Monday, 26 October 2009

Interesting everyday wines from Italy: part 4

Back to that mixed Wine Society case of Italian wines and, to demonstrate that this blog is not a wine snob dedicated only to fine wine, here is a frankly bland and forgetful wine....

Barbera d'Asti, Araldica, 2006
Light, frivolous and perfrectly good if a little one dimensional. It's not all bad though and there is some violet, redberry fruit, albeit slightly jammy on the finish. Lacks depth and it's too inky 2* 5/10

A wine to forget...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Burgundy 2009 exclusive!

Some initial thoughts just in from David Clark on the 2009 vintage in Burgundy...

Hello James,

Since you asked – a few thoughts on the 2009 vintage –

Certainly there seems to be genuine excitement here for the new wines as they now go into barrel. However, I can’t help but think that expectations are so high that perhaps there might be some disappointments down the road. From what I have tasted it seems particularly difficult to make generalisations about the wines – there always seems to be a glaring exception! Anyway for what is worth I currently see 2009 red Burgundy as:

1) Excellent sugars and now alcohols – very few wines below 12.5% but also very few above 13.5%. A bad year for sugar-beet farmers?!
2) Low-ish to very low acidities. Very little malic acid which is a generally sign of good ripeness.
3) High yields. There was a lot of rain in June and July.
4) Mixed colours – some deep, but some surprisingly pale.
5) Potentially quite a lot of tannin, depending on extraction.

Should be fun to taste these when Burgundy comes to London to sell en primeur in January 2011!



So, bad news for sugar beet farmers, but potentially good news for growers and drinkers of burgundy.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Au Pelson: a bourgogne in grand cru's clothing

When it comes to wine there are certain words or phrases that set alarm bells off in my head. These include: "charming" (substitute with coarse, or just bad!), "lip smacking" (do I really want a wine to smack my lips?), and "plump" (an adjective which is better used to describe overweight middle aged men). Another classic is "this wine comes from just the other side of the N74", a perennial favourite in Burgundy en primeur offers used to describe thin, sub standard wine from the bourgogne appellation. The N74 is the route nationale which marks the eastern boundary of the Cote d'Or. If the wine was any good, don't you think they'd find something better to say than the name of  the road adjoining the vineyard?

So, I was sceptical when I first heard about David Clark and his Au Pelson vineyard on the wrong side of the N74 (see map below). However, this is bourgogne with a difference.

A newcomer to the Cote d'Or, DomaineDavid Clark is at an immediate disadvantage to its neighbours with their portfolios of more illustrious vineyards, accumulated and inherited over generations. But don't be fooled by the lowly bourgogne appellation of Au Pelson. It may not be the best vineyard in burgundy, but Au Pelson is lavished with the care and attention befitting a grand cru. Not only is David Clark fastidious in the care of his vineyards (his blog gives an excellent insight into the amount of work required), but he also believes that low yields are essential to create great red wine. And boy are the yields low! The 2006 Bourgogne Au Pelson was made with yields of 32 hl/ ha. Not only is this well below the 48 hl/ ha permitted for village wine, but it is also less than the 35 hl/ ha permitted for grand crus! Indeed, Jean-Marc Fourrier, another disciple of low yields, made his 2006 Griottes-Chambertin Grand Cru with the same yield of 32 hl/ ha! Whilst harvesting the Au Pelson vineyard in 2008, Jan van Roekel of Burgoholic, observed the following ...

"The grapes looked in pretty good shape, and what really amazed me were the very low yields David gets from this vineyard. As far as I could see Anne Gros gets twice as much from her Bourgogne rouge vineyard. And her Bourgogne rouge is already such a lovely wine..."

Whilst this hard work has definitely paid off in creating superlative wines and earning the respect of his fellow vignerons, I cannot fathom the economics. With a total annual production of only 5,351 bottles, predominantly (over 80% of production) from lesser appellations such as bourgogne and passetoutgrains that don't command high prices, the profit must be marginal. Nonetheless, I am sure that David Clark's devotion to quality will sustain demand for such excellent wines that are in short supply, a combination which will no doubt drive prices higher.

