Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Peter Liem's unconventional Champagne sub-region schema

In the Preface of his best-selling book Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region, Peter Liem states that "The contemporary movement in Champagne ... is, rather simply, the acknowledgment of champagne as a wine like any other." According to Liem:
It is still not yet possible to write a comprehensive analysis of Champagne terroirs, given the lack of tools and information available compared with other historic regions. However, it is my hope that this book can in some small way help to push the dialogue further toward acknowledging champagne as a terroir-expressive wine, and to provide a foundation for envisioning that."
And push us forward is what he did with a new and unconventional schema that he has proposed for the Champagne sub-regions. In this post I examine the broad contours of this new schema and, in subsequent posts, will dig into the details of each sub-region.

The conventional approach shows Champagne's vineyards extending over 4 districts (shown in the map below) and 319 villages.  The districts are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, and Côte des Bar.  Montagne de Reims is a forested plateau south of Reims that is known for rich, full-bodied Champagnes and the dominance of Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay plantings in Trepail and Villers-Marmery.  Vallée de la Marne has Epernay as its core as it hugs the banks of the River Marne. This area is best known for Pinot Meunier but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow well here also. The soil here is comprised of a limestone topsoil overlaying layers of Belemnite and Micraster chalk.  Chardonnay is dominant in the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir in the Côte des Bar.  The soil in the Côte des Bar is Portlandian cap rock overlaying Kimmeridgian soil, a geologic profile that is much closer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne.


The soil in Champagne is, for the most part, comprised of massive chalk deposits interspersed with rocky outcroppings and covered with a thin layer of topsoil (mix of sand, marl, clay and lignite) which requires constant renewal through fertilization.

Champagne soil (Source: Fatcork via

The slow sagging of the Paris Basin caused an upthrusting of ancient geologic formations at the outer perimeter with each formation exhibiting as a concentric, outward-facing escarpment. One such escarpment was the Kimmeridgian chain of Jurassic soils discussed previously. In the case of Champagne, the escarpment is comprised of sands, marls, and lignitic clays of the Tertiary period capping chalk from the upper Cretaceous and, below Chalons, clays and sands of the lower Cretaceous. It is the marriage of the Tertiary and upper Cretaceous strata that "is the parentage of the unique soils of Champagne."

The components of the Tertiary strata function as follows (Wilson):
  • Sands -- provide coarse ingredients which help in building good soil structure
  • Clays, marls, weathered chalk -- bond with particles to give good body to the soil
  • Lignite -- a soft, low-grade coal which "seasons" the soil. Rapid burial resulted in concentration with iron, sulfur, and zinc from plant material.
Chalk, according to Wilson, is composed of calcareous algae (a form of seaweed) and shells of tiny organisms that settled in a uniform manner at the bottom of the Cretaceous seas. The chalk deposits in Champagne are finer-grained and more porous than other French limestone soils -- and have extremely high concentrations of the mineral marls Belemnite (younger and found higher up on the growing slopes) and Micraster (older and located on the valley floors). Chalk has excellent drainage as well as water-retention properties in that its micro-pores can absorb water during wet periods and slowly release it during drier periods. In addition, chalk will also reflect sunlight and heat thus aiding in the ripening of the grapes. The chalk soil allows the vine roots to dig freely and deeply in search of water and nutrients and also retains a constant temperature year round. Chalk weathers to a fine dust which is easily dispersed. In the case of Champagne, the Tertiary slope wash collects in the belly of the concave hills serving a binding function as well as providing mineral content. The chalk provides excellent drainage and water retention, which, when combined with the Tertiary soils, results in one of the best vine-growing soils in France.

The soils in the defined Champagne region is not monolithic, however. The Côte de Bars region of Champagne has Kimmeridgian soil of the same construct as the soils that underpin the vineyards of Chablis and Sancerre. In the Aisne region the upper Cretaceous has dipped into the Paris Basin  and the soil is comprised entirely of Tertiary clays and sands. In the area below Chalone -- referred to as wet Champagne -- the poor-permeability clays and sands of the lower Cretaceous period are dominant.

