Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Emmanuel Rouget 2009

I have been reading about Emmanuel Rouget’s wines for a while now. The thing that always strikes me is that there is always as much comment about his reportedly reclusive and diffident character as there is about the wines!

Emmanuel is blessed – or cursed – by being the nephew of the late, great Henri Jayer. In the 1990’s, due to the byzantine structure of French pension laws, Jayer rented out his vineyards to his nephew Emmanuel. In reality, Jayer kept making his revered wines until 2001, alongside bottlings from Rouget. Many would say that they shared great similarities in style and texture – but unfortunately I don’t have the experience with Jayer to make that comparison. Sadly, Jayer passed away in 2006.

Today, Emmanuel crafts the wines on his own, with thought and natural skill. He has become a bit of an enigma in public-relations terms, shying away from not only media exposure, but also the majority of tasting requests. Hence we ended up outside the gates of his modest house in Flagey Echezeaux in the dwindling light, along with our friends from Justerini and Brooks and also Roy Richards of Richards-Walford (Rouget’s UK agent). Roy knows Rouget well, yet it soon became clear that Emmanuel wasn’t going to come out easily. Possibly he had spotted the dodgy looking group of stragglers at his gate and decided he couldn’t be bothered with a bunch of Irish, English and Slovenes! Phone calls were made – by now it was dark and cold and hanging round gates in Burgundy suddenly seemed to lose all appeal, no matter who was inside. Eventually someone spotted Emmanuel moving shiftily around in the shadows in the yard and almost magically the gates were opened. To say that Emmanuel was disappointed we hadn’t all given up and gone away would be an understatement. He looked positively terrified as we wandered over – plus it became clear very quickly that he hadn’t expected an Irish/Slovene contingent. Roy helpfully suggested to me that we introduce ourselves whilst he mysteriously waited outside on the road and re-tied his shoelaces a number of times. Hew Blair suddenly seemed to be busy on a phone-call to the Queen……

And to all our surprise, Emmanuel smiled and welcomed us graciously! True, there was a little harrumphing and long sighs, but that was just us all trying to squeeze into his tiny cellar. Once ensconced, and with the certainly no-one else was arriving, Emmanuel visibly relaxed and began to take us through the wines. He also seemed to take a particular interest in Sinead, but (for once!) I didn’t mind as the wines were truly great and he was happy to keep going!

He harvested relatively early in 2009, but still sorted the grapes both in the vineyard and back at the cellar. He automatically rejected anything overripe – he said there was fruit coming in with a potential alcohol of 18 degrees! Anything over a potential of 14 degrees alcohol was rejected and then 100% of the remaining grapes are de-stemmed. They are given a 7 day cold soak at 10 degrees Celsius. He also favours using CO2 and allows this to filter through the cold soak to enhance freshness and extract purity from the fruit. Alcoholic fermentations are as short as possible to preserve freshness and he prefers pumping-over the juices, rather than punching down the cap during fermentation. Above all, he makes wine in the style he wants (makes sense I suppose!) with the ultimate objective being wines of freshness, equilibrium and puissance.

The first thing that struck us about the samples was this elegance. Sure, there was ripe fruit and tingling vibrancy – but the elegance was wonderful. The “basic” Bourgogne was fresh and plump, with a hint of chalkiness in the background. Yummy! The Savigny les Beaune also had similar savoury fruits and a great lightness in the refined fruit. The Nuits St. Georges was tighter with black fruits and vibrant fruit. Again the vibrancy of the fruit struck us and Emmanuel explained he doesn’t generally rack the wines – if he can start with clean lees, then there should be no need for racking. The Vosne Romanee 2009, aged in 100 new oak, had an amazing nose of violets and spices, fresh “minerally” fruit with lush, graceful finish. The Vosne Romanee 1er Cru “Beaux Monts” was more reserved, more cherry fruit and creamy palate, but also crisp acidity making it very pretty and almost velvety. The Echezeaux was difficult in comparison to the “lifted” style of the previous wines – it was brooding with dense fruit and some white pepper and spices on the palate. The Vosne Romanee 1er Cru "Cros Parantoux" was back to the more feminine style (what an over-used descriptor!) – lots of wild flowers and herbs on the nose and then clean, fine minerality with fine, edgy tannins to give the whole thing backbone.

There are only two producers of Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Cros Parantoux – and we had tasted the other with Jean-Nicolas earlier. Emmanuel’s sample had more density – but multi-layered density and a luxurious core of bright fruit. It really was delicious.

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….

