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Day out in Pessac-Léognan – 13 châteaux



To give you an idea of how old I am, I can remember a time when the Pessac-Léognan appellation did not even exist. All the wines on the left bank of the Garonne southeast of Bordeaux were Graves. Period. The new appellation was created in 1987 after a sort of “civil war” between north and south. The northern part of the Graves, bordering on the city of Bordeaux, encompassed all the great growths (seven reds, three whites, and six both white and red) in ten different communes. There was some disagreement as to where to draw the borders of the new entity and even what to call it. After much discussion and negotiation, the hyphenated names of Pessac and Léognan were retained.

Interestingly, the great growths continue to call themselves crus classés de Graves, even though they are all in Pessac-Léognan…

The late André Lurton of Châteaux La Louvière,  Couhins Lurton, Rochemorin, de Cruzeau, etc. was a prime mover in creating the new AOC.It must be said that other than recognizing an élite within the Graves, the establishing of Pessac-Léognan also helped the region to fight urban sprawl seriously threatening prime vineyard land. The area under vine had dwindled to just 500 hectares by 1975, but now stands at 1,600.While many English-speaking wine lovers tend to associate the Graves with white wines, Pessac-Léognan produces 75% reds.

The Bordelais have a special fondness for Pessac-Léognan. The vineyards start at the outskirts of the city. Indeed, the postal address of Château Les Carmes Haut Brion, for instance, is 20 rue des Carmes, Bordeaux. However, the wines are also popular because they frequently represent better value for money than ones from the Médoc or Saint Emilion, and because they have the faculty of showing well both young and old. Pessac-Léognan wines are frequently found in local restaurants at an affordable price.

As those of you who follow this blog know, I am a great fan of the Portes Ouvertes (Open Days) in Bordeaux, when châteaux welcome the general public. This is a wonderful opportunity to visit little-known estates and make discoveries.

So I set out on a Saturday with two friends in early December to visit thirteen estates in one day – a wonderfully intense, relatively frenetic, and very pleasurable learning experience.We started with Château Luchey Halde in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of Bordeaux where the airport is located. This 23-hectare estate had altogether disappeared, but was miraculously brought back to life and replanted in 1999.  It is now owned and managed by an agricultural engineering school, Bordeaux Science Agro (ex-ENITA). The winemaking facilities are, as to be expected, very modern and well-maintained. There was some discussion at the beginning of the tasting whether we should try the whites before the reds or vice versa. It is usual in Bordeaux to begin with reds, a practice to which I subscribe. So we went through the 2018 (grand vin), 2015 (second wine, Les Haldes de Luchey), 2012 (grand vin), and 2011 (grand vin) reds, with a preference for the 2018 and 2012. The other two vintages seemed pleasantly fruity, but somewhat weak. Next up were the whites, 2014 (second wine) and 2012 (grand vin) which were aromatic and angular.

Owned by the Calvet family, who gave their name to a famous Bordeaux négociant firm, Château Pique-Caillou is a stone’s throw from Luchey Halde. It is quite something to visit a château dating from the late 18th century in the middle of 20 hectares of vines completely surrounded by suburban houses – not unlike Haut Brion. We sampled three red wines: 2018, 2016, and 2015. The 2016 stood out and all three showed a lean, classic style on the early-maturing side. The 2017 white Pique Caillou was practically transparent with some lanolin and vanilla nuances on the nose. The wine was light and mineral on the palate.

The third estate we went to was Château Haut Bacalan in Pessac (8 hectares), a first for me. This is owned by the Gonet family from Champagne, along with several other Bordeaux vineyards, including Château Lesparre in the rather esoteric Graves de Vayres appellation. All of the Gonet wines were being poured, including their Champagnes, but I focused on just two of their five Pessac-Léognan estates. The red 2015 Haut Bacalan showed lovely sweet briary fruit on the nose. It was powerful, full-bodied, and rich, with textured tannin on the palate – one of the nicest wines we tasted all day. The 2014 red was not quite in the same league, but nothing to sniff at either. This was followed by the 2018 white wine from Château d’Ek. Anyone who has travelled from Bordeaux to Toulouse has noticed this beautiful medieval (12th century) château quite close to the motorway. I had very much enjoyed their 2010 red wine recently (it was the Cuvée Prestige), so was anxious to try the white wine, made with 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This had a subtle bouquet of peach and talc, and lacked only a little richness on the palate.

Château Brown in Léogan takes its name from John Lewis Brown, a Scottish wine merchant who owned the property in the late 18th century. It now belongs jointly to the local Mau family and Dutch businessman Cees Dirkzwager (also co-owners of cru bourgeois Château Preuillac in the Médoc). Brown is managed by the dynamic Jean-Christophe Mau, whose family have been négociants for five generations. His wines are expertly made and a joy to drink. As much as I like the red wine (the 2015 we tasted is no exception), produced on 26 hectares of vines, my heart has always gone out to the exuberant, rich, white wine (5 hectares), everything a fine white Graves should be. I bought a bottle of the latter for the cellar.

Domaine de Grandmaison (19 hectares) is close to the Centre Leclerc supermarket – with one of the finest wine selections in the region – as well as Château Carbonnieux. I have been here on several occasions and find the wines excellent value for money. Although the 2014 red was slightly rustic and disappointing, the white has never let me down. 2018 Domaine de Grandmaison white, selling at 16 euros a bottle is a vibrant, fresh, pure wine that would grace any table. While not quite as “serious” a wine as Château Brown or some others, it is nevertheless the perfect illustration of how good affordable Bordeaux can be. Especially when one thinks of the cost of white Burgundy…

Number six on our day out was Château Haut Plantade in Léognan (9 hectares), a worthwhile discovery for me. This ten-hectare estate produces mostly red wine. We tasted the 2017 red, not the greatest vintage, during which they lost half the crop due to poor weather conditions. That having been said, apart from a slight greenness, this was a very creditable effort. The 2018 white wine (50% Sémillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc) was very suave and subtle with a long aftertaste. It was definitely one of the best wines tasted all day. Winemaker Vincent Plantade is switched-on and funny.  So, I would definitely put this château into the category of “little-known gems I would like to get to know better”. I stopped and looked at the vines upon leaving. The fine gravel topsoil seemed the perfect illustration of Graves terroir…

Our next visit was to Château de Léognan (6.5 hectares) in the town of the same name, not far from Domaine de Chevalier. Going here served two purposes since there is also a good bistro-type restaurant there called Le Manège. After a very enjoyable lunch, we went to taste the wines. I wish I could be more positive about them…  We sampled two reds, 2015 La Chapelle de Léognan (the second wine) and the 2011 grand vin. The former was somewhat herbaceous and prematurely old, and I’m sorry to say that the latter did not leave much of a better impression. A 2018 white wine (AOC Graves) called simply “Le Blanc” (AOC Graves) was also poured. This was sound, but not noteworthy.

Château Haut Lagrange (8.5 hectares), likewise in Léognan, provided a better experience. We tasted four wines here. The 2016 red had an intriguing bouquet and a promising profile while the 2015 red featured a floral nose with a certain smokiness, accompanied by richness and sweet fruit on the palate. The 2006 red looked considerably older than its age with tertiary gamey notes and finished a tad dry. The 2018 white was fresh and classic, but lacked personality.

Our ninth visit of the day was to Domaine de la Solitude in Martillac. This is owned by nuns belonging to the order of the Holy Family and managed by Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier. The 32-hectare estate has quite a reputation for good reasonably-priced wines, which explains why the tasting room was thronged and people were walking away with full cartons. We tasted four wines. The 2016 red was in a seductive commercial style with upfront fruit. The 2015 displayed elegant understated aromatics accompanied by a soft mouth feel backed up by good tannin. Both of these wines are probably best enjoyed relatively young. The 2016 white had a classic bouquet with good oak, and was perhaps better on the nose than the palate. The 2010 had aged well, with floral and beeswax nuances and only a touch of oxidation.

We went from there to Château Mirebeau, a small (5 hectare) estate in the town of Martillac. Sometimes you just have to be honest. I am not reproducing my notes because they are extremely critical. We tried the 2016 and 2015 reds and they seemed flawed. The wine is made organically which is obviously a plus, but not enough. Organic wines need to be good as well.

Our next stop was at Château Ferran, also in Martillac. I’ve rarely seen the wine, which is surprising since the estate is by no means small (19 hectares). It has been in the same family for five generations and boasts an attractive château. We tried three wines. The 2016 red was very promising with good acidity and an attractive mineral austerity. The 2015 red had a rich bouquet of candied red fruit even if it was somewhat one-dimensional on the palate. The 2018 white had a nose that screamed Sauvignon Blanc, and proved to be rounder than expected. I came away with a fine memory of our visit.

The next to last château was Bouscaut in Cadaujac, a large (47 hectare) classified growth owned by Sophie Lurton and her husband Laurent Cogombles. The 2016 red Bouscaut was unquestionably of cru classé quality: smooth and assertive, with tight tannins, violet overtones, and good length. The 2015 red was unfortunately not in the same mold. It showed more toasty oak on the nose than fruit. It was brawny, big, and hot on the palate, lacking the elegance of the 2016. Then it was on to the whites. The 2017 Les Chênes de Bouscaut (a much better year for Bordeaux whites than reds) had a spicy component and was quite classy, whereas the 2016 had unusual vanilla and matchstick aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy! It was in a modern, commercial style on the palate and I will be interested to see how it ages.

The final stop of a very full day was at Château Baret in Villenave d’Ornon (24 hectares), which has been in the Ballande family since 1867. Once again, we tried both the red and white wines. The 2015 red was a good middle of the road Pessac-Léognan with a tangy flavor. It was unexpectedly tannic on the finish, but time will surely soften the rough edges. The 2011 had minty old library aromas. It was fully evolved on the palate with a somewhat hard finish. Time to drink up.

And thus ended our excursion.




Château Clinet: a first division Pomerol

How many of us really know the wines of Pomerol? One of Bordeaux’s smallest appellations (about 800 hectares) produces wines that have risen dramatically in reputation – and price – over the years. They correspond completely to what modern consumers are looking for in Bordeaux. At their best they are voluptuous, elegant wines that are pleasurable to both neophytes and connoisseurs, as well as enjoyable both young and old. What’s not to like?

As opposed to the Médoc, Saint Emilion, Sauternes, and Pessac-Léognan, there is no classification in Pomerol. Of course, a sort of de facto classification exists based on price and critics’ scores, but there are more possibilities here to rise through the ranks. Such wines as Lafleur and Le Pin had a very low profile not so long ago and went on, of course, to become darlings of the wine world.

Consumers, wine writers, and critics have, as to be expected, latched onto a few names that are endlessly repeated, in no small part because these tend to be largish estates in an appellation that does not count many i.e. the wines are more widely distributed worldwide. But relative newcomers can rise to the join the elite, which is precisely what Château Clinet has done.

Pomerol’s fairly undramatic history is that of a winegrowing town whose ups and downs generally revolved around the inheritance and changing hands of estates. Unlike other parts of Bordeaux, there are few noteworthy château buildings to bear witness to this history. Clinet’s can be traced back to the late 16th century and the place name appears on Belleyme’s famous 1785 map (a facsimile is hung on the wall at Clinet). A document dating from 1837 shows that Clinet and Pétrus had the same owner. Over time, Eglise Clinet, Clos l’Eglise, and Feytit Clinet were spun off from the original estate. Château Clinet’s wine was always well-regarded and sold well, but it did not really start to stand out until the 1980s when Jean-Michel Arcaute, advised at one time by Michel Rolland, took things in hand to progress by a quantum leap. Clinet, a more-or-less second tier Pomerol, joined the first tier.

Impressively high Parker scores helped catapult Clinet to center stage, where it has stayed ever since.

The estate was sold to the GAN insurance group in 1991 and then acquired by Jean-Louis Laborde from the nearby Lot-et-Garonne department in 1999. He handed over management to his son, Ronan, in 2004. Today just shy of 40 years old, Ronan is still in charge.

