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Those we Lost in 2016

It feels as though 2016 has seen more than its fair share of losses in the entertainment industry, from David Bowie at the very dawn of the year, through to Carrie Fisher in the past few days. And some, such as comedy actress Caroline Aherne and of course George Michael (and many others) left us tragically young.

Sadly, as 2016 draws to an end, I have also been struck by how many significant figures from the world of wine have left us this year. As the year began the news that Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard had died on December 29th 2015 was still very fresh in my mind, but sadly there were many more to come as 2016 unfolded.

Bordeaux lost two leading lights during the course of the year, the first being Paul Pontallier (aged 59, in March), on the eve of the primeurs. Paul has rightly been credited with being largely responsible for the revitalisation of Château Margaux, and I was lucky enough to meet and taste with him many times over the past few years, sometimes in large groups, sometimes just the two of us. He was always warm-hearted and generous with his time. He is pictured below with his son, Thibaud, back in April 2012. For more thoughts on Paul, read my blog post, R.I.P. Paul Pontallier, Man of Margaux.

Paul and Thibaud Pontalier, April 2012

The second loss to Bordeaux was Denis Dubourdieu (aged 67, in July), one of the region’s most famed and respected oenologists, as well as being proprietor of several notable domaines, not least Château Doisy-Daëne. Denis had been ill for some time, but he was still on sparkling form when I visited him late in 2015, when I took the picture below. I wrote up the visit here, complete with some reflections on Denis’ achievements.

Denis Dubourdieu, October 2015

Looking elsewhere in France, I think everybody who knew him was shocked to learn of the death of Etienne Hugel (in April, aged 57). I met Etienne many years ago, in September 2004, and we had dinner together in Liverpool. He was charming, dynamic and enthusiastic, traits which of course only made his passing at such a young age all the more shocking.

Another famous figure in the world of wine who we lost this year, and who also played a significant role in my vinous ‘education’, was Aimé Guibert (aged 91, in May). Aimé was of course best-known for Mas de Daumas Gassac, but I first encountered his wines through the label Mas de Figaro, in the 1992 vintage to be precise, a brilliant value wine which I was delighted to be able to drink as a penniless student barely able to rub two overdrawn bank statements together. Within a few years (when I was earning!) I moved on to Mas de Daumas Gassac itself, but the memory of those good-value Figaro wines has never left me.

Other famous names in the world of wine who have left us this year include Italian revolutionary Giacomo Tachis (aged 82) and Californian Peter Mondavi (aged 101) in February, Henri Bonneau (aged 78) of Châteauneuf du Pape fame in March, Louis Latour (aged 83) in April and Charles Rousseau (aged 93) in May, both from famed Burgundian domaines of course, as well as Margrit Mondavi (aged 91), the widow of Robert Mondavi, in September, and Stanko Radikon (aged 62), Italian natural wine pioneer in the same month.

Another Enticing Beaujolais

It’s always fun to discover a new and enjoyable wine; it’s even better when you realise it isn’t a one-off, and that the domaine in question can give you more of the same. I recently enjoyed the 2011 Régnié from Domaine Lagneau, and from the same source I have found the 2011 Côte-de-Brouilly to be similarly enticing. Proprietor Gérard Lagneau has just 0.6 hectares in this Beaujolais cru, as opposed to 12 hectares in Régnié. The philosophy is the same – enherbement, working the soil, lutte raisonnée, semi-carbonic maceration, temperature control and no added yeast.

Domaine Lagneau Côte de Brouilly 2011

Domaine Lagneau Côte de Brouilly 2011: This has a dark core and yet a vibrant plum hue to the rim. There is a really confident fruit-rich nose, dark with notes of blackberry, creamed plum and dark cherry. There is a little savoury, earthy tobacco-tinged note first, but this seems to give way to a more polished, vanilla coated character later on. This is followed by a cool yet weighty seam of dark berry fruit in the mouth and the middle is just as dark and characterful, and here it does show a little savoury hint, as well as some ripe, velvety tannins. It culminates in a clean acid-fresh finish, with a little residual grip. I like it. More please. 16.5/20 (December 2013)

Disclosure: This wine was a sample from Winedoctor sponsor Cadman Fine Wines.

