It’s certainly Beaujolais’ moment in the spotlight with more and more Côte d’Or growers buying vineyards in the top Cru villages. As they invest in vineyards and production, the wines are getting more and more serious.
Chateau de Poncie is the latest reincarnation of Villa Ponciago, the estate in Fleurie bought by Champagne Henriot, who coincidently also own brands like Bouchard Pere et Fils. With Joseph Bouchard now actively involved in the Fleurie operations, quality seems to get better and better every vintage that passes.
The la Salomine vineyard is situated on a sloping hillside with a southeast exposure with very well draining soils composed of a pink granitic crystalline rock and quartz as well as a small proportion of clay. Cultivation of the vines is exclusively manual, due to the steep slope. Heavy natural soil erosion is checked by grassing over and mulching. Yields are naturally limited by the terroir to less than 35hl/ha.
After harvest, cold maceration takes place with one part whole bunches and one part with destalked bunches, followed by a fermentation of 10 to 15 days. Maturation is vintage dependant with 40% to 60% of wine aged in oak barrels, 100% of which are mature oak barrels of 1 to 4 years old. The remainder is matured for 12 to 13 months in small tanks to preserve freshness.
Chateau de Poncie Cru Fleurie 2015 La Salomine, 14 Abv.
Another blockbuster year, this is a bold Beaujolais with Pinot Noir depth and complexity. Gamay stepping up to the plate. Deep, dark dense nose of wood smoke, black berry, bramble fruits and dusty granitic mineral graphite lift. Palate is full, broad, expansive, features big bold concentrated flavours of fraises des bois, black cherry, blue berry crumble and opulent sweet supple tannins. Acids melt into the rich black fruit and just tickle your palate, keeping the finish vibrant, fresh and quite mouth watering. Very polished, accomplished wine making raising Beaujolais quality up a few notches (which will appeal to Pinot Noir lovers struggling with Burgundy’s eye watering red wine prices). Buy now, drink now… or cellar for 3 to 8 years for extra complexity.
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.
Domaine Ramonet is one of the quality reference points of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. Even before the First World War, their wines were being enjoyed in high society and in some of the finest restaurants in France. Today, brothers Jean Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of the Domaine that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable, not just for their famous white wines but also increasingly for their highly focused, precise, pure fruited red wines.
They currently own 17 hectares of mostly prime Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards plus a small amount of three grands crus in Puligny-Montrachet. The reds have traditionally played second fiddle to their masterful whites, but like many white focused domaines also making reds, like Bonneau du Martray or Roulot, their reds have definitely benefited from a touch of global warming (and improved vinification techniques), and have been quite impressive in recent vintages.
An alluring dark ruby red with wonderful clarity, this wine has very pretty aromatics that waft from the glass effortlessly. Beautiful perfumed notes of cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, rose petals and pink musk mix with notes of caramelised red cherries, roasted cashew nuts, sun dried cranberries, and fraises des bois wild strawberry. One of the best vintages for white Burgundy in many years, it wasn’t that bad for the reds either. More classically modelled, the palate is crystalline, pure and very precise with finely polished chalky mineral tannins, a medium bodied weight, plenty of red strawberry, cranberry and red cherry flesh, and an attractive sappy, spicy complexity on the finish. The acids are finely poised, the wine beautifully balanced, and shows an accessible, supple textured style that has all the hallmarks of a top quality producer. A pretty distinguished effort not just for a village Chassagne rouge, but also within the context of the whole Cotes de Beaune.
The Faiveley Bienvenue Batard Montrachet Grand Cru is made from a 0.5 hectare plot of vines planted in 1980. The area was a quarry until the 12th century but the wine only started to achieve fame in the 17th century thanks to the Cistercian Abbey of Maizieres and the Lords of Chagny. The Faiveley family purchased the plot in 2008 along with another 0.5 hectares of Batard Montrachet Grand Cru right next door.
