china daily wine column #26
Monday January 31st 2011, 12:01 pm
Filed under: wine
Wines from grand cru vineyards in Burgundy with good vintages command huge prices – often several thousands of dollars a bottle.
Yet a grand cru wine from a lesser-known vineyard can cost considerably less. I bought a 2002 Corton Clos du Roi grand cru for 54 euro ($70). A grand cru from the same vintage from one of the big names like La Tache or Romanee-Conti could cost somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000 a bottle.
Romanee-Conti is generally considered the most expensive wine in the world because of the law of supply and demand – and because it is considered the acme of wine excellence. Only 6,000 bottles are made every year from just more than 1 hectare of land.
The question of the value of wine often arises when people talk about French wine, especially when compared with wines from the New World.
In China, wines from Bordeaux are better known than wines from Burgundy. This is because Bordeaux produces two and a half times more wine than Burgundy, and Bordeaux wines are easier to understand. Burgundy has almost twice as many wine groups (appellations) than Bordeaux: 98 in Burgundy, excluding Beaujolais, against 57 in Bordeaux.
Grand cru wines are considered the best in France. Burgundy has only 33 grand cru wines out of almost 5,000 labels or less than 2 percent of the total. The next highest level, premier cru, represents only 11 percent of production.
Yet prices drop considerably for premier cru compared with grand cru. I bought a bottle of excellent premier cru pinot noir for 30 euro ($40) from a vineyard located only meters from one of the major grand cru sites, whose wines sell for hundreds of euros a bottle. It was a 2008 Vosne-Romanee Les Petit Monts made by Robert Sirugue.
This was a lovely wine with a perfumed nose of violets and rosewater that reminded me of the musk-flavored sweets I enjoyed as a child. The wine tasted like sour cherries and it had a silky and elegant backbone of tannin that suggests it would be even better in a decade.
When I tried the wine two days later – half a bottle exposed to the air – it had opened up even further to offer aromas of mint and sweet berries on top of the other flavors.
Another excellent premier cru was a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes that cost 48 euro ($63). This chardonnay-based wine smelled of pineapple and cashews and yet on the palate it was lean and elegant like a Parisian fashion model.
The taste was austere and slightly acidic with good length that offered sophisticated drinking, though it should have been consumed with food.
* “Splashing out for the finest or the next best” in China Daily, 29 January 2011, page 12. Find story here.
china daily wine column #25
Monday January 31st 2011, 11:55 am
Filed under: wine
Cistercian monks were Burgundy’s original winemakers. They drained the swamps from the 12th century and built stone walls called “clos” around the best sites. During the French Revolution the state confiscated church land and expelled the monks, selling the vineyards.
Later the Napoleonic Code overruled the eldest son’s right to inherit the entire estate, giving equal shares to each man. This meant estates became divided into smaller and smaller parcels, diluting property sizes. These small parcels were not economic.
This saw the arrival of merchants, called negociants, who bought grapes from these small parcels and made wine. They also stored wine in their extensive cellars, which remain at a constant temperature and 80 per cent humidity.
Labouré-Roi is the third largest of Burgundy’s negociants. Founded in 1832, it has made a reputation for producing good wine at a range of price points. British wine writer Oz Clarke described Labouré-Roi as the “most reliable of the Burgundy negociants, with the most competitive prices”. Most of the world’s major airlines offer the company’s best wines in their first class cabins.
Jean Noël Christ showed me around Labouré-Roi’s cellars, noting that the company focuses on producing Burgundy wines that exhibit what the French call “typicité,” or wine qualities that reflect their origins. We tasted 18 wines including a rustic 2010 village pinot noir; a range of 2009 Beaujolais style wines from the gamay grape that had consistently soft tannins; tangy Pouilly Fuisse whites; and a 2007 Meursault that tasted of lemon sorbet.
But the highlights were the 2006 Corton Charlemagne grand cru white, with its intense aromas of toffee and truffles mingled with beautiful acidity, and a 2006 Charme Chambertin grand cru that tasted of violets and was almost magical in the way the intense ethereal flavours lingered in my mouth. Only 900 bottles of this pinot noir were made. “This is a wine for a wine lover, not an investor,” Jean Noël Christ said.
A compelling wine was the 2008 Gevrey Chambertin. This received less new oak than in previous years because the pinot noir grapes were more delicate than in other years. It represents an example of the wine-making art where the winemaker chooses not to overwhelm the wine with new oak.
By comparison the 2007 Nuits St George was more tannic, having received more new oak, which blended masterfully with the rich cassis and plum flavours of the fruit. This is a wine that needs a decade in the cellar to be fully appreciated.
The same should be said of the 2007 Pommard: it had silky tannins and an ethereal aroma. Jean Noël Christ said only 6,000 bottles of this wine were made by blending various barrels to “respect the terroir”.
* Burgundies for the true connoisseur in China Daily 22 January 2011, page 12. Read article here.
china daily wine column #24
Sunday January 16th 2011, 1:56 pm
Filed under: wine
Domaine de l’Arlot in the village of Premeaux in Burgundy has been practicing biodynamic cultivation techniques since 2003, after experiments started in 2000. Wines are harvested according to lunar cycles to enhance flavors, and yields are kept small – only 35 hectoliters per hectare.
