Burgundy 2014 en primeur visits
Thursday 5th November 2015
First visit of the day is to Domaine Mortet with Arnaud. The wines here have been superb but expensive every time I've tasted them. Arnaud is very good in the far north - his Fixin and Marsannay are always superlative and his Bourgogne Rouge comes from further north than that. 2014 is the second vintage since Arnaud reinstated his late father's Mes Cinq Terroirs and the wine is structured but finely woven. The cellar here is famously cold and 2014 malos didn't finish until August 2015, so the wines were sulphured in September. the '14 harvest was quick and easy as, for a change, the fruit was healthy and pretty uniformly ripe. Arnaud said that he's more excited by 2014 than 2015, despite all the too early hype for the latter year.
At Domaine Arlaud we start with the negoce range from land not owned, but farmed and harvested by the family. These don't quite have the perfume and finesse of the home estate but stack up very well against their peers. All the wines display fine terroir characteristics and are identifiably from their home villages, the scented Chambolle, the spicey and full Moreys and so on. Wines to buy and to hold, for sure. Great textures and flavours.
At our next visit there is a bit of muttering about the selection of barrels we are shown. Like the variation in glasses highlighted by Jean-Marie Fourrier below, this is one of the immutable variables of en primeur week. Some producers like to show a sample from one barrel. Others prepare blends from multiple barrels before you arrive, while yet others assemble blends of barrels on the fly in front of you. Domaine Dujac is a single barrel property, with the sample extracted by pipette (barrel thief) as you wait. Alec isn't best pleased with some of these barrels. Our group is crossing paths with a large American party and I can't help wondering if Jeremy's choice is partly driven by this. Certainly a number of the samples we taste are atypically marked by their oak. But the quality of the fruit is certainly apparent, as is the fine texture all the wines share. There is a slight move away from 100% whole cluster. Oh, and if you like the fils et pere Gevrey, this is pretty much the last vintage as their main source of supply has withdrawn from the contract. There is a bit of Morey Villages Blanc in an egg. That was very interesting, bright, floral with pronounced tropical ripeness and good, natural acidity.
Thierry Brouin at Clos des Lambrays is obviously on top form, looking happy, as well he might, given the quality of his wines. Each level is a clear step up from the last and all the wines are supple and Morey in style.
After lunch we drive down to Nuits-St-Georges to taste at Domaine Henri Gouges with Greg. For the first time and for this vintage they have racked early to retain accessibility in the junior appellations. They think the wine has done everything it can in barrel and don't want to lose anything by keeping it there any further. Tasting, you can understand this as the wines are open and perfumed and already complex. They are also very Nuits and among other things demonstrate the importance of the harvest date. These are perfectly ripe with brilliant and balanced acidity, so very 2014.
My first proper visit to Fixin follows this. Apart from anything else, almost all the Fixins I try are by vignerons from other villages. Amelie Berthaut is Fixin born and bred and is determined to put the village on the Burgundy fine wine map where she firmly believes it belongs. This is no small task in a village where there are only 6 or 7 domaines and all the other land is owned by outsiders. Amelie reminds me a bit of Arnaud Mortet, charming but steely, focussed and determined. She's almost as accomplished as him too. The Domaine has quite a big portfolio with Gevreys and Vosnes as well as four red Fixins and a white, of which 2014 is the first vintage. We tasted a 2007 as a reference point after the barrel tasting and even without that it is clear how much Mlle Berthaut has driven the domaine forward. The wines are all different, but all complex, with very good tannin management. She farms on organic principles but tempered by the lutte raisonee philosophy. In the cellar only natural yeats are used, no enzymes or other additives aside from sulphur and there is no fining or filtration. We came away very impressed and hoping to work with this exciting Domaine.
And finally to Stephane Magnien, another first. The domaine is bang in the middle of Morey and the whole area as shrouded in fog as much of the trip has been. In the cellar though the wines are transparent and easy to taste. Quality across the board is very good, starting with the 50/50 Passetoutgrains. Average age of the vines here is 45 years but this is brought down by the extreme youth of the Bourgogne Rouge, which is derived from 3yo Morey vines but doesn't taste as if it is! One or two of these reminded me a bit of Bachelet, which is high praise.
And that, dear reader is that. I should have had a couple of visits the following morning - if you are wiondering what happened to Hudelot-Noellat for instance - but was instead on a train back to blighty at 6.00 am for personal reasons.
Wednesday 4th November 2015
There was a lot of chat about wine writers and their inability to stand up, their constant need for electrical power and space for laptops etc. Jean-Marie Fourrier can't understand how the journalists cope with the cognitive dissonance between tasting and typing and is sceptical that it can be done at all. One is analogue, one is digital and there's no converter in the brain. And he has been thinking. Why on earth don't journalists have their own glasses with them? All the domaines use radically different stemware ranging from Zaltos to tiny brandy glasses and even the horrid ISO, so after a week or two, how can you claim to have a sensible idea of how the various domaines' wines rank? But Jean-Marie is also kind about Tim Atkin. Says he has changed a lot over the last four years. He also says he'll deny saying that.
