Posts Tagged ‘Bourgogne’
The Bring a Bottle Club was in a rather different format for its late January tasting, or rather a refinement of its format. We already have ‘BBC1’ which is ‘bring an interesting/good bottle of any sort’, while ‘BBC2’ has a theme, on this occasion, white Burgundy. The refinement was that one of our number offered to liaise with members before hand so that we didn’t end up bringing the same wine – a particular problem given that just about everyone in the group has a strong connection with Caviste in Overton. It was just as well that there was this level of organisation as the wines posed the usual challenge in terms of identification. The region and the colour had been fixed and there is a very strong likelihood that we were going to be tasting Chardonnay in its various guises. We started with a pair of wines.
||This first wine opened with a powerfully oaky nose, some good lime and peach fruit, sophisticated oak again on the palate, altogether a very polished performer. Nobody spotted that it wasn’t Chardonnay, not even the person who brought it. This a very fine wine made from the Aligoté grape variety, normally the source of thin, acidic wines best made into aperitifs. Arnaud Ente, Bourgogne Aligoté, 2009. I had thought about bringing Sauvignon de Saint-Bris to complete the set of possible grape varieties.|
|By contrast wine number two was unoaked and full of green apples and lemon, showing vibrant fruit but with a taut, mineral, even seashell, undertone – which sent us all off in the Chablis direction, wrongly. In fact this was Simon Bize’s ‘Les Perrières’, a lieu-dit (named vineyard but not a cru) in Savigny: a fine wine trading simply as Bourgogne 2008, with the racy acidity of that cool year. 2-0 to white Burgundy.|
|There was a strong connection between wines three and four, with wine number three showing particularly well. Pale lemon in colour and medium intensity on the nose (as most of these were) this had fine, subtle fruit, balance and was very attractive. Eventually its importer recognised Sur le Mont. Domaine Cheveau, Mâcon Solutré, 2010.|
|Something had gone wrong here: a heavily oaked wine with caramel and nut notes, a bit dried out if with continuing acidity: Aux Bouthières, Pouilly-Fuissé, Domaine Michel Cheveau, 2006. Same family of producers as the previous wine, but an earlier generation. The only spoiled wine of the evening.|
||The next mini-flight was three wines with a connection of some sort. By this point in the evening, I had the advantage of knowing that the two wines which Janet and I had bought had not yet appeared. Wine number one was delicate, with pleasantly spicy oak and a fruity palate that was more intense than the nose. Number two had good lemon notes, good sharp grape fruit (that’s fruit of the grape rather than grapefruit), and eccellent acidity, classy.|
|Wine number three was all toffee apples and oxidisation; someone else suggested marshmallow – something of a marmite wine. And the connection – all three were from the most northerly part of Burgundy. The complication was that they weren’t all Chablis – after a few moments it came to me. Wines one and two were the wines we had brought: Cuvée|
Louis Bersan, Dom. Bersan, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre 2008 – next door to Chablis and great value and Chablis 2008 from Vignoble Dampt, ‘Vielles Vignes’. Number three was Patrick Piuze, Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourneaux, also 2008.
Time for some food: a superb chicken dish from the Red Lion, Overton.
|Having done Chablis, Mâcon and some outstations, the final line up of four wines had to be from the Côtes de Beaune, from the great white wine communes – and indeed they were. Sorting them out and distinguishing between village level and premier crus was much more challenging. I got the quality levels right but had no idea about the communes.|
|All from the same cool 2007 vintage, the Meursault was was fresh and taut while the village Chassagne-Montrachet was powerful, exotic and fatter. The Chassagne PC by contrast was showing a real complexity on the palate with some more vegetal notes and the Puligny-Montrachet an excellent combination of lime fruit, subtle use of oak and some still vibrant youth.||
From the left:
It is easy to knock white Burgundy – you can find more vibrant young wines in Australia and bigger, more powerful Chardonnays in South Africa or California. But for subtle differences in a range of food friendly styles, you can’t really beat where it all began.
Rather like the the first cuckoo of the spring or the changing of leaf colour in the autumn, the spring tastings of the new wines are a marker of the time of year. Caviste’s Burgundy festival is an opportunity to taste the latest offerings, in this case from the 2008 vintage. Eight growers, nearly all there in person, showed 37 wines in the comfort of the splendid games room at Ashe Park. I say comfort because Caviste had taken the wise step of cancelling the marquee and sheltering from the unseasonably cold spell indoors.
In contrast to the enormous trade tasting at Lord’s which I attended in January, at this smaller sample it was the whites which really stood out. Bruno Colin’s St Aubin is an excellent value white, 100% Chardonnay like all the rest. The Premier Cru La Charmois, at £140 per 6 bottles (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid), shows the continuing value of this appellation. Vincent Bouzereau’s wines also shone: simple, unoaked Bourgogne Blanc shows lovely, lively and quite complex fruit with a bit of minerality at a very reasonable £78 per 6 bottles. The village level Meursault has a great balance between freshness and richness (£145), while the two Premier Cru, Les Gouttes d’Or (amazing concentration, the density of fruit currently only showing in the after taste) and Charmes, both £225 are correspondingly grander.