Ronan Laborde is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of great growth Bordeaux, to which Clinet is obviously assimilated. That he is young and has a business degree is not so uncommon. Neither is the fact that his experience in the wine trade spans several continents, despite his age. But Ronan has a fresh go-ahead attitude that has led him to do things differently. Take his creation of a branded Bordeaux called, appropriately enough, “Ronan”. It takes a brave man to do such a thing! He built a new cellar for his négociant activity a stone’s throw from Clinet and now sells going on 300,000 bottles a year of his (largely red) Bordeaux AOC.
Ronan Laborde also manages the family estates in Tokaj, Hungary: Châteaux Megyer and Pajzos.

In March of this year, Ronan was elected president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, the promotional association that brings together the cream of Bordeaux producers (134 members) and is responsible for organizing tastings around the world, including en primeur week in March/April every year in Bordeaux.

The style and the feeling at Clinet reflect that of the man running the show: professional, but relaxed.

I met Ronan at the unprepossessing country house with red shutters built in 1820 that is Château Clinet. However, appearances can be deceiving… The winery is state-of-the-art, including a system with 400-kg. hoppers (cuvons) on rails that gently deposit freshly-picked grapes into temperature-controlled stainless steel vats to avoid bruising. The wine undergoes pigeage (punching down the cap) and gentle pumping over. It is aged in 60% new oak, a proportion that is down from a few vintages ago. The 8-10% press wine is blended in as needed.

When the Laborde family took over, the Clinet vineyard consisted of 8.64 hectares in three separate parts: one around the château, another north of the town church, and a third between Trotanoy and Feytit Clinet. This was increased by 3 hectares when 4 tiny plots within the appellation were acquired in 2011. Grape varieties are 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. A second wine, Fleur de Clinet, is also made.

Ronan had arranged a small vertical tasting:

2015 Ronan by Clinet:
Color: Showing a little brown on the rim already.
Nose: Reflecting its 100% Merlot composition with ethereal red fruit.
Palate: Soft, but with decent backbone. Aftertaste maybe a little short, but unmistakably fine Bordeaux with a pleasant thirst-quenching side. Touch austere, but this does not detract from the overall balance.

2016: “By Clinet’
Color: Medium-deep and vigorous with some purple highlights.
Nose: Almond and vanilla aromas one associates with certain of the best Pomerols. Subtly rich.
Palate: Powerful attack. Silky texture with fine-grained tannin. Smooth and already approachable. Good value because it has all the hallmarks of its appellation.

2014 Château Clinet:
Color: Medium intensity, just starting to show a little age.
Nose: Very attractive, classy, assertive bouquet with berry notes and a nuance I can only describe as blood, which I also find in some Syrah wines.
Palate: Iron and mineral flavors with a touch of greenness balanced by black and some red fruit overtones.

2015 Château Clinet:
Color: Brilliant, with a deep core.
Nose: Penetrating black cherry fruit with oaky notes.
Palate: Rich, with licorice flavours and a long, delicate aftertaste. Very fine tannin in the finish. Decidedly elegant and not top-heavy.

2016 Château Clinet:
Color: Lovely, very deep hue, even more so than the 2010 says Ronan.
Nose: Fresh, but with musky hints in the background and some menthol to complement the exuberant fruit.
Palate: Round, big, and lip-smackingly good! Fresh aftertaste with some empyreumatic nuances. Firm, slightly smoky, and with great potential.

Ronan invited me to share lunch with him at the cellar after the tasting, during which we enjoyed a 2008 Clinet. This had taken on wonderful aromatics of game and incense with age.

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Pomerol is a hard region to get to know. I therefore thank Ronan for giving me with a better handle on the appellation by providing me with an insight into one of its best wines.






Australians buy Médoc château


Château Cambon la Pelouse, a much-respected cru bourgeois in Macau has just been purchased by Treasury Wine Estaes (Penfolds), the 8th largest wine producer in the world. To give you an idea of their size, they have a two-billion euro turnover – more than the leading French merchant, Castel – two thirds of which is on export markets, and employ some 3,000 people.
In addition, TWE has concluded a distribution agreement with the Champagne-based Thienot group, owners of CVBG (Dourthe-Kressmann), and are also setting up their own export business of a range of French wines under the Maison de Grand Esprit brand.
The purchase of Cambon la Pelouse marks the first time a major Australian firm has invested in Bordeaux. The château has 65 hectares of vines in the Haut-Médoc appellation with an annual production of approximately 400,000 bottles under several different labels. The wines retail in French supermarkets for 15-17 euros a bottle.
The previous owner, Pierre Marie, is over 70 years old and his children were not interested in taking over the estate, so the sale was inevitable.
The château will be managed by Frenchman Sébastien Long, who has 10 years in the Australian wine industry under his belt.

2010 Ch. Lesparre: an interesting Graves de Vayres

Can there be any more esoteric Bordeaux appellation than Graves de Vayres? With 700 hectares of vines it is by no means the smallest (that would be Saint Georges Saint Emilion at 192 hectares), but it has, shall we say, a very low profile. The appellation produces dry white, red, and semi-sweet white wines.

Graves de Vayres is located on the left bank of the Dordogne in the communes of Vayres (famous for its château, a listed historical monument) and Arveyres in the northwestern part of the Entre-Deux-Mers region. There are 40 producers and the soil consists of alluvial terraces.

I don’t often drink the wines, but had a bottle of the 2010 Château Lesparre squirreled away in the cellar and figured that it should be showing well at age nine.

The color displayed a very deep, dark core and was just starting to brick on the rim.

The nose was not very profound, but featured attractive aromas of humus, candied cherry, and fennel, as well as a marked oak influence (vanilla, roast coffee beans).

The oak also came through on the palate. The flavor profile may have been somewhat angular and a little hollow, but redeemed itself on the aftertaste, even though this was a tad dry and grippy on the tail end. I came away with the feeling that this is perhaps an example of what happens when a wine of medium potential is somewhat overworked. Still, it is the sort of wine that shows much better at table and I am a sucker for off-beat bottles such as this. It is probably not far from its peak and if my tasting notes may have given the wrong impression, I enjoyed drinking it and furthering my knowledge of Bordeaux.

Château Lesparre belongs to the Gonet family, who also make wine in Champagne and own several estates in the Pessac-Léogan appellation (Haut Bacalan, Haut Brana, d’Eck, Saint Eugène, and Haut l’Evêque).

The Saint-Emilion classification runs into more trouble

I know the classification of the Médoc by heart and have pretty much memorized the ones in Sauternes and Pessac-Léognan too. But Saint-Emilion is another story.  There are more châteaux (81 versus 61 in the Médoc), some of the wines have only a tiny production and are hard to find and, most importantly, the classification changes – in theory every 10 years.

My English and American friends say that they pay little or no attention to the Saint-Emilion classification in their purchasing. Indeed, most consumers do not know there is a distinction between “grand cru” and “grand cru classé”, whereas there is a big price differential – and supposedly in quality too. This is made even murkier by the fact that the greatest classified wines have the same appellation contrôlée as a “grand cru” selling for 10 euros a bottle. It’s a very confusing system indeed. I once asked the winegrower’s association how many unclassified “grands crus” there were. No one could tell me. In fact, the definition is so elastic that lots from the cooperative cellar can be sold as grands crus.

Based on an innovative, modern, rational concept, the updating of the Saint-Emilion classification, first made in 1954, has instead led to a hopeless imbroglio. This started with legal challenges by châteaux stricken off the list in 2006.
Some of the parameters for inclusion seem rather arbitrary. The most controversial is the lesser importance given to tasting results for the first growths. Why should this be?

The story is long and involved, but the latest chapter is that Hubert de Boüard and Philippe Castéja, big cheeses in Bordeaux, who had been found innocent of “unlawful taking of interest” have just been called before the magistrate’s court by an investigating judge who overturned that verdict.
In a nutshell, de Boüard (part owner of Château Angélus and other Right Bank estates, as well as a former president of the Syndicat Viticole de Saint-Emilion and member of the INAO executive board) and Castéja (head of the powerful négociant firm of Borie Manoux, owner of Saint-Emilion first growth Château Trottevieille alongside prestigious vineyards in the Médoc, and former president of the CIVB Bordeaux Wine Council) stand accused of being “judge and jury” since they were involved in establishing the new classification – that included their own wines.

The elevation of Angélus and Pavie to “Premier Grand Cru A” status, on a par with Ausone and Cheval Blanc, in 2012 raised more than a few eyebrows. This was due not only to de Boüard’s troubling dual role, but also the fact that many Bordeaux lovers felt that the promotion was not deserved. Curiously, Gérard Perse of Pavie had his improved classification ranking engraved in huge letters on the pediment of his new wine cellar – a rather strange thing to do when one considers that this is not immutable!

In short, the Saint-Emilion classification is a mess. Having run into trouble in 2006, and again in 2012, I think the appellation probably has only one more chance before the entire thing is discredited. I sincerely hope the appellation puts their house in order in everyone’s best interest




A 2005 Barsac and a 2009 Pomerol

Sorry for the hiatus in my posts. The main reason for this was a major undertaking in May and June: a pilgrimage. Leaving from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Basque country, I walked with my friend Pétrus Desbois some 800 km to Santiago de Compostela on a route that has been travelled by other pilgrims (of varying motivations) for centuries. A description of this wonderful experience lasting five weeks is certainly worthy of a long post with photos, but perhaps not on a blog devoted to Bordeaux wine…
Therefore, it’s back to the fascinating world of Bordeaux for me and my readers!

After a month in Spain, and weighing a few pounds less, I was delighted to see may family again and rediscover the creature comforts of home including, of course, my wine cellar!

So my re-introduction to Bordeaux was a dinner with two wines.

The first was a Sauternes or, more exactly, a Barsac choosing to be sold under the Sauternes appellation. 2005 Château La Clotte Cazalis had a medium-deep golden-amber color. The bouquet displayed fresh candied fruit, honey, and raisined grape nuances than botyritized ones. As befits a Barsac, the wine was not weighty on the palate. Featuring barley sugar flavors, it was on the whole somewhat weak, leading me to think that one of the better wines from the other side of the Garonne (Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Cadillac) might be just as good. This Barsac seemed younger than its age and more of a late-harvest wine than one made with noble rot.

The red wine to follow was 2009 Château Mazeyres from Pomerol. I remember tasting 2009 Right Bank wines en primeur and finding them rather big and alcoholic, and wondering how they would age. Recent experience has tended to show that they are on the early-maturing side. 2009 Mazeyres, made by the eccentric Alain Moueix, had a deep, dark core with marked bricking, looking perhaps older than its ten years. The nose, as expected, was redolent of ripe Merlot with some empyreumatic overtones. There were ethereal floral aromas as well, along with hints of resin and coffee, but the bouquet was nevertheless somewhat one-dimensional. This medium-weight wine was svelte and slightly minty on the palate, along with dark chocolate and licorice flavors. It was undoubtedly ready to drink and, in fact, just starting to dry out. This was a fine example of a good, affordable Pomerol that probably showed better at table than it would have in a tasting line-up.




2018 En Primeur tasting notes: Pessac-Léognan and Margaux


There are so many events and châteaux to visite during en primeur week that I was not able to fit in my usual stop at the Union des Grands Crus tasting in Pessac-Léognan this year. Therefore, my coverage is limited this year.

N: A bouquet that is reduced and not well-defined. Will undoubtedly improve with age.
P: Smooth and melts on the mouth to begin with, but weak on the middle palate, ending with strong oak – a little too strong for me – on the aftertaste. Needs revisiting. OK.

La Chapelle de La Mission Haut Brion
N: Slightly syrupy aromas with some cedar. Sweet and enticing.
P: Well-defined fruit going into a tangy aftertaste. Very classy, lacking just a little oomph and length to be catapulted to the very tip of the pyramid. Fine tannin and acidity. Very good.

