Burgundy 2017 and beyond

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-12-17


Ahead of the new 2017 releases in early 2019 it's time to report on Burgundy and its news.

2017

Another warm summer produced accessible, fruity wines.

Left to do their thing, the vines were wont to produce very high yields especially in areas hit by frost damage in 2016 as the plants strove to compensate. Yields in Chardonnay were as high as 80 hl/ha. Now that’s a lot.

With a long run of short harvests stretching back to 2009 for several communes, the temptation was to let nature’s abundance run unabated. The trouble is, pinot noir is particularly susceptible to a large crop, so the trick in 2017 was to work to constrain yields.

Just as many over-cropped 1999s are now showing flat, far from being the great wines they might (and should) have been, we shall see which producers in 2017 haven't applied the brakes hard enough in due course.

For those who produced normal yields, 2017 is a delightfully juicy, fruit-forward year. Yet the best wines have more than just fruit: there is a fine mineral structure, a chalkiness and salinity that complements the raspberry coulis, kirsch, griotte, plum and fruit pastille characteristics.

The best pinots show appealing sucrosité with plenty of supporting freshness, which contributes to a sappy, mouth-watering persistence.

Above all I loved the harmony, balance, progression and energy of the best reds. I wouldn’t be surprised if they never shut down, and stay delicious from early on in their development throughout a moderately long drinking window: after all the 1997s are just about still hanging in there these days, and the 2017s have the potential to be rather better.

The perfect 2017 pinot has flowing raspberry fruit, a vinous, kirsch-like refinement, an infusion of Seville oranges and hints at a darker side with liquorice and spice.

The question mark over 2017 is whether a proper degree of intensity has been achieved. The vintage doesn’t seem to reach the same level in general as 2016, and yet the greatest 2017s do rival (and in a few cases surpass) their 1 year old siblings.

2017 is also very much a vintage where the appellations are reflective of their classification. Stepping up through a range from Bourgogne, through village wine and premier cru up to grand cru feels like an exercise in stepping up through the gears, with more oomph and interest at each change.

Whites are generally delicious as long as yields were tightly managed, and though the acidity levels were apparently a little less than in 2016, the very best still show a notable pithiness, a chalkiness and a bright intense citrus core that successfully counterbalances a tropical fruit character of pineapple and guava.



2018

Looking ahead to 2018, this is going to be a very tricky vintage. It was really hot, and the choice of picking date will have been critical.

Many producers were searching for perfect phenolic ripeness, waiting until the pips indicated an expected level of maturity. Some producers believed that perfect phenolic ripeness was not the only deciding factor for picking a harvest date in 2018. Those that were concerned about alcohol levels went early. They got their grapes in as early as the start of the last week of August finishing during the first week of September.

Producers needed to avoid too much extraction in 2018 for fear of introducing bitter flavours, especially those who had gone early. The gentlest of infusions seem at this very early stage to be the making of the best wines. Even so you won’t see many wines straight out of barrel with that trademark shining ruby robe of classic burgundy in 2018.

The most exciting wines tasted from barrel were made from grapes carried in at around 13.5 degrees but there are tales of 15 or (even!) 16 degree behemoths, whilst 14.2-14.5 degrees feels like a norm in the vintage.

The early pickers were fearful of what might happen if they let the alcohol levels rise too far, and they were evidently right. There were very real risks of partially completed fermentations and consequent high residual sugars in the juice. Several producers we spoke to had a battle to restart stalled fermentations, typically by tipping in the lees of another wine that had completed its fermentation more successfully.

The wines are largely dark purple or purple-black, opaque in appearance, and unsurprisingly show exuberant New World fruit and tend to have a mouth-coating texture due to the higher alcohols. There are some who argue that this is a very great vintage in the making; that vintages like 1947 were very hot indeed and yet they have transformed into great old bones. Taking a necessarily broad view at this early stage I would suggest that there are likely to be a rather small number of potentially very great wines.

Amphorae

Fourrier continued experimenting with Amphorae in the 2017 vintage with La Combe aux Moines, but they are sure to come into their own for 2018. The terracotta enables the wine to breathe whilst acting as a totally neutral vessel. This accentuates minerality and produces a wine – if unblended with wine aged in wood – that would be too strict. Certain of his wines including Clos St Jacques and La Combe aux Moines have a proportion of the production being aged within these fabulous looking clay containers for the 2018 vintage. The finished wine will be blended with the other part of the vineyard in barrels. It will be fascinating to see the results – could these turn out to be some of the greatest wines ever made at this wonderful domaine?