Jean-Marc Millot 2009

Next up was the modest and talented Jean-Marc Millot. Except that he wasn’t there – he was in the far East showing his wines. It’s a reminder of the growing interest in Burgundy and the very finite volumes available. If the 20,000+ cases of Ch. Lafite produced every year can cause a scramble by the Chinese, what about 200 cases of a top Clos Vougeot? I fear it’s only a matter of time…

We were met by Jean-Marc’s doppelganger assistant, Brice. We assumed it must be his son, but he smiled politely (having obviously been asked many times) and said no.

Jean-Marc is another rising star in the Cotes de Nuits. Over the 8 years that we have been working with him, his wines have steadily improved (although they were very good back in 2002) and his confidence has increased hugely - he even has a silly ringtone on his phone now! The house style here is to exhibit more savoury, open-knit fruit characteristics (different to the “pure” Mugneret fruit). The results are wines that are very friendly in youth, and that then develop good tertiary flavour characteristics in the medium term. They are wines of pleasure.

The Cotes du Nuits Villages is always a great bargain. The 2009 barrel sample had a lovely floral nose escaping from a core of sweet, savoury fruit. On the palate, the smooth, but firm, tannins were there to give it backbone and structure. The phrase “raspberry yoghurt” came from Miro and encapsulated the combination of sweetish style fruit with creamy complexity. His Vosne Romanee 2009 had more cloves and spices on the nose and plenty of violet-infused fruits on the palate – a pleasure to taste. The Vosne 1er Cru Suchots is always one of the most floral on the nose, with herbs and white pepper. It was dark, rich with great length.

Jean-Marc owns a largish chunk of vines in Echezeaux (itself a large appellation) and produces (by Burgundian standards) good volumes at a reasonable price. The barrel sample was very open on the nose – very flattering – but with a meaty, chewy, more complex palate that was definitely more blackberry fruit that red fruit. Even smoky bacon came to mind – the meat, not the fries.

In the same open style, his Clos Vougeot Grand Cru 2009 had a rich, toasty nose – I called it “friendly” which is unusual for a Clos Vougeot at this stage of evolution – and it had ripe almost sweet-cherry-style fruit and an overall creaminess thanks to the new oak. Very good – and just a touch over 13.5% alcohol which was surprising given the “warmth” and richness of the sample.

Overall, a very impressive, lovely set of wines.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What I Read When....

.......I’m supposed to writing our Blog! Well, it’s always very tempting, and of course interesting, to read other people’s Blogs. Generally the most intresting and opinionated are written by people to who don’t have anything to sell!

One that has become a real must read is David Strange’s “The Elitist Review”. It can be a bit jaw-dropping (both good and bad) at times, but I wish I could write like that man! He doesn’t mince his words. It’s not just all about wine……or food. There was the very real – and very distressing - incident over Christmas where David posted his own goodbye message on his Blog….


Most of us try and write generally positive things about wine – I suppose because we are in the business of selling it. David is good at this aspect – indeed, stonkingly good (as he might say) – but he excels at the absolute and total destruction of a producer or a particular wine. Consider his recent profile of Northern Rhone wines – the positive stuff is great – but the negative stuff halfway through is…. well, pretty negative – to say the least!


And there was his review of a high scoring Australian “fruit bomb”…now, I don’t think you’ll see this in the Irish Times….


And just in case you messed up on the Turkey at Christmas, this particular favourite Blog will sort you out for next year…


Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg 2009

When we started working with the “Three Ladies” in 2001, the estate rather confusingly went under two names: Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg and Domaine Georges Mugneret – a result of the vagaries of French inheritance law. About two years ago they consolidated everything into Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg – at least I think so – I’m possibly still confused!

Whatever they’re technically called, this by far our favourite Domaine to visit every year. Combine absolutely stunning wines with really nice people and good conversation and it’s a winner every time. Both Marie-Andrée and Marie-Christine (sisters) share the duties, watched carefully by their formidable mother, Jacqueline. There is a wonderful harmony and equilibrium to the wines and they have become a reference point for top-class red Burgundy.

Marie-Andree first updated us a bit on the recently completed 2010 vintage – generally good quality, but overall volumes down by about 30%. Not such good news as the wines are already on strict allocation to us, but at least there is the slightly more plentiful 2009 harvest first.

For 2009, they were really happy with everything – most of the wines have a PH of around 3.4 and there’s a great balance between tannins and acidity. Alcohols have been well nurtured and range from 12.5% to 13.5% with well defined ripeness backed by dense structure.

