Winemakers Club (March 2022)

I joined a few friends at Winemakers Club, under the arches at Holborn Viaduct, on Wednesday night. That wouldn’t usually be worthy of comment but for the fact that it was my first evening in London since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s two years. Of course, that in itself isn’t a massive deal, but then there were the wines.

I think the germ of an idea was to have a tasting of wines aged under flor but it didn’t quite work out like that. Probably down to the organiser breaking his foot whilst out running and being unable to come. I was especially gutted as he’d organised the evening in part to allow me to taste his last bottle of the previous release of Brash Higgins Bloom, Brad Hickey’s McLaren Vale “Chardonnay under flor” homage to Vin Jaune. Oh well!

Five of us drank seven bottles, in the end a random selection, but these did include three immaculate Jura wines which can’t go without mention.

First up though, Bourgogne, Chardonnay Rose 2019, Sylvain Pataille. This is a white wine, nothing pink about it, despite the reputation that Marsannay has for Rosé – in fact when I first got into Burgundy, Rosé wine was just about all you saw from that village at the northern end of the Côte de Nuits. That was made from Pinot Noir. Chardonnay Rose (not Rosé) is a mutation of Chardonnay which is, according to several sources** unique to Marsannay.

Apparently, Sylvain noticed these pink grapes around twenty years ago, the vines having been planted just after the Second World War. He’s since propagated them by sélection massale and, like all his vines, farms them biodynamically. Ageing is around 15 months in old oak, with miniscule sulphur additions at bottling.

The result is amazingly fresh and bright. It has none of the weight of a Côte de Beaune Chardonnay (in fact in some ways it’s lighter on its feet than a Saint-Romain or a Monthélie), but boy, what vitality. A rather lovely wine. It has zip and zest but at the same time, varietal character.

**Stéphane Tissot in Montigny-lès-Arsures (Arbois, Jura) releases a wine which he calls “Chardonnay Rose Massale”, likewise made from a pink-berried Chardonnay mutation, and which tastes uncannily similar to Sylvain’s. Perhaps some further detective work is in order. It’s one of his wines I never fail to buy if I see it when in Arbois.

After Pataille we moved on to the Jura wines. The first two came from the domaine many consider, at least historically, the finest in Château-Chalon, the most beautiful of Jura’s wine villages. Jean Macle founded the estate in the 1960s, but it is now under the sound control of Laurent, Jean’s son.

We were presented with two vintages of what has become, over the years, not that much less famous than the estate’s Château-Chalon AOC, and that is the Côtes du Jura. This is a wine which can be something of an enigma. It is usually made principally using Chardonnay (in fact at least one vintage has been 100% Chardonnay) with the addition of Savagnin (on average, perhaps 15% of the blend). Further confusion is added when some of the wine is aged under voile, and to complicate things even more they might release more than one cuvée in a vintage. There are clues to be found on the back label, with the sous-voile versions marked with an easily recognisable diagram. Importer Vine Trail explains each cuvée on their web site.

We took the novel approach of drinking the oldest first.

Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura 2011 was pretty immaculate, it must be said. It had colour, depth and complexity, and certainly both smelt and tasted as if it had seen some flor. It had flavours suggesting a strong Savagnin influence over time, although most sources suggest that grape formed 15% of this cuvée in 2011. It was aged three years in barrel so the remaining seven-to-eight years have been in bottle, though stored in ideal conditions at Winemakers Club. Nuts dominate, with ginger spice and a faint hint of honey on the finish. Gorgeous. Many might, on tasting, assume even a “mini-Vin Jaune”.

Domaine Macle Côtes du Jura 2016 was a lot fresher. I think that by tasting it second, we actually learnt more, in a strange way. Much fresher, yet also allegedly made (from 50-y-o Chardonnay vines) sous-voile. But listen to what Macle importer Vine Trail says about it. “[T]his wine is more subtle and forward than the traditional oxidative Chardonnay/Savagnin blend, displaying notable morel flavour with attractive spices and finishing quite saline”. I certainly couldn’t improve on that as a tasting note. I will say that whilst the 2011 would certainly have fooled me into suggesting it was a Savagnin, or at least a Savagnin-heavy blend, I’d peg this as a Chardonnay. It has a good few more years before it will plateau and may go on for many more.

Jacques Puffeney Arbois “Naturé” 2014 was another Jura treat. As many of you will know, Jacques Puffeney farmed a little over five hectares of vines at Montigny-lès-Arsures, just north of Arbois, until his last vintage in 2014. At the point of his retirement, with no heirs wishing to take over the vines, he leased them to the new Domaine du Pélican. He retained his wine stocks, which continue to appear in small quantity, especially that last 2014 vintage.

Naturé is as confusing as Puffeney’s wines can often be. Most online vendors list this very clearly as a topped-up Savagnin cuvée. Indeed, this is backed up by Wink Lorch in her “Jura Wine” (2014), who adds that it is a cuvée released just in a few vintages. On the nose and palate my immediate sensations were of Chardonnay. But I was so wrong! This is really just a facet of how complex the Savagnin grape can be. It is a masterful wine. It has a depth almost off the scale. It somehow manages to shout old school yet has a modern touch, doubtless because I have drunk mostly oxidatively aged Puffeney over the years. These wines are fast disappearing, but really you should grab anything you find made by this past master of Arbois AOC.

