Benovia Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015

If you look at our product listings, you will note that we post ‘third party’ reviews on the wines offered just like most everyone else.  What’s different about our approach is that you will also note we write a number of original pieces.  We taste a lot of wine over the course of the year and will make the point that context makes a huge difference in how a wine comes across.  So we give ourselves the opportunity to use our own voice to point out exceptional efforts that may not get that big score when judged in some sort of rapid fire tasting but sure hits the right notes for us ‘one-on-one’.  That is, incidentally how most of you will be consuming your wines.

If there was ever a prime example of how we see things quite a bit differently than the wine media, it is with Benovia winery.  We have been big fans of winemaker Mike Sullivan since back in his early Zin days with Deloach, and through an impressive group of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels as he got the Hartford Court project going.  We have been quite pleased with his work since becoming the mind behind Benovia and have recommended a number of things from there over the years.

We’ll be the first to admit that the Benovia wines aren’t the kind of blowsy monsters that get easily noticed by the media.  They are, rather, succinct, pure and harmonious with well-woven flavors and nothing sticking out.  These are the kinds of wines to drink because they are outstanding examples of California classics of the type that were prevalent back in California’s more ‘formative’ years.  They are made to ‘seduce’ rather than ‘bludgeon’.

Not a lot of evident wood here, the style of this Chardonnay is an exploration of the terroir of the Russian River.  You’ve got finely meshed apple and citrus fruit with hints of almond and spice notes, the result of night harvesting, indigenous yeast and whole cluster fermentation and a sojourn of 12 months in oak.

The flavors are clean, persistent, and engaging while always fresh and vibrant.  The Benovia Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2015 comes mainly from the winery’s Martaella estate and relies on a layered, nuanced, rather impressive demonstration of the vivid house style for its impression.  It will probably again get modest reviews from the press because it isn’t overtly big (though don’t get us wrong there is plenty of character).  But this one impresses where it counts, in the glass.  That is where this Chardonnay is made to perform, and we’d rather drink this than a lot of the other, higher- scoring (often oaky and flabby) options we have.

It would be easier for us to simply point to a Chardonnay that got a big review, and we have those, too. But this is one we believe in and the 2015 is a fine example to make new friends for what we feel is one of the more under-rated wineries around simply because the wines are balanced and made to drink rather than to go after ‘numbers’.

 

MO’ LAFAGE

The eye-popping values from Jean-Marc Lafage have been coming at a prolific rate.  If we did full emails on the every one of them, which would be easy to do given how good and how well priced they all are, we’d start looking like some sort of Lafage-of-the-Month Club.  So every now and again we’ll publish a little something on the ‘down low’, with the caveat that it could eventually be its own offer at some point.  Don’t confuse this smaller format with a lack of enthusiasm.  What Lafage has been doing of late is some sort of unprecedented run of ‘hits’ and this is simply one more.  Our task is to keep you informed.

There are so many different and exciting cuvees, it’s hard to keep them all straight.  We counted over 50 different wines reviewed by the Wine Advocate, some only with a single writeup.  The 2015 Domaine Lafage Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa is only the second in this particular series, an admirable followup to the 93-point 2014 and we think even a little more substantial.  Visually it is markedly different than the majority of the bottles in that it comes in a weapon-ready, super-heavy Bordeaux styled bottle with a black label (most others are Burgundy shaped and ‘dressed’ in white).  We aren’t sure what the message is, but the wine is definitely an attention-getter in the glass as well.

Grown in the typical black schist soils of the Roussillon, the 60 to 70-year-old vines of Syrah and Grenache are farmed organically, hand harvested, and brought up in 80% concrete and 20% large neutral barrels.  The harvest regimen is a little different for this bottling.  It is made in a semi-ripasso style by harvesting the Grenache in successive passes picking only the ripest clusters. Once at the cellars the fruit is destemmed and only the best berries are chosen for fermentation after a short pre-fermentation maceration.  The blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

This one is bold, full, flavored and definitely expressive of this unique terroir near the village of Maury and will stand up to the heartiest of fare.  The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck was glowing again in his ‘barrel’ review stating, “Notes of cassis, toasted spice, chocolate and licorice all emerge from the 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa…This hedonistic, downright sexy, ripe and layered beauty will drink nicely right out of the gate…91-93 Points.”

