relatively new addition created in 1987. Both reds and whites are produced in Graves and Pessac-Léognan, with white grapes accounting for approximately 20% of the vineyards of the latter.

This is an area of powerful, complex and aromatic dry white wines that spend a considerable time aged in oak barrels and continue to evolve and deepen in colour as they age in bottle. Sémillon and sauvignon blanc make up the blend, with appellation rules stipulating that sauvignon blanc must comprise at least 25% of the blend.

André Lurton is the owner of Château La Louvière, one of the key figures driving change in the area and behind the creation of the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Château La Louvière was the first winery to use screw caps in Bordeaux and they currently bottle their wines under both cork and screw cap, depending on the market of sale. The Château La Louvière Blanc is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with a small portion of sémillon depending on the vintage. The 2009 is 100% sauvignon blanc and though barrel fermented and aged, manages to retain a crisp freshness set against a backdrop of spicy, toasty notes with good depth and finish.

Although plantings of sauvignon blanc are more recent in this region, sémillon vines and vineyards are considerably older, with some reaching 120 years of age. Château Latour-Martillac oenologist Valerie Vialard explained that only the sémillon portion of the blend will undergo skin contact during fermentation to extract more flavour and add concentration, a move that has proven great success. So much so that Denis Dubourdieu, consultant to the winery, is considered responsible for the widespread use of skin contact for sémillon for white Bordeaux wines.

Old Vine Chenin Chateau Latour Martillac

120 year old sémillon at Chateau Latour Martillac

Bordeaux’s Golden Whites

Not all of the white wines from the Graves are dry and lovers of sweet wines are likely familiar with the golden elixirs of Sauternes and Barsac. The same grapes used for dry white Bordeaux are also used here, with sémillon being the principal grape, since it is particularly susceptible to “noble rot” Botrytis cinerea. Due to the grape’s desiccation, the shrivelled grapes produce intensely flavoured juice that results in concentrated sweet wines. The yield is much lower than for dry wines and the production process more labour intensive; botrytis does not affect each vine or bunch at the same time or way, so wineries are required to hand-pick the affected bunches or berries by passing through the vineyard up to a half-dozen times to complete the harvest.

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

100ml Sauternes tubes Chateau Guiraud

Sweet wine production here dates back centuries though most Sauternes producers also make a dry white, which takes the first letter of the name of the Château, such as the Le G de Château Guiraud 2013. Although the golden sweet wines are revered by wine lovers across the globe, sales and exports have shown a decline since the financial crisis. According to Caroline Degrémont of Château Guiraud, the effect of the crisis seems to have been longer for Sauternes because these were “the first wines that you stopped drinking and the last that you start to drink again”. To make the wine accessible and affordable, the Château sells 100ml “tubes” of Sauternes in their tasting room which go over well with visitors.

Holding a slightly different view, Fabrice Dubordieu, a fourth generation family member of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac, hasn’t felt the impact of the crisis as much. He believes that the “sweet wine consumer is not your average wine consumer and is less concerned with showing off and more concerned with pleasure”. Dubordieu also explained that “to create a market for sweet wine, you need to create a ritual around it and a ritual for the food served with it”. Seems like timely advice as many of these wines have intense flavours that shout out for rich foods that you might only eat on special occasions and holidays. Think about Sauterne’s classic pairing with foie gras or Roquefort cheese, the less conventional pairing with sweetbreads that I once had in Sauternes (delicious!) or with a roasted pineapple tart to end a meal.

With the long winter ahead there are many whites from the Loire and Bordeaux, dry, sweet and sparkling and in a range of price points that will make your winter a little warmer.

Stay warm!

Janet Dorozynski

Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names above. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Bill, John and Treve’s Excellent Portuguese Adventure

Treve’s Travels

Treve Ring

Treve Ring

Earlier this fall, John Szabo, Bill Zacharkiw and I spent some time tasting and travelling together through northwest Portugal. Though the coastal slip of a country is small in size, its wine tradition is vast in scale, reaching back thousands of years. With just under 11 million people, Portugal ranked 11th in the world for wine production in 2011, and was 10th in wine exports. Small, but mighty! Vines grow everywhere, from residential backyards to prohibitively steep slopes, and winemaking is an intrinsic part of Portuguese culture.

As John deftly explained in his recent article, Portuguese wine diversity is unparalleled. The quality and range of the country’s autochthonous, or native varieties (about 250) coupled with the 200 or so identified microclimates and wide range of soil types results in infinite wines – and that’s before any stylistic winemaker intervention or historic tradition.

Further to his view on Portugal’s biodiversity in a glass, John believes “the evidence points to the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula as a hot spot for vine biodiversity, a so-called “refuge” during the last Ice Age. And within the last century, for myriad socio-politico-economic reasons, Portugal essentially sidestepped the erosion of varietal diversity that occurred in many other parts of the old world. The net result, and most importantly for wine lovers, is that Portugal has held on to an astonishing collection of unique indigenous grapes. Considering the strikingly different terroirs harboured in this relatively small country, from the cool and rainy, granite-based vineyards of the Minho in the north to the blazing hot schists of the Upper Douro, or the baked sandy clays of the Alentejo in the south, Portugal ranks as one of the world’s richest sources of original, and often beautiful, wines.”

For such a small country, there’s a lot to learn and experience, and we did our best in our intensive trip to absorb it all. We focused on Vinho Verde, Douro, Bairrada and Dão regions, taking in the culture (generous, authentic and friendly) and food (fresh, sea-centric and seasonal) along with hundreds of wines and a few appreciated aguardente .

Of course, being WineAlign kin, we had some very memorable excellent adventures along the way…

The WineAlign Crew in The Douro Valley-3445

The WineAlign crew in the Douro Valley

John (JSZ), Bill (BZ) and I (TR) have packaged up some highlights, lessons, takeaways and our best Portuguese language skills here for you (hint – JSZ wins the language trophy. All the language trophies).

Saúde ~ Treve

Skip to:  THE GRAPES   |   THE MARKET   |  THE PEOPLE

Section I : THE GRAPES

This is a test. Without looking it up, what are synonym (s) for the following :

IMG_7012Arinto (answer Pedernã)

JSZ. Pederña
BZ. Acid
TR. Herbal white tastes like more

Tinta Roriz (answer Tempranillo, Olha e Lebre, Aragones)

JSZ. Aragonês, Tempranillo
BZ. Elegance
TR. Tempranillo

Tinta Bairrada (answer Baga)

JSZ. Baga
BZ. Makes Baga less yahoo
TR. Baga

Maria Gomes (Answer Fernão Pires)

JSZ Fernão Pires
BZ. Muscaty
TR Fernão Pires 

Sousão (answer Vinhão)

JSZ. Vinhão (Vinho Verde)
BZ. raisin bran

Fly Shitted (Borrado das Moscas)  (answer Bical)

JSZ. Bical
BZ. Freckles
TR. Hm… it was speckled. Small dots. White grape. How could I forget this one?

Dog Choker

JSZ. Esgana Cão, or Sercial (with an “S”, not a “C”)
BZ. Mourvedre
TR. Ripping acidity!

Answer, TR: This caused us the greatest amount of confusion on the trip, as different winemakers told us different things and the grape takes different spellings and names depending on where it is from. Upon returning home and referencing my grape bible, Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, I have clarified that Cerceal is an acidic Douro variety not to be confused with Madeira’s Sercial.

Cerceal is identical to Cercial in Bairrada but distinct from both Sercial on Madeira and Cercial in Pinhel.

Madeira’s Sercial is known as Esgana Cão on the mainland and it is exceptionally high in acid. The name Esgana Cão translates to dog strangler, hinting to the fierce acidity of the wines.

IMG_7178

New grape discoveries from the trip that you want in your glass & why.

