Monday, July 25, 2011

Burgundy in Bandol?

It's been pretty hectic those past days so not many posts but that's the way life goes...

Recently I had the luck to drink many great wines but one in particular stood out: a 1997 Château Sainte Anne Bandol.

The domain has been family operated for more than 5 generations and the wine is now made by Françoise Dutheil de la Rochère. Saint Anne is among the 1st ones in Bandol to operate towards the natural movement (native yeast, organic etc...). They have the luck to be on a rather cold terroir, north oriented. Yes, indeed this is a luck in Bandol where it is hard to keep the freshness needed in the wines.
A high percentage of cinsault (20%) is completed with grenache (20%) and mourvèdre (60%). Harvest is done manually and all grapes are destemmed. Following the cuvaison (around 12 days), a long elevage takes place in large oak foudres (50 Hl).

This 1997 was reduced at first and needed to be decanted. It showed plenty of red and dark cherry, old leather, mineral and floral notes. More fresh licorice, sweet violet and tobacco. Very complex and very Burgundian. You can close your eyes and see Beaune even though you have your feet in the Mediterranean...
What a great Bandol.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Sans Soufre with age

I've always been a fan of Stephane Tissot. Red, white or even sparkling (his Cremant is excellent) all are worthy of buying them. His style is very Burgundian but I think he always manage to keep a sense of place in his wines even with this Burgundian style.
Conducting biodynamic practices in his vineyards, Stephane vinifies 2 cuvees without any sulfur. The 1st one is his Arbois Trousseau Singulier. The 2nd one is the Arbois Poulsard Sans Soufre. The Poulsard usually benefits from 3-4 years to fully develop. So when I got the chance to get the 2005 Poulsard Sans Soufre, I was relly excited to try it.

This Poulsard comes from different vineyards: Les Bruyères, La Vasée and La Mailloche (Clay soils). All have a South east and North West exposition. The oldest vines were planted in 1942 and the most recent were planted in 1972.
As for the vineyards, they are all in biodynamic agriculture, certified by Ecocert and verified by Demeter. The vineyards are worked without weedkillers, chemical fertilisers, or other synthetic products.To treat the vines sulfur, copper and plant concoctions are used. They make and use their own compost. The soil is worked manually.
Hand harvested in small baskets,the grapes are destemmed and macerated for 17 days in stainless steel tanks with little pumping over, then aged in foudres and demi muids for 12 months. Bottled without filtration and no added SO2.

This 2005 seemed to be at its peak. The nose was great, very Burgundy like, earthy with some funk and some violets and cherry. There's also some herbs and olives. Pretty similar on the palate, med body with rustic tannins. Long finish. Nicely balanced. All in all, a quite complex Poulsard, fresh and pure and very easy to finish the full bottle! After all, this is the destiny of great bottles of wine.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Muscat Queen

Anne-Marie Lavaysse does everything her own way. She created Le Petit Domaine de Gimios 10 years ago and is now being helped by her son Pierre. Located in Saint Jean de Minervois, in the Languedoc, Anne-Marie keeps lettuce, leeks and other fruit trees on her vineyard. Certified Demeter (bioD), she doesn't add any sulfur or copper on her vines. When she started, she was doing like everyone else she admits, and was using sulfur from harvest to bottling. But rapidly she could not stand the smell and the lack of energey in her vines. She, then, stopped using sulfur and never looked back.
Very low yield, between 10 and 14 Hl/ha, she always harvests early in the morning to avoid having the picked grapes exposed to the hot Languedoc sun.

After trying her 2 reds, Rouge Fruit and Rouge de Causse, I finally got to try her dry Muscat Le Muscat Sec des Roumanis, 2008. Just like for her reds, I'm amazed by the balance and freshness offered by her wines, espcially when you consider this is Languedoc.
This Muscat may simply be the best muscat I have ever had. Very complex nose,with a lot going on: tea, rose, mandarine, orange skin, hint of minerality. There's also a tiny spritz. Very similar palate with maybe more apricot notes. Lively, fresh, really delicious.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sarah Hwang from Domaine Huet and Kiralyudvar

Last March, I got the chance to seat down with Sarah Hwang from Domaine Huet and Kiralyudvar. A dynamic, charming young lady, Sarah was kind enough to let me bug her with a few questions on the domains and her journey in the wine world. She’s now in charge for the US market for both Huet and Kiralyudvar while at the same time keeping an eye on the UK market.

