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Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for the ‘Burgundy’ Category

Storm damage in the Cote de Beaune

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Hard on the heels of my previous post came news of another extreme weather event that has dashed hopes of a better harvest in 2013 for many growers in the Côte de Beaune. According to Libération, morale is at zeo, with losses in some parts, especially Pommard and Volnay, up to 90% as a result of a violent storm with hail and high winds that struck yesterday afternoon.  It is an all too cruel event for growers who lost so much in 2012. Is the culprit climate change?  It seems likely –  and is very worrying.

Burgundy Snapshot

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I visited a handful of my favourite growers  last week and looked in one or two producers new to me. It was a brief trip, but gave a valuable insight into recent vintages, especially 2011, which is shaping up to being an extremely attractive wine for relatively early drinking. I also learnt more about the problems created by an ever more unpredictable climate and a succession of worryingly small harvests.

Domaine Debray is a small merchant house, based in Beaune. It was founded by wine merchant Yvonnick Debray in 2006. In addition to grapes bought in from a wide range of appellations in the Côte d’Or and Mercurey, Debray owns a few hectares of his own vineyards, notably in the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, near Le Rochepot. This was my first visit to their cellars.

We tasted a number of 2102s from the cask. Winemaker Jean-Philippe Terreau looks to make supple, fruity red wines and fresh whites. For the white wines, whole bunches are pressed directly and after 48 hours settling, are fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in casks with little or no lees stirring. The red wine grapes are de-stemmed, cold-soaked for several days and then fermented with indigenous yeasts. Extraction is managed mainly by pumping over with a little pumping down towards the end of the fermentation.

Hautes Côtes de Beaune Blanc 2012 shows fresh acids, with fine sweet, white peach fruit, with a slightly floral aroma. Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 2012 is more toasty, citrus, mineral and complex, with a good persistence of fruit. Saint-Aubin Blanc 2012 is particularly good, with a creamy texture, despite the house style of little batonnage, and again, fine, precise lemony fruit, with a mineral finish. Corton Charlemagne 2012 seeks to impress with richness and considerable complexity, but shows quite soft acids. I prefer the more racy style of the Saint-Aubin.

Of the 2102 reds, a Santenay Premier Cru, Clos Rousseau is delicious, rich and spicy, with vivid cherry fruit and balanced acids. It was aged in 30% new oak. Nuits-Saint-George shows the typicity of the appellation with tight black fruit and quite chewy tannins. Pommard Premier Cru Les Chaponnières, in a sample drawn from a new oak cask, is again true to its origin, with fresh acidity, firm tannins and rich fruit. Clos de Vougeot, again from a new oak cask, is floral and fine, with rich black fruit aromas, fresh acidity and a silky texture.

Although both the Clos de Vougeot and the Corton Charlemagne are undoubtedly good wines, I feel that the estate’s most successful and elegant wines were at village level. The 2011 St Aubin confirms this, with good focus, freshness, linear, citrus fruit and a mineral twist. 70% of the wines are exported (Private Cellar in the UK). They are certainly worth looking out for.

I am always impressed by the wines of the Domaine Taupenot-Merme at Morey-Saint-Denis. Romain Taupenot, surely one of the best winemakers in Burgundy today, is as modest as he is gifted.

In 2012 he lost up to 80% of his crop in the Côte de Beaune, with two severe hail storms, powdery and downy mildew, sun-scorched berries, and in Saint-Romain a sounder of fifty wild boar, which devoured three and half tonnes of white grapes in two days. The flowering in 2013 gives much more hope of a good crop, though there is, Romain says, some coulure on early plots in the Côte de Beaune. 2013 certainly looks like being a much later harvest than in recent years – it does not look likely to begin until October.

Romain’s viticulture in organic, though not certified so, and his winemaking is determinedly low-interventionist. Pinot Noir is usually fully de-stemmed. He believes that unless the stalks are exceptionally ripe (as, for example, in 2005) they should not be included. A long cold soak leads into fermentation with indigenous yeasts unaided by any enzyme. Gentle punching down at the start of extraction is followed mostly by pumping over. Romain avoids punching down in years such as 2007 and 2011 if there is a danger of extracting unripe tannins from the pips.

“I enjoy vanilla, but in a dessert, not in my wines”, he quips and therefore uses no more than 40% new oak for Grands Cru wines, 30% for Premier Cru and 25% for village wines.

Romain believes that the elegant 2011s will come to resemble the 2007s, with their slightly floral perfume, but he also thinks that they show more concentration and a slightly fresher acidic structure. He felt it necessary to chaptalize most cuvées to about 0.5% abv. The extra sugar helped, he said, to prolong the fermentation.

Saint Romain (rouge) 2011 shows fine, bright cherry fruit with a touch of earthiness and a slightly floral aroma. The balance is perfectly judged – with fresh fruit and a mineral end.  For Romain, balance is essence of fine wine. Gevrey-Chambertin 2011 shows typical black fruit aromas, again quite floral and has a fine depth of flavour, with great purity of fruit and real length. Again the balance is exquisite.

Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru, Les Riottes, 2009 made from the fruit of fifty four year-old vines is a superb wine, with a wonderfully complex aroma of wild cherries dusted with mixed spice. It is rich, with silky tannins, but as so often with the wine of this estate, a fine, linear structure and perfect balance. The acidity, so often lacking in this ripe vintage, is fresh.

Mazoyères-Chambertin 2007 is drinking splendidly. A rich nose of cherries in alcohol leads to a concentrated palate of red fruits with hints of darker fruit below. It almost goes without saying that it is perfectly balanced and is a fine example of just how good this underrated vintage can be.

Saint Romain Blanc 2011 is very good. It has genuine finesse, with aromas of honeysuckle, white peach, fresh acidity and underlying minerality. The crisp acidity shown in Romain’s 2011s is not always as defined clearly in the wines of other estates.

Jean Fournier is a grower with a reputation for bringing the very best out of his vineyards, mostly in Marsannay, farmed organically. This was my first visit. He is not afraid of doing things just a little differently. He includes around 25% whole bunches for red wines and after a cold maceration of up to ten days a maceration which, according to the conditions of each harvest, normally includes two punch downs and pumpings over each day. Unusually, in Burgundy he also carries an occasional rack and return, which he says, helps to counter any reductive tendencies in the wine, something which he says is a tendency of musts from organically-grown grapes. He favours 600 and 350 litre demi-muids to mature his wines, which impart less oak extract.

Despite the use of rack and return, his red wines showed no sign of over-extraction, just fresh, crunchy fruit. The entry-level Marsannay Cuvée St Urbain 2011 is a great success, with a concentrated aroma of spicy black cherry, good concentration and fine-grained tannins. Marsannay Longeroies 2011 has tight black fruit, firm tannins and has good length. Marsannay Clos du Roi 2011, from a site also with a high limestone content, just to the north and the border into the commune of Chenôve is big and rich with an even fresher expression of black cherry fruit, rounded tannins and a distinct minerality.

Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur 2011 (from the part of the site in village appellation rather than premier cru) is richer still, with very fresh acids to balance the concentrated, crunchy fruit.

Another speciality of Marsannay is, of course, rosé. Fournier’s 2012 is exceptionally good, with creamy red fruit aromas, and quite soft acidity. The white wines of the appellation are often thought to be not quite in the same class as the sturdy, satisfying reds, but Marsannay Les Langeroies Blanc 2012 is balanced and fresh with a fine persistence of lemony fruit and a lingering minerality.

Sylvain Langoureau is based in the hamlet of Gamay with most of his vineyards in the appellation of Saint-Aubin. I first tasted his wines, most of which are white, over ten years ago and was impressed. I now find them more generous and a little less austere, but still with a fine linear quality to the fruit. Everything here is good, starting with a deliciously fresh 2011 Aligoté.

Saint-Aubin 2011 was aged in 20% new oak with sparing use of lees-stirring. From mainly calcareous soils, it shows fresh lemony fruit and a degree of complexity. The 2010 is now more open and perfumed, but also richer and more concentrated, with a grapefruit quality to the fruit and a savoury, lingering minerality that characterises most of their white wines.  Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, Sentier du Clos 2011 from a South, South-East facing site with a little more clay content is elegant, with a floral white peach quality and quitter soft acidity. Saint-Aubin Premier Cru, En Remilly 2011 is longer and more concentrated, with savoury hazelnut aromas, and more mid-palate richness.  Jasper Morris considers this steep, stony, south-facing slope the finest of Saint-Aubin vineyards, “effectively the continuation of Le Montrachet”. Meursault-Blagny, Premier Cru, La Pièce sous le Bois, 2011 is also extremely fine, with complex, spicy lemon and white peach flavours, richness and minerality.

A red Chassagne-Montrachet 2011, with a maceration only with pumping-over to ensure that the fruit is a supple as possible shows a fine purity of red fruit aromas, fresh acidity and yet again, minerality at the end.

Sylvain and Nathalie Langoureau lost 53% of their crop in 2012 and will be forced, as is the general trend to raise their prices by 25%, but to their credit, Nathalie says that they hope to bring their prices back down if 2013 produces a normal-sized crop. They have experienced a little coulure during flowering, but the signs are otherwise good.

I was introduced to the wines of Henri et Gilles Buisson by Christopher Fielden many years ago and have since visited their cellars, nestling up in the village of Saint-Romain, many times. Under the care of Frédérick Buisson and his brother Franck, the wines are better than ever. Although they have vines in a number of appellations of the Côtes de Beaune, just over half of their 19.5 hectares are in Saint-Romain itself, and are now certified as organic.

For their red wines, according to the conditions of the harvest they may include up to 50% of whole bunches and increasingly age their wine in demi-muids rather than traditional pièces bourgignonnes. They use10% to 30% new barrels, depending upon the cuvée.

A simple, generic, red Bourgogne 2010 shows juicy, fresh, but creamy fruit. Saint-Romain Sous Roche, 2009 is much more interesting with delicious, ripe morello cherry aromas and crunchy, well-balanced fruit in the mouth. The same wine in 2010 shows spicier fruit, fine freshness, ripe but firm tannins and real depth. The 2008 is perfumed with cranberry aromas, quite crisp acidity and ripe fruit and tannins.

