The négociant house of Alex Gambal first saw the light of day in July 1997. Alex Gambal, a native of Boston originally came to live in Beaune with his family in 1993; the plan was to stay for one year – in the end it was three – with Alex packing a one year course at wine school during their stay.
Today, home for the ‘Maison’ is just outside the old town walls of Beaune, in a quiet street close to the railway station. Initially 100% of the production found its way to the US, today, however, the figure is closer to 70% and you can certainly find the wines on a few restaurant menu’s in Beaune – Ma Cuisine for instance. When I visited in May, Alex was in the US doing his sales job, so I met with Fabrice Laronze – Chef de la Cave to discuss the winemaking and to talk through the barrels.
For the 1997 release, all the wine was obtained in barrel – as relationships have gradually been forged, the 2002 vintage was sourced via 60% grapes and 40% must for the whites, and the reverse proportion for the red wines. Today, production is in the region of 40-50,000 bottles per year. With the current small team this is close to the maximum they can properly handle, so, in the foreseeable future there are no plans for further growth.
The wine-making here, is described as very traditional; for the whites, the grapes go direct into the press without crushing and then direct into the barrels for fermentation – using only natural yeasts. The whites are fined if required but not filtered. The reds, following triage, are de-stemmed and put into the tanks. The temperature is controlled only if the grapes are a little too warm, otherwise fermentation starts naturally in 5-7 days. No fining or filtration is used. Red or white, little new oak is used with the village wines bottled in around 1 year and the 1er and Grand Cru wines after 14-18 months.
An enjoyable visit where all the resource and emphasis is placed on the wine, no extra extraction by long cold macerations or heaps of new oak thrown at the process – the result seems to be good, honest and even stylish wines. Compared to the big négociants I would place the wine style as closest to Joseph Drouhin – wines with a plenty of enjoyment young, but the stuffing to mature in what should be a very satisfying way. Interestingly, Fabrice recommends decanting the wines as they are oxygen starved when bottled, hence, in a slightly reduced state – not obvious from the samples tested – but worth experimenting at home!
Fabrice and I took a tour through some of the 2002 cuvées, followed by examples in bottle.
Early days for the 2002’s so only an indicative note is made, particularly as some reds were still undergoing their malolactics :
2000 Alex Gambal, Saint-Aubin (Sur Gamay)
Pale yellow. A subdued sherbert and toffee nose. Good fat and a lovely depth to the fruit. Good acidity too which pushes the finish along. There’s nice style here.
2001 Alex Gambal, Chassagne-Montrachet Clos Saint Jean
Deeper colour with the nose showing waxy high fruit over a deeper toned base. Sweet, good acidity and shows a little more ‘width’ and fat than the Saint-Aubin. Creamy and fat on the finish. This is lovely.
2000 Alex Gambal, Chambolle-Musigny
Medium cherry red. Cherry and pretty red fruits. The palate shows good acidity, medium tannins and a little coffee on the finish. Very 2000 and very nice. Not a big wine, but a rich creamy finish to remember it by.
1999 Alex Gambal, Échézeaux
Bought in as wine. Dark young cherry colour. The deep nose has blueberry and black cherry. Fat with big velvety tannins and a black fruit profile. Lovely concentration, though slightly diffuse – it’s hard to easily pick the individual elements. Overall this has very good style. The winery is keeping back a quantity of this wine – so if you spot some on the shelf in 3 or 4 years time – snap it up!
2002 Bourgogne Blanc
Very expressive pineapple nose. Good fruit on the palate, nice acidity and medium length. There will be two cuvees, the ‘Prestige’ via barrel selection.
2002 St.Aubin 1er Cru, Les Murgers des Dents de Chien
The name comes from the white stones strewn on the ground – resembling teeth. Nice nose of sweet pineapple and grapefruit. More mineral and appley palate – more length too. Very pretty.
2002 Meursault, Clos du Cromin
Deeper nose with a floral top-end. Wider palate – still a little gassy – but very tasty. Another nice wine.
Expressive nose – stylistically similar to the bourgogne but with a deeper register. The palate shows good fat, acidity and a nice length.
2002 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er, Clos St Jean
High toned pineapple nose. Fatter again, more depth and good acidity. This is very interesting, just a trace of vanilla in the long finish.
2002 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er, La Maltroye
Nose is less forward though quite deep with a more waxy and melony character. Sweeter with good acidity though quite gassy today. Good depth.
50% new oak for this cuvée. High toned nose which is quite difficult to put your finger on just now – not flowers. This has a very wide palate – flavours coming from all directions – typical Corton-Charlemagne attack. Lovely intensity – this is very good.
2002 Bourgogne Rouge
From two vineyards – but it’s not yet decided whether they will be blended or not. Deeply coloured. Jump out of the glass red cherry fruit. The palate shows excellent acidity, refined tannins and a nice length too. This is a seriously good Bourgogne.
Deep colour segues into a deep black fruit nose with just a trace of coffee. Plenty of gas so hard to judge, but the acidity and fruit are lovely plus the tannins are again very refined. Should be a good bet.
This cuvée was bought in as wine. Less deep colour than the first two reds. Higher toned nose of berries with a little spice. The tannin is more obvious, coupled with good acidity. The finish has excellent length, though finishes on a slightly burnt note. Should be good.
2002 Clos Vougeot
From near the top of the Clos. Good colour. High toned red berries and cherry plus a deeper aspect to the nose. Intense fruit, just a little gas, good acidity and prominent, though not rough, tannins. Very good wine and definitely Grand Cru quality
July 2004 update
The team have been busy at Maison Alex Gambal; the business is now close to 100 barrels – or 40,000 bottles – around 60% being white wine and today they take in more than 80% of their raw materials as grapes or must. Sales are starting to develop in Japan, UK and Denmark and 2004 will likely see the team move to newly purchased premisies within the old walls of Beaune. More exciting is the development that the team will start to bottle some wines with the Stelvin closure (must have read my Clos de Bèze/Corks article in the Spring 2004 issue!) for their UK importer. I saw the closures when I visited and look forward to testing a few of these at home – I just have to decide which wine to choose!
Since visiting last year I’d been meaning to buy some of their St.Aubin (Dents de Chien), so when the opportunity arose I popped in to say hello. Fabrice was working hard in the cellar so I chatted with Sophie and tasted a few 2003 wines in barrel (which by the way are not so ‘obviously 2003’ as many – more like 2002), and the following wines from bottle:
The nose is high toned, understated, characteristic Meursault. A smooth, friendly wine that shows a good finish. Understated but nice.
Medium, mediu-plus cherry red. Pronounced black cherry notes on the nose that slowly become ‘redder’ with time. Pure 2001-style fruit with good concentration. The finish is a good one too. I like this wine.
Medium-plus ruby colour. Shows some secondary development on the nose, sweet and meaty with plums. The palate is fresh. Pleasant rather than concentrated fruit. The finish is creamy and slowly shows some slightly dry tannin. Almost good, but the more recent bottlings are much better.