So Sarah, how did your father get involved at Huet and Kiralyudvar?

My father is a physicist by training. I always knew him with a passion for wine. He’s always been reading books on wine trying to learn more and develop a better overall understanding.
One summer back in 1997, my brother and I took a family trip with my parents to Budapest in Hungary.
Of course, my dad convinced us that we had to go and visit the Tokaj region. At the time they were no highway so he took us quite some time to reach Tokaj (nowadays the trip is much faster thanks to a brand new road). This is a beautiful region but not developed at all back then and which was in a recovery process. But my dad fell in love with the place. By chance, some land was for sale and he decided to go for it. After looking for a place to vinify, we found the Kiralyudvar estate and bought it. So the birth of Kiralyudvar for us is 1997. We farm about 75 hectares, 50 of which we cultivate for winemaking and my father had in mind to make the opposite of what was being made at the time. Indeed the majority of the wines were coming from high yields and were over extracted.
So Kiralyudvar is really my dad’s baby and the domain is such a peaceful place. We love the house so much so you can actually see it on the label: indeed, on the front label is an original floor plan (late 15th century).

Not so long after that, my dad made the connection with Robert Chadderdon (who later became to importer).
Robert had been working with Gaston Huet for over 30 years. In 2002 Gaston became really sick and was looking for help since none of his 3 children wanted to take over the full responsibilities. Ironically, one of his kids, Jean went to wine school, worked about a year in the winery and then realized it wasn’t his passion. He is now a successful photographer, very talented.
Marie-Françoise, Gaston daughter, married Noel Pinguet in 1968. After they moved to Paris for Noel’s job, Gaston asked them to move back so he could mentor Noel in the winery. They both accepted. Noel started as harvest worker and in 1978, he got the full winemaking responsibilities. So a few people realize that Noel, now in his mid sixties, has been in charge for a long time now.
Chadderdon introduced my father to Gaston. They got along very well and with both of them having a scientist background, they had a very similar vision on many things. In 2003 we took control of Domaine Huet.
Many rumors at the time said because of new ownership that the style would change, that a new winemaker would be in charge etc… but we never wanted to change anything. Domaine Huet is so rich in history that we had too much respect to impose changes and we’re happy to have the same talented team still with us.
My father now spends time in Hungary and in the Loire every year and for every harvest. He wants to learn and loves to be involved.

How did you, Sarah, get involved in the wine business?

I was born and raised in New-Jersey. I went to psychology school and worked in the health industry in NY. It was very intense and I started to have 2nd thoughts. Was it really what I wanted to do? I took a break and in 2006 and went to harvest at Huet first and then at Kiralyudvar.
2006 was really difficult, I remember they started to pick the Clos du Bourg first. On the 2nd day, when I got there, it started to rain and I remember getting out of the car and then starting immediately my first ever harvest! On the very same day, I cut my pinkie very bad. I did not want to stop since I was here to work and wanted to show and lead by example. And I did not want to have a special treatment because of my name. Unfortunately, the rain did not stop and my pinkie never got time to heal. Indeed, it stayed wet for all the harvest time. So even until now, I did not get my feeling back in my finger! The harvest was tough physically because in Vouvay the vines are pretty low to the ground. In Tokaj, it is quite different. The vines are higher which makes it easier but the rows are very long and it’s cold ! It can even get icy in October and of course you cannot wear gloves because you have to pick specific berries (in the case of the sweet Tokaji). So someone drops you in the middle of nowhere at 5 in the morning and you do 2 rows a day, by yourself.
But to me, I had to do it and I wanted to learn.
I came back to NY with the will to learn and explore the wine business. I got a job at Acker Merrall. My primary involvement with Acker Merrall & Condit was with their wine brokerage, though I did help with the auction house quite a bit and got to understand how the industry works.
I worked there over 1.5 year and loved the experience (07-08). I was lucky because I was there when the market was at its peak.