Beaujolais and Beyond

I’m delighted that Clare Harris of Beaujolais and Beyond recently got in touch, eager to send some samples my way. Clare and her father Roger Harris are the ultimate in Beaujolais specialists, and have a handsome list of wines from this appellation, and from the Beaujolais crus too of course, as well as other wines from Mâcon, including Viré-Clessé, Pouilly-Loche and the like, all good sources of potential value in the little world of Burgundy.

Clare and co. first sent samples over more than ten years ago, notes for which are now buried deep within Winedoctor, and surely no longer relevant. Nevertheless, this demonstrates nicely the faith Clare and Roger have in the region. They sent over three wines and, while I can say something about all three of them, the clear winner in terms of drinking pleasure was the Viré-Clessé from Domaine des Chazelles, which started off all oatmealy, slightly reductive and serious, before revealing a wealth of sweet, peachy fruit. Very nice!

Three wines from Beaujolais and Beyond

Domaine des Brureaux Chénas Cuvée Prestige 2011: The domaine of Nathalie Fauvin – so the label says. A rather dark, matt hue in the glass. The nose feels rather slow to open up, and remains rather reticent. It doesn’t express a lot of fruit, although there is an attractive fruit skin character to what I perceive. Rather firmly poised on the palate, quite classic lines, a good frame to the fruit, which has a lightly bitter, fruit-skin character like the nose, with a rather medicinal, cherry-like flavour coming in through the middle. A reserved texture to it, rather stony, which I like, with plenty of acid lifting it along. Rather short and spiky finish. 14/20 (April 2013)

Vignoble Charmet Goyette d’Or Beaujolais Blanc 2010: A very pale wine with a lemon-gold tinge where it catches the light. The nose suggesting fruit with a bite, pear skins, peach skins and white pepper, all in a very restrained and lightly bitter-feeling fashion. The palate has a similarly restrained texture, stony and cool, with an appealing, tense substance and bright acid backbone. A touch of unusually tropical fruit here, including banana, but it is subtle. Yeast-related, perhaps? On the whole, though, a fairly quiet and introverted style with a bitter grip to the finish. 14/20 (April 2013)

Domaine des Chazelles Viré-Classé Vieilles Vignes 2010: Organic, certified by Ecocert. A straw-gold hue here. The nose speaks very clearly of cashew nuts and oatmealy oak at first, with faint peach and apricot tones, tightly bound together by a matchsticky streak of reduction which does not show so clearly here as it does on the palate, but it is certainly present. With time, though, the fruit dominates, the peachiness coming through clearly and yet elegantly. The palate has a good supple substance to it, feeling rather solid through the middle, with some grip and a little suggestion of a tannic backbone. Taut acidity and a lightly mineral streak help keep it feeling alive. A good wine, the finish tingling with energy at the finish, with nuances of citrus fruit freshness. 15.5/20 (April 2013)

For more on Clare and Roger Harries, and to see their full range of wines, visit the Beaujolais and Beyond website.

Terroirs Originels

This week’s wine of the week was the 2010 Morgon Grands Cras Vieilles Vignes, made by Laurent Gauthier, a sample sent to me by Terroirs Originels, of which Laurent is a member.

This was the first I had heard of Terroirs Originels, even though I see they were formed in 1997. I suspect, perhaps, if I had more of a Burgundy or Beaujolais focus I would have heard of them before now? They are a group of artisan-vignerons (their choice of words, not mine) from the Beaujolais and Mâcon appellations; the mutual draw was not just the need to market themselves and their wines, although that has to be part of it, but a shared respect for their terroirs, and the expression of that terroir through sensitive winemaking. Or, as they put it, the “savoir faire” of the artisan-vigneron.

