Monday, January 17, 2011

Meo-Camuzet 2009

After a quick stop for yet another roadside baguette, it was back into the hairdryer-on-wheels and off to taste with Jean-Nicolas Meo. We were joined there by Hew Blair and Giles Burke-Gaffney of the venerable Justerini and Brooks – by Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen no less. Two full tables of samples greeted us and it was immediately clear that this was going to be a “serious” tasting. Neal Martin, of the Wine Advocate, had been there just before us and Jean-Nicolas had opened everything. There wasn’t going to be much time for translation for Miro and Samo – one minor distraction and there could be the embarrassment of forgetting which wine had been poured into my glass – or even worse, having a new sample added to an old one before getting the opportunity to empty it!

Jean Nicolas now oversees 25 different wines – a combination of Domaine cuvees and those produced under a Negociant operation called Meo-Camuzet Frere et Soeur. By any standards, having your finger in 25 pies (or vats) is enough to keep anyone busy and Jean-Nicolas is certainly prolific. Annual production is now up to 120,000 bottles, which must bring in a handy few quid each year. Interestingly, the law states (or used to state) that Domaine and Negociant operations by the same producer had to be kept in separate cellars, presumably so that, heaven forbid, the two couldn’t accidentally be mixed together. Jean-Nicolas has both in his one cellar, but the barrels of Negociant wines are clearly marked by bright orange stickers.

I do believe there are general “house styles” at certain producers, although great terroir can often usurp even the most botched attempt to impose a house style. In 2008 the terroir shone through magnificently in some great wines, whereas in 2009, overall ripeness and homogeneity have made very flattering wines, but occasionally at the expense of terroir individuality in some instances. The Meo house style is for wines with very polished fruits mixed with a smooth sheen of oak. They tend (to me anyway) to be slightly less expressive at a young age, and if there was any mild critique, it would be that they are not as “wild” or “adventurous” as some others. But they are pure, focussed and consistently well produced.

A large part of this style profile is obviously generated by the handling of the wines in the cellar. Jean-Nicolas prefers to sulphur the wines regularly during elevage in order to keep the volatile acidity down. As someone who likes really old Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Papes, I’m obviously not put off by a bit of VA. So maybe the wines seem “over clean” to me – and just me. The sulphur would also account for the slightly muted state of the wines at this point – it will be absorbed into the wine over time and the fruit should come through.

Initially Jean-Nicolas was a little worried about the acidity levels in the 2009’s, but he is happier now. Although analytically they show low acids, he says the reds have come together nicely now following malolactic fermentation.

After a morning of reds, the crisp, fresh white Haut Cotes de Nuits Clos St. Philibert 2009 was delicious. This Monopole is often overlooked by those is search of the more heavy-hitting wines, but in my opinion this small volume cuvee gets better and better each year. It had plenty of supple, ripe Chardonnay fruit – easily a match for the oak and lovely structure.

The Fixin 2009 had a good chunky nose of dark cherries with firm acidity – a good balance between the two. Again, this is one of the cuvees that I think often over-delivers in terms of price/quality. The Morey St. Denis 2009 was more muted, but with richer, darker fruits hidden behind a wall of chewy tannins. A little more awkward at this stage – but ultimately probably more complex. The Vosne Romanee 2009 is very different to the Mugneret sample – here it is more closed, dense and reserved – although in fairness it was racked much later than the other wines in the Meo portfolio. The Gevrey Chambertin had more savoury fruits and more appellation typicity – with a hint of chewiness.

Of the various and plentiful 1er Crus, the Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru “Boudots” really stood out – here we were back to “softer” fruits (ironic for a NSG) more characteristic of the vintage. A much richer and more expressive nose, with lots of wild violets and a subtle creamy texture from the well-used oak. Very good indeed. The Clos Vougeot “Pres le Chateau” was also delicious – relatively open-knit with rich fruits that initially hid a nice complex undertow of fine tannins and great length.

We skipped the 2007 and 2008 vintages with Meo-Camuzet, largely as a consequence of the economic situation in Ireland and having to pick and choose a smaller group of producers to work with. As a result, we slipped down the pecking order on allocations, and whilst we are their sole Irish importer, we haven’t been allocated any of the other “big guns”. As pricey as they are, they were also a pleasure to taste! I have pages and pages of notes, but standouts (hopefully not too predictably) included the Vosne 1er Cru “Aux Brulees” (almost dark chocolate with very black fruits – quite primary), the Vosne 1er Cru “Cros Parantoux” (almost nutmeg (!!), surprisingly lifted in mid-palate and quite like parma violet sweets!) and the pinnacle of them all, Richebourg (wonderfully complex – lots of new oak wrapped around a complex mix of coffee/chocolate/spices and a wonderfully silky finish).

It was a great tasting – 27 samples from 2009 – but I would have loved to leave each one in an individual glass and go back to them one-by-one after an hour. I wonder if Neal Martin got to do that….

Meanwhile, more baguettes were beckoning….

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