I then wanted to learn French so I moved to France. I thought it was the next logical step. I learned French in Tours, while living there for 9-10 months. I also spent 1-2 months in Kiralyudvar (which is the family true baby. My brother takes care of the web site, we design the label etc…)
I came back home and got involved into the US market for both Domaine Huet and Kiralyudvar.
I still go to France every couple of months and when I go I stay with Noel and Marie-Françoise. I feel like at home, it’s a true family for me. We are really involved, we’re always exchanging at least an email a day. This is far from being a corporate operation.

What do you see in your future? Would you like to make wine?

I just try not to think about it, everything happens for a reason. We now have Benjamin Joliveau being trained by Noel. He’s 29, born raised in Vouvray. Noel knows him since he’s a baby. He went to wine school in Aix en Provence and did internship in South Africa, Australia and Hungary. For the last year and a half, Noel has been training him. Nevertheless, Huet is Noel’s life and he will stay involved forever. But it’s nice to see the new generation coming while the history and style being highly respected.

What was the reaction of the locals when you bought Huet?

At 1st people were skeptical, maybe even more in Hungary. People were questioning our intentions. But we went into it knowing we were not going to change everything since the wines were great. It was an investment to boost the company. The team remained the same and we’re happy with that.

Is your father interested in buying other domains?

Well, we have our hands full !! I’m sure the rest of the family would tell him to calm down. But to invest in such not so popular regions was a testament to his passion about wine

Do you have the same palate as your father?

I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to many different wines but I’m not sure my dad has the same palate as mine. He certainly knows what he likes and when offered a red Burgundy, he can’t say no!
In my family, we all have different tastes. Dinners are fun, wines are coming from everywhere and we surprise each others.
But we got from him the desire to try new things, to be open.
And talking about trying new things, in 2007, this is the 1st year we’re doing a sparkling. Furmint is very similar to Chenin Blanc, the terroir is great and the acidity is there so we thought: let’s try to do this. We called it Pezsgő meaning sparkling in Hungarian. We liked the wine, we thought it was cool. Release coincided with the new importer in the US so it was nice little treat. We made 200 cases only and the response is great. Great thing is that They’re easy to pair with food.
Every year, my dad tries to do something new. We’re now looking at biodynamic practices. The test parcel in Henye (same vineyard used for the sparkling). Surprisingly, we saw differences even in the 1st year. We have a more even ripening. We got certified last January.
Domaine Huet is also certified biodynamic since 1990! They were among the very first with Nicolas Joly.

So what do you usually drink?

Well I try not to drink everyday but it’s hard ! I love having a glass of wine though, see which one is matching the food I’m going to have. I don’t like to drink the same wine over and over. A good friend who works in a wine store here, picks wines randomly and send me mixed cases. I learn a lot and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s hard to give any favorites, it depends on my mood, food etc…
Of course I love Kiralyudvar, especially the Ilona, named after my mum. Fully botrytised grapes, aged 6 months in barrels (28 months for 2003). It creates a totally different style from the regular Tokaji.
I also like the Aszú which is always at least 6 puttonyos (a minimum of 150 grams per liter of residual sugar).
Noel always says the demi-sec is the perfect expression of chenin and terroir of vouvray. The marriage of acidity and sugar is perfect.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Naturally from the Czech Republic

If you never heard of Andrea Calek, well hopefully after this post, you'll want to go out and buy one of his wines. A native from the Czech Republic, he decides to travel through Europe, to reach France and then go to Brazil. Well, it did not exactly go as planned as he met the future mother of his children in Nice and decided to stay in France. After a few jobs such as picking olives, he knew what he wanted to do and that was making wine. After a viti BTS (French diploma), he gets a job at Domaine Hauvette in Provence. He learns about biodynamic practices before working with Sylvain Rohel in the Rhone valley. Because of his friendship with Gerald Oustric, Andrea decides to settle down in Valvignères, Ardèche. He made his 1st wine in 2007.

This 2008 Babiole from Andrea Calek his 2nd vintage, is declared as Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche and is a blend of syrah, carignan and grenache. No sulfur is used here. The wine is almost opaque. Very funky, barnyardy on the nose. Definitely a sensation of naturalness both on the nose and palate. Plenty of dark cherry (Burlat), old leather. Garrigue, violets and a touch of red fruit in the background. Good acidity, palate pretty much matching the nose, slightly grainy tannins. A lot of fruit. Well done !

