2016 pre-harvest review

Despite having difficult vintages in the past (with the exception of 2015) and despite a late frost this year which has blighted many wine regions in France in particular Bordeaux, our latest update is very positive.
Indeed according to Chloé Chevalier – president of the Gjpv association of young Burgundy wine makers and head of the Chevalier estate in ladoix (along with her father), the pre-harvest situation is very positive. The grapes are very healthy. There has been no desease and the harvest should start between the 5 and 10th of September.
This accounts for the Cotes de Nuits & Cotes de Beaune areas only.

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Grape juice or wine – a New Year detoxification dilema!

Ok so we’ve started 2017 on a positive, resilient note. New years’s resolutions and so on…

If you’ve decided to give your liver a detoxification treat, then that’s good news, both for your liver, your vital organs in  general and for this article in particular.

So let’s not go into the medical side of what’s good for a detox, that can be read elsewhere. Of course you can try many different cocktails that contain antioxidants: artichokes, raspberry juice (apparently the trend at the moment), freshly squeezed lemon juice in luke-warm water first thing in the mornng and so on…

But this is a wine blog and so we’ll talk about wine and its antioxidants and compare it to PURE GRAPE JUICE, which some wine-addicts may be contemplating.

So  I hear you ask, what is an antioxidant? It is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, leading to chain reactions that may damage cells. Antioxidants such as thiols or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) terminate these chain reactions. Generally antioxidants are found in most fruits and vegetables: cocoa beans, spinach, turip, rhubarb, whole grains, maize, arachid, fruits etc.

You’ll find tannins (another antioxidant) in tea, beans and cabbage as well as red wine.

The main antioxidant in wine is called RESVERATROL

 

Where do the antioxidants come from? The grape skins (tannins come from the skins and pips)

But let’s talk first about the grape juice:

This is made by pressing grapes WITHOUT THEIR SKINS to extract the juice, therefore grape juice is low in antioxidants. If they do use the skins, then they are cooked and therefore the level of antioxidants is greatly reduced.

Grapes are naturally rich in a sugar known as fructose. However in a bottle you’ll find that there are extra additifs, in particular glucides, which are sugar. you’ll find between 30% and 50% of the contents are pure sugar, with between 10% and 50% real fruit. Wine has less sugar in it the grape juice as the yeasts turn the sugar to alcohol during the fermentation process. Even though the alcohol is turned to glucose in the body, the effect of red wine on blood sugar levels is negligible.

All fruit juices are very rich in sugar, even organic fruit juices. You’ll even find that sugar contents in a bottle of fruit juice can be as high as a Coca-Cola!!!

And now on to wine:

To explain in a very simple way, red wine is crushed and fermented with skins, juice and pips, and therefore has a maximum amount of antioxidants. The adding of yeasts transforms the sugar to alcohol during the fermentation process.

White wine is where the grapes are crushed, the juice extracted and fermented without the skins and pips, which is why it is much lower in antioxidants.

Much has been said about the positive benefits of Resveratrol. An article published by the researchers de Renaud and de Lorgeril in 1992 showed that a moderate consumption of red wine protects us from heart disease by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL. Indeed it was often cited as proof of the “French Paradox”, where in the south west of France, despite a very rich diet (animal fats, foie gras etc) there was a relatively low level of heart disease, compared to northern european countries.

So which wines have the most resveratrol?

The most common grape varietals that have the highest level of resveratrols are: pinot noir, merlot, malbec, grenache and mourvedre.

If we are to classsify it by country, the order is: France, Australia, Italy, Spain, USA.

So what about the south-ouest of France? Well, they have a special grape varietal called le TANNAT which is the KING OF KINGS as far as resveratrol and polyphenols are concerned and can be found in wines such as Cahors, Madiran and in the hills of Saint-Mont and Irouleguy.

But lets make things clear, a healthy heart comes from a healthy lifestyle, with low stress, a good, balanced diet and a moderate consumption of alcohol.

After a festive period of over-eating and over-drinking, your liver needs a rest for it to be able to function properly. Take a break from fatty and sugary foods and even alcohol for 2/3 weeks. Forget fruit juices as they are high on sugar. And yes, a glass of warm, squeezed lemon juice instead of coffee first thing in the morning is a good idea too.

And when you do start drinking a glass of wine or two, think of the quality of the wine. Spend a little more on good wine and drink a little less. Be less curious about the branding and more about the winemaker and their winemaking techniques. Remember, the better the wine, the less chemicals are used and of course you’ll get less headaches too.

