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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tre Bicchieri 2015

Luca Currado of Vietti (on the left), my favorite Barolo producer at the event, and Iron Chevsky (me, on the right) holding the red wine of the year - Vietti Barolo Riserva "Villero" 2007

The 2015 Tre Bicchieri in San Francisco took place in February. The weather was spectacular, the setting at Fort Mason gorgeous, yet it seemed like few famous producers attended, and few bottlings per producer were poured, many of the wines ran out well before the event end. Despite my expectation to taste Brunello and Barolo from the much heralded 2010 vintage (because last year we tasted 2009 Barolo), there were but a handful of 2010's. Perhaps producers don't feel the need to promote their 2010's. Perhaps the famous brands of Italy are focusing on Antonio Galloni and James Suckling events rather than Gamero Rosso's. Whatever it is, I am left thinking that somehow this event is losing its importance to the big names, which is unfortunate as this has always been the top Italian tasting in the Bay Area and the guiding light into the world of top Italian wine each year. What the event has always done well, however, is expose me to a broad array of lesser known wineries of excellent quality, and perhaps that is the pronounced effect of the recent drop of attendance by the bigger names. Crowds still poured in, and there were plenty of wines to drink and generous variety of Italian cheeses to eat. Four hours of tasting flew by in a flash.

I tasted some shockingly good things (Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 - sweet wine of the year, and Cantina della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Rose 2010, incredibly elegant and unique sparkling wine), but looks like they are so under the radar, that almost no one in the US carries them. The 2012 Donnafugata Ben Rye dessert wine was a worthy follow-up to the magnificent 2011, perhaps with a touch less acidity. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was most excellent - silky dark cherry and tar. As was Vietti's 2011 Barolo Brunate and Castiglione, and the 2007 Villero Riserva (red of the year). If Vietti ends up making 2011 Villero Riserva eventually, that will be a monumental wine too, his 11's are structured and delicious, as should be the Brigaldara Amarone Riserva in 2011, when it eventually comes out in a few years, based on how great the regular 2010 Brigaldara Amarone showed here - complex juniper and spices, with sensation of sweetness but not syrupiness, no heaviness, bitter coffee and tannins ensuring long life (and the 2011 is supposedly an even better vintage than 2010), both, if materialize, are future candidates for my son's birth year collection. Schiavenza Barolo Broglio 2008 was very nice too with smoky notes and elegant tannins, and the most amazing weightlessness like in outer space. Graci Etna Rosso Arcuria (2011 and 2012) were Burgundy-like, especially 2011 - so elegant!, while the '12 had more concentration and should be great in a couple of years - with notes of honeyed herbs, chocolate dust and volcanic tar, soft tannins and a velvety Pinot-like texture! A pleasant surprise was Poggio di Sotto 2009 Brunello, from a much maligned vintage, but delicious wine. (Once again telling me that the 2010 Brunello / Barolo hype should be taken with a grain of salt, because there are plenty of fantastic wines in all of the recent vintages of Barolo and Brunello.) The whites were generally underwhelming, with few usual suspects impressively standing out - sparklers from Ferrari (like drinking lace) and Ca'del Bosco (crystalline purity), and ripe, smoky and rich Pieropan Soave La Rocca 2012, as well as the ripe and almondy Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 creating sensation of (Riesling-like) energy as if from remaining carbonation (and apparently there is some residual fermentation known to happen in this wine). One other white that captivated my taste buds was Casalfarneto Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi Fontevecchia 2013 - with richness, almonds, herbs and ripe fruit.

Here are the photos and more notes on the memorable wines.

Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta a perennial top sparking wine - all three cuvee's were on point. The entry-level Cuvee Prestige NV (yellow magnum) was reliable. Annamaria Clementi Rose Riserva 2006 was expectedly great - a finely chiseled, minty freshness with hints of herbs and pine cones, a classy sparkling wine. This year I was particularly impressed with the Ca'del Bosco Brut Vintage Collection 2010 - the black bottle. More than matched by a set from Ferrari (Trento) - where the top wine Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2004 was in a class of its own, like drinking lace.

Impressive wines from Vietti, including their entry-level Barolo Castiglione, one of the annual bargains in Piemonte, which is showing more delicious than the 2010 bottling at this stage.

Poggio di Soto Brunello 2009 was a pleasant surprise - a delicious Brunello from a much maligned vintage, with flavors of fermented plum and cake.

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was up there with Vietti, and one of the top wines of the heralded 2010 vintage. Out of three of Vajra's Barolo bottlings from 2010 I tasted this year - the entry-level Albe, their other label - Luigi Baudana "Baudana", and this one -- the Bricco delle Viole is by far my favorite.

Top two sweet wines of the tasting, and some of the greatest I have tasted in my entire life. The Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 was the sweet wine of the year, and had an amazing silky texture and slightly oxidative (sherried) style, with flavors of walnuts, dried Turkish apricots, somewhat akin to a Pedro Ximenez, but finer, sleeker and more elegant, with great acidic balance and long, spell-binding finish - a wow dessert wine that was just a notch above the deliriously delicious Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2012 - the essence of apricots with a hint of smoke.

Graci - an excellent producer of Etna Rosso (Sicily) featured his 2012 "Arcuria" Etna Rosso, but also supplied a 2011 for reference. Awesome wines, with Burgundy-like textures, but additional smoke and almost a volcanic tar nuance that make them unique. These are excellent with food, and can pair well with both meat and seafood (once tannins resolve in a couple of years), and can stand up to spice as well.

Second year in a row, I am very impressed with the wines from Cantina della Volta (in Emilia Romagna region) - incredibly creative and refined takes on Lambrusco sparkling wine. Their Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rose 2010 (the white label) is fantastically rich, luscious, and elegant (something that cannot normally be said about the rustic Lambrusco), with gently extracted red berries and herbs. It can age for 5-10 years, perhaps more. Wow!

I continue to be inspired by wines of Brigaldara from Veneto. Their Amarone Classico 2010 was complex with bitter-sweet coffee and herbs, fruity with sensation of sweetness and lushness but totally dry and without cloyingness or heaviness. Many an Amarone over-index on the heft and sweetness. Not this one. Antonio Cesari (on the photo), the owner's son, explained that these wines go through three phases as they age. First, young and tannic on release, they pair with robust stew-type dishes full of herbs and spices. Next, at 5-10 years, as tannins smooth out and wines lose some of their exuberance, they pair well with steak and such, and finally at old age, perhaps up to 20-40 years, they become intellectual wines to savor on their own.

And here are a number of other noteworthy wines that I would be happy to have in my cellar.

Once again I went away feeling that while Italian wines do not quite reach the heights of the best of France, the sheer diversity and uniqueness of flavors and expressions of Italians makes them incredibly interesting and stimulating companions - in both colors (though personally I am more inspired by the reds). From great Taurasi of Campania to Sfurzat of Alto Adige to Etna Rosso of Siccily and Sagrantino of Umbria, and on and on and on, bravo!

For reference, last year event is documented here.

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