Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A very special and totally memorable wine tasting

So once again, my plans to publish the next instalment of my Vinisud adventure have been scuppered. But when one experiences the kind of vinous heaven that the lucky few who attended tonight's meeting of the Nottingham Wine Circle were treated to, then what does one do?

Mike Lane is one of the "originals" - a founding member of the Wine Circle, who has probably tasted more great wines than I have had hot dinners. Indeed, he probably still has a good many of them in his cellar, judging by the line-up he threw together tonight, to help celebrate his latest birthday (he didn't say, so I didn't ask!). I say "threw together" because he called me around midday to check I would be there and to ask me to email the group to confirm the tasting was going ahead, although he had no idea what the wines would be. By all accounts (due mainly to a rather trying day for Mike) he still hadn't decided by 5pm - and considering we start at 7pm, that didn't leave much time(!) Well, I can only dream that I might one day be able to put together a line-up of wines like this, whether carefully considered or otherwise. What follows isn't just any old bunch of tasting notes - it is my (at times hazy) recollection of probably the best 2 hours of wine tasting I have ever experienced.........

Heidsieck & Co Monopole Silver Top 2002 Champagne
Lovely - smells like a fine white Burgundy with bubbles. Tastes like it, too - rich, biscuity, minerally, fruity and considerably complex. Showing a little bit of evolution, but still with many years to go. A lovely Champagne.

Yiaskouris Xinisteri 2010 Lemesos, Cyprus
A pleasantly fruity, herby nose, with a touch of honey. Dry and minerally on the palate, yet with a touch of oily richness and some nice fruit. Not particularly complex, but an intersting wine, with a long, peppery, slightly warming finish.

Chateau de La Roche aux Moines Clos de La Coulée de Sérrant 1992 Savennieres Coulée de Sérrant
A lovely straw-gold colour. Classic Chenin Blanc nose, with minerality by the bucket-load, wet wool, lanolin, stewed quince, cinnamon and cloves. The palate is a complex and contrary combination of richness and austerity, quite steely and dry, but with a great breadth of (fruit and non-fruit) flavours, spice, minerality and bracing acidity - and very long, too. Another wine with many years (or even decades) of life ahead of it. A real stunner.

Henri Coulardin 1992 Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons
Heaven forfend! A Chablis that gives me real pleasure! The colour is dark gold, but nice and clear. The nose offers a combination of mandarin, sweet apple, peach and a hint of toffee, with oodles of complex mineral/stone aromas. If anything, the palate is even more compelling and complex, with some genuine richness, more of those apple and mandarin flavours, a subtle spiciness and loads of other non-fruit things going on. Massive length, too. A fabulous wine.

Philippe Bouzereau Les Casse-Tetes 1989 Meursault
Struck matches/flint and soft citrus aromas. Although not complex, this is a really nice wine - it just lacks the finesse of the Chablis and therefore suffers a little by comparison. But who am I to complain?

Ridge Chardonnay 1991 Santa Cruz Mountains, California
This reeks of perfectly aged Californian Chardonnay, with a touch of that Meursault-like struck match, classy (and beautifully integrated) oak, with lots of peach, apricot, marmalade and spice aromas. Marmalade on the palate, too. Rich, gently oaky, spicy, with a touch of alcoholic warmth and a bitter orange peel finish. Complex, long and really lovely.

Chateau du Galoupet Rosé 2006 Cotes de Provence
Lovely onion skin colour. Lots of structure, quite rich and warm/spicy, but with plenty of secondary fruit flavours and decent acidity. Bitter oranges again, with a hint of raspberry. Refreshing and rather nice.

Domaines Ott Château Romassan Rosé Cuvée Marcel Ott 2007 Bandol
This has more in the way of fresh fruit - redcurrant, lemon and lime, with a touch of vanilla and lashings of garrigue herbs. Delicate and charming, rather than in your face, but with a touch of richness and loads of complex red fruit, spice and herb flavours, and very long too. This is serious rosé.

Vincent Lumpp 1985 Givry 1er Cru Clos du Cras Long
A glorious combination of red and black fruit compote, beetroot, pickled red cabbage, cheese, fenugreek and caraway seed. It may not sound like a great combination, but it is. There is still a good deal of sweet, opulent red/black fruit, with a touch of orange peel and myriad secondary aromas and flavours and mouth-watering acidity. Even at 27 years of age, this has plenty of life and fruit in it. Long, spicy and utterly lovely.
(Sorry, no photo of this, as the label had all-but disintegrated).