2017 – The year that distribution changed

Producers are not blind to the fact that certain merchants have been selling their UK en primeur allocations to Asia, notably Hong Kong. They are not happy to discover that importers cross geographical boundaries, even if the wines sold may be subsequently stored for a period of time in the UK.

Nor are their agents impressed, who have the clout to recommend their producers shift allocation to where demand is currently being met indirectly.

As a result certain top producers have withdrawn a significant part of their allocation to the UK in favour of Asia, even though there is much more wine this year to go round - in some cases up to 3 times the quantity of 2016.

2017 pricing

With Brexit uncertainty depressing the Pound, more wine not necessarily translating into larger allocations for the UK, and the secondary Burgundy market having risen substantially during the course of 2018, there are few reasons to imagine that prices will fall. Which makes it a tricky call for consumers who don't want to lose their allocations and yet this is one of the most uncertain of times. High release prices for great vintages such as 2015 and 2016 were swallowed. We will have to see how digeste 2017 proves to be.


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.


No Wine Is An Island

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2018-05-09


'Passion Asset' is a phrase of two halves. Alongside all the asset-focused work we do here at Wine Owners, we try to indulge the passion-focused bit too. Jonathan Reeve returned today from five busy days touring and tasting around eastern Sicily. Below is a summary of the trip, and five suggestions for Sicilian wines worth adding to your cellar (with a 5 – 10 year drinking window).


Erupting with Pride

Sicily has confidently reinvented itself in the past fifteen years, and is clearly proud of its achievements. Bulk blending wines have now been moved firmly to the background, and the island’s wineries are focusing their attention (and ours) firmly on quality wines and regional styles. Nowhere is the pride more obvious than around Etna. It seems so overt there that it borders on a sense of superiority, forgivable only because of the wines’ clear quality and the vineyards’ lofty perspective over the rest of the island. Etna remains the island's flagbearer, its wines a clear step or two ahead of the other regions in the charge towards quality and international recognition. Etna wines are blessed with pure fruit flavours, stunning ruby-like colouring, and the excellent acidity which is a signature of volcanic soils.


Wild and high atop Etna, Cornelissen’s volcanic ‘Magma’ Vineyard (900m)
©Jonathan Reeve


There is a sense of competition on Etna, with a handful of the top wineries quietly jockeying for the very top spot. Happily, their stylistic differences mean there is room at the top for them all; elegant Benanti, classic Graci, pure Torre Mora, bold Terre Nere, natural Cornelissen. We spent three days around Etna, mostly around the northern side where the best (blackest) terroir is to be found. One sunny afternoon we sampled the various and varied crus of Frank Cornellissen (whose ‘Munjebel CS’ shows just how Burgundy-like Etna wines can be, but whose wines have not yet proved themselves cellar-worthy), and those of the Tenuta delle Terre Nere (whose sexy Santo Spirito features among my suggested purchases below).

Among our gracious hosts during the visit was Antonio Benanti, who spent four full hours guiding us around his vineyards and wines. The quality and ageing potential of Benanti's Etna wines was abundantly clear, as was his focused, classic winemaking style.


A classic Rovittello label; Benanti before it was ‘Benanti’
©Jonathan Reeve


The stand-out wine from Benanti's range was the Etna Rosso from his vineyard in Rovittello. Rovittello is clearly a village to watch; Torre Mora's vineyard and winery is also there, and the high quality of their Etna Rosso from 2015 and 2016 was undeniable. The little-known Torre Mora estate was acquired in 2016 by Tenute Piccini of Tuscany, and given a very classy upgrade. Viticulture and winemaking have both been overhauled, with clear results, and the wine style brought up-to-date to a fresher, vibrant, more-classic wine style. Complimenti Piccini.


,
Rejuvenated: Tenuta Torre Mora, Rovittello
©Jonathan Reeve


No Wine Is an Island

Sicily has a broad range of wine styles – and more importantly clear distinctions between those styles. Also vital is that these styles work together; they complement one another, rather than competing. Fresh, crisp, elegant Etna Bianco is clearly distinct from broader-styled Inzolia-Chardonnay IGT blends and citrus-tropical Cattarratto varietals. Taut, bright, ruby-like Etna Rosso is a world apart from the dark, plummy Nero d'Avolas made in the island’s south-eastern corner, and another world again from the juicy, mouthwatering Cerasuolos from Vittoria (these combine Nero d'Avola's brooding depths with Frappato's ripe-strawberry brightness). Add to this core the island’s traditional trademarks – fortified Marsala and sweet Muscats from Pantelleria and Noto – and you have crystal-clear stylistic diversity that any region would be proud of. The wildcards in the pack were the handful of dry Moscato wines we tried. These were an unexpected surprise –refreshing in every regard. First was Planeta’s super-refreshing, aromatic Allemanda, and then COS’ amphora wine Zibbibo-in-Pithos, which calls to mind orange blossom and Earl Grey tea.