Jean-Marie thinks 2014 is a year where the wines will never close down.
In the car and a schlep down from Gevrey to Givry. I know we've used it before but this year it wasn't purely for the pun. No problems winewise in the Cote Chalonnaise, but economically the region is showing signs of stress, with more restaurants closed and a lot of driving required to find lunch, which was, eventually excellent. Having started with plenty of time, we only just make it punctually to our first appointment of the afternoon with Paul Jacqueson. Marie is very happy with the 2014s. They had a normal harvest with no millerandage (small grapes) and use their normal oak regime. The Aligote sees no new oak, while the Villages is in 5% and the 1er crus get 20%. The whites were all super but the Pucelles was the undoubted star, matched by Les Cloux in the reds.
Vincent Dureuil-Janthial was his mercurial self, not as jolly as last year, but as pleased with the wines, if not more so. His organic certification is paying off with an improvement in the quality of the grapes. The same vines but better fruit. Now, he says, the grapes ripen as well but retain better acidity. This seems to be especially true from the nearly centurion vines that make the Meix Cadot Vieilles Vignes, which is an amazingly complex and structured wine. In the reds the 1er cru Chapitre is to keep for a bit, while the Bourgogne Rouge, entirely from fruit in Puligny-Montrachet and Cotes de Nuits is a lovely and early drinker.
We finish our day of meetings with a visit to the Lumpps. It always amazes me to be reminded that Francois and Isabelle Lumpp made this domaine from scratch. Francois planted all the vines, so it's less than a generation old, yet is one of the wonders of our Burgundy portfolio. Isabelle said it was an easy year for the whites with a near normal yield. The reds were more like 2013 in terms of quantity, but better quality fruit. Both colours made excellent wines in 2014. The whites get 30% new oak and the reds 70%.
Tuesday 3rd November 2015
An 8.30 start in Gevrey to see Duroche, who has some decent wines then off to Romain at Taupenot-Merme. His stuff is off the scale good and every single wine showed brilliantly; he is one very serious producer. Apart from journalists stems is the new topic of conversation. They are very fashionable and in a development there is even an arrangement of stems called millefeuille, where stems are carefully layered with fruit. The use of stems makes your Pinot Noir much paler and also requires 30% more tank space as they take up a lot of room. Romain destems everything and says there has only been one vintage when stems were ripe and that was 2005. He also says that ripe seeds have more noble tannins than stems.
Off to Chambolle-Musigny where we taste a range of slightly more muscular wines than usual from this highly energetic winemaker. Francois Berthaud has been pruning and has a harness full of batteries strapped on attached to electric shears. Don't misunderstand the muscular word. All things are relative and these still have all the delicacy you could want, just by Francois' standards they are a tad richer and fuller than usual. I like them and one in particular is on my hit list.
Now here's a thing. We leg it down to Puligny for a quick lunch, having booked in at L'Estaminet but it is closed for extraordinary reasons so 12 of us find Olivier Leflaive's hotel/restaurant/HQ. Looking to make money in the restaurant business? Here's a wheeze. Three course set lunch for 28 euro, plus a compulsory 'wine tasting' for 40 euros per head, comprising 1 Bourgogne Blanc and two village wines. For 12 covers they used 2/3 bottle of each, bingo! 480 Euros. Genius! Food wasn't bad but it was all disturbingly cylindrical.
Thierry Pillot cheered us up in Chassagne with his authentic and brilliant chardonnays. He estimates that Domaine Paul Pillot lost around 25% of the crop in 2014 due to hydric stress as it was so hot and dry. The wines have this sort of penetrating quality with lots of zesty fruit and focussed acidity, plenty of density and grip. He likes lees but never does batonnage as it stirs up the dirty particles as well as the fine ones you might actually want.
In Meursault Charles Ballot, the 17th generation of Burgundy growers, though not always in this village, started his 2014 harvest on 13th September. His aim is to make Meursault that isn't too fat, has some focus and grip and is very drinkable white, not faux red. They are doing a lot of very detailed work, especially research on premox, keeping many samples of wine in sealed glass ampoules to compare it with conventional bottles later. This way they hope to get a better idea of whether the wine or the corks are the main culprit. The wines are great with precision and density.
The wines at Philippe Colin are super, energy, taut and grippy all appear regularly in my notes and are key things I want to see.
The final tasting of the day is a brilliant re-energiser and leaves us with a real high. You'll al want a case of the Bourgogne Blanc for a start. As part of his continuing drive to make wines ever better Alex at Bernard Moreau is now stretching out the preparation for bottling which is aimed at reducing the shock wine experiences often. He leaves long gaps between racking, moving, sulphuring and so on so that the wine can recover from each stage before moving on the the next.
This evening we eat at Caveau des Arches in Beaune, very reliable and professionally staffed with good food and decent wine list. It's also on the ring road so easy to find.
Monday 2nd November 2015
We started the week proper by meeting the rest of our group for the day at 8.30 for the first tasting at Benjamin Leroux. He used to work at Comte Armand, but now has his own negociant business near the station, the traditional negoce corner of Beaune. We don't buy from him but have known him for years and since he has wines from 52 different appellations, is in a very good position to have an overview of what went on and the essence of the vintage. He owns about 4 hectares of vines and buys fruit from 16 hectares, owned by 36 growers. He hardly buys any new oak, getting second fill barrels from a negoce in Cote de Beaune who buys 100% new oak every vintage.