Barrels scores tend to be conservative and, in 2015, almost everything was outstanding so you don’t get as much ‘separation’.  So we suspect if it gets a final review, it will finish on the high end.   We think the 2015 Narassa has even a bit more muscle than the 2014, and definitely a riper profile.  Once again the magic is that this is an expansive, engaging wine that only costs $15 a bottle.  How does he keep doing it?

THE ‘SUD’ ALSO RISES

Back in the early-to-mid-90s there was something of a ‘modest’ period for potentially great vintages of red Rhone wines. Perhaps coincidentally, we started seeing a ‘new breed’ of wine emerging from the South of France. About that time a number of vignerons came to the realization that, with the warm climate, Mediterranean breezes and old vines, they had a shot at making some pretty serious juice if they employed more meticulous viticultural and winemaking practices. In our minds, that was when the ‘Sud’ as we affectionately call it (the south of France) was born.

In the latter part of the 90s, the Rhone went on an unprecedented run of vintages and people didn’t pay as much attention to the ‘new wave’ of producers emerging down south. It was tough getting the spotlight away from the more established appellations like Chateauneuf and Gigondas. Still, certain estates in the south persisted and grabbed a piece of the marketplace by virtue of a number of distinctive, full flavored wines that delivered remarkable value. The labels you have become accustomed to for both great value like Bila Haut and Lafage and elite performance like Gilles Troullier simply weren’t visible or didn’t exist yet back in those early days. But they are pretty darned important now.

Domaine des Aires Hautes was one of the early players we saw back in those ‘pioneer’ days. We remember selling a breakthrough bottling called Clos l’Escandil from them over two decades ago. But we really hadn’t seen much of them since until one day this little jewel rolled into the office.

Meet the new Aires Hautes, same as the old Aires Hautes, only better. For those who aren’t familiar with the region, Minervois is a sub-region of the Languedoc, and La Liviniere is a more specific ‘sweet spot’ of the Minervois, sitting on a chalky plateau facing the Mediterranean and protected from the Atlantic weather influences by the Massif Central. The Chabbert family owns 28 hectares in this lovely spot and Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre are the components in this wine, pretty much in that order. Hand-harvesting, destemming, concrete tanks and used oak are the practices, and the vineyards are farmed at a low 28 hl/ha.

While our memories are still fond of those breakout efforts so long ago, the Domane des Air Hautes Minervois la Liviniere 2015 is clearly a serious step up and a fantastic beverage for its sub-$20 tab. While it has the classic pepper, garrigue, lavender and floral notes one associates with this very distinctive village, they play a complex but subtle role in support of a big rush of glossy blackberry fruit that is rich and polished but never ponderous. It can play to a much wider audience than most Languedocs you have likely tasted. The 2015 vintage clearly dealt the family Chabbert a winning hand and they brought it home in style.

While the tasting notes from Jeb Dunnuck, writing for the Wine Advocate at the time, were based on the barrel tasting, it is clear to us this wine got into the bottle exactly as it should have. His prose was enthusiastic, “It’s a textbook, perfumed, full-bodied and incredibly sexy 2015 that offers notes of blueberries, flowers, lavender and jammy blackberries. It could be a true superstar and is loaded with potential…92-94 points.”

From our perspective, as you may have guessed, ‘potential’ achieved and this truly is one of the best efforts from the ‘south’ we have tasted this year. We’d dare say if Jeb went back to score the finished wine another time, it would rate at the higher end of the range. It is a ‘beaut’ and we bought every last box. Sadly, it was only 50 cases.

ROUSSET CROZES HERMITAGE PICAUDIERES 2015

As hard-core Rhonies know, the 2015 vintage in the northern Rhone was something special…a vintage to be placed along with the icon vintages of the last quarter-century (1989, 1990, 1999, 2003, 2009, 2010).  Some might make an argument that this could be the best given the fleshy ripeness, bright lift and freshness, and the fact that winemaking has come a long way in the last 25 years.