Amphorae at COS. Definitely not jug wine.
©Jonathan Reeve


Sicilians Don't Shrug

Marketing is key to Sicily's new look, and the island is doing it with flair. The island is more than just 'shrugging off' its old reputation. Those shoulders are shimmying with Mediterranean style, brilliantly exemplified by Donnafugata’s colourful labels. A visit to a Sicilian wine shop is like a visit to an art gallery. Many of the top wineries are hot on hospitality, too, with comprehensive tours and tastings available, and an increasing number offering accommodation (we stayed for two nights at a chic farmstay owned by the Occhipinti family). Planeta stood out on the hospitality front; our morning visit to their Buonivini estate was guided with expertise and generosity. We specifically requested to taste a few back-vintages of Cerasuolo di Vittoria and reds from Noto, to assess their cellaring potential. A cluster of wines from 2005 to 2015 soon appeared, and confirmed that top-level wines from both of these DOCs are indeed capable of developing for over a decade. One clear pattern was that the aromas and palate take on lives quite distinct from one another over the years; the 2005 Santa Cecilia Noto had a savoury nose of black olives and herbs, but retained noticeable fruity flavours on the palate. The lifespan of Sicilian wines will almost certainly increase in the coming years, as Sicily’s new generation of quality-focused winemakers continues to find its groove. This does beg one question, though…will the lively, soulful marketing and label designs disappear once the wines get more serious? Let’s hope not.


Five Sicilian Wines Worthy of Your Cellar
  • Planeta Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2015
    Drink 2018 – 2023
    See Wine-Searcher

  • Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2013
    Drink 2018 – 2023
    See Wine-Searcher

  • Benanti Pietramarina Bianco 2016
    Drink 2019 – 2029
    Contact Benanti and tell them I sent you: info@benanti.it

  • Torre Mora Etna Rosso 2015
    Drink 2019 – 2025
    Not yet released. Contact: info@tenutepiccini.it

  • Terre Nerre Santo Spiritu 2015
    Drink 2019 –2025
    See Wine-Searcher


Planeta Buonivini Estate, Noto
©Jonathan Reeve


The Wine Owners Trial and Terroir Dinner 23 November, 2017

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-11-24


The Don, St Swithins Lane, London, a converted wine warehouse, was the venue for one of Wine Owners tasting evenings offered to its members – Trial and Terroir Dinner based upon the 2011 Bordeaux vintage. The evening was conducted in one of the Don’s private rooms with an earthy dinner by head chef Frederick Forster.

Lionel Dougnac, buying director for De Luze & Fils, one of Bordeaux’s most influential negotiants, helped us navigate the properties surrounding the waters of the Gironde estuary. Lionel has been in the Bordeaux trade for over 20 years, specialising in buying classified growths. He has also worked for the top barrel-maker in France. Oaking became an interesting discussion point half way through the evening.

The focus for the evening was to explore the concept of terroir through the different wines presented during the evening from the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux. A vintage which left many enthusiasts wondering if the so-called ‘harlequin’ year could justify its high prices at primeur. Not surprisingly, there was immediately an exchange over what terroir might mean and during the evening there was plenty of opportunity to plumb the depths of this compelling subject. Lionel was quick to point out that, in his view, terroir was not just about the weather and soils but also included other factors, and even the ambitions of the domain owner.

2011: for those that might have forgotten, it was an unusual year by any standard. The year started with a massive water deficiency in the vineyards, and an unusually warm and protracted Spring. This meant that the vines were well in advance over the average year. Average temperatures during this period were close to if not in excess of any records previously recorded. It culminated in two extremely hot days in June where the temperature exceed 40°C. Some exposed bunches of grapes, especially on gravel soils, were scorched and losses were considerable, as much as 20% of the crop in some instances. If vignerons were concerned that any continuation of the drought would decimate whatever crop remained they needn’t have worried as damp, cool weather set in for much of July, followed by a very hot August. The heat precipitated some substantial downbursts and overall precipitation was above average for the period. An Indian summer followed which provided optimum conditions for the harvest in September. A series of circumstances which profited the white wines of the region but the red wines were heterogeneous.

