Up and coming Burgundy

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-06-28


Whilst expensive Burgundies make the headlines, there's another revolution taking place that is transforming the qualitative level of winemaking more generally in Burgundy.

Revolution

It's a revolution that's very different to the one caused by an influx of corporate cash snapping up top domaines that produce some of the region’s most sought-after wines.

Daughters and sons who are graduating from l’école viticole, and who spend their stages at new world wineries or with progressive in-region vignerons, are taking best practises in the vines and chais back to familial domaines and transforming quality of those wines. Other offspring are going it alone, relying on their social network to buy grapes from friends and friends of family. And still others are coming back to their roots, turning their back on a career in Paris for the siren call of the Côte d’Or.

In a way there’s a relationship between the two; the big money coming in is offering the promise of a wealthier future to the next generation.

Must buys

Within this dynamic atmosphere there are lots of value buying opportunities. One doesn’t have to be a millionaire to own and to drink Burgundy. But you need to be quicker to claim an early allocation than previously. Prices of new discoveries rise fast. Whereas in the past it would have taken many vintages of successes before a domaine became established enough to justify rapid price hikes, these days positive press and ensuing price escalation can happen quickly.

How do I discover new producers?

Follow your favourite merchants – they’ll organise events or dinners at which the wines they represent can be tasted, allowing you to figure out which of the wines they are offering you think are the real deal.

Follow the critics – Neal Martin is now at Vinous, William Kelley has assumed the mantle at robertparker.com and Steen Öhman is busy discovering new talent at Winehog.

The blog format of Winehog is well suited to reading about new discoveries, where he’s picked up on Thibaud (Y) Clerget, Nicolas Faure, his fiancée Amelie Berthaut at Berthaut-Gerbet, Maxime Cheurlin at Georges Nöellat, Duroché, Jean-Marc Bouley, Arnaud Tessier, and Jean-Marc Vincent to highlight a range of notable domaines.


Charmes Dessus 2012, Domaine Tessier © Nick Martin

His latest discovery is Marthe Henri Boillot in Mersault, a true ‘start up’ having returned to pick up the remnants of her grandfather’s estate and has cut sourcing deals with friends.

It’s a familiar story. Down the road in Santenay Jean-Marc and Anne-Marie Vincent picked up the reins of his grandfather’s lapsed estate back in the late 1990s, and have transformed it into by far the best domaine of Santenay, making wines of great succulence, nerve and aromatic complexity. In fact, his reputation as one of the best true vignerons on the whole Côte is widely recognised by many other top producers all the way up into the Côte de Nuits.

They say birds of a feather flock together. Just look at Jean-Marc’s vigneron network, and you discover producers who share the same qualitative ethic and who are in search of constant improvements; producers such as Olivier Lamy, Jean-Marc Bouley and the passionately intense, super-fit Bruno Lorenzon in Mercurey.


Jean-Marc Vincent © Nick Martin

High density planting, low plant yields, vine training to minimise stress on the vine’s foot, braiding à la Leroy, soil microbial activity/ fertility, low sulphur addition late on in the winemaking process, rigorous triages of natural corks - are typical leitmotifs of these, and a growing number of young, ambitious producers.

In Vosne-Romanée, the brilliant and young family winemaker at Arnoux-Lachaux, Charles, has employed the braided training technique of his heroine Lalou-Bize Leroy to magical effect in his Aux Reignot vineyard, adding definition, an extraordinary energy and drive to this profound wine that is Grand Cru in everything but name. Arnoux Lachaux’s prices have skyrocketed so in that sense that particular ship has sailed; plenty are yet to leave port.


Latour, biodynamics and Demeter

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-05-17


Latour’s conversion to organically produced vines began almost 20 years ago when they stopped using chemical herbicides. Since then, they started experimenting with new techniques, and in 2015, 100% of L’Enclos was organic and 50% of it was biodynamic.

