Report by Liz Mitchell - General Manager
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We certainly chose the right week to go across on this visit and it rates as one of my best ever wine trips visiting suppliers. The sun was shining all week, and as the harvest took place early this year, we actually watched the grapes being picked and then brought into the wineries. All the winemakers that we spoke to were very positive about the 2009 vintage as the weather was kind and the grapes were very healthy with good ripeness and acidity levels. The general consensus is that they have been ‘dealt a very good hand of cards’ and it is now down to the winemaker to produce some great wines. They are comparing this harvest it to the fantastic 2005, so watch this space as there could be some excellent wines made.
Our visits to the Northern Rhone also showed us that we will all need to be very careful about buying 2008 from the Rhone, as the vintage was difficult and the wines have high acidity. So our general advice will be to stock up on the good 2007 vintage from the Rhone. However 2008 from Chablis is looking very good.
If you are interested to read all the tasting notes from all of our visits during our week away, then they are available to view at ( http://dunells.com/custom/tastingnotes.aspx ). I have mentioned a few of my personal highlights from this trip in my short write up below.
My favourite Rhone Visits:
This Domaine is now run by Celine Nodin (sister) and Laurent Fayolle (brother) who is also the winemaker. They are the 6th generation of the family and grapes were first planted by the family in 1870. We had a very interesting visit and the enthusiasm and passion that they share for making great wines was very evident. As we drove away, Laurent insisted on taking us to visit his Clos Les Cornirets vineyard and we tasted the grapes that were still on the vines. We enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine, while gaining a greater understanding of his work in the vineyards and the huge importance of owning good vineyard sites.
We both particularly liked the Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2007 ‘Clos les Cornirets’ Vieilles Vignes (produced from 1 hectare of 60 year old syrah vines) and it will be making its way to Jersey as soon as it is available!
Bernard Faurie is a quiet, unassuming winemaker, quite content to lay low at his Northern Rhone enclave and let his wines do the talking. Yet he is also a perfectionist, constantly worrying about how he can make his wines better. Could it be that people with his type of persona (dare I say that he appears a little obsessive compulsive) that invariably can make the finest wines in their appellation, and there is no question that Bernard Faurie today ranks amongst the finest producers in both Hermitage and St Joseph. He produces tiny quantities of wonderfully elegant reds in the cramped, modest cellar at the rear of his house situated in a normal village street. There is no fancy equipment here, just a few barrels and a pipette that Faurie meticulously washes each time he dips it in a barrel to extract a sample.
Faurie’s family have owned vines on the hill of Hermitage since 1935. Today he owns a total of 1.7 hectares in Hermitage (le Méal and Greffieux) and approximately the same in St Joseph. He works his vines as naturally as possible, using a horse to plough, and makes wine in the classic manner; no de-stemming, whole bunch fermentation, natural yeasts, no fining and only a fine filtration if necessary. The wines are aged for up to 24 months in predominantly 600lt demi muids. Whatever new oak there is, typically between 10-30%, is simply the result of Faurie needing to replace barrels that have past their use-by date. His total production is a miniscule 600-700 cases! So we will only have a tiny amount of his wines available.
“Faurie has been one of the up and coming stars of Hermitage for over a decade but he continues to receive little acclaim. While his wines are full flavoured, they retain an elegance and finesse.’’ Robert Parker
My favourite Beaujolais Visits:
Morgon - Domaine La Chaponne
This is a small domaine and everything is done by a small husband and wife team. Laurent Guillet who is the winemaker (& considered the rising star of Morgon) and his wife make fantastic Morgon. Father in law also helps occasionally in the vineyards at busy times. All of us agreed that we are guilty of forgetting this style of red Beaujolais and the wines showed brilliantly during our visit. Perhaps the French have been keeping this Beaujolais to drink themselves? and on the results of this tasting, I really don`t blame them..
Morgon is generally thought to be one of the biggest, richest and most complex of the Beaujolais reds. These wines are made from grapes grown on small, very high quality sites, and they showed great concentration and structure. The average age of the vines is 50 years and the yields are kept very low. We also tasted older vintages that he was pulling out from his hiding places back to the normal cuvee from 1996 and they astounded us. This was the visit that surprised us all, and it is a Beaujolais red that I personally will be ensuring that I do not just pass by in future.
Fleurie - Domaine de la Madone
We tasted two distinct styles of Fleurie on this visit and were lucky to be visiting this domain at exactly the time that the first grapes of the vintage arrived at the winery.