Le Clarence de Haut Brion
N: Fresh and more ethereal than the second wine of La Mission. Fresh and not over-oaked. In fact, the oak is barely discernible. Faint herbaceous note.
P: Chunky and chewy, with oak showing, along with hints of tobacco. Svelte with beautiful development on the palate and tea tannin on the finish. Long aftertaste. Very good.

N: Old-fashioned with odd metallic and even oyster shell overtones.
P: Mercifully, much better on the palate with tight-knit tannin, but the oak obscures this, as well as the fruit. Dry finish. Should improve over time and needs retasting at a later date. OK.

Château Haut Brion (white).
N: Some earthy, fresh mushroom aromas, as well as vanilla and lanolin nuances.
P: Soft, then the terroir and elegance come through, especially those qualities conferred by the gravelly soil. Very long aftertaste. Although over half Sémillon, this wine seems like the apotheosis of Sauvignon Blanc. Ageing may well change that impression. The length and power on the finish set it apart from, let’s say, a first-class Sancerre, but I find this not up to the standard of the red. Nevertheless, very good.

Château Haut Brion (red).
N: Cedar and “old library” bouquet. Very precise. Deep, fresh, mysterious cherry and stone fruit aromas , with vinification odors in the background.
P: Sweet, understated fruit. Spreads out on the palate seamlessly, suavely, and subtly. Great tension. Delicate with a velvety texture and new oak on the finish. Superb.

Château La Louvière (red)
N: Sweet fruit with some lead and a strong floral component. Delicate for sure.
P: Rich, mouthfilling, and reflecting the aromatics on the nose. Proudly displays its Left Bank origins. Good acidity and a long aftertaste showing fine tannin. This estate is looking up after somewhat of an eclipse. Very good.

Château Malartic Lagravière
N: Not terribly expressive now, but showing overtones of mocha, black fruit, and flowers.
P: Starts off by melting in the mouth, then goes on to reveal a very perfumed, pretty, feminine quality I often find in this wine. The aftertaste is more “virile”, giving the wine good balance between fruit, velvety tannin, and acidity. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (white)
N: Varietal Sauvignon Blanc aromas with a hint asparagus. Some cherry and vanilla notes along with mineral nuances.
P: Vanilla, caramel, and meringue. Great acidity, with less class, but more power than the Haut Brion blanc. Tremendous minerality on the finish. Great balancing act between power and delicacy. Very good.

Château La Mission Haut Brion (red)
N: Coiled and showing sheer class with discreet new oak. Reminds me of a great Médoc. Some chalkiness and fancy floral notes.
P: Medium weight with a tangy, long, and almost relentless aftertaste with great tannic texture. One for the very long haul. Tarry and candied black fruit flavors. Excellent.

Château Pape Clément
N: Fresh notes of forest floor and tobacco.
P: A treat from beginning to end. The extraction and barrel ageing are under control and the aftertaste is long, resonant, and aristocratic. Far more traditional than in the past and very much to my taste. Textbook Graves. Oak is strong, but the wine has enough character to support it. Excellent.

Château Séguin
N: Deep very pure fruit (raspberry, and especially blackberry) where Cabernet seems to define the bouquet. Some coffee and dark chocolate nuances.
P: Elegant rather than powerful with zippy tartness. Both extraction and barrel ageing have been done with the golden mean in mind. Great balance between fruit and tannin. Somewhat under the radar, this estate is worth discovering. Very good.



Château Brane Cantenac
N: Earthy and brambly with good fruit and good toasty oak.
P: Excellent on entry, then drops a bit, but comes into its own with very classic, sophisticated tannins that coat the teeth and auger well for long-term ageing. Great presence. Very good to excellent.

Château Cantenac Brown
N: Good berry fruit and sweet cedar aromas.
P: Lively, tart, and refreshing fruit. A welcome change from certain over-oaked and over-extracted wines. Delicious aftertaste in which tannin and good acidity vie for predominance. Traditional style. Very good.

Château Le Coteau
N: Understated sweet primary fruit with a beguiling incense quality and some graphite nuances.
P: Soft with medium body and good grip. It might appear light, but this is more indicative of the balance of wines from Margaux.W ell-made and restrained for people who prefer elegance to power. Can be enjoyed young. Nice discovery. Very good

Château Desmirail
N: A little off because slightly reduced at this early stage, but showing a solid base of black fruit. A subtle perfume emerges with aeration.
P: Massive on the palate with grippy tannin. A Margaux displaying more similarities with wines from further north in the Médoc, although the aftertaste has the quintessential Margaux elegance.

Château Ferrière
N: Really rather mute at this time. There are positive underlying aromas needing time to emerge.
P: Very full attack with a somewhat raisiny flavor and lots of assertive tannin. This seems as little too much at present, but time will tell. Good to very good.

Château La Fortune
N: Forthright and fresh, but simple.
P: Better on the palate. Striking acidity, but not over the top. Rather too much oak. There is potential here for sure, but nature should lead the way. The winemake should not try to force things. Good.

Château Giscours
N: Gentle, unobtrusive oak. Fresh and classic for the appellation.
P: Primary fresh red fruit with marked blackcurrant overtones. Starts out quite soft, going on to show considerable structure and freshness. Well-made with a long, tempered finish. Very good.

Château Kirwan
N: Upfront sweet blueberry nose.
P: Round, bright user-friendly friendly. Very open an attractive, but with enough good acidity and high-quality tannin for further ageing. A little dry on the finish, but this will most likely change over time. Very good.

Château Haut Breton Larigaudière
N: Rich chocolatey nose and some black fruit, but not very forthcoming at this time.
P: Chunky with marked oak influence. Seems rather strong. Some dryness on the finish, an impression that may be lessened if care is taken during barrel ageing. Good.


Château d’Issan
N: Discreet and fresh with Médoc forest floor nuances.
G: A serious wine on the palate with a fine structure and focus. Elegant, precise, and fashionably thin. A fine example of wine with great volume of flavor, but without weight. Much better on the palate than on the nose. The fruit is complemented by some graphite notes. Very good.

Château Lascombes
N: Toasty oak and dark fruit aromas along with smoky overtones.
P: Straightforward and satisfying with interesting cherry and licorice nuances. Marked acidity and strong tannin contribute to a long finish. Some aniseed overtones and plenty of oak. Good to very good.

Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry
N: Sweet berry fruit and aromas I tend to associate with Merlot. Subtle oak.
P: Starts out very pure and natural,, very Margaux-like, and then displays rather tough and uncompromising tannin. Influence of oak is best monitored. Good to very good.

N: Coffee and new oak (100%) pretty much completely masks the fruit.
P: Starts out quite soft, then bang, the oak hits you. Good if you like the style.

Château Marquis d’Alesme
N: Some chocolate and mint nuances, but subdued at this stage.
P: More aromatic on the palate. “Iron fist in a velvet glove” kind of wine. Marked acidity, somewhat uncompromising style, and made to last. Margaux flavors just emerging. Long, tangy finish, but oak must not get the upper hand. Good.

Château Marquis de Terme
N: Understated at this time, but promising. Floral and forest fruit aromas.
P: More expressive on palate. Round, full, well-balanced, and refreshing. Medium-weight with a delicious long aftertaste. Will show well young. Very good.

Château La Tour de Bessan
N: Classic, but subdued. Sweet, but rather indeterminate at this early stage.
P: More expressive on the palate. Good texture and fresh acidity. Promising, For mid-term drinking to take advantage of the fruit. More structure than in other vintages. Good.

Château Margaux
N: A nose not unlike the Pavillon Rouge, but with more depth and aromas of black fruit liqueur.
G: Satiny, creamy texture. Feminine and sexy. Super fine-grained tannin with lilting acidity. Fantastic balance. Great potential. Excellent.

Château Marsac Segineau
N: Muted red fruit (cranberry) but not much there.
G: Better on palate with good, fresh acidity. Medium body. Quite tannic (too tannic?) on the penetrating aftertaste in which the alcohol can be felt. Good.

Château Palmer
The estate produced just 11 hectoliters per hectare in 2018, so there is no second wine this year.
N: Sweet, seductive candied red and black fruit.
G: If Margaux is feminine, this is a buxom young lass. Full-bodied and sensual. The texture reflects silky tannin backed up by good oak. This wine is fairly big and will unquestionably age well. Long aftertaste. Superb.

Pavillon Blanc de Château Margaux (AOC Bordeaux)
C: Pale gold with green tinges.
N: Very Sauvignon Blanc, but one must wait for tertiary aromas.
G: Did not strike me as much as the 2017. Oak is mercifully under control. A fine wine, but does not seem special. Only the aftertaste shows its breeding. Good to very good.

Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux
N: Monumental, with nuances of cedar, spring flowers. red berries, and cherries.
G: Tart with exquisite tannin. Svelte, with a fresh, long finish. Should be fine for medium-term drinking. Does not seem at all like 14.5° alcohol. Very good.

Chateau Prieuré Lichine
N: Candied black fruit and chocolate. Almost Pinot-like. Very aromatic and attractive.
P: Starts off beautifully, drops a bit, and then comes back with delicious Margaux fruit. Seems a tad over-oaked at this early stage, but altogether natural. Not especially long, but quite fine. Very good.

Chateau Rauzan Gassies
N: Somewhat weak and lacking in definition, with some roast coffee nuances.
P: Much better on the palate with a great texture. A bit old-fashioned in style with fine-grained tannin. Interesting aftertaste. The antithesis of an oaky, over-extracted wine. Perhaps a little light, but ageing may work wonders here. Good to very good.

Chateau du Tertre
N: Closed at present with some vinification odors simply due to its youth.
P: Moreish, elegant, and rich for a Médoc. Soft. Caresses the palate. Medium body and good development on the palate. Sensual. Good, fine, relatively long finish. Very good.

Château Tour de Mons
N: Good fruit to oak ratio. Black fruit jelly notes on the interesting bouquet.
P: Full and chunky. Elegant commercial style. Long flavorsome aftertaste. Good to very good.

Trip to Burgundy – February 2019 (27 domaines)

Living, as I do, in the world’s foremost winegrowing region, you may wonder what motivates me to regularly visit another region, indeed, one that has the temerity to consider itself a rival… The simple fact is that viewing Bordeaux and Burgundy as mutually exclusive is exceedingly silly. For complicated reasons (essentially a superiority-cum-inferiority complex), I daresay the Burgundians are more chauvinistic than the Bordelais, who freely acknowledge that the white wines of the Côte d’Or are better than those of the Gironde, and admit to having only a limited acquaintance with red Burgundy. That is due in no small part to the fact that it is not easy to buy fine Burgundy. French supermarkets – i.e. where most people buy wine – often stock classified growth Bordeaux, but rarely premier and grand cru Burgundy.

My personal opinion (what are blogs for, after all?) is that the type of wine one chooses depends to a certain extent on the food that accompanies it. For instance, I would prefer a good Médoc with a grilled steak, but a Burgundy with meat in a sauce, or a stew.

The Bordelais were roundly and bitterly criticized when the prices of their great growths rose dramatically in the mid-2000s. A “fox and the grapes” situation set in and many consumers turned away from Bordeaux, finding reasons other than just expense and, somewhat unfairly, equating the name “Bordeaux” with just the tiny tip of the pyramid (the famous grands crus classés).

In the past 5 years, Burgundy has come more into the limelight on the global market, including China, but at a time when the region had several small or even painfully small vintages in a row. This inexorably led to price rises as staggering as those in Bordeaux the previous decade. Bordeaux now figures nowhere near as prominently as Burgundy on the list of the world’s most expensive wines.

The difference is, of course, that even the finest châteaux in Bordeaux can be quite large. Compare Lafite Rothschild’s 112 hectares with La Romanée’s 0.85 hectares… And the latter is not only a grand cru, but an entire appellation unto itself.
In short, we are talking about two very different realities.