Next, a rare foray into Chambolle for me, and a Premier Cru I don’t ever recall tasting before: Maison Frédéric Magnien Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Baudes” 2014. Baudes is the last of the Chambolle Premiers before the border with Morey-St-Denis. It’s a 3.4-hectare site which Jasper Morris suggests can produce fairly firm wines, but he also remarks that the northern and southern parts of the vineyard produce quite different wines.

This 2014 could be said to have a degree of firmness to it. That can’t be down to youth because a Decanter tasting note gives it a drinking window of only up until 2024 (although personally I’d suggest this could be a bit mean of them). Despite initially suggesting a firmness, it certainly developed a classic Chambolle silkiness as it opened out, though on a scale proportionate to a Premier Cru I’d never heard of from a nevertheless excellent modern negoce. Whilst I would have hesitated to carafe any of the Jura wines, this Pinot might have benefited from a bit of air in the decanter. Nevertheless, a lovely wine.

The penultimate wine of the evening was, although perhaps I shouldn’t be using this analogy in current times, the nuclear option. Equipo Navazos Palo Cortado Bota 72 “Pata de Gallina” is one of the most intense wines I’ve drunk over the past year. Although the taste is very different, you might say that it has a similar intensity to malt whisky.

Bota 72 was drawn off in January 2017 from a small solera at Rey Fernando de Castilla in Jerez. Two thousand-one-hundred 50cl bottles were filled. One of the alternative ways of producing a Palo Cortado is from oxidative wines, the result blending the styles and attributes of amontillado and oloroso. The selection of wines originally came from the finest casks of the old Almacenista Juan Garcia Jarana, with the wine being settled at Fernando de Castilla in a solera dedicated to, and owned by, EN. It is from the same source as the previous Bota 34 of 2012, but with five further years of ageing.

So, I said it’s intense. Can we drill down further than that vague concept? The wine is overall around thirty years old but it is still remarkably fresh. It’s nutty (hazelnut and walnut), definitely redolent of orange peel and ground ginger, and extremely saline. Within that salinity I got a faint hint of iodine, which is probably what lit my whisky lightbulb. This remarkable wine has a never-ending length to it. Some find the intensity of Equipo Navazos troubling. For me it is always “bring it on”, quite surprising considering my avowed preferences for wines of subtlety and lower alcohol (20.5% abv on this bad boy).

How do you follow a wine like that? I don’t mean in terms of quality, but how can any wine which follows not be drowned by it. And what do you pair it with. The sensible answer to the latter question is just a plate of salted almonds, ideally. To the former, the answer might be the palate-refreshing qualities of  Champagne, although preferably after new or well-rinsed glasses and a glass of water to cleanse the palate.

Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Extra Brut “Le Mont Benoît” was chosen from the shelf, and a chilled bottle was produced. Emmanuel Brochet took over two-and-a-half hectares of his family’s vines in the late 1990s. They are at Villers-aux-Noeuds, on the western side of the Montagne de Reims (somewhat southeast of Vrigny and Gueux, villages which may be more familiar). Although you will see “Le Mont Benoît” on the label, suggestive of a single site cuvée, which it is, in fact all of Emmanuel’s vines are situated within this one plot.

We are on classic Montagne chalk here. Some have described this as his non-vintage wine, but “multi-vintage” is more accurate. We begin with, in this case, fruit from the frost-affected 2017 vintage. That makes up around 30% of the cuvée. To this he adds wines from a perpetual reserve, formed here from vintages 2016 back to 2011. The varietal mix is approximately 40% each of Pinot Noir and Meunier, plus 20% Chardonnay. The wine rested for eleven months in wooden fûts on lees before bottling for its second fermentation, where it remained for two-and-a-half years. Labelled Extra Brut, the dosage is a nice low 2g/l. This cuvée produced just short of 8,700 bottles.

The wine has that “alive” quality which the very best “natural wine” Champagnes have. It is neither fined nor filtered. This, and the lees ageing during and after both fermentations, help give the wine a chalky, oyster shell, texture. The combination of richness and freshness is beguiling. I love it. It’s available from the wonderful selection of wines at Winemakers Club, and is also another wine from Vine Trail’s enviable portfolio. I was truly gutted that I needed to dash for my train and had to leave half a glass of this truly glorious wine on the table.

It had been too long…Winemakers Club is unique in London, both as a venue and for the rather eclectic and wonderful wines they sell (drink in or take out…one of the bottles I purchased will be consumed tonight at home). The food is pretty much the kind of fare you’ll find at all the original Parisian wine bars (cold meats, cheeses etc, plus some delicious cheese toasties made with the famous bread from St-John). I was pleased to see how busy they were on a Wednesday night and was very pleased to be told that its popularity has been consistent since Covid regs were relaxed. This wonderful, dark, cavern under the arches, at 41a Farringdon Street (London EC4A 4AN), should be on everyone’s hit list. Let’s just hope I make it back again soon.

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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