The Champagne soils distribution is illustrated graphically below.

The unconventional nature of Liem's schema is twofold: (i) He has expanded the number of subregions from four to seven. The new schema: divides the Vallée de la Marne into the Grand Vallée and the Vallée de la Marne; adds the Coteaux Sud d'Épernay; and combines the disparate zones between the heart of Champagne and Côte de Bar into a single sub-zone. The construct of this schema is illustrated in the map below.

(ii) The second area of unconventionality drives from the last point in that the soil combination of Cote de Sezanne differs markedly from the other zones with which it has been combined. In the Champagne region soils map above, the Cote de Sezanne is shown as comprised of tertiary and upper cretaceous deposits while the other partners are sited on lower cretaceous sands and clays.

In his study of these sub-zones, Liem delves into village-level characteristics. I will dig into his work in order to tease out the rationale for his proposed scheme.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, December 29, 2017

Best wines tasted during 2017 winery visits

During the course of 2017, I made a number of trips to various wine regions around the world. In this post I present the best wines tasted at wineries during those visits. The wine regions visited include:
  • Napa -- during the Premiere Napa Valley event as well as a subsequent trip to a Clark Smith winemaking seminar
  • Mt. Etna -- visits before and after Contrada dell'Etna
  • Tuscany -- extension of the Sicily trip
  • Barolo
  • Virginia -- multiple trips into the region during the latter par of the year. Notes from my most recent visit remain uncompiled at this time and are not considered herein
The best wines tasted are grouped by region.

Dalla Valle 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon PNV lot
We tasted a number of high-quality wines at the Spottswoode Open House, one of the official events in the 2017 Premiere Napa Valley calendar. The one which stood out for us though (and the lot that we eventually bought) was the Dalla Valle 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (their previous auction lot was 10 years ago and this was the youngest Cabernet Sauvignon that I saw on offer). The Dalle Valle was a superb wine. Drawn from Isabella’s Vineyard of the Maya Block, this wine, as described by my colleague Andres Montoya, has a “knockout nose of wildflowers, iron, smoke, blackberry, bramble, liquid graphite, and layered complexity that keeps going on and on …”

Author, Naoko Dalle Valle, and Ron at 2017
Premiere Valley post-auction

Macdonald Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
I visited the MacDonald vineyard as a side trip while attending a winemaking seminar. I was interested in this property due to its heritage as part of the original Crabbe To Kalon Vineyard. At the end of an extensive and informative tour of the vineyard with Graeme MacDonald, I was given the opportunity to taste the then-unreleased 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Graeme, 2014 was the earthquake vintage and the wines had started to shut down to conserve energy. The wine had a perfumed nose along with dark fruit and spice. Light on its feet and perfectly balanced. This was a beautiful wine. I have tasted many To-Kalon wines; and this is competitive. I have tasted many Napa wines; and this is competitive. I kept asking Graeme for seconds. I did not spit.(the sense of this being one of the great Napa Cabs was re-inforced when I tasted this wine out of bottle a few weeks ago.).

Graeme MacDonald, grower/winemaker

Mt. Etna
As usual, my good friend Brandon Tokash shepherded me around the mountain on this trip to Contrada dell'Etna.

2014 Vinudilice Metodo Classico
This Salvo Foti sparkling wine was stunning but, unfortunately, is not produced every year. This is, without a doubt, the best sparkling wine I have tasted on the mountain to date and I have not been so excited about a non-Champagne sparkling wine since I tasted the Xinomavro-based Karanika. Fresh and attention-grabbing. Mouth-filling mousse and great persistence. The world deserves to see more of this wine.

Salvo Foti and Author (Picture credit Lidia Rizzo)

Pietradolce Etna Rosato 2010 
A Nerello Mascalese wine which saw no maceration. Perfumed cherry nose along with spice and butterscotch. Focused, with great acidity and a lengthy finish. Slight yeastiness attributable to lees with no battonage. Beautiful wine.