Cheers for 2017.

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What’s in a (Grand Cru) name?

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I have been asked by a (French) friend of mine to explain why some French villages are named after the highest appellation level of wine…a Grand Cru. Is it pure pretentiousness, vanity or just French priggishness…?

Well maybe a little vanity but more often by pragmatism.

The mast famous and significant village names appear notably in the Burgundy wine region, which is the most “terroir”- oriented region in France. In Burgundy the classification are geographically-focused whereas in Bordeaux the classifications (there are 6) are producer-driven and awarded to individual chateaux. For example, the  5 First Growth Bordeaux from the 1855 classification do not boast the village name except for one exception, the Chateau Margaux from the village of Margaux. Otherwise Chateaux lafite, Latour & Mouton Rothschild are in the village of Pauillac and Chateau Haut-Brion in Pessac.

In Burgundy of the Grand Cru vineyards , 23/32 have the village name attached.

Wine villages that give their name to wines, often with an iconic status, are rarely associated with the vines or vineyard. This is often because the name of a particular field or “lieu dit” existed before the land was used for wine farming.

In Burgundy, the village names are often in reference to the permanent characteristics of the countryside. For example the famous village of Meursault owes its roots to “muris saltus” or “the rats jump”, which in Latin indicated a rupture separating two sides, that of Meursault and of its neighboring city of Beaune.

The origin can also be of a religious connotation. The city of Beaune gets its origins from a Gaul God corresponding to Appollon and the village of Pommard’s name derives from an ancient temple dedicated to Pomone, the divinity of fruits and gardens.

Another example can be seen in the Village of Morey Saint-Denis. Here the name has several origins: Morey’s root name comes from “moraine” which indicates a snout shaped rock. Saint-Denis (a Grand Cru plot) belonged to the collegial of Saint Denis de Gergy.

Vegetation has a role to play too: the “clos des chênes” reminds us of the oak trees that one inhabited the field.

A human presence can also be taken into account with “mazis”,”corton”, “échézeaux”, “meix” originating from small houses, rural dwellings, gallo-roman ruins, farms.

Towards the middle of the XIX century and in order to enhance their reputation, certain wine villages in Burgundy decided to add their most famous vineyard as a suffix to the village name. Thus in 1847, one of the mayor’s Councillors in the village of Gevrey Chambertin, tired of hearing about the wonderful vineyard plot “Chambertin” and not of the village of Gevrey, decided in what we call a “light bulb moment”, to re-name his village Gevrey-Chambertin. The success was immediate and the neighboring villages followed suite: Morey became Morey-Saint Denis, Chambolle became Chambolle Musigny, Vosne became Vosne-Romanee etc.

To this explanation must be added the following footnotes:

One of the main reasons why Chambertin was so famous was in part due to the fact that Chambertin was Napoleon’s favorite wine.The first traces of his love of this nectar were as early as 1798. However, not wanting to tarnish the Great Emperor’s reputation, he made have been a great general and battle strategist, but his eating habits were not quite the par. To the surprise of many of his guests, he would devour the meal in minutes and dilute his Chambertin with water! Sacre Bleu might have been the appropriate cry!

In 1898, the town of Nuits sous Beaune became Nuits Saint George. The global appeal of the Pinot Noir wines from this district north of Beaune, helped the town to “seek independence” from Beaune. From this day on, there seemed to be a “Ligne Maginot” erected between the two districts and it was commonly known and discouraged for a wine maker or estate owner to cross the line to wed someone from the “enemy” district.

If some vanity (and a little humour) is what you need then think of the legend of the 5 Montrachet Grand Crus shared between the villages of Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet:

  1. Montrachet
  2. Batard-Montrachet
  3. Chevalier-Montrachet
  4. Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet
  5. Criots-Batard-Montrachet

The “Lord” Montrachet sent his son the “Chevalier Montrachet” (knight) to fight in the Crusade wars. Whilst his son was away, the Lord Montrachet fell in love with the fiancee of the Chevalier who became pregnant and gave birth to the “Batard Montrachet” (the bastard son of lord Montrachet. Unfortunately his son the Chevalier  was killed in battle. Nevertheless the local peasants welcomed the bastard son with cries “Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet” (welcome to the bastard son”. The Lord Montrachet noticed that the baby cried often, and exclaimed: “Criots-Batard-Montrachet” (oh the bastard Montrachet cries loudly).

A la votre!

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 – climatic fury!