I wasn’t convinced by these words; they, and the incredibly slick website linked above, felt more like the work of a PR agency than a group of artisans. But that’s just me, Mr Cynical. Putting my doubts to one side I tasted the wine, and found all three to be beyond my expectations. These are wines with dark, fresh and convincing fruit, with none of the confected, yeast-derived aromas that marks cheaper, more comercial Beaujolais. Alongside the wine from Laurent Gauthier, these two were also pretty good:

Gérard Charvet Moulin-à-Vent La Réserve d’Amelie 2010: Gérard Charvet has 14 hectares of vines acros five lieux-dits. Planting density is high, at 12000 vines per hectare. Fermentation is in temperature-controlled stainless steel, with a nine-month élevage in old barrels and vats. The cuvée is named for his daughter. Bottled under natural cork. A vibrant colour with moderate intensity. Soft plum fruit here, ill-defined at first but firming up and delineating nicely with a little time in the glass, revealing little complexities of tobacco leaf and smoky charcoal. A moderate weight at the start, holding up nicely through the middle, reserved, fresh, a gentle texture within a good frame of acidity. There is a really attractive and supple texture to it, but there is vigour and cut underneath as well. Lively, lightly mineral, certainly showing more upright structure than the soft fruit on the nose suggested, and this shows well in the finish. Defined, firm and grippy. Alcohol 13%. 15.5/20 (July 2012)

Robert Perroud Brouilly L’Enfer des Balloquets 2010: A domaine that has been in the Perroud family since 1789. The vines are situated around the Perroud residence at the foot of Mont Brouilly, on south-facing slopes with an incline of up to 40%. The fruit is harvested into 50kg trays, and then fermented using carbonic maceration, with an élevage in wood. Bottled under agglomerate cork. A vibrant hue here, slightly less intense colour, but brighter style. The nose is certainly vibrant, with fresh and stony fruit definition, framing notes of cherry and loganberry, the fruit very confident in character. The structure in the mouth has a remarkable appeal, very bright and lively, with fresh and supple and slightly juicy fruit character wrapped around a sensitive central frame. The finish is appropriately stone-bound, fresh and grippy, but with a really impressive broad fruit texture. A very attractive wine. Alcohol 12.5% 16/20 (July 2012)

Three good wines. Yet more evidence that underdog appellations such as Muscadet and Beaujolais can be valuable sources of great drinking pleasure.

Domaine Chandon de Briailles, 2010 Vintage

Despite my continued hankerings Burgundy remains a niche interest on Winedoctor. I think it is a region you have to know really well in order to make any informed comment of interest to knowledgeable Burgundy drinkers. For that reason (it’s not just that I’m short of time – although that’s true as well) it is a region I touch upon when the opportunity presents itself, rather than me chasing the experience.

These two wines are one such opportunity. The domaine is one I am reasonably familiar with (my way of saying I have a few bottles in the cellar). Now in the hands of Comte and Comtesse Aymard-Claude de Nicolay, the domaine is I think a good source of wines away from the top tier appellations, with a portfolio that is centred on and around Corton, including Savigny and Pernand-Vergelesses.

These two wines are barrel samples from the 2010 vintage. I have thus marked with ranged scores. I have also included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Les Lavières 2010: A good depth of colour here. And a characterful nose, with a good intensity to the fruit, vibrant but rich, with the depth of dark cherry but with the brightness of loganberry, and a twist of grey smoke. It has a rather granular depth to it, and overall it seems to have promise. This comes across as a confident character on the palate, with full fruit but also a crunchy definition, and the grip of good structure. A very convincing palate, broad and with appealing flesh. Overall, very good. 15-16/20 (May 2012) (£235 per case, in bond)