In any event, I have made an annual pilgrimage to Burgundy for the past decade and love the region. This year, I was able to spend two full weeks and visited 27domaines. I am deeply indebted to my friend Ian Westcott, an importer in Melbourne, for making the appointments.

My report is listed in alphabetical order. I have abridged tasting notes and, in most instances, simply omitted them and listed the wines in order to avoid overkill. In fact, if I had included my impressions of each and every wine, this post would have taken on the size of a small book. If anyone is interested in a particular wine, please contact me by e-mail.

I will share a few general observations at the end, as well as my take on the restaurants I went to.

Domaine Arlaud (Morey-Saint-Denis) – Cyprien Arlaud epitomizes the new face of Burgundy. Circumspect and forward-looking, he also practices biodynamic viticulture, certified as such since 2014. His modern winery in Morey is impeccably kept and Cyprien is at ease explaining the situation at his 8-hectare domaine and in Burgundy as a whole. He described 2017 as a “cool vintage” with freshness and true Burgundian character. We tasted 12 wines, all red and all 2017s. These included: Chambolle-Musigny Village, Morey-Saint-Denis Village, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, and Vosne-Romanée Village (and I might add that all of these were fine examples of their appellation, a definite cut above average), followed by Vosne Aux Réas, Nuits Premier Cru Les Porrets Saint Georges, Morey Premier Cru Les Blanchards, Morey Premier Cru Les Ruchots, Gevrey Premier Cru Les Combettes, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, and Clos Saint Denis. The house style is pure, well-focused wines of high quality. I was particularly impressed with the Clos de la Roche.

Domaine des Beaumont (Morey-Saint-Denis) – We tasted seven red wines from this 5-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. All were 2017s except the 2016 Les Cherbaudes. In order, these were : Chambolle-Musigny Les Chardannes (with a nose marked by oak and strawberry and somewhat hollow on the palate), Morey-Saint-Denis village (deep black fruit bouquet, full body, and nice tart finish), Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Les Millandes (spirity nose and not quite balanced on the palate), Gevrey Chambertin village (some spice and possible brett on the nose, but showing better on the palate), Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Les Combettes (sweet fruit aromatics and then quite poised and velvety on the palate, very attractive and in another dimension from the others), Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cherbaudes (not noted, a winemaking problem there), and Charmes Chambertin (classy nose and sinewy, silky, big, and powerful on the palate with more than a little oak showing – very good).

Olivier Bernstein (Beaune): Olivier is quite a character and, much like me, he is voluble and has strong opinions on just about everything… After several years making wine in the Roussillon, he decided to set up shop in Beaune. His newly-equipped cellars are in a large historic building in the town of Beaune. Although Olivier’s business is relatively recent (his first vintage was 2007), his wines have achieved critical acclaim and are imported into the UK by Berry Brothers & Rudd and the US by Wilson Daniels. Olivier buys most of his grapes (he also owns plots in Gevrey Premier Cru Les Champeaux and Mazis-Chambertin), but insists that he should be considered a domaine because he looks after the vines from A to Z. In other words, he rents land from the vineyard owners, but he is the grower, completely in the driver’s seat. We tasted 11 wines, all red and all from the 2018 vintage: Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Lavrottes, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Champeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cazetiers, Charmes-Chambertin, Clos Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, Bonnes Mares, Mazis-Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, and Chambertin.
The wines were exuberant, fruity, and fairly oaky. I would venture to stay they are in a “modern” style, and I’ll be interested to check back with them after some bottle age.
Oliver was kind enough to invite us to lunch at the Bistro de l’Hôtel de Beaune, where the high standard of traditional French cuisine is perpetuated.

Jean-Claude Boisset (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – Boisset is the largest négociant in Burgundy, and the 4th largest in France. It is such a big organization that it has several completely independent subsidiaries producing wines ranging from large-volume basic ones to some of the best in Burgundy (Domaine de la Vougeraie). The Jean-Claude Boisset négociant firm we visited in Nuits-Saint-Georges is somewhat between the two, and has one of the most beautiful winemaking facilities I have ever seen. It is housed in a former Ursuline convent daringly and successfully renovated by Frédéric Didier, the architect in charge of architecture at the Château de Versailles. No expense was spared, and the result is impressive. In fact, the day we were there they were preparing to welcome the Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, for a meal.
Back to wine, we tasted six altogether. The four whites were 2017 Bourgogne Chardonnay, a 2015 Aligoté, 2016 Château London (!) Mâcon Igé, and 2016 Marsannay. The reds were 2017 Bourgogne Pinot Noir and 2013 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves. The wines (all from purchased grapes) were good, well-focused, and in the affordable mid-range vein.
Above and beyond the pleasure of discovering them, we very much enjoyed talking with Grégory Patriat, the ambitious, energetic, and, somewhat iconoclastic winemaker (“corks are toxic”) since 2002, who would be very much at home in the New World.
The name Boisset is frequently associated with a megafirm that churns out cheap and cheerful products. However, a visit and tasting at J.C. Boisset in Nuits will undoubtedly dispel that idea.

Domaine Buisson Charles (Meursault) – It is always a great pleasure to visit Patrick and Kate Essa, for whom wine is not just a business, but a passion and a lifestyle. Patrick teaches physical education, but still finds time to work in the vineyard and cellar, as well as make frequent learned contributions about the wines of Burgundy on the internet. He is the best blind taster I have ever encountered and has a wonderful way of describing wines. A tasting with Patrick is by definition time-consuming and fascinating. Buisson-Charles have 6.5 hectares of vines, but also buy grapes.
We started the tasting with the 2018s.
There were 8 whites: Aligoté “Sous le Chemin”, Bourgogne Côte d’Or “Hautes Coutures”, Meursault Pellans, Meursault Vieilles Vignes, Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru Les Bouches Chères, and Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or.
Patrick is justifiably well-known for his whites. As good as his premiers crus were, I have a penchant for his Meursault Vieilles Vignes, one that was confirmed when I tasted the 2018.
These were followed by five 2018 reds: Bourgogne Rouge (traditional), Bourgogne rouge (without sulfur), Corton Bressandes, Volnay Premier Cru Les Santenots, and Volnay Champans. The Volnays exceeded my expectations and the Corton was both good and powerful.
We then went through a series of 2017s:
White: Chablis, Bourgogne Blanc, Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys, Meursault Vieilles Vignes, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Romanée, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru les Folatières, Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or, and Corton Charlemagne. I thought La Romanée was particularly good and that La Goutte d’Or and Corton Charlemagne did honor to their prestigious terroirs.
We finished with two 2017 reds: Volnay Premier Cru Les Santenots, and Volnay Champans, which I purchased for my cellar, along with the 2017 Meursault Vieilles Vignes.

Domaine Philippe Charlopin (Brochon) – We tasted one white and five reds from this 25-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. The 2015 Bourgogne Blanc was a very good example from this entry level appellation, a fun wine that is ready to drink. The red wines, unfortunately, were a mixed bag. The 2015 Pernand-Vergelesses village was old-fashioned and grippy, whereas the 2015 Marsannay village was brilliant: expressive, seductive, easy-drinking, and moreish. From this point on, the wines seemed unfortunately to go downhill. The 2015 Morey-Saint-Denis village had a peppery, reduced nose and was rather unpleasant on the palate. The Gevrey-Chambertin Terres Blanches had off-putting gunpowder aromatics, and even the 2015 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru was not up to scratch. I’m no enologist, but these reds clearly had some sort of winemaking flaw.

Domaine Robert Chevillon (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – We were welcomed by Bertrand Chevillon, a friendly, no-nonsense, and gifted winemaker. Many Burgundy lovers tend to snub the wines of Nuits, but Domaine Chevillon produces some very classy wines and sells them at prices that do not make one stumble and faint. From the delicious 2017 Nuits-Saint-Georges village, we went on to taste the whole range of NSG premiers crus from the same vintage: Les Chaignots, Les Bousselots, Les Roncières, Les Perrières, Les Pruliers, Les Cailles, Les Vaucrains, and Les Saint Georges. It is always a fascinating exercise to see the nuances between these. I preferred Les Bousselots, Les Perrières, Les Cailles, and Les Saint Georges. As for Les Saint Georges; I asked the ritual question: how is the candidacy for grand cru status coming along? The answer is that things are moving at a snail’s pace and some Byzantine local politics are involved… Be this as it may, Chevillon does good work and it is always a pleasure to visit his cellar.

Domaine Bruno Clair (Marsannay-la-Côte) – It is hard for me to be objective about this domaine because I have known winemaker Philippe Brun since my California days several decades ago. Bruno Clair has 24 hectares of vines (big for Burgundy) including in some of the greatest climats. The range is quite large. We tasted 20 wines, all from 2017. The reds started off with three Marsannays: Les Grosses Têtes, Les Longeroies (which is aspiring to premier cru classification), and a blended village wine. These were all light and elegant. We went on to taste Vosne-Romanée Les Champs Perdrix, Chambolle-Musigny Les Véroilles, and Morey-Saint-Denis En La Rue de Vergey , followed by four Gevrey-Chambertin premier crus – Clos de Fontenay, La Petite Chapelle, Les Cazetiers, and Clos Saint Jacques. I must say that this set of Gevrey’s was wonderful, especially the Clos Saint Jacques that Bruno Clair is famous for. The end of the series was a firework display of Clos de Bèze and Bonnes Mares.
There did seem to be a house style here: fruity, supple, wines enjoyable young or with age.
The reds were followed by 6 whites: Bourgogne Blanc, Marsannay Blanc, Marsannay Sources de Roches, Marsannay Langeroies, Pernand-Vergelesses, Morey-Saint-Denis En La Rue de Vergey, and Corton Charlemagne. I found the white Marsannays very good and bought some for my cellar.
Bruno, Philippe, and the three of us went on to have lunch at the Rôtisserie de Gevrey Chambertin and there was no lack of things to discuss: trends in Burgundy, the Chinese market, the gilets jaunes, etc., etc.

Domaine Bruno Clavelier – Bruno Clavelier is a real salt of the earth kind of guy, unprepossessing and constantly smiling. Terroir is like a religion to him and every visitor is entitled to a detailed explanation of the geology of his various vineyard plots, which are farmed biodynamically. The table in his tasting room is strewn with rocks to illustrate his points. We tasted 13 of Bruno’s wines. The two whites, an Aligoté and a Bourgogne Blanc were good, but not remarkable. The reds were another story. These included Bourguigne Passetoutgrains, Bourgogne Rouge, three Vosne-Romanée village wines (Les Hauts de Beaux Monts, La Combe Brûlée, and Les Hautes Mazières), as well as a long series of premiers crus: Gevrey-Chambertin Les Corbeaux, Vosne-Romanée Aux Brûlées and Les Beaux Monts, Chambolle-Musigny Les Noirots and Combe d’Orveaux, and Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Cras. Bruno was proud to have recently acquired a plot of grand cru vineyard, Corton-Rognet, which we tasted for the first time.
It would probably be long and boring to reproduce all my tasting notes. Let it suffice to say that the style here is pure and mineral. The Combe d’Orveaux is a special treat, and Bruno was kind enough to open a 99 of this for us to drink, not just taste!

Domaine Philippe Colin (Chassagne-Montrachet) – We tasted two 2017 white wines from this 8.5-hectare domaine chez Pierre Labet, but did not visit. The Saint-Aubin Premier Cru les Charmois was rather disappointing. The Chassagne Montrachet village was, of course, a step up, but I also found it weak and not particularly impressive.

Domaine Digioia-Royer (Chambolle-Musigny) – We were welcomed at this small domaine (under 5 hectares) by the friendly Michel Di Gioia (whose name means “de la joie”, or “joy” in Italian!) and tasted through his entire range. From the sympatico 2017 Bourgogne Blanc, to a fruity, light Bourgogne Rosé (I bought a case), to 8 red wines. I will list these (all 2017) and then give a summary: Bourgogne Rouge, Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, Savigny-lès-Beaune Dessus-Les-Vermots, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Charmois, Chambolle-Musigny village, Chambolle-Musigny village vieilles vignes, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Gruenchers, and Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Groseilles. The house style is middle-of-the-road in terms of quality with an honest and not unappealing rustic aspect. As to be expected, the premiers crus showed more class. The notion of value for money must be introduced here because these good, honest wines cost significantly less than most of his neighbors’.