What some people tend to forget is that, in such vintages, a whole lot of producers have uncommon success.  The wine media will go out of their way to fawn over the acknowledged great ones like Chave, Ogier, and Chapoutier.  Those folks have earned their stripes, no question there.  But demand for these limited production gems will be fierce, quantities will be low, and prices, if you can find the stuff to buy, will be scary.   Our take on the 2015 northern Rhones is much like the 2015 Burgundies…find the hidden gems that you can drink and enjoy without the severe prices.  In such vintages, you can find some very cool stuff if you know where to look.

The story goes that the importer found Rousset by asking the locals, including already famous Jean and Pierre Gonon.  This was one of the names that kept coming up and, even though this family had been in these parts some eleven generations, they were still under the radar.  The press we found only went back a couple of vintages prior to 2015, including some nice notes on the 2014s from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds.  We haven’t seen any reviews on this one yet, but we didn’t need them in this case (though we’re sure they will come).

We tasted three wines from Stephane and Robert Rousset, all possessing pure, bright, succulent fruit, and those layered, nuanced, full throttle yet refined flavors that exemplify the best vintages from this part of the Rhone.  Since they were all relatively similar in price, we settled on our favorite, the Rousset Crozes Hermitage Picaudieres 2015 This is a single vineyard that is located on the hillside of Crozes with terraced, granite rows of vines facing south.  Some notes made comparisons to Hermitage with respect to the soils and exposure.

To be sure this is certainly no ordinary Crozes.  The Roussets own about a half-hectare here (about an acre and a quarter) of densely planted vines, many of which are quite old and date back to the 1930s.  It is said to be one of the best parcels of the appellation.  They plow by horse where they can, make the wine in the traditional way with only the wild yeasts and this particular bottlings sees a touch of new oak.

The result is a pretty thrilling bottle of Syrah with plenty of well-woven-in minerality and polished notes of the classic meat/smoke element that defines the region, all in a supporting role to a pure, juicy blast of perfectly ripened blackberries and black cherries.  This is Crozes that reaches to a higher plane and, with apologies to all of the Rhone Rangers everywhere else, is the kind of wine that can only happen here, when conditions are exceptional, and when the winemaker doesn’t get in the way.

The problem with Crozes is that the appellation has so many variables, with killer vineyards high on the hill and more ordinary stuff along the autoroute.  Picaudieres is top dirt and the wine costs way less than anything that says Cote Rotie or Hermitage on it, but it plays at that level.  A dark, expressive beauty.  These folks are still pretty ‘under the radar’, but we see that changing real soon. Beat the crowds.

 

 

FABULOUS FAURY

Everyone pretty much accepts that axiom that wine is subjective.  Not everybody has the same palate memory, tasting experience, or even the same physical ability to taste wine (or anything for that matter).  Even among ‘experts’ there are a widely varied opinions as to what defines a ‘great’ wine.  We could write pages (and have) on all of the things that determine and effect how a wine is perceived beyond the wine itself.  But our purpose today is merely to define our terms for this specific case.

The definition of ‘great’ depends on the format.  The winner of a mass tasting is often the wine that overpowers, or might be the most expressive on that day. Does that mean its great?  To some people maybe so.  But our enthusiasm for this pair from Faury, the Cote Rotie 2015 and Condrieu 2015, stems from their achievement of an ideal.  We’ll explain.

Yeah, we have been fans of Faury, an estate in the Northern Rhone, for a long time.  The wines have always been round, engaging, and well priced.  Philippe Faury founded the estate in 1979 and his son joined him in 2006, and it seems like they have been doing their best work of late.  The 2015s, not surprisingly, have been uniformly exciting from top to bottom.   But the pair we mentioned earlier kind of took us aback.

They are not the ‘biggest’, most aggressive wines we have had, nor would we guarantee they would win some knock down tasting event.  But without trying to sound presumptuous, the appeal with this particular pair was the proximity to what some might call ‘perfection’.  We are defining that as the wines performing beautifully to the ‘benchmark’ of their particular genre.  Simply put, they are sensational examples that you would describe exactly as how they might be described in a textbook.

We have gone into detail about how difficult it is to get Viognier right.  It is a capricious grape that can go from lean and undernourished to dumpy and flabby in short order.  If you were to describe the perfect Condrieu, it would be a wine with richness in midpalate, but not too much, supported by enough acidity for lift, but not too much, with just the right amount of tension between all of the components to sit perfectly centered on the palate.  The flavors would range from pear to peach to apple, with a slightly honeyed note and layers of spice tones.