Producing according to biodynamic techniques is not new. This method applies ancestral practices of using only ingredients from the farm and maximising their impact. For example, fertilizing is from the manure from the cows and horses living on the estate, mixed in with different flowers of certain specific properties. This main idea is to create a sustainable and circular ecosystem aimed at protecting the earth and make it more fertile by freeing nature to multiply the microbial activity in the soil.

Pontet Canet can be considered as one of the pioneers. They did their first biodynamic trial in 2004 and the results turned out to be very positive: the vines were brighter and tighter. Alfred extended the test parcel and the vineyard became fully converted in 2006; a first for a Médoc Classified Growth. Ten year’s on, and their most recent vintages show an aromatic complexity that is quite clearly much more evident when compared to their wines from the mid 200s.

Now more and more vineyards use biodynamic practises to grow their vines and in the winemaking. After decades of intensive farming many of the top vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, including Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, began looking for new options since their soils were being exhausted and couldn’t sustain healthy vines with good grapes.

The biodynamic label, Demeter, has recently gained popularity in the Bordeaux region. Chateau Durfort-Vivens has this year been fully certified by Demeter, with the designation proudly added to their bottling in the form of a strip label. In a variable year the Margaux appellation, Durfort-Vivens 2016 showed out of cask as a wine of character, with a lovely aromatic profile,crunch fruit and a chewy, black cherry infused finish.

But it’s far from a one-way argument. As weather patterns become more extreme, protecting the plant and its fruit from the element under a strict biodynamic regime can be risky.

A wave of quality obsessed Burgundy producers increasingly use biodynamic treatments in a mixed approach to vineyard husbandry where the focus is on the soil’s microbial strength. But with repeated hailstorms, and the risk of rot in a warm humid environment, it takes a brave man or woman to forgo other practical fall-back options.

It’s a rich man’s game. Small Burgundy producers cannot afford repeated losses to disease when conditions get really rough and biodynamics might not be sufficient without heavy and repeated doses of copper sulphate,something which producers adopting biodynamic viticulture are reluctant to do with concerns about creating copper residues in the soil.

Château Palmer is a leading proponent of biodynamics and has been undertaking a great deal of research on test barrels of recent vintages, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and reducing use of sulphur as a stabilising agent. In 2016 they misjudged with one too-few copper sulphate treatments resulting in an attack of mildew, reducing their overall production volumes to just 28hl/ha, a miserly figure for Bordeaux in a generous year where most quality producers cropped at 45-50 hl/ha.

Yet biodynamics is ‘back’ here to stay, even if those who apply for Demeter certification are likely to be outnumbered by those who simply practise biodynamic principles and use many of the treatments.

Further north in Saumur, the legendary Loire estate Clos Rougeard has been practising biodynamics for ever. In the 1960s and 1970s when their neighbours embraced synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, they were mocked for holding true to their ancestral principles practised since the time of their great grandfather.

The last word goes to Nadi Fourcault, the remaining brother of Clos Rougeard (only recently bought by the Bouygues family who also own Chateau Montrose). “The only thing that’s revolutionary about us is that we’ve never changed.”



Bordeaux 2016 with Nicolas Glumineau from Pichon Lalande

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-04-10


Nicolas Gluimineau recounts the growing season in 2016; the twists and turns of a difficult drought summer following an enormous amount of rain in the first 6 months' of the year. Thankfully the rains finally stopped in June, followed by an almost completely arid July and August. Drought conditions caused winemakers to fear dry, tough tannins, because when a vine can't take on the water it needs in order to ripen the fruit, the berries produce tannin in lieu. Think 1975. Yet that fear was not realised, and whilst we found a few wines with awkward tannins (at this early stage) on the right bank, in the Medoc and Graves tannins were uniformly rich. For Nicholas the end result is "just incredible" and "a miracle". #PichonLalande is one of our picks for wine of the vintage.