But where is Au Pelson? Having wasted hours trying to find its location in Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine by looking at photos of the vineyard from David's blog and then looking at the shadows to assess the aspect as well as trying to identify geographical landmarks in the background, I thought I'd just ask David Clark. Here is his reply...

Hi James,

Thanks for the email and the kind words – I too am hoping there will be many future vintages to follow!

Does the attached jpeg help you find the Au Pelson vineyard? It’s an annotated screen shot from Google maps. Au Pelson is my biggest plot at 0.8085ha and although it is entirely with the appellation Bourgogne boundaries the central section is planted with Gamay. Since Gamay isn’t permitted in an appellation Bourgogne wine I harvest that separately for my Passetoutgrain. The vineyard is on a slight south-facing slope and the (long!) rows run North-South with the pinot noir at the top and bottom of the slope, covering about 60% of the area in total. It was planted in 1981 by Jean-Marie Roumier (father of Christophe Roumier who now runs Domaine Roumier in Chambolle). I bought it in 2005 as Roumier expanded into more profitable appellations!

I hope this makes it taste all the better!

Best regards,


Having definitely 'cracked' bourgogne, David Clark has set his sights on acquiring better vineyards on the Cote d'Or. Indeed he has already bought plots in, amongst others, Morey-Saint-Denis and Vosne Romanee. I only hope that any further acquisition is not funded with proceeds from the sale of Au Pelson, as was the case for Christophe Roumier when he sold the vineyard to David in the first place. I look forward to the delivery of my Au Pelson 2007 bought en primeur and to enjoying many more vintages of this wine and, if I'm rich enough, I might even dabble in his Morey-Saint-Denis and beyond.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Interesting everyday wines from Italy: part 3

Still working my may through the Wine Society case, this time with a belter from Puglia...

Copertino, Eloquenzia, Masseria Monaci, 2004

Of the 450 officially recognised wine denominations in Italy, Copertino is not the most well known. In fact, I am into wine, albeit relatively new to Italian wine, and I had never heard of Copertino. Situated on the Salento peninsula, Copertino is one of 31 DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) that belong to Puglia. However, with the introduction of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) system this year, one denomination for Puglian wines will come into force... Puglia DOP. The mere mention of Puglia on a wine label is likely to mean more to the average consumer that the previous 31 hard to pronounce and unrecognisable names. So whilst this will undoubtedly ruffle some proud local feathers, it is likely to be better for Puglian wine exports.

Made by Azienda Monaci, a family run winery in Copertino, Eloquenzia is one in a portfolio of nine wines and made entirely from the local grape, Negroamaro. Thus far, this is the best in the case and a wine I can thoroughly recommend for its both its taste and its price (£6.50).

  • Appearance: Deep ruby red
  • Nose: Excellent. A heady mix of herbs & smoke. Very Chateauneuf/ mourvedre in style
  • Palette: Juicy & crunchy fruit. Thick with dark & bitter black cherry & glycerine - like a mature Rhone. Very long finish.
  • Conclusion: A wine of real distinnction & expression. Lives up to it's eloquent name. Definitely reorder. 2.5* 8/10

Monday, 28 September 2009

Beaune, Clos de la Chaume Gaufriot, Antonin Guyon, 1999

This was the last of three bottles I bought a while back, each of which were very different. This one was certainly worth the wait.

The provenance of this wine is tricky, made confusing by conflicting information on the label. The vineyard, Clos de la Chaume Gaufriot is simple enough (circled vineyard in map below). It is a monopole of Domaine Antonin Guyon. However, although this wine is produced by Domaine Antonin Guyon, the label makes reference to a Domaine Hippolyte Thevenot. On this last point, Burgundy Report notes that:

...from an ownership and production perspective there is no real difference, they are simply separate civil entities for bookkeeping.

