Friday, 12 December 2008

2008 Burgundy Trip

The Team:
David “Top Gear” Round MW
Robert “Hairdresser” Allen
Sean “The Oracle” Burbridge
Johnny “Verbal” Paterson

Day One

At the crack of dawn on a bright Monday we met at the spanking new terminal five building at Heathrow and quickly boarded with luggage in hand for a fast get away. We landed in a nearly freezing Lyons (1C) and ran into one of our friendly French sommeliers on his way to Rhone to taste the 07’s. Remarkably he’s even more friendly in France…he only shrugged twice…

Our rental turned out to be a Korean monster with more scratches on it than a cat fight. This has to be the first time any of us have not been issued with a typical 35-hour week spare-wheel under the chassis kinda car in France. Finally, we set off for Burgundy. David “Top Gear” Round drove like the Stig towards Beaune through sunshine, rain and snow getting us nicely to Meursault for lunch time. We of course did the decent thing before heading off to our first appointment at Hubert Lamy.

However as we left after our quick lunch and passed the wonderful vineyards of Le Montrachet …our noses pressed against the windows like a pack of angry jack Russell’s wishing we could all own a vineyard one day… David decided to test the beast to its limits. Just as Johnny Cash blasted his refrain “I tow the line” we suddenly became airborne as David found the only serious jump on the Route de Grand Cru. As we sped through the air and crashed safely back down to earth the local vineyards workers looked on in horror to see a shiny black beast whizzing past them at eyebrow height. The car was quickly renamed the “General Lee” after the Dukes of Hazard car and David’s ability to find more air than Eddie the Eagle.

Our arrival at Hubert Lamy was a little shaken and stirred to say the least. In need of a calming moment, we started our first tasting…

And so down to business. After reading some general reports about the vintage, giving the view that it might be a difficult year, the wines (predominantly white at this domaine) were simply cracking. The whites have delicious racy acidity and a freshness which is charming and will allow the wines to age for many years. The reds are lovely too - delicate but with a pure pinot character and thus we collectively felt that this vintage is for the burgundy lover rather than the pure investor.

Onwards we travelled through the Cote de Beaune to visit our next producer Jean Marc Morey, who makes a wide range of red and white Chassagnes. The whites had the edge, but not by much. It was an inspiring tasting, surrounded by this classic old cellar full of wonderful library wines and new wines in barrel.

But we had to kick on… to one of my favourite producers Domaine Paul Pillot, a specialist in Chassagne Montrachet and, wow, what a range he has. Thierry (Paul’s son) welcomed us like old friends and quickly ushered us downstairs out of the blizzard into the comparative warmth of the cellar. We tasted his entire range from Les Mazures all the way up to the complex but lovely 1er Cru Les Caillerets. They did not disappoint - all displayed the vintage trademark “zippy” acidity and freshness.

Our final stop of the day was to Domaine Gagnard Delagrange, and to Sean’s delight, to meet one of the great men of Burgundy - Jacques Gagnard. This 80 year old legend was on fine form and delivered a superb tasting topped off with the delight of a cheeky half bottle of Batard Montrachet 1997 & Le Montrachet 1999.

We headed back to General Lee happy and content. Having been a Le Montrachet virgin, Sean looked particularly pleased with himself.

Later, we headed out into the heart of Beaune to the Cheval Blanc restaurant and had a delightful yet early supper...reserving our energies for the next day ahead.

Day Two

David managed to crack the whip and have us all up and ready to roll by eight bells for our first appointment. This was a great accomplishment. Rob, we discovered, has to have at least 40 minutes for breakfast and hair in the morning otherwise apparently, he has bad hair AND may start eating anything within arms reach including his hand around 11am.

With some trepidation, we climbed back in to General Lee and headed off to our first appointment at Domaine Louis Carillon. This producer is one of our true stars and has always made some of the finest Pulignys in the whole of Burgundy, even while being overshadowed by his much-publicised neighbours, Sauzet and Leflaive. Having tasted all the 2007’s, none of us could tell that this was considered a difficult vintage. The wines where extraordinary and commendable to anyone.

On to Patrick Javillier, whose Domiane is tucked down the back streets of Meursault. At the time of our visit he was having a new roof put on his house - he must be doing well… Across town at Dominae Francois & Antoine Jobard, we were greeted by Antoine who showed us down to his immaculate cellar to taste his equally precise range of wines.

We then headed out to Savigny Les Beaune to Domaine Chandon de Briailles – easily one of the most beautiful Chateau in Burgundy but is counterbalanced by the next door neighbour’s collection of old fighter jets covered in snow and frost. The charming Claude Drouhin showed us downstairs to the cellar where they where in the process of bottling, something not often seen. Tasting the range was excellent especially the wonderful Grand Cru wines of Corton. We all had a good chat had about Bio-Dynamic viticulture & vinification as this estate is a way down this road already, highly interesting.

As dusk fell and the temperature crashed, we headed off to our final appointment for the day at Ch de Chorey, a first visit for many of us. The stars of this tasting were the amazing Beaune 1er Cru’s, which are often overlooked but seemingly from our tasting notes, undiscovered brilliant wines that punch well above their weight.

In the evening we went out to the wonderful restaurant of Ma Cuisine in the center of Beaune – truly a gastronomic destination for most of the UK wine trade - as we were seated next to Stephen Spurrier.

Day Three

Another cold early morning to get us in the mood for tasting…

We kicked off this important day with one of the big guns of Nuits St Georges, Domaine Henri Gouges. As ever these wines are serious from the outset and the 07’s look no different, for me personally the NSG 1er Cru Les Vaucrains was the pinnacle but everyone appreciated the overall high standards across the range.

