Ceritas

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The ‘In Pursuit of Balance’ movement started by Raj Parr, Jasmin Hirsch and others declared recently that they were ceasing operations. Parr feels it’s gone as far I could: “It did what it did, open a dialogue. We don’t want to make it into a sales and market campaign. It never was that. A discussion has been started. We’ll see where it goes.”

Like all oppositional movements in wine, whether notional or not, it drew its fair share of controversy. It did however, draw attention to some superb food-friendly wine styles that really shone in the spot-light the movement provided.

Now, the best cool-climate styles in California take their place as some of the best wines in California full-stop. There is a recognition there that perhaps didn’t seem possible when they started. Were they a symptom or a cause? It’s difficult to say. There were certainly plenty of other influential voices. Equally, outside California, there was also a sense of rediscovery of traditional and native styles. Wineries like Lopez de Heredia were being re-discovered by a new generation seeking a change from the big and modern wines that were so so popular.

When I was in California last year asking Somms about the wine I should try, most of them mentioned Ceritas, a project started by John Raytek and his partner Phoebe Bass.

They source grapes from a variety of sites on the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz mountains and look for cool-climate sites that can yield ripe fruit with elegant tannins and pure fruit.

Stylistically, they have much in common with the Grand Cru Chablis of Dauvissat and a softer version of the Volnay’s of Michel Lafarge

Their wines are only sold via a mailing list in the State’s and restaurant’s do all they can to get a case or two. Sam Bogue, wine director for the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group, which includes Flour + Water, Aatxe and Central Kitchen says: “We take all they allocate to us, and we’ll take anyone else’s allocation who doesn’t want it.”

There is certainly a lineage in these wines that you can trace through Arnot-Roberts, where Raytek used to work. A producer that still hugely excites me, ever since trying his pale coloured Trousseau when we pulled a bottle off t he first palate into the UK. I think John Raytek’s wines are every bit as exciting. So, it’s hugely exciting to be able to bring these wines into the country.

I’ve a lot of respect for what IPOB has done, and I think it reflects a lot of what winemakers just wanted to do. It was a natural re-adjustment to a period dominated by a lot of big (but not always unbalanced wines) When I visited Copain, Wells Gutherie said “You know, I would go into my cellar and just not want to drink any of the wines I made during that era”.

What ‘Balance’ is, and what constitutes ‘Natural’ is continually up for debate, and the wheel will constantly be spinning. I just hope the debate is done with a smile and a glass in hand. One style does not invalidate another, and as much as IPOB was about promoting a certain style of wines, most of the proponants would happily sing the virtues of ‘big’ wines like Chateauneuf, Port, Amarone and Priorat.

Joe GilmourCeritas

Snaps from the Northern Rhone

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The old Joseph Jamet label, from the early 1980s. Note the 73cl bottle! They changed it in the mid 1980s. Jean-Luc said the paper basically disintegrated within a few years in a damp cellar. In the early days of their rare Cote-Brune bottling they would just mix a bottle in with a case of the original.

The new barrel room of Jean-Luc and Evelyne Jamet.

On top of hill at St-Joseph looking out over the river towards Crozes. The vineyard on as the hill turns is Chapoutiers Varonnieres.

Ludovic planting new metal staves in his Chaillot vineyard inherited from the Pierre Lionnet estate.

The elusive Francoise Ribo on top of a parcel of St-Joseph they were ploughing by horse. On a day like this, it looked magical. Dard & Ribo have a reputation as being difficult to find. Indeed, we spent the preceding 20 minutes wandering up the hillside shouting their names.

A bottle of St-Joseph Blanc, bread and rilettes. Lunch.

Slow work, but wonderful for the soil. Not a cheap way of working. As well as using the horse, they use the winch system of ploughing. Inspiring stuff.

2008 Clape in great form in the evening. Love this vintage when done well.

2000 Crozes-Hermitage Gaby. Hermitage quality and perfect now. Nicely developed Syrah character.

Joe GilmourSnaps from the Northern Rhone

Domaine Pierre Gonon

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

When Pierre Gonon handed the estate over to his sons Pierre and Jean, he left it in good, reassuringly hard-worn hands.

Like many of their generation, Pierre and Jean are more outward looking, open to new ideas and dedicated to better quality. But, unlike some of their peers, this is never at the expense of making traditional, classic and age-worthy wine. These are proper wines with a real backbone, worthy heirs to the Trollat vines that form part of their current holdings.

