Ginsberg+Chan #winewednesdays: Meursault Villages (photobook)

In my latest “Wine Wednesdays” evening with Ginsberg+Chan, I was very excited to take the wheel and host the event to a group of industry colleagues. This week: Meursault.

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In Burgundy’s Chardonnay country, the Cote de Beaune, the Meursault commune has around 1,000 acres under vine. Often in the shadow of its illustrious neighbour to the southwest, Puligny-Montrachet, it still produces wines of the highest quality. No Grand Crus reside here, but 19 Premier Crus and a plethora of brilliant generic Villages wines are made – and it is seven of these we are going to try:

  • 2013 Anne Boisson Meursault Sous La Velle 
  • 2013 Pierre Boisson Meursault
  • 2013 Bernard Boisson Vadot Meursault Grands Charrons
  • 2014 Henri Boillot Meursault
  • 2012 Arnaud Ente Meursault
  • 2012 Roulot Meursault
  • 2011 Philippe Pacalet Meursault

In previous tastings, I’d usually be the guy at the other end of the table helping out Roberto Gallotto, the master host. For this one though I had the responsibility of navigating the crowd through the tasting. It was a lot of fun, and the wines were all excellent, but while on speaking duties I neglected to take sufficient notes…so this time I’ll just present a photobook of the evening!

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Chateau Latour: a Hong Kong masterclass

On Tuesday I spent an evening sampling a group of wines from the estate of Château Latour, one of the five “First Growths” of Bordeaux. In the format of a masterclass, led by president Frédéric Engerer and in conjunction with Altaya Wines, the audience sampled eleven different wines, culminating with their 2000 Grand Vin…

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On Bordeaux’s Left Bank there lies a 3,000 acre plot of land, housing some of the world’s finest red wine. Pauillac AOC is not only home to three of the five Premier Cru châteaux; in providing multiple 2nd-5th growths it is here where Cabernet-based blends are often seen as quintessential Bordeaux.

Along with Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild, Château Latour has been a beacon of the commune’s wares since the 1300s. Now under the exacting influence of the Pinault stable of luxury goods, Latour is a modern-day vinous giant, producing upwards of 30,000 cases of wine per year across three labels. The most prestigious of these, the Grand Vin, can be seen on high-end wine lists from Sydney to San Francisco, and has long been known for its power and elegance.

Latour’s president Frédéric Engerer was in Hong Kong earlier this week and, along with Paulo Pong of Altaya Wines, hosted a tasting of three vintages of their generic Pauillac wine (usually 60% Cabernet, 40% Merlot), three of the Les Forts de Latour (70%+ Cabernet, 25% Merlot and 3-4% Petit Verdot), and five iterations of their Grand Vin (similar to Les Forts, but including some Cabernet Franc).

In a lively tutored tasting, discussion between our hosts and the audience moved between philosophy on ageing and release of their wines, to appropriate food matching and approach to biodynamics. As for the wines themselves, here is the run-down…

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Frederic Engerer of Chateau Latour (left) and Paulo Pong of Altaya Wines

Le Pauillac

2012: On the nose, fresh dark fruit and a lovely herbal, rubbery quality – closest reference would be aniseed. Evolving. Tasting it sees most action on the front palate, with bracing acidity and a fruit-led finish. Oak lingers subtly in the background.

2011: Hmm..seemed very closed, with nothing really discernable jumping out the glass. A similar story to taste; structurally fine but little expressiveness and a narrow finish. Avoid.

2010: A different nose again, with savoury character taking over, with any fruit seemingly at the end of its vibrancy. When tasting the extremely soft tannins first hit you, along with refined, plummy fruit. Definitely an early-drinker.

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Les Forts de Latour

2011: Really interesting adhesive/medicinal nose…reminiscent of glue from an Airfix kit as a kid. Not unpleasant though, and accompanied by beautiful lavender and a strong seam of blackcurrant that carries through, and dominates, the palate. Medium finish.

2010: What a brute! More herbal than medicinal nose versus the above – but this wine is all about its power. At 14.4% abv, it delivered an intense acid/alcohol/tannin triple whammy. In a brilliant vintage, this showed real refinement and balance in spite of its early attack on the senses. This will evolve to ultimately deliver an excellent wine

2005: Lovely rounded nose, with Cabernet’s trademark graphite making the first appearance of the night. Power also there like the ’10, but at only 13.2% abv and 5 years older, everything is more in check. “Good tannic structure”, Engerer comments. The finish is rustic, not particularly long but a terrific wine all the same.

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Le Grand Vin

2008: Develops very nicely on the nose with a couple of swirls, firstly a touch of red fruit but it’s more about the vegetal – grilled asparagus and salad greens. High acidity and very dry to the touch, this was a really enjoyable palate of liquorice and unripe plums. Very fresh, with good residual taste.