L’Evangile vs Vieux Château Certan: the expression of the two first wines on offer provided an interesting contrast. The owners at VCC, the Thienpont family since 1924, have always worn their heart on their sleeve combined with an increasingly obsessive focus on managing the vineyard at a micro level of geography – and an ambition to let the terroir speak for itself using minimum intervention in the wine making. L’Evangile, now wholly owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild since 1999 (they had earlier acquired a majority a shareholding) is a neighbour from ‘Haut-Pomerol’ with an ambition to become one of the top Pomerol estates. The latter’s substantially higher Merlot in the blend offered a very round and pleasing profile – a whopping 94%, leaving little room for their Cabernet Franc. It was very elegant and restrained which contrasted with the beautifully defined structure of VCC. There were pleasing elements in both wines. Interestingly, guests were not to be tempted by the more voluptuous offer and unanimously preferred the ‘aesthetic values’ expressed in Vieux Château Certan 2011.

In Pessac, the contrast was even more stark. Haut-Bailly, as always, attractive and feminine, seduced much of the company with its approachable elegance based on a more merlotised style than usual - a statistical recognition, if nothing else, that its Cabernet Sauvignon suffered that year. The Cabernet Franc, already on the way out at the domain, hardly got more than a top-up role. Haut-Bailly have always acknowledged that their terroir has issues under dry conditions such as those experienced in 2011. La Mission Haut-Brion was altogether more muscular and intense. It possessed a complex tension which will be years in its evolution. Lionel had obviously selected the wines he felt would give us more to ponder. We digressed into a conversation about how artists’ materials are perhaps the elements of physical terroir; that artistic genius is the inspiration, imagination and ambition of an estate’s terroir interpreted by the owner. Whatever the canvas that year, Wine Owners terroirists’ marginally preferred the more ‘traditional’ yet polished properties expressed in the intense muscularity of La Mission Haut-Brion 2011.

The grand estates of Pauillac were represented by Pontet-Canet and Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the influence of biodynamic viticulture in the region and its impact on the wines of Pontet-Canet. Clearly something had separated the processes of these two estates which are largely comparable in terms of size and varieties. When it came down to it, Pichon Baron managed 82% Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend, whilst Pontet-Canet a mere 60%. Yields were disparate too – 39% in the case of Pichon Baron whilst at Pontet-Canet it was 32%. It’s worth just quoting from the specification sheet of Pichon-Baron 2011 to understand properly the enormous lengths châteaux had to go to preserve the quality in the bottle:

“Bespoke grape picking: the grapes were picked and brought in the vat-house plot by plot, in order of maturity, with particular attention to selection on the plots. Sorting in the vat-house was highly meticulous [their bold] keeping only the very best grapes. The grapes were sorted twice, both before and after de-stemming. Once de-stemmed, the selection of the grapes was fine tuned on two sorting lines, one manual and one using optic systems.”

This extensive and costly work appears to have been justified as the assembled company substantially preferred this wine. Perhaps the more laissez-faire practices of biodynamics don’t favour complicated years albeit it may be a more ‘authentic’ product.

Our final flight of the evening ended with a cheese plate and perhaps two of the most interesting wines of the evening – Chateaux Montrose and Calon-Ségur. Both estates in their own ways have seen major upheavals over the last 5-10 years. One could even be forgiven for thinking that terroir might the servant of the ambition of the two new owners. Certainly, the Bouygues have invested colossal sums in an estate which they were always destined to own. The recent vintages have all demonstrated that their terroir has justified the trust of its billionaire owners producing wonderful wines in supposedly less good vintages. 2011 was no exception. Montrose’s enhanced ‘environmental responsibility’ which the Bouygues have brought to the estate extends the work of one of its founders, Mathieu Dollfus, who established a programme of social care for his workers building them free housing in the ‘Montrose village’, included them in profit sharing and even offered free health care – making ‘unique contributions to the community’ of Saint-Estèphe. The windmill which stands on the property is a ‘symbol’ of his tenure and his fight against phylloxera – the windmill drew up water which flooded the vineyards – a practice which had some success in reducing the disease at the time. At Calon-Ségur, despite the death of its owner at harvest time, pulled off a stunning wine - contradicting received wisdom about yields (the estate had one of the largest yields of all the wines tasted) and demonstrated that even in turbulent times estates can pull something out of a hat. Triumph in adversity is part of the story of Bordeaux. Opinion was equally divided on their relative merits.

Lionel’s deft commentary on the wines permitted discussions on all other matters of interest to the guests. This wasn’t just a working evening – although there was much to delve into.

The evening conversation turned to a brief but informative discussion about the commercial prospects of ‘La Place’, advantages or otherwise of buying en primeur and discussions on some practices of specific châteaux to release wines as ‘library’ wines after primeur campaigns - subjects which Lionel was uniquely qualified to explain.

For those still with the will to carry on tasting there was ample opportunity with additional samples as backup. Overall, the unscientific assessment was that there were 3 stand-out wines – La Mission Haut-Brion 2011, Montrose 2011 and Vieux Château Certan 2011.

