• Friday evening surprise

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    I was planning another topic for this week's blog, but this wine surprised me so much that I dropped all other plans and wanted to share it with you. I felt like the kid in this picture, and as I found it on the winemaker's website, i guess the grapes taste as good as the wine. 

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    No herbicides, no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, no commercial yeasts to kick-start the fermentation, no temperature control, no chaptalisation, no clearing, no fining...just nature. 

    The Domaine du Perron is located in Villebois, in the Bugey, one of the most unpretentious wineregions of the Savoie. This is sometimes an advantage as their was never a commercial need to use fertilizers or chemical treatments on the more difficultly situated parcels where mechanical harvesting was impossible, and today these are vineyards that are as pure as can be, surrounded by shrubs and trees, and biologically as much alive as possible.

    The owner, François Grinand, is one of the most talented winemakers of the "natural" scene, and he started winemaking in 1999. He was forced to stop for a few years, winemaking this way is financially quite risky, but a few years ago two Belgian fanatics helped him and he is today active again. The production is quite small, he only has 3,4ha of vineyard, and to get sufficient quality there is strong yield reduction. Since 2010 there is no added sulfite.

     

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    This evening I had the Les Etapes, La Vigne du Perron, 2010, a Vin de France, and a 100% pinot noir. The nose was that of a soft night in autumn, full of the smells of shrivelled berries, dry leaves and the fierce breeze of a threatening autumn storm, somewhere in the distance (standing. under my apple tree, dreaming). In fact it is so nice you keep sniffing and sniffing and sniffing. In the mouth, immediately very good, elegant, fresh and pure. Very well balanced, a nice acidity and pure pinot noir fruit. The tannins are soft. It gets better and better and after a little time swirling it around its taste suddenly changes and opens and gets even more interesting, almost as if it was at first a bit shy about it.

    Very special.

     

     

       

  • "Old fashioned" Bordeaux: when tradition becomes rebellion

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    As I mentioned at the end of my previous blog, we did include in our New Wave Bordeaux tasting two bottles that were a bit different. As our tasting method was half-blind, we hoped they would stand out enough to be recognised. That they did, and in fact so much that everybody after the first sniff and the first snip immediately recognised them. We talked about them as "different", "rebellious" or "einzelgänger", but in fact they ar far more traditional than all the other wines we tasted. And what was really interesting that despite being so traditional, they  were also very different. Both were absolutely meant to age and reach their top a long time from now, but each in a very special way. Two different answers to the same question...

    The first wine was the Emilien, Chateau le Puy, Côtes de Francs, 2009. Château Le Puy became instantly famous when one of its cuvées starred in the Japanese manga Les Gouttes de Dieu, but its winemaking history goes back to 1601. It is one of the pioneers in biological viticulture and started experimenting in the thirties, and completely stopped using chemicals in 1945. To protect their vines against diseases they use only natural methods, and they trust on the cosmic energy of a stone circle dating from 3500 BC. They also use field blends, or "complantation", which means that different varietals are planted on the same parcel, extremely unconventional for Bordeaux, but a great thing for biodiversity and for the health of the plants. In fact they blend from the beginning, when harvesting, and not when the wines are ready, and this is highly unusual in France (it is also done in the Douro).  The fermentation is done on neutral ciment, the vinification in big foudres. They neither filter nor clarify and use no or minimal doses of sulfite. The average age of the vines is 50.

    The work in the cellar is very traditional and at the same time highly unconventional, as they use no tricks and no chemicals to improve their wines. They started experimenting in 1990 with wines without added sulfite and did this for 8 years until they were convinced that it worked and only then started commercialising them. They are not rigid in it, for some cuvées they still use very small quantites of sulfite when bottling. They don't chaptalise (adding of sugar), the only use natural yeasts that come from the vineyard and don't use enzymes. There is in the end no filtration or clarifying of the wine, because the regular batonnage according to the lunar calendar makes it unnecessary. 

