Sunday, 11 March 2012

A Burgundy revelation (vaguely Vinisud-related)

So there I was, just beginning to type out my notes about our (fairly eventful) drive to the South of France, for the bi-annual Vinisud event in Montpellier, plus some notes on the first batch of wines we tasted at the event, when I suddenly thought "Gosh - I really should finish writing my tasting notes on those Burgundies we tasted the other evening, before they are completely shot".

I'm referring to a tasting I presented to the Nottingham Wine Circle on Wednesday, featuring the wines of a couple of growers from less exalted parts of greater Burgundy, namely Domaine Guillot-Broux in the Maconnais and Les Champs de l'Abbaye in the Cote Chalonnaise. Both of these growers (more by coincidence than design, in this case) produce wines from biodynamically farmed vineyards. I have written enough about biodynamic winegrowers in the past for any followers of this blog to know exactly what I am talking about, but if you are unfamiliar with biodynamics, then Google is your friend(!) Suffice to say that, as I have also stated ad-nauseum in the past - and I quote (myself) - "whatever one thinks about biodynamicism - extreme organics or just plain wacky - it is a philosophy which does tend to go hand-in-hand with a healthy respect for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking."

I visited these growers during a couple of (relatively) relaxing days and nights we spent in Burgundy, based at our friend David Bennett's house in the medieval village of Saint Gengoux-le-National, as a post-Vinisud "wind-down". I'll tell you more about Domaine Guillot-Broux in a later post, but for now I will concentrate on Les Champs de l'Abbaye. This is a domaine created by a gentleman by the name of Alain Hasard, who just happens to be the brother of Thierry Hasard, a man who in my opinion makes some of the Languedoc's finest wines (also biodynamic) and who I have written about so enthusiastically on various occasions. I figured that if Thierry makes such brillliant and individual wines, then perhaps his brother may do the same. I had also read an extremely enthusiastic (and extremely detailed) review of Alain's wines in Bertrand Celce's excellent Wine Terroirs blog dating back to 2009. As far as I could see, this guy was a "must visit", whilst in the region............ 

We arrived at Les Champs de l'Abbaye in the village of Aluze (without an appointment) at around 1.30 pm - still at least half an hour before the end of lunchtime in French terms, but I was hoping perhaps to arrange a tasting after 2 pm. I made a telephone call to Alain Hasard.... "Puis j'avoir une rendevous, s'il vous plais?" The answer came back "Aujourd'hui?...... err, oui..... dix-huit heures?" Oh dear - 6 pm. Not ideal, but better than nothing - we might be on holiday, but the French had work to attend to, so 6 pm it was. Off we went for a coffee in Beaune and a drive up to the Cotes de Nuits. We returned at 6 pm prompt (well, 6.10, actually, but it was close enough) and met with Monsieur Hasard at his cellar door for a tasting. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but an hour later, following a very enjoyable tasting of all his wines (or at least the ones that were currently available) we left, armed with a bottle of delicious Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Nature 2010 (with zero dosage and zero sulphur) for our pre-dinner aperitif and a selection of his other wines to taste back in the UK.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I presented these wines to the NottinghamWine Circle. It is fair to say that (alongside the wines of Domaine Guillot-Broux, who as I said, I will deal with in a later post) they showed reasonably well, but didn't particularly shine, especially given the relatively high cellar door prices (and hence, the prices I would need to sell them at, if I chose to do so). Don't get me wrong, they came across as good wines, but they aren't cheap, when you consider that it is still possible to find many a decent Cote d'Or village wine for less money. When presenting a tasting, it is difficult to find either the time or the presence of mind to actually write cohesive notes on the wines you are presenting, so (as usual) I took what was left in the bottles home, fully intending to write some proper notes. And (again, as usual) I ended up too tired/hungry/whatever to bother myself with such a chore, at the end of a long day. Therefore, it wasn't until 24 hours later that I managed to re-taste the whites, and a full 3 days (i.e. last night) before I managed to get to the reds. Frankly, I thought they would be well past it, for in my experience, red Burgundy generally does not show well in the "next day" stakes - it seems to oxidise sufficiently to eradicate any degree of freshness.

