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.
I first met the wonderful Kelley Fox around 3 years ago at the Real Wine Fair in London. After several years of buying and selling a plethora of great Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, a spell of tasting disappointing Pinot Noirs from Oregon followed despite being such a committed convert after attending the Oregon Pinot Camp in 2009.
But my good friend Doug Wregg from wine importer Les Caves de Pyrenees showed me the way to the superb Kelley Fox Wines and once again, my faith in the finest potential of Oregon Pinot Noir was restored.
The Momtazi Vineyard is a fully Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area), in Northern Oregon, planted in 1998 with 114 and 115 Pinot Noir clones.
The 2013 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a year of consistent warm, dry weather until late September, that is. After a relatively dry winter and early spring, bud break in the Willamette Valley overall was the earliest since 1992. Summer was consistently warm, but with none of the heat spikes over 37 deg C like in 2009, for example. Veraison in relevant blocks occurred around the end of August/early September. Then the rains came. Not just any rains but typhoon-like rains at the end of September. But picking still only occurred on the 7th of October in the Momtazi vineyard with fruit considered some of the best quality in years.
This is one Pinot Noir worth investing some time in. With a nose this expressive and pretty, there is no point rushing. Contemplation is required. The bouquet is seriously seductive and beguiling, revealing subtle perfumed cherry blossom, cherry confit, blood oranges, polished rosewood and ruby grapefruit complexity. But this wine possesses an extra dimension, an inner core of Pinot beauty that marries red and black forest berry fruits, dusty chalky minerality, subtle sappy notes and dreamy resinous oak spice. The palate is no less impressive, with such a fine knit texture, creamy finessed talcum powder tannins and an inseparable, integrated acidity balance. Layers of black spicy cherry fruits roll into pomegranate, juniper, red liquorice stick, bramble berry and sweet creamy musk. There is such a feminine, harmonious gentleness to this wine that surely has to be one of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley. A real treat. Drink now to 2025+.
It all started 26 years ago when Claire, a Montpellier graduate, first started making wine. Her winery is located between the Cotes de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits, 9kms away from each. Claire has always focused on very minimalist intervention winemaking and only adds a very small amount of sulphur before bottling.
A sufferer of migraines, Claire first started experimenting with no sulphur winemaking in 2001, experimenting with Aligote. In 2002, she started to also make her reds without sulphur additions during winemaking. In 2016 she lost 70% of her fruit to frost, prompting her to start buying in Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes from St Pourcain.
Bottled wines now typically contain 35ppm total SO2, with minimal amounts being added after Malolactic in reds. “Sulphur additions end the wine feeding itself off its lees and compacts the lees.” Long, slow 3 hour pressings allows the juice to oxidise, resulting in very stable wines.
1 Le Clou 2015 (Patois for Clos)
Aligote 55-60 year old vines, 12.5 Abv. – Rich, honied white citrus, lemon blossom, and biscuits and pithy yellow peach and white toast complexity despite no oak use. Palate is taught, pithy, stony, and fresh with real vibrance but also density, ripeness and fleshy depth without losing its pithy, mineral saline briney edge.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2 La Plante d’a Cote 2016
(Name of a young vine) 11 Abv. – Whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast. Rich perfumed nose of talc, musk, Parma violets, strawberry confit and smokey, chalky, sappy, minerality. Bottled early in Feb 2017, after ageing in fibreglass. Super sappy, saline, perfumed with a light textural touch, elegance and sleek, feminine purity and bright, stony, red cherry and red plum low alcohol vibrancy. Real ‘vin de soif’ drinkability.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
3 Le Gamay de L’Allie 2016
Aged in stainless steel, show lovely plummy, savoury red fruits, hints of reduction, cassis and black cherry nuances. Palate is pristine and pure, showing cherry sherbet, pink musk sweets, tantalising acids and wonderful uplifting freshness. Such an energising joy to drink.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
4 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Orchis Mascula 2014 – Beautiful dusty, fragrant melange, wet river pebbles, chalk board duster and stemmy sappy spice. Real lift and energy, cherry blossom, red apples, and tart red cherries. Texture is very polished and pristine, pinpoint tannins, and seductive smokey, chalky, crunchy red berry fruits. Very impressive interpretation of Pinot Noir.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
5 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Myosotis Arvensis 2013 – The 2013 is a more savoury, earthy expression, showing red currant, cured meats, strawberry compote and a complexing sappy, mineral limestone vein. Palate is dense and fleshy, broader and more leesy, savoury than the crunchy ’14. Lovely salty, saline hints of red cherry and salted strawberries, and smokey minerality linger on the long, sensual finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
6 Nuits-St-Georges Les Damodes 1er Cru 2012 – Dark dense wine instantly showing the Nuits power. Nose is packed full of black damson plum, red apple purée, raspberry confit, savoury frais de bois and hints of sap and cured meats with dusty wet river pebble minerality. Palate is vibrant, crunchy and super saline, with perfumed black fruits and chalky, limestone notes. The texture is super suave, the balance intense, pure and harmonious with a chalky, dry powdery tannin finish. A masculine styled wine with a feminine touch.