Broader definitions of terroir escape the confines of the tightly worded official description. The Australian economist David Throsby outlined the concept of a ‘cultural good’ (in his seminal book Economics and Culture, 2001) which might fit better to the breadth of considerations Lionel managed to convey during the evening. Throsby’s thesis is that a person’s preference for something would be based upon the characteristics of the good which contribute to its cultural value. Some of these are highlighted above in quotes but, in summary, they include aesthetic properties eg elegance and balance; spiritual value – emotional and inspirational attachment; environmental which includes PDO (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) and environmental responsibility; historical – evolution and tradition; symbolic, such as the name of ‘Bordeaux’ itself and what it inspires and among others one might conjure; and authenticity which is embodied in the unique character of a wine drawn from the local area where it is produced.

The WineOwners Trial and Terroir Dinner managed to elucidate these concepts and more.


Speak to the winemaker: Caroline Decoster, Fleur Cardinale

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-08-09


Caroline and Ludovic Decoster from Chateau Fleur Cardinale


Wine Owners: What is your greatest moment/regret as a winemaker?

Caroline Decoster: It’s a little bit sad to start this interview by a regret, but I have to say that we lost 95% of our vineyard in one night last April. It was heartbreaking. We’ve already invested in new machines, called Frostguards, for the end of the year, that will prevent us for this kind of catastrophe, but our main regret is not to have had them before.

WO: In what ways have your wine making changed over the last 10 years.

CD: The global warming has affected our wine making. We are located in the coolest part of the appellation of Saint-Emilion, which means that we have a late ripening terroir. Ripening the berries over the past decades could had been difficult in this part of Saint-Emilion, because of the lower temperatures during October - which is the moment of the year when we usually harvest. But nowadays, due to this global warming, we can benefit from Indian summers year after year, to reach the optimal ripeness effortlessly.

WO: What vintage are you proudest of?

CD: It’s very easy to be proud of a successful vintage. Like in 2010 and 2015, the wine growers were most of all very lucky, thanks to good conditions all year long. But in difficult vintages, all the right decisions that we took in tough moments were decisive to make a good wine in the end. Like in 2014 and 2016 : after months of rain and cold temperatures, the sun came back at the end of the summer, and everybody was so excited to finally have good conditions of ripening, that some vineyards completely de-leafe the bunches, which could be a mistake in some cases: the weeks after that we’d had the hottest temperatures for September since 50 years. We did not de-leafe completely, because we were sure that everything could still happen, and it was the right decision to take.

WO: If you had to define your wines/domaine in one sentence?

CD: Lots of wine owners will say how passionate they are about their wines : but we believe that passion can isolate you and make you blind. That’s why we rather prefer to talk about the « enthusiasm » that we have for our life, a positive and dynamic way of life that we want to share in each glass of Fleur Cardinale, with a lively fruit, and wine with a great energy.

WO: Tell us about your terroir & microclimate, and your approach to winemaking.

CD: The vineyard is located at the east of Saint-Emilion, on one of the highest points of the appellation, and is planted on clay-limestone soil in the middle of the hillsides. The planting is 75% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Our aim, vintage after vintage, is to preserve the freshness of the fruit in the glass.

In terms of viticulture, it means for instance that we want each vine to be very healthy, and to express the full potential from its terroir. This year, we’ve been certified High Environmental Value (HEV). This certification is the highest level of a generalised scheme for the environmental certification of farms. It guarantees that the presence of factors of biodiversity (hedges, grass strips, trees, flowers, insects, etc.) is very widespread on our vineyard and that the pressure applied to the environment by our practices (on air, water, soil, climate, biodiversity and landscape) is kept to a minimum.

In terms of vinification, it means that the ageing time in barrels is perfectly well-managed : The wine is aged for 12-14 month maximum, in new French oak barrels. Our coopers provide us with barrels produced exclusively from wood of the 3 most qualitative French forests. A Burgundy toast has been adopted for all our barrels: this kind of toast is realized at a moderate high heat and for an extended period of time, so as to preserve the purity of the fruit and the silky touch of the tannins.

Thank you so much to Caroline for taking the time to answer our questions. All our best wishes to the entire team at Fleur Cardinale!

You can visit the domaine's website here and follow their dedicated work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


Hard frosts across Europe hit Bordeaux hard

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2017-04-28


27th April is a date with heart-rending connotations. On that night last year (2016), the vast majority of the Cote D'Or was affected by a really hard frost. The rising sun the following morning burned the vines and a high proportion of the young plant growth was irrevocably damaged, reducing the size of the harvest by up to 80%-90% in the worst affected vineyards.

