This is the time of year when London is awash with Burgundy Tastings as all the agents wheel out their portfolios for the newly bottled vintage, 2016 in this case. There is a lot of positive noise from those who have ever increasingly expensive wines to sell. The general view of the critics is fairly nuanced with the reds getting plenty of highish marks from the best producers, with less enthusiasm in some quarters for the whites. The overall warning, however, is more about price.
What the wines hide well on tasting is the devastating frosts, in particular, of 2016. Frost and hail have hit the region badly for some years, and 2016 was one of the worst. Vineyards were wiped out from Chablis in the North to the Beaujolais Crus in the South, with some pockets of total carnage in between. I know producers, like the De Moors in Chablis, who lost everything, and likewise in Morgon and Fleurie in the far south, where whole hillsides were affected. So even after bigger crops generally in 2017, the 2016 wines will be expensive of necessity. Too expensive for some? I have no doubt that overall, prices present a serious barrier to some people. I hope that those who can afford to support producers in this difficult time will do so.
One of the highlights of the winter tasting round for me is that hosted by Mark Haisma and Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. With Jane Eyre they have collectively become known as The Ozgundians, although the Tasting also includes the wines of two young Burgundian producers now, Jeremy Recchione and Jane & Sylvain Raphanaud, along with a taste of Vincent Paris Cornas and the Romanian wines of Dagon Clan, with whom Mark Haisma is associated.
The London Tasting is always organised by the producers and now seems firmly planted upstairs at Vinoteca, on Beak Street in Soho.
The 2016s provided an interesting contrast to the often fuller wines of 2015. From what other people have said of the event, I think my views are broadly in concurrence with the mainstream, but with perhaps one or two differences of opinion. If you read this and do disagree with my own opinions and assessments, please do feel free to leave a comment. I’m not Robert Parker. I will excuse the fact that this article is rather long, but I’m sure those who are seriously interested in these wines will cut me some slack.
Andrew and Emma suffered from the weather and therefore had to cut their main Côte D’Or offering to four wines rather than six in 2016, but there were a couple of the 2015s on show to compensate, plus a few extras from outside the region. They produced two whites, Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” and Santenay 1er Cru “Les Gravières”. The contrast was quite significant. Both wines are very good, to my palate, but the St-Aubin is leaner, more citric and mineral, whereas the Santenay is noticeably fatter. Andrew seemed to think people were preferring the second wine, but I really liked the St-Aubin, as indeed did one or two friends. Andrew, of course, shares with me a love of a lick of acidity, but I suppose many like the fatter style. Take your pick.
The reds contrast as well. Savigny-lès-Beaune has a high-toned cherryish scent and freshness with a little grip. Beaune 1er Cru “Boucherottes” has a bigger bouquet (beautiful) but structure to age well. I have a strong attachment to this vineyard, it being the first of Andrew’s wines I bought.
The two 2015s were Beaune Grèves Blanc – developing beautifully on the nose and with the palate not far behind…some complexity but still grippy. One to keep, despite the obvious temptation. Beaune Boucherottes Rouge 2015 shows quite a contrast to the 2016 and may be developing quicker, but it also seems a bigger wine. I’m less sure of where the drinking window will appear at the moment. The 2016 is the prettier wine at the moment.
Of the other wines, I find the 2016 Macon-Villages Blanc Chardonnay a simple wine, but none the worse for that. Simple and refreshing. Côtes du Rhone 2016 in bottle is very juicy with good acidity and fruit (100% Grenache). Of the two Beaujolais, I know Jancis appears to be a fan of the Fleurie-Poncié, but the Côte de Brouilly is actually my favourite of the two, nice and punchy whereas the former has finesse and prettiness without lacking a certain strength.
Don’t forget the bagnums which are not only perfect picnic/beach wines, but also a cook’s delight in the kitchen, a preprandial lubricant for the one doing all the hard work. The Syrah-Grenache (below) is really tasty. For the next vintage, 2017, also look out for some Aligoté and Saint-Amour, the latter adding to the Nielsens’ growing Beaujolais arsenal.
Emma Nielsen and bagnum
Andrew and Emma always give off a really calm vibe. I’ve no idea whether they tear their hair out in the winery? I know the frosts saddened them greatly. These are beautifully crafted wines, often showing great delicacy, always showing a preference for freshness, but I did mention cost? You will pay between £150 and £200 for a six-pack of the Côte d’Or wines if you buy them now, as primeurs. The mixed half-dozen pack they do is a great way to acquaint yourself with these lovely wines, and if you can afford them they are well worth the investment.
Jane actually began her winemaking career in Burgundy back in the late 1980s, before returning to Australia to take a course in Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Melbourne. Moving back in 2004, Jane worked for Dominique Lafon and Domaine de Montille, and now works part-time at Domaine Newman as well as making her own wines.