     

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    When the 2003 starred in the Japanese manga comic, phones immediately started ringing, faxes started spitting out orders and prices in Japan for a bottle of Le puy 2003 rocketed to 1000 euro. Father and son resisted temptation, kept on selling their wines at 18 euro, in restricted quantities so that their old customers could keep on buying them, and kept their heads cool. They still have stocks of their old wines, and even today you can find Le Puy in your country if you look hard enough (you probably will have to be very friendly with your wine-merchant though...).

    The Emilien was a field blend of 85% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon and 1% carmenère. Though a so-called "natural wine", it does come out under the Côtes de Francs appellation. We tasted it after decanting (about an hour) and it was immediately recognised. Very typical "wild" tones from a non-sulfited wine, some wood, and after a while the very friendly aroma's of a freshly made fruitcake. In the mouth this wine is fresh, with very active acidity (and this might shock some more traditional Bordeaux-drinkers), but it is also soft and restrained. You can not really taste the character of the different varieties, and they seem allready melted together, very typical for a field blend. It is drinkable now, but will be far better within 5 or more years, and will improve for a few decades. To do this, it needs a good cellar with low and constant temperatures, I think it will in a too warm environment quickly deteriorate.

    Our second wine was different, but had at least two things in common. The winemaker finds it as important that his wine remains affordable for Europe's traditional winelover and regulates the market himself as much as is possible. Every year you will find sufficient quantities in the shops and prices now circle around 35 euro. If he charged more it would probably sell as well, but the owner apparently gets very angry with wine merchants that try to pull that off and excludes them for the next vintage. Secondly it is, just like the Le Puy, a wine made to keep at least the next ten years in your cellar, and that will improve for a few decades. This is the way Bordeaux was traditionally made: great aging power, but not so pleasant when drunk young, and this is still the philosophy of this château.

    We are talking about the legendary Château Sociando-Mallet, property of Jean Gautreau, one of the best Haut-Médoc's. Jean started in 1969 with a small dilapidated vineyard and some crumbling buildings, but had found out when ploughing some disused parcels that the soil contained gravel in very nice quantities, just like some of the leading left-bank châteaux of that time. He started buying parcels around him, ending up with a 95ha vineyard on one of the nicest "croupes" here. In 2003 he sold his négociant business to concentrate on this property. He still refuses any classification as Cru Bourgeois, never sends samples to the organisation and stays out of the petty politics of the area.

     

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    Just like Le Puy, the work in the vineyard is very important, though the varieties (48% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot and 5% cabernet franc) are vinified separately, as everywhere else here, and the blending only happens after the elevage. Jean experiments a lot with the planting of the varietals in  the vineyards (higher or lower, more sun meaning also higher risk for frost in the winter), and uses a very dense planting, with 8333 vines per hectare. He refuses to practice the widely spread of deleafing and green harvesting, and just prunes in spring to control the quantity. In the cellar he works with 95% of new oak which is a lot (but, hey, he likes that!) and sells his barrels after use. The wines are brilliant representatives of their terroir and differ strongly from year to year.They need a decade and often more to soften and become enjoyable (the second wine, La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet, is also very good, more fruit-driven, and can be drunk earlier). 

    I'll give you a tip: buy 14 bottles of these wines every year. Let them wait in your cellar. Within 10 years you open one to enjoy. Not ready yet ? Wait another five years. Taste again ? Like it ? OK, open the crate and start enjoying and sharing. Don't like it ? Sell it, you'll have made a profit. But I'm telling you, very few people go for the profit...

    We tasted the 2001, a classic year, undecanted. Everybody immediately recognised it as an older Bordeaux, and it was allready slightly discoloured. Very complex and noble nose, beautifully classic, with dominant lead-pencil shavings on top of the rest. Almost perfect structure, like a wine that has reached its peak, very well balanced, interesting and with a fresh touch that keeps it so drinkable. During the next half hour it saw brilliant evolution in the glass, a magnificent wine, that can keep for at least another ten years, until a nice pieace of redmeat and some very good friends come together in my or your kitchen.