JSZ. Alvarelhão: This local red variety was apparently listed as one of Portugal’s most promising grape grapes in Jancis Robinson’s mid-1980s seminal work Vines, Grapes and Wines, But I guess it hasn’t caught on. I have only ever seen alverelhão at Campolargo in Bairrada, though based on my small sampling (one single wine), I wish there were more. It’s marvellously spicy and earthy, reminiscent of Burgundy or refined Loire Valley cabernet franc, light and dusty, the very definition of a modern sommelier’s wine.

Loureiro: one of the classic grapes of Vinho Verde, usually part of a blend, but there appears to be increasing solo bottlings of the variety. Loureiro performs best in the Lima Valley sub-region in the north of Vinho Verde (just south of Monçao e Melgaço), in a cool, highly Atlantic-influenced area. It’s an aromatic grape with lots of terpenes (the molecules that give riesling, muscat, gewürztraminer, pinot gris and others their characteristic floral notes), light, fresh and beautifully transparent. Try the yop notch examples from Aphros or Antonio Lopes Ribeiro.

BZ. Encruzado. We have a few wines available here in Quebec, but as I dig the mineral I want even more. The grape combines texture and freshness and that makes me happy.

To Try:
Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2012
Álvaro Castro Reserve White 2012, Dão
Quinta Das Marias Encruzado 2011, Dão

TR. Really liked Alfrocheiro – alluring bright acid, wild florals and fine tannins in a lighter red. For whites, I was drawn to the waxy, flinty and herbal qualities of Encruzado, and was impressed by its aging capacity.

Bill ZacharkiwSparkling Baga. Yay / nay?

JSZ. Yay, except for maybe the red versions.

TR. YEA – the blanc baga!

Bill on Baga:

Baga – it’s a grape, and for some, a passion. Spend time tasting with the Luis Pato and the rest of the “Baga friends” and even if you don’t really like the wines, you want an “I love Baga” t-shirt.

I call it a bit of a “yahoo grape.” The aromatics can be boisterous, that tannins can unruly and the acidity can be like a dagger. But in the hands of a winemaker with a more delicate hand, it can do some impressive things. With higher yields it can be downright juicy, like a dark-fruited Beaujolais with a poor disposition. When grown to be a bigger wine, it can age well, gaining more mushroom and spice notes.

I doth protest, however, to the sparkling baga. I found them as confusing as sparkling shiraz in Australia. Simply because it can be done, does not mean that it should be done.

To try:
Campolargo Baga Bairrada 2010

Section II : THE MARKET & MOVING FORWARD

Takeaway thoughts on Vinho Verde.

JSZ. Although quality in all Portuguese wine regions has risen significantly in the last generation, Vinho Verde could rightly claim to be the most improved. It has transformed itself from a region dominated by highly rustic, mostly red wines that were the proverbial definition of “local specialty” and cheap, spritzy, off-dry, basic whites, into a reliable source of light, crisply acidic, minerally, keenly priced white wines that neatly fit in to the zeitgeist of modern drinking.

It’s claimed that Vinho Verde was the fist Portuguese wine exported to European markets, mainly to Britain, Flanders and Germany (although Madeira would be a more likely candidate). In any case, today, Vinho Verde ranks second in total sales in the Portuguese market after the Alentejo (which is mostly red), while export are also up from 15% to nearly 40% of the production.

The traditional vine training systems up trees or purpose-built pergolas, designed to maximize land use not quality, have all but disappeared in commercial vineyards (you’ll still see high trellising in home vineyards, where precious land is still reserved for vegetables or other crops while grapes grow above). Factor in reduced yields, a focus on the half-dozen or so most suitable grape varieties, and a critical mass of producers pushing the envelope of potential, and the scene is very exciting indeed.

BZ. I have a soft spot for Vinho Verde, much like I do for Muscadet. They are simple wines, inexpensive, and when made without too much residual sugar, so highly packable. Being oyster season, I will no doubt pick myself up a bottle to enjoy one evening with a dozen.

But not everyone can appreciate the simple. What’s happening up in the northern part of the region with alvarinho needs more press, and more bottles being shipped to Canada. This is Portugal’s Chablis, with wines that show more subtlety than Spanish albariño, but with the minerality and depth.

To try:
Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho 2012
Deu La Deu Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2013

TR. It’s a shame that the range Vinho Verde available in Portugal is nothing like we see here. I tasted dozens of serious dry wines of terroir from across 10 demarcated sub-regions, and from a diverse array of grapes. In fact, nearly half of production in Vinho Verde is from red grapes, with vinhão proving the most successful, followed by azal tinto and espadeiro.

Whites, fortunately, are marginally easier to find, even with their limited reach. Light and lower in alcohol, the white wines vary considerably from the crisper, focused wines of northern Vinho Verde down through the riper styles of the south. alvarinho rules the white grapes (especially from the northern subregion of Monção and Melgaço) through its fleshy white peach, apricot, floral, stony characteristics and bracing acidity. A versatile grape that reflects its soils soundly, it responds well to malolactic or barrel fermentation and maturation to yield wines of complexity and ability. I also fell in love with the floral, citrus, herbal spiced local white varieties of loureiro, trajadura, arinto and azal, each quite distinct and memorable.

To try:
Quinta Do Ameal Escolha White 2011, Vinho Regional Minho
Toucas Alvarinho 2011

Takeaway thoughts on Dão.

JSZ. Cool, fresh, floral reds with blends dominated by touriga naçional . Touriga here takes on much more perfumed, rose and violet, blue fruit aromatics relative to TN from the more severe Douro Valley. The whites, based on encruzado, are among Portugal’s most compelling. Stylistically they’re the white Burgundies of Portugal, to use a horribly overused but not-inaccurate analogy.

BZ. Portugal’s Bordeaux. When it’s on, it combines finesse with power like no other region in Portugal.  This is the native home of touriga naçional and it shows. Unlike in the Douro, when it can veer towards high alcohols and figgy, fried fruits, in the Dao, touriga naçional offers power and finesse. And for the quality of the wine you are getting, they are remarkably inexpensive.

To try:
Carvalhais Duque De Viseu Red 2011
Quinta Dos Roques Vinho Tinto 2011
Quinta Da Ponte Pedrinha 2005

John on Douro Table Wine:

Foot trodding in the traditional style at Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Douro Valley-3323

Foot trodding in the traditional style at Quinta Vale Dona Maria

Moving Over To The Table. The Douro Valley is undergoing a massive focus shift from port to table wine (unfortified red and white). A cast of innovative and creative characters are rewriting the history, or in some cases recovering the history of the region. I’m referring for example to the important work of the “Douro Boys”, a loose association of like-minded producers established in the early 1990s (representing Crasto, Neipoort, Vale Dona Maria (Cristano Van Zeller), Vallado and Vale Meão), or Sandra Tavares of Wine & Soul who have significantly raised the image of Douro table wine while still making great port.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed as other players large and small, well-established or just starting out, have understood the need to raise quality. It’s heartening to see old vineyards being recovered, rehabilitated and maintained, while many new plantings have shifted away from the prevailing monovarietal philosophy of the ’80s and ‘90s and back to the traditional approach of multi-variety field blends that are such an important and increasingly unique part of Portuguese winegrowing heritage.

And the Wines? Which wines to try? There are many. There’s the silken, Burgundian-like Charme, or the more robust, “traditional” Batuta from Niepoort, the forceful new world richness of Crasto’s Vinhas Velhas, the prickly and zesty Souzão from Vallado, the elegantly textured Vinha Francisca or the manifestly richer and denser 85 year-old vineyard blend of Vale Dona Maria, or the Upper Douro savage intensity and thickness of Vale Meão. It would be a shame not to experience the miraculous juxtaposition of power and finesse, florality and fine-grained structure of Wine & Soul’s Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas, or the remarkable poise and polish of Quinta da Romaneira, or again, the density without sacrificing elegance of the Real Companhia Velha Vinhas Velhas de Carvalhas. And I haven’t even mentioned the whites…

To try :
Niepoort Vertente 2009
Crasto Vinho Tinto 2011
Quinta Do Crasto Old Vines Reserva 2009
Meandro Do Vale Meão 2011
Porca De Murça Reserva Tinto 2011
Quinta Do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2009
Niepoort Dialogo Branco 2011

On Pricing. Although the prices for these and other top wines are certainly high, in the $50-$100+ range (even if I find them more than fairly priced in the relative world of fine wine), the average price for Douro table wine remains artificially low. So, buy while you can. As we learned on this visit, the prices paid for Douro grapes are in many cases below the cost of production. And one look at the savagely steep vineyards of the region, coupled with the Douro’s extreme climate, and it’s obvious that production costs are high and yields low.