2007: A more Claret-like nose, cedar and cigarbox, appealing to my traditional sense of what Pauillac should be all about. Continues through to the palate with good concentration although it feels like this is more of an early-drinker. Again, so enjoyable though, and probably shaded the mini face-off against its younger sibling.

2006: Very floral and attractive straight out the glass – Parma violets there – followed by lovely fresh dark fruit. Acid-alcohol double punch upon first taste, although the finish, although pretty long, seemed slightly off-kilter as the blackcurrant fruit was somewhat stewed and bitter. Should mellow out over time but showed it is not ready yet.

2005: There’s immediately a sweetness to the nose, like mellow toffee, instantly showing appeal. Not much fruit but soft and approachable. The palate is first class; beautifully balanced and still very concentrated, you can tell this is wonderful Bordeaux from a terrific vintage. A rich finish confirmed its quality, as well as longevity.

2000: From the millenium vintage, the 2000 Grand Vin still looks young, slightly syrupy in the glass. Maturity starting to show, with bitter liquorice and prunes accompanying a notable mineral character. The palate is typically Cabernet although you can tell this wine is still a baby – refined and elegant, and still unfolding, like the ’05 its concentrated finish delivers a wonderful, thought-provoking experience.

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So a great way to finish a fascinating event. As the 2005 and 2000 Grand Vin showed, exalted estates in exceptional years produce wines of class and finesse, capable of providing great drinking for two or more generations. It was a pleasure to be involved in seeing how they are developing.

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Ginsberg+Chan #winewednesdays: Vosne-Romanee Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru

In my latest collaboration with Hong Kong wine merchant Ginsberg+Chan, from arguably the most revered collections of vineyards in the world we taste six wines from two producers. The result shows how vastly different styles can be achieved from the same vineyard…

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On the outskirts of a small village in the heart of Burgundy lies a parcel of land unlike any other. Often described as the finest, most elegant and purest expression of the Pinot Noir grape, Vosne-Romanée is home to the world famous Grand Cru vineyards of La Romanée-Conti, Richebourg and La Tâche. These micro-sites, in some cases no larger than 2 acres in size, have for hundreds of years produced wines that have little competition from. As such, according to Jancis Robinson, “the market seems to stand any price”.

Orbiting these Grand Cru sites are 14 Premier Cru vineyards on 135 acres of land. For my next tasting with the friendly folks at Ginsberg+Chan on Hong Kong’s Queens Road Central, we choose one of these vineyards — Aux Malconsorts (below) — and open 3 vintages from 2 different producers, Domaine de Montille and Dujac. Often known for their austere and closed early years, before flourishing with sufficient bottle age, the tasting was an excellent exercise in the different styles being produced.

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The vineyards of Vosne-Romanee: Aux Malconsorts can be found to the left of La Tache

Hosted by Roberto Gallotto, with around a dozen people in attendence the evening takes the form of three flights, Premier/1er (for the 2012 vintage), Deuxieme/2eme (2011) and Troiseme/3eme (2005)…

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2012 Domaine de Montille Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts Christiane 1er Cru

This wine’s youth immediately jumps out the glass in the form of sulphurous minerality, often the hallmark of young red Burgundy. Along with a marked flinty note, Cypress tree and pine grab hold, showing how complexity is already starting to develop (you needed to search for any trace of fruit though). Its palate seemed very delicate, with subtle power and an acid thread that sits in the background; again the fruit was peripheral. With some bitterness on the finish, this is a wine that still has some way to go.

2012 Dujac Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru

Like the Montille, the innocence of youth is immediately obvious. Again sulphur is present, but less imposing. Its nose was full of interesting elements, but it seemed slightly out of kilter: rosemary and sage make an appearance along with button mushroom, as well as a definite cherry/red fruit character. Sounds okay, but the nose did not seem overly appealing to the audience. Upon first taste though, everyone could tell this was a wine built for the long term; in spite of slightly dulled alcohol, strong acid and tannin levels suggested this should unfold excellently. A powerful finish immediately showed that stylistically, even though the rows of fruit are just metres apart, Dujac seem to be making a different wine to Montille.

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First flight: the 2012s

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2011 Domaine de Montille Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts Christiane 1er Cru

Ah, there’s the fruit missing from the younger wine…and goodness me, a whole bunch of other stuff. One of the most complex and interesting noses I’ve ever sampled. All in balance, there was a heck of a lot going on here: firstly, a big hit of fresh lavender, then dark plum, before going on to an aniseed/liquorice-type of note. Almost seems bubble gum-like; unusual but very pleasant when in conjunction with everything else. Later, all I got was roast lamb, blackcurrant (not typical of Pinot!) and sweet spice. Quite the nose indeed, and marks this down as having a seriously good first impression.

