Warning – Opinion!

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!

the côte de covid….

By billn on December 06, 2021 #events#warning - opinion!

There’s plenty of truth in the articles that have circulated in the last few days; here and here.

I have, personally, never engaged with the larger tastings and tasting dinners that have re-emerged in these (currently!) post-confinement times. I checked out the Roi Chambertin’s new premises – and it was better – but I still didn’t stay to taste. I do have occasional domaine visits where there are other tasters present – and I try to keep my distance – only fist bumping where necessary. Even that is fraught with difficulty; last week I received an email from an important domaine to let me know that a fellow taster had tested positive. Fortunately, me not in the 10 days that have followed the tasting, and now I’m boosted with my third jab too.

Returning the title and the linked articles; it comes as no surprise to me that a number of domaines are currently unavailable for the next 10 days for tastings – no more info given! I’ve not personally had any cancellations yet, but I know of plenty of people who have. Anyone who has seen some of the Instagram videos of the maskless partying at the Paulée de Meursault, and others, will understand that these were, to all intents and purposes, the perfect super-spreader events. Let’s not even think about the rumours of the falsified covid-certificates at some of the gatherings.

I chose to leave Beaune for Bern on the weekend of the Vent des Vins, returning to the quieter side of Beaune on the Tuesday that followed. The wine auction was well-organised and with good spacing between the participants – it’s the extra-curricular events that have been the issue – the Trois not so Glorieuses in 2021!

The changing ownership landscape of the Côte d’Or

By billn on June 29, 2021 #the market#warning - opinion!

The waxing and waning of vineyard ownership – or rather the relative size of ownership – has always been the subject of external forces; times of higher demand, times of lower demand, times of disease or simply times of consistently poor weather. Burgundy has never been a stranger to those things…

Outwardly, and from this perspective, things seem little different today to what has happened in previous generations but dig deeper and I’d say that the current situation is different.

My current musings on this were partly prompted by the recently announced sale of the Christian Confuron estate to the Evenstad family of Domaine Serene, to add to their ownership of Domaine de la Crée in Santenay. Actually, I’d been aware of both the sale and the (undisclosed but ballpark) price of €40 million – for under 7 hectares but with grand and 1er cru appellations – for a few weeks after visiting a domaine that had bought grapes from this Confuron estate but was seemingly going to lose their grape contract this year due to the sale – but, hopefully, they will manage to come to some short-term accommodation on that front.

On the positive side for this Confuron acquisition, we have a business that is focused on wine – whether that wine comes from Oregon or Burgundy – we can all appreciate the synergy and, of course, there are domaines in Burgundy that have estates in Oregon too – so all is fair! On the negative side – and negative purely from my gut feeling – is the ever-growing concentration of vineyard land in the hands of a) buyers from outside of Burgundy and b) groups and individuals who are not primarily in the wine business. Some buyers still count wine as an important part of a portfolio of assets whilst others buy due to their ‘interest’ in wine but the essential issue today is the significant geographic change of ownership of the vineyards of Burgundy. Outside of the pre-revolutionary times of the French monarchy/aristocracy and ownership by the church – Burgundian vineyards have never seen such dwindling local ownership.

New ownership still has an important French dimension and at the most exclusive end of the vineyard scale, many hectares are being rolled into the portfolios of some of France’s richest individuals. And do continue to watch this space, a certain domaine in an important Côte de Nuits village has tongues wagging of an imminent €800 million transaction – you heard it here first 😉

Less transparent still, are the organisations that are buying up estates and parcels here and there and paying off the incumbent producers. These organisations have no winemaking so ‘donate’ the vines to important domaines in both the red and white villages of the Côte d’Or, guaranteeing themselves or their ‘club members’ the majority or all of that production – it’s hard to imagine many illustrious names being used as ‘toll manufacturing’ facilities but this is the effective result and you need not feel sorry for the domaines – they are being well recompensed, though don’t expect them to show you the wines when you visit.