Where once grape growers could earn a comfortable living selling a large percentage of their grapes for port wine, and looked upon the “leftover” grapes destined for table wine as a bonus, today, with the shrinking port market and thus demand for grapes, the money paid for the smaller percentage of grapes allocated for port no longer cover production costs of the entire quinta. Table grape prices will have to rise or growers will be out of business. Large companies have no interest in acquiring more vineyards since they can purchase grapes for less that it would cost to grow them, never mind the capital cost of acquiring the vineyards and maintaining them. Eventually something will have to give; vineyards will be abandoned or prices will rise. In any case it’s clear that the days of fine quality $15 Douro wines are numbered.

IMG_7087

Section III : THE PEOPLE

We met some interesting, forward-thinking folks moving the needle of Portuguese wine and challenging convention. Here are three people or movements that we want you to know about.

Sandra Tavares, Wine & Soul, Douro Valley-3580

Sandra Tavares, Wine & Soul

Bill on Wine & Soul:

When I first met Sandra Tavares back in 2010, she changed the way I thought about Douro’s table wines. Hers had an elegance that I had never tasted in the wines of the region. And after this most recent visit, I am even more convinced that great things can be done here.

Along with her husband, Jorge Borges, their winery “Wine & Soul” has much more than simply a modern name and snappy wine labels. The entire line-up is worth drinking. Hell, I even loved their Port. Granted it was a blend of two barrels made in 1880 and 1900, but still, I normally don’t really like it.

Wine and Soul is about single vineyard wines, great grape growing, and made with traditional food stomped grapes. Each wine has its own character. And what you come away with is that the Douro does indeed have great terroir.

John on Vinho Verde producers today:

Some names to watch for:

Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines

Vasco Croft, Aphros Wines

Aphros Wine. The calm, confident and introspective Vasco Croft took over his mother’s semi-abandoned 17th century family estate in 2003 in the Lima Valley in the north of Vinho Verde. He assembled a team of crack consultants and began conversion to biodynamics in 2006. Starting with the original 6 hectares, Croft has since purchased the neighboring eight-hectare quinta, and rents another six, bringing the current total to 20 hectares in production.

The most suitable variety in the cool, heavily Atlantic-influenced Lima Valley is Loureiro, a very floral (terpenic) white variety, which represents three-quarters of production. Croft makes three different versions, and even the entry-level Aphros Vinho Verde Loureiro is impressive, made in a richer, riper style with plenty of fruit extract as well as herbal-hay notes. A pinch of residual sugar (8 grams in the 2013) is in perfect balance. The Daphnos cuvee, another variation on loureiro made only in suitable vintages and fermented in barrel after a half-day soak on the skins, is a rare success for an aromatic grape aged in wood. It’s a wine of texture and complexity rather than a varietal expression, and all the more interesting for it.

Provam (Varando do Conde). Provam is a hybrid cooperative-negociant, bringing together ten associates each with their own parcels, but who also purchase from 300 producers in the sub-region of Monçao e Melgaço. A long-standing value favorite of mine is the Varando do Conde Vinho Verde made from 70% alvarinho and 30% trajadura. This shows the mineral, decomposing stone character that typifies the region, and offers considerable density and weight for the money.

ALR (Casa da Mouraz). “ALR” refers to António Lopes Ribeiro, who along with his former dance teacher wife Sara Dionísio, produce wine both in Vinho Verde under the ALR label and in the Dão under Casa de Mouraz. The VV project was established in 2006 when, after much searching, the couple found a 4ha parcel of organically grown Loureiro in the Lima Valley sub-region. They wanted to produce a radically different style of white wine from what they were making in the Dão. As in the Dão, biodynamic principals are applied though the wines aren’t certified; they distrust the administrators at Demeter.

Wines are all fermented naturally and only minimal sulphur is used. A mini vertical of the 2013-2012-2011 ALR Vinho Verde, the only wine currently produced, made clear that fine Vinho Verde can improve with age, and in some cases needs time in bottle to fully express itself. These are pure and transparent, crystalline Vinho Verde with quivering acids and pitch-perfect balance, taking on riesling-like petro and mineral notes with bottle age.

Treve on Luis Pato:

Luis Pato’s family has been producing wine since the 18th century, and his father, Joâo was the first to bottle wine in Bairrada DOC after it was officially demarcated as an appellation in 1979. “Bairrada” is from “barros” (clay) and due to the clay-laden soils throughout the area. Though the region is relatively recently recognized by the rule books, it is an ancient area for grape growing. Viticulture in Bairrada has existed since at least the 10th century, when the region gained independence from the Moors. Recognized for its deep, full and tannic reds, the wines of Bairrada were sought after during the 17th century when the Douro’s illustrious Port houses, pressed to satisfy the growing British tastes for Port, would blend in wines from the region to ramp up quantity.

Together with his father, Luis is credited with bringing Bairrada back to life, legitimately. Though the Pato name (Portuguese for duck, and referenced by the bird in flight on the label) is synonymous with Bairrada, Luis has used the name in Beiras (outside) on his labels since 1999, in opposition to the Bairrada head office and politics within. He was also protesting “flying grape varieties” in the region; the proliferation of international grapes planted in Bairrada. In his opinion, Beiras should be the larger, unified region with the term Bairrada reserved for top reds of hometown hero baga.

Luis Pato is also the first and only one in the world to produce sercialinho, a Portuguese cross planted by his father 40 years ago. Luis believes it to be a cross of sercial with alvarinho, true to name. Though his solo sercialinho is not available in Canada, a fantastic blend utilizing the grape is – the chalky, white grapefruit and smoked stone Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco 2012.

The Baga Friends, In Luis Pato's kitchen-3753

The Baga Friends, in Luis Pato’s kitchen


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Where did all the Nouveau go?

by Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Of which camp are you? Have the Nouveau got the hairs raised on the back of your neck? Do you love it or hate it? Are you giddy with annual excitement? Are you agitated by what you feel is a black eye dis to properly produced Beaujolais Cru? Are bubble gum and fermenting banana your go to sensations? If you were playing the Family Feud and asked this question: “What is your favourite winemaking technique?,” would you answer, “carbonic maceration?”

Today marks the third Thursday of November and the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release has hit the shelves around the globe, including here in Ontario’s LCBO stores. Beaujolais Nouveau, as in barely fermented, Burgundian nether, or to the curiosity seeker, best friend.

Last year’s Godello Beaujolais Presser offered up a quick Nouveau 101. A reminder that the wine formerly known as Beaujolais Nouveau is now simply Nouveau because other wine growing nations have joined the party. Italians produce a Novello and in Niagara they have adopted the Nouveau, if only because the English “new wine” is not the most marketable of phrases. Neither is the Franglaise, Newvin, or Nouwine.

Nouveau has reached critical mass and is now stationed at a vinous crossroads. Long-time LCBO Product Consultant Neal Boven offered me fair facetious warning as I sat down to taste the 2014 crop. “Just be careful, those are some really tannic wines.” Not, but what they are, more than ever, are new Gamay (and Syrah, Merlot, etc.) reds soaked and macerated in maximum thrust, skin-contact extrication for full neon hue and blinding fluorescent glow. In many examples they go deeper still so some wanna be fierce tannin is actually getting through. The question begs. Is that what this perversion of Beaujolais was meant to be, or is Nouveau no longer the correct vernacular? Where did all the Nouveau go? Also, what happened to last year’s clear-cut winner, Seven nation Gamay, Generation Seven? Where did you go Château des Charmes?