Vini Franchetti
Two wines stood out for me during my visit to the Franchetti estate. The 2014 Contrada G was elegant. Smoke, tobacco, leather, and sweet tobacco. Savoriness. Complex, big fruit but balanced by acidity. Silky tannins. Long finish.

The Franchetti 2014 is a blend of 70% Petit Verdot and 30% Cesanese d' Affile. Sarah called this a winemaker-oriented wine. Yields of 17 hl/ha. Fermented with selected yeasts in stainless steel tanks for 10 - 15 days.  Malolactic and 8 months aging in barriques, followed by 10 months in cement and 2 months in bottle. Bentonite fining. Rich, inky, with herbs and smoky barrel notes. Powerful. Not a classic Etna wine but I loved.

Four of us spent a week in Barolo in the middle of May and visited a number of the region's leading estates.

At this estate, we tasted 2013 Cerretta and Francia out of barrel. According to Roberto Conterno, 2013 was a great vintage for Barolo. Normally Nebbiolo likes cooler temperatures, which 2013 was, resulting in a more structured wine. The Barolo Cerretta showed mint, herbs, and eucalyptus. Huge structure and lots of tannin. Excellent weight on the palate. Balanced. The Barolo Francia was perfumed, floral and restrained. Hay, sweet fruit, and spice. Silky, mature tannins resulting from, according to Roberto, being picked at ultimate ripeness.

Bartolo Mascarello
The final wine tasted was the 2013 Barolo. This was a cool, classic vintage. After 21 days of maceration, skin contact was terminated. The estate expects this wine to begin closing down temporarily sometime in the near future. Strawberries and roses. Honeyed nose with a hint of balsamic. Concentrated yet balanced. Lengthy finish. A wine to be aged and for the ages.

G. B. Burlotto
We tasted 2013 versions of the AccliviMonvigliero, and Cannubi Barolos. The Acclivi showed tar, roses, blackpepper, cherry-strawberry, and sweet fruit on the nose. Restrained. Burgundian. Menthol on palate. Perfectly balanced. Gentle tannin structure. Elegant.

The Monvigliero had an almost see-through color, Cinnamon, raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, green herbs, and black olives. Stems on the palate. Fruit concentration balanced by acid levels. Pure. Will have a long, fruitful life.

Photo Credit: Ron Siegel

The Cannubi showed violets, minerals, herbs, and iodine on the nose. Fresher than the Monvigliero. Red fruits and lengthy finish. Most structured of the three Barolos.

Elio Grasso
We did three vintages of the Casa Maté: 2013, 2007, and 2004. The 2013 showed spice, tar, baking spices, and an earthiness. Depth and structure. Great mouthfeel. The 2007 showed obvious development. Tar, waxiness, honeyed fruit, mint, eucalyptus, herbs, florality, and curry. Tar on the palate along with a long, caressing finish. The 2004 also showed curry and tar on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Beautifully balanced.

Elio Altare
The 2013 Cannubi was floral on the nose along with red fruit, spice, and blackpepper. Beautiful weight on the palate and excellent finish.

E. Pira e Figli
The Barolo Via Nuova 2012 had a beautiful nose with slight florality and tar on the nose. Tar carries through to palate along with spice. Elegant. Cherry, plum, tar and herbs are the hallmarks of the 2012 Barolo Cannubi along with a waxiness and massive tannin structure. This wine will last for a while. The 2012 Barolo Mosconi showed tar, roses, and a savoriness on the nose. Sweet fruit on the palate. Powerful.

I have recently begun a survey of the wines of this region and have been encouraged at the quality encountered in the wines of the leading producers. Frank Morgan has been instrumental in getting me in to see the producers mentioned herein.

Barboursville Vineyards
We tasted the 2012 (50% Petit Verdot, 50% Merlot), 2010 (60+% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) and 2004 (70+% Merlot) Octagons.