We strolled down the road in the freezing cold to Domaine Robert Chevillon, luckily just round the corner from Gouges. The wines here are all NSG’s but are absolutely delicious out of barrel and we were thinking if you could drink them straight away, especially to warm the cockles....

Unsurprisingly, these wines do shut down a little after bottling and take time to come round but they are well worth the wait.

Post quick lunch in town and vineyard visit to Vosne Romanee having seen the amazing vineyards of Richbourg, Eschezeaux etc we headed to our next appointment. This was at Domaine Pierre Damoy who has the wonderful problem of having more Grand Cru Vineyards than 1er Cru or Village wines. In fact he is certainly one of the biggest Grand Cru owners in Gevrey Chambertin with a whopping 8 hectares split between Chambertin Clos des Beze, Chapelle Chambertin, Chambertin. So hopes were high as we were welcomed by his motley crew of friendly dogs. We were not to be disappointed, the wines were top draw. Here is certainly a man who is pushing all the boundaries especially the appellation system as he strives to make Chambertin even more iconic than it already is.

After this cracking tasting we crossed the road to Domaine Roty and were given a masterclass on Marsannay, apparently we should all be drinking this as it is an overlooked name of Burgundy, not for the first time. That said, after tasting the range up to the Mazis Chambertin & Charmes Chambertin there were wide smiles all round.

So on to our final visit up the hill to the Domaine Slyvie Esmonin. Many of us had not tasted her full range before as her wines are mostly sold out En Primeur before reaching the UK. We could certainly see why after this tasting… wow. In her beautiful cellars tasting her wines, I thought I will be putting my name down for whatever I can get come En Primeur time. The Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques is the daddy. This single vineyard right behind her house produces some truly remarkable wine.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Rhone 2007

November marks the annual trip to the Rhône; this year to taste the 2007 vintages before they are bottled and shipped next year. David Round MW was joined by Jason Busby and Steve Garwood.

Arriving late into Lyon we headed directly to the Comfort Inn hotel on a barren retail park on the outskirts of Valence. Not the most wholesome start to our trip (indeed, it was mooted that “Discomfort Inn” might be a more fitting name.)

The following morning, fortified with croissants and coffee, we headed directly to François Villard's estate on the steep slopes of the northern Rhône. The 2007 whites were showing superbly with classic Viognier nose and wonderful freshness. The 06 reds were also impressive but in need of longer ageing to fully express themselves.

A quick zip down to Pierre Gaillard's estate to taste the 07 reds from barrel revealed a very promising vintage. The St Josephs and Côte Rôties showed a captivating mix of brooding black fruit with a savoury, leathery finish. We were also lucky enough to taste a few barrel samples of his daughter's varietal Vin de Pays wines. Clearly there's a vinous talent streak running through the Gaillard household!

Without further ado we headed to Domaine du Colombier to meet the winemaker, Davide. A quick, but thorough, tasting also showed 2007 to be a vintage that contains well balanced whites with well-defined fruit and good acidity and freshness. The reds are also blessed with good structure and are surprising approachable considering their youth. Very much a “classic” vintage with good capacity for ageing - it seems the Rhône's blessed string of top vintages continues apace!

Our last stop was at Domaine de la Mordorée in Tavel. Our first southern Rhône wines so far reveal themselves to be well-balanced and quite fruit-driven in style. It seems many of the estates we have visited seem to be talking enthusiastically about organic and biodynamic viticulture. Domaine de la Mordorée now uses horses instead of tractors and there seems to be a real buzz about the positive effects they are noticing from this management regime. It would be interesting to see whether this could be sustained if their rally of excellent vintages ever ends!
Arriving at our hotel in the picturesque city of Avignon we were overjoyed to see that the quaint, family-run hotel resembled none of the horrors of the Discomfort Inn. Heading out to eat it was clear that the local cuisine of gamey meats and ripe cheeses works perfectly with the gutsy wines of the region. Santé!

Up with the larks we travelled straight to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the iconic vineyards of Clos du Caillou. Bruno Gaspar proudly showed the latest wines including the perennial favourites, Bouquet des Garrigues and the resplendent Châteauneuf-du-Papes. The Bouquet des Garrigues shone and the Châteauneufs showed an unbelievable level of complexity for their age. A justifiably proud winemaker!

The Mistral winds that blow from the northwest are invaluable to winemakers as they dry the grapes and can prevent rot, something Monsieur Gaspar was keen to point out. However, to those used to the mild, drizzly blusters of the UK, the Mistral is a glacial and formidable force that can make the short dash from the cuverie to the car seem like an epic trek across Siberia. Worth packing the earmuffs!

Next on the hit-list was Domaine de Cristia with the talented, young winemaker Baptiste Grangeon and his effervescent sister, Dominique. The wines are very modern in style with plump, juicy fruit, generous flavours and are the worthy recipients of much lauded praise from many wine critics. We were treated to a long 3-course lunch while the 2005 vintage of their awesome Châteauneuf-du-Pape Renaissance flowed liberally. It beggars belief how any work actually gets done in these parts, but we were grateful for their kind hospitality.

Following a strong coffee we got back on the road and, somewhat tardily, arrived at Domaine Grand Veneur for our final winery tour of the day with the charming Christophe Jaume. The 07s are classic Châteuneuf-du-Pape – dark, brambly fruit with complex smoky, gamey nuances. The white Châteauneuf also showed itself to be a bit of hidden gem with complex peach melba, citrus and mineral layers and a creamy hazelnut finish.