It started on the 28th of June 1950, when 133 wines were presented to thirty wine-tasters for evaluation; 114 were chosen to wear the label of the Tastevinage. Fast-forward to September 30th 2011, and 782 wines were evaluated by just over 250 tasters, 284 were declared “tastevinés” (36.32%). For the record, the assembled throng of experts, perhaps in deference to Montrachet, or to separate themselves from the uninitiated, never ‘sound’ the ‘s’ in tastevine.
The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin organises two such ‘Tastevinage Sessions’ at the Château du Clos de Vougeot: in the Spring for red burgundy; and in the Autumn for white burgundy – even the crus of Beaujolais are represented – Beaujolais might no-longer be part of ‘Greater Burgundy’ but the Chevaliers, at least, seem in no rush to cut the cord. Despite such a differentiation, my Autumn tasting table dealt only with Côte de Nuits reds. Cremant de Bourgogne may be shown at both events.
If I am honest I was aware of the Tastevinage label but assumed it was mainly a home-market thing; let’s call it marketing, but a quick check of Winesearcher indicated that the wines are spread broadly across the world – a label that is officially ‘recognised’ by the European Union – though don’t ask me what ‘recognised’ actually means. Effectively I knew nothing – I decided it was time to find out and there seemed no better way than getting my taste-buds dirty!
The stated aims:
The Tastevinage aims to be of use to all lovers of Burgundy’s wines: as an invaluable landmark in the complex landscape of the region’s terroirs, it provides the consumer with a guarantee of unmitigated enjoyment. The Tastevinage consists of a rigorous test of wines from every corner of the Burgundy wine region, from Chablis to the Beaujolais crus, with the purpose of selecting those that come up to the standard of their appellation and vintage. These are then awarded the seal of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, allowing the consumer to identify those wines which, because of their integrity, personality and indisputable quality, have shown themselves worthy of this distinction.
Despite my presence at the Autumn session, the jury of tasters are described by the Tastevinage as:
…an elite of connoisseurs and fine palates gathered together: famous winegrowers, wine merchants, leaders of the viticultural associations, brokers, oenologists, restaurateurs, government officials working in partnership with the wine industry, enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine lovers, all surrounded by key Confrérie officials and journalists, present as “disinterested observers”…
To be fair the make-up of my table was indeed an eclectic mix of Burgundian wine professionals that included some very well regarded producers – plus me!
At each table, a number of wines – in our case sixteen red wines – had their identities hidden from the six tasters. In-front of us stood a selection of Bourgognes, Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Nuits and Gevrey villages, premiers and even a Clos de Bèze; the predominant vintage was 2009 plus a few 2008s and a single 2007.
In flights of three, the attendants carefully poured us a measure of each wine so that we never had chance to make physical contact with those anonymous bottles – okay not completely anonymous – we knew the appellation and vintage in each case. The whole process took us about ninety minutes, in that time we had to score the wines out twenty. Whilst no wine with a score below 13 could be awarded the marque of ‘Tasteviné’ the questions that ‘judges’ had to ask themselves offered more rigour:
- Does the wine conform to its appellation and vintage?
- Is the wine typical and will it improve with age?
- Essentially; is it a wine I would be happy to have in my cellar and proud to serve to my friends?
I was heartened to see that all the tasters at our table seemed quite well aligned – scores were different, but the wines relative to each-other followed a consistent gradation. From our table (at least) only six of the sixteen wines were deemed ‘Tasteviné’ – it seemed, to me, the right result in the context of the three points above. Only for info our table’s ‘coup de coeur’ was a Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits which scored about a 15/20. The Clos de Bèze was an elegant and complex wine which I scored at 16.5/20, but none of us put it forward as a ‘Tasteviné’; Mr ‘well respected producer of Nuits St.Georges’ at our table was perfectly succinct, “there’s only one thing wrong with that wine – 5% too much rendement!”
I should, I suppose, point out that the ‘jurors’ are afterwards invited to a slap-up lunch in Clos de Vougeot – which some of the committed tasters chose to miss. For the record I thought I should get into the spirit of occasion…
There are a couple of important conclusions I was able to draw from this experience:
- The average ‘acceptance’ as a ‘Tasteviné’ wine is rising just a little each year, but remains (refreshingly I would say) below a 40% pass-rate. I would indeed be happy to have the wines we ‘passed’ at our table in my cellar – in this instance the system seems to work. Assuming a consistent approach from the jurors I am heartened that the stated aim (theory) of having easy-to-recognise labels for wines that might correctly deliver their promises, just might actually work in practice too!
- It’s easy to be cynical; doubtlessly those who put their wines forward for this process must be paying something towards this process as they are clearly struggling to sell the wines through normal channels. In some cases, no surprise, the wines just can’t sell any other way – I haven’t previously come across raw, unripe 2009 villages Gevery-Chambertin, but there was more than one on our table – they didn’t get through the door! The blind result seems to be the right result – well-done to all I say!
I will never look at a Tasteviné label in quite the same way again!