Warning – Opinion!

Hospices de Nuits St.Georges – their 63rd wine auction – the 2023s

By billn on March 11, 2024 #events#in case you missed it#warning - opinion!

Images Sunday 10th March – in the Clos de Vougeot

Yesterday, Sunday 10th March, for the first time since the auction moved to the Clos de Vougeot, I went along to the wine auction of the Domaine of the Hospices de Nuits.

Sales prices were a little down – but that’s the global market. By the end of the sale, the organisers could make some nice quotes and all the wines were sold – it was a good total for the organisation and the local charities linked to the sale – so well done for them.

The first lots were three barrels of 1er Les Murgers – one of the smallest cuvées of the Hospices – €20,000, then €21,000, the €18,000 were the winning bids – the latter a possible bargain for Domaine Henri Gouges. The villages wine that followed started at €10k slowly dropping to 8.5k then further to 8k – but this buyer took 4 barrels! For the next barrels of villages there was some discussion as there were no takers at the starting price of 7k – eventually the bid was ‘won’ at 6k but they – it was Bichot – took 5 barrels. Another winning bid of 6k came – this time the buyer taking 4 barrels – Boisset in this case.

The following lots brought the return to 1er crus and the next lot of Porrets St.Georges made 16k. The buyers were present but, it seemed, reticent – and so it continued.

The final result registered a total of 2,281,500 Euros, this was the third highest in the history of the Hospices de Nuits St.Georges – though behind that total was quite the large number of barrels in this vintage which masked a little the effect of lower prices.

The Pièce de Charité, known as the “Cuvée des Bienfaiteurs”, did indeed achieve a new record bid of €68,330 for the benefit of the Clément-Drevon Foundation – a medical research organisation. Also setting a new record was (in only it’s second appearance!) the Cuvée Hugues Perdrizet Nuits St.Georges 1er Cru Les St.Georges Vieilles Vignes which attained a winning bid of €60,000.

I remain convinced that the way forward for maximum returns for the Domaine of the Hospices de Nuits wines will be best developed if brought together in same sale as that of the Domaine of the Hospices de Beaune – it would be a win-win, I’m sure. But today, this is what we have…

Premier Crus for Fleurie?

By billn on June 06, 2023 #beaujolais#degustation#warning - opinion!

*The Fleurie appellation is located in the heart of the Beaujolais Crus and overlooks the Saône valley, the AOC Fleurie is backed by a chain of ridges. It culminates between 225 and 475 meters above sea level and flourishes on 840 hectares of vines. The soils are mainly made up of more or less deep and decomposed pink granites which give Fleurie wines a finesse and an elegant structure.
Check out: Fleurie & Fleurie Maps

*As per InterBeaujolais…

Fleurie - Clos de la Chapelle des BoisFor about 10 years now, the ‘Cru Fleurie’ – ie the local association of winegrower/makers – have been involved in collective action and studies with the aim to ‘encourage winegrowers to further improve the quality of their wines and highlight their terroirs in order to reclaim their wine history!

During this period, resources were allocated to both cartographic and geological studies – you have a link to the resulting maps here – this work carried out by the Rhône Chamber of Agriculture in collaboration with the Sigales pedological study office with the aid of InterBeaujolais. The result, with the (above) linked maps, certainly makes it possible to more fully appreciate the diversity of the soils in Beaujolais – granite is not always granite! Further research has included historical price positioning plus a survey on the cultural practices and know-how of the winegrowers.

On Tuesday, March 28 2023, a general meeting was held for the Fleurie Cru and the Beaujolais vineyards. The winegrowers of the Fleurie Cru voted for an update to their specifications plus a list of climats that should be presented with all the collected historical information to the INAO for a Premiers Crus classification. *’Out of more than 70 voters (representing 60% of the surface area of the AOC), more than 85% of the winegrowers voted for the following:

The updated specifications include the following commitments:
– A yield of 52 hl/ha vs 56 hl for the Fleurie without mention of 1er Cru
– Marketing of their wines on September 1st following the harvest vs the current February 1st
– A first harvest after the 5th leaf – it is allowed in the 3rd vintage even for grand crus in the Côte d’Or!
– A minimum degree of 11.5° vs the current 10.5°
– Chemical weeding is prohibited for vines planted at greater than 120cm spacing