Chandon de Briailles Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Île des Vergelesses 2010: Dark cherry fruit here, showing a good intensity of aroma with savoury elements to it redolent of mushroom and truffle, but there is an appealing freshness and vibrancy to it as well. Less granular than the Savigny tasted alongside, a more integrated, admittedly chocolate-tinged polish here. Full, rich, but with a more silky tone to the structure and overall composition which I like. This is certainly no delicate lightweight though, as there is substance and potential here beneath the flavour and definition. Good potential here. 15.5-16.5/20 (May 2012) (£265 per case, in bond)

Seven Corney and Barrow Burgundies

I recently stopped off at Corney & Barrow’s Scottish offices; the team there have had the good sense to eschew Edinburgh or other city-centre locations in favour of some rooms within Oxenfoord Castle, in East Lothian. Not only do they therefore have the grandest set of offices of any wine merchant in the UK, they have also just installed a new tasting room. I was one of the first to try it out with this mini-tasting of seven Burgundies from the Corney & Barrow list.

Please consider this something of an olive branch, tentatively extended to all those already bored by Bordeaux 2011….I know you’re out there!

White Wines

Olivier Leflaive St Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly 2009: Nice matchsticky reduction. Soft fruit coming through behind, Quite convincing with a few minutes in the glass. Really rather soft on the palate though. Acidity very gentle and really taking a backseat, verging towards flabby. Nice pith and substance in the finish but lacks the structure I would like. Attractive but not a keeper. 14/20 (March 2012)

Olivier Leflaive Pernand-Vergelesses 2009: A more lemony and chalky style on the nose than the St Aubin. Bright, better defined, a touch more pure than the preceding wine. Very soft style on the palate at first, soft although with a straight, defined, lemony edge to the fruit. Lemon, chalk and stone. Better acidity here, certainly better defined. Quite fat behind it though. Good grip in the end. 15/20 (March 2012)

Domaine Leflaive Corney and Barrow Selection Macon-Verzé 2008: Honey and butterscotch from the oak here. Quiet overwhelming at this moment. The same on the palate, the oak very dominant, the palate showing a slightly fatter oak-infused fruit character behind it. Interesting end, with grip, but it feels wood-derived. There is some acid to cleanse in the finish though. 14/20 (March 2012)

Red Wines

Olivier Leflaive Côte de Beaune Villages 2008: Pale cherry-red hue. Nice style of fruit on the nose, although there is a rubbery tinge of reduction to it. Very soft easy-drinking palate, gentle edges to it, with cherry leafy fruit. There is some grain to the wine on the palate, but it is well covered by the soft character of the wine. 14/20 (March 2012)

Gilles Jourdan Côte de Nuits Villages La Robignotte Monopole 2008: Showing a very slight tinge of maturity here. Rather evolved and gamey nose. Also some toffee elements related to oak perhaps? Smells warm and rather rustic. Very soft and silky on the palate, with more texture than flavour, with just some grip in the finish. Straightforward and mature. Slightly bitter at the end. 13.5/20 (March 2012)

Domaine Trapet Gevrey-Chambertin 2008: Quite translucent wine, a bright and light cherry red. Touch of mushroom on the nose here, slightly wild and savage tones to the fruit here which aren’t unappealing. Very gentle and polished feel, rather more understated than I expected from a Gevrey. Interesting juxtaposition of structure and weight though. Blacker tones to the fruit on returning to the nose. Lots of soft fruit but there is appropriate substance underneath after all. Grippy finish. 15.5/20 (March 2012)

Marquis d’Angerville Volnay Premier Cru Fremiet 2007: Attractive hue, bright tone fading to a clean pink at the rim. Chalky blackcurrant leaf on the nose, notes of cherry skin too. Quite well defined. Attractive palate, quite straight, supple but with a mildly austere grip beneath, quite savoury and mouth-watering. Attractive tension in the finish. Nice wine with some potential here. 15.5/20 (March 2012)

Burgundy Maps

I just received a query by email from a wine student struggling to find decent wine maps for Burgundy. My Burgundy guide includes some grand cru maps, but these are obviously inadequate for someone trying to get a comprehensive overall view of a particular commune.