Once we had bounced around the room on what people could smell, the palate seemed like an after-thought. It was good, although somewhat straightforward, in peverse contrast to the multi-faceted nose. Linear, with lovely acid and a red fruit-led finish of reasonably good length, this was perfectly pleasant but wow…those aromas.

2011 Dujac Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru

The styles continue to move apart as the wines get older. Pretty much the polar opposite in terms of nose: still that trademark meaty/savoury Pinot character, along with a touch of oriental spice (hoisin sauce?), but that was about it. To taste is where it became elevated though; like the ’12, the power and concentration hits you. Very precise. Again suggesting serious longevity, this vintage still seemed very closed but everyone was highly impressed with its undoubted ageing potential. But – was it interesting in the here and now though? Against the above, not really.

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Second flight: the 2011s

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2005 Domaine de Montille Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts Christiane 1er Cru

OK, time to put the theory into practice. How do these wines age with a proper period in the bottle? Unfortunately, the Montille did not impress as we’d hoped for in a Premier Cru wine from such an exalted site, just 500m from those incredible Grand Cru vineyards.

The wine seemed quite reserved; a very pleasant aniseed/vegetal combination, but the fruit was immediately seen to be fading badly (or perhaps yet to show itself?). The palate was good with still a lot of punch, including a satisfying finish, but the room seemed to feel this wine was not showing as it should — i.e. built to last — instead impressing early in their life with those terrific noses, without too much follow-on.

2005 Dujac Vosne-Romanée Aux Malconsorts 1er Cru

Could the last wine of the evening fare any better? Fortunately, yes, and the slow-burner we’d tasted before finally showed its teeth. Rich and compelling on the nose, deep and brooding with savoury, mature red fruit mingling with a rocket-like pepperiness. Attractive rusticity there too, the calling card of top Pinot. Nothing like the complexity of the ’11 Montille, but somehow just as engaging. Still unfolding on the palate but now announcing itself properly, this brilliant vintage showed class and power, exhibiting the longest finish of the night with meaty, vegetal and smoky red fruit nuances. Loved also the black tea that layered the beautiful tannic structure.

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The third and final flight: the 2005s

A fascinating tasting. The quality was without doubt there: these are two brilliant producers using fruit from hallowed ground. The common thread — and expectations from the audience — was that this is supposed to be Pinot that is built to last, and perhaps the 2005s were nowhere near ready, but the Domaine de Montille wines did not seem to have the longevity. The Dujac on other hand showed it in abundance, right from the earliest year we tasted.

While the Dujac were built for the long-term, the Montilles had so much instant appeal though, especially that incredible, mind-blowing 2011 nose. It will certainly live long in the memory.

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How to speed-date at a wine tasting

Start the clock! Between late October and mid November, Hong Kong’s food and wine scene goes into overdrive with a series of events. On Sunday I went along to one of them, a collaboration between Altaya Wines and eRobertParker.com known as Matter of Taste. Instead of excessively dwelling on each pour, I attempted to fly through as many as I could in the shortest possible time…

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Time to make some introductions: Matter of Taste wine event

Wine writers — including me, I admit — have a tendency to over-elaborate when explaining the glass they’re tasting. Instead of helping the reader, what often occurs is losing them in an exercise in ‘wordsmithery’, describing things that bear little practical relationship to an alcoholic drink made from grapes (“crushed rocks”, anyone?).

In attempt to take a different turn, at the recent Matter of Taste event in Hong Kong’s Shangri-La I decided to hit as many wines as I could, speed-dating style, in 90(ish) minutes, then see if I could come up with a conclusion as to which ones I actually liked best.

In true matchmaking style, I’m only allowing myself 3-4 minutes at each tasting table…

We start with bubbles, and two terrific producers (below) were on hand to help: Delamotte and Pol Roger. The former’s standard NV fizz was dry, rich and creamy, with their 2007 Blanc de Blancs (that is, 100% Chardonnay) a lovely mix of stewed apple, toast and biscuity yeastiness. An excellent way to get things going.

Pol Roger makes quality Champagne at all price points. Their entry-level NV was clean, energetic with pure apples and pears (no Cockney Rhyming slang intended). I really liked the 2006 vintage (60% Pinot Noir + 40% Chardonnay); with terrific balance, it was nutty and rich. The 2008 Blanc de Blancs, on the other hand, was more herbal and a touch on the hollow side. The 2004 of their benchhmark cuveé though, the Sir Winston Churchill, was rich and powerful, delivering a big hit of vanilla-infused Chardonnay. One for a serious, perhaps second or third, date.