Wines from other crus all clearly express the typicity of their terroirs. Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru, Les Ecussaux 2010 is bigger and more vinous, again reminiscent of morello cherries. It has a well-judged balance of ripe fruit and tannins. Pommard, Les Petits Noizons 2010 is big and earthy with almost a touch of iron. Very rich, it shows firm tannins which help to give it length. Volnay Premier Cru, Chanlin, 2011 is particularly perfumed and spicy, with a creamy texture, quite soft acidity and gentle tannins.  Corton, Rognet et Corton 2008 is elegant with perfumed red fruit aromas and a well-defined, precisely-balanced structure and considerable length.

Two white wines also show well: Auxey-Duresses, Les Ecussaux 2009 (village, not premier cru) which is ripe, rich, soft and nutty, but also quite mineral and St Romain, Sous la Velle 2011, which is floral, balanced and quite long, with lemony fruit.

Domaine Ragot is another old favourite where the quality of the wine-making, always good, has nevertheless steadily improved. They own ten hectares of vines spread between twenty parcels in around Givry. Their main production parallels that of Givry as a whole, with an emphasis on Pinot Noir. The run of low yields mean that they reckon to have lost the equivalent of an entire year’s crop in the last three years.

The wine-making is gentle, with 100% de-stemming, an emphasis on extraction by pumping over and maturation in a mix of large, old, wooden vats and/or barrels, according to the style of the wine. They do not wish to mask the fruit. In 2011, they also admit to having performed a small, if judicious chaptalisation – to raise the abv not more than 0.5%.

Of their whites, the simple Givry Champ Pourot 2011 shows good, lively, if rather soft fruit and the Givry Premier Cru, Crausot, 2011, made in small quantities, just a thousand bottles per year from a lime-rich site, is very fine indeed, with complexity, mineral length, and rich buttery fruit balanced by fresh acidity.

Red Givry 2011 is fresh and fruity, with distinct strawberry aromas. It has quite juicy acidity and slightly green tannins, but with food, any edginess melts away. Givry Vieilles Vignes 2011 (forty year-old vines) aged in 10% new oak barrels is much deeper-coloured, richer and fruitier, with black cherry, round, ripe tannins and a mineral finish. Givry Premier Cru, la Grande Berge 2011, aged in 20% new oak, a site with a little more clay, is elegant and fine and almost floral, with an emphasis on red fruits, backed by soft tannins. Givry Premier Cru, Clos Jus 2011, aged in 30% new oak from a site with shallow, iron-rich soil over limestone is the richest and most exotically-flavoured wine in the rage – very well balanced.

I first met Pascal Pauget and his wife Sylvie on a cold December day in 2005 during a press trip. I was impressed with their wines then, an impression that has been re-enforced by each subsequent visit to Ozenay. For me, Pauget is the undisputed star of the northern Mâconnais.  

They have lost more than his fair share of crop in recent years and even in 2013 flowering has been less successful than in the Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise, but I was even more disturbed to learn from Sylvie that the devastating disease Flavescence Dorée has been found in the commune of Chardonnay, where the Pauget’s own a couple of hectares of vineyards. Growers there are concerned not only by the strength of the insecticide treatments used to try and eliminate the vector, the leaf-hopper Scaphoideus titanus, but also by the lack of compensation if grubbing-up is necessary.

Despite these considerable worries, the Pauget’s wines are as good as ever. Mâcon Blanc, Terroir de Tournus 2011, from a stony, calcareous soil, shows good fruit purity, crisp and citrus, ripe and balanced. Mâcon-Chardonnay 2009, from deep marl and clay, is ripe and lemony with a fine tension between richness and freshness.

Their Mâcon Rosé 2012 is made from both Gamay and Pinot Noir – obtained by saignée from all the red cuvées. It is quite sturdy, with a mix of rhubarb cherry and spice aromas, plenty of crunchy fruit and a savoury finish.

Of the reds, Mâcon, Terroir de Tournus 2010 (100% Gamay) is surprisingly big and spicy, with juicily sweet fruit underpinned by darker, liquorice-like flavours and soft tannins. Sylvie is right to regret that Gamay is rarely treated with such seriousness in the Mâconnais. Mâcon 2011 from Préty, Bugundy’s only vineyard East of the Saône, opposite Tournus, on pink limestone is a tremendous effort: a big, spicy wine, quite black and even a touch reductive (Sylvie recommends that it should be carafed), with layers of rich, softly-spiced fruit. Bourgogne rouge, Terroir de Tournus 2011 (Pinot Noir) is elegant and spicy, with balanced tannins, ripe fruit and touch of minerality.

Notes from Burgundy

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Press trips are almost always a curate’s egg, but it’s surprisingly hard to predict where the good bits will come. On my latest jaunt to Burgundy, thanks to the ‘Discover the Origin’ initiative, some of the visits I imagined would be less interesting came up trumps.