The 48 climats of the cru were classified according to the following objective criteria:
– The use of the locality in harvest claims
– The claimed area vs planted area of the locality
– Valuation of vintages
– Tasting notes
– Contemporary literature
– Historical literature
– The cartography

The winegrowers of the Fleurie Cru wish to propose for Premier Cru classification the 7 climats having obtained the best scores in their voting, i.e.:
– Les Moriers
– Poncié
– Les Garants
– La Madone
– La Roilette
– Grille Midi
– La Chapelle des Bois
These 7 localities currently represent 27% of the appellation.

The dossier containing these infos will be presented to the INAO. This is typically a very long process before (or if!) any changes come to fruition – 10-20 years! – with much horse-trading and even the likelihood that the INAO (in exchange) will wish to declassify some parcels from the AOC of Fleurie.

My personal position is that the crus of Beaujolais are effectively (already) the equivalent of premier crus because of the pre-existence of Beaujolais-Villages eg Beaujolais-Lantignie (and many others) and an obvious step up in quality. I would be happier if the energy of the growers was focused on making the very best wine possible as opposed to tinkering with the rules and classification of their climats – yet! – Yet, it is also entirely possible that the improvement in quality that they are searching for and the investment in the best production facilities that can underpin that may only be widely achievable if the can earn a few more euros per bottle and need the influence of a 1er cru label to achieve that. You might say something of a chicken and egg situation…

Click on ‘Read More…’ below to see the notes for 40+ Fleurie wines in the order that they were (blind) tasted this Springtime:
  Read more..

a small venting of my corked wine annoyance…

By billn on May 08, 2023 #warning - opinion!

weekend wines...

Of course, weekend wines – but this selection left me needing to vent:

Yes, it’s only an aligoté but yes, it was horribly corked – you could smell it at a distance as it was being poured down the sink!

But this is also a brilliant cuvée – made by somebody that we have lost – so this is not the way I want to remember him.

And from the 2016 vintage, Gambal sealed their bottles with DIAM. So how corked?

Boisset bought the Gambal operation before the bottling of the 2018s – and for some reason they have never ‘liked’ DIAM. This is the reason that they have failed this particular consumer. The could use Ndtec cork – not perfect but at least 10x better than normal cork – though expensive. Or they could have used one of many, many ‘technical seals’ – it doesn’t have to be DIAM – but in the end, they chose something that meant their product had to be thrown away…

(as ever) of organics and moonscapes…

By billn on April 11, 2023 #warning - opinion!

Chevalier-Montrachet 10-April 2023It’s idyllic – no?

Right – this is the image I conjure in my head every time a vigneron(ne) starts to talk of their conversion to organic viticulture – or a next step to biodynamics* – surely the bottle that comes from the pictured Chevalier-Montrachet will be worth at least €350! But up to Easter you can easily spot the vineyards where, cheaper, short-cuts have been made – with herbicides. I get on my high horse about this every year yet because, despite many domaines’ trigger-happy approach to pricing, the weening off of their reliance on herbicides seems to progress at a more glacial pace.

I note that the corner of Criots Bâtard-Montrachet that was so often turned chemical-orange in recent years is, this year, ploughed – and not just to hide the evidence of chemical treatment (yes, domaines do that,) I could find no part-hidden tufts of orange grass this year – progress! Would that so much of neighbouring Puligny-Montrachet could take similar strides – there can be no excuse from the perspective of pricing. I expect flower meadows at the prices of even the village wines of Puligny today – stark are the differences of neighbouring plots – ploughed or just sprayed. Oh, and it’s not just the village wines – significant areas in the 1er crus are also moonscapes right now, vineyards that are lush with growth when I visit them in the summer with their likeable owners – yet right now they are a (very) depressing sight – unlike the Chaevalier-Montrachet in my photo.
*A very well-known producer made me laugh last week when he told me, “I believe in 2 things – science and God – because when one has no answer the other does – which is why I struggle with biodynamics!

As a contrast to the flower meadows I offer you also some of the other photos I took yesterday in Puligny:

“Identity is a hard-won thing”

By billn on March 02, 2023 #warning - opinion!