G. Prieur 1987 Beaune 1er Cru Clos du Roy
A strange nose of iron filings to begin with, followed quickly by some enticing redcurrant and raspberry aromas, earth, rotting leaves and polished old wood. Plenty of secondary fruit flavours, too, quite woody and even a touch tannic and austere, but with a great deal of charm. A real wine lover's old Burgundy.

Paul Jaboulet Ainé La Chapelle 1987 Hermitage
Dark and brooding, but with an abundance of meaty, floral and red and black fruit aromas and a touch of balsam. Powerful and quite unyielding on the palate. Medium-rich, spicy, still quite tannic, but with a huge core of sweet/sour/tangy red and black fruit and massive acidity. This is a brooding wine, but it possesses all the ingredients necessary for the long haul. I imagine it will be an absolute cracker in another 10 years or so.

Chateau de Beaucastel 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape
For a moment, this seems strangely reticent, before a wave of crystallised fruits, meat/gravy and even something slightly vegetal (in a positive way) hits you. And the palate is even better - rich, deep and dark, very savoury, but with oodles of bramble and raspberry fruit flavours and a decent (if not high) level of acidity, with hardly a hint of heat. It is bordering on elegant - which is unusual for Chateauneuf - and really very complex and lovely. One of the best Beaucastels I have tasted.

Château Haut-Brion 1981 1er Grand Cru Classé Graves Pessac-Leognan
As far as I can recall, this is my first ever taste of a "First Growth" Claret. The nose really hits the spot - a lovely combination of rotting red fruits, polished wood, red capsicum and mint/menthol. But for me, the palate doesn't quite deliver on the promise. Whilst the nose suggests opulence, the feel is quite austere, still with some decent fruit, but also some quite stalky, slightly green tannins. There is some complexity and some nice earthy/cedary flavours, whilst the length is impressive. It clearly has plenty of breeding and is actually very enjoyable, but ultimately lacks a "wow" factor.

René Renou Domaine de Terrebrune 1952 Bonnezeaux
The colour of Irn Bru! Hints of herbs, stone, wet wool and orange marmalade. I could sniff this all night long. The palate is still very definitely moelleux, with intense flavours of seville orange marmalade and all manner of mineral and animal flavours and great length. Some were less impressed with this than me, but I thought it was really lovely - and still very much alive at 60 years of age.

Winzergenossenschaft Wachtenburg-Luginsland Wachenheimer Gerümpel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 1976 Rheinpfalz
Wow! Wow! Wow! The nose on this wine is just something else - a volatile, heady mix of marmalade. key lime, dried apricot and all sorts of things. Wave after wave of complex flavours and textures coat the palate. It starts very sweet and intense, with flavours of preserved citrus, apricot, toffee aple and fig, with more than a hint of clove and root ginger, but the acidity just keeps on building and carries all of those intense flavours through to a long, long finish. Forget Eiswein - a great TBA from a great vintage is for me the pinnacle of Riesling intensity and complexity and complete loveliness. I've been lucky enough to enjoy quite a few TBA's from the fabled 1976 vintage, and this is up there with the best of them. A great wine.

Commandaria Xinisteri 2007 Sweet Liqueur Wine
In its own way, this ain't half bad either. Mike says that this is the oldest style of sweet wine and is a bit like a cross between sweet Oloroso Sherry and Tokaji. Although not fortified, it actually has a Sherry-like tangy/salty quality to it, with intense orange peel/marmalade, spiced Christmas cake and cocoa flavours. Spicy too, again with a hint of root ginger, and a surprising level of acidity. Whilst it doesn't quite match the wow level of the Riesling, it is a very lovely wine indeed, with a length that goes on forever. I love it.

Taylors 1960 Vintage Port
Talking of Christmas cake, this has it in spades on the nose, along with clotted cream fudge, dark chocolate, forest floor, tobacco and incense. Granted, there is a good deal of spiritous warmth to the palate, but the tannins are pretty much resolved, whilst the fruit is subtle yet complex and laced with all manner of toffee/fudge/caramel/chocolate/coffee flavours. The finish is earthy, spicy and warmly alcoholic, but crucially the fruit lingers too - as do all those other flavours. I've never been a huge fan of Vintage Port, but this really is a wine for contemplation and enjoyment - and in its own way, every bit as impressive as the wines that went before it. Glorious stuff, and a fitting end to an absolutely wonderful tasting.