Bordeaux En Primeur

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2014-04-16


Nick Stephens

Nick Stephens is a respected wine expert with an international reputation as a critic and connoisseur.  Nick was awarded the Prud'homme de la Jurade de Saint Emilion in 2007 for his work with the great chateaux and vineyards of that area. A devotee of the wines of Bordeaux, Nick has many years of insider knowledge and an array of chateaux owners, courtiers and negotiants that he does business with. Each year he visits Bordeaux for the En Primeur tastings held for the trade and reports back on the vintage in barrel.  Also known as 'Wine Futures,' En Primeur is the opportunity to buy the wine before it is bottled (normally 18 – 24 months in the future) and released onto the market.  Always hectic and often full of surprises the tastings are invaluable as they are the first indicator of the quality of the vintage. This year over 5000 wine merchants, brokers, critics, sommeliers and journalists from around 60 countries descended on Bordeaux for the event. 

 

'This year Bordeaux En Primeur has attracted more comment and attention than expected, being even more agonised over than the boom years of 2010 and 2009. The 2013 vintage has been a trial for the Bordelais producers who have had to face severe weather conditions, reduced yields and rising production costs. If they had these difficulties twenty years ago most chateaux would not have been able to make a wine in such conditions. Thanks to advances in technology and increased expertise in vineyard management and in the chai wine was produced in 2013. The dry whites and sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac are excellent but it is a different story for the reds.  Overall they lack colour, complexity and depth.  They will drink earlier than normal and 2013 is definitely not a speculators vintage.

Given that 2013 is a poor vintage for the Bordeaux red wines it is astonishing how much scrutiny they are commanding.  Bordeaux has obviously not lost its appeal or its following.

But a spate of high priced years coupled with a run of mediocre vintages (2011, 2012 and 2013) means that wine enthusiasts and collectors need to look further afield. The best place to look for high quality Bordeaux reds is now in the past, in the back vintages of previous years and in particular 2008. In my opinion the 2008 wines are far superior in quality to more recent vintages and are more reasonably priced.

Over the past decade Bordeaux pricing hit two major price hikes and one minor. These occurred when good years were declared 'the vintage of the century'. The first was the 2005 vintage, the second with the 2009 and the third minor hike occurred with the 2010. The table below shows the release prices ex-negoce (to the trade) from a cross section of popular wines. At the time of writing the 2013 prices have only just started to be released. Pontet Canet, in an unprecedented move, released before the tastings had even begun.


Year

Margaux Parker Score Leoville Las Cases Parker Score Montrose Parker Score Pontet Canet Parker Score

2004

96.00 93 50.00 93 31.80 91 24.50

90+

2005

460.00 98+ 180.00 98 66.00 95 47.00

96+

2006

340.00 94+ 125.00 95 51.00 94+ 43.00 95+

2007

240.00 92 85.00 91+ 45.00 91 43.00 91 - 94
2008 130.00 94 79.00 93 42.00 95 43.00

96

2009

550.00 99 216.00 98+ 108.00 100 72.00 100

2010

600.00 99 192.00 96+ 132.00 99 100.00

100

2011

360.00

94 - 96+ 110.00 93 - 95+ 72.00 91 - 93 66.00

93 - 95

2012 240.00 92 - 94 85.00 93 - 95+ 57.60 92 - 94 60.00

91 - 94

2013  -  -  -  - 57.60  - 60.00

 -


As you can see from the table the 2008s hold their own in terms of quality with Parker scores being the equal or in some cases being higher, than those of 2007, 2011 and 2012 vintages.  Scores for 2013 will not be released until Parker tastes the wines in June.  A recent trade survey revealed that the industry itself believes the worst vintages in terms of quality regarding the First Growths are 2007 and 2013 whereas 2008 is considered the best.  This is not surprising as the 2008 vintage represents good wine at a good price, despite the rise in value of some of the wines since their release.  The wines are elegant, not over powering but with loads of fruit and well balanced tannins resulting in classic wines that can be drunk, savoured and enjoyed now or over the next three decades.

What happens to the En Primeur system itself if prices fail to drop for 2013 remains to be seen but savvy buyers can certainly find some lovely wines at good prices if they turn to overlooked vintages from decent years in the past.'

Nick Stephens

Prud'homme de la Jurade de Saint Emilion

Owner of www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk and Fine Wine Merchants www.interestinwine.co.uk


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