Bottle images

Cries of “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!.” can still be heard and so the 2014 Nouveau wines  have arrived in select LCBO stores today. Here are my notes on the nine presented.

Ontario

Reif Estates The Fool Gamay Nouveau 2014, VQA Niagara River, Ontario ($11.95)

The rich hue is so like a Côtes du Rhône, a young one mind you, a Rhône Nouveau. The aromas conjure up corner stores and a wonderland filled with bubble gum and cotton candy sprinkled with dried lees dust. Sweet and sour, with a spritz of lime and the bitter citrus pith of grapefruit. Also green tobacco leaf and coffee beans. The concentration is admirable and even though the wine is as raw as open sores on feet hiked in new boots, give credit to the complex nature of the festivities.

France

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2014, Burgundy, France ($13.95)

Quite consistently the most accomplished if unabashedly contrived BN, year in and year out. The hue has deepened, the extract been probed and the senses muted. Acting like the real deal in southern Burgundy, the Mommessin feigns Morgon with simulated scenes of burlesque and method acting. The grit of earth mixed with the brightness of black cherries may give you reason to believe. If not for the banana blow moment, this could have been as much Zappa as Ween. “A little something to help the time go by. Just a little something to help to keep you high.” In the end, Morgon throws out the counterfeit lawsuit and congratulates the Nouveau for acting like itself.

Art’s Beaujolais Primeur Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France ($13.95)

In the upper echelon of the BN cost continuum and it shows. The sulphur must be blown off to keep moving in the assessment, but that is does. Does not come across cloyingly candied and breathes dark fruits mixed with some plum instead. A touch dusty and adroitly Gamay so there is patronage in the Arts. The acidity is pleasant and adjunct the ripe but not over extracted fruit. Still the hue goes for expression over the wine’s impression but the restraint and the aromatic profiling fit the old school bill. Dry and possessive of quite decent length.

Catalans Primeur Syrah Merlot 2014, IGP Southwest, France ($9.95)

Everything about this Syrah and Merlot mélange is steroidal and an oxymoron within the contextual happenstance of the thematic. So skintastic in extraction and wildly sauvage in aromatic impropriety. A thick, viscous liqueur of mashed banana and Chapati paste. Sickly sour and Lik-m-Aid sweet. It is dry on the finish, I will give it that. But it’s so over the top, if Syrah-Merlot Nouveau can be.

DuBoeuf Gamay Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France ($9.95)

A return to the olfactory confection and the colour of Cru Beaujolais though it is weeks and years away from turning the page and living that dream. The carbonic crafting is in full marauding maceration in this ’14 DuBoeuf. The saving grace is a minor lead funk in the key of autumn plants, trampled underfoot. “Greased and slicked down fine, groovy leather trim.” Quite rustic despite the sugar-coating.

Italy

Negrar Novello Del Veneto 2014, Veneto, Italy  ($9.95)

The aromatic waft of this Venetian (Bardolino-Valpolicella) Novello is like fruit and vegetable road kill beneath a truck. So very composted and steaming, it’s as if this is still fermenting away in bottle. This gives the word carbonic a whole new meaning. The texture and body are quite elegant (used with creative license, not in any disparaging way I promise) and the finish is long and puckering.  It is what it is.

Tollo Novello Rosso Terre di Chieti 2014, Abruzzo, Italy ($9.45)

The Giocale is an interesting specimen from Abruzzo, qualified as a “regional blended red.” Not exactly Nouveau material is it. With what must likely be MdA as its dominant grape variety, strawberries in many incantations are its focus, in leaf, of near-ripe fruit and mixed with avocado for one odd smelling (and tasting) milkshake. This has a young Negroamaro or Nero d’Avola feel, but also a raisined, pruny appassimento appointed sensation. There is forest floor in its nose, vineyard funk in its flavor and tension in its voice. It’s already evolved, slightly oxidized and needs to be consumed with haste. That said it shows some interesting complexity and even a few stanzas of structure so give it points. It’s also correctly priced.

VINTAGES

France

Drouhin Beaujolais-Nouveau 2014Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France ($15.95)

The paid piper in the group of nine leads by example. At $16 Drouhin had better fashion an exemplary Beaujolais Nouveau to justify the price. With so many just plain stellar $15-16 wines on the market today, the caché  of just recently pressed Gamay juice spiked by 12 per cent alcohol is not enough of a presser. Does this Drouhin raise the bar? Yes, that it does, but not in the way it should. There is clearly developed acidity, tannin and quality grapes in this pour. What happened to Nouveau? Why so proper in pH, TA and so low in RS? Where did the new juice go? Sorry Mr. Drouhin, if I want Gamay this good I can buy it any other week of the year.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2014, Beaujolais, France ($14.95)

This Duboeuf more closely resembles what Beaujolais Nouveau should be and has been for a near-half Millennium. Like ripe raspberries and bananas mashed together, shaken and even baked into short pastry for a quick cobbler or clafouti. The most aromatic on the table, this reminds me of years gone Nouveau by, of bygone Beaujolais that has just kissed the tank and been kissed by the yeast meets sugar marriage of a young wine. Hits the mark, finishes dry and leaves you not wanting anything more.

Good to go!

Michael Godel

https://twitter.com/mgodello

Photos courtesy of Godello.ca


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The Successful Collector – Sud-Ouest France and Duck

Julian Hitner reports on his latest trip to the assorted appellations of Sud-Ouest (Southwest) France, shedding some much-needed light on one of France’s most sundry winegrowing regions and its inhabitants’ enthusiasm for duck. His visit to the Southwest (courtesy of Sopexa) includes Cahors, Gaillac and Fronton, tossing in Madiran and Jurançon (both not visited) for their jigsaw-like significance. Readers may also wish to take note that the wines of the Dordogne (ex. Bergerac) have been omitted on account of the similarities to their counterparts in Bordeaux.

The most diverse region in France?
by Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

In terms of sheer diversity, few regions are as varied as that of Sud-Ouest France. From titanically tannic reds and alternate renderings to whites of inordinate obscurity and rare dessert versions, the Sud-Ouest (Southwest) continues to writhe as one of France’s most enigmatic winegrowing sectors. Fortunately, many producers seem undeterred, crafting increasingly better wines in the hopes of attracting new followers. The odds seem in their favour, particularly as quality improves and prices even for premium versions remain relatively low.

Of reds, two appellations have traditionally enjoyed the strongest reputations: Cahors and Madiran. These days, the former, arguably the stronger of the two, owes much of its current revival to Malbec, the most important grape in Cahors (from which it originates) though made popular in Argentina. Most Cahors is a blend of two or three grapes, containing at least 70 per cent Malbec and up to 30 per cent Merlot and/or Tannat. But even this is changing, with increasing numbers of producers crafting wines containing 100 per cent Malbec in their top offerings. Over the past several years, VINTAGES has been diligent in its selections, with prices ranging from $15-60.

The history of Cahors is a fascinating one, worthy of a brief digression. As early as the Middle Ages, it was known as ‘The Black Wine’ because of its dark appearance and weighty structure, a choice drink for connoisseurs. Then in the late-nineteenth century phylloxera struck, annihilating most of the vineyards. At the time, shortsighted growers replanted with inferior, high-yielding hybrids, leaving Cahors all but a distant memory. This began to change in the years following the Second World War, when some producers banded together in faint hopes of reviving their beloved Black Wine. Though it has taken decades, these growers’ descendants have largely succeeded in replanting their vineyards, and are again crafting wine of outstanding dimension, elegance and quality.