With the Faury Condrieu 2015, you get exactly that.  Round enough to deliver and luxurious mouth feel and yet it sits high on the palate, perfectly proportioned, delicious but not overbearing Condrieu from vines planted between 1976 and 2007 in granite soils, this is exactly what it should be.

Perfect Cote Rotie?  Great Cote Rotie has a lovely core of blackberry fruit with streaks of mineral, smoke and bacon, ripe tannins, refined acidity, but also the best examples sport an almost Burgundian elegance.  Here we have a winner, lovely fruit, nicely proportioned with everything in harmony, plenty of style but not heavy or ponderous.  From schist and clay soils, the vines on this 1.7 hectare parcel were planted between 1976 and 2007, this one excels by virtue of its stylish execution of  typicite.

If you are looking to be bowled over with overt power, that’s not what these are about.  Nor should they be.  Here we are talking about a couple of truly delightful wines that excel because they are refined, well executed, captivating examples of exactly what they are supposed to be.  Brilliance without excess, it doesn’t hurt that they are attractively priced for their categories to boot.

 

THE 2015 VINTAGE IN BURGUNDY REVISITED

This is partly a reminder.   We and others have gone on at length about 2015, particularly with respect to the flattering reds, one of the juiciest and most engaging vintages we can recall.  For Burgundy veterans, think back to the expressive, fleshy 2009s, but lighter on their feet like the 2002s, with a nice verve to the acidity that calls 2005 to mind.  It will surely be considered in the pantheon of great vintages.

We have also (and often) discussed the difficulty in finding value in Burgundy a number of times over the years.  High demand, small production, not to mention the ups and downs of marginal viticulture in general, have an upward effect on the price tag.  Even at the lower end, prices aren’t necessarily all that low.  It’s not impossible to find a deal.  It’s just really hard.  The best results usually come in concert with the blessing of Mother Nature because Pinot is a delicate grape that needs all the help it can get, a little extra sun raising the level of all vineyards great and small.

Untimely rain, thin skins, under-ripeness, too much heat, not enough heat, there are many things that can cause Pinot to underperform.  But the reason that some appellations consistently sell for much higher prices than others is history, plain and simple.  Chambertin has hefty price tags because it consistently performs at a high level.  The places that don’t carry big tickets do not by virtue of the fact that they don’t perform at the highest level consistently.  Maybe that lack of consistent success is due to exposure, or perhaps the fact that, year-in and year-out ripeness levels might not be as high as other locations.  But it is because they are on the more marginal side of ‘marginal viticulture’ that they sell for less.

However, when the sun shines, those areas perform at their very best.  But, because of history, the vignerons can’t charge substantially more money when they are successful because of the ‘hierarchy’.  When that happens, it is the consistent recipe for a deal, and that’s how to play Burgundy in 2015 unless you own oil wells or invented an app.  Places like Marsannay, Savigny-Les-Beaune, and Mercurey had sensational seasons in 2015 and we have spent a good amount of time going through the less famous locales to find the honest gems.  That we did, though we had to, as they say, ‘kiss a lot of frogs’ and work through some disappointments to get it done.  Hey, that’s Burgundy.

The hardest part isn’t the work, though.  The hardest part is bucking the system.  When we first referred to the ‘hierarchy’ in that last paragraph.  That is a very specific phenomenon in our view.  While there is an ‘official’ classification to Burgundy that determines Grand Crus and Premier Crus from ‘village level’ vineyards, there is also an unspoken but immutable pecking order to the vineyards as reported by the press.  It’s hard to explain even to Burgundy ‘hardcores’, many of whom accept the hierarchy as law.  But if you read enough stuff, you realize that a most of the ‘conclusions’ are forgone and/or political.

By ‘foregone’, we mean that there is a certain ‘weight’ assigned to certain climats and producers.  The most brilliant Maranges ever made has an upper limit to its scoring potential because it’s Maranges.  Most of the time it will dwell in the upper 80s score-wise, perhaps creep into the low 90s on occasion, almost always in cases where that domaine doesn’t have significant upper cuvees in their lineup.  But that’s it.  If it is tasted in the same cellar next to a wine from a better appellation, the odds of it besting that wine isn’t ‘zero’.  It’s just nearly zero.