After such a great 2015 vintage, the “vignerons” in Burgundy were desperately hoping for a repeat performance with ideal climatic conditions. If past weather/vintage patterns are to go by, the 2016 should have been as good as 2006, 2010 or even 1996.

As fate would have it, 2016 has turned out to be one of the worst climatic disasters in the last 50 years. Just when the vines were starting their bud burst, the heavens unchained their fury and sent sub-zero temperatures, hail and high humidity from Chablis in the north of Burgundy to Macon in the south.Rare were the vineyards not to have been affected.

Half of the wineries have lost 30% of their potential yield with the other half losing between 50% and 70%!! If the north of Burgundy was hit by temperature of -6C in early spring, the south got hit by the hail on the 13th April.

As if recovering from the latest weather conditions was bad enough, the psychological scars are much deeper. With the exception of 2015, the last 5 years have also seen adverse weather conditions, mainly hail, destroy approximately 50% of all the vines. When the “vignerons” were wondering how to survive that drama, 2016 struck. There is question that the government might call this a “natural catastrophe”  situation. It would be a small consolation for an already fragile market…

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Why January is a bad month for business…

It’s funny, at the start of each year most people are very enthusiastic and full of new positive resolutions, both on a personal side as well as from a business perspective. 

However the reality is quite different. I have found the month of January to be very difficult, especially from a business perspective and I did some research to find out why small businesses like myself, are getting a tough time!

In January, people don’t pay the fees they owe, they don’t commit to projects and they don’t make decisions…why?

Because:

Some folks are still on holiday and putting off “back to business”

The cost of Christmas is still taking its toll.

End of year bills and taxes have torn into savings.

People have stopped drinking alcohol…which in my business is fatal!

It’s winter here in Europe and the weather is bleak.

It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but having put weight on over Christmas, people keep themselves covered!

General morosity for music lovers (baby boomer gen) as iconic rockstars are starting to “push up daisies”

And of course, the IS are making everyone scared!

But never fear, it’ll soon be February. Good luck to small businesses and entrepreneurs for 2016!

Work hard & keep positive!

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Are old Burgundy whites a thing of the past?

I have recently been asked if there is an “official French” answer to the “prem-ox” (premature oxidization) of old Burgundy whites that was at the centre of heated debates a couple of years ago. For those of you who are not familiar with this question, it was concerning certain consumers of old Burgundy whites that found the Chardonnays from the 1996, 97 & 98 vintages in particular where oxidized, when they should have been at their prime.  Incidents have continued even in the vintages from 1999 to 2004. 

This situation was deemed as unacceptable for those passionate about drinking old Burgundy whites. It is true that Burgundy wine makers such as Coche Dury, Lafon, Sauzet, Bonneau de Matray & Ramonet have made their reputations on their older as well as younger  vintages. Yes Burgundy whites are supposed to be built to last…so what happened to these precious wines that surprised and angered many “connoisseurs”.

There are several reasons that have been forwarded. Batonnage of the whites has been commonplace and in particular during the years mentioned above. Batonnage is a technique where the lees of the Chardonnays are stirred in the barrel to “de-gas” the wine. Stirring stimulates the release of SO2 and CO2 and as such is considered an oxidative process. Certain wine makers practiced high Batonnage in the 1996 vintage which gave a high yield and clean fruit, with high acidity. Intensive Batonnage was done as a means of reducing both acidity and the levels of SO2 that would normally be used. This seems to be the main reason for premature oxidization as admitted by top wine makers such as Coche Dury  and Boudot (Domaine Sauzet) who over-used Batonnage to avoid high use of SO2. These winemakers thought that the benefits from this technique would enrich the wines…time would prove the contrary.  Even those who didn’t use this technique in 96 but in 1999  and 2002 (Ramonet and Bouchard) found themselves with the same oxidization problem. 

This brings us to our next theory…corks! Yes, our Australian friends will no doubt be rubbing their hands and smiling.  We do have a cork problem. Cork’s quality is inevitably deminishing. Because if high demand cork is often taken from younger trees too soon and often from the bottom of the tree. The quality of cork batches is difficult to control, the length of a cork has been reduced since the 1950’s and It’s true that you never get prem-ox from a screw-cap wine. More and more influential  winemakers are turning to Diam or Guala corks for their entry wines. Some like Philippe Senard and Laurent Ponsot have gone one step further and are using them on their premium wines. So could this be a serious culprit for premox? More winemakers would admit to the under-use of SO2, which to me seems a more logical response. But apart from some technical mishaps, are we seeing a more permanent change in the style of white Burgundies? A natural evolution to consumer demands?