Fleurie 2016 is Jane’s first foray into Beaujolais and she’s come up with a cracking wine. Jane looks for perfume and elegance, so this Cru was the obvious choice, but she nevertheless managed to blag some seriously old vine material (from “La Madone” and “Les Labourons”). It sees 500 litre old oak following 18 days in tank and is bottled under screwcap (surprised the AOP allows that, but there you go!). Ten barrels (ie 5,000 litres) made.
A cherry-nosed, savoury, Côte de Nuits Villages 2016 comes from a new grower at Comblanchien. There’s no new oak and 10% whole bunches and it’s a wine which will drink reasonably soon.
Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 is altogether more serious, and comes from old vines (up to 55 years old) in one of Gevrey’s most northerly village sites. The fruit is darker on the nose but smooth bright cherry on the palate. Just four barrels were made. This will probably drink magnificently when young but will also repay keeping, probably longer than the six or seven years some big league critics suggest (in my very humble opinion, that is).
Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses 2016 is from an excellent location, which along with the neighbouring Île, is one of the most under rated sites on the Côte, in the right hands of course. I think this wine is lovely, and it was the first site Jane worked with when she set out as a negoce. 100% destemmed fruit, no new oak, 3 barrels only. Characteristic Jane Eyre elegance, Le Grappin levels of freshness, a touch of spice, but bags of raspberry and a little tannin for grip and structure. Actually my favourite of the bunch.
There is also a Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru from Les Corbeaux, which sits almost right beside Mazis-Chambertin on the south side of the village. Here, Jane breaks the embargo on new oak and slips in 25%. If this was available to taste, I didn’t see it.
A very nice set of wines. Jane isn’t the only producer here who seems to impress more and more each year, and I have no doubt that her reputation will grow to the level where she is much more widely known, as Andrew and Mark’s reputations have. Intuitive, measured and expressive winemaking.
Mark has so many wines on show at these events that I find it really difficult to do them all justice in print. I would say that there are no wines I’d not be happy to own here, although some unquestionably require more time than others. Mark Haisma is also not necessarily the man to go to for “typicity”, whatever that may be. But this uniqueness to his range is what makes for star quality. His “style” is one I find appeals a lot to a younger audience (by that I mean really that traditionalists might pass him by, though I’m probably talking rubbish as there are always plenty of, shall we say, older gents, around the Haisma table). Certainly his loyal fans are legion.
I often joke that Mark’s best wine is his Aligoté. I don’t mean that, of course, but the comment underlines just how brilliant this wine is. Aligoté 2016 is atypical in that there isn’t the searing acidity that even some reliable producers get with the grape. It doesn’t need cassis, being a very fruity version, albeit with fruit that is pretty lively. Did someone say it had a New World quality to it? Purity is the key word here, and just 12.5% abv. I love this year in, year out.
Mark’s Viognier is also a wine made in the fresher and lighter style that avoids the oily apricot which can put some people off the grape. It reminds me a little of Stéphane Ogier’s white La Rosine. It comes from Flaviac, in what Mark calls the “Middle Rhône” (on the way to Privas, if you know the region).
New for 2016 is a Saint-Peray. Blending 50:50 Marsanne and Rousanne, this manages much of the weight of a good Saint-Peray with a mineral freshness and acidity that many lack (Saint-Peray was always quite old fashioned and Mark’s is modern without being bland). This wine did divide a few opinions at the table, but I am a big fan and this would be in my mixed case.
From the Côte d’Or 2016s we kicked off with a Saint-Romain which had almost sherbert fruit, with a fresh acidity which went “pow!” on the palate. Like Andrew’s Saint-Aubin, a wine with a touch of texture which many call minerality.
Of the reds from the Côte, if I am going to stick my head above the parapet and say which I liked the most this time around, I’d go with Nuits-St-Georges (elegant but tannic, with hints of the iron in the soil and very old vines, lots of lift), and the Gevrey-Chambertin, which is bigger, silky, and a good prospect to age, again. That’s not to dismiss Pommard Les Arvelets and Morey-St-Denis Les Chaffots.
Mark was showing Cornas Les Combes 2016, which is beautifully perfumed. It grows in the glass, but is still closed somewhat on the palate. I’m not so sure I find this wine easy to judge. It needs time, but it is more a tenor than a bass. I think it will develop more elegantly than many Cornas, and indeed into a fantastic wine (I still have some 2010/2011 I’ve not touched). If you are looking for beef and bacon it may pay to look elsewhere, but this is very classy stuff. It deserves its undoubted popularity.
Last, probably least, but really worthy of a good look, is the Syrah-Grenache Vin de France, which like the Viognier (with which it pairs) can be had for just £16.50. A fun wine, plenty of juicy fruit but with that signature of skillful attention which Mark gives to all his wines. Throughout the range this is assured winemaking from a true pro in his prime.
Next we come to the two young Frenchmen.
