Tag Archives: Chablis

Christian Moreau at Caviste

Rather like the the first cuckoo of the spring or the changing of leaf colour in the autumn, the IMG_0145 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 Christian Moreau with Janet 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-IMG_0151 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.

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Burgundy at the home of cricket

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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 IMG_4327improbably 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. 

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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 – IMG_4326appellations 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. 

Minor variations

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.

IMG_4349 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. 

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Francois Parent

 

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.  IMG_4350Apart 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 IMG_4338 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. 

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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 IMG_4343 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 IMG_4355sixth 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.

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Chablis – all flints and fossils

In sharp contrast to Campania, the wines of Chablis are are all northern edginess and elegance.  The  region is equidistant from Paris and Beaune (where most Burgundy comes from), and so are on the northern limits of viable viticulture.  With a semi-continental climate and no moderating effect of the sea, the winters are cold and the relatively short summer is hot.  But what really makes Chablis distinctive is the rich Kimmeridgian clay/limestone, which contains trillions of fossilised oysters, lain down in the upper Jurassic  period.  The boundary of Chablis proper follows the area where this type of soil is on or near the surface.  Petit Chablis has to make do with Portlandian limestone, a mere youngster, some 20 million years younger.  And English readers will note that both names are strongly reminiscent of Dorset, which has the same soil structure.

It’s the combination of the soil type and the weather that makes for the highly distinctive Chardonnay of  Chablis – for that is what it is.  Many people won’t know this and that itself is a marketing advantage for Chablis.   It’s chardonnay, but not as we know it. The typical flavours are of sharp apples,  a mineral edge, sometimes a sort of saltiness and, above all, racy acidity.

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The wines themselves where being shown in London by the Burgundy wines trade association in the glittering surroundings of the Royal Opera House.  Generally the wines were of a very high standard.  Most of the them were either 2008 (Petit Chablis or Chablis) or 2007 (Premier Cru and Grand Cru) and, as such, very young.

With nearly 40 growers present, it was impossible to get around them all but some distinctions emerged. One marked difference was the assurance and quality of well known names, as opposed to the variability in smaller family firms.  To establish a sort of bench mark I started with Domaine Christian Moreau, who showed a great range:

  • Chablis 2008 – fruity, lively, good
  • Premier Cru (PC) Vaillons 2008 – superb refreshing palate, potential, very young
  • Grand Cru (GC) Vaudésir 2007 – the bouquet still rather dumb, but greater structure in the mouth, excellent acidity and length, will be excellent
  • GC Valmur 2007 – bigger still, this firm have 80% on the better side of the valley and 20% with less sun
  • GC Les Clos 2007 – floral and mineral notes, good concentration
  • GC Clos de Clos 2007 bottom section of the vineyard, small production, but more open now and drinking better

Christian Moreau’s wines showed that the quality pyramid works pretty well here in the hands of good producers: simple, elegant Petit Chablis; more complex, mineral, Chablis proper; and then greater structure and power in the Premier Cru and Grand Cru in turn. Given the significant price differences, it’s reassuring that the quality pyramid has some reliability about it.

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Equally, William Fèvre – the first quality Chablis I bought some years ago – had excellent Grand Crus: Les Preuses 2007 and Les Clos 2007, powerful wines of very young fruit, minerals and acidity.  These will start to drink well in 3-5 years and last for a couple of decades.  In the evening we enjoyed a fully mature PC Monteé de Tonneres 2002, sadly the last bottle of a half case.  With seven years of ageing, the nose had mellowed with a combination of dried and fresh apples, the minerality now a sort of structure for the wine as a whole, the refreshing acidity remained but was now beautifully balanced. A sophisticated and delicious wine.

By contrast to the well-established, it is fun to discover new names.  I particularly enjoyed Château de Béru,  a smallish firm in organic conversion – it takes three years to get your certificate and rather longer for the vineyards to establish a new rhythm.  The outstanding wine was the PC Vaucoupin 2007.  From a cool East facing slope, it was elegant, strongly floral and mineral, quite linear but good.  Despite the steep slope they are now working the vineyard with a horse!

Equally good was the Bouchard family who had two lines to try: the family’s Domaine Pascal Bouchard and then the son’s Romain Bouchard.  By this stage I had got so used to all the Premier Crus being 2007 and very young the taste in the glass of a rounded, complex mature wine really stood out – because Pascal Bouchard had generously brought the 2005.   The son’s own wine is PC Vau de Vey.  This is his first offering and impressively had won a gold medal in one of the big UK competitions.  When should you drink it? Not for another 3-5 years he said and then after that it’s your choice.

In the UK, Chablis has a marketing advantage – it’s a wine that those with a bit of knowledge will recognise on a restaurant wine list.  Indeed the UK is the region’s biggest export market.  What this tasting showed was the quality available in these wines – especially if you can give the top wines some bottle age.  Let’s raise a glass to the trillions of tiny oysters whose shells give Chablis its unique profile.

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