Confused? I am. Finally, the label states the address of the domaine is Aloxe Corton, when in fact the domaine is based in Savigny-les-Beaune!
Confusion aside, this is a well respected, if not widely known domaine, and this is a very good wine. Clos de la Chaume Gaufriot is situated above the premier crus and is characterised by clay and limestone. The wine is aged in oak for a year and is recommended to be kept for five years. 1999 was an excellent vintage and hence I decided to wait longer, finally opening the wine on its tenth anniversary.
  • Appearance: Prune/ tawny rim with an earthy, blood red core
  • Nose: Slightly medicinal, almost tired. Hard to pin down.
  • Palette: Perfectly balanced between soft tannins and ethereal fruit, which fills the palette like a velvet glove with a spicy edge, (cloves?). So delicate and perfectly poised with a earthiness on the finish and a peacock's tail of strawberries and those cloves again.
  • Conclusion: A delightful wine which was 'a point' now. The perfect match for a coq au vin. 3* 8/10

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Monty to say aurevoir to Roussillon?

Passing by London wine merchant, Roberson, this week, I couldn't resist asking whether Monty's French Red (as seen on TV in Channel 4's Chateau Monty) was worth the £9.95 price tag or whether it is just a gimmick. I was surprised with the answer I received...

It turns out that the 2009 vintage may be Monty Waldin's last. Apparently the project is not financially viable and he made more out of the book than he is likely to make out of the wine. So, Monty may be chucking in the towel, which is more easily done given that he rents the vineyard.

After the success of the 2007 vintage (apparently it sold out overnight when it was shown on sale at Roberson in the final episode of the TV series), it was always going to be hard to maintain the momentum generated by his 15 minutes of fame. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise given the global glut of wine and the £10 price tag on Monty's French red, which, biodynamics aside, is a lowly Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. Of course, the exchange rate hasn't helped either.

This is a sad reflection on the world of wine. Despite all his enthusiasm and conscientiousness, how can a lone smallholder such as Monty Waldin compete in a market dominated by mass produced brands and BOGOFs?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Bourgogne Les Perrieres, Domaine Simon Bize, 2004

The domaine
The first time I tried this wine was in 2006 whilst visiting Savigny-les-Beaune. Unwittingly, we were eating at La Cuverie, a restaurant just over the road from the domaine itself, and not only was the wine a perfect match with the Charolais beef steak, but I was captivated by its bouquet. So, the next day we paid a visit to Domiane Simon Bize. Having been impressed with the range and quality of the wines, I bought a case of the Bourgogne "Les Perrieres" 2004 and a case of the Savigny-les-Beane "Les Bourgeots" 2002. What I didn't realise at the time, was that Patrick Bize is undoubtedly the best producer in Savigny-les-Beaune.

Here's what Berry Brothers have to say of the domaine and Patrick Bize (although I dispute the 'young' where described as 'one of the most talented young winemakers in Burgundy'!)...

Patrick Bize`s family have been in Savigny les Beaune since the 1880s - his great grandfather was the butcher and maintained some vines as well. Now they have 22 hectares of vines and their domaine is unquestionably the finest in the village. Patrick made his first wine at the domaine in 1974. "Old vines and low yields are what is important, otherwise there are no rules. We do what the vine demands", says Patrick who is one of the most talented young winemakers in Burgundy. Where he excels is in producing exceptional wines from vineyards traditionally not very highly regarded. His wines are firm, rich, and harmonious and unlike most wines from Savigny benefit substantially from ageing.

John Armit, of Armit, sums up the the man and his wines nicely...

Patrick Bize is one of the best winemakers in Burgundy. Were he working with a more well-known appellation he would have a reputation on a par with his friends Christophe Roumier, Jean-Marie Raveneau and Dominique Lafon. His wines have that rare quality that when you drink them you think they must cost twice as much.

Les Perrieres

Les Perrieres is located on the western hill overlooking the village of Savigny (just where the N and Y of Savigny are on the map). As the name suggests, Les Perrieres is a very stony vineyard, giving firm reds with lovely density, worthy of ageing. The whites are well-structured, dry and long with excellent minerality.The vineyard is split between Pinot Noir (half planted in 1971, the other half in 1974) and Chardonnay (planted in 1967 and 1968). Modestly, the label doesn't boast about such veilles vignes and yields are low at 30-40 hl/ ha each year.

