Thursday, March 31, 2011

Les Nuits au Grand Jour in Nuits-Saint-Georges

Burgundy as we know it is one of the most complicated regions to understand for a wine enthusiast. Even more difficult is remembering all the sub-regions/districts and communes or villages. Add to that 100 different appellations which could be regional, village/communal, premier cru and grand cru. From the perspective of understanding the above complexities, the recent effort from ‘Le Syndicat viticole de Nuits Saint Georges et Premaux-Prissey’ was certainly a step in the right direction.
The exhibition hall for the event
With about 40 vignerons exhibiting their wines through open tastings, this was a good opportunity to try the classic Burgundian Pinot Noir wines but with some cool experimentations done by a few here and there. Not as big as the other expos and events I have attended in the recent past in France, this one certainly didn’t disappoint on the quality front. With not many whites to choose from, a few were really impressive. A 2009 Bourgogne Aligoté from Domaine Gachot-Monot for its price was certainly a value deal. As otherwise perceived, this wine was not super acidic or boring, it rather had some character and balance that could make for a good aperitif for a Sunday brunch or to begin a long drinking day. Another brilliant white was from Maison Sylvain Loichet who with their 2007 Corton Charlemagne blew me away thanks to its opulence and luscious flavour profile with a forever lasting finish.
Amaury Devillard of Domaine des Perdrix
Wines from Amaur's domaine who is pictured left

A red wine dominated event, the wines reflected the peculiarity of the vintages on display. With 2008s characterised by soft tannins and a very fresh acidity which would help age them long, they had almost developed red fruit character with slight oak. The 2009s on the other hand with their youthful cassis and strawberry nose had a bit more to the palate with a good balance of fruit and acidity but were slightly tannic too. Nonetheless, they are certainly developing promisingly and in my opinion will be fully drinkable in a year or two. But it was the small vineyard site of “Les Damodes” that was really the star of the event for me. With developed red fruits characteristics, the nose almost transcended into the black fruits zone. On the palate it was fuller bodied with a great roundness and a good structure and the overall quality touching the high end of the spectrum. Noteworthy makers harvesting from this site were Domaine Chantal Lescure, Domaine Jean-Pierre Bony and Domaine Lechenaut. What also made me drool were these superb wines from Domaine des Perdrix, viz.2008 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Aux Perdrix”, a Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Les 8 ouvrées” from the same vintage and the 2007 Echézeaux Grand Cru.
The ideal way to conclude the day-long tasting activity was to have a sparkling and that’s exactly what I did! With Maison Louis Bouillot helping with their full range of Cremants, it was the Blanc de Blanc and the rounder, fruitier Perle Rare that set the appetite for a heavy dinner! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Day at Maison Jean-Claude Boisset

It was on a sunny weekday that I went to Les Ursulines in Nuits-Saint-Georges that hosts what is now the cellar of Maison Jean-Claude Boisset.
The maison, started by the courageous Jean Claude Boisset at an age when people hardly know what do in life, is now a big group with a number of brands and domaines acquired over the 50 years of their existence. They also have presence in the United States where Mr Jean-Charles Boisset is overlooking the group’s operations. A few minutes ride from the station, the maison is located in what used to be a convent prior to the French Revolution. While the history has been carefully preserved, the touch of modern architecture with some beautiful landscaping makes the premises a picturesque venue.