Though back on form, the modern-day reds of Cahors (there are no whites) taste nothing like their Argentinean counterparts, the latter oftentimes much more concentrated and excessively oak-reliant. In Cahors, the most balanced examples, sourced from a wide range of terroirs (the higher terraces and plateau are considered top locations), often possess wonderful quantities of blackberries, purple fruits and menthol in youth, taking on more claret-like characteristics as they age, yet always retaining a unique sense of balance, crystalline texture and breed. What’s more, such wines are often resoundingly tannic, requiring several years (sometimes decades) of aging to open up. Vigorous decanting can do much to alleviate the mouth-puckering effects of a young bottle of Cahors.

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

Tannat Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Madiran Wines)

This said, no wine of France is better known for its tannins than Madiran. The name of its principle grape says it all: Tannat. According to current regulations, this most tightly structured of French grapes most comprise at least 50 per cent of the blend. Other permitted grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou. As in Cahors, many producers are now crafting their finest versions with 100 per cent Tannat. With many exceptions, the best examples seem strikingly Bordelaise, containing similar flavour profiles of currants, blackberries and damson plums, albeit with much more tannic structure in youth. Time is Madiran’s friendly companion. As the finest bottlings age, they routinely tend to mirror their counterparts in Cahors and Bordeaux, assuming notes of cedarwood, tobacco and wild game. Modern winemaking methods have played no small role in the expanding success of this superb appellation, with many producers utilizing a technique known as ‘micro-oxygenation’ to soften tannins during the vinification and maturation process. Selections in VINTAGES are usually reasonable, with prices ranging from $15-30, sometimes more. Like Cahors, great Madiran routinely represents excellent value for money.

Then there’s Gaillac, home to more obscure grape varietals than any other part of the Southwest. For producers, this is something of a double-edged sword: plenty of unique wines yet continuous confusion on the part of potential patrons. For reds, the primary grapes are Braucol (the local name for Fer Servadou) and Duras, oftentimes accompanied by Gamay, Syrah and the three main Bordeaux grapes (plus a few others). Braucol and Duras share many similarities. Both are medium-bodied at most and tend to contain flavours reminiscent of plums, blackberries and pepper. Only the best bottlings are usually aged in oak, and may be kept for at least several years. Simpler versions really ought to be consumed immediately. Selections in VINTAGES are minimal, though some decent examples may be had for less than twenty bucks.

Loin de l'Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

Loin de l’Oeil Grapes (Courtesy Official Website for Gaillac Wines)

The white wines of Gaillac are even more complicated. By tradition, the most common grape is Loin de l’Oeil (or Len de l’El), so named because of its long-stemmed clusters as it appears on the vine. Although occasionally appearing on its own, it is often blended with Mauzac (another major grape of the appellation), Ondenc, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc, the latter largely viewed as an unwelcome intruder. Historically, such esoteric grapes were used to make sweeter-style wines of considerable quality. Now such bottlings represent only a very small minority. Instead, growers have increasingly turned to rosés and sparkling wines in order to increase sales. Crafted from 100 per cent Mauzac, sparkling versions in Gaillac are produced via the ‘ancestral method’ (or ‘méthode ancestrale’), whereby the wine is bottled during fermentation, thus trapping carbon dioxide inside the wine. As with the reds, quality remains patchy in a few cases, though there is no doubting the determination of the appellation’s many young winegrowers.

This same resolve has also taken hold in Fronton. Located just north of the city of Toulouse (one of the largest cities in France), this appellation is fairly easy to understand. In this soothingly pastoral neck of the Southwest, reds must contain at least 50 per cent Négrette, the most important grape in Fronton. Though 100 per cent is permitted, most growers opt to blend their wines with varying percentages of Fer Servadou and Syrah. Despite its name, Négrette may have a dark colour but does not take kindly to aging in oak. Usually light-bodied and containing moderate notes of damson plums, most Fronton is really best admired for its youthful freshness and fruitiness. As in Gaillac and other appellations, rosé versions are also now being produced in sizable volumes. Selections for both types of wine in VINTAGES are sparse, with prices hovering around fifteen dollars. As a recommendable everyday wine, Fronton is seldom expensive, for Toulouse is a thirsty city.

Map of Southwest France

Finally, there is the appellation of Jurançon, home to the most famous type of sweet wine in the Southwest. Many wine commentators and sommeliers have a soft spot for this distinctive, underrated offering, crafted in relatively small amounts and usually drunk at the beginning of a meal. As elsewhere, the grapes are unique: Petit Manseng and its thinner-skinned (and larger-berried) cousin Gros Manseng, along with Petit Courbu and several others of preposterous obscurity. Unlike Sauternes, these delectably sweet moelleux wines are not affected by botrytis, nonetheless left on the vine as late as December to order to concentrate their sugars and flavour content. In France, this process is known as passerillé. In Alsace, wines labelled as ‘Vendanges Tardive’ are treated almost exactly the same. In youth, great Jurançon often presents notes of honey, lemon curd and elderberries, becoming increasingly Sauternes-like as it ages, though almost never as full-bodied. Pickings in VINTAGES are uninspired, though are often extremely reasonably priced when available, usually at around $25 or less. Dry white versions, labelled as ‘Jurançon Sec’ (crafted mostly from the earlier-ripening Gros Manseng) usually cost only half as much, and are often recommendable as everyday wines.

As if choices from the Southwest aren’t varied enough, scores of other appellations also slowly on the ascendancy. Value for money is key to their future prosperity. Though almost never available in VINTAGES, names to watch out for are Marcillac, Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes du Duras, Béarn (and Béarn-Bellocq) and Irouléguy, the latter the only French appellation located in Basque Country. For lovers of diversity in wine, this vast sector of France truly is a proverbial treasure-trove of possibilities.

A few estates to watch:

Château Bouissel (Fronton): Run by Anne-Marie and Pierre Selle, the wines of Château Bouissel are among the most enjoyable in Fronton. At this 22-ha estate, freshness and approachability are prominent features. Three reds are currently produced, along with a very clean rosé. Le Bouissel seems their most balanced label, crafted mainly from Négrette and equal parts Syrah and Cot (Malbec) Ontario representative: Ruby Wines & Spirits

Château Bouissel 2012 Le Bouissel Fronton is one of several impressive examples produced at this reputable estate. Though more serious wines are increasingly being attempted, the best wines of Fronton seem to be those that manage to retain a proper sense of fruit expression and approachability. This is just such a wine. Drink now or hold for up to four years or more.  

Domaine Rotier (Gaillac): One of the finest properties in Gaillac, this 35-ha property is owned by Alain Rotier and brother-in-law Francis Marre. Though the reds respectable enough, the estate’s sweet wine (crafted from 100 per cent Loin de l’Oeil) is a very special offering. Like many operations in this part of the Southwest, the future holds more potential than it does obstacles. Ontario representative: Rouge et Blanc

Domaine Rotier 2011 Renaissance Vendanges Tardives Gaillac harkens back to the days when this ancient part of winegrowing France was best known for its sweeter-styled wines. Impeccably styled and elegant, it is a shame more of these wines aren’t produced nowadays. Drink now or hold for ten years or more.

Domaine du Moulin (Gaillac): Owned by the Hirrisou family, the wines of Domaine du Moulin are among the most impressive in Gaillac. Concentration, cleanliness and character seem to be common traits, particularly as far as the premium labels are concerned. Every visitor to this charming appellation should make a point of tasting this property’s wines. Not represented in Canada

Domaine du Moulin 2012 Florentin is easily the greatest pure Braucol (Fer Servadou) I have tasted to date. Possessing first-rate fruit expression, harmony and character, I would have never believed this lighter-bodied grape could yield a wine of such seriousness. Drink now or hold for six years or more. Decanting recommended.