The 2012 showed coffee, berries, cedar, and baking spices on the nose. Medium-bodied on the palate with a medium-length finish. The 2010 was elegant. Berries, cassis, mocha, and baking spices on the nose. Medium-bodied with a long, creamy finish. The 2004 was phenomenal. Red fruit, tar, chocolate, and baking spices on the nose. Balanced with a lengthy finish.

We tasted the 2012 and 2013 Rendezvous and the 2013 Lost Mountain. The 2013 Rendezvous showed smoke, red fruit, and baking spices on the nose. Red fruit and dark chocolate and elegance on the palate. The 2012 Rendezvous had the 2012 characteristics plus cigar, leather, licorice, and tar. Sweeter fruit and concentrated but not as focused. Great acid levels. Great finish.

Linden Vineyards
The 2015 Petit Verdot exhibited spice, darker fruit, a rich, smooth mouthfeel with good acid levels. Rich, mineral finish. Delicious.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A look back at the 10 most-frequently-read posts on this blog in 2017

As you know, this is an information-centric blog. In 2017, I crafted informational sets around (i) the Langhe, Napa, Tuscany, Virginia, and Mt Etna wine regions, (ii) viticultural issues, and (iii) winemaking techniques and technologies.Herein I hearken back to the 10 most widely read posts during the course of the year. Barolo and Mt Etna each had three topics in the top 10 while winemaking techniques had two. Vitticulture and winery-acquisition learnings each placed one topic in the top 10.

10. Pre-Phylloxera vines and albarello training in Mt Etna viticulture
As was the case for Algeria and Spain, Phylloxera did eventually invade Etna but the impact was most felt at altitudes of 400 m and below where sedimentary sols dominated. According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine), the decimated vineyards at those altitudes were replaced with citrus fruit trees and new vineyards were planted at higher altitudes where the soils had greater proportions of lava rock and volcanic sand and were resistant to the depradations of the aphid. According to the authors, these new vineyards joined an existing belt of vineyards resident on the northern slope between Solicchiata and Randazzo. The remnants of that belt of vineyards are today's pre-Phylloxera vineyards of which Ian D'Agata speaks so highly.

Follow this link to read the full post.

9. Soils of the Barolo Zone
In order to provide a full context for the discussion of the soils of the Barolo zone, I initially discussed the formation of the basement rocks, then followed that up with posts on the Tertiary Piedmont Basin, with one post each devoted to the Oligocene - Miocene deposit sequence and the Messinian Salinity Crisis and its deposits. This post on the soils of the Barolo Zone culminates the series and can be read in full by following this link.

8. The top-rated Barolo crus: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione
Beginning with the work of Renato Ratti in the 1970s, and continuing through cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti, and the more recent efforts of Antonio Galloni, there have been lauded efforts to classify and rank the vineyards of the Barolo region. Alfonso Cevola, in a 2015 article, compared the highest levels of these three Barolo classification schemes in order to determine the degree of alignment at the top. Cevola found that there was unanimous agreement that three crus were among the very best in the region: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione. The characteristics of these crus are presented in this post which can be read in full by following this link.

7. A summary of the various dry white wine styles
In this series I examined the winemaker's challenge in navigating between the twin evils of reduction and oxidation in the construction of white wines; both faults but both having desirable characteristics as you move further away from the edges. The below chart illustrates the dry white wine styles that have been covered in this series. Below the chart are short descriptors of each of the styles along with links to the posts in which they are detailed.

6. Learnings from the recent spate of actual and rumored sales of prestigious French and Italian wine estates
Announcements -- or rumors -- of the sales of prominent French and Italian wine estates seem to be hitting with increasing regularity. In this post I highlight some of the things learned as a result of this spate of activity. 

Follow this link to read the post in full.