And the cost to those of us lucky enough to taste these wines? Absolutely nothing - Mike said it was his treat and he was happy in the knowledge that he had shared some great wines in the company of like-minded friends.

Mike, I think I speak for all of those present in saying thank you for sharing with us - it was a real privilege.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

"Merchant Speak"? Nonsense! Besides, it all turns out alright in the end......

As with most things in life, there are certain rules to be observed when you are a wine merchant. Then again (as with most things in life) rules are there to be broken. And I have to admit that there are occasions - although very rare - when I break the golden rule and buy a few cases of a wine that I haven't actually tasted. You know how it is when you are buying something (or things) and find yourself needing to "top-up" your order for some or other reason. So you take a punt on an unknown, because the seemingly attractive price means you have little to lose. And so it was with this wine.

Domaine La Combe Blanche La Vigne de l'Homme 2006 Minervois
I can't remember the exact reason, but I have a feeling that this was a wine that I felt might sit nicely at an "entry level" price point, £1.50 or so cheaper than La Combe Blanche's "standard" Calamiac Terroir Minervois (although the brilliant "premium" cuvées of La Galine and La Chandeliere aren't exactly expensive, at £11 and £14 respectively). When I actually tasted it, I described it thus.....

"Sweet and sour red and black fruit flavours, spice and liquorice, with firm tannins and a nice lick of acidity. This is a robust, earthy wine, with plenty of tannic structure, which softens-out nicely after an hour in the decanter, but needs food to show its best ."

Looking back, it was certainly all of those things, but I couldn't help feeling I was sugaring the pill a little. To say it needed food was another way of saying that it was...... a bit rustic. Fast forward a year or so, and I thought it was about time to see how this wine was developing (or, perish the thought, not developing)......

Well, as the saying goes, you could have blown me down with a feather. The nose is a heady mix of black cherry and bramble fruits, spices, garrigue herbs, cedar and kirsch, whilst on the palate, those tannins (which I admit now were a bit fierce at the time) have softened considerably, to reveal a wine of not inconsiderable charm. The black fruits, spice and liquorice are still present and correct, but the feel has become smoother and far more balanced. Delicious black forest gateau and fruitcake flavours and a touch of mandarin orange tanginess come to the fore - rich, but not overly so, with plenty of acidity to balance the core of sweet fruit. I'm not about to suggest this is now a beautiful swan of a wine, but it is no ugly duckling anymore either. In fact, if you poured this wine into a Rhone bottle and served it blind, many an experienced taster would probably be guessing at a rather good Cotes du Rhone Villages. It is rich, fruity, spicy and full of southern warmth - and really rather delicious.

I remember that on numerous occasions winemaker Guy Vanlancker has opined that some or other wine of his is "not ready yet" and (apart from the occasional 15% abv Pinot Noir that I feel might never become balanced) I think he may have a point. Having said that, he did bottle this one under those awful solid plastic "corks" that are usualy used for wines that require early consumption, so perhaps even he didn't see this particular wine as a keeper. To be honest, after almost 9 years of experience with Guy's wines (long-standing customers, or those that follow this blog, will know that he is one of the main reasons I started a wine business in the first place) I am only just beginning to get my head around them. For there is hardly a wine in his considerable portfolio that I have tasted over the years that hasn't just got better and better..... and better. And this is a classic (if rather humble) example.

If you have some of this wine (which is doubtful, because I have frankly sold bugger all) then try a bottle, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you haven't, the I suggest you get some now, because it will put a rather inexpensive smile on your face! £6.99.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Vinisud Part 1 - Domaine Gayda

Our first port of call at Vinisud was the Sud de France tasting area, which was designed to showcase 500 or so of the best wines of the region. There were some really excellent wines here (and so many that it paid to be selective) but what struck me was how they were presented. Apart from a few "icon" wines which were lined-up in mini wine fridges, the majority of bottles were housed in plastic wine "coolers"..... with nothing to actually keep them cool under the bright lighting. The result was that they were all pretty tepid - hardly ideal, even for the reds, but the whites had absolutely no chance of showing their best. Thankfully, we tasted them in the morning, whilst most were at least relatively fresh, but I can imagine many would have suffered rather badly by the end of the day. Given that Sud de France had produced a comprehensive 500-page "booklet" (presumably at great expense, but available free to every visitor to the stand) with a page devoted to each wine, it seemed a very poor way to showcase the region's best wines.

