Thursday, November 25, 2010
Didier’s attention to detail extends from his vines and vinification procedures to the whole environment in which they are gently nurtured through their various stages in his cellar. No spitting on the floor here – and one of the few places where we have seen a specific small tank set aside for topping up barrels. No heating on here either – his cellars are legendary for their coldness and his wines evolve at a glacial pace – malolactic fermentations usually (rather than unusually) taking up to a year to complete. His meticulous attention to detail even extends to preparing a whole range of samples in small half bottles with hand written tags – no pipettes or attacking random barrels.
This fastidiousness can also be frustrating! For his 2007 vintage, Didier took even longer than usual to bottle his wines – and we received them in May 2010! He took the phone off the hook, disconnected the computer and just waited until he felt happy to put them in bottle.
But they are worth the wait. The same precision is evident in the wines – these are finely chiselled – almost subtle, yet very precise – examples of terroir-driven winemaking. Pure fruit is the hallmark here, with well-judged use of varying degrees of oak throughout the range.
For the recently completed 2010 harvest, Didier seemed relatively happy. They started on September 23rd – later than normal (and a common hallmark of the vintage) and yields were down – a low as 25 hl/ha for the whites (based on 10,000 vines per hectare) and less than 20 hl/ha for the reds!
In the vineyards, careful attention is paid to the pruning to achieve maximum concentration whilst not over-stressing the vine. No green harvest or de-leafing for the whites – just some stripping of the foliage for the reds. Following alcoholic fermentation, he does gentle battonage (stirring the wine on its lees) every week until malolactic fermentation. Bottling – as we know – can take a long time. Didier often allows a little residual CO2 to build up in the assembled wines prior to bottling, giving them a nice “prickle” but if this goes too high whilst the wines are waiting in tank, then you need to wait for it to dissipate before bottling. Oak – in varying amounts – is used for all the wines.
We tasted through both the recently bottled 2008’s and the still resting 2009’s. To me, the 2009’s had riper fruit – but firmer acidity. It was a paradox that we were to encounter at a few more addresses – almost as if producers had let the fruit hang a little too long and then had tried to “adjust” the wines slightly. This would result in slightly “unripe” acidity (i.e. added) rather than “ripe” acidity (i.e. natural). Again, I didn’t ask Didier specifically, but he’s a pretty non-interventionist type of character, so I’d guess his acidity was natural.
Overall, his wines have a really nice tangy, ripe lime character – and I like this style as it’s backed by minerality and structure. His 2009 Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes (of which there are only 4 barrels) is a wonderful bargain – packed full of lemon and lime fruit. The 2009 Meursault “Tessons” had riper fruit character – he practises whole bunch pressing – and veered towards a possible struggle between ripe lime fruit and firm acidity. The 2009 Chassagne Montrachet “Bergerie” – from 100 year old vines – was more restrained on the nose with and more lactic-style (creamy) acid. It had amazing persistence and I preferred it over the Meursault Tessons. Of the Meursualt 1er Crus, his 2009 “Perrieres” is year-in, year-out wonderful. There is much more stony minerality and complex, restrained fruit and a definite finish of wet pebbles – pepped up by a prickle of CO2. The 2009 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru “Blanchots Dessus” – from a tiny parcel that literally adjoins the Grand Cru vineyard Le Montrachet, and of which there are also only 4 barrels – was also really minerally. In addition to lime, it also had hints of orange peel and very persistent (but ripe) acidity. More CO2 to pep up your day!
Much to his frustration, Didier produces some very under-rated reds that are often overlooked – in fact I think he produces more red that white in terms of volume. Of course, we’re in the Cotes de Beaune here, so the reds are generally “crunchy” with dark cherry characteristics, rather than the spices and black fruits of the Cotes de Nuits. His 2009 Beaune 1er Cru Bellisands was delicious already – our first taste this year of a 2009 red. The tannins were smooth and the fruit was almost like sweet cherries – but there was also a nice chalkiness to keep it from being too jammy. Lovely.
The 2008’s, by contrast, were all more restrained. The whites tended to be “tighter” and more focussed – with the 2008 Chassagne Bergerie again getting my nod – and the reds were fresher and more nervy than their 2009 counterparts – but also very appealing.
As for when Didier’s 2009’s will actually be in bottle and available….probably some time around the end of 2011, but you never know…..
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
He seemed quite happy with the recently completed 2010 harvest – overall volume was down, but the general quality was good and there was no need to chaptalise (adding sugar prior to alcoholic fermentation to increase the finished alcohol - more common that you'd think in Burgundy!). He was slightly less enthusiastic about the recently bottled 2009’s we were about to taste. Philippe can always be relied upon to give an honest assessment of his own wines. He feels the ‘09’s are lacking a bit in acidity and prefers the fresher style of the 2008’s. He tends to bottle early (normally around 12 months after harvest) to maximise freshness and his wines exhibit a nice, open fruit-forward style.
I was beginning to understand (no pun intended) the complexities of conversing with a producer in French and then translating to English with the odd word in Slovenian thrown in! One of the first topics that came up was acidity – and it was to be a recurring theme. To Miro and Samo, the acidities seemed very high and a discussion ensued as to what the wines might taste like if they didn’t have the influence of oak – and was oak necessary to tame the acidity somewhat? It was ironic therefore that Philippe feels his 2009’s lack that extra zip of acidity! I regret not asking Philippe if he normally acidifies – next time.
As for the wines themselves, they were certainly stamped with the flavour of new oak, but the fruit structure was good in most cases and the wines were very pleasurable – if not overly complex. The Meursault “Narvaux” 2009 and the Puligny Villages 2009 were both textbook examples of the two communes. He does two very good lieu dits from Puligny as well – the “Corvees des Vignes” was a bit riper and more concentrated with a bit of heat on the finish whilst the “rue Rousseau” seemed to be a tiny bit reductive but has a nice linear and precise style.