Whilst I have uncomfortable feelings about the loss of local ownership of Burgundian vineyards, the inward investment that this has generated and the relative clarity of ownership that we see, clearly has many benefits. The reduction of local ownership of the vines is something that I instinctively feel to be a sub-optimal direction for the region but I feel significantly less positive about the lack of clarity surrounding the growth of the 1er and grand cru ownership and then toll-manufacturing approach – and just occasionally I feel the need to beat out a few words on my keyboard about it!

[Edit:] Posted today (30-June):

independence – not!

By billn on December 27, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Here am I, one day from quarantine freedom, though with one-less mother-in-law due to covid.
(Disclaimer: not the only mother-in-law I’ve had!)

Rather than writing about winemakers and their wines this morning, I’m looking at obviously shoddy ‘journalism.‘ I’m not even taking exception at what has been written – only that the author is in no position to write it for an audience who are presumably (well what do you think?) assuming this to be an independent piece of work – as opposed to shilling for wineries whose wines they sell. This sort of thing makes it rather shit for those of us who try to be independent, and even (god forbid) actually buy – with our own money – from wineries whose wines we like and recommend to others!

Not my typical Sunday, but don’t worry there will be some wines on these pages too 🙂

world heritage, with no world?

By billn on December 02, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Climats Association - UNESCO

I note, today, a press release from the association of climats – the body that was responsible for the work achieving UNESCO World Heritage Site status for much of the Côte d’Or. I understand their perspective but it still saddens me:

*The Association des Climats du Vignoble de Bourgogne has alerted the State ‘services’ to the damage caused by the plans to install 18 wind turbines, 180 meters high, on and around the site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and of its landscape preservation zone called the buffer zone. These projects threaten the authenticity of the landscapes of the World Heritage site, by making these wind turbines visible from the registered site. Certain villages of the Côte d’Or and emblematic panoramas such as the hill of Corton, the hill of the 3 crosses in Santenay or the cirque du bout du monde de Saint-Romain would be threatened. An impact that the World Heritage Committee could also take a dim view of…

*My translation…

It seems to me that this is blinkered in response and lacking nuance – or perhaps also understanding. Would they prefer that countries concentrate on fossil fuels in preference to renewables? Or is this simply ‘there are better places for this‘ ie not in my backyard? If the former, in the future we may no-longer have world heritage sites…

Of course, that’s entirely my own opinion and many will disagree with me…

Value in Burgundy?

By billn on July 09, 2020 #warning - opinion!

Nick Jackson MW made a suggestion for producers per village. I found some great suggestions but also some reliance on négoce wines and relatively high priced producers too:

There’s definitely a homogeneity of pricing in Vosne, Meursault, Puligny & Chassagne that’s hard to avoid, but by going some way off the ‘beaten track‘ of producers I came up with a counter-suggestion – but what do you think? Remember I’m trying to capture ‘value’ so great quality and a good price.

PS I tried to associate producers with the village in question but be based in the same village. I made a mistake with Fougeray de Beauclair – they are based in Marsannay, not Fixin – but I had anyway included them for their Fixin Clos Marion!

text of the day – a biodynamic critique…

By billn on June 14, 2020 #a bit of science#warning - opinion!

The problem with biodynamics: myths, quacks and pseudoscience
Linked here

A post (above) that’s worth spending a little time over.

I try to avoid discussing Steiner, the man, for exactly the reasons that this author has enunciated. I do believe that there are some aspects of (let me shorten it to) ‘BD’ that, perhaps, science has yet to catch up with, but I wholeheartedly concede that the general critique levelled by Joshua is incontrovertible.

There were great wines before biodynamics – even in the ‘chemical era’ of the 1960s-1990s – though far fewer than today. I believe that organic approaches to viticulture have improved sustainable grape production radically. How much of that is down to BD is a moot point, certainly far, far, less than the recent benevolence of the climate and wine pricing that allows producers to experiment and not always aim for the highest allowed yields.

The ‘DRC Fallacy’ is something of a given, as one should note that not all great farmers are great winemakers – and vice-versa – the great names (labels) happen to combine both aspects. Save for certain ‘hard to explain’ rituals (including burials!) BD is essentially very close to organic farming. For that reason alone, I’m quite happy that more and more people are taking note. That’s possibly my philosophical side speaking but from the perspective of intellectual rigour…

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