A case study is unfolding in France. On January 1, a small wine producer going by the name of “Olivier B.” announced on his web site that he was hanging it up. He makes a range of reds and whites from the Côtes du Ventoux appellation that sell for about 12 – 30 euros. He put a picture of his bottles in the shape of a cross, with the hat that adorns the labels of all his wines in the middle, and said it had been his cross to bear for the past few years and the dream was over. His love was lost, both the winery and his parter (simply, “elle”) who said she could not support him any more in this venture. The warehouse where he made his wine was for sale and the bank wouldn’t grant him a line of credit to buy it.
The French blogosphere then turned Olivier B. into a cause celebre for the misfortune of small vignerons. Many rallied to his cause (see a summary). Two bloggers organized a public tasting of his wines in Paris. The big breakthrough appears to have been when the Miss Glou Glou blog at lemonde chimed in. Then a local paper, La Provence, picked up his story. Then AFP ran a story. The media tsunami continued with TV channel Canal+ and radio stations from France, Belgium and Switzerland running stories. Traffic to his blog took off. But more importantly, sales started flowing, and he had 20,000 euros of sales in two weeks.
He wrote in a posting on his blog that making “Parkerized” wines was never his objective but during his deepest, darkest moments, he did think that if he got a 95-point score from Parker that all his problems would be solved. But now, he says, thanks to the blogosphere he has “hundreds of Parkers” to thank for the turnaround.
This fascinating story isn’t over, of course. Check out Olivier’s blog for the latest. One interesting aspect is that despite the apparent globalization of the internet, this story hasn’t reached the English language blogosphere or media. Another is that the blogosphere rallied in an advocacy mode. Whether and how many times it could be repeated is an open question. But certainly Olivier B. is glad it has worked so well this time.
It’s not every evening I get to taste ten white Burgundies with a decade or so of age. For one, they’re often expensive. But they’re also a category that has not been aging well in the bottle, thanks primarily to the issue of “premox,” or premature oxidation, the cause of which is little known despite plaguing bottles since the 1996 vintage. So I delighted to have the chance to taste through several bottles at a collector’s house recently to assess the risk and reward of white Burgundy. From this admittedly small sample of premier and grand cru wines from good vintages, I’d say the risks outweigh the rewards. One factor is that the wines are quite expensive, almost calling out for cellaring; bright, fresh acidity can be found much less money with Bourgogne blanc (or Chablis), for example. So it is frustrating when wines that appear fresh in the first lap of five years or so after vintage, appear to grow tired too fast.
What’s your assessment of the risk and reward of white Burgundy?
The whole lineup—complete with a surprise!—follows after the jump. Read more…
How does cabernet franc age? On my recent trip to the Loire, I got an excellent chance to explore this issue at the cellars of none other than Domaine Bernard Baudry in Chinon, one of my favorite producers in the Loire. Read more…
Florent Baumard makes gorgeous, beautifully precise wines from Savennieres, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, among other appellations. His family has been making wine there since 1634. But since 2005, in a move somewhat at odds with the region and age-worthy wines, he’s been putting the wines all under screw cap.
The experiment first started in 2003. Frustrated by the different evolution of wines under cork, Baumard started with the Clos du Papillon bottling from Savennieres: Half the production went under cork, half under screw cap (aka Stelvin closure). Within two years all the still wines were under screwcap. I tasted the 2007 Clos du Papillon Savennieres and didn’t find it reduced but it was tight, presumably from youth. I also had a 1999 Clos de Saint Yves Savennieres, bottled under cork, that wasn’t showing too much evolution; instead it was rich, layered and deliciously complex as chenin blanc can be. So is it the right call? Who knows. One day in the future, it would be fascinating to taste some of those ’03s bottled under different closures.
I tweeted about the screw caps–not exactly breaking news, but interesting nonetheless–and someone joked if Florent wasn’t just a little bit Australian. No, he replied, but after his saga with verdelho, he admitted he admires their freedoms.
The Loire has such diverse wines–red, white, pink, sparkling, sweet–that there’s enough to keep a wine enthusiast’s attention for a long time. Add to that a refreshing level of acidity in the wines and there’s a lot to interest a foodie too since the wines pair so well with food. And of course they offer some of the best values in the wine world.
I had the opportunity to meet vignerons and taste over 300 wines last week in situ. Some of the wines were embryonic, barely finished fermenting and difficult to assess. Others had glorious amounts of age on them, a decade or three, including Domaine Huet and Domaine Baudry. (As I mentioned in a previous post, most of my time was at the wine trade show, the Salon des Vins de Loire, which tends to favor breadth over depth. But I did get to poke around in a couple of troglodyte caves hewn from limestone.)
