Brief Encounter

It’s not that alcohol hasn’t been consumed during this period of pandemic. After all, the evidence is here for all to see. What I have missed is that opportunity to share a few too many bottles with really good wine friends. We have been out of action for longer than many due to delayed building work and the need to self-isolate before visiting elderly family for the first time in five months, but we did have a chance to finally visit equally wine obsessed friends this week. I thought a quick resume of what we drank might interest hard core readers, hence this short piece.

Mon Luc, Vin Pétillant Méthode Paysanne Vin de France (Jura)

We cracked off at lunch time on Wednesday with a Ganevat I’d never even seen before, let alone drunk. The negoce wines produced under the Anne et Jean-François Ganevat label are so multitudinous that it seems impossible to keep up, but this is highly recommended if you like what you read below.

J-F has been increasingly sourcing fruit in Alsace for the negociant blends and the 90% Pinot Gris which accompanies the 10% Jura Poulsard here comes from that region. That PG is on average 50 years old, the Poulsard a decade older. It’s pale pink (more than the photo shows) and smells of apples crushed on the orchard floor. Freshness dominates both bouquet and palate, though you also get some red fruits on the latter. It’s very appley, but not very cidery, if that makes sense. The bead is strong and it has a very firm backbone. Simple yet massively impressive.

Cuvée Orégane 2014, Côtes du Jura, Jean-François Ganevat (Jura)

This is an assemblage of almost equal parts Chardonnay and Savagnin from vines planted in the 1960s on argilo-calcaire soils on what is now Jean-François’s domaine. The 2014 saw almost three years in used oak, topped up (ouillé), so this is a non-oxidatively aged wine. Both varieties are to the fore and recognisable, the Savagnin adding its characteristic acidity whilst both come on with the nuts. The bouquet is herbal (I can’t swear it is oregano though). It certainly is smooth, saline, so delectable, mightily impressive. Drinking now but will age.

Chablis 1er Cru “Séchet” 2010, Vincent Dauvissat (Chablis)

It’s funny but I’ve drunk a fair few Raveneau these past couple of years but not so much Dauvissat, so this was a treat. Vincent now farms around eleven hectares of excellent Chablis terroir. Séchet is a fine Premier Cru on the western side of the Serein river, on a southeastern-facing slope, producing wines often said to be very mineral and, as has been suggested many times, razor-sharp. Chablis just as I like it.

The wine is so “green-gold” that you would very possibly guess Chablis just by sight. Spice and nuts (especially almonds) come through on the bouquet, and then a little pineapple fruit (deep, more like roasted pineapple). It’s complex, yet I’d also say very youthful. I’d be so bold as to suggest this will go a decade more and still taste fresh as the acids and spine are firm. The palate has that beautiful savoury Chablis quality already, though. It certainly went perfectly with roasted cashews as a pre-dinner aperitif.

Dom Pérignon 2002 (Champagne)

The colour here is very youthful, the bouquet initially fresh with spice (cinamon) and a hint of curry powder overlayed with a lovely floral element, with even fainter butterscotch coming in the glass. Later we got melon and, unmistakably, cucumber. And then, faint but certainly there, was a hint of tca. I probably should not go off on one about cork taint in Champagne. I’m pretty sensitive to tca but I get very few tainted Champagnes. One usually expects the construction of the cork to minimise it.

Here it certainly wasn’t strong enough to make the wine at all undrinkable, and we were able to dissect and analyse it. It’s always good to focus on the positives of a wine. Those positives come through in the typical DP structure and amplitude combining with a sort of rigid finesse. Vintage 2002 was a pretty warm year and whilst the fruit selection means it is very far from blowsy, there’s definitely a little fat. I’d say, taint aside, that it is probably around half way through its optimum drinking window, with a good decade left. Impressive, of course, but I was niggled by the cork. It’s an expensive wine to be spoilt, even if only a little, after careful cellaring.

Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1996, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux)

Recent cellar exploration has reminded me that I don’t have a of of Bordeaux left, but I could easily do with drinking a few of them. Why I haven’t bought Bordeaux in recent years has more to do with the annoying elitist attitudes of many Château owners and those who write about Bordeaux than the wines themselves, although I certainly have a larger soft spot for the savoury and balanced wines of old rather than some of the more demonstrative oak and fruit bombs of the Parker era.