I know that I’ve bored you on this subject before but it’s something of an evergreen – articles popping out of the woodwork years after the idea has been put forward. But that works both ways – it also gives me the opportunity to vent once more 😉

Indeed, identity IS a hard-won thing.

The thing is, that Burgundy IS that identity in the English-speaking (Anglophone) world, an identity that has been honed over many, many generations, in many, many magazines and in many, many books and by generations of winemerchants.

Is it not enough that we have to endure the LouisVuittonification of the wines and, slowly, also the themeparkification of the Côte d’Or? Now they want us to change a name that means something inalienable to so many people.

I can’t discount that it could be my age that’s to blame but I simply say no!

Volnay votes to stop the use of herbicides

By billn on February 14, 2023 #the market#warning - opinion!

Grand cru herbicide...One of the most obviously depressing sights in Burgundy comes around right about now – February-April – when the yellow-orange, dead weeds and grass become visible. It’s a short but annoying window where you can see some very expensive plots of real estate in the raw, treated with herbicide. This view lasts only a few weeks before the offending material is ploughed back into the soil and halos of multiple growers are seemingly restored.

Recently, a small but important step was taken by the Organisme de Gestion of Volnay (ODG) – the winegrowers association – which voted to stop the use of herbicide in their Volnay Premiers Crus. An obvious ‘halfway house‘ of a decision but a welcome one that covers 110 hectares of vines.

This evolution of ‘Volnay specifications’ will now be included in the rules by the INAO, the new specifications could be in place as early as 2024. Such evolutions are rare but absolutely necessary; newly granted AOCs are held to much more rigorous standards than those that have been in place for the last 90 years – for instance also forbidding the use of machine harvesting.

From the press release: “Stopping herbicides seemed obvious to us,” explained Thomas Bouley, current President of ODG Volnay, “Because public and environmental health is at stake. We are fortunate to have an appellation of international renown, with high added value, which allows us to produce in a more ‘proper’ way. In such a favourable economic context (for our wines) our appellation must now, more than ever, be exemplary.

the foot-stabber’s guide

By billn on October 23, 2022 #warning - opinion!

Andrew Jefford: ‘Perhaps they think “drinkers like oak”. Really?’

I don’t find a lot to inspire me in most of the current glut of semi-regurgitated articles, but there’s not much to argue with here!

this week’s wines, including ‘Who is the new Domaine René Engel?’

By billn on July 07, 2022 #degustation#warning - opinion!

this week's wines

Dinner with friends in Pommard and some lovely, eclectic, wines.

The first bottle was a lovely 2011 Comtes Champagne – with some lovely menthol aromatic complexity. Then came the:

2012 Fontaine-Gagnard, Le Montrachet
Deeper colour and the first nose was more monolithic – some sulfur-reduction hardening things – affecting the palate too – but aeration brought more comfort, more dimension and less sulfur! Such a concentrated flavour and shape to this wine – it’s such a baby – still! Very impressed, rather than wowed – yet – it has the material that good bottles will easily outlast me!
Rebuy – Maybe

2014 Jean Chartron, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Folatières
So much more open and so much more aromatically direct – complex, citrus energy – just such a great invitation. Like the nose the flavours more open and energetic and accessible than the Montrachet but never with the weight and concentration of the older wine. But in terms of drinking, this was clearly the white to go for today.
Rebuy – Yes

1996 Vincent Girardin, Volnay 1er Clos des Chênes
Plenty of browning but still a good depth of colour. The aromas reminded me of the many 1996 recently drunk – complex – not harsh – inviting, and unlike the reputation of the domaine at this time – not much oak influence is visible today. This was a very tasty wine – I’d be happy to spend an evening just with this bottle.
Rebuy – Yes

And now, here is the question…

Who is the new Domaine René Engel? Over the last few years, many people have asked me this question. More often than not they are looking for the next domaine whose wines could jump to the ‘superstar level’ of pricing so that they can jump in and later cash in! With pricing in mind, I rarely attempt to answer this question but there is another perspective.