Joseph Drouhin (Beaune) – With 80 hectares of vines (including 40 in Chablis), Drouhin is not only a major Burgundy négociant, but also one of the largest vineyard owners in the entire region. Viticulture is entirely organic. They also have a domaine in Oregon. The Drouhin cellars in Beaune are very picturesque and quite mammoth. We tasted 8 wines by candlelight in the company of the affable Cyril Ponelle.
There were 3 whites: a 2015 Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu, 2016 Pouilly-Vinzelles, and 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet Embazées.
The reds were, in order: 2014 Fleurie, 2014 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru (blend of 6 different plots), 2014 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves, and 2012 Corton (a blend of Bressandes and Perrières).
Seeing as how we were very interested and generally well-behaved, Cyril also opened a mystery wine, which turned out to be 1983 Musigny, which was consumed rather than spat out J. This was just as well, because the wine was delicious, with a monumentally long aftertaste.

Domaine Drouhin Laroze (Gevery-Chambertin) –
I have visited the domaine a number of times and always appreciate Christine Drouhin’s warm welcome. She speaks good English and has a very outgoing personality. Her husband, Philippe, has largely handed over winemaking to their two children, Nicolas and Caroline. I used to think of wines from this estate as more stolid and affordable than exciting, but they have recently taken on another dimension in my opinion, perhaps as a result of the new generation. I think this is definitely a domaine to watch. 46% of their vineyard holdings (11.5 hectares) are grands crus. We tasted through the entire range of wines (2017 vintage): Gevrey-Chambertin village, Gevrey-Chambertin En Champs, Gevrey Premier Cru Au Closeau, Gevery Premier Cru Lavaux Saint Jacques, Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Bonnes Mares, Clos de Vougeot, Clos de Bèze, and Musigny.
As good as the Musigny was, the Bonne Mares and, especially, the Clos de Vougeot were in the same league.

Domaine Duroché (Gevrey-Chambertin): We were welcomed at the cellars of this 8.5 hectare domaine by Pierre Duroché, who has represented the fifth generation of his family to make wine here since 2005. Demand for wines from this producer is great, and the better wines are in short supply. We tasted several of his 2018s before repairing to his tasting room where he served us 2015 and 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Etelois, followed by a 2012 Latricières-Chambertin. The level of winemaking is quite high and I hope to be able to buy some Duroché wines for my cellar next time around (this was not possible in 2019).

Domaine Anne Gros (Vosne-Romanée) – Seeing as Anne was vacationing in the Caribbean, her son Paul looked after us. He was back in Burgundy after a long stint at his parents’ estate in the Minervois. We tasted 10 wines from the domaine’s six hectares of vines – two 2018 whites, Bourgogne Blanc and Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, followed by eight 2018 reds: Bourgogne Rouge, Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau, Vosne-Romanée Les Barreaux, Echézeaux, Clos Vougeot (from the Grand Maupertuis part), and Richebourg. As for the Richebourg, we tried this from two different barrels. The first was from the lieu-dit “Les Verroilles”, which showed tremendous class, with an ethereal violet bouquet and a velvety texture, and the second was the same wine from a new barrel which, as good as it was, perfectly illustrated why 100% new oak would unquestionably have overshadowed this great wine.
I have visited Anne Gros several times, and have usually found that promoting her Minervois wines, there in Burgundy, was not such a good idea. But I have mellowed on that and enjoyed the 8 Minervois I tasted with Paul, who knows them intimately. He too felt that La Ciaude, from a vineyard with pebbly soil, was the best of the lot, and I bought a few bottles for the cellar.

Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat (Vougeot) – Young Charles Van Canneyt is a competent winemaker as well as a very friendly guy. His wines have a loyal following, especially in the UK, and it is not hard to see why. We started off with the Domaine’s first ever white wine, 2017 Meursault Clos des Ecoles (a leaseholding recently taken over from Coche-Dury), which left a very good impression. The 2017 reds had mostly just been bottled, so we did not taste the usual range. Instead, we focused on 2017 Vosne-Romanée Village and Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Murgers. Having a go at Vosne-Romanée Premier Crus Les Malconsorts and Les Suchots, as well as Richebourg will have to wait for another time

Domaine Jobard-Morey (Meursault) – I must say I have a soft spot for this 6-hectare domaine. Young Valentin Jobard is very go-ahead young winemaker who had just returned from a trip to Asia. We tasted four of his white wines and one red (all 2017s). The Bourgogne Blanc was all you would want from an entry level appellation, and I bought a few bottles for the cellar. Although the Meursault Village appeared a little weak, the Les Narvaux lieu dit was better. Meursault Premier Cru Les Poruzots showed more character, length, and depth, as well as good potential. The Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes was in a different, more rich and traditional style. Valentin also makes a red Coteaux Bourguignons from old vines, a very friendly, fruity wine. This time around we did not taste his rare Meursault rouge. The prices are definitely in the moderate category.

Domaine Gérard Julien (Comblanchien): Although on the main Route Nationale passing through the Côte d’Or, this domaine has a low profile. For instance, it is not listed in Jasper Morris’s excellent “Inside Burgundy”. Truth to tell, the first impression of the place is rather ramshackle. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving… We were welcomed by the affable Etienne Julien, fifth-generation winemaker since 2010. We tasted through 8 of his wines, all from the 2016 vintage, except for the first one, a 2018 Aligoté. The reds included Aloxe-Corton Village, Côtes de Nuits Village, Nuits-Saint-Georges Village, Nuits-Saint-Georges Aux Saints Juliens, and Echézeaux. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines, especially in light of their attractive prices. This is a place for people who love good, authentic, if not unspeakably elegant Burgundy at an affordable price point, and are not interested in the darlings everyone is scurrying after. I bought a case of the Aux Saints Juliens for my cellar.

Domaine Pierre Labet (Vougeot) – This 9-hectare domaine has cellars at Château de La Tour, which is actually located within the Clos de Vougeot (although we did not sample the family’s grand cru wine). We were welcomed by enthusiastic young Edouard Labet and his father, François. The domaine has been organic since 2015 and will soon receive certification to that effect. They have joined forces with about 25 other producers to sell their wines in Asia, which explains why we tasted wines from three other domains while we were there. These are listed elsewhere. The Labet family also makes wine in Corsica, which we did not have time to taste.
We started with the red wines (all 2017): a pretty Bourgogne rouge, Beaune Clos de Dessus des Marconnets (a feminine, upfront wine with a serious aftertaste that will show well young), Beaune Premier Cru Aux Coucherais that was a bit on the light side, and a Gevrey-Chambertin village which was quite big, with some candied fruit and a tart finish.
The whites, also all from the 2017 vintage, included a Bourgogne blanc (better in its category than the red), the white Beaune Clos de Dessus des Marconnets with an immediately appealing bouquet (although slightly less good on the palate), and Meursault Les Tillets with a very seductive nose and a fine silky texture, if not very concentrated.

Domaine Michel Lafarge (Volnay) – Burgundy lovers revere this estate not only because Frédéric Lafarge and his father, Michel, are adorable, but because the cobwebbed cellars exude tradition, as do the wines.
We tasted a range of 2017s. The whites included an Aligoté Raisin Doré, Meursault Village, Meursault Village Vendanges Sélectionnées, and Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots blanc.
Then came no fewer than fifteen 2017 reds :
These included 11 Burgundies: Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (more about that at the end of the report), Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Volnay Village, Volnay Vendanges Sélectionnées, Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots, Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves, Volnay Premier Cru Les Pitures, Volnay Premier Cru Les Mitans, Volnay Premier Cru Les Caillerets, Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes, and Volnay Premier Cru Clos du Château des Ducs.
The four remaining wines (also 2017s), were from the 4-hectare Domaine Lafarge-Vial in the Beaujolais (belonging to Frédéric Lafarge and Chantal Lafarge-Vial): Chiroubles, Fleurie, Fleurie Clos Vernay, and Côte de Brouilly.
As stated at the beginning of this report, reproducing tasting notes for 19 wines would be too overwhelming, so let me summarize by saying that the whites were good, if unremarkable, the red Burgundies were elegant and more forward/easy-going than I have found in previous years, and that the Beaujolais were juicy and typical of their appellations, except perhaps for the Côte de Brouilly which seemed to have a “gout de terroir”.

Domaine Lamarche (Vosne-Romanée) – It is always a pleasure to see Nicole Lamarche. When I first met her, she had a ring through her nose, had recently become the single mother of twins, and the thought of receiving foreign wine lovers was intimidating and not exactly her idea of fun. She has acquired tons of experience and self-assurance since then, and now runs the estate as well as any man. She was just back from a trip to Hong Kong. We sat down in a small, cosy tasting room and sampled 8 wines from the domaine’s 8 hectares of vines: Bourgogne Rouge, Vosne-Romanée Village, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Malconsorts, Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot, and La Grande Rue. I had a good impression of the premiers crus and my notes speak highly of all the grands crus. In fact, I had found Nicole’s wines somewhat lacking in power and richness in the past, but not this time around. They showed beautifully, including the rare La Grande Rue.

Domaine Vincent Latour (Meursault) – Vincent Latour welcomed us as neighbours because he rents his 4-bedroom house next door as a gîte, and this is where I stayed with my mentor, Ian Westcott from Australia, and two other friends. Vincent has a small négociant activity to complement the wine from his 12 hectares of vines. We were warmly welcomed and tasted through 13 wines, all white save the last one, and all from the 2017 vintage: Bourgogne Côte d’Or, Saint-Aubin Cuvée Thomas, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru Les Frionnes, Puligny-Montrachet Village, Chassagne-Montrachet Les Benoîtes, Meursault Cuvée Saint-Jean, Meursault Clos des Magny, Meursault Les Pellans, Meursault Les Narvaux, Meursault Les Grands Charrons, Meursault Premier Cru Les Genevrières, and Meursault Premier Cru La Goutte d’Or. The red wine was a pretty Meursault Premier Cru Les Cras. The Latour wines are friendly, easy-to-drink and in an attractive commercial style. Many of the wines are aged in large, 600-liter barrels to avoid exaggerated oak influence.

Domaine Hubert Lignier (Morey-Saint-Denis) – I have visited here many a time and it is always a pleasure to meet Hubert and his son Laurent. Hubert is retired, but never far away… Once again, we sampled a huge range of wines (14 in fact). All were red and the first eleven were from the 2017 vintage: Pommard En Brescul, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Poisets, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Chambolle-Musigny Les Bussières, Morey-Saint-Denis trilogie (3 climats), Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Baudes, Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Chaffots, Morey Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Aux Combottes, and Clos de la Roche. We then proceeded to enjoy 2016 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Chaffots, 2012 Morey Vieilles Vignes, and a 2011 Morey Vieilles Vignes.
Laurent’s wines are delicious and terroir-driven i.e. the terroir clearly has the upper hand over his winemaking style.