Although typically one of the most expensive wines of the appellation, I’d argue this is one of the best value Northern Rhone Syrah around at the moment. The quality is simply outrageous for the price. Given how little is ever on the market, it seems many would agree. There seems to be a perception around that St-Joseph is a lowly appellation that holds prices at a reasonable level.

The modern age of Gonon can be identified as the point in the early 1990s when Pierre passed on the estate to his sons. The two brothers new direction was augmented by the purchase of 1.2 hectares of vines from Raymond Trollat on the Aubert hill.

That their wines are now priced above most Cote-Rotie’s is a shame, but probably warranted by what’s in the bottle, and a natural result of the tiny quantities they work with.

We met the delightful and very urbane Jean outside the winery on a marvelously sunny day. The vineyards of Mauves rise up behind the small modern building, with workers dotted about the terraces, pruning hard at ten in the morning.

Beneath the modern winery is a wonderfully old-school barrel room, akin to those in Burgundy, which is something of a surprise, after walking through the modern ground floor. There are four wines made here. Tiny quantities of a Chasselas (0.1 hectares) and Vin de Pays. Then, 8 hectares of Syrah making about 8,000 bottles of red St-Joseph and 2 hectares of white making a much smaller amount.

The 2015 Chasselas was a little reduced when we tried it but was very complex and expressive. Very nicely done indeed but I think only one barrel to go around.

We tried a various barrels of red and whites from the 2015 which looked like it was shaping up very nicely. There was one barrel of 90 year old vines that came from the old Raymond Trollat holdings that was simply magnificent and  a big contrast to some of the younger vine plots.

Unusually for a St-Joseph domaine, the Gonons have vines in all three of the main communes, which gives a very complete assemblage of the styles.

Then Jean showed us some 2014 St-Joseph Rouge and Vin de Pays. The St-Joseph seemed great but was really a bit awkward and clearly needed quite a bit of time, I think it was quite recently bottled. The St-Joseph was very good and cherry fruited. Obviously much more expansive and fruit driven at this stage.

The 2013 reds had superb freshness and a sense of cool fruit to them. I liked them very much. Jean didn’t want to be drawn to much into relative discussions of vintage quality as he feels, quite rightly, they all show different aspects of the terroir and to say one is better then another can be quite misleading.

Jean pulled out a couple of mystery bottles, a 2005 St-Joseph Rouge that was utterly complete and incredibly drinking now. Also a bottling of 2006 VV St-Joseph whose power was rather eclipsed by the elegance of the 2005 I felt.

A further surprise, we had an older bottle of white. I guessed early 1990s, a companion guessed 1990. It was 1991. Very nice with mellow acidity and soft fruit. Personally I think I would have preferred it a bit younger. Jean said when asked on the whites, generally you should think about either drinking soon after release or after 5 years or so. The whites are made from 80% Marsanne (mostly from 1958) and this tends to close down after a year or so in bottle.

As Jean Livingstone-Learmonth observes when describing the Gonons ‘simple is best’. Not only is this true here, here it seems ‘simplicity actually is the ultimate sophistication’.

 

Joe GilmourDomaine Pierre Gonon

A Morning with Thierry Allemand

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Thierry Allemand is perhaps the most talented winemaker in France. He makes a singular style that marries the rugged power of Cornas with unbelievable finesse and purity. Fitzcarraldo like, he moved earth stone by stone to fashion his 5 hectare domaine after and whilst serving an apprenticeship of sorts with Robert Michel.

When Thierry started in the late 1980s the slopes he wanted to cultivate were considered so hard to replant and cultivate, he was blazing a trail few wanted to emulate. The sheer difficulty and sweat it took to do this, armed only with a small caterpillar for moving rocks up to build the terraces necceary to stop erosion, is impossible to appreciate until you see it with your own eyes. This was never about the financial rewards. Cornas was then a wine that didn’t sell for much money. Even now, the economics are tricky. If a hectare goes for around 350,000 euro, about 15 euros of every bottle made from purchased land would go back onto repaying back the debt. That’s why when Thierry says it costs around 30 euros to produce each bottle of wine (which he sells for circa 35 euro ex cellar) you realise it’s not easy money to be made.

Thierry starts work at five in the morning, so we had an early appointment at eight. We met him in his house in the village of Cornas where he put us in the back of his old Toyota truck and drove us up the slopes on dirt roads with precipitous drops. Thierry seems serious and has a slightly monkish aspect, softened with a very natural but rare smile.