For this other perspective, it’s important to define what was Domaine René Engel: Up until the loss of Philippe Engel in 2005 the wines of this domaine were never considered to be on the same ‘superstar’ or ‘sought after’ level as newly emerging domaines such as Comte Liger-Belair or older domaines such as Méo-Camuzet. But as a counterpoint to the more oaked and sometimes structural wines of Grivot and various domaines ‘Gros,’ the wines of Engel were always accessible and delicious – they were also very well priced when compared to his neighbours. Most were drunk young – as those of any ‘less expensive’ domaine. But those bottles that have been saved – helped by today’s prices shooting for the stars; €3k is now average for a bottle of 1999 Engel Grands-Echézeaux – have shown that accessible and balanced is no barrier to ageing with grace whilst remaining delicious.

With this latter perspective in mind, I’m always happy and open with my thoughts and was reminded of this during a tasting with friends in Pommard this week. One-time contemporary of Philippe Engel and Mr Consistent in terms of a similar easy deliciousness I openly suggest Frederic Esmionin. His Estournelles St.Jacques is an absolute cracker and his Ruchottes-Chambertin is all that you could wish for from a grand cru – but just look at his tariff – at least in the context of many neighbours in the Côte de Nuits. It’s a shame that his long-term lease of the Ruchottes-Chambertin parcel will come to an end in 2031 when it will return to the current (new) owners – Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy’s Domaine des Lambrays – the price of this wine will probably (at least) triple when grapes have to take the long trip to Morey Saint-Denis!

Confined to his wheelchair it is not Fred Esmonin who does the work in the vines or in the cuvérie – it is still mainly his father, André, who is also getting on in years – I hope that between them they can keep going until 2031!

Anyway, back to the wines:

1999 Frederic Esmonin, Ruchottes-Chambertin
MOre modest colour after the 1996 Girardin. What a great nose – open, a faintly smoky complexity but still a fine and complex red fruit style – zero issues with this fine, clean nose. The palate – yes – broad, mouth-filling, good energy and still just a small lick of the structural tannins. Absolutely delicious wine. Really in great shape and (red) wine of the night..
Rebuy – Yes

2001 Louis Latour, Corton
It’s so rare to see older Latours that I was really looking forward to this one. I find young Lators usually closed and uninteresting but my experience of older bottles is almost always positive – this one wasn’t going to change my mind on that.
Darker, younger colour. The nose a little more mineral and dark fruited. More structural scale – as you might expect from Corton – and a wine that’s clearly going to need a few more years to be as drinkable as the Esmonin – yet – here is good dark fruit, properly Corton in shape but without hard edges – and has a finish of wonderful, if still young, grand cru energy. A wine with so many positives – well done.
Rebuy – Yes

Wine service & whites – is it getting better? What are your experiences…(?)

By billn on May 26, 2022 #warning - opinion!

Even in the Côte d’Or – or maybe because it is the Côte d’Or(!) – wine service still leaves a lot to be desired when there are faulty wines – particularly whites. It is, perhaps, even more difficult if you are drinking in the more rarified regions of wine lists as when you ‘simply’ want a villages Meursault.

I, together with various visitors in the Côtes this week, have drunk very well but despite the eye-watering price of many bottles, not all restaurants are prepared to stand behind those less than perfect bottles that they sell. In just the first 3 days of this week, all the wines in the image that follows were drunk. One was corked and replaced without question or (obvious) ‘self-testing’ by the restaurant. Another was deemed oxidised and the sommelier agreed – but the owner didn’t – and refused to credit or replace the wine.

I ask myself, have things got better since 2001 and 2002 village whites were oxidised at restaurant tables? Many years ago, I remember one sommelier tried to explain away (to his table of ‘only tourists’) an oxidised 2002 Puligny villages by saying that this particular winemaker (Henri Boillot) actually made wine in an ‘oxidative style, much like Pierre Morey‘ to which one of my dinner companions (there were two – both winemakers) pulled out his phone in exasperation and said ‘Oh really?! Should I ring Pierre to ask him about that?‘ The facial colour of the sommelier changed and he ran away to get another bottle – which was perfect!

Since those days, much has improved – and that’s largely thanks to the introduction of DIAM – but neither of our problem bottles this week were sealed with DIAM:

Two of these were bad!

Burgundy Report

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