Tasting a Pair of Grand Cru Chablis Beauties from Domaine Simmonet -Febvre…

There are several famous premium “commodity” wines produced in France, none more so than the wines from appellation Chablis. Few other regions other than Savennieres, Jura and perhaps Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, can offer such intense, terroir focused, style specific wines as Chablis. After all, there are many regions in the world that can make great Chardonnay, but none that can make a worthy Chablis lookalike. 

But Chablis is in the midst of challenging times, along with many other Burgundy regions. Vintage after vintage of small or reduced crop yields have placed massive pressure on continuity of supply and strained the appellation’s means to sustain listings in all segments of the trade. In 2016 alone, some growers like Simonnet – Febvre saw yields reduced by up to -60% by up to 6 different “plagues” through the season, according to winemaker Jean-Philippe Archambaud, including hail, frost, floods, etc.

So today I was rather appreciative to spend time with Jean-Philippe to taste through his latest vintages from Simonnet-Febvre. Of particular interest to me were a pair of Grand Crus – The Les Clos 2012 fermented 50% in tank and 50% in barrel, and a Blanchot 2011 fermented 100% in oak and also aged 20 months in barrels. 

The Les Clos was laden with wet chalk, liquid minerals, dusty limestone, dry bitter lemon, white citrus and dried herbal pineapple nuances. The palate was super elegant, richly concentrated but thoroughly harmonious with bright acids, broad fleshy green tart fruits, salty green apples, steely minerality and a long, classical, classy finish at 13 Abv. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Blanchots 2011 was seductive and fleshy, with an expressive nose of caramelised tinned pineapples, subtle green toffee apple richness, pear purée, and a melange of bruised yellow stone fruits. There was profound intensity and a beautifully expressive, fleshy texture that resonated with chalky calcareous green apple spice, a familiar liquid minerality, bright crunchy green fruits and a real Cotes de Beaune Burgundian weight and complexity. The oak did alter the profile of this wine but it remained so juicy and complex that one could only see it as an attractive component. I could certainly drink a lot of this! (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2015 Chablis wines in general are going to be a slightly lacklustre, pleasant, “restaurant” vintage. If you can find 2014s or indeed some exciting 2012s and 2011s like these Simonnet-Febvre wines, they are worth the time and money. 2016 is going to be almost non-existent and who knows what 2017 holds in store. There are meagre pickings ahead for Chablis. 

The Growing Grandeur of Nuits Saint Georges – Tasting Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011…

We all know that Nuits Saint Georges in the Cotes de Nuits possesses no Grand Crus vineyards. But with changing weather patterns and the influence of global warming, certain areas in Burgundy like Nuits Saint Georges as well as other “lesser” areas further south in the Chalonais, have seen massive advances in wine quality in the past 10 to 15 years. Today I had another encounter with Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011, one of the top 1er Crus in the village.

With Erwan Faiveley taking over the reigns at Domaine Faiveley from his father Francois in 2007, a new direction was set by the family with Bernard Hervé and winemaker Jérôme Flous helping to chart the route to future success. The 2011 harvest began on the 31st August and picking lasted for 9 days. By the time the “juice” was in the bottle, Domaine Faiveley were looking at one of their finest, most elegantly crafted vintages for many years.

Tasting Note: This Nuits 1er Cru has a very richly fruited, lifted, perfumed nose of dried flowers, rose petals, white blossoms, and pretty red cherry and cranberry coulis notes. The palate is supple and streamline, showing complex hints of sweet stalk spice, forest fruits, moderate mid-palate concentration and a very polished tannin profile. This is a very attractive wine with earthy bramble fruits, red plums, bright fresh acids and the most pronounced liquid minerality. A very classy wine that’s drinking superbly well at the moment but with plenty of life still ahead of it. Drink now to 2035+

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache 2014 ~ Stealing the Show at the New Release Tasting…

The 2014 La Tache has a beautifully sweet fruited, even opulent nose with a fine interplay between fruit, forest and fragrance. Red cherry, raisined cranberries, leafy sap and sweet confit notes abound, sprinkled with pink blossom perfume. Also the most pretty candied red fruits, chalky minerality and sappy stalk spice, so expertly and effortlessly melded so as to be inseparable. 

The palate is every bit as spellbinding as the nose suggests showing layered minerality and impressive tension. One starts to see why Aubert de Villane describes 2014 as a year of terroir and minerality. There’s an impressive core of red and black fruits and a tensile graphite finish. Such great depth and power, softly stated but clearly displayed like a badge of higher pedigree. This is a very serious, seductive La Tache that captures and combines the very finest elements of the vintage to produce the most impressive wine out of the 2014 Domaine de la Romanee Conti offerings. Plenty of hedonistic drinking enjoyment lie ahead for the lucky few who manage to put a few of these bottles in their cellar. 