We visited the following domaines Heresztyn (Gevrey-Chambertin), Jospeh Drouhin, Philippe Chapelle et Fils (Santenay), Alain Hasard (Aluze), l’Evêché (Saint Denis-de-Vaux), Joseph Voillot (Volnay), Patrick Javillier (Meursault) and Fougeray de Beauclair (Marsanny). In addition, Denis Fetzmann, technical director of Louis Latour met us at Château Corton Grancey to describe the ‘Paysage de Corton’ programme that he chairs.

Here’s a summary of some of the things I learned:

In the Vineyard

2012 is a difficult season – most growers have already had to carry out more treatments than in normal years. Regular spraying is costly and running up and down with a tractor compacts the soil. Hail damaged the northern part of the Côte de Beaune in the night of June 30/July 1. Up to 80% of the crop was damaged – the worst hit communes included Pommard and Volnay. “Lots of people say they’ve never seen a summer like it,” said Florence Heresztyn.

Vineyard practices may have to change to adapt to global warming. No-one is seriously thinking of giving up on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but it may be necessary to increase the area and height of the canopy to keep sugar levels down, argues Jean-Pierre Charlot (Domaine Voillot). Denis Fetzmann disagrees, but feels that it is mistake to extend the hang time. Phenolic ripeness is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Fetzmann argues that winter pruning should be delayed to reduce the risk of disease, especially Esca. When the sap is rising it helps to protect the cut.

I asked Fetzmann if and when GM yeasts might find their way into the winery. He believes they are already being used …

Those who treat with copper are worried about its long-term impact and are anxious to keep well below the permitted limits.

Marion Javillier suggest that a lightening strike in 2010 hastened the maturation of a plot of Chardonnay – and probably affected its pH.

In the Winery

Pigeage (punching down) continues to give way to remontage (pumping over). Many growers begin with pigeage and then move onto the gentler remontage.

Several growers are keen to introduce a proportion of whole bunches into the fermentation tanks (for red wine). Philippe Chapelle said that it emphasises more red fruit flavours, gives more volume to the wine and makes it more supple.

Sulphur levels are falling. The maximum ppm score anyone admitted to was 80 – the EU maximum is 150ppm for red wine.

Acidification is now commonplace.


While growers like Joseph Voillot can sell all they make, those who farm less prestigious slopes face a very different prospect. Wines sold in bulk to merchants barely cover the cost of production.

Exports to the BRIC countries are increasing, but wise growers selling to Russia, Ukraine and their neighbours demand payment before delivery.

A small vintage like 2011 can be a headache for those who habitually buy in a lot of new barrels. Many had placed their orders on the expectation of a normal yield and were left with expensive barrels that they couldn’t use.

One reason why some growers oppose any move to make Les Rugiens (Pommard) a Grand Cru, according to Jean-Pierre Charlot, is it will then be impossible for anyone but the big merchant firms to buy land. But the price of land on the Grand Cru sites has risen so much that even Frédéric Drouhin admits, “It’s now impossible to afford them even if you have very deep pockets.” But foreign investors, however, are interested. The price for Corton is around €3 million/hectare (not that hectare is likely to come onto the market). Village and premier Cru sites in the Côte d’Or fetch between around €400,000 and €500,000 per hectare.

Frédéric Drouhin estimates that biodynamics costs 20% more than conventional viticulture for 10 to 15% les yield.


Yet again, the quality of the 2010 vintage impressed me. The 2009’s can be impressive – more the reds than the whites – but they don’t show the differences between sites nearly as clearly as 2008, 2010 and the very promising 2011s.

Marion Javillier points out that Chardonnay from clay sites shows oak flavour much more than that grown on soil with a higher percentage of limestone. Her (excellent) wines seemed to bear this out.

Burgundy – better than ever?

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Burgundy has a uniquely attractive way of showing its wares: Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, held every two years, is a week-long series of tastings, held in a series of key locations throughout the region. Each offers the opportunity to meet up to sixty or seventy growers who show wines specific to a theme, which may range, for example, from an overview of a regional appellation such as the Côte Chalonnaise to a  more narrow focus like ‘Terroirs de Corton.’ It offers a wonderful opportunity to understand Burgundy better, speak with key players in the industry and taste a very broad range of wines from the latest vintages.

I have managed the full week only once. This year I targeted the Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise. I managed to taste a generous selection of 2009 Grands Crus from the whole of Burgundy as an extended aperitif to a dinner at the Clos de Vougeot hosted by the big merchant houses, and I also popped into Jean-Claude Boisset’s portfolio tasting. My heart lies with small independent producers, but I’m impressed by the progress Boisset have made under chief winemaker Grégory Patriat and their wines are fairly widely available in the UK.

There has been a marked fall in UK imports of Burgundy wine over the last couple of years, which may have been exacerbated by the demise of Oddbins and Threshers. The USA has overtaken us as Burgundy’s most important export market by value, though we still hold onto the top spot in terms of volume. Newer markets in the Far East continue to excite the locals, who were encouraged by the considerable number of Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors to Les Grands Jours.