A wonderful east facing exposition, the vines are grown on fine brown soils over hard limestone. Vinification lasts 4 weeks and takes place in French oak barrels, 50 to 60 percent of which are new each year. The lees is regularly stirred while the wines are aged for 18 months before bottling.
Domaine Faiveley Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2011, Burgundy, 13 Abv.
Going on six years old, this Grand Cru white is super fine, showing an intense nose of white citrus, acacia, lime peel, lemon zest, and custard pie. Subtle new oak spice and lovely vanilla pod allure with just a slight suggestion of bottle development starting adding an earthy wet chalk, mineral nuance. The palate is bristling with flavour in a super concentrated expression brimming with brûléed lemons, baked brioche, toffee apple, lemon confit and tart yellow grapefruit marmalade and a creamy, pithy, long candied citrus finish. Super power, beautifully vibrant acids and such energy. Drink this beauty now or keep for another 3 to 8 years. A majestic beauty.
Fontaine-Gagnard in Chassagne Montrachet is probably a domaine better know for its white wines than its reds. But the last few years have seen their reds go from strength to strength, in no small part due to the focus and attention to detail of Celine Fontaine, who seems to have taken over all winemaking duties.
I recently had the opportunity to taste several vintages of their glorious Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of the most impressive 1er Cru expressions in the appellation. With allocations of Domaine Michel Lafarge rarely making it past En-primeur now days, picking up a bottle of Clos des Chênes that’s almost ready to drink is becoming a rare luxury.
The reds grapes at Fontaine-Gagnard are normally destemmed with light crushing. The must is then transferred into vats for the alcoholic fermentation for up to a week with little to no temperature control. The reds undergo daily punch downs and pump overs and then usually undergo a light filtration.
A dark ruby colour, there is interestingly little to no graduation of colour in the glass. A very pretty nose awaits with a beautiful bouquet of crushed rose petals and cherry blossoms. There are wonderfully expressive notes of strawberry confit, caramelised red cherries, and red berry pastille fruits. Lovely lift, freshness and an attractive sappy, stalky, minerality develop in the glass with just the faintest hint of sweet wood spice. An elegant, medium-bodied palate is perfectly harmonious and sleek, thoroughly seductive with a focused concentration of cherry pith, sappy spice, bramble berries, tart red plums, and a mouth watering maraschino cherry finish. Plenty of stony, dusty tannins add a little extra frame to the wine. A really attractive expression of Volnay that should easily drink well for another 10 to 12 years.
The Burgundy En-primeur tasting season in the UK over the months of January and February is a very exciting time for buyers, if for no other reason than the probable likelihood of discovering a new family scion or black sheep Burgundian off-shoot that has started producing a new range of wines. Getting in early with an order could be critical in securing an ongoing allocation.
Domaine Duroché is currently run by fourth generation Gilles Duroché along with his son Pierre, so they are by no means a new winery. But they have definitely resurfaced as one of the most sought after wineries in Burgundy over the past 4 or 5 years, along with producers like Domaine Denis Mortet, Domaine Georges Noellat and Heitz-Lochardet. I myself only really started to notice their wines on the En-primeur circuit around 3 years ago, probably too late to secure any meaningful allocations. But the wines are so good my endeavours continue.
Their Gevrey Chambertin holdings include three wines each at village level – Jeunes Rois, Etelois and Champ; Premier Cru level – Champeaux, Estournelles St Jacques and Lavaux St Jacques; and Grand Cru level – Charmes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze and latterly, a tiny parcel of Griotte Chambertin.
A wonderfully seductive bouquet greets the drinker with lifted perfumed fragrance, violets, sweet jasmine and cherry blossom. But it’s the intense red maraschino cherry note that rings the loudest. So powerful and beguiling. The crystallised cherry purity resonates across a beautifully vibrant, crisp fresh palate bristling with tart cranberry, caramelised cherries and kirsch liquor complexity. So pure, so supple, so seamlessly elegant. The Lord alone knows how Duroché achieves this concentration of fruit together with this level of purity and textural balance at only 12.5 Abv. A really impressive creation. Such a pleasure to drink.
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.