Château Bouissel Classic 2012 Domaine Rotier Renaissance Vendanges Tardives 2011 Domaine Du Moulin Florentin 2012 Domaine Du Prince Lou Prince Cahors 2011 Château Montus 2009

Domaine du Prince (Cahors): Owned by the Jouve family, the wines of Domaine du Prince (especially the more premium versions) are certainly among the more concentrated versions of the appellation. Recent vintages from this 27-ha property seem superb, which currently produces four reds and one rosé. This is a very serious operation. Québec representative: À Travers Le Vin

Domaine du Prince 2011 Lou Prince Cahors is the flagship bottling of the estate, sourced from two separate parcels. Like the property’s other premium labels, this marvellous offering manages to combine a unique sense of modernity with the inherent characteristics and flavours of a top-sited Cahors. Drink now or hold for a dozen years or more. Decanting recommended.  

Château Montus (Madiran): Generally considered the star estate of the appellation, the wines of Château Montus seldom disappoint. Owned by Alain Brumont, a master of Tannat, this stellar establishment currently produces five reds and one white. For Madiran enthusiasts, and fans of the Southwest of France in general, few properties are as significant. Québec Representative: Mark Anthony Brands

Château Montus 2009 Montus Madiran is a wine of outstanding character, power and breed. Just as significant, the Montus is not even the flagship label of the estate, which just goes to show how serious owner Alain Brumont takes his wines. Drink now or hold four fourteen years or more. Decanting recommended.

~

Duck (canard) and Sud-Ouest France:

Thanks to a sensational foie gras extravaganza at Château Montauriol (see list below) in Fronton and many other opportunities to partake of local specialties, Julian’s time in the Southwest of France was as much wine-themed as it was duck-oriented. Feast your eyes on his report.

As I am loath to the concept of photographing my food, a type of avant-garde ritual amongst smartphone and tablet owners as an alternate form of saying grace, I leave it to readers’ old-fashioned imaginations to conceive of the wondrous and innumerable types of duck (canard) cuisine to be found in the Southwest of France. Though enjoyed throughout France and many other parts of the world, few peoples seem as attached to this sinfully satisfying creature as the inhabitants of France’s southwestern quadrant, particularly in and around Gascogne.

Controversy aside, foie gras is the most celebrated genre, the best examples sourced from the livers of free-range ducks (though geese is considered superior) fattened on maize. Foie gras is produced in many formats. Those prepared ‘entier’ are generally considered the finest, consisting of the entire liver and usually containing no preservatives. Those presented as a ‘bloc’ are typically derived from smaller pieces whipped and condensed together. ‘Mousse’ de foie gras consists of puréed pieces, while ‘pâté’ is usually combined with other meat products. When cooked, entier or bloc versions (most common) are among the most appetizing of culinary delights. Foie gras is typically begun at the start of a meal, ideally with sweeter-style wines. Jurançon or sweet Gaillac are both optimal pairings.

Though modes of preparation are vast, two types of duck are most often served as main courses. Confit de canard is certainly the most decadent. Crafted from the leg, the meat is first rubbed with salt, herbs and garlic, after which it is covered in rendered fat. The duck is then cooked at a low temperature in the oven for at least several hours. The result is incredible flavour and richness. Another common type of duck is magret de canard, the breast of the bird, typically lined with a half-centimetre layer of fat on one side. Usually pan-fried and containing several slits for accuracy, a moist helping of magret de canard is one of the region’s great offerings. Cahors or Madiran are ideal accompaniments.

The options don’t end here. In salads, duck gizzards (gesiers) are quite common, as is smoked duck served in slices, usually from the breast. There are many others of greater complicatedness than the ones mentioned above, and I would list them, yet I am made to recall the trials and tribulations of my most beloved cartoon characters and feel the need to pause. It seems my appreciation of duck is not without a sense of screen imagery after all.

A duck feast at Château Montauriol (Fronton):

Foie gras de canard mi-cuit (half-cooked)

Fois gras de canard entier

Cou de canard farci

Rillettes de canard

Pâté de canard

Saucisse de canard

Magret de canard frais séché

Gesiers de canard (served in salad)

Tartare de canard

Carpaccio de canard (with garlic and parsley)

Cheers,

Julian Hitner

Click here for Julian’s complete list of red wines from Southwest France

Editors Note: You can find our critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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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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Treve’s Take – Wine and Culinary International Forum II

From molecular gastronomy to minerality, from the latest in iPad winelists, to the return of beverage carts, from texturometers to China’s tradition of KAMPAI, the flying fingers of WineAlign’s intrepid Treve Ring capture an entire day of presentations by leading global thinkers in the realm of food and wine at the Wine & Culinary International Forum in Barcelona. Says Treve: “What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together”.

wine & culinary

Setting the Scene:

Journalists, sommeliers and chefs from around the world descended on Barcelona last weekend for the second Wine & Culinary International Forum. Held every two years, the event was founded by Torres Wines, created to focus on the relationship between wine and gastronomy. This year’s theme is Creativity and Market, and the global presenters linked to this thread. As Miguel Torres Maczassek (Jr.). shared in his welcome address, he feels that some branches of cuisine, especially molecular gastronomy, have moved away from the marriage of food and wine. This weekend of seminars and tastings and workshops, uniting palates and minds from around the world, investigated the importance of uniting food and wine effectively. And inclusively as well – demonstrating how science and molecular studies can aid our understanding of perfect pairings.

I arrived to Barcelona with 70 journalists from 15 nations, and was happy to discover I was representing Canada alongside Toronto’s Tony Aspler. Live translation through headsets allowed all the various languages in the room to understand each presenter. We may not all understand the same language, but we all speak food and wine.

The brief below is a bit rough and tumble, the result of my typing as fast as I could over the course of eight hours. Since not everyone could be there for this important collaboration, here follows a recap of the speakers, and my takeaway thoughts:

IMG_7751

9:30 h. Welcome by Miguel A. Torres (Sr.), President of Bodegas Torres, and Rafael Ansón, President of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

9:45 h. “The Sommelier’s psychology and the training of Sommeliers”, by Gérard Basset, World’s Best Sommelier 2010, OBE, MS, MW and MBA.

Wisdom from THE top wine professional in the world, on what it takes to be a good sommelier.

First, sommeliers need to love people. Second they need to be a salesman. Basset recognizes that some become offended by the term salesman, especially ones that see themselves as ‘artists’, but it’s a job, and the end result is making money. Sommeliers very much need to understand people, the profile of the guest, and matching wine to them. This will ensure happy guests = repeat guests. If a wine is out of stock, the somm doesn’t tell that to the guest. He/she brings out a more expensive or better bottle for guest, and sells it at same price. Service is key. Food is very important, and he’s very proud of the menu in his restaurant, but “wine comes first. No food comes until wine is ready.” Sommeliers should read blogs, especially Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak, keep up on news, magazines, be well educated and up to date. Sommeliers must travel, meet and taste. “For me, I can’t imagine going to any holiday destination without wine”. When he was preparing for competitions, study is most important, but it’s more than just wine preparation. Basset prepared with a business coach, memory work champions, acting coach and psychologist. It’s all about the wine, but it’s about more than just wine.

10:15 h. “When wine inspires the dish”, by Josep Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, 3* Michelin and World’s Best Restaurant 2013.

This master molecular gastronomy chef gave insight into how he works with scientific tools to better match food and wine.

Implementing a scientific approach to food and wine is difficult because humans are all different in their sensory perception. What he has researched is how different elements that all humans process affect food and tasting – the mechanics. For instance, how saliva affects what we perceive as well as benefit digestion. Aromas also have a major impact, as does texture. Roca wanted to quantify texture of his restaurant’s dishes to better understand how to match wine on a textural basis, so he works with a “texturometer”. Temperature affects texture so that is also closely controlled and timed. He likes working with wine in his dishes because it’s a fluid, and easily enters the body in a seamless way. Instruments and tools in the kitchen allow him to create very special, avant garde, cutting edge flavours and texture based on wine. For instance, he can take the alcohol from wine, freezing and dehydrate (removing water and leaving molecules intact), employ powdering affects and carbonation. Lyophilization is a specialized freeze dehydration technique traditionally used for preservation. Roca also uses other parts of the grape plant – like seeds, grape leaves, etc. He also distils the aromas of spirits, and reintroduces them into his dishes.