Californian Pinot Noir can be good, sometimes very good. But affordable and good value, that’s more of an issue. Indeed, other than Burgundy and New Zealand, and the odd Aussie Victoria vintage, the cooler sites of Sonoma and Sonoma Coast are one of the few alternative regions capable of making some incredibly impressive and expressive Pinot Noir.
This beautiful Migration Pinot has been establishing itself over the past few vintages, as a very strong performer at a very reasonable, affordable price point for top Pinot (think £35-£38 per bottle).
Duckhorn’s Migration Russian River Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma County, 14.5 Abv.
This has a classic Sonoma Russian River nose of earthy black berry, bramble berry fruits and a sappy, meaty, savoury, cooler climate spicy aromatic profile. In its youth, there is dusty choc mocha and plenty of oak spice. The palate is finely balanced showing creamy strawberry confit and raisined cherries. From a drought vintage, there is fine acid freshness but also massive fruit concentration and length. But unlike similar styled vintages, there is very little alcohol lift despite the 14.5 Abv. Full-bodied yet gorgeously pure and complex, this is a very fine effort from Duckhorn Wine Company. Drink now to 2025+.
It must be a strange feeling to see your name on the label of a wine and know that in many respects, the “ownership” of that very name has almost passed to the nation as a whole as a cultural heritage icon. Hamilton Russell as a fine wine brand is so deeply integrated into the psyche of the South African nation it is almost impossible to imagine a local wine industry without it.
I, like almost every other South African wine trade professional, has grown up tasting, drinking and cellaring these wines for as long as I can remember. Visiting the Walker Bay estate above Hermanus to see Anthony and Olive is now more like a pilgrimage than a mere winery stop over. The wines are special, the personalities of the owners more so, and the beauty of the estate unsurpassed.
In March 2017 I paid another flying visit to taste the last of the lovely 2015s, the newly bottled 2016s, and a snapshot of barrels from the 2017 harvest. Within 30 minutes of arriving, knowing that I am a keen horse rider, Olive had me jodhpur’ed and booted up and on the back of Amstel, Anthony’s trusty steed, to do a quick hour long hack around the vineyards before obligatory sundowners of Bollinger Champagne, smoked salmon bellinis and Beluga caviar on the weathered sandstone cliffs overlooking Hermanus.
After a decade of heading up winemaking at HRV, in 2014 Hannes Storm decided to move on to his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay projects and was replaced by Gottfried Mocke’s ex-assistant at Chamonix, Emul Ross. What a revelation this move has been and no one can deny the exciting new era of quality that Emul’s arrival has heralded, especially with regards to the HRV red wines.
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.
With the 2016 vintage came the lower yields wrought by the third year of intense drought in the Western Cape. But the grapes that were harvested yielded pristine musts and fermentation and aging proceeded as normal with the use of 5% whole bunch. The wine is very rich and intense on the nose, brimming with dried rose petals, lavender, cherry blossom and dried thyme and oregano herbs. The palate is super concentrated with sweet black cherry, graphite spice and grey slatey gravelly minerality. While this wine has more concentration than previous vintages, it also has restraint and dusty structured tannins that add a beautiful frame from which to hang the complex fruit adornments. There is a real gravitas, complexity and textured layers to this very ‘grown up’ wine. The finish is long and precise and just when you think the last word will be left on a mineral note, a burst of pithy juicy stony red cherry fruit kicks in to tantalise the palate. This is a great effort from winemaker Emul Ross and a killer wine that should age gracefully for 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, 14.1 Abv.