5. Barrel-fermented and -aged white wines
Oak was the primary fermentation vehicle prior to the post-war inroads made by stainless steel tanks, inroads driven by the latter's perceived advantages:
  • Provides an anaerobic environment
  • Easier to clean, thus reducing the risk of bacterial contamination
  • Increased durability
  • Allowed fermentation temperature control
    • White wines could be fermented cool and thus preserve floral and fruity aromas
    • Cooler fermentation temperatures lowered the risk of off-flavor production
  • Allowed control of fermentation rate.
With all of these advantages arrayed against it, oak had to have some overriding benefits for winemakers to continue using it as a vehicle. And it did. According to Ibern-Gomez, et al*., "Fermentation in oak barrels leads to wines with much more complex sensory properties, largely attributed to the phenols extracted from oak wood."

I examined these substances and their impacts on barrel-fermented wine.

Follow this link to read the full post.

4. Salvo Foti, the pillar of tradition in Mt Etna winegrowing
In their seminal work on Sicilian wine (The World of Sicilian Wine), Nesto and di Savino describe the title subject thusly: "Salvo Foti stands out, by himself, as Sicily's greatest homegrown consulting enologist ..." who "... more than any other person, ... has fostered an awareness of (Etna's) unique wine culture."

Salvo Foti with Lidia Rizzo, Contrada Caselle
According to Nesto and di Savino, Foti's grandparents owned vineyards on the slopes of Etna. Salvo gained a technical degree in enology on the 1980s and began consulting work with a number of producers in Sicily. He continued his studies and eventually received a specialized degree in enology from the University of Catania. When Giuseppe Benanti made the commitment to the production of high-quality wine on Etna, he turned to the young Foti to work with him on the needed experiments. Foti was Benanti's enologist until they parted ways in 2011.

Follow this link to read the full post.

3. Mt Etna Wine Estates: Marc de Grazia's Tenuta Delle Terre Nere
The estate is owned by Marc de Grazia of Barolo Boys fame. Marc came to Mt Etna in the early 2000s and was energized by the potential that he saw. According to Brandon Tokash, my good friend and the repository of Mt Etna institutional knowledge, "Marc started bottling under his own label of Terre Nere with the 2002 vintage, a small production vinified and bottled at Benanti. 2003 was a bigger bottling though still at Benanti. 2004 was the first vintage actually bottled at Marco' estate.

Follow this link to read the full post.

2. Esca grapevine trunk disease (GTD) and the role of the Guyot-Poussard pruning system in combating it
Grapevine pruning, arguably one of the most important viticultural practices, is employed during the vine's dormant phase and, when done properly, structures the plant such that there is balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. It is generally held that a balanced vine will allow for adequate yields and good quality fruit, assuming no deficiency in the other grape-growing parameters.

One of the characteristics of traditional pruning systems is numerous large pruning wounds in the grapevine trunk with the potential for (i) intrusion of desiccated material into the interior of the trunk -- and the interruption of sap flow therein -- and (ii) serving as the infection pathway for grapevine trunk disease (GTD) fungi (Infowine). Esca is one of the most feared of these GTDs.

Follow this link to read the full post

1. The 18 greatest vineyards in the Barolo zone
Three of the foremost Barolo vineyard experts -- Renato Ratti, Alessandro Masnaghetti, and Antonio Galloni -- have each taken a shot at classifying the crus in the Barolo zone (I have shared the frameworks of the individual schemes in a prior post.). By taking the top-rated crus under their individual classification schemes, I have arrived at a list of the best Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barolo zone (and, hence, in the world). These 18 vineyards are shown graphically on the Barolo Zone map below and are summarized in the full post.

Follow this link to read the full post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"A Special Winemaker Dinner with Chateau Lafleur"

The subject dinner, held at Soho's SC Culinary Suite, was hosted by Zachys, one of the world's leading fine wine retailers and auctioneers. In addition to the storied wines of the estate, the dinner featured wines from non-Pomerol sources, all presented by the estate's Cellarmaster, Omri Ram. I had the honor of sitting next to Omri during the course of the dinner.

