Friday, February 20, 2015

Initial Look at 2013 Burgundies - Armand Rousseau, Faiveley, and more

Iron Chevsky and Erwan Faiveley (right), with his outstanding 2013 Corton-Charlemagne.

At the 2015 Frederick Wildman Burgundy portfolio tasting in San Francisco, I got a chance to sample some very good wines from the upcoming 2013 vintage. Some (like Olivier Leflaive) are currently being bottled while others are a few months away. But the vintage characteristics already shine through. And I very much liked what I saw, at least from the top producers at this tasting.

I generally preferred the reds here to the 2012's. While the 2012 is hyped by many as a great vintage, I personally don't think so. The 2012 reds are fluffy, juicy and plush - but they seem to lack structure. The 2013's on the other hand have it - they are more serious and angular, with nice ripe dark fruits reminiscent of black tea, with tart acidity and fine tannins. The acidity seems to stick out just a bit on some of the reds at this early stage, but I think it will integrate nicely in the coming months and years, as the reds have plenty of material. The whites are more mixed, some a bit lean and acidic, which on the other hand makes them appear more pure, focused and mineral/terroir-driven, not a bad thing.

Armand Rousseau and Faiveley impressed - no surprise there! All four Rousseau wines were fantastic - Gevrey-Chambertin villages (very good this year, concentrated blackberry and black tea and hint of black pepper, a serious village wine. It has about 10% 1er cru juice, and also this year they removed one of the under-performing village plots, further boosting quality of the final blend), Lavaux St Jacques (more intense than the village Gevrey, with a pronounced pepper note), seemingly more integrated Mazy, and Beze with even more depth and refinement, a wow wine! The four Rousseau's Gevrey's were deeper, denser and darker than Faiveley's, with consistent black tea signature running through, balanced by tart (cranberry / citrus) acidity, without overt tannins. I liked them better than Rousseau 2012's at this point last year, which seemed more formidable and monolithic.

All four Rousseau reds were fantastic. As was ever-so-delightfully saucy Cyrielle Rousseau herself (Eric Rousseau's daughter).

The Faiveley table seemed the busiest at the tasting, undoubtedly a tribute to the rising popularity of this domaine. The standouts for me included Gevrey Cazetiers (though a bit reduced at this stage, with strong note of meat) and Chambertin Clos de Beze (delicious and multi-faceted, I can only imagine how wonderful cuvee "Les Ouvrees Rodin" must be!), and the superb Corton-Charlemagne with excellent ripeness, sap, and almost tannic grippy texture, which surprised even Erwan Faiveley himself, who is very happy with his 2013 reds, likening them to 1993, but perhaps underestimated the whites, and the "lowly" eye-opening village Rully "Les Villeranges" (great QPR). Other reds in the Faiveley range were also good, from the beguiling but serious enough monopole in Mercurey "La Framboisiere" to dark, irony, meaty Nuits-St.-Georges 1er cru "Aux Chaignots" to Gevrey-Chambertin monopole 1er cru "Clos des Issarts" - another excellent signature wine for the domaine, though personally I tend to prefer Les Cazetiers. Mazis-Chambertin grand cru, always one of the strong wines for Faiveley was solid, though showing a bit of wood at this stage, while the monopole Corton "Clos des Cortons Faiveley" flagship was on point as usual, the densest and meatiest of the grand crus, and obviously less expressive or interesting than Clos de Beze. None of the grand crus seemed to have formidable weight or density of some of the great vintages like 2005 or 2010, but they had a polished quality of tannins, good ripeness, balance, focus and definition, and medium weight that gave them elegance. I expect that with the weaker Euro, the wines will be a bit more affordable than 2012, a welcome change, because I want them in my cellar!

Faiveley wines have become so dependably high-quality, one can almost buy them blind year in and year out. Can't wait to see what they will achieve in Chablis with their purchase of Billaud-Simon (we should see the first results of their efforts there in the 2015 vintage). Erwan says he is finally happy with the quality and style of wines the domaine is making from their old properties, perhaps the transition from father to son is complete now. Further efforts focus on improving newly added properties (such as new parcels within Cazetiers, acquired a couple of years ago, as well as new leases for 1er-cru plots in Chambolle, such as Les Amoureuses), as well as improving quality and sourcing of the negociant offerings. For example, he mentioned that after 2010, they now make their village Chambolle from purchased grapes rather than wine in barrel, thus usurping control over a larger part of the winemaking process.

Olivier Leflaive Rully 1er "Les Cloux" was good too, though Faiveley's "Les Villeranges" is probably slightly more interesting even though it's "only" a village. Olivier Leflaive's Corton-Charlemagne was nice and pure, though leaner and with less material than Faiveley's. I heard (and so it seemed from the tasting) that Rully (and Cote Chalonnais in general) over-achieved (ripeness), the area to pay attention to in 2013, when Cote de Beaune struggled.

Olivier Leflaive has always flown somewhat unnoticed because of the renown of his cousin Anne-Claude's Domaine Leflaive, and also perhaps because it was founded as a negociant business, but it must be acknowledged that, in my experience, Olivier Leflaive has a very good touch and produces white burgundies of high standard. This year their Rully and Bourgogne blanc "Les Setilles" were excellent, and I also enjoyed their village Meursault, even though it seemed higher toned and leaner than I typically expect from Meursault. The other wines  from Cote de Beaune seemed a bit lean to me, though perfectly classy, with emphasis on purity and minerality, and in the case of the Corton-Charlemagne, sufficient stuffing without opulence.

Christian Moreau was dependable as usual - his base Chablis quite expressive and tasty, and the rest of the range consistently pure, linear, crystalline, almost Riesling-like. These wines are obviously high quality and still good QPR, though for me they lack certain exotic oceany flavors I love in Dauvissat and Raveneau, and even (to a lesser degree) in William Fevre.

Fabien Moreau (son of Christian Moreau) is the Managing Director and Head Winemaker at the domaine, and a member of the 6th generation of the Moreau family to be involved in wine-making. Fabien is holding his top wine - the very pure, intensely mineral grand cru Chablis "Les Clos".

Jacques Prieur reds and whites were forgettable, with the exception of two bottles of excellent Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais - single-vineyard monople "Le Clos" and the blended "Grande Cuvee" produced by Domaine Labruyere, another property owned by the same family. While I am not a big Beaujolais fan, I could not deny the serious concentration and intriguing peppery note of these wines, which struck me as a potentially perfect match to all kinds of Chinese food (perhaps even more suitable than my traditional Pinot Noir pairing, thanks to the more rustic nature and pronounced pepper note of the Beaujolais). Prieur's Clos Vougeot was quite good, but not special. Of his whites, the village Meursault "Clos de Mazeray" monopole was attractive.

For reference, last year's review is here.

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