The domaine owns almost 14 hectares. The Clos de l’Arlot consists of four hectares and the Clos des Forets seven hectares near the southern end of Nuits St. Georges. A clos is a walled vineyard.
Other holdings include a quarter hectare of Romane St Vivant, the exalted grand cru, in the Clos des Quatre Journeaux, just below Romane-Conti next to the vines of Louis Latour, plus about a hectare of premier cru vines in Vosne-Romane Les Suchots, just across the road from Richebourg.
Olivier Leriche took over winemaking at Domaine de l’Arlot in 2004. He explained that a quarter of production is sold in France and the rest exported, so de l’Arlot wines can be found in Hong Kong.
The Clos des Forets and Clos de l’Arlot wines are very different in character despite being relatively close to each other, a reflection of terroir’s influence. I tried barrel samples from the 2009 vintage. The Clos des Forets was compact and masculine, with a powerful structure and prominent minerality. The vines are about 45 years of age.
The 2009 Clos de l’Arlot is from vines planted between 1941 and 1956, and had a more delicate body and perfumed aromas of red fruit. This wine was more feminine and silky, and showed much finesse. It should be kept for two decades.
The domaine also makes a premier cru white wine from this site, a rarity in the Cote de Nuits where 97 percent of production is red. I tasted the excellent 2007, mostly chardonnay with a touch of pinot gris. Only 3,000 bottles were made.
Leriche offered a tasting of Clos des Forets from 2004, 2007 and 2008. The 2008, dark cherry in color, had juicy, ripe tannins from low yields.
Leriche suggested these wines needed time in the cellar. The 2007 was lighter and more fruity – Leriche described it as a vintage “of transition”. The wines could be drunk young because of their mellow and rounded structure.
The 2004 came from a cold and wet vintage that Leriche initially thought should be consumed young but noted that the wine had become complex and precise with time. It tasted of strawberries and spice, and should reward further cellaring.
A highlight was a barrel sample of the 2009 Romanee St Vivant, from vines aged 35 years. The wine had superb length, and was restrained yet luxurious. It would be magnificent after a decade in the cellar.
* “Biodynamic cultivation yields rich pickings” in China Daily, 15 January 2011, page 12. Link here.
Saturday January 15th 2011, 2:00 pm
Filed under: China
Some reflections: My first restaurant meal in China on January 10 was challenging because of the number of menus. The waitress gave me almost 20 menus, each printed on both sides, and stood patiently while I chose a meal. It took a while! Not able to upload the photo I took of the menus. And last night I went to a Japanese restaurant. On the door was a sign: “No uncaged animals allowed”.
china daily wine column #23
Saturday January 08th 2011, 12:06 pm
Filed under: wine
One of the great traditions and delights of wine tasting is sampling from the barrel. I remember two decades ago the first time I went deep into a wine cellar, my sense of smell seemingly heightened by the darkness.
Soon I was almost overwhelmed by a magic combination of fermenting wine, vanilla essence from oak, fruit aromas and the musty feel of high humidity.
Last month I remembered that first journey into darkness when I visited the cellars of Camille Giroud, a negociant and winemaker in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. Dijon is the actual regional capital but it does not have the passion or beauty of Beaune, a city of about 30,00 souls.
Negociants buy wine and grapes from small parcels of land, and store wine in their cellars. These remain at a temperature that ranges between about 14C in winter and 18C in summer and constant 80 per cent humidity – perfect conditions for preserving wine. The key to storing wine is avoiding fluctuations in temperature, and Beaune’s cellars maintain temperatures perfectly.
France’s main wine auction is also held in Beaune in November, at the Hospices de Beaune. It is the country’s main wine charity auction and attracts thousands each year.
I have visited vineyards and cellars in the United States, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Germany. The cellars and buildings of Camille Giroud are far different from the gleaming architectural edifices that proliferate in California and Central Otago. The building, near Beaune’s railway station, is old fashioned and sensible like a farmhouse. The cellars are wonderfully dank, with black cob-web-like fungus dripping from the ceiling. The aromas are intoxicating.
I tasted six of the 2009 wines in barrel. The Beaune premier cru Les Avaux had a funky earthy aroma of mushrooms, combined with a delicate tannic backbone that made me feel lightheaded. My favourite was the Corton Le Clos du Roi grand cru that smelled of chocolate and cherries. The tannic backbone was strong yet silky, suggesting this wine needed at least a decade of cellaring. The aroma was captivating and I wanted to drink the wine on the spot.
An interesting aside: In Australia when tasting from the barrel, any wine left in the glass after tasting is thrown into the swill bucket. In Burgundy, any remaining wine is put back into the barrel because it is perceived as so precious.
My other favourite from the 2009 barrel tasting was the Latricieres-Chambertin grand cru. It tasted of cherries, plums and candied orange peel, yet the tannins were so soft they felt like a silken glove guiding the palate, rather than a hard wooden structure. The length was long and appealing. A superb wine.
* “Nothing like wine straight from the barrel” in China Daily, 8 January 2011, page 12.