Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More Biodynamics in Burgundy
A Tasting of the Maison Champy

Believe what you will with respect to the whole biodyamics movement but it seems that more and more winemakers are jumping on board. Again, the buzzwords of being ‘faithful to the terroir,’ ‘respectful of the millisème,’’ typicité,’ are at the roots of the adoption of what seems on the surface such a wacky belief system. Maybe it is rooted in French arrogance, but perhaps that is what is needed to stand up and defend their winemaking style against that innocuous army of little penguins (which by the way is revolting).

Pierre Meurgey bought Champy in 1990 and has since worked to rebuild the reputation of Burgundys oldest winemaker (founded in 1720). With winemaker Dimitri Bazas, they exploit a number of sexy and lesser know appellations in Burgundy, accentuating maximum ripeness and terroir typicité. I found the Chardonnays remarkably, and sometimes excessively fresh, while the Pinot were highly extracted. Here’s the rundown.

The Whites

Saint-Romain Blanc 2003 ($32…importation)
Remarkable acidity considering the vintage. Because of the extraordinary ripeness of the 03’s, they added what he called a homeopathic dose of tartaric acid for the sole purpose of creating an environment more conducive to the indigenous yeast strains that ferment his wine. Like many of the chardonnays of this region, I found it a bit thin and lacking a bit of aromatique exuberance.

Pernand Vergelesses 2003 Blanc ($38…importation)
My first Pernand Blanc and one of my favorites of the tasting. A beautiful floral nose and much better équilibre between freshness and richness. Anchored by an interesting minerality, it has potential to be greater with a short stint in the cellar.

Puligny-Monrachet 2003, Les Ensignères ($73..importation)
In their efforts to maximize the freshness of the wine, they sometimes seem to forget that this is Chardonnay and people want that richness. Thin.

Corton-Charlemagne 2003, Grand Cru ($144..importation)
Nice length with a bit of nutty bitterness on the finish. The best Corton’s that I have tasted have been aromatically intense and I found this one a bit muted, more along the lines of a Meursault. Pretty wine but a bit too expensive.

The Reds

Chorey les Beaune 2003 ($30..saq)
It doesn’t get much better than this for $30. It tasted of spicey blackberry jam and was held up by soft, ripe tannins. Not the most elegant Pinot Noir I have ever tasted but for those people who find Pinot a bit soft, this is for you. Great Buy.

Beaune 1er Cru 2003, Champs Pimont ($57…importation)
This was the winner of the tasting. Ripe and rich with a wonderful complexity, it had a ton of fruit and with all those sweet spices (nutmeg, cinnamon) that make a great Beaune. Slightly reductive, it needs some time in carafe to get rid of that barnyard funk, but for those of you (like me) who appreciate that aromatic quality, you will have a noseful.

Gevrey-Chambertin 2003, Vieilles Vignes ($56..importation)
Nice density with a slightly licorice nose. I found it a bit rough, and even if this is Gevrey, it lacked a certain femininity. Nope.

Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru 2003, Les Beaux Monts ($109..importation)
Great. Soft, spherique and profound, it had an almost chocolate quality to it. This is Pinot at it’s best with explosive fruit, great length and a texture that made me want a plate of wild mushroom laced Guinea Hen. One of the better $100 burgundies that I have tasted.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Terroir Treat
The White Wine of Olivier Jullien

His reds are the most elegant of the Languedoc. They age with grace, gathering complexity like a fall wind. But his white wine had remained a mystery up until last week. I had tried a number of different millisèmes, liked them, but they were simply just good, not the majestic elixir as was advertised. Again, that was until last week.

Vin de Pays de L’Hérault 2000, Mas Jullien ($30..importation)
Composed of a veritable salad of indigenous (and bio-dynamically grown) grapes including Grenache Blanc, Viogner, Chenin, Terret Bourret and possibly even some Gros Manseng, this is big wine with a lot of stuff going on. Apparently his buddy Didier Dagneau of Pur Sang Pouilly fame helps Jullien with the vinification. My first two attempts were foiled simply by a lack of patience on my part. One could sense the grandeur but the combination of too much oak and bracing acidity put it out of balance.

One year later, the mystery is no longer. It had a beautiful floral nose with browning apples, peach and vanilla accents. It reminded me of spring. What followed was one of the creamiest and most complex whites that I have tasted in a while. Terret brings the apples, Grenache a hint of oxidized nuttiness, Viogner that allusion to sweet honeysuckle on the finish. The whole package was framed by a wonderful freshness that apparently comes from the Manseng. Drunk alongside Will and Sara’s inch high pork chops and served with an apple-tomatillo salsa, we shook are heads a number of times at how good the whole thing worked.

Who needs Chardonnay when this stuff exists?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Californian Vertical
Spottswoode at La Queue De Cheval

Hi everyone, welcome back to blogsville, caveman style.

Most of you know I have little affection for most Californian wines (in particular their whites and Cabernets) but a reference to Spottswoode as being the ‘Margaux of California’ was enough to pique my interest, even if it was just to eat a great lunch and confirm what I believe is my well founded prejudice. Thanks to all at La Celeste Levure for putting this one together.

Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2004
Possibly the best Californian white I have ever tasted. It reminded me of the 2000 Fieuzal but less zingy and slightly richer. Classic Bordeaux white grapefruit alongside riper notes of melon, peach and even some kiwi. A judicious use of oak rounded out the rough edges and acted as a foil to a wonderful minerality. Super fresh and really, really good. Unfortunately it is not available this year in Quebec.

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

Primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a hint of Cabernet Franc, these organically farmed grapes touch only French oak. While the Margaux reference is perhaps a stretch, especially with respect to older vintages, these are elegant and food friendly Cabernets. Not too sweet or chewy, all the bottles shared an interesting minerality and spice component that was a refreshing change from the classic jube-jube cab that seems to be the norm. Here’s a rundown of tasting.

1987… Slightly over-cooked blackberries is a sure sign that it is on it’s way down fast.

1994… Nicely balanced wine though I found it perhaps a bit too straightforward. While it didn’t have any of that cooked fruit of the 87, it lacked the spice component and vigour of the younger vintages. I would have liked to have tasted it a couple of years ago.

2000… Interesting wine that combined bright fruits (raspberry) with more earthier notes, almost Olives. Nice and rich with silky tannins, this is classic Cali cab without the residual sweetness. I had a sense this balance was a bit tenuous so drink em up if you got them.

2001… I liked this one the most and it worked best with filet mignon and mushroom brochettes. The tannins were alive but by no means out of line, just a nice structure that allowed the oak, alchohol, fruit, spice and minerality to support one another. While the Spottswoode folk were claiming this was a keeper, I would drink it now to benefit from it’s youthful vigour.

2002… The first over-ripe wine of the bunch and strangely ‘Parkered’ at 96 (while the 2001 received a 94). Not my style of wine but might make the average Caymus lover pretty happy.