    Currently this is one of the nicest aspects of Bordeaux. In an acceptable price range you can find easy to drink, well-made wines that are perfect for your sunday lunch, but you can also find (looking a bit harder) very traditional wines that will demand patience and effort before you can harvest your reward. Some winelovers get stuck in this region. I am not one of these, there are too many beautiful wines in the world, but I admit it is not an unpleasant position...

     

  • New Wave Bordeaux

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    They say that every winelover's history starts with a great Bordeaux.They say that after a while he will grow bored and will start looking at other regions and styles. And they also say that at a certain moment, many, many years after that first encounter, the real winelover will return to it. We from CSP have definitely not yet arrived at that point, but despite this our monthly tasting was for once dedicated to Bordeaux. 

    I was selecting a bunch of "sans pretention" wines in the caves of Van Eccelpoel (www.vaneccelpoel.be), with the help of sommelier Koen Mchiels, and had only tasted one simple white Bordeaux until that moment, when we started talking about the winecrisis in the Bordeaux region. "Yes", he said, and he pointed to a row of cases of first growths and other very expensive toppers from the region, "we go every year to taste the primeurs, and we know we will sell everything we can get, but", and here he started whispering, "we don't drink them ourselves anymore, they are too expensive and a lot of them aren't even good." I told him than that I considered it a big mistake of the Bordeaux marketing big shots to concentrate on either the expensive top wines, or on the mass of cheap Bordeaux that they try to make fashionable to young people by their Apéro Vintage events. In my opinion the most interesting things in Bordeaux happen in the middle, in a price range between 8 and 18 euro. Koen turned around and pointed to another row, and said "Yes, we do agree with that. There is a new wave of winemakers active  that make excellent stuff, and that now have to fight against the prejudices of today's winelovers. Often they don't even want to taste anymore. But we love them ourselves and fight really hard to sell them." And suddenly I had an idea...

    A few years ago Koen and his boss, Mr Van Eccelpoel, started buying Bordeaux from a new generation of winemakers. They got better and better, and now I quote Mr van Eccelpoel, they have brought back the joy of drinking and selling good Bordeaux wines to our shop. And suddenly it seemed so logical: after all these years when CSP has tasted Sicilian, Spanish, German, Austrian, Australian and American wines, it was probably time to give the old lady another chance. Koen made a selection and though the members were surprised and initially sceptical, we would not be sorry. 

    Koen pointed out which wines had to be decanted, which ones we could decant if we had enough decanters, and which wines really did not need it, and I'll indicate it in the tasting notes if we did or not. The tasting was half blind, which means that the wines were served in flights of two or three, carefully wrapped up so nobody could see the label, and we had a list of the wines that were going to be served that evening, with their technical details, which is actually a very exciting and educational way of tasting. 

    The whites were nice, with a dirt-cheap and completely sold-out 2009 Chateau Bourdicotte that was simple but also very easy drinking (**), and two more ambitious and more expensive bottles that confirmed what we knew about Bordeaux whites (nobody will drag me away from this style of wine when an Ostend sole makes its appearance). Both combined elegancy with fruit and a nice touch of the barrel: Cuvée Passion, Tour de Mirambeau, Bordeaux Blanc, 2010, at 13,45 euro, and Le Cygne, Château Fonréaud, Bordeaux Blanc, 2010 at 16,65 euro. Both scored **(*). Dover sole works too :-).

    The surprise however, was in the reds !

    Our prejudices were immediately blown to smithereens by a wine from Pierre Taix, the Château Jouanin, Castillon, 2010. Everybody thought we were having one of the toppers, but it appeared to be the cheapest one. Tasting notes spoke of cedar and pencil in the nose, and a fine acidity, good healthy tannins, and a great balance in the mouth. In the finish some mint. Only 8,65 euro, but **(*) !! The perfect wine for a dinnerparty with friends and family. Everybody will ask where you've found it, and even trained winelovers will complement you with your excellent taste !