He has vines in two prime terroirs of Cornas. The wild, jungle-like high altitude spot of Reynard‎ provides his most ageworthy cuvee. His vines are mostly split between parcels, just above those of Vincent Paris’ Geynale. He’s attempting to buy the land seperating then, but it’s proving difficult.

Looking down Reynard slope.

Thierry with a collapsed terrace on Reynard.

His holdings on Chaillot are more diversely spread. They also vary quite a lot in terms of vine-age. Chaillot is much more open then Reynard, and looks a bit easier to farm. All his holdings there are very small and includes some 90 year old vines that produce a wine of incredibly majesty.

Looking up Chaillots slope. The vines at the top by the building went into Robert Michel Coteau cuvee.

From here we went up to his winery on the plateau. As we drove we saw some enormous blocks of vines going up to 30 hectares. Conventionally farmed, and trained totally differently from the bush vines that Thierry has, they can produce a prices 6-8 euros en vrac and go to the big negociants. Although this being March and a hot day, there was still snow on some on the slopes. As you see various plots of Cornas the difference  between conventional  farming and organic farming is everywhere.

We met Pierre Lionnet in Chaillot who pointed us towards a plot destined for the Caves Tain co-op. Zero health around the vines as you can see from the bleached soil.

His winery is not large, and contained the new 2015 vintage and the 2014 which was soon to be  assembled and bottled. He uses a blend of barrels including many from his Burgundy friend Phillipe Pacalet. It was with with the support of Philippe Pacalet and Jacques Neauport (follower of Jules Chauvet) that he started breaking with the traditional approach he learned at Robert Michel. Since then, winemaking started its move towards a more natural approach. One or two cap punchings first, no pumping over, slow fermentation then juices flowing by gravity. Ageing in oak barrels – but never in new oak- not a single racking over a period of 18 to 24 months and light doses of sulphur around 1g per hl when wines are blended.

We went through the various barrels:

These are true to my scribbled notes but following Thierry’s French was not easy. Even more confusing was understanding how grapes from Chaillot vineyards can end up in Reynard and vice-versa.

2015 Pigeonnier young vines (plot below Reynard)

Pigeonnier is the name of the old hunting house of the de Barjac family that now belongs to Thierry Allemand and is a subset of the Mazards climate. Violet, supple, excellent tautness and freshness. Grippiness on finish.

2015 Tezier (East part of Reynard)

Wider structure, really grippy and mouth puckering. Great potential but just incredibly high toned now.

2015 Granite plot of Reynard (not sure where)

Seems quite complete, herby notes. Good minerality

2015 Pigeonnier old vines (Reynard)

Dry, lots of tannins. Despite vinification being identical, a world away from the young vine barrel. Finishes very young.

2015 Reynard (Tezier)

The epicentre of the appellation and mostly granite. This showed excellent balanced, quite complete and with very fine tannins.

2014 Chaillot VV (from a parcel callers les Bois)

Incredible balance and extract. A sublime wine and I thought the best thing in the cellar.

Thierry is an inspiring presence who you can’t help being slightly in awe of for his vision and incredible graft. He does not suffer fools and seems uneasy with his recent fame and celebrity. When asked by an American collector to sign a magnum of Reynard, he scowled and drew a big cross.

Joe GilmourA Morning with Thierry Allemand

Well-Meaning Opinions

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

We are sinking under the weight of uninformed but well-meaning opinions. ‘I think it’s a leg?’ you hear as you walk around the Tate Modern. One star reviews from disgruntled punters who took a dislike to their waiter. The last thing I want to do is add to the noise, but more for my benefit than anyone else’s, here are a few more opinions on some wines drunk over the last few months.

2012 ‘Le Mont’ Chardonnay Alexandre Jouveaux

Anne-Claude Leflaive was a big fan of Jouveaux wines. She brought them every year on allocation. I can see why, they’re sort of like an abstract impressionist version of Chardonnay. The acidity and extract are turned up so high, they’re powerful but potentially deeply upsetting wines. Assuming you can ever be upset by a wine.

