“…do have some wine”

“Have some wine”, the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine”, she remarked.
“There isn’t any”, said the March Hare. “Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it”, said Alice angrily. “It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited”, said the March Hare.

Remember please dear reader, that the March Hare feels compelled to always behave as though it is tea-time (or time for a glass of wine in this case) because, his dear friend, the Hatter supposedly ‘murdered the time’. I know how he feels, as I feel more like a frog (an English one that is) leaping from one Bordeaux En Primeur C19 to the next En Primeur C20, and I don’t even really play at it anymore.

The question is, or should be, “How are you getting on my dear friend, reader, client and customer?”

As we slowly, but surely, move our way closer to the next vintage 2021 in the southern Hemisphere that is, and in the northern Hemisphere somewhat closer to the 2020 En Primeur madness, with the help of our March Hare or even without his help. It seriously does feel like I have just paid for my small pallet of 2019s, but then again time seems to have a new significance on all of us these days. The expression, time flies, just doesn’t make any sense anymore, so I am keeping my good senses in order, to wakeing up in the morning and going to bed at night and fitting in between the two, a decent breakfast, a certain amount of good hooch and definitely some good grub, and all sprinkled with some good old fashioned wine work.

Having just received into ‘the bond’ (LCB) our latest allocation of de Clape I thought it would be a good time to mention le grande rouge. We are already all in love with his white village wine, Saint-Peray! please do read my earlier blog for that one, if you missed it that it is. But as you already know that Auguste Clape is considered one of the kings of the northern Rhône and especially with this Cornas. Of course it’s made from 100% Syrah, grown on that steep, granite hillside overlooking the River Rhône. Lovers of this Cornas also know that the wine shows power and finesse at the same time in almost any given vintage. Blackberry, graphite, black pepper, and coffee dominate the palate. The ageability is really up to you and your patience. There are some bottles of 1990 (very expensive) lying around, and we go back here, only as far as the 2000 vintage.

2018 Cornas Domaine Auguste Clape @ GBP125 per bottle/ib
Not having tasted this vintage/wine personally, with no thanks at all to the dam plague restrictions, I am leaving it up to the big-news fully-jabbed palate who goes by the name of J.Reynolds. He loves it, 96-97points of chewy tenacity building with boysenberry and spicecake flavors. He tells us not in uncommon terms that Auguste Clape produces unquestionably the finest wines in Cornas from his minute cellars located on the RN98 in the middle of the appellation. He has 11 acres of vineyards, the majority being superbly well sited on the steep hillside surrounding the village. The average vine age is high, with some being over 100 years old. The wines are vinified traditionally and are then matured in wooden barrels for 18 months. No new oak whatsoever is used. Clape`s wines tend to be opaque in colour, impenetrable on the nose and densely tannic when young. However, with age, the tannins soften and they develop a seductive perfume of creamy, peppery, black fruits, leading on to complex flavours and nuances on the palate. The best examples can last for 20-30 years. Auguste, who is now in his late 60s, is gradually passing over the reins to his son, Pierre-Marie.
Now, Josh here tasted the wine last year, in May 2020, and this is what he enjoyed:

Spice and mineral with accented dark berry, smoky bacon and floral pastille scents show excellent delineation and pick up deeper licorice and olive paste notes with air. Sappy and expansive in the mouth, offering juicy boysenberry, bitter cherry and spicecake flavors that show outstanding depth and are lifted by a potent mineral flourish. Powerful yet lively in character, delivering solid finishing thrust and closing with noteworthy tenacity and youthfully chewy tannins that build steadily.

96-97/100 Vinous.

Whilst we are all still Clape-ing!

I have only just discovered that dear old Josh from Vinous is also rather smitten, like us, with the Clape white! Saint-Peray:

Pale, glistening gold. Vibrant, mineral-accented citrus and orchard fruits on the nose, along with hints of white flowers, nectarine and fennel that build with air. Juicy and seamless in texture, offering palate-staining pear, tangerine and honeysuckle flavors supported by a spine of smoky minerality. Finishes sappy, minerally and impressively long, showing fine definition and lingering florality.

93/100 Vinous

Now, we all hop into the old banger and head a little north to Burgundy, to the Côte de Nuits to be a little more precise. At dinner last night, in Capital Federal, we were treated to four vignerons from the same village, Vosne-Romanée!

The four muskateers where Bruno Clavelier, Arnoux-Lachaux, Bizot and Prieure-Roch. Not bad for a Saturday night 2017 vintage line up.

First up was J-Y Bizot, Domaine Jean-Yves Bizot which was technically founded by Jean-Yves’ grandfather, who bought up a small 2.5 hectares of vineyard in Vosne-Romanée, on the side to his career as a doctor. His son followed suit in career, and it wasn’t until 1994 when Jean-Yves decided to take on winemaking as a full-time job that the domaine came into its own. Having added an extra hectare in 2007, Jean-Yves now cultivates his wines in his own unique style. All stems are included for the vinification, and all the wood used in barrique is brand new from Tonnellerie Rousseau, and the wines are bottled barrel by barrel without assembling blends. The wines are resultantly deep and soft, with a certain finesse. Three cuvées of village Vosne Romanée are made, regular, vieilles vignes and Les Jachées. The style of wine is light in colour but fine.