I also blind tasted 70 Loire wines at the NY offices of Wine & Spirits a couple of weeks before I left. As a general sketch for such a large region, I’ve reached the following conclusions about the three vintages now or soon to be on the market: 2008 was noted by higher acidity and in some subregions, lower yields; 2009 has slightly rounder wines, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective and the wine; and 2010 is an exciting vintage, somewhere in between the two previous ones stylistically. I will add some more flesh to these bare bones in a future posts, particularly for Muscadet, some cabernet franc, and one heirloom variety. So stay tuned for some related posts in coming days and weeks.
All too often, French labels are stuffy. However, when it comes to good vin de table wines, puns and word play abound. Consider these from the Loire:
This is a tasty yet tannic (thanks six-month maceration!) gamay from Emile Heredia of Domaine de Montrieux in the Coteaux du Vendômois. It’s labeled simply “G.” With a spot over it. He told me, “The anglais say it doesn’t exist–but they haven’t looked for it!” Read more…
Beaujolais is in the air today–and not just because it is being dropped on an unsuspecting world via airfreight. It is Beaujolais nouveau day, a marketing contrivance that seems to have less impact every year.
But it’s a good springboard for talking about the spectacular 2009s from the region’s smaller appellations, known as “crus.” I was initially skeptical, but have tasted through several and found them excellent indeed! The warm growing season resulted in richer wines but the best producers were able to keep the alcohol in check; if you haven’t been a fan of the style in previous vintages, the 09s could have what it takes to bring you around to the pleasures of Beaujolais. Here are a few notable ones, deserving of a spot on your table, Thanksgiving and beyond.
Clos de la Roilette: Alain Coudert produced two stunning wines from his Fleurie vineyard. The regular cuvée has a gorgeous nose followed by delicious balance of fruit, freshness, and intensity that will convince many a Beaujolais skeptic. I bought a magnum of this wine for the biggest impact at my Thanksgiving table. The “cuvée tardive,” visible from across the aisle thanks to the new neck label, is a superb wine to tuck away for a few years in the deepest, darkest spot in your cellar. It’s more dense, structured and closed now than the regular bottling but will doubtlessly evolve into a a real stunner.
Marcel Lapierre: The first bottle of 2009 Lapierre Morgon seemed a bit high in alcohol to me and I wondered if there was a shift at the estate in that direction. But why would they mess with success? The second bottle I had was riper than the 06s and 07s, but still had the alluring aromatics, delicate structure and the lively snap of acidity that has been the house calling card for many a vintage. Although Marcel Lapierre died earlier this year, I’ll save my remaining bottles of this wine to toast him in future years.
Pierre Chermette: Pierre-Marie Chermette always produces reliable wines from the Beaujolais on up to his crus; the 09s are particularly stunning. For immediate pleasure, try the Beaujolais; for later delight, tuck away bottles of his Fleurie, which exhibits a lot of complexity on the nose and the palate, yet is tightly wound today.
Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorées: Although not a cru, the Terres d’Orées, “L’Ancien” 2009 Beaujolais is a terrific value, ready to drink either on a weeknight, weekend, Thanksgiving or not.
Carignan. When Bacchus was handing out the mellifluous names of grape varieties in French–Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot roll easily of the anglophone tongue–he had apparently run out by the time he got to Carignan. In America it is often called carignane when planted, if at all, on domestic soil. But even in the Languedoc, in the south of France where the grape proliferates, reasonable people like Jancis Robinson have dumped on the grape for tasting like battery acid (or something).
By contrast, Becky Wasserman told me she considers Carignan to be “the Pinot Noir of the south,” especially given its high natural acidity. Wasserman, an exporter of French wine, includes one Carignan in her portfolio and it is a value, particularly now as the weather turns chilly. The family-run St. Jean de la Gineste, in the Corbieres appellation, cultivates some old vines of Carignan, ferments the grapes in a neutral, concrete vessel, and blends in 15 percent grenache. I purchased the resulting 2007 wine at New York Vintners for about $14 and found this true taste of Carignan to be worthy of respect. Dark in the glass, the un-pinot-like 14% alcohol makes it a bigger wine but the rustic grape tannin is unadorned by oak and then there’s the good acidity. Now if only I could rustle up some cassoulet…