But these wines were different, because every single one was was fresh and full of life - and showing considerably better than when they were first opened, a full 3 days before. Which is all the more amazing, given that Monsieur Hasard uses only the bare minimum of SO2 at the bottling stage - i.e. just enough to make them sufficiently stable to be transported and stored/aged under what most of us would consider normal conditions. The prices shown in Euros are cellar door (visitor) prices, whilst the prices in brackets are what I would need to sell them for, if I chose to do so.........

Les Champs de l’Abbaye “Les Cailloux” Rully Blanc 2009 - €15.00 (N/A - sold out)
Initially a strong whiff of banoffee oak, but this integrates with time, revealing some rather nice lemon/lime and mineral aromas and flavours. Tightly wound, flinty and nervy, this at first seems almost Chablis-esque in structure, though with more fruit (even grapiness) and none of the sicky notes I often find in Chablis. By day 2, it had opened-out beautifully into something rather different, now putting me more in mind of a Coulée de Serrant we enjoyed a few nights previously, with a steely minerality, still tightly wound, but with great complexity and immense length.

Les Champs de l’Abbaye “Les Gardes” Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise 2009 - €12.00 (£16.75)
A delightfully bright, clean, fresh Pinot nose. The palate too is uber-fresh, clean and bursting with life, with red cherry and raspberry flavours and a hint of soft spice. Fruit, acidity and tannins all in perfect balance. Really elegant and full of promise.

Les Champs de l’Abbaye “La Brigadière” Mercurey 2010 - €17.00 (£21.75)
This is also beautifully fresh and clean, heady with aromas of violets and roses, summer pudding, cream and spice. Delightfully fresh in the mouth - light and airy, with a core of ripe, elegant raspberry and cherry fruit and a wonderful citrus/mineral tang. This is elegant, long and very lovely.

Les Champs de l’Abbaye “Les Marcoeurs” Mercurey 2010 - €22.00 (£23.99)
Another lovely nose - this one being more strawberries and cream, with a hint of something darker. A touch of brioche, exotic spices and polished mahogany. The palate is a real joy - full of complexity and elegance, with a combination of redcurrant, cherry and raspberry fruit flavours, very fine tannins and g;orious acidity. A glorious wine, with fabulous balance and real breeding.

Les Champs de l’Abbaye “Les Sous Roches” Monthelie 2010 - €22.00 (£23.99)
A riot of red and black fruits, with a hint of savoury/meat, again with polished wood and exotic spices. Amazingly fresh and full of vigour - a wine I could sniff all night. A wonderfully fresh, vibrant palate, packed with light, delicate red fruit flavours, zesty acidity and barely perceptible tannins and great length. A wine of tremendous complexity.

So why did these wines show so well last night, when 3 days earlier they had come across as, well..... a touch ordinary? Perhaps they suffered from being so young and recently bottled and just needed time to open out. Perhaps it was my mood - not that it had changed drastically, and I wasn't exactly feeling ebulliant! Or maybe (being biodynamic) they just needed the juxtaposition of the moon, stars, planets, earth and sea to be just right before coming out to play(!) Whatever the case, their transformation from a few evenings previous was amazing - these were pure, fresh and utterly life-affirming wines, which really put a smile on my face.

But could I sell them? Well, to be honest, I have enough trouble trying to sell wines from my own specialist region of Languedoc-Roussillon in the 15 to 25 quid price bracket - brilliant though many of them are - so I'd have the Devil's own job in trying to shift "Villages" level Côte Chalonnaise wines from a virtually unknown grower with little track record. But who knows - perhaps with the inexorable rise in prices for the wines of the nearby Côte d'Or, Burgundy diehards may eventually begin to look further south. And maybe then these wines will begin to look like good value. For now, though, I'm not sure they are......


Dids said...

I got the price list through from Guillot Broux, on reflection of these prices and notes, how do you think the 2 compare?

I was disappointed to see none of the Gamay available in Guillot Broux.

Leon Stolarski said...

Sean - Without a doubt the Guillot-Broux wines represent better value than Les Champs de l'Abbaye. Guillot does have one Gamay available (Beaumont 2010, which is brilliant) but the basic Gamay 2010 is sold out. Having said that, I tasted both of the 2011's in barrel and both are also lovely - especially the basic one, which demands "Drink me now!". Both of the Pinot 2011's I tasted from barrel (again, no 2010's left) were stunning - simply gorgeous wines. Who knows, if you ask nicely, Emmanuel may offer you a taste.... ;-)