My overall impression from Les Grand Jours is that the standard of winemaking in Burgundy has never been better, and that even with the still relatively strong Euro, there are some attractively-priced wines that more than stand comparison with the voguish premium Pinot Noirs of New Zealand or Chile. There is also still a substantial enthusiasm for Burgundy wines in the UK. My unrepresentative, anecdotal evidence from the three consumer tastings that I’ve hosted over the last six weeks, for example, convinces me that the subtle, savoury, balanced, food-friendly style of Burgundy appeals strongly to those British wine lovers who are prepared to splash out now and again on something a bit special.

One of my main reasons for heading off to Les Grands Jours was that I wanted to get to grips with the highly praised 2009 vintage. My conclusion is that the red wines are mostly as impressive as the hype that has surrounded them, but the whites are far less attractive than those made in less ‘successful’ vintages around them: 2008, and especially 2010 and 2011.

If there is a problem with the 2009s it is low acidity. The consequences of this were spelled out in the course of conversation with Christophe Bouchard of Bouchard Père et Fils. I asked him about the biggest changes that he’s seen during his career in the wine business. Without hesitation he answered, “Climate change and its effects.” Not only has this meant much earlier harvest dates, though there have also been some wild fluctuations, but also the decline in the once default practice in Burgundy of chaptalisation. Instead, in years like 2003, 2005 and 2009 growers resorted to acidifying their musts. He regards this as a huge mistake and insists that his company will not be tempted to follow suit. His objection is that while chaptalisation was undetectable and enhanced the quality of the finished wine, acidification cannot so easily be hidden and that it changes the character of the wine far more than just the addition of acidity. Jasper Morris agrees, pointing out in his magisterial study, ‘Inside Burgundy’, that it may give red wine a ‘hard finish’. This makes sense of a few of the red 2009s I tasted, especially from some of the big houses, which showed surprisingly chunky, angular tannins.

Other 2009 Pinot Noirs are almost a parody of fine Burgundy, with voluptuous fruit and an astonishingly silky texture. Many of them are fully ready and I cannot imagine that they will improve significantly. Even a wine like Louis Latour’s, 2009 Romanée Saint Vivant wears its not inconsiderable heart on its sleeve with multi-layers of rich, savoury, almost herby fruit and soft acidity. Some super-charged Grand Cru reds made me smile so much that I found it hard to suppress a giggle. Other tasters must have thought I was deranged – or drunk.

The most attractive 2009 whites do not come from the ripest sites, but from cooler vineyards, where the fruit retained more acidity. There are bargains to be found in Auxey-Duresses and Saint-Romain. One example and a happy rediscovery struck me in the impressive wines of Christophe Diconne now imported by Robert Anthony Wines. His 2009 Auxeys have much more freshness than his 2009 Meursaults, though all his 2010s have far more life and freshness, and as the locals say, ‘tension.’ What the best 2009 do show, almost irrespective of appellation, is unusually strong, salty, minerality, which helps to some extent to compensate for the low acidity.

Perhaps the least impressive feature of the 2009s is that they do not reveal the specific character of their terroirs nearly as well as the 2010s and 2011s, which, in contrast, are both described by the locals, with some justification, as being more essentially ‘Burgundian’

2010 was a very small harvest, 2011 is much more generous. Neither was easy, both demand careful selection in the vineyard and on the sorting table, but they both show a lovely purity of fruit, combined with balanced acidity and surprisingly ripe tannins. The white wines have much more capacity to develop in the bottle than the 2009s and some of the reds will age well too.

2008, another tricky vintage, is already beginning to show well. As in the two most recent vintages, the Chardonnays seem to have much better integration of fruit and oak than in 2009. One or two wines were curious in that a rich, quite evolved nose led into a much tighter palate A striking example is Albert Sounit’s Rully Premier Cru, La Pucelle, but in general, there are some terrific 2008 whites from the Côte Chalonnaise; for example from the Vignerons de Buxy’s Montagny Premier Cru, which has lovely, nervy, lemony fruit, to Sounit’s Montagny Premier Cru, which is richer, but balanced by mouth-wateringly delicious acidity (Sounit’s wines are imported by Enotria). The best red 2008s can be just as good.

Because they are in short supply, the UK trade may have already lost out on some of the 2010s, but the generally excellent 2011s offer plenty of choice.  My advice would be to make a beeline for some of the younger growers who are trying to make a name for themselves. One easy way to do this during the Grands Jours is a tasting featuring ‘Young Talent’ gathered from every corner of Burgundy. And there are always some surprises. Christine Desertaux, for example, of Domaine Desertaux-Ferrand, based in Corgoloin, came up with a 2011 Bourgogne Blanc, fermented in oak, which is a blend of 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay – an extraordinarily, fine, fresh wine, with delicious melony fruit. I showed it to fifty people at a charity tasting in Paris a few days later and it went down a storm. Another discovery was David Renaud from Irancy, who produces 50,000 bottles from 8 hectares of vines. The malo happened quickly in 2011, he said, to produce red wines that are already seductively fruity. They have terrific colour, complex flavours of bitter and black cherry and real depth.



Burgundy 2010: ‘a challenging vintage’

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Romain Taupenot’s verdict on 2010 is that it has been ‘a challenging vintage’. I talked to him at his domain, Tapuenot-Merme in Morey Saint Denis on Tuesday. ‘  Even before the season began there were problems. On 22 December 2009 a frost of -22C, without wind, killed many old vines, especially on the plain at Vosne Romanee. The first real problems of the growing season came in June during flowering. It rained in the second week of June, which resulted in both coulure and millerandage.