Sure there are always exceptions, just not many of them.  When a reviewer tastes at a Burgundy domaine, he is presented the wines in the ‘order of importance’ of the bottlings…Bourgognes et. al, villages wines, Premier Crus and Grand Crus. Reviewers will taste them relative to their pecking order, and the reviews stick to that script a preponderance of the time.  Is that the most logical result?  Probably, but our point is that it almost never varies to the contrary.

On top of that, the 100-point scale that everybody uses these days has an upper limit…100.   A wine cannot score greater than 100, so everything is scaled back from whatever the top effort is.  If the best wine in the cellar, using the numbers analogy, scores a 94, the next best has to be less.  By the time you get 2-3 wines down the ladder, you are in a place where most consumers are lukewarm about most things, particularly something that has a $50-60 price tag.  Those potentially delicious ‘little wines,’ in these hierarchy lineups, have a remote chance of getting a review that will motivate buyers even though the quality warrants it.

We refer to this as the ‘theory of relativity’, as in reviewers tend not to always be able to figure out where one group of wines fits in to the broader array of all wines.  The best and most extreme illustration is Romaine Conti.  Always presented ‘in order’ (and remember nothing can be scored above 100), by the time you get ‘down’ to the Echezeaux, you are at 91-92 point scores, the same as a modestly-priced Rioja or Argentine Malbec.  Silly.  Take that Echezeaux and put it in a different lineup, and it crushes.  So what is the takeaway from this small and very slanted sampling?  Nothing clear.

Also, from one year to the next, reviewers are either clueless or afraid.  Let’s take the 2013 vintage in Burgundy versus the 2015.  While the vintages were substantially different qualitatively, the majority of the scores on the individual wines were within a couple of points between the vintages, hardly a reasonable representation of the difference between those two vintages.  Also, we don’t recall anyone coming out on the 2013s and saying that these wines weren’t worth the prices and don’t buy them.  With 2012 still on shelves, and the very good 2014s and flashy 2015s coming down the road, did anyone say not to spend your hard-earned dollars on the 2013s.

That would have been honest advice from these reviewers who represent themselves as working for you, the consumer.  But we don’t remember seeing anything of the sort in print.  We can point to Robert Parker’s brutal honesty with respect to the 1983 red Burgundies a long time ago.  He said the reds were overly tannic and had issues with rot.   Was he right?  Doesn’t matter, he was simply giving his honest opinion to the folks that pay him to give them his opinion.  The Burgundians didn’t like it very much and, if memory serves, there weren’t many subsequent reviews on Burgundy from Parker.

Are we saying reviewers go easy on the Burgundy producers so they get to come back (and you can infer the same for a lot of top addresses in other areas as well)?  Are we suggesting that Burgundy gets treated with ‘kid gloves’ by the press for fear of reprisal?    You can read the pages and pages of predictable reviews and judge for yourself.  The same wines finish at the top, the general rankings of the individual wines relative to each other within a portfolio are virtually unvaried year-to-year.  Sure there will be the occasional ‘up and comer’, but the inter-relationship between producers and vineyards is virtually unchanged from house to house and year to year.

Maybe we are jealous.  Would we like to get paid to hang out in Burgundy and tell people to buy Dujac and Roumier? Heck yeah! But we have a hard time wondering why anyone would do that.  That leaves us, the poor schmuck merchants who are trying give consumers some viable, reasonably priced and enjoyable options thanks to the quirk of fate of an exceptional vintage in a prestige (and typically expensive, sometimes laughably so) region, in a tough place.

There are a lot of delicious wines in Burgundy that won’t break the bank.  But the ‘system’ does not lend itself to promoting them in a meaningful way.   Human nature being what it is, we certainly can’t expect people to easily shell out say $50-60 for something ( say a village Vosne Romanee) that the ‘system’ allowed no more than 90-91 points within the ‘hierarchy’.   Better to spend it on an Oregon Pinot that got a ‘94’, though that score came in a completely different category and mix.