After that, we made our way to the Domaine Gayda stand. TLD and I had a most enjoyable visit to the Gayda estate in June last year, and I have been waiting for the opportunity to add some of their wines to the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list ever since. So Vinisud offered the ideal opportunity meet up again with winemaker Vincent Chansault (pictured left) and co-owner Tim Ford - and, of course, to taste the latest vintages. We were treated to an extensive and very informative tasting of the whole range and I can honestly say there was not one single "average" wine - in fact, I have rarely, if ever, tasted a range of wines from a single producer of such a consistently high standard. So much so that it was difficult to decide which ones to leave out, when placing my order. Once my decision was made, though, I got back in touch immediately, and through a combination of great work from Gayda and my transport company, my wonderful new Domaine Gayda wines arrived in stock last week - and I'm very excited! Here are my tasting notes, some of which are based on the notes I took at Vinisud, others from sitting down with a bottle at home. The wines with links are the ones we now have in stock, and I can honestly say they collectively provide the best quality-price ratio on our list.

T'Air d'Oc Sauvignon Blanc 2011
The grapes are grown on limestone soils in the Minervois. A riot of elderflower, pea pod and zesty aromas and flavours, this is a classy Sauvignon for the money. Intensely fruity and generous, with excellent acidity and structure, this puts many a £10-plus New Zealand Sauvignon to shame, though it is one of the entry-level wines. In most circumstances, I would list it without hesitation, but instead I went for the following couple of wines.....
85% Grenache Blanc and 15% Viognier. Fresh, intensely floral, yet very fruity - apple blossom and lemon aromas give way to peach, orange and all manner of tropical fruit nuances, leading to an intense grapiness on the palate. This really is packed with flavour, combining a touch of richness with gorgeous acidity and a subtle herbiness. A beautifully made wine of real elegance - and brilliant value for money. £7.75
From grapes grown locally in Brugairolles et Malviès, fermented in stainless steel and aged for several months on its lees before bottling. A very structured wine, bordering on serious, with lime/lemon and mineral aromas and subtle hints of pea pod and elderflower. Vibrant and full of tangy fruits, like a halfway house between Sancerre and New Zealand (though perhaps closer to the former, rather than the latter). This is a beautifully crafted wine. £8.75

The grapes for this wine are sourced from no less than 4 different areas - limestone in Limoux and La Liviniere, slate in Roussillon and basalt in Pézenas. 10% of the blend is fermented and aged for 6 months on its lees in new oak barrels, the remainder in stainless steel.The nose begins a touch muted, but opens out after a while, whilst the palate is a riot of soft citrus and peach, with a nice hint of bitterness on the finish. Another delicious wine. £8.75

The grapes are grown on limestone in Minervois and sandstone in nearby Malpere. 25% is fermented and aged for 6 months on its lees in new oak barrels, the remainder in stainless steel. A nose of cut lemon and clove, with subtle herby/herbaceous notes. Although the palate shows plenty of stoney minerality, it is relatively rich and full of soft citrus and tree fruits, with a very long, spicy finish. A good ringer for a more than decent Maconnais Chardonnay. £8.75

A blend of 43% Grenache Blanc, 20% Maccabeu, 20% Marsanne, 14% Chenin Blanc, 3% Roussanne. The majority of the grapes are sourced from different vineyards around St. Martin de Fenouillet in Roussillon's Agly Valley, apart from the Chenin, which is grown on the Gayda estate in Brugairolles. Each variety is fermented and aged in 1 and 2 year-old barrels for 9 months, before being blended and aged for a further 3 months in vat. This is a complex wine, with really quite subtle oak, which allows the fruit to shine. Aromas and flavours of lemon, apple, honeysuckle and spice, quite full-bodied and rich, with a touch of savoury/saline. Classy wine. £11.95

Figure Libre Maccabeu 2010
Aged for 10 months in a selection of new and used iak barrels, this is 100% Maccabeu (a.k.a Vieura) from the Fenouilledes in the Agly Valley of Roussillon. Citrus/grapefruit zest aromas and flavours, with some attractive apple pie and raisin notes, and a strong mineral streak. This is a good wine, but when push came to shove, I preferred the extra richness and complexity of the Freestyle.