    Pierre Taix works biological on all three of his châteaux, and I keep on repeating that there is often a certain freshness and natural purity in well-made wine from bio-grapes. He works without consultants because he thinks that consultants drive everybody to making the same wine. He spends a lot of time in the vineyard (good boy!!) and spends a lot of time and effort in picking the right harvesting date.

     

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    picture from L'Esprit de Bordeaux, the webiste from Yvon Mau.

    We tasted two more wines of the man: the Guadet-Plaisance, Montagne Saint-Emilion, 2009, at 12,9 euro a little bit more expensive, and a very smooth wine, soft but with lots of vanille and clearly well-oaked. I liked it most on day 2 when the oak became more timid. The other one was the Château La Mauriane, Puisseguin St-Emilion, 2009, at 15,95 euro one of the more expensive of the evening. 18 months of new oak for the 70% merlot, five-year old barrels for the cabernet sauvignon, and the wine smelled and tasted a lot like a Chilean merlot. It was fresh, pure and long, but not really my cup-of-tea. Both wines received **, and CSP was true to its principles: the cheapest bottle was in our eyes the best buy.

    Stéphane and Françoise Dief make wine since 1998. Their 17ha of vines are spread over bigger and smaller parcels over the whole village (Saint-Christoly-en-Médoc). They use techniques from the biodynamical school of viticulture and worship the vineyard, for them the base of all good wine. They believe in dense plantation in order to reduce yields. We tasted their second wine, Petit Manou, 2008, 12 months of oak, 50% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot and 10% cabernet franc and...did not like it too much. Horse, stable were dominant in the smell (one of the members spontaneously whinnied), and the mouth was dark and closed with a high acidity. Some oxygen helped a bit, but not a lot. The Clos Manou, 2010 (decanted), the first wine of this house, was brilliant. A very complex and interesting nose, a fine and educated, well balanced mouth, and it got better and better, soft, elegant and refined. Despite its youth allready a pleaser, and we think a wine with some future (for people with a higher level of self-control than us).  

     

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    Sean Matthys Meynard was a pharmacist in Paris and fell in love with Bordeaux wines at the tender age of 20. One day he decided to realise his dreams and since that day in the year 2000 he is the owner of Château Baulos-Charmes, a castle in Pessac-Léognan with 5,9ha of vineyards. 64% is planted with Merlot, 1% with Cabernet Franc and the rreest with Cabernet Sauvignon. What he has in common with the others in this tasting is an extreme care for everything that happens in the vineyard: he works the soil (far better than herbicides), prunes and defoliates, harvests by hand (of course) and takes care that he does it on the right moment (sounds a lot easier than it is). The fermentation happens for the biggest part in ciment, but part of the malolactic happens on new oak. He works with gravity, not with pumps, and keeps his new oak under control (only 1/3 or even 1/4 in some years of the wine ripenes in new oak, for 12 months). We tasted the 2009. The first nose was a bit agressive (cold coffee) and the wine needed time, but when it got time its nose unfolded nicely. the mouth was promising and had something that I like a lot in a young wine and is for me a sign to put the rest of the bottles away for a few years: very closed feeling, but with a hidden almost pulsating nucleus of black fruit...give this baby 4 or 5 years and something very nice might come out. 

    We did add two Bordeaux out of my private cellars to the series, hoping for a surprise, but everybody immediately recognised them. They get therefore a blog-article of heir own. 

    Conclusion: indeed, it seems that a new generation is rising in the Bordeaux. They offer great drinking fun, but with just that little bit of quality and sophistication to please the more experienced winedrinker. We stick to our initial idea: between 9 and 19 euro Bordeaux offers very interesting wines today. Rather good news this !