Domaine Jean-Marc Millot (Nuits-Saint-Georges) – Inheriting a domaine established in 1955, Jean-Marc Millot has handed over winemaking to his young daughter, Alix, who is not only extremely competent, but also very personable. Their cellars are located in a rather nondescript part of Nuits and there is a very genuine, non-chichi feel about the place. We tasted through 9 wines from the 2018 vintage, all red: Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Côtes-de-Nuits, Vosne-Romanée Village, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Grands Echézeaux. As might be expected, the grands crus were the most impressive. I was especially fond of the Clos de Vougeot and Grands Echézeaux.
I was therefore pleased when Alix agreed to sell me a bottle of the 2016 Clos de Vougeot. Growers are so heavily assailed by requests and have so little wine to sell that I was grateful to acquire even one bottle…

Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier (Chambolle-Musigny) – I have been to visit Frédéric Mugnier at the Château de Chambolle Musigny on a number of occasions and discussions with him are always very interesting because of his atypical background (his is a former airline pilot). Frédéric is also somewhat of a philosopher with original views on any number of subjects. He has made a great success of the estate, producing some of the most sought-after and highly-priced wines of Burgundy on his 14 hectares of vines. As at most other domaines, we tasted through the 2017s: Chambolle-Musigny Village, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Fuées, Bonnes Mares, Les Amoureuses, and Musigny. The wines were pretty impressive across the board, and the grands crus showed enormous precision, class, and length.
In Burgundy, if you seem genuinely interested, growers will often bring out older wines to continue the discussion and to share a drink, as opposed to just tasting. This was the case here, where we sampled three vintages of Nuits Saint Georges Premier Cru Clos de la Maréchale (a monopole, or exclusivity): 2016, 2008, and 2004. I enjoyed the 2016 most of the three. The common thread was the gutsy, tannic nature of the wines, but which did not preclude elegance.

Domaine Georges- Noëllat (Vosne-Romanée) – We were welcomed by Antoine Barthelmé from an Alsace winegrowing family. The Domaine has 5.5 hectares of vines as well as a négociant activity. Many of the 2017s had just been racked. All the 20 wines we tasted were red: Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne rouge, Côtes de Nuits Villages, Nuits-Saint-Georges Village, Chambolle-Musigny Village, Beaune Premier Cru Clos de la Mignotte, Beaune Premier Cru Tuvilains, Vosne-Romanée Village, Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Fonteny, Gevrey Chambertin Les Echézeaux, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Feusselottes, , Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Aux Boudots, Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Cras, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Petits Monts, Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts, Clos Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Grands Echézeaux. In a nutshell, these were serious, well-made wines in a classical mold. At the end of the tasting we drank, rather than tasted, a 2011 Vosne-Romanée.

Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot (Chassagne-Montrachet) – Jean-Marc Pillot is a friend, and I’ve always appreciated his reasonably-priced fine white and red wines. He has travelled widely, as has his son Antonin, currently learning the wine business with a leading négociant in Beaune. It would probably be on the boring side to transcribe my notes for the 22 wines from the 2017 vintage we tasted before going out to dinner… As is often the case, we started with the red wines. Jean-Marc’s Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Crus Morgeot and Clos Saint-Jean were fine examples of what the appellation can do with Pinot Noir. It would make more financial sense to plant Chardonnay, but Jean-Marc and others have such respect for terroir that they perpetuate the tradition of fine red wines on soils that are better suited to them. Of course, this is what Burgundy is all about: tiny climats, and even microscopic plots within climats – as evidenced by Premier Cru Moregot that features both red and white vines. The range of white wines we sampled displayed the “salinity” of the vintage. For the first time, Jean-Marc is making a Rully (from grapes he buys), although he has had another Côte Chalonnaise, Montagny, for years. However, this négociant activity is far less important than the wines produced from the domaine’s 10.5 hectares of vines: Puligny-Montrachet Les Noyers Bret, Chassagne-Montrachet Village, and Chassagne Premiers Crus (Maltroye, Les Champs Gain, Les Macherelles, Les Chenevottes, Les Vergers, Clos Saint Marc, Morgeot, Les Baudines, and Caillerets). A small amount of Corton Charlemagne and Chevalier Montrachet are made from grapes sourced from outside the domaine.

Domaine Poisot (Aloxe-Corton) – Rémi Poisot is in charge of a tiny (2-hectare) vineyard holding that was originally part of Domaine Louis Latour. Rémi is building a new cellar in Aloxe and his business is developing nicely. We tasted two 2017 whites, a pleasant Pernand-Vergelesses and a steely, serious Corton-Charlemagne, followed by three 2017 reds: a light and easy-drinking Pernant-Vergelesses, an aristocratic Corton-Bressandes, and a superb Romanée-Saint-Vivant. We also tried the 2018 Saint-Vivant from barrel, and the 2012, 2011, and 2010 later that week back at the gîte. This is a tremendous wine, in a plot literally just across the small road from La Romanée-Conti.

Domaine Gérard Raphet (Morey-Saint-Denis) – Having called on Gérard a number of times, I was surprised to find him not his usual fairly taciturn self. He was not only expansive, but was accompanied by his daughter Marion, slated to take over one day. Gérard has some impressive vineyard holdings (total 12 hectares). We tasted 11 red wines from 2017: Bourgogne Rouge, Gevrey-Chambertin Village, Morey-Saint-Denis Village, and Chambolle-Musigny Village, followed by Morey Premier Cru Les Millandes and Gevrey Premier Cru Lavaux Saint Jacques, and then the big guns (Clos de Vougeot, Charmes Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Clos de Vougeot, and Clos de Bèze). Raphet is somewhat under the radar, but he makes fine, traditional Burgundy at reasonable prices. I think the overall level is better than before and that new blood is helping. Good value for money.

Domaine Comte de Vogüé (Chambolle-Musigny) – It is always an honor to visit this ultra-traditional and much-respected domaine. We were once again welcomed by winemaker François Millet, with 33 vintages behind him at de Vogüé, and whose take on Burgundy is always very original and fascinating. Since a number of 2017 wines had recently been bottled, we tasted three from barrel – but not just any three: Les Amoureuses, Bonnes Mares, and Musigny. At this early stage, my heart went out to Les Amoureuses, but the Musigny has tremendous potential. These are beautiful, structured, monumental wines made to age.

General observations:

I go to Burgundy regularly, but always feel like a beginner. There is so much to learn, so many intricacies! The “one-on-one” contact with winegrowers is precious. At some of the small domaines you wonder how they manage to cope with tending the vines, making the wine, selling it, doing all the office work, etc. – not to mention finding the time to welcome visitors and clients! Families seem to be at the heart of everything and money talks a lot less than it does in Bordeaux. Someone showing up with unlimited funds cannot simply buy the wines they want, or acquire vineyards. Relationships need to be established and, while the Burgundians are by and large a welcoming lot, they are wary of outsiders and far less prone to sell to the highest bidder.

Burgundy is already so tremendously sub-divided that growers worry how their children can afford to pay inheritance taxes on land now worth a fortune in order to keep the domaine in the family.

Even though I feel that making generalizations about vintages is like walking on eggs, let’s take a look at the past two years.

2017 has proved to be much more worthwhile than widely thought just after the harvest. Although perfect phenolic maturity may not have been reached in many instances, ripening was good, with little or no disease issues. The wines have put on weight during barrel ageing and their hallmarks are elegance, medium body, and lovely crunchy Pinot fruit. They look to have mid-term ageing potential. Overall quality seems to be consistently good through the various appellations and hierarchies. Vintage style? That’s always subjective, but 2017 is perhaps reminiscent of 2001 or 2014 with a bit more flesh.

2018 is an altogether different animal. A warm summer followed by hot weather during the harvest led to early picking and a large crop of very ripe fruit. Since sugar levels rose quickly as acidity dropped, the flavour profile of the wines depends to a great extent on exactly when the grapes were harvested. There seems to be more variation in quality than in 2017, but the best wines are big and plush. The whites give every indication of superb quality.

The market for Burgundy is buoyant, but is it too buoyant? Will the region lose its traditional customers with the hefty price increases? The steep rise in exports to China constitutes good news, but many growers expressed concern about the huge demand from that country. Then, of course, there is the big question mark about Brexit…

There is definitely a new focus on peripheral regions (the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise, and the Beaujolais) in light of the scarcity of wine from the Côte d’Or and the corresponding jump in prices. I think these regions will be more popular in the near future, and probably be motivated to improve quality.

In terms of winemaking, the big issue in years past has been whole bunch fermentation. People seem less hung up about this now, and many incorporate 20/30% whole bunches without making a huge issue of it. On the other hand, the subjects of remontage (pumping over) and pigeage (punching down the cap) were frequently mentioned during my visit. There seems to be a new priority to doing these with more finesse in terms of frequency, duration, and “gentleness”. Climate change is, of course, a major concern. There was some criticism of growers who compensated for this by picking earlier, but perhaps too early, thereby obtaining unbalanced wines.

The change in the appellation system on a regional level is popular all around. The not-very-prestigious Bourgogne Ordinaire and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire denominations were replaced by the much more user-friendly Coteaux Bourguignons in 2011. Furthermore, entry-level red wines from the Côte de Nuits or the Côte de Beaune can call themselves Bourgogne Côte d’Or instead of just plain Bourgogne starting with the 2017 vintage.

I was heartened during my travels to see the number of young people taking over winemaking, and that many of them had acquired experience abroad, oftentimes in Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, you can’t fault the Burgundians for being male chauvinist pigs. Women winemakers are to be found all up and down the Côte!


I find the cuisine in Burgundy more varied, elaborate, and ultimately better than in Bordeaux. Don’t ask me why this is so… One weak point, however, is seafood, which is understandable when you consider how far Burgundy is from the ocean.

The local restaurants maintain a high standard, but there is a huge problem with regard to wine pricing. It is not rare to find a really good three course meal for under 20 euros, and then get hammered once you order even the least expensive wine, immediately doubling the price of the meal. An excellent example of this is the Part des Anges in Beaune: great food and obscene mark-ups on the wine.

A wonderful exception to this sorry situation is Le Soufflot in Meursault. I went there three times during my stay. They have a set menu (a 3 course menu for 32 euros at lunch and a 6 course tasting menu for 45 euros at dinner) featuring imaginative, delicious food, as well as a tremendous wine list with reasonable mark-ups –
We were invited to the restaurant’s first anniversary party attended by a host of growers, with more wines than you could shake a stick at!

The small Maison du Colombier is a popular place in Beaune, but I have only ever had drinks there.

Le Millésime is a perennial favorite in Chambolle-Musigny. Their lunch menu provides excellent value for money and the quality seemed even to have improved the twice we went there in February.
We ate at two restaurants in the centre of Nuits-Saint-Georges. I have been to La Cabotte in the past, but frequented their affordable bistro, Le Café de Paris, on two occasions this time. This is fine for a quick, simple, inexpensive meal.

We shared mammoth ribs of Irish beef with great fries at Le Grill de Nuits, and I would recommend the restaurant if it weren’t for their list of mediocre and horribly overpriced wines – in the heart of the wine country. So sad.

The Rôtisserie du Chambertin in Gevrey served us a very good lunch. The hotel and restaurant have been entirely renovated and the latter divided into two parts. We ate in the bistro part.
We heard that the Castel de Très Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis, also recently renovated, had been subject to arson in January and I don’t know if and when it will re-open.

As mentioned above, Olivier Bernstein invited us to the Bistro de l’Hôtel de Beaune, which is an excellent traditional sort of establishment in the medium price range.

We did not make it to one of our usual haunts, L’Auberge des Coteaux in Villars-Fontaine, a short drive from Nuits-Saint-Georges. This “restaurant populaire” is run by the same people as Le Millésime in Morey. It caters to local workers and provides wholesome, hearty food at an unbeatable price.

Cook your own!

If you are planning a trip to Burgundy for more than a few days, I strongly advise renting a gîte ( or an Airbnb rather than booking a hotel. This is not only cheaper, but more comfortable and you can cook your own meals, taking a break from the rich Burgundian cuisine and, above all, drinking good wines without paying through the nose for them!

Discovering Madeira

This post will be as much about tourism and cuisine as it is about wine because these three things are inseparable to me when it comes to Madeira.

I went there with my family at the tail end of December 2018. In fact, this trip to one of the world’s great wine regions had been on my bucket list for quite some time. Fortunately, I was not disappointed with the experience: the island, the people, and the wines.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Madeira is a long way from anywhere – almost 1,000 km from Lisbon and 600 km off the Moroccan coast. The island (in fact, one big island and three little ones) is a popular tourist destination, with about a million visitors a year. Although many of them come on cruise ships, the overall impression I had was of relatively up-market tourism involving people who go out of their way to discover a unique 750 km² sub-tropical paradise. In fact, Madeira is nicknamed the “island of eternal spring” because the weather is never too hot, nor too cold.
We stayed in the capital city, Funchal, population 110,000.