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A deep dive into the Mediterranean

Our blind tasting theme for this dinner was wines from Mediterranean Islands with Greece in the mix. Interesting as the varietals mix is all over the place. As usual, wines are tasted blind first then enjoyed over dinner.

2007 Domaine Vico Vin de Corse - Corsica (13.5%) A lot of fruit on the nose, a little stewed but never syrupy. Nice garrigue and olives notes as well, very Mediterranean nose. Balanced and tannic, again a lot of fruit on the palate, blue fruit and cherry, a touch plumy (2007). Even if this is a rather simple wine, it's really enjoyable. Quite Corsican as well.

2008 Boutari Kretikos Red - Greece, Crete (13%) Blend of Kotsifali and Mantilaria, indigenous from Crete. Iodine and seaweed notes. Jammy fruit on the palate with plenty of strawberry on the finish. Lacks structure and dry tannins.

2008 Azienda Agricola Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico - Sicily (13%) A lot of purity on the nose. Slightly plummy. Med body, tannic, high acidity that gives the wine plenty of energy while retaining its southern profile. Lovely floral notes, violets and cherry. A touch of licorice. Long finish. This wine really improved over the last few months.

2007 Domaine d'E Croce (Yves Leccia) Vin de Pays de l'Île de Beauté Cuvée YL - Corsica (13%) Has a Provencal nose with garrigue notes and green olives. A lot of fruit. Maybe a touch of heat. Full body with lowish acidity, firm tannins, it manages to stay balanced. Some licorice as well. Needs time. 80 % grenache and 20 % Niellucciu, grown on schist soils.

2006 Olympus Hellas Agiorgitiko Haggipavlu - Greece, Peloponnisos, Nemea (12.5%) Super oaky right off the bat. Lactic nose. I just can't go past the oak. Undrinkable to me.

2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Il Quadro delle Rose Feudo di Mezzo - Sicily (14%) Surprisingly light color. Beautiful nose with earthy and olive notes. A touch of plum as well. Hint of pencil lead. Dark fruits. Good structure and needs time for the tannins to resolve. Very nice wine and it's nice to see more finesse, vintage after vintage.

2004 Planeta Merlot Sicilia IGT - Italy, Sicily (14%) The oak shows more and more as the wine is open. There's a touch of green on the nose wrapped in plenty of ripe blue fruits. Hint of raspberry on the back palate. Full body and quite tannic. Finished on sweet oak notes. Somewhat tiring to drink.

2006 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva - Sardinia (13.5%) Funny how this wine changed. Initially I found it pretty enjoyable with some interesting tobacco notes and cherry notes. A little funky but jammy on the palate with a short finish. But on the 2nd day, the oak was all over the place...

Overall a rather disapointing tasting. Not many wines stood out with a lot of them rather uninteresting and not balanced. Maybe a proof that this is not so easy to make good wines in such hot climates but even more kudos to the people who manage to make beautiful wines all over the Mediterranean such as Occhipinti, Arena, COS, Sigalas etc....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Comte Abbatucci, another Corsican gem.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci is the winemaker for the Comte Abbatucci domain. Located in the southern part of Corsica in the Taravo valley, the domain is spreading over 18 ha with a lot of granitic soils.

At an altitude of 100m, the varietals are typical for the region: Vermentino, Sciacarello and Nielluccio plus a few other obscure varietals (Barbarossa..).
Since 2000, the domain is in a biodynamic farming mode. No machine harvest here and only native yeasts are used. Just like Barral, animals are living in the vineyards. Here, ewes are at home during the winter.
Wines are made in 3 all colors: red, white and rosé. Kermit Lynch decided recently to import the wine (only the white so far I believe) and I'm thankful for that !

The white cuvée Faustine (AOC Ajaccio) comes from an old parcel, 40 years old, of vermentino. Yield is only 25 hl/ha and the grapes is picked only in the morning and pressed immediately after to keep its freshness. No barrel is used here, only stainless steel tanks.
The 2009 Faustine is an outstanding wine. It shows superb aromatics and is fresh and vibrant. Citrus and honeydew with some white flowers and a touch of flint. Rich but with very good acidity. Focused. A hint of anise on the palate. I'm just surprised by the energy of this wine.
This is simply the best vermentino I ever had, so far.