Much of the month of April 2017 has been unseasonably warm. In Bordeaux en primeur week of 3rd April saw temperatures in the mid to high 20s centigrade, and that warm weather held for a good 3 weeks, encouraging bud break and a significant amount of plant growth 2-3 weeks ahead of the normal cycle.

But during the night of 27th April, temperatures dived as low as -4c, and in certain sectors a large proportion of the potential crop has been lost.

The best terroirs next to the Garonne were largely if not entirely unaffected, thanks to the warming influence of the river. But away from the river, and near woodland, this year's hard frost hit hardest. That means some areas of Margaux were badly affected, the Haut Medoc, Listrac and Moulis, with bits of lower lying areas of St Julien also touched.

Significantly there has been widespread damage across the right bank including in St Emilion, aside from the Plateau which was spared. Pomerol is said to have also been affected. The right bank satellite appellations have been hit very hard. South of the city certain parts of Pessac and the Graves have been affected, where the damage is said to have been patchy.

Low lying areas have been most affected, which means a lot of second wine from some top estates will have been much reduced if not entirely wiped out.

Fears were that the early hours of the 28th April would create more devastation. The weather forecast did not augur well. And as painful as it is to say, that's exactly what happened. Our hearts go out to all those affected. Like a boxer flat out on the ropes at the bell yet with the prospect of having to go back in the ring to receive more punishment the following round. No doubt low lying areas and estates near woods or forests were once again worst affected. We pray that overall it won't be as bad as 1991.

Aside from the terrible blow the frosts have wreaked, the commercial implications are threefold: there will be less 2016 wine offered at first release than would have been the case, certainly in the worst affected sectors; what is released might be more expensive than it would otherwise have been; and it could slow down the en primeur releases, resulting in a longer campaign.

The best second wines in 2016 could be worth extra focus if you are intending to drink at that level, as there will be proportionally much less next year.



The nature/nurture debate

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2016-09-20


There is a central theme within psychology that is concerned with the extent to which behaviour is a product of either inherited (i.e. genetic) or acquired (i.e. learned) characteristics. It seeks to explain how much of a person’s character, personality and behaviour can be attributed purely to evolutionary biology, and how important environmental factors such as education, parenting styles, social status and geographical location are in defining an individual.

There are those who come under the term nativists who believe that genetic characteristics are pre-eminent, and that to a large extent there is genetic ‘pre-wiring’ that is the foundation of all behaviour. On the other hand, there is school of thought labelled behaviourism that suggests humans are a ‘blank slate’ upon which anything can be written.

Anyway, enough of the psychobabble. What has this got to do with wine? The analogy will I am sure be obvious to many of you. All you need do is replace ‘nature’ with ‘terroir’, and ‘nurture’ with ‘winemaker’.

In the 80s and 90s there was a well-documented move towards the winemaker being paramount, particularly prevalent in the New World. This ‘Cult of the Winemaker’ phenomenon, exemplified by such luminaries as Michel Rolland meant that certain styles of wine could be created via specific cellar techniques, which lessened the importance of the raw ingredients and ‘terroir’. This move also coincided with the rise of the superstar wine critics such as Robert Parker whose commentaries not only reflected their tastes and inclinations, but also helped shape the style of wines being made. Even if the effects of ‘Parkerization’ are debatable, the mere fact that the word itself exists suggests an impact of sorts. If nurture, in the guise of the Winemaker and the Critic, were the focus of the final decades of the previous decade, it seems that nature has been making a comeback in this millennium.

Biodynamic techniques, natural wines, and a pointed re-focussing on allowing the land to speak for itself seem to have come back into vogue. Arguably, it is the improvements in cellar technology and techniques introduced by modern Winemakers that have allowed producers to once again champion the primacy of their soil and vines in characterising their wines. Certainly there is a very real sense that individuality is the current keyword for winemakers, and that the best wines being made today have nature rather than nurture as their heartbeat.

The very best wines have always been the expression of their terroir, and it is this link to the land that had made generation after generation fall in love with particular wines. The fact that a vineyard a few hundred yards up the slope from another, or just along the road from another, can produce a wine that is distinct and unique from its neighbour is one of the most fascinating aspects of wine making, and the root of much that intrigues us. Increasingly it is the role of the winemaker to allow this land to express itself eloquently with minimal intervention. The true mark of a great winemaker is now seen as how they can allow the terroir to shine through, rather than how distinctive their ‘signature’ wine making style is.

In recent years there has been a growing consensus within the world of academic psychology that we are now in a post Nature v Nurture world – that no further intellectual currency can be gained by debating a polarised topic when the answer is clearly an amalgam of the two. The interaction and ‘feedback loops’ between the two positions mean that it is a fool’s errand to work out which is more important when it comes to explaining behaviour, and in the world of wine I suspect the same story will play out.