Staying in France, we head south to Burgundy. A 2014 Château des Quarts Pouilly-Fuissé is still our familiar grape Chardonnay, but because it is located further south, tropical fruit and weight comes through. Delicious, and would be a great food wine.

South again into the Rhone Valley, and Château de Beaucastel’s Blanc and Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape were both strong; the former an attractive rose-gold colour, oily and floral, with the latter big and powerful, with its 10% Syrah hitting you with its customary pepperiness.

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James Rowell of Altaya (right): not speed dating but delivering the good stuff

Now who’s this? At speed-dating events you’re normally looking to get to know new faces — but here’s a familar one. It’s none other than Pablo Alvarez, main man at Vega Sicilia, and host of probably the most memorable wine dinner of my life. His entry-level red, a 2011 “Pintia”, is rounded, full of brambles and black cherry. Next up is Vega’s “Valbuena 5°”, with its 5-year maturation it was full of soft dark fruit and beautifully integrated sweet spice. An old flame.

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Game face: Pablo Alvarez, CEO of Vega Sicilia (right) overseeing proceedings

The Kiwis are here, albeit in low numbers and tucked away in a corner. What a couple of outstanding producers though. First up was Rippon, arguably home to the world’s most picturesque vineyard, are described as a “hidden gem” by James Rowell, Altaya’s Manager of Corporate & VIP Sales. He’s not wrong; their 2013 mature-vine Riesling is tight, refreshing, high acid and gives the taste of pure Granny Smith apple. The 2012 Pinot Noir is ripe, full of dark fruit and beautifully balanced. 

We’ve always loved Martinborough’s Ata Rangi in our household. Their 2013 Pinot Noir, a box of which has my name on it somewhere in the Wiltshire countryside, is seriously powerful, herbal with some red fruit…but its all about that concentration of flavour, yet to unfold, that suggests this will be perfect for a long-term relationship.

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Two top New Zealand producers: Rippon (Central Otago) and Ata Rangi (Martinborough)

Time to go Stateside. Fisher has vineyards in Sonoma and Napa Counties in California, producing a lot of different styles — most coming from individually-named sites — and I’m here to try four. First up, their Mountain Estate Chardy was rich and mouthfilling, but the oak was not over the top. Plenty of time to develop. We jump straight to older wine, a 2003 Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: more herbal (sage) than fruit on the nose, but to taste it was rounded and extremely pleasant, especially the tannins.

Next up is the Wedding Vineyard Cabernet. Its name might suggest a little too much keenness for a bunch of quick-fire matchups, but this was a lovely wine; excellent concentration and bags of blackcurrant varietal character. We finish with a younger offering, Fisher’s Mountain Cabernet; this is more of a blend seeing as though there’s a decent amount of Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot in the mix, and it’s a cracking early-drinker, full of up-front fruit and sweet toffee-like notes. Perfect for a sixth-date night in, watching a movie with a burger.

Any tasting in Hong Kong — fast or slow — wouldn’t be complete with taking in its most popular wine: red Bordeaux. There was plenty on offer…

Starting with the nice people at Château Haut-Bailly (above, pouring), their 2012 Grand Vin was attractive and classy, with a typical Cabernet nose. Its older sibling, the 2008, was appealing enough but lacked body. Forgettable unfortunately. On to Château Calon-Ségur, with just the 2009 on show, its 90% Cabernet in 20 months in new oak really coming through with a powerful finish.

Next door at Château Phélan-Ségur (below), in spite of being part of a stellar vintage, their 2009 was a little flat on the nose; it certainly seemed quite shy but you’d expect it to blossom given 5 more years. The 2010, another fine year, was a monster though: the tannins hit you between the eyes and rolled over any notion of fruit. This should come together to form a brilliant wine in 10 years+. Imposing character indeed.

Weariness setting in so on the final table, I taste a 2009 Château Baron Pichon de Longueville (beautiful nose typical of Pauillac, the AOC it comes from), a 2009 Château Petit-Village (from Pomerol, Merlot country, with lovely soft tannins) and my final wine, a 2009 Château Suidurat (hooray; something sweet from Sauternes, with its rich and honeyed marmalade nose and palate, and a finish of pure caramel). Phew…all done.

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Going large: Chateau Phelan-Segur

So in a short space of time, I managed to meet a good number of wines, all with different personalities. Pretty much all of them made for very enjoyable company. Which ones would I want to politely ask for their details though, in the hope of a follow-up drink?

If I was only allowed three from the 26 I tasted, I’d have to go for the 2006 Pol Roger, the 2013 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and Fisher’s 2006 Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, with an honourable mention to the 2010 Château Phélan-Ségur.

I guess I’m ready to commit after the speed-dating frenzy after all.


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A big thank you to the friendly folks at Altaya Wines for asking me along!