T'Air d'Oc Syrah 2011
A beautiful deep purple colour, with crystallised red and black fruit aromas which burst out if the glass. A core of rich bramble and cherry fruit, complemented by soft, ripe tannins and lovely acidity. A really vibrant wine. As with it's T'Air d'Oc Sauvignon counterpart, this would normally be a shoe-in for my list, but the following 3 wines had all the bases covered....

70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. Delightfully fragrant aromas of red and black summer fruits, freshly-baked bread, herbs and spices. The palate is full of summer fruit and orange flavours, with juicy acidity and soft, ripe tannins. Medium weight and very easy to drink, rather like a good Beaujolais, but with deeper fruit flavours. A really delicious, fruity wine - and a great all-rounder. £7.75

Syrah 2010
From vineyards based on limestone soil in La Liviniere and sandstone on the Gayda estate. 10% is aged in 1, 2 and 3 year-old barrels, the remainder in stainless steel. Stating the obvious, I know, but this simply reeks of Syrah - perfumed, floral, peppery and full of red and black fruits. The palate is medium-rich, with a combination of bramble, cherry and cassis fruit, mouth-watering acidity and strong minerality. With shades of cool-climate Languedoc or even northern Rhone Syrah, this is a substantial wine for the money, which is already delicious, but has the capacity to age and evolve for a good 3 or 4 years. An absolute bargain at £8.95.
From limestone in La Liviniere and schiste in Maury, the grapes are cold-soaked for a week, before a cool (20c) fermentation. The grapes are pressed before the fermentation has finished, giving a rounded wine with no hard edges. An abundance of raspberry, soft citrus and tar on the nose and in the mouth, with excellent acidity and velvety tannins. A far from simple wine, this could evolve further, but is already delicious to drink. £8.75

60% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 9% Mourvedre, 6% Carignan and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from a variety of vineyards in Roussillon, Minervois/La Liviniere and Gayda's own estate vines. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged for 9 months in a variety of oak barrels. This has a reassuringly bright, semi-transluscent purple core, leading to a wide raspberry rim. This wine offers a gloriously complex array of aromas and flavours - black cherry, bramble, raspberry and mandarin fruit, with additional notes of tar, incense, polished wood and forest floor. With time (even a day or two later), those aromas and flavours meld together beautifully, combining all manner of red, black and citrus fruits, garrigue herbs, an increasingly intense combination of spice/incense/wood and the merest hint of eau de vie. And yet, with so much going on, it remains beautifully subtle and harmonious - a nigh-on perfect marriage of concentrated, elegant fruit,  ripe tannins, ample acidity and great persistence. I'm often banging on about how so many Languedoc wines are so utterly drinkable in their youth, yet possess all of the qualities necessary for long ageing, and this is a wonderful example - you can drink it now, or age it for another 5 to 10 years. Either way, it is a generous, hugely complex and very lovely wine, at an almost laughable price of £11.95.
From Gayda's own Cabernet Franc vines surrounding the property, planted in 2004 and in the 3rd year of conversion to official Organic certification. Aged for 15 months in 1 year-old oak barrels, with regular batonnage and racking/bottling according to the phases of the moon. A classic Cabernet Franc nose of dark fruits, pepper, cedar/pencil, just a hint of red capsicum and a touch of toasty oak. A delicious core of ripe red and black fruits (cherry, cassis, bramble) with rich, ripe, chocolatey tannins. Savoury, spicy, complex and long, with an excellent capacity for ageing. I have never been a great fan of Cabernet Franc (too often green, tannic, charmless monsters) but I actually love this! A real cracker. £14.95

The "tech-spec" for this wine fully illustrates the care and attention to detail which goes into making it. 82% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 4% Cinsault, sourced from no less than 6 different areas of Languedoc and Roussillon. Aged for a total of 21 months in French oak: The Syrah in new oak for 9 months, the Grenache and Cinsault in 2 and 3 year-old oak for 9 months, followed by blending of the best barrels of each variety and a further 12 months maturation of the final blend in the same barrels. The nose is a touch reductive to begin with, but lurking beneath is a wine of real class. After a while, it reveals complex notes of flowers, incense, bread, beef, raspberry and bramble. The palate is young, tight and gently tannic, but already showing layers of complexity, with immense (but definitely not soupy) concentration and length of flavour. This is a magnificent wine, which is already quite approachable, but has a full 10 years of evolution ahead of it. Another Languedoc classic. £19.99

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Vinisud - The Prologue (and how to get lost in Montpellier)

So..... Where was I, before I was so rudely interrupted by the need to taste those wonderful Burgundies I told you about the other night? Oh yes - we were on our way south, heading for a 3-day jaunt in Montpellier, for the bi-annual Vinisud.