I have previously described the Pomerol appellation (source of the grapes for the estate wine) as well as the estate's grape-growing and winemaking environments and practices. In this post I describe the actual tasting.

SC Culinary Suite is located on the 9th Floor at 598 Broadway in New York City. I felt a sense of accomplishment when I made it up to the dining room because the entry door was miniscule and opened into a vanishingly small lobby where one waited interminably for a slow-moving elevator. I was convinced that I was in the wrong place until the elevator doors opened, revealing a more "wine-familiar" environment.

Don Zacharia, President of Zachys, opened the night's proceedings. Lafleur, he said, was a mythical wine, hard to get. This tasting, he continued, is one of his highlights of the year. At the conclusion of his brief remarks, he introduced Omri and passed the baton.

Omri thanked us all for coming. Lafleur does not do a lot of wine tastings, he said. "We are simple people with no departments and no titles." He saw Lafleur as "one of the most different wines in Bordeaux" having more of a kinship to a Mosel, Côte Rotie, or Burgundy wine rather than a Bordeaux. With deference to the attendees, who he assumed were all collectors, he held out that Lafleur was a wine that was made to be drunk.

After these opening remarks, he turned to the first three wines on offer: The 2014 Les Champs Libres, the 2010 Chateau Grand Village, and the 2014 Acte 6.

One of the surprises coming out of the Lafleur tasting (for me), was the fact that the Guinaudeau family owned property, and made wines, beyond the Pomerol estate. Chateau Grand Village, located in small commune of Mouillac between the Côtes de Bourg and Fronsac appellations, has been in family since the 1600s and is the source of the Les Champs Libres and Chateau Grand Village mentioned above. The vineyards (14 ha, 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc for the Chateau Grand Village; 0.7 ha, Sauvignon Blanc for Les Champs Libres; and 2.3 ha, mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the Chateau Grand Village Bordeaux Blanc.) are planted on hillside and plateau plots whose soils are a mix of clay, limestone, and gravel. The vineyard practices are consistent with those employed at Chateau Lafleur,

Frontenac lies between Chateau Grand Village and the Lafleur estate and has been an arena in which the Guinaudeau family is seeking to build a new label from scratch. This ongoing project has seen the family buy a number of plots on the south-facing limestone and clay slopes of the Fronsac commune for the purposes of crafting a stellar Cabernet Franc-Merlot blended wine. The plots are farmed, and the wines vinified, in the same manner as their counterparts in Mouillac and Pomerol. The name of the project is G Acte and each vintage is given a different nomenclature. The first vintage, for example, was called Acte 1 and the most recent release, Acte 6.

The 2014 Les Champs Libres was rich with a waxy nose, white peaches and smoke. Bright on the palate with rust, spice, salinity and minerality. Lengthy finish.

The 2010 Chateau Grand Village was a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. It showed ripe black fruits, earth and licorice with balancing acidity and integrated tannins. Still has a few years left. Omri sees this wine as akin to a Village wine in Burgundy and beginning to develop the capacity to age.

I thought the Acte 6 was thin, non-complex, and unbalanced towards acidity. Toasted walnut notes.

This flight was accompanied by the Farmer's Market Salad shown below.

Farmer's Market Salad

The second dish was a Cavatelli with Duck Ragu, preserved truffle, and peas. This stellar dish ably accompanied the second flight of wines: The 2011 and 2008 Lafleurs.

The 2008 showed black fruit, earth, baking spices, and tobacco on the nose. Concentrated and structured on the palate. Spice and savory notes. Will give pleasure for many years to come after coming out on the other side of this phase.

The 2011 is a blend of 53% Cabernet Franc and 43% Merlot. It had floral notes accompanying truffle, earth, spices, and red and black fruit. Red and black fruit on the palate.

The 2011 was a baby but was more expressive than the 2008. Omri thinks that the 2008 is getting into a dormancy phase, something that happens with Lafleur wines. He can't think of two more opposite vintages than these two. The 2008 had the highest alcohol of the vintage due to the cool, sunny vintage allowing the grapes to ripen fully. Conversely, 2011 was one of the hottest and driest vintages.