A warm welcome with greetings in French immediately put me at ease. As I am joined by Gregory, the maison’s chief winemaker for almost a decade now, we get talking about the subject that had us standing in a common place. He first shows me around the winemaking facility which for this time of the year was expectedly quiet and lacking the activity as otherwise witnessed during the harvest time. As I kept shooting questions at Gregory, he was kind enough to take his time to explain, making sure that none of the queries remained unanswered. What really appealed to me was the philosophy of the group that they called ‘viniculture’ that well reflected in Gregory’s talking. With strong emphasis  on terroir, the philosophy lays as much importance (sometimes even more) on monitoring what happens to those vines in the vineyards to the point when they are finally made into wines. Another noteworthy practice that really impressed me was the minimum levels of interference with nature as the wine begins to evolve into the magic potion. As we walked down into the cellar grabbing our tasting glasses, Gregory explained how he doesn’t believe in adding any yeast strains or culture to their wines and even practises such as lees stirring were strictly forbidden.The idea is to let nature take its time and bring about wonderful changes to the wine. Here, one might get the impression that winemaking is a child’s play and the team at Boisset is just lazy to do enough to make a good wine. Easier said than done, it really is an art how they get the best out of wine which can only come with years of expertise.
At no point does our conversation stop and we talk on a range of topics from handpicked coopers supplying barrels of oak from specified regions to how clever a grape Pinot Noir is, introduction of 450 litres barrels along with the conventional 228 ones and how the current facility was a convent occupied by the Nuns in the pre-revolution era .Though I have already mentioned earlier, one thing that came out again from these conversations was how the maison had not forgotten its Burgundian roots where terroir is possibly the biggest determinant in defining a wine. While the topic still remains debatable, the illustrious examples provide by ‘chef’ were well convincing, only to be verified by the wines we tasted. The wines tried were from the barrels of 2009 vintage, almost ready to be bottled.
The whites:
Côte de Nuits Villages,Single Vineyard
Beaune Premier Cru
The reds:
Savigny-lès-Beaune Village
Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru Les Valozières  
Gevrey-Chambertin Jeunes Rois (‘jeune rois’ means the young King, made from 100 year old vines)
Volnay Premier Cru Carelle sous la Chapelle

While Volnay Premier Cru Carelle sous la Chapelle is really what I would have preferred to buy (my personal opinion and in no way undermining the other beautiful wines I tried), it’ll be difficult getting my hands on a bottle as there are only 2 cuvées of it that have been produced. Its long finish and excellent balance (with an ageing potential upto 10-15 years thanks to the near perfect acidity), still lingers in my mouth. The visit was short, but the conversations never ending. Instead of ‘Au revoir’ I say ‘A bientôt’ only to come back very soon. 
While the sun still smiles upon me, I ride back home.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pinot Noir for a Better World

Does being spiritual help make a better world and produce even better wines? What an abrupt start to argue a concept that can make some sense very soon. I am talking about Genomics here.

It is one of the video clips by Barry Schuler that got me thinking. In the video, Barry talks about his belief in Spiritualism (not to be mistaken with religion) and mentions how ‘The’ great architect has created ‘genome’. And what is a genome-“all the DNA that is there in an organism. It is the code of life”.  Going further, Barry explains how just like the binary system of using only 2 digits is the basis to all digital technology, a genome consists of 4 representative letters that form a series of base pairs. These base pairs are nothing but simply a combination of the above 4 letters on which the complex programming of our DNA and eventually every function in our body or any other organism is based. It is this programming that determines who we are, the way we look and also gives us our individual characteristics.
Source: Google Images
Too much babble? Well let’s consider this- “the genome in our beloved Pinot Noir consists of 30,000 genes and 500,000 base pairs”. And why is it of any interest to the wine fraternity? Now let’s assume that we have understood this entire genome. From understanding problems like what happens to a rootstock when Phylloxera starts messing with it to learning about each varietal so as to pinpoint the reason for their unique characteristics, we can avoid ‘fixing square pegs in round holes’. This means that without employing any damaging practices we can still mould the personality of a certain wine into what we want as we would exactly know which gene arrangement is responsible for what! Accordingly, wine styles can be modified to cater to target markets with specific needs. But as these wines are meant to make the world better by avoiding tampering with the nature, will it make sense for the capitalists to jump in and make millions out of the R&D that they’ll put in the coming years? Well, they surely can but hopefully with a sense of passing the benefits to the end consumer and also ensuring sustainability! Talking about sustainability, it is another burning topic in the wine arena these days. Hope to write on that soon.