Yields were reduced more heavily in the generic and village appellations than the Premiers or Grands Crus – 30 to 50% down in the village wines, around 20% down for the Premiers Crus and 10 to 15% for the Grands Crus, which had flowered earlier and escaped the worst of the cold wet snap.

Rain in September, even during harvest for the first time in a decade ( which began on September 23 at Taupenot-Merme), led to some problems with rot, even though the berries in 2010 were quite thick skinned.  Unusually, even some of the tiny berries produced as a result of millerandage were subject to rot and bunches were not consistently ripe. Careful selection was essential.

The Cote de Beaune saw lower sugar levels than the Cote de Nuits. The level of potential alcohol at Saint Romain was 11.4/11.5, that of the Premiers Crus in the Cote de Nuits was a respectable 13% and 13.25 for the Grands Crus. Corton was the glorious exception in the Cote de Beaune with 13.9% – higher even than in 2009.

Fruit flavours, said Romain, were generally very good indeed, but acidity is high, especially, as in 2008, the level of malic acid.

Further north, in Chablis, Thomas Pico told me that 2010 had been a little less challenging although the rain in September also made careful selection necessary to remove rotten grapes. Yields, at around 40 hl/ha are good. The harvest was relatively late in comparison with recent years, finishing around 10 October which lowered acid levels. These, Thomas assured me are ‘correct’. Sugar levels are not especially high, but as Thomas says, ‘we don’t want very alcoholic wines here.’ Herve Tucki of Blason de Bourgogne told me that some of the Chablisienne growers even encountered a little noble rot.

The Cote Chalonnaise suffered greater problems according to Rene Bourgeon at Jambles.  Although the season started promisingly, a lot of water, he said, meant a lot of rot developed. Overall the quality is a little disappointing, but, he thinks, the wines may resemble those of 2007, which is certainly no disater: they are already giving a lot of pleasure.

Chablis from William Fevre

Friday, September 17th, 2010

I wrote about William Fevre Chablis in today’s Journal. It’s one of the four big producers of Chablis and has made some terrific wines over the years, though the style has changed. Once famous for rather rich wine aged in oak, the house now uses oak sparingly and as often one of the first to harvest, produces wines with juicy acidity – lean, clean, classic Chablis.

2007 and 2008 are vintages that express this character well. In some ways they look back a generation with a certain austerity, keen acidity and marked minerality. 2009 with its rich fruit and low acidity is very different.

Here are a few tasting notes I made on a visit to the domaine earlier this summer on some of Fevre’s top wines in 2008 and a couple of the 2007 Grands Crus.

Chablis 2008

Clean and fresh, with mouth-watering crisp, green apple fruit and a subtle minerality.

Chablis Premier Cru, Montmains 2008

Distinctly green tinged , with a floral perfume and a hint of white peach. Clean and quite light with some minerality, but not especially long.

Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2008

Also quite green, but with much more pronounced minerality and a ripe apple flavour and crisp, piercing acidity. More finesse and length.

Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, Vignoble de Vollorent 2008

Exotic and even spicy (nutmeg and cinnamon), with a lovely, steely minerality and a very long spicy finish.

Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses 2008

Very spicy again, but with richer fruit. Big and powerful, but also elegant, complex and mineral.

Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros 2008

Concentrated and very mineral, almost stony – gunflint and water on warm stones – fresh, powerful and long. A wine to delight geologists.

Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos 2008

Big and ripe, with lime and an inherent softness not present in the other wines that leads into a lingering minerality. Very fine.

Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros 2007

Big stony wine, with spice, green herbs and a certain austerity. Strong, savoury, mineral and structured, with a creamy texture at the end.

Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses 2007

Great concentration of green apple fruit, but with a hint of white peach. Crunchily fresh, fine and long.

Chanson Père et Fils: Gilles de Courcel’s new broom

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

On June 23 I interviewed Gilles de Courcel, the President of Domaine Chanson Père et Fils in Beaune.

In The Journal on August 27, I’ll report on the changes he and Jean-Pierre Confuron have made to this once ailing business, bought by Bollinger in 1999. What follows here is brief, but a rather more technical and detailed note of what he told me – an insight into how one of Burgundy’s great names is trying to re-build its reputation.

Vineyard policies at Chanson have been introduced that represent, he says, “a totally different way of working.” They are designed “to ensure that all our wines reflect their terroir exactly.” This means no more fertilisers – indeed going all but organic, deep ploughing to aerate the soil and cut superficial roots and then the reduction of yields a by shortening fruiting canes to six to eight buds. “If yields are too high, it’s simply not possible to make great wine.” He also admits to “looking at biodynamic viticulture with interest,” but feels that the time is not right to embrace it. There are, he says “certain questions” that first need to be answered. “It’s at the limit of biology and is surrounded by a certain aura of mystery. Let’s see!”