The wine
As I have mentioned before, one of the joys of drinking wine is its capacity to evoke happy memories as well as titillate the senses. Each time I open a bottle of Les Perrieres, its captivating bouquet takes me back to that restaurant in Savigny. Moreover, if tasted blind, this wine could so easily be taken for a Premier Cru from a more lofty village. All of which is not bad for a wine that cost €8.75 a bottle! This is a wine I want to buy year in year out.
  • Appearance: Red brick, well developped with oeil de perdrix core
  • Nose: Instantly recognisable. Very expressive of terroir with spicy clove overtones & beetroot
  • Palette: Velvety & rich with gamey fruit.
  • Conclusion: Unbelievable! 2.5* 10/10!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Interesting everyday wines from Italy: part 2

Two wines this time...

Chianti, Malenchini, 2008

Situated within the Chianti Colli Fiorentini sub region only a few kilometers from Florence, the picturesque Malenchini estate produces a wide range of wines from table wine to a Super Tuscan, Bruzzico. From the middle of this range, the basic Chianti is made from 100% Sangiovese and is not aged in oak. It is therefore bursting with dense and ripe fruit and possesses everything I love about Italian wine in spades: indigenous grape varieties, moreish acidity & black cherry fruit, and food companions.

  • A: Deep core with scarlet & lilac rim. 
  • N: ?
  • P: Soft tannins with rich blackcurrants, and crunchy cherries & red fruit on finish. 
  • C: A great every day wine but with expressive terroir. I'd definitely reorder as a house red (£6.50, The Wine Society) 2* 7/10

Fiano, MandraRossa, Sicilia IGT, 2008

The previous vintage won a Decanter International White Single Varietal Trophy. I was therefore expecting a lot of this wine and I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. Possessing only a rudimentary knowledge of Italian, there was a limit to what I could find out about the wine on the Italian MandraRossa website. MandraRossa is a premium range of Sicilian wines produced by the Settesoli co-op in Menfi. Made entirely from the native Fiano grape and fermented in steel vats, the wine is therefore unencumbered by oak which would only overpower such a delicate and aromatic grape.
  • A: Pale gold
  • N: Honey on the nose, bit like a demi sec chenin
  • P: Lovely lemon mousse palette with masses of steely minerality (reminicant of Chablis or Santorini) but little finish. 
  • C: Nonetheless, a great & interesting wine and one I would not hesitate to reorder as a house white (£6.50, The Wine Society). 2* 7/10

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Interesting everyday wines from Italy: part 1

This is the first in a series of wines which come from a mixed Italian case from the Wine Society designed for everyday drinkning. As usual, the Society has yet to disappoint me with bad wine and this is no exception.

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Vigna Corvino, Contesa, 2007

From Collecorvino, a south facing hillside in the Pescara province of Abruzzo, this wine is made entirely from the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Incidentally, the bird on the label is the same as those on the coat of arms for Comune di Collecorvino. Aged in oak for only a few weeks, the Vigna Corvino is made in a forward, more fruit-driven style. Perhaps this is why it slightly disappointed me, only because I was benchmarking it  against other, bigger styles such as Oinos from Tenuta San Lorenzo, which I enjoyed immensely. Nonetheless this is perfect for everyday drinking and much better than some of the more insipid wines of the region at the same price. It was perfectly matched with a lamb & fennel stew from the Abruzzo region. My tasting note is below...
  • A: Almost balck core with violet rim
  • N: Merlot-esque or petit chateau Bordeaux with spicy redcurrants too
  • P: A silk hankerchief of inky black fruits envelops the mouth and then recedes, giving way to rasping blackberry & raspberry aicidity & fruit kernel/ olives on the finish.
  • C: Good everyday wine (£6.95 from Wine Society) but expected more depth. 2.5* 6/10

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The problem with scoring wine...

Everyone is at it, Parker does it out of 100, Robinson does it out of 20 and Broadbent rates his out of 5 stars.