There are a growing number of varietal Pinotage wines that are starting to turn heads. This is certainly one of them. With its roots and pedigree lying in a Pinot Noir psyche, this 14.1 Abv. expression is packed full of sweet dark black fruits and has multiple layers of complex licorice, sweet oak spice and star anise. This 21 year old vineyard was recently replanted but was the first Pinotage vineyard to be planted in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. There is real opulence interwoven with graphite, gravelly minerality on a palate that finishes with dry grippy tannins. This is a very impressive expression of Pinotage and takes the grape to a new level of quality.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other notable wines tasted…
Ashbourne Pinotage – Cinsaut 2017 ~ Bright rose petal perfume and marzipan. Very pure and fine with lush fruits, wonderful intensity and an elegant, red fruited, peppery potpourri finish. Great potential here! (91-93/100)
Ashbourne 2016 Pinotage, Walker Bay, 13.6 Abv. ~ Dusty black plums and spicy black berry fruits waft from the glass. Seamless and round, mineral and tense. Complex notes of creme brûlée, cassis, blueberry and pithy cherries. Full, round, glycerol texture. Lovely mineral, graphite and cherry stone finish. Great expression, showing all the potential to equal the 2015. To be bottled mid-2017. (93-94+/100)
Ashbourne Sandstone 2010, 12 Abv. ~ 76% Sauvignon, 12% Chardonnay, 12% Semillon. Green pea, white chalk spice, yellow grapefruit nuances. Very complex, fleshy texture with attractive cassis leaf and boxwood notes on the finish. (92/100)
Ashbourne Sandstone 2015 ~ Rich, creamy, opulent expression. Round fleshy white citrus fruit concentration with fine freshness and a complex sake-like finish. So much umami! Lovely. (93+/100)
On my recent trip to the Cape in March, I paid an important visit to the Gabrielskloof Winery in the Bot River, home to not only the Gabrielskloof Wines but also Peter-Allan Finlayson’s Crystallum wines.
As a supporter of Peter-Allan’s wines from the very beginning, I’ll never forget his big frame manning the small 1.5 meter long bar top counter at the Wines of South Africa tasting, displaying his 2007 white Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays, and his 2008 Peter Max and Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noirs from the Walker Bay. I recognised the quality immediately and guided numerous potential importer / agents to his stand to taste with view to finding him an agent and UK importer. Liberty Wines were the lucky fellows in the end.
Fast forward to 2017, and I have just returned from tasting his 8th red vintage of Pinot Noir. Peter-Allan is building a true legacy indeed, just as his father did before him at Bouchard-Finlayson. But I loved reading Crystallum’s philosophy in their own words…
“We seek to produce classic wines in a new world context that reflect a traditional, age-old way of working coupled with the new world vineyards which we source our fruit from. The only varieties that we work with are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with multi vineyard blends and single vineyard wines making up the collection.” ~ Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson, the team behind Crystallum.
The Crystallum Pinot Noirs are fermented in small stainless steel tanks and aged in French oak sourced from a single Burgundian cooper. The barrels are stored in a straw bale cellar and left for circa 16 months before bottling.
This pretty wine shows spicy sappy lift from 10% whole bunch fermentation. The wine is bright, lifted, sweet fruited and attractively sappy showing cranberry, cherry fruits with cedary oak spice and a mineral, gravelly finish. There’s definitely a sweet quince exoticism, that’s quite tantalising, leading you to a super fresh, long, vibrant Pinot Noir finish.
This is a beauty, made from Pinot clones 115 and 667. Again, like the Mabalel Cuvee, there are wonderful bright fleshy sweet cherry fruits with a thick underlay of wild forest strawberries, red musky perfume, dusty powdery tannins and textured fine grained grip. There is such alluring, elegant concentration and long fleshy finish of blood oranges and pomegranate vibrancy. Very classy indeed. Very impressive.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Such a wonderful visit and lunch at Gabrielskloof with Peter-Allan, joined by fellow Zoo Buscuit John Seccombe and Non biscuit Viking, Donovan Rall, who’s own new releases will be reviewed separately in the near future. Thanks chaps!