We’re going to continue to do our best because it’s the right thing to do.  We love finding that delicious Bourgogne or Marsannay for a song.    They are out there, particularly in vintages like 2015.  Just don’t expect there to be lofty reviews because of the way Burgundy is handled by the media. The hierarchy of vineyard and producer, the top-heavy score bias, and the ‘old boy’ review network, make us feel like salmon swimming against the very predictable current in the sense of creating sales.  You  will get sweeping (though calculated) comments regarding a vintage overall.  But when you actually dig into the individual reviews, the information is predictable and not particularly enlightening.

Still, we have found things that we are truly exciting from this vintage because they are compelling, engaging bottles of Pinot Noir to drink (or hold) from the place where Pinot was born.  That is ultimately the point.  Given all of the things we have mentioned, you can clearly understand that there are a lot easier things for us to sell than Burgundy.   But finding a $20-30 Monthelie that you can pull out in a few years that puts a smile on your face is a labor of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOT JUST ANY OLD BEAUNE

Ah, Burgundy.  No appellation is more frustrating or confusing, yet the joy of finding the ‘good one’ always seems to provide the impetus to continue the hunt.  Finding a deal is a bonus. The 2015 vintage has been a fun exercise because the vintage’s engaging ripeness definitely allows for a higher success rate.  Of course the trick, from our point of view, is to find the juicy little numbers that don’t have triple (or quadruple) digit prices.

Sometimes the quest is easy; sometimes there are riddles to be solved as there was with this sleeper from Joseph Drouhin.  We have been pleased with Drouhin’s 2015 red Burgundy efforts at a number of levels.  But when we first came across this one, it was a bit of a curiosity.  Labeled Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2015 but bearing a fancier label (with a resemblance to Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches label…sans mouches of course), it was priced $10 higher than their more plainly labeled Cote de Beaune Villages.

It brought about questions on our part since the labeling didn’t necessarily sync with our impressions of the workings of the Burgundy hierarchy.  As one might have expected there was a perfectly Burgundian explanation.  Drouhin is a big house and produces a lot of negocient wine as well as bottlings from their own estate properties.  The ‘Villages’ with the regular label can come from any one of 16 different individual villages (Aloxe Corton, Volnay, etc) and isn’t necessarily all estate fruit.

The Cote de Beaune, according to the folks at Drouhin, “comes from the vines of the Joseph Drouhin estate (total vineyard area around 3 hectares – 7.5 acres) as well as from the younger vines of Clos des Mouches and other Premier Crus of Beaune that have been declassified (a Beaune wine can be declassified into Côte de Beaune).”  The story here is that there is much better (and more specific) stuff used in this one than the ‘villages’.  However you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at the label.

Fun folks, those Burgundians.  But once you get the ‘lay of the land’ and consider the possibilities is in a top vintage, things like this can become your own precious little secret.  Pour it out and you’ll really get a feel for where this one can go, and behold its deep ruby color.  The wine is a little reticent at first, with a touch cooler edge that most of the ultra tender 2015s, but Burgundy fans would consider the touch more lift and freshness a good thing.

As the nose opens, the breeding of the grapes here start to unfold.  There are dark cherries and currants, of course, but also a penetrating florality and high notes of mineral and clove in the nose.  As it sits in the glass few minutes, the Cote de Beaune unwinds to reveal spicy layers of fruit and plenty of flesh, nicely juxtaposed with clean acidity.  The highlights, or maybe it’s the power of suggestion, suggest this one flashes a bit of its ‘Mouches-y’ pedigree, but in any case there is no doubt that this one merits serious attention in this expensive vintage.

James Suckling had some nice words for this one as well, offering, “Very floral and fresh with crushed raspberries and flowers. Medium-to full-bodied, dense and silky. Beautiful and layered. Lovely texture. Drink now. ..92 Points!”  Still young and very lively, it is certainly a fine choice for current applications.  By all means, ‘drink now’ after giving this one a few minutes to stretch.   But we also think shows the definition and class to allow one to ponder putting away a few bottles for 5-10 years.  Either way, you win.

Also, and perhaps as important, there’s the value.  Clos des Mouches itself sells for over $100, this one costs about 66% less.  Good well priced Burgundy isn’t easy to find.  But it’s out there if you are willing to dig.