Let’s face it, only a knowledgable few, ardent collectors and passionate burgundy wine drinkers still relish the taste of a great 20 year-old white. New, emerging markets, notably from the BRIC countries and younger, newer consumers like the fresh, crisp & mineral taste of white wine. I’m not saying that these estates are now completely changing their wine-making process, but are gradually evolving to more early-drinking Chardonnays with a slighter shorter ageing potential. This doesn’t mean they don’t last, it’s just that they make peak at 12 years rather than 20. 

Winemakers from Burgundy are human and learn from their mistakes like anyone, and the ones I mentioned above have iconic status in the winemaking world. If you are considered the best, the slightest error is paid in cash! But there is nothing earth-shattering in what has happened during that period and after all, the winemaker cannot predict how a wine will evolve after 15 years in a bottle. There were many more cases of premox in the USA which could be due to over exposure to adverse weather conditions when delivering the wine…again another factor to take into consideration. I have picked out several of these factors, which when combined give the results we witnessed above. No one factor is really to blame. 

But that was then and we move on, so trust me, you still get the finest Chardonnays in the world from Burgundy…

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2013 Vintage – potentially a very fine “burgundy vintage”

Almost everyone has been criticizing this vintage, which potentially gave signs of being very difficult. In fact it was a hell of a strange vintage, with a large slice of mildew and disease, very cool and wet conditions and a harvest that took place on the 4th of October…so very  late.  Which is also true of this article, which I have deliberately held back until some interesting and honest tasting could take place in the bottle.  Let’s face it, we were expecting very high acidity due to the rain and cold conditions, and some 2013 Pinots i have tasted have had a certain “tart feel” to them.  To be honest, I can’t often taste the so-called “greatest” wines from the so-called “top” estates, because I’m not a very famous wine critic…but let’s be honest, most of us can’t afford them, at least on a regular basis, and also the estates don’t have anything for us mere mortals to buy!  So for an objective and realistic tasting of Burgundy 2013 that we can afford to buy and drink, here it goes…

Cotes de Nuits…the Pinot noir territory.

A lot of estates expected a fairly acidic and “thin” Pinot but what they found was a classic Pinot vintage with the last three weeks ripening the grapes. Only those estates, and there are a few, who chose to harvest higher yields rather than reduce the quantity, would find their wines a little “tart” and not giving their true fruitfulness. There is the opulence in the 2012 vintage, but more finesse of a true “cool climate” Burgundy in 2013. Some estates thought of reducing acidity bu “de acidification” I.e. Using a chalky substance to reduce acid,  which is totally legal, but most thought twice as it gives a meaner, harder wine and often produces the opposite effect. 

The flowering period took place in early July, over 40 days later than the 07 and 11 vintages. Wine growers were forced to plough up to 10 times rather than the usual 4 or 5 as the grass and weeds grew.  

This is turning out to be a very well-balanced vintage, with great colour, ripe fruit and attractive bouquets. But a little patience is needed to enjoy the Pinot to the full.

Cotes de Beaune…Chardonnay Territory.

Again a difficult time for all, the Cotes de Beaune suffered from another painful hailstorm early July, destroying crops from Aloxe Corton to Meursault. However their was good acidity and those who picked carefully enjoyed a successful vinification.  The Chardonnays have more character than 2011 and better balance than 2010 and 2012.

Chablis
Very difficult time with some very low yields but producing some excellent wines. 

Conclusions.
Exceptionally cool, wet spring resulting in floods and in vineyards so muddy they were exceptionally difficult to enter, much less work. 

Rain during flowering in June resulted in very poor fruit set, and relatively low yields (which helped the remaining grapes inch towards ripeness at the end of the season). 

In July devastating hailstorms hit the Côte de Beaune for the third year running. 

Some warmth arrived at last in August, reducing the three-week delay in the growing season to two. 

A humid September brought the threat of rot, exacerbated by rainstorms on 5/6 October, but acid levels were still dangerously high. 

White wine grapes were picked mainly at the end of September and red wine grapes in early October. 

Sorting was essential but biodynamically grown grapes were generally in much better health, with earlier ripeness, than others. 

Stems were rarely fully ripe, making whole-bunch fermentations potentially difficult. 

Virtually all wines were chaptalised, with a bit of sugar added before fermentation to increase the final alcohol level. 

For winemaking, gentle infusion rather than extraction was the key.

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