1995 Bougueil Cuvee Chevalerie

Hunting for decent parcels of aged Loire Cab Franc can feel like a fool’s errand. There’s just not much about, the majority having been drunk by merry Parisians ten years earlier. Also, considering the average size of most producers output, it’s a rare find to get something chunky that delivers the sort of austere thrills that one looks for (and isn’t grotesquely over-priced)

2011 Clos des Lambrays

Could it be that I’m subliminally associating this child with it’s powerful new step-father, LVMH? Undeniably impressive in that sort of Latour-esque way, but I guess a bit young to evaluate much further. Certainly, very nicely put together.

2000 Nuits-St-George 1er Vaucrains Chicotot

For a study in NSG terroir, spend a day in the Chicotot cellar. From Vaucrains, to Cailles, to Pruliers to their barrels of villages crus waiting to be assembled, this is a great, honest domaine. This was a bit on the earthy side to me, but very pleasant on Christmas day, although not massively helpful to my memory recall over Trivial Pursuit.

2011 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Perrieres Jacques Carillon

You know what you’re going to get with Carillon. Taut and classic. One of the most consistent producers of great Burgundy in my opinion and one who’s pricing remains very competitive.

1988 Cote-Rotie Jamet

Late 1980s Jamets are legendary. In many tastings they rank equal and sometimes even better then the elusive Marius Gentaz. This was outstanding. Ullage nearly up to the cork, straight out of the bottle, it was pure wonder. I won’t use the word class because there’s something a bit of the earth about great traditional Syrah. It’s a wine with edges and not seeking perfection, and in doing so often achieves it.

1998 Krug

Nice.

2014 Mont Damnes Francoise Cotat
2013 Sancerre Culs de Beaujeau Francoise Cotat

An interesting comparison over two different nights, the Mont-Damnes really showed how orientation and age of vineyard is so important in Sancerre.

2013 Saumur-Champigny ‘Haye Dampierre’ Antoine Sanzay

Antoine Sanzay is a hotly tipped winemaker who is good mates with the Foucault family. As well as looking after a portion of Poyeaux, he makes this wine which I think is much better drinking at the moment. A nice, really juicy mid-palette, nicely mingles with some firmer structure.

1999 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieux Telegraphe

A really like the 1999 vintage in CNDP, and this VT, was on great form, really mellow and drinking great now.

2000 Hermitage Rouge Chave

Is Chave changing, has the oldest and most revered source of traditional Hermitage, chucked it all in to make more modern styles? I don’t know to be honest, certainly alcohol is going up, he says as the vines are getting older and it seems more extracted. This was great, but still so many years to go. Hook me up with a bottle of this in 10 years and I might be able to tell you more.

2012 Cote-Rotie Pierre Benetiere

Pierre Benetiere is an elusive man. When UK importers came knocking last year, he was not there. His small garage was boarded up. No-one knows what he’s doing. Is he still making wine? Where he is is important because he is considered by many (including Keith Levenburg) as being one of the most important heirs to the spirit of Gentaz and Joseph Jamet. His wines combine the femininity of say Jasmin, with the backbone of a producer like Rostaing. This 2012 hit it out of the park with sublime softness and understated authority.

1985 Barbaresco Produttori di Barbaresco

A little past its best, but came together nicely with some boar ragu. Just slightly losing it’s definition and entering that point where many old wines just taste quite similar.

2006 Vosne-Romanee 1er Beaux Monts Nicolas Potel

A great vineyard and a nice wine, but nothing to dispel my opinion that Potel is capable of making good, but not great wines. Even his 2006 Chambertin was nothing that special.

2011 Puligny-Montrachet Enceigniers JF Coche-Dury

Is Coche-Dury overpriced? Probably, but he still offers a unique sort of style. Even now, I can get a whiff of something burning, or a smell in the air, and it seems ‘Cocheian’. I asked a neighbour of his in the Enceigniers vineyard, what were Rafael and his father doing differently from anyone else? He couldn’t answer but just mentioned they faced the same problems everyone else did. When his vines were poor, so were theirs. Maybe they pour a secret ingredient into the barrels.

Joe GilmourWell-Meaning Opinions

Dining Car Wine Options on Illinois Train circa 1900

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

I love old wine lists. An old colleague in America passed this over to me today. From a dining car going through rural America at the turn of the century. I know Stella and a soggy sandwhich must deliver higher margins and make more commercial sense these days. But, sigh, it looks great doesn’t it. Note lack of vintages, and parity of pricing between Yquem and Champagne.

Joe GilmourDining Car Wine Options on Illinois Train circa 1900