 

 

AVIRON BEAUJOLAIS-BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Given the remarkable abundance of great wines that are out in the marketplace these days, finding the right ones at the right prices is a monumental and never-ending tasking.  At the point where we actually do find something that gets us excited, particularly the ones where all of the boxes (quality, style, typicite, and price) get checked, we commit without a blink.  At that point it’s out of our hands until the wine arrives.  Often it is merely a process of the purveyor putting it on a truck and sending it.   Sometimes it becomes a lot more complicated.  This was one of those times, though we will save the particulars for another piece on the sometimes curious ways in which the industry works.

You have likely heard us jabber on about the fantastic 2015 Beaujolais.  Several months ago we had the opportunity to taste what might be some of the best values of this sensational vintage.  We started working with Stephane Aviron’s wines back with the also highly revered 2009 vintage.  At the time he was working with Nicolas Potel under the heading ‘Potel-Aviron’.  Delicious Beaujolais, fresh and fruit driven, and at remarkable prices for what they delivered, those were among the many exciting new faces we discovered with that breakout vintage in Beaujolais.

Aviron and Potel parted ways but we continued to follow Stephane because the guy could definitely make wine, and made it in the lifted, engaging, can’t-put-the-glass-down style that would win friends for the genre.  Oh yeah, and he still sold the stuff for 199os type prices.  In other words just about the best of all possible scenarios.  Needless to say when we knew we were going to have the opportunity to taste his 2015s, there was definitely interest.

The fact that the wines were compelling was no surprise.  Some of the wines that were particularly successful wasn’t necessarily what we might have predicted.  Running through the lineup, among the most impressive offerings were the Julienas and Chenas, not the appellations that usually rise above.  We picked the Stephane Aviron Chenas Vieilles Vignes 2015 between them because this appellation rarely merits this kind of attention.  Don’t get us wrong.  Good Chenas is exciting, but it is also something of a rarity as the region doesn’t necessarily have too many superstar labels (though that might be changing thanks to folks like Thillardon).

Made from pre-phylloxera vines that average over 100 years-old, from a 13.6 acre parcel that Stephan Aviron has been producing from since 1993. The soil is light and made up mostly of sand and small pebbles over a layer of clay and quartz which explains that brighter, more delicate and outgoing nature of the fruit in this engaging beverage.

While we think the Chenas is a crowd pleaser, we know the more serious Beaujolais types like to have something with a little more pedigree.  To that end, consider the Stephane Aviron Morgon Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes 2015Again the focus is on lip smacking fruit, as is the house style.  But there is more firmness, salinity, minerality, and maybe a little smoke by virtue of this respected hillside terroir.  His vineyard faces south on the slopes of this inactive volcano and the vines are a minimum of 40 years-of-age.  Like the Chenas, the well-under-$20 price is pretty enticing for a wine of this quality and this one might even benefit from some bottle age though it has that classic 2015 outgoing drinkability.

We tasted these wines way back in the early spring and they have just arrived (we have been getting deliveries of 2016s from a number of purveyors already).  Why did it take so long?  Let’s just say for some the ‘wheels of commerce’ turn more slowly.  But on the bright side, these are excellent performers at their modest fares and any opportunity to grab a few more of the flashy ’15s, especially at these kinds of prices, has to be considered a good thing.

 

VALUE BURGUNDY? MAURICE CHARLEUX SANTENAY 1ER CRU CLOS ROUSSEAU 2015

First a little basic wisdom.  We’ve explained in painful detail about how, in warm vintages, the best place to find good honest value in Burgundy is in the ‘second tier’ appellations.  The term second tier isn’t meant to be derogatory.  It is a simple fact that the hierarchy of Burgundy has been established over centuries based on performance.  Typically places like Marsannay, Santenay, Maranges and Givrey don’t perform at the same level as the heart of the Cotes d’Or.  But when things get a little warmer, as they did in 2015, the wines perform exponentially better and prices stay consistent with their normal place in the hierarchy.  That offers an opportunity for Burgundy buyers, and that has been a key element of our play on the juicy, but very much in-demand, and often expensive 2015 reds.