But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly meeting Christian Moreau himself and of course tasting his great wines from Chablis. The family firm which carries his name is now run by his son, Fabian, but Christian genially presides over the wines as though they were his own grandchildren. His seems a happy lot. After many years of putting his name on the map, he can simultaneously take pride in the wine which continues to be of the highest quality and have the relaxed look of a man who knows that somebody else is reliably doing the hard work.
Having tasted the 2007s at the London Chablis trade tasting earlier in the year, this was a chance to check out the 2008s. Both are very good vintages in the whites, 2008 if anything even better than 2007, certainly more approachable and so can be drunk earlier. Four quality and price levels:
- ‘basic’ (but floral and mildly mineral) Chablis, £80 (all prices per 6 bottles duty paid)
- more restrained, dense fruit in Premier Cru Vaillons, oak aged, needs time, £118
- lemon and lime fruit, great minerality and length in Grand Cru Valmur, 40% vinified in oak barrels of which only 2% is new, £195
- similarly Grand Cru Les Clos, more rounded, oak more evident, £195
- and from the historic heart of Les Clos, Grand Cru Clos de Hospises, rich, exotic, floral and fruit notes on the nose, gorgeous fruit, so complex, £260
- And yes, there were some reds, but not that many. The wine to drink now is Lignier- Michelot’s Gevrey Chambertin with wonderful accessible fruit (Cuvée Bertin, £178). And then there was the chance to taste the otherwise unreachable. Although it seems a shame to reduce the already tiny numbers of bottles of Grand Cru wines by tasting them years before they hit their prime, few are going to turn down the opportunity to try Clos de la Roche (Lignier-Michelot, superb texture, sweet ripe fruit, £450) or indeed the white, Lequin-Colin, Batard Montrachet (very closed but with an amazing rich texture, £615). The 2008s are well and truly launched.
English cricket and the wines of Burgundy – especially the somewhat elusive reds – do share some things in common. After a summer of England beating Australia and taking a leading position after three winter Tests against South Africa, it was entirely in character that this Burgundy trade tasting should take place at the home of cricket when England were having a disastrous first morning in the decisive final Test of the series in South Africa. All that talk, before the final game, of a historic victory over South Africa away from home, evaporated in a morning of poor batting. In a similar way red Burgundy can be the most exciting and complex wine in the world but there are also many disappointing bottles, some of them quite expensive.
The tasting Terroirs & Signatures de Bourgogne 2010 took place in the Nursery Pavilion at Lords, overseen by the somewhat improbably futuristic outline of the Lord’s Media Centre. The immaculate green turf of Lords was under snow. One grower asked me if this was an important stadium for the city … and I replied that it was the most important cricket ground in the world, but, of course very few countries actually played cricket so that wasn’t a very strong competition. Similarly, the wines of Burgundy, despite their hundreds of years of history, are relatively under appreciated in world of wine dominated by by big flavours and heavy weight bottles.
96 growers and over 500 wines – of which it was only possible to taste a fraction – certainly allowed an appreciation of the styles of Burgundy. The basic grape varieties are simple. The great majority of the whites are made from 100% Chardonnay and may or may not be matured in oak barrels. Equally, most reds are Pinot Noir, usually given some oak. Below this generalisation, there is an explosion of complications – appellations famous and obscure, double barrelled village names, thousands of vineyard names, variation of quality within individual vineyards because of changes of soil, climate or aspect, sizeable or subtle differences between vintages and, of course, the myriad small differences brought about by the choices made by individual growers and wine makers. Burgundy is fascinating because of its complexity.
The minor grape varieties are always worth looking out for. A wine made from the Aligoté grape variety was shown by Jaffelin, though they don’t market it as such but give it the name ‘Bouzeron’. The grape variety accounts for only 6% of grapes grown in the region, is pretty neutral in character but some interest is created in the wine by barrel fermentation and stirring of the lees, the layer of dying yeast in the vat. The 2006, finished with glass stopper for freshness, quite a novelty in conservative France, is a worthwhile curiosity. Sauvignon is restricted to the St Bris area in the north, next door to Chablis.
There were also a handful of Cremant de Bourgogne, sparkling wines made with either the range of local grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté, Gamay) or as Blanc de Blanc, just from Chardonnay. Two main styles were on show: Bailly Lapierre’s Reserve Brut was distinctly yeasty and toasty, even the hint of mushrooms, with some good fruit, a decent sparkler. Meanwhile Paul Chollet’s Blanc de Blanc has a fruit-led nose, rather more refined with a good sharp profile, clearly a cool climate wine. It reminds you that Burgundy is not that far south of the Champagne area. A tiny amount of Pinot Blanc is also grown, represented here by Desertaux-Ferrand.
Like the England cricket team on a good day, what is good Burgundy about? It’s not consistency or simple good value. You can buy a bottle and be rather underwhelmed. But you need some good examples to get the bug, so let’s start with some.