In 2014 he said most wines came in around 12.6-13% natural alcohol and he hardly chaptalised at all, though some of our growers do things differently, Thierry Pillot, for instance picked a little earlier to capture the acidity and chaptalised a little. Tasting the reds first, we found plenty of perfume and fine tannins to set off the terroir definition, but the whites impressed more with rich fruit and high levels of precise acid that gives many of them great drive and energy. I should say I'm writing this in retrospect as we've had 2 fifteen hour days and sadly little time to sit and type.
Tasting the 2012 whites at Jean-Marc Boillot was a great experience, but these exceed them in presence and precision, words that crop up tiresomely often in my notes. Well, you can't just write 'woh!' for everything, can you? I have to say the reds were very good here too, with a change to 100% destemming making them a bit more supple. But amongst all the grand Puligny premier crus it was our old favourite the Rully 1er cru Meix Cadot that really impressed for quality and value.
Onto Lafarge in Volnay, where, though they make you taste out of miserable ISOs they now have a Coravin to eke out the precious samples of Frederic's new Fleurie cuvees. This is the first vintage of his new venture on granite down in the badlands of deepest Beaujolais, but as he says, 'I've been making pretty decent Gamay for decades, we just put it in Passetoutgrain'. The Fleuries have a lot of perfume and fruit and are serious and mineral too. They are all done in old oak as he doesn't want to obscure the purity of either fruit or terroir. They are really good and I'm sure we'll buy at least one.
Michel normally joins us late in our tastings, but today was there from the start keeping an eye on the pesky newcomers and making sure they didn't obscure the main event. Which was as it turned out obscured anyway by the wines' being somewhat withdrawn and in their shells. Not complaining, just one of the pitfalls of tasting barrel samples around the time of racking. What I can say is that though hard to see through, the textures, tannins and fruit levels were harmonious and I have absolutely no reason to think that these won't be utterly beguiling as adults.
At this point we deserved lunch and went to Auberge des Vignes on the RN74 just opposite Volnay with a view of vines and the village. Good place, nice room, very good cooking and decent and not entirely Burgundian list. Afterwards to Marc Colin to see Damian and taste. This was a great flight for the Domaine, with class and finesse throughout, plenty of fruit and structure offsetting purity and drive.
Back up to the north at speeds of up to 200 to make our next appointment. Big German cars (not ours) have their uses. Mathilde hosted us at Grivot and her knowledge of vineyards and winemaking alike made this a very useful visit. She's also not above teasing her dad. She gives a strong impression of being one of the more level headed of Burgundy's gilded youth. The wines were Lafarge-like in the sense that they were awkward today. Others on different days have been more impressed. Textures and structures are all very good and the new destemmer, about which we heard a lot last year has been deployed to excellent effect. Apparently it pulls the whole stem out of the grape, not just the main pieces.
In other gossip, Domaines are being bought and sold at crazy prices and this is causing great disquiet among most growers, because they see the ridiculous effect of this on inheritance tax. For those of you with a large fortune and wanting to make it smaller, there is a bit of Grand Cru in the north that wants completely replanting, is scarcely a bargain but will let you live the Burgundian dream at a price.
We are blessed by Mathilde with a bit of a vertical of Echezaux at Grivot, so understandable Jean-Nicolas Meo at Meo-Camuzet is a bit cross when we are late, especially as he's already dealing with another party of French amateurs. In turn, our moods aren't lifted by his wines' slightly stubborn appearance on this occasion. He has destemmed everything. Textures and structure are very good but much of the fruit is hidden as though by the fog over higher ground.
This year marks Louis Boillot's world premiere vintage of his new Moulin a Vent domaine. There are three wines and they are serious, made in exactly the same way as his Burgundies, so not 'Beaujolais' style. The first cuvee is the Vieilles Vignes, made up of four parcels, the other two from individual plots. This is the second time we've tasted them and they continue to impress. They've all got good structure but with very suave tannins.
Although Ghislaine Barthod is always happy to talk, the main topic of a wide ranging conversation is the wine journalist. This is a recurring theme of the week, with many winemakers obviously fascinated by the species and their rapid breeding habits, their foibles, their riders - a new thing this - and in some cases an apparent ignorance about what they are tasting. However one name cropped up regularly as someone who has become more serious and deserves respect in Burgundy and that is Tim Atkin, or Atkins as they say in France. There are questions in the region about another writer and whether you can really love Bordeaux and Burgundy equally. We didn't need to talk about the wines as they sing. This was quickly a joyful tasting.
This evening we ate at Beaune institution Ma Cuisine. Many grand bottles are drunk here by the polyglot diners - this was a non French evening - and thousands of euros spent each night, though we drank mainly southern French wines as they represent such good value. And not everyone is as royally entertained as us. We did see one pair of English merchants hosted by their courtier who managed to last the evening with one bottle of Aligote.