Jeremy’s winemaking is definitely showing the increased confidence of a young vigneron a few vintages in, who knows what he wants to achieve, which certainly includes quality and sustainability (he’s effectively biodynamic by practice but not certified).
There are two wines with no added sulphur in the range now. A 2017 Gamay comes from whole bunches and tastes like concentrated cherries. From the same Hautes Côtes vineyards above Nuits is an amazing Aligoté 2017 (both are Vin de France) which Jeremy gives three days skin contact at 12 degrees and then barrel fermentation. Appley and peachy, it has a little stone fruit texture and is a real contrast to Mark’s version. Yet another fine example of Aligoté, but not as we know it. This wine was proving very popular indeed.
There are three wines from the Côte d’Or in 2016. Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay is very fruity indeed. The grapes come from a vineyard sited just above Meursault Charmes and are sold to Jeremy as an act of generosity by his former employer. This wine sees just a touch of sulphur after the malo. I’d say that overall it’s quite simple, but nevertheless you can see that it is made from really good material. There’s a certain restrained weight there, which might even lead an expert to guess the source.
Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 comes from Creux Brouillard, sited just east of the D974 on the southern side of the village. The grapes are sorted intensively and dry ice keeps them cold before fermentation starts naturally. The wine has less power than the Gevreys already mentioned, but still has structure.
Jeremy’s Premier Cru is his Fixin “Les Hervelets”. This is a site a little under 4.5 ha, with sandy, stony, soils. The wines can be supple and approachable early (some Fixin vineyards can produce wines which do need more time than you think). This wine is indeed quite supple, but concentrated too.
The main disadvantage is its price- £53/bottle. Call me old and out of touch, but £50 for Fixin is hard to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, much of the northern sector of the Côte d’Or is producing truly excellent wines now, and you would certainly place this wine alongside many Gevrey 1er Crus, but if this is £50 we begin to lose hope for remotely affordable Burgundy at this level, though it is hard to blame the producer in these times of low crops and rising costs.
JANE & SYLVAIN RAPHANAUD
The Raphanauds are new to me. The domaine was formed in 1993, and the “Jane & Sylvain” label in 1999, so I’ve obviously been wandering Gevrey (where the domaine is based) with my eyes and ears half closed. They have only around 4.5 hectares to their names, of which over half is on some sort of rental agreement. Practices are organic.
I tasted three wines. Côte de Nuits Villages was from 2015. It has some development already, a touch of farmyard funk on the nose but quite rich and smooth fruit for the appellation. Gevrey-Chambertin 2015 had nice fruit and a higher tone coming through. Structure too. Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Fontenys” 2015 is similarly priced to Jeremy’s Fixin 1er. The best part of this almost four hectare site (the top part) is all owned by Bruno Clair, but it all has a sunny aspect on a very hard limestone base. A wine with more structure than the village wine, probably requiring patience, even with the warmer 2015 fruit.
DAGON CLAN, ROMANIA
The Dagon Clan wines are quite different to Mark Haisma’s French wines. Although we are not talking massive commercial quantities, there is a really wide appeal to them, and their pricing is very competitive with less well crafted wines from Western Europe.
Of the two whites, Clar 2016 is fruity and fresh, whilst Clerstar 2016 is a field blend, bottled with a tiny bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity of the Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Alba and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. It is fresh, but well balanced and more rounded than Clar.
There are two versions of Jar which blend Feteasca Neagra, Romania’s most highly regarded red variety, with French grapes. The blend with Pinot Noir has mouthfilling cherry fruit and a brambly finish. The second blend, with Cabernet and Merlot, has quite a bit of plummy Merlot showing through, despite the blend being 40:40:20. The Merlot is also picked a little early to avoid high alcohol. The other grapes contribute a nice black fruit lick on the finish.
The third red from Dagon Clan is what they call their “estate wine”, Orama, and is 100% Feteasca Neagra. This native grape is planted on the sandy soils of Valea Nucetelui in the famous wine region of Dealul Mare (north of Bucharest). Only one 500 litre barrel was made (it’s the wine in the photo below with a temporary label), in which it was aged 16 months. At the moment it has an elegant nose and a good tannic structure.
This more serious wine aside, the Dagon Clan range should have wide appeal and I’m quite surprised not to see it in more small independent wine shops. There may be a slight prejudice against Romanian wines among the wider public, yet this beautiful country has a long tradition of viticulture, and has at least as much potential (if not more) than any other Eastern European wine producer. The wines clearly show the hand of Mark Haisma, with an understanding of the New and Old Worlds. And the prices are still very attractive.
The Annual Tasting of the Ozgundians et ors is now one of the exciting wine fixtures of the New Year. It’s always somewhere I bump into people I rarely see, but I can be sure they will be there to taste what they have already ordered with confidence. Without exception, there are wines from all of these producers I’d be very happy to drink and own. That is really the problem, how to choose, which can only lead to head scratching, soul searching, and looking deeply into the communal purse.
Mr Andrew Nielsen himself