His aim for his white wines is to look for optimal ripeness, to best express the minerality of their terroir. “The quality of the pressing is vital,” he says – a long slow process lasting up to four hours. “We don’t use the first pressing, nor the last (the last gives the wine a vegetal character), but may include it in our generic wines, even juice from out top sites. Normally one hectolitre of must is obtained from about 130 kg of grapes; here it’s around 150 to 160 kg.”

They are careful not to use too much new oak for fermentation – around 20 to 25% (they also use some 350 litre demi-muids for Pouilly-Fuissé and Grand Cru Chablis): “Fûts are for micro-oxygenation; we don’t want excessive oak in our wine.” They are cautious about their use of batonnage: “It’s OK in some years to give the wine richness, but it’s easy to make the wine too heavy and that can mask its mineral character.” “For our red wines we’re looking for freshness of aromas, but we also want to make them age-worthy.

Good fruit quality is essential.” Whole bunches are kept in tanks for as long as eight to ten days of cold maceration.” The purpose of this is to get maximum fruit flavour and colour extraction, a process tried and tested at the de Courcel and Confuron families’ own properties. As fermentation begins, the temperature is allowed to rise to around 32C and the must may macerate up to a month in tank, but never to the point of over-extraction (Gilles de Courcel is not, he makes clear, a huge fan of the kind of big, extracted wines that often fire Robert Parker’s more purple passages). “We want to avoid harshness and dryness, but emphasise elegance and refinement.”

The young wine is aged in wood for around 18 months, using around 25 to 30% new oak. Gilles de Courcel feels that these methods have been instrumental in bringing out the distinct and special character of a number of sites in their portfolio. He cites in particular, two Premier Cru parcels with old vines in Pernand Vergelesses: Les Vergelesses for red wine and La Caradeux for white. “The particular expression of old vines character becomes much more obvious here.”

Chanson have worked a great deal to produce a good example of Viré-Clessé, especially in Clessé, where de Courcel feel the wines display a distinctive mineral salinity; and he is proud of their newly acquired two-hectare holding of Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Chenevottes a “very stony site. 2007 was a great success: it shows great minerality.” The same commitment to quality governs the 75% of grapes they buy into supplement the produce of their own 45 hectares of vineyards (mostly Premier and Grand Cru sites in the Côtes de Beaune). The Chanson team manages the harvest in the vineyards of their contracted growers. The main source of bought in grapes is Chablis and the Maconnais.

Bollinger has helped a great deal, says Gilles de Courcel, in marketing Chanson’s wine, as they have in bringing a vision of quality back to the business. This means that he has also had to travel a great deal. When we spoke he had just returned from Japan and expressed admiration of the “true knowledge” shown by consumers there.

The economic downturn has made selling their top wines a little more difficult, but the market has recovered a little in 2010, and “in general, Burgundy sells its wine, he says.” Given the scale of investment – both financial and human in seeking to restore Chanson to the top rank of Burgundy négociants, Gilles de Courcel’s commitment to reigning in prices so that genuine wine lovers may still be able to afford his wine is admirable.

A few tasting notes:


Chassagne Montrachet, Premier Cru, Les Chenevottes, 2008

Fine, delicate, elegant and yet fruity (peach and even a hint of tropical fruits) , with crisp lemony acidity and a mineral underlay.

Viré-Clessé, 2008

Gentle but markedly mineral and quite spicy: soft, round and salty, but still very elegant.

Pernand-Vergelesses, Premier Cru, Les Caradeux, 2007 (From a steep, east-facing, stony site). Elegantly mineral, but also rather floral – acacia blossom. Very fine, long and precise.

Corton-Vergennes, Grand Cru, 2008

(From a stony part of a site more renowned for its red wine). Rich and powerful, soft and strongly mineral and yet extremely elegant.


Santenay, Premier Cru, Beauregarde, 2008

Crunchy red fruits, especially cherry, also shows quite a high degree of minerality.

Pernand-Vergelesses, Les Vergelesses, 2007

(From a site with a high proportion of clay.) Rich and concentrated morello cherry fruit. Structured, with strong tannins and acidity, chewy and quite powerful.

Beaune, Premier Cru, Clos des Fèvres, 2007

(From Chanson’s splendid 3.8 hectares monopole.) Tight, spicy and complex, but also extremely elegant, with great finesse and a lingering minerality.

None of the above seem yet to have found their way onto UK shelves, but will do soon. Chanson Père et Fils wines can be found in a wide number of independent wine-merchants. On line, the best selection seems to be at www.drinksdirect.co.uk. There is also an impressive selection at www.everywine.co.uk

Burgundy 2009 – first impressions

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

A trip to Burgundy last month courtesy of the BIVB (the Association of Burgundy Wine Growers) helped me to understand a bit more about the highly praised 2009 vintage. I can’t pretend to offer a comprehensive account, but my early impressions are that the white wines are enjoyable but not terribly special. They are low in acidity and will probably be best drunk soon. The reds are a different matter. There are some outstanding wines, but they too are often fairly low in acidity and may not turn out to be as balanced as the best 2005s. They are concentrated and vividly fruity, but perhaps express their  terroir less distinctly than in more average quality harvests, including 2007 and 2008.