I made these suggestions:

1. nearly all the major Burgundy texts or recent years/decades (Clive Coates, Jasper Morris, Remington Norman) include such maps. Try local bookshops or Amazon.

2. if you’re actually in Burgundy, call in at Atheneum in Beaune (www.athenaeumfr.com)

3. online options:
(a) http://www.climats-bourgogne.com/en/#/LesClimats
(b) http://www.vinotopia.be/maps/ (Vinotopia – needs Google Earth – never tried it myself)

4. Shop online for maps:

Does anyone have any better resources? Do please add by commenting below if so.

Boom and Bust?

A Bloomberg report today highlights several forthcoming auctions in Hong Kong which will test the market for highly traded (and highly expensive) first growths, which should be of particular interest as a follow-on from my post late last week, China Coughs, Bordeaux Trembles?.

Hong Kong has become a wine hotspot in recent years, primarily consequent upon the abolition of a previously hefty tax on wine sales. Several major auction houses now have a presence there, and forthcoming events include auctions by Acker, Merrall & Condit, Sotheby’s and Zachys. Last year, report Guy Collins and Frederik Balfour, the pre-Chinese New Year sales netted over $34 million, but projections for this year are already way down at $23 million. Of course, that all depends on the quantity and quality of the lots on offer, but I think it very likely that this more restrained outlook is largely due to falling wine values, as revealed by the recently published Liv-ex 100 data for the end of 2011 (see post linked above).

It will be interesting to see if the fall is universal, suggested tightening belts and closed wallets, or if there is a swing away from Bordeaux (the sales include large formats of Petrus and other frenzy-inducing delights) and towards Burgundy (DRC in particular features), suggesting evolving tastes and changing interests. I look forward to seeing the reports; not because I’m suddenly fascinated by wine and finance combined, but I’m certainly eager to learn of falling fine wine prices.

On a perhaps related issue, this story on the BBC news website is tangentially related. It notes that Barclays Capital have concluded that skyscraper construction appears to come in waves that precede periods of depression. Whether this is true or not I don’t know (surely there are skyscrapers being built all the time?) and the association may be rather weak, and of course a banking group might just be a tensy-weensy bit biased when it comes explaining why there is a global recession ongoing, but the article does note that of all the world’s tall buildings currently under construction, over half are in China, which has certainly seen a huge boom-time recently. And after the boom…comes what?

Who drinks all the Bourgogne Rouge?

Just added the latest instalment of my Burgundy guide over on Winedoctor; for those who haven’t noticed it, I am in the middle of replacing my 2-page guide with a more fitting 16-page affair, something with a little more depth (and yet it is still a very superficial beginner’s guide, only natural in view of the nature and importance of the region). I was spurred on by my most recent return to the region earlier this year.

One figure that I have carried through from my old guide, although suitably enlarged and update with the latest data (taken from Sylvian Pitiot’s and Jean-Charles Servant’s “The Wines of Burgundy” (13th edition, 2005) in the Collection Pierre Poupon series, is the pyramid of Burgundy appellations:

What this shows is that 53% of Burgundy is bottled under generic regional appellations. These include Beaujolais & Beaujolais-Villages, all the Bourgognes (Rouge, Blanc, Aligoté, Passe-Tout-Grains and more local appellations, e.g. Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Bourgogne Chitry), Saint Bris, Crémant de Bourgogne, Mâcon and so on.

So is it the locals who drink all this stuff – remember that’s at least one bottle (or its volume equivalent – some will perhaps be sold by other methods, such as en vrac) produced for every bottle of village wine, from basic Gevrey-Chambertin up through he premiers crus to Chamberting itself.

You don’t see a lot of generic Burgundy promulgated in foreign markets, other than from a few top producers such as Leroy and a handful of others. Or have I just not noticed it? Who drinks it – is it all consumed locally, or are there British, American and other merchants out there selling these wines by the proverbial bucket load?