11:00 h. “Minerals: harmony through terroir”, by Jamie Goode, author of ‘The science of wine’.

The highly travelled and educated Dr. Goode, a WineAlign friend, is one of the most influential wine bloggers on the globe and author of two very important books, The Science of Wine, and the brand new Authentic Wine.

Dr. Jamie Goode

Dr. Jamie Goode

Goode prefaces that while he’s interested in science, and a trained scientist (phD), he’s not a scientific fundamentalist. He is always questioning.

He describes Terroir by the following:

1st – the way that the quality of a vineyard affects quality of wine (slope, aspect, etc.)
2nd – Sense of place
3rd – Gout de terroir. Related to the soils in which the vines are growing
4th – Actual physical vineyard site itself.

Many definitions of terroir eliminate the human influence. Human intervention – viti and vini – may also confer a shared sense of place to wine. The mechanisms of terroir also need to be considered:

Chemical – light, water, air, elements
Grapes – starting place for wine production – entirely through photosynthesis and biochemistry.
Soil – water and dissolved mineral ions. Scientific consensus is that water availability is key – not soil chemistry. But experience of winegrowers testifies that soil chemistry is important. The bulk of soil mineral content comes from decaying organic material, not decomposed rock.
Microbial activity – breaks down organic matter into mineral ions. Water, food, oxygen affect microbial growth. Oxygen is more available in uncompacted soil.

In conventional agriculture, there is very little organic matter in the soil, thus little microbial activity. Fungicides kill off not just fungi but also a high proportion of bacterial and actinomycetes. The importance of soil microlife makes nutrients more readily available to vines. Organics encourage the soil microlife to develop. Root exudates from plants are important in encouraging growth of soil microlife. Vine age obviously has an effect, in part because of the vine’s expanded root system, encouraging better soil microlife vine interactions. Increased soil microlife could lead to more minerality in wines because the roots can absorb more living things.

Is there a connection with minerality and ageability of the wines? Interesting question not yet answered by science.

Minerality – a relatively new tasting term. Not used much before 1980s – Steven Spurrier started in the mid 1980’s. Jordi Ballester, the leading expert on sensory evaluation showed that there is a cultural basis for the term and its use (in the Loire it is used frequently, for example). The problem is that many people use it to mean different things, therefore there isn’t a clear consensus about what we’re all talking about. Plus, he deftly noted, when people run out of descriptors for a wine, they often throw in “mineral” as a filler – not helping.

For Goode, there are 3 types of minerality in wine:

1 – Mineral smells – matchstick, gunflint, volatile sulphur (mercaptans)
2 – Mineral tastes 1 – high acidity, wet stones
3 – Mineral tastes 2 – salty, textural, grainy

11:30 h. “Thinking outside the wine list: innovative approaches to selling wine in America’s top restaurants”, by Lucas Paya, José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup’s Wine Director 2008-2014, presented by Ray Isle, ‘Food and Wine Magazine’ journalist.

I’ve long admired Ray Isle’s writing, and insight on the American and worldwide drinking scene. Together with Paya, they thoroughly dissected modern winelists in America today, trends and successes.

In many US restaurants, winelists are about breaking boundaries and encouraging wine programs in a traditionally non-wine drinking culture. Most wine sales in the States are through wine stores – but restaurants are seen as trendsetters and arbiters of what people should be purchasing and aspire to purchase. The younger the group of people, the more they are purchasing in restaurants (millennials rank highest with 18% purchased in restaurants).

Creativity in winelists is important to make your mark in a competitive restaurant landscape, and winelists have been turned into a utensil to convey concept of the restaurant. Examples for layout: price, location, grape, weight, colour, alcohol, age, alphabetic order, producer.

Interesting notion – selling wine by weight. 1 mg of wine correlates to 1ml of wine, and pricr and sell accordingly. The Coravin has allowed huge advancements in serving wine in restaurants due to its precision and quality. Guests tried a glass of Mas La Plana 2009 that was first “Coravined” in June 2014 and it tasted as fresh and unspoiled as if it had just been opened.

A great tip on reading a winelist from Isle – “If Veuve is overpriced, the entire winelist will be overpriced.” BAM.

What current trends in winelists?

– Flat pricing – all bottles @ $50, for example
– By soil type (Husk, South Carolina) – Limestone, Volcanic, Alluvial, Granite
– Promotions that go beyond your restaurant – like Summer of Riesling (Terroir, NYC) and collaborations with other sommeliers, restaurants.
– By flow chart/pictograms/diagrams – playful, self directed, easy and short
– iPad lists, allowing customers to instantly look up specs, photos, tasting notes, pairing suggestions, critics’ scores
– Bringing back the traditional – amphora, biodynamic and natural in winemaking, and decanting, sabring, port tongs, drinks cart, wine casks in service.

12:15 h. “Wine in Mediterranean diet”, by Dr. Ramón Estruch, senior internal medicine consultant at Barcelona’s Clínic Hospital, and Domingo Valiente, Executive Director of Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

The Mediterranean Diet is a major theme of the forum. Current science shows that Mediterranean countries Italy and Greece have much lower coronary heart disease than elsewhere in the world. Genetic factors proved improbable; therefore the life habits like diet and exercise are leading contributors.

Mediterranean Diet, like many diets, can be thought of as a pyramid. I found it quite interesting that the bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid shows a large social aspect – dining with friends – as of great importance. Other key items to intake include extra virgin olive oil, breads, grains, fruit and veg, olives, nuts, seeds, white meat (vs. red), moderate wine, fatty fish. Substitute refined cereals to whole grain and reduce salt and red meat. And completely avoid soda, commercial bakery sweets and pastries.

13:15 h. Cocktail-lunch offered by Nandu Jubany + Tour around Bodegas Torres’ worldwide wines.

15:30 h. “Far East and wine: how to make it popular”. Journalist and winemaker Víctor de la Serna interviews Jeannie Cho Lee, first MW of Asia.

No one knows Asia and wine better than Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian MW, and instrumental in introducing Bordeaux to Asia. She was interviewed by influential Spanish journalist Victor de la Serna.

Cho Lee remembers 1997 as the first boom of wine into Hong Kong and mainland China. Now, 14 years later, she is seeing change in the wine habits of Asians, but it’s still a very slow uptake to culturally accepting wine with a meal. The Kampai culture still rules – wither you’re drinking 85 Bordeaux or 67 Cheval Blanc, you are to chug your glass in a social setting when Kampai is called.

Cho Lee is seeing a gradual uptake of having certain wines paired to certain courses – especially in fine dining restaurants in Westernized cities. One major issue blocking wine culture in Asia is space – there is no room for wine storage in a typical Asian home/apartment or restaurant. The very highest quality sushi, tempura, soba, ramen restaurants don’t think of nor have room for wine storage and service.

In Cho Lee’s opinion, an after-dinner drinking venue is needed: “Starbucks for wine” – casual lounges. She recommends stop fighting the culture and try and fit wine into already existing patterns. The Chinese domestic wine industry makes up 80% of the wine consumption and punitive taxes stomp the growth of import wine. The vast majority of wine imported is red, only 5% is white (better marketed as GOLD wine). Of highest importance – wine must offer value.

Restaurants are hugely hesitant to hire a sommelier – because the hired somm will know more than the owner/chef, and the restaurant will have to trust in the somm. There is very little shared glory to go around. Similarly, there is a hesitation to promote chefs – because then the chef will have a name and become popular and possibly leave the restaurant. Cho Lee noted a massive protectionist mechanism in place. On a positive note, WSET enrolment for levels 1-3 is highest worldwide in Asia = change is coming. On a negative note, women barely register in the fine wine scene; the higher the price point, the fewer the women involved.