As for pricing – it was the first stop of many where it would seem prices will rise by about 10% for the 2009’s.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
What a difference a year makes. The 2008 reds have softened out really well and are very nicely defined – the whites are precise, crisp and edgy. The majority of the 2009 reds have also shaped up very well, displaying nice balance without excessive ripeness or alcohol, but the whites were a little disappointing with some seeming to display the signs of some manipulation to counter ripe fruit and low acidities – with a few notable exceptions. More to follow with individual producer visits.
This year we decided to do things a little differently. Firstly we were joined by two Slovenian winemakers (and good friends) Miro and Samo. It was to be a great opportunity not only to taste plenty of interesting wines, but also to engage in some very interesting discussions that ranged from different winemaking techniques to marketing and promotion of a region as a whole.
The four of us met up in Paris for the TGV journey to Beaune. Given that all the seats are reserved in advance, what are the chances of bumping into another person in the business? Well, much to our surprise, we ended up seated beside Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate. Poor man was trying to write up a report on Madeira and was accosted by two Irish and two Slovenians! Now I commuted from Dublin to Westport for 2 years, 3 times a week and I used to live in absolute fear of meeting people and talking to them for the three hour journey. It got so bad that I purchased Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s book on “Meat” and used to carry all 10kgs of it around with me. If an unsuspecting person looked like they were thinking of passing the next 3 hours chatting to me, I’d open the book at the section on slaughtering cattle and sheep (complete with photos). Worked every time. No more chat.
So we promised poor old Neal that we’d only talk for a few minutes – but about an hour and a half later we were still at it! It turned out that we would have a few appointments in common so we swapped opinions and also had a brief masterclass in Tweeting – Neal and Mick Hucknall had been tweeting each other. I also discovered that he (Neal – not Mick Hucknall) is still writing “outside” the Parker empire at http://blog.wine-journal.com/.
For some reason, when I returned from a quick visit to the toilet, Neal had gone back to writing his Madeira article. Funny that… anyway, we bade farewell at Dijon and headed onwards to Beaune – devoid of conversation!
Ahead of us, three days of back-to-back tasting beckoned – complete with tasty roadside baguettes for lunches, mutli-language translation sessions (Engligh, French and Slovenian), a few disappointments, some real highs and a lot of laughs.
A copy of “Meat” is on its way to Neal!
Interesting comment on Robert Parker!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Anyway, my middle name is Boyd – a bit scary, but better than “Santa” which is what I wanted to donate as a middle name to our first born. I’m not sure where the Boyd came from, but it’s also a very handy acronym for a great excuse to get together around a few old bottles – “Bring Out Your Dead”. This was the third outing – and I think I managed to annoy poor old Hugo and John by being very pedantic – "was it an opportunity to bring along a dodgy old bottle that could be great – or a great bottle that could be dodgy….?"
Kistler McRae Wood Chardonnay 2000 – very impressive – elegant, full rich palate without being dominated by oak. Delicious now.
Quote Clockey Chardonnay 1996 – not sure if the name is right – old and oxidised
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1998 – tighter on palate – crisp with bittersweet finish from oak. OK – but prefer Kistler.
Dominique Lafon Volnay Santenots 1988 – Corked. I think John gallantly opened another bottle much later in the evening and it disappeared, so it must have been OK.
Drouhin Chambolle Musigy 1er Cru Amoureuses 1987 – light in colour, cherries and raspberries. Nice length – medium bodied and fully mature.
Shingle Park Pinot Noir 1998, Martinborough – more volatile nose, creamy oak – almost like acidic strawberries on the palate – slightly disjointed.
Paradigma Preisinger 2007 – very primary and excruciatingly young – oaky, with chewy tannins, but there’s a deep, dark core of fruit in there.
Joiser Kirschgarten Umathum 2006 – very like Cabernet Franc, not sure how to place this.
Sonoma Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 – tawny colour, classic Cabernet nose – dying in front of me and dead by the time it reaches my palate!
Christian Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 – yes, that’s what it said on the label. More alive than the Sonoma – half a heartbeat. Not going to recover though.
Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste 1982 – nice blackberry, sweet fruit nose. Drying tannins on palate – nicely rustic in a fusty sort of way. Could be better.
Ridge Geyserville 1991 – wonderful. Rich, almost sweet on the nose – you can feel the alcohol a bit, with firm acidity – but showing well.
Mystery Cote Rotie 1988 – Corked and dead as a dodo - destined tor remain a mystery for ever…
Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva 1994 – closed nose but lovely elegant fruit on palate. Very good.
Poliziano Rosso (Magnum) 2001 – hint of nail varnish on nose, some tannins with a little bitter fruit – but classic Sangiovese. Amazingly youthful – Very Good.
Drew Noon Eclipse 1998 – still nose of menthol and cough mixture. A sipping wine – chewy, but hides the 15.7% alcohol well!
Bressan Schioppettino 2001 – more Cabernet Franc style nose. Nice light and fresh palate.
Brundlmayer Langenloser Berg-Vogelsang Spatlase 1983 – ripe and floral on nose, with nice acidity deftly firming up the background. Lovely.
Leon Beyer Gewurztraminer VT 1983 – burnt dried bacon on the nose – and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Spices and toast on the palate – nice, but a little strange.
And so we all worked out way through the wines – with X-Factor in the background putting up a pretty good resistance to all our wine waffle. My favourites were the Kistler Chardonnay, Selvapiana Chianti and Brundlmayer Spatlase.