As usually happens with us, it wasn't an entirely uneventful journey - a 10pm ferry was followed by a good few hours driving through the night before my body (and my tired eyes) could go no further. We stopped in a lay-by near Chartres, to grab a couple of hours of fitful sleep, before waking to a beatiful, cold, clear morning with a view across open fields of the Cathedral in the distance.

Chartres Cathedral by dawn's early light

A quick dash to the autoroute and a stop for a wash and brush-up at the nearest service station was followed by the rather uninteresting drive towards Clermont Ferrand, before the much prettier ascent of the Massif Central (preceded by a quick stop for a cup of coffee and steak frites at my favourite service station just south of Clermont). This ompressive stretch of motorway winds its way uphill and down dale for a good 150 miles, rarely falling below 800 metres above sea level and often climbing as high as 1100 metres. The weather can be changeable at the best of times - even in summer - but in winter, the combination of cold temperatures and precipitation often equals snow. Which is just what we got, and at times there were blizzard conditions, making for some rather difficult driving.

From blizzard conditions crossing the Massif Central on the A75..................

By the time we approached Millau (we have "done" the viaduct several times, so a quick detour through the town lost us 15 minutes on the journey but saved us 7 Euros) the weather was beginning to pick up. An hour later and we were descending the the hills and tunnels of the Espinouse under cloudless skies and the temperature gradually rose to an almost balmy 14c(!) glorious sunshine over the hills of the Haut Languedoc

We were headed for Montpellier, where we would be staying for 3 nights in an apartment provided courtesy of our hosts Jon Hesford and Rachel Treloar. Just as we were approaching the intersection for the autoroute into central Montpellier, Rachel called on the mobile and I instinctively answered it (most unlike me, as I am well aware that is avery naughty thing to do whilst driving!). We were still talking as I drove straight past my exit without a word from TLD (wives tend to be terrible navigators at the best of times.....). The result was a further 20 kilometres in the wrong direction, before a long trek across country. Why go the direct route, when you can drive in a big triangle and make yourself very late for a rendezvous?!

By the time we reached Montpellier it was getting dark and we seemed to be driving around in circles for ages before I stopped the car on a narrow thoroughfare (making it rather difficult for the hooting locals to get by). After a drive of 1,000 miles, being completely lost in the middle of a big city, with a maze of narrow streets (many of which are not navigable by car) is an immensely frustrating experience and I wasn't a happy bunny. So I phoned Jon to tell him that I wasn't moving until someone came to find us and escort us to the nearest car park to the apartment. I don't very often have a hissy fit, but this was a big one. ;-) Eventually, Jon, Rachel and our good friend Stewart Travers from Cambridge Wines eventually tracked us down and led us to a car park, helped us carry our luggage to the apartment and left us to unpack. Our apartment was located about 10 minutes' walk from their apartment, so it took further phone calls to Jon in order for us to navigate our way through the maze (mercifully this time on foot) to where they were. By this time, it was too late for Rachel to be bothered with preparing a meal, so we all descended on an Italian restaurant for some rather good food and a few glasses of local wine, before returning to our respective apartments for a well-earned night's sleep in comfy beds - though not before Diane and I got thoroughly lost again, this time traipsing around the (by now deserted) streets of the old city for almost half an hour before finding our apartment! Laugh? We nearly did...... It certainly wasn't the last time we got lost (if I lived in Montpellier for a year, I probably still wouldn't know my way around) but - as is usually the case with these things - we already look back with much amusement on that night. And Jon's mirth at my inabilty to navigate my way out of a paper bag (which he didn't attempt to conceal at the time) came back to haunt him a few days later - but that's another story.........

The following morning, it was off to Vinisud and a hectic day of tasting. I'll tell you all about Day 1 (or at least part of it) in my next post, which will - for reasons that will soon become clear - follow in double quick time..........

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......