According to the three systems above, which would score more highly, the world renown Bordeaux 1st growth Chateau Latour or a holiday rose from the local co-op? I am sure the Latour would win hands down across the board.

However, the answer is not as clearcut as you might think. A numerical score is too one dimensional as a basis of both expression and comparison, since, although both wines are leagues apart, both can be equally enjoyable.

I propose a better, two tier system, one that acknowledges both the quality of the wine and the satisfaction gained from it. Using the example above, marking the quality out of five stars and the satisfaction out of ten might deliver the following scores:
  • Chateau Latour 5* 9/10
  • Vin de Pays Rose 1* 9/10 
Is the Latour really as good as the cheap rose? No, but they were equally enjoyable, albeit in a different league (hence the big difference in stars awarded).

The result, a more flexible and accurate system that not only reflects the qualities of lesser wines (instant enjoyment without the need to engage the brain) but also captures quality of the higher echelons of wine for what they are (superior in quality and but not necessarily enjoyment). Without this system, wine scores recognise only the finest of wines, which for the majority of tasters, are seldom tasted.

Smitten with Tete de Murger!

One of the joys of drinking wine is its capacity to evoke happy memories as well as titillate the senses. Patrick Javillier's Meursault Cuvee Tete de Murger is one such wine that did both in spades. Bought in 2005 during a visit to Meursault, the 2001 is not only the best white wine I have ever tasted, but it also evoked happy memories of a holiday in the Cotes de Beaune.

The wine is a combination of two vineyards, les Casse-Têtes and les Murgers de Monthelie. The Javillier website adds...

"This Meursault is born from a marriage of two vineyards: Meursault les Casse-Têtes exposed on the classic hillside of Meursault (between Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet) under the quarries – exposition east. Very little topsoil. Meursault les Murgers de Monthelie exposed on the hillside of Volnay exposition west. Height of 80 cm of clay on rocks of volcanic origin (Volnay)."

Having recently tried a slightly dried out Javillier Meursault "Les Clous" 1999, I was concerned that the 2001 might be over the hill. So, I was both pleasantly surprised at the sheer quality of this wine and relieved at the fact that a £50 bottle had not gone to waste!

So what did this elixir taste like? My slightly cringy verbose note is below (the wine must have gone to my head!)...
  • Appearance:Light straw & lime
  • Nose:Beguiling, Meursault on steroids yet delicate too with white pepper, passion fruit, lots of toasty oik but balanced with light tropical fruit. The best facet of any wine I have ever tried!
  • Palette:Showing some age as fruit no longer primary. Rich oak overtones complement syrupy pineapple & white pepper finish of Werthers Originals!
  • Conclusion: A truly incredible & memorable wine 4* 10/10

Letter to Decanter

The following letter made letter of the month in March's edition in Decanter, which means yours truly received a free magnum of Bolinger NV!

Dear Sir,

In the recent Decanter Italy 2009 guide, I read with interest about the white grape variety, Aspirinio of Campania: “[It] grows in a remarkable manner: the vines are supported by poplar trees, and shoots reach as high as 15 meters… so tall ladders are needed to [harvest the grapes]; this type of training method is known as Alberata Aversana.”

The world of wine is one of constant discovery, change and innovation. While the famous elixirs of Montrachet and Chateau Latour are undoubtedly among the finest wines in the world, less well-known wines, such as Aspirinio, are equally enjoyable to both our palates and our intellect.

My aim is not to promote Aspirinio per se, but to highlight that the rich tapestry of wine contains more than the titans of Bordeaux, Burgundy & Californian 'Cabs'. Only by tasting and learning about new wines and their regions and cultures, do we learn more and challenge ourselves and our prejudices. It is this constant process of discovery that makes wine a uniquely interesting and challenging subject.

Decanter, the self styled 'route to all good wine', plays a key role in this process of discovery and education. However, 'good wine' includes more than the regularly featured Bordeaux, Burgundy & Californian 'Cabs', which perennially dominate the pages of Decanter.

Like the alphabet, the world of wine stretches from A for Aspirinio to Z for Zinfandel. Please try to move on from B for Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Yours faithfully,