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February 10, 2013 Wine , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Classy Master

Even non wine-types pick up on the fact that Pinot Noir produces some slavish devotion among wine nuts. This also extends to winemakers. It’s tricky stuff to make well, and regions that grow it often band together to ‘benchmark’ against each other and the great styles of the world; an activity that has immeasurably improved the quality of the wines we’re producing locally. Part of this cult of pinot extended to celebrations and conferences, one of which has just happened this week in the Mornington Peninula, South of Melbourne.

Whilst the outlay to attend the full 2 day pinot conference will leave you just enough change from $1000 to buy yourself a cheeseburger on the way home, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a masterclass during the week that featured two of the key conference presenters: The charming Jasper Morris MW, writer of ‘Inside Burgundy’ (aka The Bible for lovers of this region), and Etienne Grivot, winemaker at Domaine Jean Grivot (located in Vosne Romanee in Burgundy, home of the most revered pinot noir vineyards in the world). Put on by local Victorian wine importer Heart and Soil and compered by the ubiquitous Nick Stock, it was a rare opportunity to hear some incredible insights from two of the world’s experts, while tasting some pretty epic wines.

Yeah Yeah, you know what's coming. More of this.

Yeah Yeah, you know what’s coming. More of this.

On the day, the wines we tried were split into 3.5 brackets, with the 0.5 being for the wines we tried while milling around before the session started. It’s very easy when attending these things to try and distil the whole thing down to a bunch of tasting notes talking about flavours, but it totally misses the essence of what something like this is about – the insights in between the tasting. It was refreshing to hear this repeated by all of the panel, who share a love of Burgundy bordering on the supernatural, and reinforced that being able to describe 18 different types of mushroom aromas does not a good wine communicator make. Which is great because I find these wines very hard to describe, such is my intense love for them! So let’s have a look at the brackets:

Entrance Bracket – Whites

2010 Gilbert Picq Chablis

2010 Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 1er Clos des Murees

2010 in Burgundy makes me weak at the knees (well even weaker than usual), this includes to the satellite appellation of Chablis, that produced wines that were typically briney and focussed but with an extra richness and intensity. Jasper confirmed this by describing it as the best vintage for a generation. When discussing the Fontaine Gagnard wine, we swerved into a discussion on how domaine names change constantly with births, deaths and marriages (even if it was noted that there are ‘limited’ bloodlines in the area, to paraphrase…). The wine itself was showing grain, hay and spice with a bit of an oaky finish and is made from a vineyard surrounded (some say protected) by the village church.

Bracket 1 – The Impact of the Maker and Village

2010 Domaine De l’Arlot Nuits Saint Georges 1er ‘Clos de Forets St George’

2010 Robert Chevillon Nuits Saint Georges 1er ‘Perrieres’

2010 Fontaine Gagnard Volnay 1er ‘Cru Clos de Chenes’

2010 Domaine de Courcel Pommard 1er ‘Grand Clos des Epenots’

Whilst my ‘title’ for this bracket wasn’t what was used on the night, it is certainly what it turned out to be about. Most pinot that people have tried is ‘destemmed’, that being that only the berries are included in the fermentation; wines 1 and 4 in this bracket are made with a high percentage of stems included – which imparts a markedly different character on the wine. What does it taste like? Well…. unsurprisingly kind of like grape stems. But not like you get at the supermarket, these are only included if they are ripened enough to add complexity without adding the ‘green’ flavours that you’d get with unripe stems. The experts discussed both the impacts of the land and maker, as all wines were markedly different. Etienne, who knew all the winemakers involved, remarked that each wine showed the personality of the person who made it and drew the comparison that ‘the vineyard is like the orchestra while the winemaker like the conductor’, an apt description. Whilst not a competition, my favourite was the Courcel wine, which is made from the same vineyard as my favourite (current release) wine that I tried in 2012, the Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux (yes, the spelling in different but yes, they come from the same land – this is just how it happens)!

Bracket 2 – The Classifications

2010 Simon Bize Bourgogne Rouge

2010 Stephane Magnien Morey-Saint-Denis ‘Mont Luisants’

2009 Jean Grivot Vosne Romanee 1er Chaumes

2009 Jean Grivot Clos Vougeot

Whilst discussing this bracket, which moved from the lowest ‘Bourgogne Rouge’ to the highest ‘Grand Cru’ (Clos Vougeot is a Grand Cru and hence a classification in itself), Jasper Morris provided undoubtedly my favourite quote of the night and one which I think more people should take note of throughout the entire world of wine: “If you only drink Grand Crus then you get blase because you completely lose appreciation for the subtleties”. Anyone can tell you that a bottle of ‘insert famous name here’ is a great drink, but to lose sight of the other end of the spectrum is to lose your appreciation. This bracket also provided a great chance to chat about 2009 vs 2010, both much lauded vintages. Nick Stock remarked that people seem to think that they need to choose a favourite, to which Jasper remarked that he feels that the 2009s, while currently wrapped in some generous ‘puppy fat’ making them very approachable early on, will surprise with their longevity over time.

Bracket 3 – The Impact of Vintage

Jean Grivot Nuits Saint Georges 1er Aux Boudots – Vintages 09, 05 & 02

A fascinating exercise, comparing the three best vintages (excluding the current release 2010s) of the last decade. The wines were breathtaking, and highlighted the differences between 09 (Rich and supple), 05 (enormous, tight and very closed), and 02 (similar to 2010, structured but aromatic). This discussion drew out the comment from Jasper that ‘I don’t go in for the fruit descriptors; I think of these wines as human beings, talking to me as human beings’, which perfectly sums up the fact that the wines are alive, evolving, and speaking of their upbringing.

Well that piece was a bit intense, and definitely one for the nerds amongst us, so next week I’ll bring it back a touch with something that’s a bit friendlier to more people. Until then, Happy Drinking,

Peter