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2015 Chambertin Grand Cru Shoot Out ~ Armand Rousseau v Olivier Bernstein…

It’s not often you get to compare and contrast two Burgundy wines of this stature, tasted on the same day consecutively. Appellation Chambertin Grand Cru, along with Musigny Grand Cru, are among the greatest and most revered Pinot Noir sites in the whole of Burgundy. It is only perhaps the famed Domaine de la Romanee Conti Monopole vineyard of Romanee Conti that commands greater awe and respect. 

So I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to pitch these wines head-to-head and examine what makes them great and what differentiates them. 

Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Jan 2017)

Always one of the most anticipated wines of the year to taste, the 2015 Chambertin has a pristine, perfumed bouquet of white citrus blossoms, ginger biscuits, orange peel, red cherry, black forest berries and subtle hints of graphite. A little more exotic ripeness than your average Chambertin vintage, this wine shows plenty of power and depth, but also intensity and classic Rousseau precision, focus and balance. The palate is sleek, sweetly fruited, suave, and slightly precocious. The tight knit layers of blackberry and strawberry fruit slowly open in the glass and gently wrap their arms around you in a firm longing embrace. There is such beautiful intensity and concentration throughout, a peppery, mineral-infused sappy spice and a defined, linear vein of acidity that runs through the wine from start to finish. This is another block buster from the Domaine that will no doubt become a vintage as equally collectable as the greats of 2009 and 2010. (Wine Safari Score: 96-98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Olivier Bernstein Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Jan 2017)

An incredibly bright, inviting ruby red colour. The nose immediately suggests luxury with richness, intensity and purity and takes you on a sensory journey. Sweet black berry, cassis leaf, dusty grey slate, sweet stalky sap and limestone nuances. The palate is rich, seamlessly complete, showing a glossy texture, plenty of power and ample finesse in its unfinished form. But already, the oak and fruit is beautifully integrated, framed by vibrantly fresh acids and a pronounced saline black cassis core. A real revelation tasting this producer’s Chambertin for the first time. There is such polished, caressed shape and focused mineral power that’s dovetailed neatly into a lush, dark fruited, saline finish. Wow, what a gem standing ahead of his other Grand Cru’s. (Wine Safari Score: 97-98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

My conclusions? On the infrequent occasions I get to taste or drink these wines, they always leave you feeling like you have just visited a holy site or touched hallowed ground. At even a modest quality level, these appellations represent a profound expression of Pinot Noir. In the hands of great producers like Rousseau and Bernstein, they have the potential to boggle the mind and palate with their complexity and allure.

While there is nothing to really separate these wines in the potential scores, my money would probably go with the Rousseau track record over the impressively sleek, but subtle gloss of the Bernstein. But I would be splitting hairs! Congratulations to both producers.

Fine Wine Lunch with Peter-Allan Finlayson of Crystallum Wines…

Yesterday I managed catch up with one of my favourite producers in the Cape, Peter-Allan Finlayson. Over from South Africa for his UK importer’s tasting earlier this week, I took this opportunity to taste through a selection of older vintages of Crystallum and also swop wine trade gossip over some fabulous red and white Burgundies matched with amazing 1 Star Michelin food at the Harwood Arms.

Clay Shales Chardonnay 2013, WO Overberg ~ Pale lemon straw colour, the nose is rich, opulent and fresh with pretty notes of waxy lemons, yellow citrus zest, and smokey incense. The palate is both broad and textural, yet precise and expressive, unfurling layers of lemon curd, lemon cream biscuits, dusty chalky minerality, and tart pineapple pastille fruits. Plenty of tension and no shortage of vibrant acids. Lovely length and developing beautifully in bottle. (Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other wines enjoyed over lunch…

Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2007 – 95/100 GS

Domaine Dujac Morey St Denis 1er Cru Mont Luisants Blanc 2011 – 96/100 GS

Savigny Les Beaune Emmanuel Rouget 1997 – 93/100 GS (made by Henri Jayer)

Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Combe aux Moines 2007 – 94/100 GS

George Lignier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2002 – 94+/100 GS

Epic Quail dish with black pudding scotch egg
Beautifully prepared lamb

Domaine Armand Rousseau ~ The Producer Every Burgundy Lover Wants in Their Cellar…

After Domaine de la Romanee Conti, there is probably a small handful of Burgundy producers that every collector wants in their cellar. Close to the top of this list has to be the wines of Domaine Armand Rousseau.