In vintages past, we have looked to purist sources like Maurice Charleux who work extensively with these ‘fringe’ areas.  A good bit of sunshine and things move to another level of quality.  That being said, we’ll get to the meat of it.  Santenay is one of those places that ‘outperformed’ in 2015 and we have had some positive experience with this house when the opportunity has presented itself.  This is definitely one of those times.

Domaine Maurice Charleux is located in Dezize-les-Maranges, about 4 kilometers southwest of Santenay. It was founded in 1894 by Ferdinand Charleux, who owned just a little over half a hectare (about 1.3 acres) of vines. By the time he died in 1924, he had expanded the property to 2 hectares A few years later, Ferdinand’s son, Joseph, began a 30-year span of growing the size of the property to 8 hectares. Maurice took over the domaine upon his father’s retirement in 1970 and began branding the wines under his name. Nearly 20 years later, his son Vincent began working with his father and, little by little, acquired more plots of vines.

When those warmer vintages come along, Maurice Charleux has been a particularly ‘fruitful’ source for pure, honest Burgundy at very attractive fares.  Today’s property encompasses about 10 acres, 85% of which is Pinot Noir in the appellations Santenay, Maranges and Bourgogne.  The soils typically have a lot of limestone and this .51 hectare plot consists of primarily 30-year-old vines.  The vineyard sits at the southern end of the appellation, and the wines see 15% new oak with the rest 2nd and 3rd use vessels. The Maurice Charleaux Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau 2015 is the best example we can recall since the 2009.

This is ripe, pure, ‘old-school’ Burgundy in the sense that there is a rather deep core of black cherry fruit with a touch of earth, a little minerality, and a pleasing little bit of rustic chewiness to the finishing tannins.  This is Burgundy that excels here as being a fine, engaging, unpretentious example of this hidden away village at the southern end of the Cote du Beaune.  It is a well-priced, expressive example of ‘real Burgundy’, something we don’t get to say all that often any more.

 

 

 

 

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Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015

One thing about the great vintages of Burgundy these days is that the level of commerce rarely is in line with the level of excitement.  The juicy 2015 vintage is a prime example of how it works, and perhaps something of a trifecta of things that can go wrong.  First, while very successful, the crop was small.  Second, because the crop was small and demand was high, the prices on some wines got to the point of silly.  Even with that, if you were a high-end collector and were willing to pay the substantial ‘ticket price’, you still might not get many opportunities to snag many cherries because the unattractive ‘bundles’ of various producers wines, and the risk associated with selling every level of those bundles kept a lot of usual purveyors from offering the wines at all.

If you are looking to buy some legendary label at the current, astronomical market price, the going is tougher than ever. If you are looking for good wine to drink, that is doable. Incumbent in great, ripe vintages is the success from top to bottom, and the possibility of finding some pretty fine juice at whatever price range you are willing to pay. To that end, let us recommend the Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015.

This is a terroir filled example of this famed village with the additional benefit of a ripe fleshy vintage. There are Burgundies that need to be contemplated because they are not forthcoming with their statement. Here that juicy cherry-leaning-to-black currant fruit unfolds and engages pretty quickly. Classic spice for Gevrey, with savory flecks of earth and mineral, this is an ambassador for the genre. If you are a fan of Burgundy that doesn’t seek status of a famous label, only deliciousness, this is a fine choice. If you want to show someone what Burgundy is about who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience, this juicy 2015 will serve you well. For us, Regis Bouvier has been a regular source of truly likable, reasonably priced, honest Burgundy for a few years now.

The bulk of his holdings lie in Marsannay, a natural place to look for value in a warm vintage. But this .55 hectare parcel of 45 year-old-vines gave him some plump, ripe, fine juice in this vintage from a more ‘prestige’ address. This is the kind of Burgundy that makes friends, with the early drinkability that the 2009s had, but plenty structure underneath if you want to give it a few years. Folks in Oregon and California make comparisons to Burgundy, and there are a number of good Pinot Noirs that carry price tags a lot higher than this one. Our point is that, if you want something that tastes like really good Burgundy, how about actual Burgundy? Options like this where the typicité, profile, the accessibility and the sensible pricing all happen together aren’t easy to find even in the best of times. Here’s a tasty one…$49.98