The gifted ex French rugby player Bruno Clavelier took over from his maternal grandfather, Joseph Brosson in the late 1980s, expanding the winery buildings and cellars as he intended to bottle all the wines himself. He rents the vines from the family and now farms them biodynamically, with organic certification. There are no hard and fast rules for vinification except to avoid too much intervention. The grapes are sorted first by the picking team and then on a table de tri. Most are destalked though between 5 & 20% of whole bunches may be included depending on the vintage and the vineyard. Vinification is more an infusion than a maceration process, with no punching down and not much pumping over. In the cellar there is not much new oak used, 15 to 20% for the village wines, a quarter to a third for the premiers crus. In elevage as much as in vinification Clavelier does not want to impose the hand of the vigneron. A keen student of the geology of the vineyards, he is keen that each wine should display its terroir.

It is hard to know what to make of Prieure-Roch, the domaine which was created by Henri-Frédéric Roch in 1988 by buying some parcels of vineyards which Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, of which his family is part-owner – was selling, in order to buy the large slice of Romanée St-Vivant Domaine Marey-Monge which it had been farming. The Prieuré part of the name has been added because Monsieur Roch liked the sound of it. The Chambertin-Clos de Bèze has been leased from Domaine Marion in Fixin since 1994. The vines are farmed organically with half an eye on biodynamics. The grapes are vinified with all their stems in wooden vats, with old-style human punching down (rip the clothes off and leap in but be careful of the carbon dioxide). No sulphur is used at all at any stage except once, when the wines are racked. The barrels in the cellar in Prémeaux are kept at a tilt that looks untidy to those used to rows of perfectly aligned barrels, but has the practical purpose of encouraging the sediment of the fine lees to gather in one spot, below the tap-hole through which the wine will eventually be racked. At the moment the wines are kept for a maximum of 24 months in barrel because there is not the space for a third vintage in the cellar, but Henri-Frédéric Roch and his right-hand man, Yannick Champ, are evidently tempted. One batch from 2002 was kept in wood for 44 months as a trial. Barrel tasting is no longer allowed, so my experience of the Roch wines is from bottle. One person will be fascinated by the practices at this domaine, another may mock. Is this cutting edge, or are they out where the buses don’t run? The proof of the pudding is in the wines themselves, once bottled, and if you can afford them.

And finally, in our little line up, the now almost super fashionable Arnoux-Lachaux was delicious. Charles Lachaux, Pascal’s son, took over from his father in 2012. Today, Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux has 14.5 hectares some of the most prized vineyards in Vosne-Romanée and equally high-quality vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges. The vines average fifty years old and the oldest, Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Corvées Pagets, were planted in 1921. In 2010, Pascal purchased a vertical press, making Arnoux-Lachaux one of just a handful of wineries using this type of press in Burgundy. They prefer it to a pneumatic press because it presses very gently and extracts less. In 2012, Charles’s first year, they introduced some partial whole-cluster fermentation and pleased with the results, they used a higher proportion of whole-clusters each year since. Today, the wines are made with up to 100% whole cluster. The amount of new oak has been reduced since 2012 as well: up to 10% on village wines, 20% on premier cru and a maximum of 30% on grand cru. Lachaux is also changing how he is working in the vineyards and is touching each vine. The vineyards are in conversion to biodynamic agriculture. He’s replanting vines very densely at 20,000 vines per hectare in certain parcels. In half of the vineyards, inspired by Lalou Bize-Leroy, he has stopped hedging his vines. This allows for more photosynthesis, getting more energy to each grape.  It takes twice as long and four times the number of workers for this canopy management, but the results are worth it. The wines have an incredible energy, and elegance, and are some of the best expressions of Vosne and Nuits available today. A huge thanks to Maurizio et Camille for bringing these lovely bottles all the way from Burgundy to share with us at dinner.

Our friends at Ch.Musar kindly sent a photograph of the recent snow fall in the Bekaa Valley. As we are sweltering down here in BA, it was a most welcome shot. It is as if the December heat has come here finally, albeit in March. I am not complaining! The snow photo reminded me a little of when we used to hunt for Hare in the snowy highlands of Scotland. During the winter, snow months, the hare’s brown fur would change to a pure white, acting as camouflage against the snow backdrop. However, when the snow melted, and sometimes rapidly, their little fury bleached hides could take up to six to ten weeks to change back to their original brown. We would see their white bottoms hopping around the green moorlands. Difficult not to miss, ouch!

There was a note that came with the photograph from the late Serge Hochar (the old boss of Musar) and I want to share it with you here.

‘What is love? Love is the basis of humanity. Without love there would be no humanity. Love is a million things and one thing. Oh, yes I am in love with my wines, my relationship with them has been a love affair. This is what I have been doing all my adult life, being in love with my wines. Love includes all things, you see: my relationship with my wines is a give and take relationship. It is very good not to understand all the mysteries of life.’

(Serge Hochar)

The wines from Ch.Musar still offer great joy to the few of us who are lucky enough to find them and to enjoy them. That goes for both the old reds and the old whites.

In stock there are still vintages that go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.

All questions and wine enquiries to me here at: william@worldwineconsultants. com