The first evening, we went to a restaurant named “Beef and Wine”, where we ordered the house speciality, espetada. This is usually chunks of beef but, in this case, it was actually a variation, picanah, top sirlon rubbed in garlic and salt, and grilled on skewers. The waiters come around as many times as you wish with their skewers, like the Brazilian churrascaria. The meat was served with a variety of vegetables. I took advantage of the extensive wine list to try a local red table wine, 2013 Xavelha, made from a blend of Portuguese and international grapes. This proved to be a good middle-of-the road effort. I later learned that table wines are quite rare, accounting for just 5% of production. We ended the meal with two glasses of ten-year-old Madeira, a Sercial and a Verdelho from Barbeito. I had heard very good things about this producer, but unfortunately was unable to visit because the firm was closed over the Christmas season. Be that as it may, the two wines we tried were delicious, in a more modern style.

We also enjoyed the unusual Madeiran bread, bolo do caco, usually served with garlic butter.


The next morning, I was taken in hand by the IVBAM, or Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, IP-RAM. I was greeted by Rubina Vieira, who does a wonderful job of presenting a wine that most people have heard of, but few know much about… Rubina started off by putting the wine in a historic context – its more than 500 years of ups and downs, as well as its current market status. A famous story goes that the Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV of England, when sentenced to death for treason in 1478, chose to meet his creator by drowning in a butt of Malmsey. Indeed, Duke of Clarence is the name of a wine sold by Blandy’s, one of the largest producers of Madeira! In Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”, Falstaff sells his soul to the devil “for a cup of Madeira”. Later on, Madeira found great favor in Europe and especially the United States, where the Founding Fathers used it to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Exports were greatly helped by Madeira’s strategic geographical location, a stopover point on trans-Atlantic voyages. It was soon discovered that the wine benefitted from being stored in the warm holds of ships, and so a practice developed of imitating this effect on the island. This is achieved in two ways. The most common is the estufagem method, consisting of placing the wine in stainless steel vats that are heated with a serpentine or other kind of heating system to a maximum temperature of 50°C for a minimum of three months. The wine is then left to age and cannot be bottled before the 31st of October of the second year following the harvest. The more sophisticated canteiro method calls for maturing in barrels on the top floors of cellars, where the temperature is higher, for a minimum of two years. This leads to slow oxidative ageing accounting for unique, complex aromas. Canteiro wines must age for at least three years and can only be sold after a minimum of three years starting from the 1st of January of the year following the harvest.Madeira has an alcohol content of 17-22% by volume and is fortified with wine spirit of at least 96% (compared to Port’s 77%).

Much Madeira is marketed according to style (dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet) but the finest usually carry a varietal name:

Sercial is nearly dry (≤ 59 g/l), but seems dry because of the wine’s intrinsic acidity
Medium-dry Verdelho has its fermentation halted a little earlier than Sercial, and residual sugar content varies from 54-78 g/l
Bual, classified as medium-sweet, has a sugar content of 78-100 g/l
Malmsey is quite sweet, with ≥  100 g/l of sugar

The most widely-planted variety in Madeira is Tinta Negra, accounting for 85% of production, although the name rarely appears on a label. There has been a tendency to consider Tinta Negra a “workhorse” grape rather than one of the finer varieties, but a 1929 Tinta Negra I tasted showed that to be an unfair generalization. And then there is the rare Terrantez, which produces a medium-dry or medium sweet wine of excellent quality that is making somewhat of a comeback.



Rubina was kind enough to take me through a tutored tasting of the following wines:

CAF Cooperative Agrícola do Funchal five year old (blend)
Barbeito “Rainwater”, medium dry
Henriques & Henriques 10 year old Sercial
Borges 10 year old Verdelho
Barbeito 10 year old Bual
Justino’s 10 year old Malvasia (same as Malmsey)
Henriques & Henriques 20 year old medium dry Terrantez
1973 Madeira Wine Company Verdelho
1964 Justino’s Bual
1937 Pereira Oliveira Sercial
1929 sweet Pereira Oliveira Tinta Negra

This master class was utterly fascinating, and the older wines were gorgeous.The style called “Rainwater” is very popular in the US. It is lighter and similar in sweetness to Verdelho, but usually made with Tinta Negra. Explanations of the origin of the name and how the style developed vary.

There was a time not so long ago when extremely old Madeira could be bought for a song – in fact, for ridiculously low prices, making it one of the wine world’s greatest bargains. Those days may be over, but fine Madeira remains well worth seeking out.

The wine law was recently overhauled, and the broad categories are now as follows:·

Reserve (five years) – This is the minimum amount of ageing for a wine labelled with one of the premium varieties.
Special Reserve (10 years) – At this point, the wines are often aged naturally without any artificial heat source
Extra Reserve (over 15 years) – This style is richer and relatively rare, with many producers preferring to extend the ageing to 20 years for a vintage, or produce a colheita.
Colheita – This style includes wines from a single vintage, but aged for a shorter period than true vintage Madeira. The wine can be labeled with a vintage date, but includes the word colheita on it. Colheita must be a minimum of five years old before being bottled. However, most producers drop the word Colheita once a wine is a minimum of 20 years old, at which point it can be sold as vintage.
Frasqueira (“vintage”)  – This style must be aged at least 20 years in cask and one year in bottle. However, the word “vintage” cannot appear on labels because it is a trademark belonging to the Port producers.

In France, Madeira suffers from an unusual handicap in that it is an ingredient in numerous classic sauces. Like many households and restaurants, I always have an open bottle to use in cooking. However, this overshadows the wine’s qualities in its own right… That having been said, Rubina pointed out what I had heard elsewhere: while Port and Sherry, the other great European fortified wines, are losing ground, exports of Madeira are on the rise.

The sugar content of Madeira, including dry Sercial, is actually quite high. This is because the wines feature such high acidity that sweetness is necessary to provide proper balance.


The IVBAM was kind enough to take me on a tour of the wine country, guided by Lionel Vieira, the Institute’s viticultural consultant. This was utterly fascinating and something I could never have done on my own.Rubina stressed that Madeira is by definition a rare wine. The entire vineyard covers just 500 hectares (compared with 650 hectares in Pomerol, practically the smallest of Bordeaux’s 57 appellations). These are scattered around the island in one of seven microclimates and divided among some 2,000 grape growers. The soil is basically the same everywhere: basalt of volcanic origin, which accounts for the high acidity. The island is very mountainous and so the vines frequently grow on terraces located on steep slopes. The grapes are mostly trained according to the latada system, i.e. making use of a pergola 1.5 to 2 meters high. This provides good ventilation and reduces the risk of rot or mold. In times past, vegetables were grown underneath, but this practice is disappearing. I also saw something in Madeira that was quite esoteric: vines trained horizontally, i.e. with the canes spread out on the ground, with no trunk. The key here is to work the soil so as to keep the ground well-aerated and totally devoid of other vegetation.


There are just 8 producers of Madeira. The largest, by far, is Justino´s Madeira Wines Company. The most well-known is the Madeira wine company, owners of such brands as Blandy’s, Cossart Gordon, Leacock’s, and Miles. The historic Blandy’s Wine Lodge, on Funchal’s main street, located practically next door to the Tourist Information Office, is a major attraction. I went on a tour there, which was well done. Unfortunately, tasting more than two entry level wines entailed a charge for each wine, so I contended myself with buying a bottle of Terrantez because this is so difficult to find.

The only other producer I visited was Pereira D’Oliveira. This traditional firm, also in Funchal, is famous for their old wines. Oliveira’s is not geared up to receiving foreign wine enthusiasts. The several young hostesses were not really clued-in and communication in English was not easy. It took some convincing to taste anything other than the basic blends. Their attitude changed completely when I was finally given a rare and expensive wine to taste, and bought a bottle. Evidently, I was not a freeloader, so other wines were poured and a few souvenir items were added free of charge…


In terms of dining, allow me to go through the restaurants we frequented. Lionel from the IVBAM invited me to the restaurant at the Four Views hotel in Funchal. This included poached egg soup and the emblematic black scabbard fish with bananas and passion fruit sauce. We had another Madeiran table wine with this, 2016 Barbusano Verdelho, perhaps a bit too tart for me. Lunch the next day was at a seafront restaurant, O Regional, that provided excellent value for money as we ate outside on a warm December afternoon.

That same evening we dined at Chris’s Place, on a par with a one-star Michelin restaurant. The three of us ordered the tasting menu with wines to match and the bill came to 100 euros, representing great value for money. In addition, we enjoyed lunch one day at Cachalote in Porto Moniz on the northern side of the island, which I also recommend. I sampled a dish there revolving around limpets that went well with a white Douro wine.



The highlight of our trip was nevertheless the New Year’s Eve gala dinner at the Belmond Reid’s Palace hotel in Funchal, an establishment normally out of my price range, but one of those luxurious things one does from time to time… The food was exquisite, as was the setting, and we had a window seat with a gorgeous view over the city and the harbour.

This mattered, because the fireworks display on the 31st of December in Funchal is world famous. There was a blaze of color all over the town and on the water. Spellbindingly beautiful.

Although Madeira is a major tourist destination, I had the impression that wine is very much of a footnote in regional promotion, which is a pity. That having been said, wine tourism is slowly, but surely taking off. Furthermore, Rubina travels all over the world to present the wines and suggest how to enjoy them with food (frequently a question mark with sweet wines). One of the unusual characteristics of Madeira is that it does not budge once the bottle is open. I was repeatedly told that you can go back a year later and it will not have suffered from contact with oxygen.

The challenge for Madeira is to close the gap between a famous name and the realities of today’s market so as to shake off a 19th century image and turn young people on to one of the world’s great wines. I get the feeling that thanks to the intrinsic quality of fine Madeira and people like Rubina to spread the good word, a renaissance is in the making.

A final anecdote: I attended a service at the Anglican church in Funchal and was delighted to see that along with the traditional tea and coffee after the service, worshipers were also given the option of a glass of Rainwater Madeira. Needless to say, that is what I chose… I found this mighty civilized and think that churches in other winegrowing regions – such as Bordeaux – would do well to offer the same!




Three absolutely extraordinary wine dinners

I was privileged to taste a number of remarkable wines in a 10-day period in late September. In fact, I have never before tasted as many great aged wines in such a short period of time in my entire life. It was not possible to take detailed notes on these, since they were served at table, but here are a few brief impressions.
I would like to acknowledge the outrageous generosity of Tim Mc Cracken who contributed most of the wines, as well as Ian Amstad and others.
Tim had rented a château in the Entre-Deux-Mers (Château Casanova in Saint-Sulpice-et-Cameyrac) to celebrate his 50th birthday and invited friends from seven different countries, all wine lovers, to come and spend a memorable weekend.
The wines at the first dinner were shared with Canadian friends Danny and Danielle Tenaschuk in Bordeaux.

Dinner on 22/09/18

2002 Savennières Roche aux Moines, Cuvée des Nonnes, mœlleux
This was looking very old and had a bouquet that was clearly quite evolved. There was some discussion as to whether the wine was corked, or if was more a question of balsamic aromas. In any event, it was only medium sweet and more of an oddity than good.

2014 Bourgogne Aligoté, bottled by Anne Buisson in Meursault
This barrel-aged unfiltered Aligoté was served blind and stumped all of us. I was thinking Germany and others were also thinking of a more northern clime. The wine was elegant and precise, if lacking in depth. Several of us thought this was one of the better Aligotés we had ever had.