If there is one part of Bordeaux which has retained a taste link with its past more than any other, it is the Graves, and the top Crus of Pessac have always been among my favourite wines from the region. The sheer class of this wine goes without saying, but its assertiveness is different to that of a Pauillac, or other parts of the Haut-Médoc. Its earthy side comes through unmistakably as mellow peat. It smells almost as if it has been raised in an old Lagavulin cask. But we also get classic pencil lead and tobacco, absolutely text book stuff. Then you get violets wafting in. Forget about blackcurrant fruit, though some might detect a little blackcurrant leaf.

Parker only gave this 90 points, and it’s probably all the better for that. For me this is how Red Bordeaux should taste, and I think you might still be able to grab some (for around £120/bottle). It hints at what Bordeaux tasted like before 1982, and it is that organoleptic link with Bordeaux’s past which thrills me here.

Vin Jaune 1976, Pierre & Georges Bouilleret (Jura)

This was my first wine from the Bouillerets. Wink Lorch provides the background (Jura Wine, 2014, p204). They were among the earliest people in Pupillin to bottle their own wines and Pierre (who passed away some years before Wink’s book was published) was married to one of Pierre Overnoy’s sisters. This led to the Overnoy-Houillon domaine taking over some of the Bouilleret vines when the brothers retired.

This 1976 is an important wine, not merely because this was the first vintage of Vin Jaune (well, actually a Château-Chalon in my case) that I ever bought, and look what that did to me. No, it’s important as a lesson about Vin Jaune.

Most Vin Jaune is consumed way too young. That the wine is relased at over six years old and sold at around seven gives consumers the impression that they are buying an older wine. And they drink it. This wine shows what happens when you age a bottle, in this case for 44 years. I am definitely not suggesting all Vin Jaune keeps well for forty years, but when you taste a well aged bottle you experience something wholly different to a young one.

The bouquet is so complex: curry, ginger, walnut and hazelnut quite distinguishable. How come? Because the wine is mellow. The acids of a youthful Vin Jaune are smoothed out so that once again we have to think of a single malt whisky in terms of the “soul” of the liquid. It’s a contemplative wine, yet the Savagnin grape still retains its characteristic tang, giving the impression of a little salty acidity to underpin everything.

What this Vin Jaune also has, and has retained, is freshness. This is possibly its most surprising asset, because not all forty-year-old Vin Jaune will have this quality. It’s also a testament to old school Vin Jaune, and to the style itself. Remarkably, when Wink was writing, perhaps in 2013 or 2014, these wines were still available from Madeleine in Pupillin. I’m sure that there must be some still knocking around. Comté and walnuts recommended.

Vin Jaune 2011, Jacques Puffeney (Jura)

This is of course a more familiar name in the Jura firmament, although this great producer’s retirement, with 2014 as his last vintage, is making his otherwise fairly purchasable wines much more sought after now.

Puffeney made a number of different wines, but sous voile Savagnin was probably considered his speciality. He made everything from a wonderful Savagnin aged under flor for just two years (a brilliant wine, often cited as a “baby Vin Jaune”), up to Vin Jaune wines aged in large oak for a decade or more longer than is usual (although we all cite six years and three months as the required ageing period for Vin Jaune, in fact the AOP requires sixty months under flor, the rest being what happens before (fermentation period) and after (rest in bottle). Those periods are just the minimum).

This wine is what I would call Puffeney’s straight Vin Jaune. It ages in cellar rather than loft and the large oak coupled with the stable temperature of the cellar give it an almost unique mix of weight and remarkable elegance, even when fairly young. Only about 25% of the barrels which begin as potential Vin Jaune might make it through to the final selection and after this they spend another year, above the minimum, in large oak before bottling.

This wine is unquestionably young. It has far greater acidity than the more mellow 1976 (above), so that its nuttiness is far more to the fore than other more subtle qualities. It also has a fairly strong citrus element, a blend of lime and lemon with a touch of grapefruit. It’s undoubtedly very fine indeed, glorious even. And long. But if you have a bottle, as a fellow wine writer asked on Instagram, then do keep it if you can. 2011 was a fairly big vintage in terms of quantities, but the wines from top producers have proved to be from very good to excellent. Well worth putting in the hard work to reap the rewards.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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