16:00 h. Master tasting: “Great family wines – The Primum Familiae Vini”, by Christophe Brunet, Wine Ambassador of the PFV, and Fiona Beckett, journalist specialized in harmonies between wine and gastronomy.

The crowd was very excited for this presentation – from the highly regarded Brunet, noted wine professional, and the widely read Beckett, respected author of 23 books on wine and food pairing and with a hugely popular website Matching Food & Wine, 10 years in the running. As expected, Beckett’s pairings were insightful and acute.

Primum Familiae Vini is an international association of some of the best (11) winemaking families in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal – initially founded by Torres. To gain inclusion in the private group, you have to have a minimum of 5 generations producing wine. It’s evident that the group is united by a passion for the pursuit of excellence, using their collective expertise to share, educate and train the younger generations. Brunet introduced one wine from each family, and Beckett offered her **pairing suggestions**, based on how the wine was showing at the exact moment. Scores are Treve’s, tasting at the forum.

Pol Roger Brut 2004.
Classic. Mineral and toast, shell, lemon pith, pear nose. Very elegant, shell, salt, lees, almond, citrus – lovely finessed acidity. Proper champers. 92 points.
**Vintage champagne has an undeniable umami. Pair with freshly roasted chicken – with well roasted chicken skin.

Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 2011, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin
Cream, apple and vanillan pear. Stone, perfume. Fresh, creamy palate, white blossoms. lemon curd, Cheerios/grain and fantastic stone spice and length. 20% oak, balance is bang on. 92 points.
**Good quality raw shellfish, crab, langoustine, lobster risotto, scallops. Creamy fennel puree, caramelized cauliflower puree.

Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2013, Egon Müller-Scharzhof
Mosel. 2013 was the lowest yield since 1945 – hard for Egon to send 11 bottles for this tasting! Hugely expressive nose. White blossoms, talc, earth, truffle notes, lees, light botrytis notes, lime pulp. Delicate floral, crystallized lemon, incredible intensity and concentration (11 HL/HA). Off dry, with extreme precise balance between sweetness and lazer acidity. A baby. Great length. Wood ferment yields no wood flavours. 93 points.
**Thai food – pomelo, chilis, tamarind, lemongrass

Guidalberto 2012, Tenuta San Guido
Cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. Earth, light cherry, savoury, slightly salty. Light red, stone, saline character, black cherry, raspberry. Slightly grippy, light tannins. 90 points.
**Tuna, octopus, black rice, rabbit, shrimp

Tignanello 2011, Marchesi Antinori
1970 was their 1st vintage, kicking off the Super Tuscan regime. 80% sangiovese, with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon. Black cherry, upright structure, floral perfume, liquorice, black cocoa, concentration, and softer tannin – a bit downy. 90 points.
**Lamb with herbs, Korean steak, Parmigiano Reggiano

Chateau de Beaucastel 2008, Familie Perrin
Have used no chemicals for 60 years. Use all 13 grape varieties allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for this blend (rare). Savoury, aged wood, tobacco, black cherry, leaf, stone. Very layered flavours, Amazing spice, cinnamon, black flowers, savoury spice, black cherry, strawberry, gamy, leaf, herbs, straight up structure, but tannins well integrated. Generous, surprisingly fresh acidity, benefit of the vintage = best of both worlds. 93 points
**Braised short ribs, beef stew, comforting foots

Valbuena 5° Ano 2010, Vega Sicilia
“Best vintage of Valbuena we’ve ever made” according to Vega Sicilia. Not released yet, we had a sneak preview. Tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon. Black plum, cedar wood spice, black perfumed flowers, Slightly gummy tannins, dense fruit, light eucalypt/branch notes and oak still present. Very young – long way to go. 89 points.
**Perfect steak wine. 28 day or 55 day – look for something with age.

Petit Mouton 2005, Mouton Rothschild
2nd label Petit invented 1930. Browning. Bretty as heck. Underneath, lovely dried raspberry perfume, cherry, leather, aged wood. Light floral vein, stone, cherry. Medium body, fine tannins, graceful and stately. 90 points
**Well aged lamb – like mutton. Or meat pie with fantastic pastry.

Reserva Real 2010, Bodegas Torres
The king of Spain was visiting the winery, and Torres knew he liked Bordeaux wine, so made a wine with those grapes: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Only 200 cases/year. Black fruit, anise, blackberry, branch, black fruit, stone and spice, eraser/dense graphite. Herbal note. Cigarette. Lovely freshness and structure. 91 points.
**Butterflied herbed leg of lamb, Portobello mushrooms grilled with garlic, a high quality, gourmet meat burger.

Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 2007, Hugel & Fils
Sweet wines are 2% of production, yet are the flagship wines of the house. Light golden hue, honeysuckle, pear, honey, roses, great stony spice, apricot, hugely concentrated. Sweetness tempered by stone, acid. 91 points.
**Blue cheese, warm beignet with apricot chutney/dip.

Dow’s 2000 Vintage Port, Symington Family Estate
Ink, black cassis, tar, very concentrated black fruit, caramelized sugar, vanilla, black peppery spice. Grippy tannins starting to loosen. Still much power and fresh finesse. Drinkable now. Great length. 91 points.
**Single squares of beautiful, single origin chocolate.

17:15 h. “Cook with wine”, by Manuel Martínez, chef owner of the Parisian restaurant Le Relais Louis XIII. 2* Michelin.

Martínez demonstrated the difference between making a sauce with wine incorporated, and one without – for the entire room to taste and judge.

Live demonstration that showed wine added in at the end is clumsy and disjointed. One with wine reduced in cooking, followed by fresh wine that hasn’t been boiled and then incorporated in proved much more finessed, smooth. Proof in the pudding.

17:45 h. “False wines enemies”, by Ferran Centelles, elBulli sommelier 2000-2011 and www.jancisrobinson.com contributor.

Sitting down to a pairing session with one of the best somms in the world was both insightful and a reality check. Fantastic advice to not let tradition rule your pairing decisions.

Artichokes, eggs and acid are considered for many as the most difficult and challenging food for a successful wine pairing. We tasted through a line up of different white and red wines with flavour pairings (acid, egg, artichoke) and proved that certain long-held assumptions (vinegar kills everything) wasn’t necessarily the case. A great exercise to remind us to question everything, and not take any pairing principle for granted.

Debunking wine and food pairing myths

Debunking wine and food pairing myths

18:15 h. “End of geographical boundaries of taste”, by François Chartier, “Créateur d’harmonies”; Daniel Ovadía, chef owner of Paxia (Mexico); Vineet Bhatia, chef owner of Rasoi (London); and Stéphane Modat, chef of Champlain Restaurant (Canada).

Chartier is a Montreal-based, world-leading researcher in recipe creation and “the number one expert on flavours”. As a Canadian, it was entirely rewarding to see him present the final talk, and tie in everything to maple syrup.

As scientist Chartier got into wine and gastronomy, he released he had to recreate and reinvent the way he thought about tasting – to move past sweet, sour, bitter, acid. There was no exact, measurable science, so he began to investigate pairings based on molecules. His studies proved instrumental on elBulli’s successes, and Chartier travelled very often to Spain to meet with the chefs and restaurant team there. Pairing certain elements together, based on molecules, means 1+1= 3. You could make a more than ideal match, by aligning and partnering like or matching molecules. Each chef in sequence prepared a dish that shared molecular structure with maple syrup, but included no maple in the recipe. Formidable.

20 h. Closure

A full day, packed with science and art. What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together – for the positively and negatively. As a wine critic, it’s always good to remember to present notes clearly and concisely and consistently. What we taste means nothing if we can’t communicate it to the consumer and our readers.

¡Salud!

Treve Ring

wine-culinary-international-forum-2014-ponentes

The speakers


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