2008 Château Grillet
This was the sixth time I have had Ch. Grillet. All the previous ones had left me nonplussed (no wonder that pre-Pinault vintages are not mentioned at all on their website) and left me wondering if the wine’s rareness and price tag had not clouded the judgement of other tasters. However, this 2008 was subtle and refined, with complex aromas and a lovely long, cool aftertaste. Very classy. Could even improve with age (as opposed to the other Grillets I have had, which had nothing to gain by long ageing).

1998 Ch. Petit Village
Served blind, this had us guessing a much younger Left Bank wine. An elegant wine with a silky texture. Fine indeed. Not yet at peak.

2010 Ch. Belles-Graves, Lalande de Pomerol, cuvée “Calypso”
This was correctly guessed as a fine Right Bank Bordeaux. It was a notch down from the Petit Village, but received praise from everyone. I have one more bottle and will sit on it (so to speak). A great wine to serve blind as it punches seriously above its weight. If it is said that a good Lalande is the equal of a lesser Pomerol, this is more like a middling one, at the very least. By the way, this cuvée is named after the bathyscape used by the famous explorer Jean-Yves Cousteau, to whom the owners are related.

1996 Ch. Léoville Barton
As to be expected, a classic Saint-Julien, but one of my friends kept insisting that there was a greenness there. It did perhaps lack some body and focus. I have two more bottles and wait to open the next one. The overall verdict was that we are slightly disappointed.

2013 Two Sisters Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara Peninsula
A 20 cl. bottle was enough for the 6 of us to have a small glass of this bracing, crystalline wine whose high sugar content was countered by sufficient acidity. Not overly aromatic, but delicious. I wonder how a wine like this will age?

Dinner on 28/09 (16 wines for 15 people, including one jeroboam).

Champagne Drappier Brut
OK, but a little sharp.

1995 Hospices de Beaune, Meursault, Cuvée Jehan Humblot (maison Bichot)
In fine form with some tertiary hazelnut and cherry-vanilla nuances on the nose.
Good development on the palate and length. A point.

2003 Montrachet, DRC
Bright medium pale golden color. Beguiling, subtle nose with the oak very much under control.
Pure and mineral on the palate with restrained power, yet ethereal. Well-muscled, needs time, but quite the treat now. An experience.

2005 Bahans Haut Brion, Pessac-Léognan
This second wine no longer exists, replaced by Le Clarence.
Lovely deep color with a bouquet of coffee, vanilla, and cedar.
Big, strong, and youthful on the palate, but some medicinal notes there. Good rather than great.

1978 Haut Brion
Thinnish purplish rim. Lovely earthy bouquet with a strong Graves signature. Showing age on the palate and more interesting than vital with some rubbery overtones. As the Italians say “a wine of mediation”.

1958 Haut Brion
The color was light, but looked much younger than its years. The nose was smoky and unmistakably Haut Brion. In light of the vintage reputation, the wine should have been dead on arrival, but it was still alive. Although light, it was worthy of the château’s reputation. Most other Bordeaux in this vintage have turned to dust.

1989 Haut Brion
Deep vibrant color. Sleek, youthful nose that is still relatively closed at the present time. Splendiferous and polished on the palate, with lovely fruit, tannin, and acidity. Not a baby but, an adolescent. Tremendous velvety texture. All the majesty of the finest Bordeaux. Far from peak.

1953 Haut Brion
My birth year wine was, in my opinion, the best of an unforgettable series. The color was a bit diffuse, but no one would have guessed its age. The bouquet was redolent of truffles and oozed elegance, the sort of wine you could “nose” forever. It was resonant, long, and simply wonderful on the palate. Were I to give notes, this would be at the very top end of the scale. There are wines to equal this, but I cannot imagine any better.

1928 Haut Brion
One of the great vintages of the 20th century, back-to-back with 1929. The wine’s color would have thrown anyone for a loop, appearing at least two or three decades younger! The nose was exotic with mint, eucalyptus, plummy aromas, as well as some fortified wine (Madeira) notes. The wine was incredibly smooth and complex on the palate, but had – unsurprisingly! – lost much of its vigor. Drinking such a wine is like contemplating a Rembrandt or a Da Vinci painting, a work of art from another time period that demands respect. A hush came over the table and we were all delighted.


The next two wines were donated by the famous Parisian connoisseur and lover of old wines, François Audouze:

1948 Rauzan Ségla
The color was deep, beautiful, and almost disturbingly youthful (I’d have said a wine from the 1960s).
The ethereal and balsamic bouquet showed hints of gentle oxidation paradoxically well integrated with the fruit, along with slight raisiny quality and an “old library” smell. The nose needed to be appreciated in the third… or fourth degree.
The wine showed graphite overtones and was very silky on the palate and a little dry, but still vital. It also showed hints of leather. Seemed more butch than most Margaux.

1945 Léoville Las Cases
Although a little diffuse and having a somewhat watery rim, the color once again would have fooled (just about) anyone as to this wine’s age. The exuberant, sexy nose showed lovely cherry aromas, and there was something almost Burgundian about its sensuality. This was served alongside the Rauzan and the table was split as to which they preferred. I opted for the Léoville.

1982 Ausone
How many people you know would bring a 5-liter bottle of an 82 first growth to a dinner party? Well, this is exactly what Ian Amstadt of London did. And his gift to us all was very much appreciated. The color was quite fine, looking perhaps a tad older than its age. The nose was subdued at first, with some rose petal aromas, but came out over time to reveal sweet autumnal nuances. The wine spread out beautifully on the palate and shows that, as opposed to what some say, Ausone never went through an off-period when Pascal Delbeck was winemaker. When tasted the next day, the wine was even better. While approachable now, it has a long way to go, and was even better the next day. One of the guests with far more experience than me said that, although magnums are justifiably reputed to age more slowly than 75 cl. bottles, once you move up the scale, this is not true due to the rare outsize custom corks which, he said, don’t work as well.

1961 Gaja Barbaresco
1967 Gaja Barbaresco
These were very much of a pair, with similar qualities. I preferred the 67. The color of both the wines was fairly pale and the nose very subtle and ethereal (rose petal). I thought both wines fell down somewhat on the palate where the acid edge took over, and I would have preferred them much younger.

1976 Yquem
Color was light amber. The bouquet was light, wafting, soft and understated. The wine was medium-bodied with lovely white fruit, yellow fruit, and vanilla flavors. Not overly sweet or rich. Exquisite. Fine now and will be just as good, although in a different way, for decades to come. Very successful.

1967 Yquem
There are only two Bordeaux wines I “covet”, i.e. I would like to taste before I go to the great wine cellar in the sky. One is 61 Palmer. The other was 67 Yquem. I was therefore delighted beyond words with the opportunity to taste this wine which thankfully wholly lived up to its reputation. The nose of barley sugar and botrytis was followed by the most exquisite flavor. The expression “iron fist in a velvet glove” is most often used to describe red wines, and yet I couldn’t help thinking of it for this Yquem. The flavour was both tangy and creamy with that tell-tale vanilla element. The aftertaste was of marathon length. Superb. I am well-known for giving low scores by other people’s standards. But if I were to rate this, it would be at the extreme end of the quality spectrum.

Dinner on 29/08/18 (17 wines for 14 people)

2011 Chablis grand cru Les Clos, Domaine Pinson
The color was normal for its age and the nose was lovely, with lemony overtones. The oak was well-integrated and the wine was mercifully not as sharp as some Chablis. I felt that it was firmly within its drinking window.

2002 Morey Saint Denis premier cru Les Buissières, Domaine Georges Roumier
Brownish rim with deep smoky Pinot leather bouquet. The wine was sleek, but too old on the palate with a shortish aftertaste. Disappointing in Iight of the producer’s reputation, and the vintage.

2008 Clos de Tart, grand cru
Good medium-deep color. Bewitching, pure, flawless bouquet. Very fresh on the palate with great tannin. Big, regal, well-made, and with a velvety texture. The structure I so often find missing in Burgundy is here. Great long aftertaste. We had two bottles. Some people said they detected a little acetic acid in the first (not me), but the second was marginally better.

2008 Littorai (Sonoma, California), Haven Vineyard
Color as expected for a wine of this age. Bouquet of buttery oak, slightly smoky, and with a herbaceous element. Fine varietal character with a caramel, almost sweet quality on the palate. Very good, but a little simplistic.

2007 Vosne Romanée Les Beaumonts (please forgive me for not noting the producer, will fill in later)
Medium-thin purplish rim. Nose a bit one-dimensional. Harsh and, to my mind, flawed on the palate.

1990 Le Chambertin, Domaine Rossignol-Trapet
Looking old and a bit turbid. Slightly porty on the nose, but better on the palate. Virile, strong, but lacking focus. Would have been better younger.

2001 Sociando Mallet, Cuvée Jean Gautreau, Haut-Médoc
This was served double blind. I guessed Saint-Julien and my better half guessed Saint-Estèphe. She was closer since Saint-Seurin-de-Cadourne is just a stone’s throw from Saint-Estèphe… Given a choice of four vintages, I was on the money though. The color showed some age, but with a very deep core. The nose was smoky, deep, and perfumed. This tasted quite fine.

2001 Pontet Canet, Pauillac
Colour was good and youthful. The bouquet was beautifully ripe, uplifting, and elegant. Some spiciness on the palate (cinnamon) and a graceful, smooth tannic structure. One of the stars of the evening. Pontet Canet has risen greatly in recent years but, even so, I didn’t expect this wine to be quite as good as it was.

2001 Latour à Pomerol
Fine color and a slightly odd nose with coffee and celery overtones. Very typical of its appellation on the palate. Big, almost massive and definitely rich. Probably a good time to drink this.

1959 Léoville Poyferré, Saint-Julien
Good color for its age with still some purplish highlights. What I call a very graham cracker bouquet with cosmetic and graphite components. Very interesting balance on the palate with rich tannin, but a fine backbone as well. The aromatics on the nose very much in evidence on the aftertaste.

1983 Château Latour, Pauillac
The wine appeared a little turbid and looked just about its age. The nose displayed sweet cedar and graphite nuances. The wine was big, round, and monumental on the palate. Cabernet Sauvignon at its very best. Long, imperious, and impressive. I see it as fine to drink now.

1982 Sociando Mallet, Haut-Médoc
Lovely vibrant color. Marked coffee-vanilla notes on the nose with some green pepper, but not too much. This mercaptan factor has been toned down over the years – it was overwhelming when the wine was young. This 82 Sociando is big and assertive on the palate and still has good ageing potential.

1982 Ausone, Saint Emilion
Retasted from the previous night, this wine had not lost one iota of its qualities and had, in fact, blossomed. Subtle, sophisticated, and seductive with a velvety texture, puckery aftertaste and refined sweetness. Tremendous.

1998 Léoville Barton, Saint Julien
Looking younger than its years, this had an attractive, but overly discreet nose. The taste was very much in keeping with the château profile – smooth and soft, but in this vintage the tannin is too unyielding, and not in a way that time will cure. Fine with food but on its own too tough. Best enjoyed sooner rather than later to take advantage of the fruit.

1988 Montrose, Saint Estèphe
Color OK for its 30 years. Ethereal, wonderful nose with touch of graphite. Proved to be a great Médoc on the palate, but lacks a bit of freshness and panache.

2001 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Medium-deep amber-gold color. Very youthful bouquet with some tropical fruit (pineapple) overtones. Good acidity on the palate with lovely follow through. Very fine wine with sweetness well under control. The mineral touch on the aftertaste is still there and helps to make the wine so delicious.

1953 Doisy Daënes, Barsac
Deep amber color and a wonderful nose with hints of vanilla. The first impression on the palate is of a seemingly “fat” and sumptuous wine. However, the wine’s acid backbone kicks in and helps carry this wine into a super-long controlled aftertaste of sheer beauty.

The one wine not noted was from Tim’s birth year, a 1968 Lafite Rothschild. I knew it as a very light rosé in the 1970s and time had not done it any good since. But it is indicative of the extremely high level of all the other wines that it attracted little attention. Come to think of it, the percentage of off or corked bottles was very low, thank goodness.

An altogether phenomenal time!!!