At this address, even the “basic” Bourgogne is a treat. The 2009 had the hallmark “fresh” fruit and a lovely balanced finish. The 2009 Vosne Romanee had lifted spices and flowers on the nose, but good concentration and depth of fruit on the palate. The Nuits 1er Cru Chaignots was denser and chunkier with more black-fruit character and a hint of chalkiness – and great concentration. The Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Feussellotes is my favourite wine every vintage – and the 2009 didn’t disappoint. It was understandably closed and so didn’t reveal much of the classic elegant “feminine” style it normally exhibits, but showed great elegance and a long, long finish. In contrast, the Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru 2009 (younger vines planted in their plot of Ruchottes Chambertin) was meatier and smokier with savoury characteristics and a hint of cloves. A recent bottle of the 2002 we had back in Ireland was stunning.

We then dived headlong into the Grand Crus – the Echezeaux was classically dense, but in terms of “weight” vis-à-vis other examples, it had suppleness and subtlety that clearly hallmark it in a “refined” category. The Ruchottes Chambertin Vieilles Vignes was back to a meatier, more roasted style of fruit and minerals at the back of the mix. Amazing length. Finally, the Clos Vougeot was much more reserved, with a hint of spices and very fine tannins hidden below a thick core of black fruits.

Across the range, not one of the wines is aged in 100% new oak – they range from 30% to 70% - and again (in my opinion at least) this adds to the purity of fruit. Given our long discussions about acidity with the producers in the Cotes de Beaune, the subject came up again, but in the context of red wines. Freshness is definitely a hallmark of the Mugneret wines, and early harvesting also keeps alcohol levels down. But there’s a fascinating twist. Even in a “ripe” vintage like 2009, they will usually chaptalise – i.e. add sugar! Marie-Andree was so animated and excited when describing the process, you could see it’s something they consider an integral (and very positive) part of the process. Almost the equivalent of cooking – adding that last luxurious bit of sugar to a jam mix of fresh fruit and stirring the warm, bubbling pot. They will add a hint of sugar to the must prior to fermentation to bring the alcohol level up by a maximum of 0.5% - not because they necessarily need to bring up the alcohol, but because it adds extra complexity and a hint of a unique flavour to the wine. Listening to her describe the amazing aroma of warm, almost bubbling, grape must and stirring in the sugar slowly was wonderful.

Real proof that preconceived ideas about processes that are regularly chastised are often very wrong!

Anyway, back out into the rain…..!

Philippe Livera, Domaine des Tilleuls, 2009

Day Two of our trip and up and out early to the Cotes de Nuits. After the previous day of all whites, we were looking forward to some good, hearty reds - not only to seduce us with the charms of the 2009 vintage, but also to take the chill of the decidedly miserable weather that had descended on the region.

With windscreen wipers going at full belt, we peered ahead through the gloom on our way to Gevrey Chambertin. We started working with the Liveras just over a year ago when we stumbled across the Gevrey Chambertin Clos Village 2007 – an amazing wine for the price – everything you could want in a classic Gevrey – meaty, savoury, ripe cherry-fruit and wonderfully textured.

But that was last year – this year it was the 2009’s that we would focus our attention on. Young Damien Livera, who has been making the wines for the past five years, met us at the cellar. In total, the Domaine farms 8.5 hectares, so is relatively large. On the way into the cellar, we passed a case of what looked like a still Rosé - it’s unusual to see a still Rose and Damien offered us a taste – surprisingly rich, but showing a little heat for the vintage.

In most cases, the grapes are de-stemmed and then have a cold maceration for about a week prior to alcoholic fermentation. This should result in quite “pure” and forward fruit flavours with elegant violet overtones. The 2009 Bourgogne, aged in 4 year-old barrels was good, but a little brawny. The 2009 Cotes de Nuits Villages was crunchy and fresh – in part as the malolactic fermentation hadn’t finished -over a year later! Damien claims to prefer a long malo – but heading into a long, cold winter, I’d be a bit worried about when it might actually finish!

The Gevrey Chambertin “Clos Village” was the first to offer some lovely floral fruit and dense, supple fruit. It is made from 60-70 year old vines in a small walled “Clos” literally just outside the cellar offering a yield of about 45 hl/ha (10,000 vines per hectare). This reassured us all and things looked up from then on. The Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru – a tiny amount produced and aged in 100% new oak – was super-concentrated and offered great promise down the road. It also showed a hint of one of the challenges that 2009 presented – higher alcohol from higher sugars – in this case a fairly hefty 14.5%.

On the way out, Damien offered us a re-taste of the original 2007 Gevrey Clos Village – and it was as lovely as ever. We asked if he had any more – he did – and we immediately confirmed another small parcel! So much for the 2009’s – we’ll be back for them at another point!