It’s quite clear from its complicated name – Domaine A-F. Gros & François Parent – that this winery is not leading on its marketing. It is a husband and wife team, presenting their take on the red wine that has been made here for hundreds of years. In the brochure they are keen to tell us that they come from winemaking families. But above all, they produce terrific wines and, as you can see, a lot of lines, which probably means that they have a lot of parcels of land, some of which can be quite small or even tiny. But from the first sip of the basic Bourgogne Haut-Côtes de Nuits 2008 you can tell they have something special – it’s fresh and full of red fruit flavours, strawberry and cherry, with a simple but evocative fragrance.
The leap in interest to the so-called ‘village’ wines is marked. Chambolle-Musigny 2008 is pale to mid red with purple edges, with gorgeous ripe fruit and a wonderful acidic edge. Pommard, from the single vineyard, Les Epenottes, also 2008, has dense fruit of dark cherries, more powerful. You begin to see that flowery wine-speak is beckoning here. Apart from simple comparisons how can you describe the subtle graduations which mark the quality ladder in Burgundy? The three Grand Cru, Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot and Richebourg, follow in quick and grand procession – all very young, tight, dense wines which will unfurl with age, though the Richebourg is already gorgeously perfumed, rich, with a magnificently satiny texture.
If the red wines are difficult to get your mind around, so is the structure of the trade. Talking to representatives it quickly became clear that sometimes you were talking to the wine maker, but often to people whose business was part growing, part making and part handling others’ wines. Jean-Pierre Nié’s Compagnie des Vins d’Autrefois offers the wines of 100 different growers with an average of 10 wines each – rather different from the small family companies also present at the tasting. He also trades as Pierre Ponnelle. An advantage is having the reach to cover all Burgundy’s major areas. By contrast in some domaines, the family members have to be grower, wine maker, marketing, admin and sales, front of house.
While virtually all Burgundy’s whites are Chardonnay, they come in perceptibly different styles. In the North, closer to Paris than to Beaune is the Chablis area, whose wines I comment on in more detail in an earlier post. Here Chardonnay is famously taut, mineral and edgy. Ponnelle has Domaine Chatelain’s Chablis 2008 which shows a good balance, sharp apple flavours and some minerality. Skipping lightly over the Côte d’Or, there were two good whites from the south of Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 (nice floral nose, good acidity but now complemented by more exotic fruit, apricot, very good) and Pouilly-Vinzelles from the cooler 2007 vintage (a lighter and drier style). Then it’s back to the heart of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, to taste two grand whites. The mid-weight Puligny-Montrachet from Domaine Henri Clere is from old vines. It has excellent attack on the palate, but still very drinkable, with noticeable use of oak. The fruit is characteristically in the apple and pear range. Finally, there was Château de la Maltroye’s Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet, ‘Morgeot Vigne Blanche’ 2007. The biggest differences here are in weight and mouth feel – this is a big, mouth filling wine, the oak is less obvious, but with the structure to last for some decades.
Burgundy’s fragmentation – of ownership, of vineyards – makes it fascinating for the real enthusiast but also presents huge problems in marketing. A causal survey of the 500 wines here show that the locals have stuck to traditional labels and of course there wasn’t a screw top to be seen. One exception on the labelling was Maison Louis Max, with its quirky but still very French style.
Full marks on the styling – they really stand out.
The joy of minor appellations
One of the problems facing Burgundy lovers is the price of famous appellations, especially when they are doubled or triple in restaurants. So most of us won’t be drinking Chassagne-Montrachet or Vosne-Romanée except on special occasions. But there are many little appellations which can make up for this. Desertaux-Ferrand had red wine from Ladoix 2007, with an excellent fragrant nose, in a light and elegant style. Ladoix – to save you reaching for the wine atlas – is on the Côtes de Beaune, next door to Aloxe-Corton. Equally close by, if tucked on the other side of the Corton hill, is Pernand-Vergelesses, a great source of good value wines, here represented, for example, by Jaffelin with its Premier Cru ‘En Caradeux’ 2007. It is made from 60-80 year old vines and leads with lovely strawberry fruit and freshness. For whites, you might try Rully (Jaffelin again, partially barrel fermented, nice fruit, lively), Santenay or Saint-Aubin, the last two either side of the prestigious Montrachet vineyards. The sixth generation of Legros, now fronting Bachey-Legros, produce a good Santenay, Sous la Roche 2008, with some quite tropical flavours and dense fruit. They pride themselves on their old vines, including the 60 year olds which produce the fruit for their Premier Cru Morgeot, Chassagne-Montrachet 2008. A big nose, more pronounced than their Meursault and certainly the Santenay, luscious fruit with a good mineral streak – but we do seem to have wandered off from good value, lesser known wines - as of course the Burgundy lover does!
In the end people are gripped by Burgundy because of the great structured whites and the complex, hedonistic reds. These can be great and glorious, like the England cricket team on a very good day. From this tasting the Gros-Parent Grand Crus stood out – as so they should – and the occasional wine which had the advantage of a bit of bottle age: Antonin Guyon’s Corton Grand Cru, les Bressandes, 2005, rich seductive nose, excellent red fruits, good acidity for the long haul, very good to excellent. As with the cricket, we put up with a lot of disappointments and dull days, for those few glorious, unrepeatable moments.