While connoisseurs can’t drink Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru too regularly, regardless of whether they can afford it or not, primarily due to scarcity, some of Rousseau’s other Grand Cru’s like their Clos de Beze, Clos de la Roche and Charmes-Chambertin are both slightly more affordable and more easily available in the broader market.

Specifically, the appellation Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru is made from grapes in Charmes-Chambertin and also Mazoyères-Chambertin. The word “Charmes” in Burgundy refers to the ancient cultivated fields in wasteland. In Burgundy, “Charmes” has the same meaning as “Chaumes “.

The word Mazoyères originates from the small shacks where the winegrowers stored their tools in the vineyards. Mazoyères rests on Comblanchien limestone with a shallow gravel layer that comes from the alluvial cone of the Combe Grisard. The higher level of the Charmes-Chambertin plot rests on entroqual limestone and the lower level on Comblanchien limestone, allowing for a more supple, giving wine with lots of finesse and elegance to be produced. 

The East facing 1.47 Ha of Armand Rousseau’s Charmes Chambertin vineyard

Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2015 (Barrel Sample Tasted January 2017)

The nose of this majestic wine is laden with red and black berry fruits, salty cassis, cherry, cranberry, rose petal fragrance and complex spicy raspberry herbal tea nuances. On the palate, there is beautifully soft, fleshy, vivacious opulence with all the hallmark Rousseau purity, sappy spice, limestone minerality and seamless textural precision. Charmes-Chambertin is often regarded as a slightly under performing Grand Cru vineyard, but in some years like 2015, the the celestial stars align, allowing this appellation to deliver sublime Pinot Noir grandeur. The 2015 really is an especially impressive effort with the sweetest of tannins, tantalising acids, and the purest of fruit. Getting your hands on some 2015 Armand Rousseau wines is undoubtedly going to be a challenge, but great rewards await if you are successful. (Wine Safari Score: 94-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Burgundy En-primeur 2015 Kicks Off with a Head to Head Montrachet Shoot Out… 

This week marks the start of the annual Burgundy En-primeur tasting week in London. Fantastically, Burgundy and its importers have achieved what neither Bordeaux nor the Rhone has managed to do… isolate a specific tasting window in the annual London tasting calendar, focus industry minds both in Burgundy and in the UK merchant shipper trade, and present a concise, well organised series of comprehensive tastings over 1 to 2 weeks that now draw journalists and buyers from across the globe. A real achievement indeed. This could only happen in London. 

So for this occasion, I thought it would be fun to highlight one of the greatest white wine appellations in Burgundy and pitch two Montrachet Grand Cru whites against each other, head to head, with bare knuckles!

Le Montrachet has its origins in the 13th century. The Cistercian monks were donated a few vineyards on ” le Mont Chauve ” or ” Mont Rachaz ” between Puligny and Chassagne. Over the centuries, Le Montrachet was nicknamed the “vigne blanche du Seigneur” or “Roi des rois”. It is today considered to be one of the greatest of all dry white wines in the world. With vines grown on extremely barren triassic gravelly limestone soils, it is the very proof that the greatest wines often come from the most extreme sites.

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Montrachet Grand Cru 2015 ~ 0.89Ha 

Pale crystalline brightness. Lovely rich sweet nose of lemon butter, honey suckle, white blossom and leesy, mealy nuances. Wonderfully complex in its youth, there is such alluring depth with a real glycerol textured, full bodied palate that’s round and honied, fresh, succulent and endlessly long on the finish. Normally aged 12 to 13 months in up to 15% new oak, this is a beautiful expression but lacks the tension, drive and acidity of vintages like 2011, 2013 or even 2014. But certainly every bit as regal and seductive as you imagine it should be. (Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Domaine Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet Grand Cru 2015 ~ 2.06Ha

This shows a rich dusty nose of limestone, white grapefruit and wet chalk, spliced together with nuances of creamy lemon pie, white buttered toast, lemon biscuits, and stoney pithy minerality. The palate is so vibrant and fresh, almost zippy, with massive concentration and intense power. There’s a majestic focus to the purity, soft crystalline acids, liquid mineral power, and a complex green apple and lemon cordial concentration on the finish. Exudes breeding and class. Slightly softer with less “coiled spring” tension than some years, but still eye wateringly fine. A real icon wine. (Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

So the Drouhin takes it by a clear point. Their 10,000 vines per hectare yielded approximately 28-32 Hl/Ha in 2015 and with less than 50% new oak used, they left the wine on its lees but employed no battonage this year due to the lower acidity. Two regal wines, tasted side by side, both a splendour in their own right.