Great wines need both great raw products and great winemakers to help them realise their full potential. To suggest that great wines can be made from average grapes is clearly illogical. Equally, it is unreasonable to think that average winemakers can turn an incredible crop into incredible wines.

History suggests that there are certain plots of land where alchemy can happen. It also shows that there are certain people who can, through talent, hard work and a drop of genius make the products of this land into elixirs. You cannot speak of Montrachet, Hermitage and Cote Rotie without mention of Leflaive, Chave and Guigal.

We do feel in our bones that as wine is the product of an agricultural process, one should accept that what goes on in the field is the number one priority for any producer. But you’d better have a great cellar and great people in it if you want to make magic…



News and gossip from a cold February week in Burgundy

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2016-03-04


... tasting hundreds of wines from barrel (2014) and from bottle (2013).



2013

2013 is shaping up to be a fine vintage among those producers who are the most assiduous in their vineyard work. The best ‘cultivateurs’ - those who spent their time ‘hands-on' in the vineyards up to the very last days - coaxed their grapes to an acceptable level of ripeness in spite of the awful hand dealt by nature and  picked a very small crop of good classic potential. 

The harvest was very late, fruit being picked around mid October under a weak autumnal sun. The fermented wine struggled to reach 12 degrees and all producers we spoke to chaptalised to increase the alcohol in their grape juice to 12.4-12.7 degrees. Some chapitalised by little as 0.2% whilst others added a whole degree.

Back in January 2015 at the London ‘En Primeur’ tastings the vintage was hard to taste. The wines by and large took exception to being bottled as cask samples and did not show terribly well. 

Yields were miserly, which it now seems with the benefit of a year in bottle, is shaping wines of attractive intensity and character. The best are fresh, mouthwatering, full of red fruits and with excellent persistence of flavour. They show lovely texture, are light on their anthropomorphic feet, and give the impression they will continue to evolve into very fine wines. For the producer it was one of the toughest vintages ever. However if you like Burgundies in a bright, energetic style with plenty of red fruit (possibly in the style of 2001 with a bit more freshness?) you will love these. The wines are ‘digeste’ - appetising. One sip invites another.

The 2013 whites don’t have the approachability of their superb 2014 counterparts - yet. But don’t bet against 2013 ending up providing just as much pleasure a little further down the road. The 2014s seem to have it all, being approachable already with a rich mid-palate threaded with acidity and excellent length of flavour.


2014

2014 deserves to be one of the most lauded of white vintages based on current tasting, with plenty of acidity, intensity, breadth and finesse. But whites have a habit of not conforming to critics’ predictions in the medium to longer term. Supposedly great vintages called so at the outset have not lasted their intended course. For now they are presenting beautifully.

The best red wines in 2014 have good balance, nice structure and succulence. Those already out of barrel in stainless steel tanks, resting for a few weeks ahead of bottling, have the most expressive aromas, and show appealing richness, suggesting the wines may put on a bit more weight by the time we re-taste from bottle next year.


2015

It’s far too early to taste, but suffice to say it’s a hot vintage, with comparisons drawn with 2005 perhaps with slightly fresher fruit. Yields were down on 2014, some say due to the vine stress of previous years (in Cote de Beaune), whilst everyone also attributes the low yields to heat stress. The Santenay appellation received an extra 20mm of rain ahead of the harvest, in addition to the more generalised 20mm of rain across the Cotes in August, and will be especially good as the second downpour relieved the vines’ hydric stress. 


LAND PRICES

2 ‘ares' of Le Musigny has been sold to Faively, at a price of €1.8M. 1 ‘are’ is 100 sq metres. Just to give you a practical sense of the size of this area, it is equivalent to 10 metres x 10 metres square (or since we are talking about vines here, 50 metres x 2 metres). So we’re talking about 2 rows of vines of that sort of length. 

A hectare is 10,000 sq metres, so this transaction values Le Musigny at €90M per hectare. Surely one of the most expensive land values in the world? 


PIQUAGE

Importers are apparently asking producers to do less punch-downs of the grape must cap per day during fermentation, in order to produce wines that have less immediately obvious structure and therefore drink earlier. I don’t pretend to be an oenological expert, but when the commercial boys start to dictate to gifted vignerons who know infinitely more about how to make great wine than they do, I am wrong in thinking this doesn’t feel right as far as the fine wine end of the market is concerned? 