The Domaine La Madone is situated on the famous slopes beneath the La Madone church and is considered to be one of the very best Beaujolais estates. Perfectly situated in the hills surrounding the 1866 Chapel of the Madonna which dominates the Fleurie skyline. The chapel sits high on the hill dominating the village of Fleurie (and, indeed the whole of the region - it is visible from all 10 of the Beaujolais Crus).
La Madone "Tradition" is a classic Fleurie with a feminine, floral bouquet and silky smooth fruit and firm structure. "Vieilles Vignes" is an older-vine cuvée, richer and more age worthy. It is worth noting that these wines are produced using biodynamic practises but they are not yet certified.
The Niagara Domaine wines are made by the son Arnaud Depres, on a property that he inherited from his great grandfather, they are slightly richer in style with some red & black fruit flavours This estate is located on the uplands of the Fleurie area, it is south-facing and therefore bathed in sunlight all day long. The estate is nevertheless very old, having belonged previously to Philibert Despres, Arnaud`s great grandfather, so certain vines are therefore more than 80 years old.
Fleurie - Domaine La Grand Cour (Jean Dutraive)
We then moved on to Domaine La Grand Cour (Fleurie). This Domaine is certified Biodynamic and Jean Dutraive is one of the most well known personalities in Fleurie. The wines were all fantastic, lovely balance with an elegant purity of fruit, you can easily see why he is considered a real star producer in this region.
We then enjoyed a superb three course lunch with the grape pickers washed down with some delicious Fleurie from magnum’s, if they get food like this every day I can definitely see the appeal of joining them.
My favourite Burgundy Visits:
Latour Giraud Meursault (Jean Pierre Latour)
So a 9am appointment at this Domaine resulted in us enjoying Meursault for breakfast, and I have to admit that it was a very nice start to the day.
They have 8 hectares under vine in Meursault, wonderful vineyard sites, low yields & a brilliant wine maker who uses no fining or filtration. We tasted the range from the entry level village Meursault up to the incredible top cuvee Meursault-Genevrieres ‘Cuvee des Pierre’ 1er Cru. All the wines showed very well with great minerality and balanced citrus fruit flavours.
Domaine Rene Bouvier
Anyone who actually knows me, will vouch that I have a not so secret passion for good red burgundy, and I confess that this was my favourite visit of the trip for the sheer quality of all of the wines that we tasted. Bernard Bouvier moved premises 3 years ago to a modern winery in a definitely not so picturesque location (it took a bit of finding, let us just say that the Dunell`s car now knows the Gevrey Chambertin area very well!) and the results of this move are simply stunning. We asked him what he felt was the improvement that he personally noticed in his wines and without hesitation he replied, purity of fruit flavour, and less rusticity of style. The wines are all made from low yields, no chemical sprays are used in the vineyards and they are bottled without fining or filtration. They are fine, pure, concentrated yet still subtle. I have no doubt that Bernard is a potential ‘super star’ winemaker, his passion and great talent are very obvious. I will definitely be trying his wines in future whenever the opportunity arises. He produces Cote de Nuits Villages, Marsannay, Fixin and Gevrey Chambertin wines.
My absolute favourite wine of the visit (and indeed the whole trip away) was the 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Racines du Temps’ (produced from 80 year old vines).
Domaine Christian Moreau, Chablis
This was another breakfast time visit before the long drive back to St Malo and our boat journey home to Jersey.
They have wonderfully sited vineyards which for generations have been the personal property of the Moreau family. Christian`s son Fabien (highly qualified in oenologue) is making superb hand crafted Chablis. All the grapes are handpicked from vines with an average age of 40-60 years old. The style is classic, minerally Chablis but with purity and finesse. Any oak is well intergrated. The domaine in 3 to 4 years will be totally organic (as they are in the process of changing) but Christian has a strong view point that does not believe that they will see the full difference in quality for about 10 years, as he thinks it will take at least that time for all the soil to heal and repair itself.
We tasted 2008 which is an excellent Chablis vintage combining the richness of the 2006 vintage with the minerality of the 2007. The wines were very good and it certainly looks like 2008 was a great vintage for this Domain. The 2007 wines were also very good but in a much more classically mineral style.
The tasting finished with Christian opening a 2004 1er Cru Chablis Vaillon`s magnum which had lovely subtle honey notes to the fruit flavours and it just kept on improving as it sat in our glasses.
It was a fantastic week, enjoying some excellent wines, meeting some really talented wine makers and seeing for ourselves just how good the 2009 vintage could actually be…
Huge thanks to Simon Hore from Thorman Hunt for a fantastic trip. One that will always be remembered!