Romain Taupenot told me that some cuvées in the region had higher volatile acidity than usual and that the malic was often very slow to begin. Pascal Arnoux confirmed that some growers decided to acidify their musts to raise the level of tartaric. Bernard Jaillot, the oenologist at Dufouleur Frères commented that 2009, in his experience, is a ‘bit uneven’.

The most up-beat account of 2009 was given by Elodie Roy, the assistant to Anne Gros. Her headline summary is that 2009 offers ‘une belle qualité‘.  A tasting from the barrels proved her point.

Hautes Cotes de Nuits showed layers of pure, ripe, soft and supple fruit;

Bourgone Rouge showed wonderfully vivid fresh red fruits – raspberries and cherries – and perfect balance.

Chambolle-Musigny was far richer and more powerful but also a fine degree of elegance

Vosne-Romanée, lieu-dit Barreaux, from eighty year-old vines showed mulberry-like fruit, great concentration, spice – a lovely tension between the fruit and the structure of the wine, and then a mineral finish.

Echézaux (a plot purchased in March 2007) was enormously spicy, with rich and savoury fruit, plenty of power and a fine silky texture.

Clos de Vougeot (eighty year-old vines) had an impressive concentration of crunchy red fruit flavours – and a well balanced structure.

Richebourg (seventy year-old vines) was the star – wild and exotic and amazingly complex, with stunning purity of fruit, great length and firm tannins.

None of these wines was marked at this stage by excess oak – it seemed  very finely-judged, with fruit well to the fore.

We also tasted two white wines from 500 litre demi-muids:

Hautes Cotes de Nuits – deliciously fruit, with white peach grapefruit and floral aromas and gentle minerality.

Bourgogne Blanc – rich, soft and open with the scent of herbs and good minerality.

Barrel samples tasted with Pascal Arnoux revealed good, rather chunky, concentrated wines:

Chorey les Beaune soft and rich, with a good concentration of red and black fruit;

Savigny les Beaune: crunchy morello cherry fruit in abundance

Aloxe-Corton: plenty of very ripe red fruit

Corton: more concentration and great richness.

Pascal’s Aligoté 2009, something of a speciality at Chorey was fresh, elegant and mineral, softer than usual. The ripeness and low acidity of 2009 offers Aligoté a real opportunity to seduce drinkers with unusually attractive fruit. Jeanne-Marie de Champs of the Domaine et Saveurs Collection showed us two remarkable examples: Domaine Chanzy, Bouzeron Clos de la Fortune – clean and fresh, but with a real explosion of almost exotic fruit and a fine minerality and Paul Pernod, Aligoté 2009: very floral indeed, soft and easy and almost a hint of sweetness. In the Yonne, P-L and J-F Bersan’s 2009 Aligoté shows frangipane and lemon and is much softer and richer than normal (the wine has been bought in the UK by Sainsbury’s).

Generous fruit and a supple texture characterises many wines in the Yonne in 2009 – red and white. Guilhem Goisot believes that in general 2009 is more ‘gourmand‘ and fruit than 2008 and will mature earlier (2008, he says, is ‘more mineral and tight’).

This difference is very clear in the basic village Chablis produced by William Fevre in the two vintages. The 08 is classic, mineral and green-apple – wonderful wine; the 09 is rich and almost peachy, soft and far less markedly mineral.

The remarkable red Irancy of the Colinot family were also very successful in 2009 as again barrel and tank samples showed, with great concentration and purity of fruit. Jean-Pierre Colinot calls 2009 ‘sublime‘. The wines he and his daughter have crafted are certainly the best red wine from the Yonne I have ever tasted, especially a cuvée of ‘Très Vieilles VignesT ‘ and great elegance, spicy richness and an enormous generosity of ripe cherry fruit. Mazelots 2009, aged in casks showed even more concentration and complexity and meltingly soft tannins – quite unusual for Irancy.

The best Burgundy stands out

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

There are marked differences of quality in most wine regions between run of mill producers and the best, but the differences can be stark in Burgundy. I was stuck by this at the annual Terroirs et Signatures tasting at Lord’s today, although I readily admit that it can be unwise to generalise to far on the basis of just three hours’ tasting – of around sixty or seventy wines. To be more accurate, although I found few wines that I didn’t enjoy, the really fine wines stood out a mile. I love, for example, La Chablisienne’s superb Vieilles Vignes Chablis 2007, now re-named ‘Les Vénérables’. It knocks spots off many a Premier Cru, with its winning combination of richness, deliciously crisp fruit and clean minerality. The oldest co-op in Burgundy is still ahead of the game.

But the real shock came with my first ever tasting of the brilliant wines of the Domaine Taupenot Merme. There was a quality and depth of fruit here that had me grinning inanely from ear to ear – fabulous, complex and fascinating, but all utterly true to their terroir. I shall find an excuse soon to write more about Romain Taupenot, and his clear-headed ideas about viticulture and winemaking – and his thoughts about when wine tastes best.

It was, of course, a propitious day for wine tasting according to the biodynamic calendar. If had only tasted Romain’s wines I might have given agreed that the calendar was spot on. But I tasted other wines that will surely taste better on other days and in other circumstances.