DIAM CORKS

Diam is a guaranteed TCA taint free composite cork for wine. They are made out of tiny pieces of crushed cork and glue. They are excellent value, being roughly 20% of the cost of the very best real corks for the finest wines (which come in at roughly €1 per whole cork). I keep my fine wines for a very long time. I care about my bottle closures and at a personal level will try to avoid buying wines with Diam corks because I worry about the very long term performance of new products that contain synthetic substances, and potential health risks associated with anything that’s yet to be proven over decades. I appreciate the importance of avoiding the incidence of corked bottles, but this is also an economic question, since natural cork can be tested before bottling for TCA, and in 2016 the most expensive natural corks have a lower incidence. Some large shippers are understandably asking for their producers’ wines to be sealed using Diam closures.




Character speaks volumes

by Wine Owners

Posted on 2015-12-09


Robert Parker has consistently highlighted low yields over the years as a key indicator of quality. It’s a belief over which he’s been challenged by producers and experts alike.  

But is he wrong? Are low yields a prerequisite for wines of character and nuance that we so crave, or is this just a red herring seized upon by eager wine writers whose understanding of winemaking techniques are inadequate?

Jordon Ross of Oenology International points to a run of vintages where the worst wines from the key regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California were made from lowest production vintages, whereas the best wines came from those where production was highest.

His misgivings, and those of producers he interviews such as Dominique Lafon, are down to the belief that low yields sell wine and that old vines do not necessarily produce better wines than young vines.

M. Lafon highlights an extreme case to argue that view “Some producers here are talking low yields but with so many dead vines in their vineyards that it’s nonsense, it means nothing.”

That’s as maybe, but let’s not allow rotten vineyard husbandry to define the argument and allow the rejection of the notion that low yields might nonetheless be an important factor behind quality.

I for one am more than happy to accept that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, that my own technical base - like the know-how of most collectors - is relatively scant, and that it’s easy to grossly oversimplify.

However, I do possess one means of very subjectively putting the question to the test, and that’s my palate. When all is said and done, surely that’s what matters most?

Burgundy seems to be a particularly good and topical reference point when discussing yields given the run of low yield vintages the region endured 2010-2014.  

The true colours of a fine wine show with age, long after they've been evaluated by tasters in their first blush of youth (or in the case of Burgundy as échantillons untimely plucked from the comfort of their oak casks).

Vintages blessed with good production volumes and generally fine weather - 1990 and 1999 being prime examples that were lauded upon release - whilst studded with beautiful wines, contain as many examples that are bland and fruity, but fall short of complex or exciting.

On the other hand, there are many wines from low-yielding vintages characterised as difficult or gawky upon release, which 15-20+ years on show a level of intensity and aromatic complexity that are more than a match for the bigger, ‘better’ vintages. For example, there are truly wonderful wines from 1998 (Gouges, Barthod, Bachelet, Mortet) that at release were described (correctly in my view) by Jancis Robinson as ‘tough and stolid’. 18 years on, and they have matured into exceptionally complex, deeply toned wines. 

Seeking out the best producers is a must of course, since there are great, good, average and awful ones irrespective of anything else. 

Talking of great, no one does it better in Barolo than Roberto Giacomo. His transparent Monfortino 2002, with its tiny yields from a dismal vintage, is a very special wine of weightless proportions. It will never be mistaken for a hot year like 1997 or 2004, but so what? The wine has a rare aromatic subtlety and sweetness that makes it a rarity.

So what of more recent vintages? Bill Nanson talks about 2012 red Burgundy as a vintage visited by ‘the four horsemen of the apocalypse’! It wasn’t easy and yields were considerably reduced. Will it prove to be a great vintage? I believe so, with the best wines surely destined to be as good as 2010 or 2005. There is a fabulous vitality to the vintage that ought to see the best examples blossom into wines of great character. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough from a vigneron perspective, 2013 was worse: an exceptionally low yielding year, blighted by a summer that only dared speak its name in July. Although the wines can seem lean and dry at times (evident in January 2015’s échantillons in London), on another day from barrel in situ they show fine, sappy, delineated fruit. 

Even though 2013s have higher acidity levels and bright flavours, my guess is that the miserly yields and consequent concentration of juice will compensate over time and make some fine older bones, unlike the much higher-yielding 1996 vintage which remains angular and more often than not lacking.

So far we’ve discussed low yields resulting from nature’s hand.

When it comes to the age of vines and yields per vine, it seems to me the argument is rather more clear-cut.  Assuming the producer puts the necessary time and effort into vineyard husbandry, older vines and the naturally occurring lower yields seem to very obviously impart intensity and complexity to the end result. When Clive Coates talks about ‘creamy old vine flavour’ I get what he’s describing. 

So, whilst accepting that low yields per se do not necessarily mean good wine, to deny its very significant contribution to creating truly great wines and their appreciation seems unnecessary.



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