The third flight was comprised of the 1999 and 1995 vintages of Lafleur. The 1999 yielded a complex aroma of blackcurrant, cigar, pencil lead, earth and baking spices. Silk on the palate along with a beautiful finish. The 1995 wine, according to Omri, was the product of a hot, dry season and small berries. In his view, this wine may never be ready. Closed but with hints of the pencil lead present in its flight-mate.

Sweet Onion and Spice Crusted Sirloin

The cheese course accompanied the 1989 Chateau Lafleur. This was an outstanding wine. Cigar, dark fruit, and truffles on the nose. Delicate on the palate with persistence and a lengthy finish.

This was definitively the wine of the night. Omri described it as as being the essence of Lafleur. It is, in his estimation, one of the greatest Lafleurs ever. It is almost perfection and surprises him every time.
Selection of French and Italian Cheeses

I did not capture a picture of the Dark Chocolate Truffle which accompanied the 2009 Pensées de Lafleur. This wine had a beautiful nose with elements of truffle, earth, chocolate, baking spices, and blue fruit, Rich and concentrated on the palate. Balanced, with a lengthy finish.

The Full Monty

This was a well-organized event which had all of the right elements: A unicorn wine, an expert from the estate, spectacular food, and knowledgeable and engaged attendees. I enjoyed it immensely. As regards the wines, I thought that the performance of the Chateau Lafleur wines were uneven. I would have preferred if other wines performed closer to the level of the 1989. The peak of most of the Chateau Lafleur wines are still ahead of them.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chateau Lafleur: An Overview

Chateau Lafleur occupies 4.5 ha on the famed Pomerol plateau alongside such famed vineyards as Petrus and L'Evangile. The vineyard was purchased in 1872 by Henri Greloud, the great-great grandfather of the current owners Sylvie and Jacques Guinaudeau who took sole ownership of the property in 2002.

Location of Chateau Lafleur in Pomerol AOC

Location of Chateau Lafleur in relation to neighboring wineries

According to Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau (son and daughter-in-law of the owners), the complexity of the Lafleur wines are directly attributable to the complexity of the soils and the vines planted on those soils.

The soil composition is as follows:
  • Gravelly sandy-clay in the northeast -- 1.4 ha (3.4 acres)
  • Gravelly clay to the south and east -- 1.5 ha (3.7 acres)
  • Sandy-gravelly soil at the heart of the vineyard -- 0.95 ha (2.34 acres)
  • Gravelly-clayey sand -- a 0.8 ha (1.97 acres) diagonal cross-cutting the vineyard and the site for the grapes making the Pensées de Lafleur wine (second wine until it became a cru in its own right in the early 2000s)
"This very rare association of soils allows us to explain in part the singularity of Lafleur" (Baptiste and Julie).

Moueix, the exclusive distributor of the Lafleur wines, describes this as an incredibly complex terroir with "a veritable patchwork of soils and subsoils of different gravels, loess and clays marked by an iron-rich sublayer." Further, the parcels dedicated to Pensées de Lafleur are "sandier on the surface and less gravelly than the parcels intended for Lafleur. The subsoil is deeper and richer with an important presence of ferric clay."

A map of the vineyard soils is presented below.

Lafleur soils map (Source: handout at
12/4/17 Lafleur tasting)

The second key to wine quality is the vines planted on the estate: 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot. "The priceless genetic heritage of this vineyard at Lafleur, above all our old vine Cabernet Franc, should be duly noted" (Baptiste and Julie). A part of the vineyard is a result of massale selection activity carried out in the 1930s.

A total of 21,000 vines are planted on the estate: 7,500 on gravel with clay; 5,250 on gravel with sand; and 8,250 on clay and gravel soil. Vine density ranges between 6000 and 7500 vines/ha.

All vineyard activities are carried out by hand to include tilling, pruning, and harvesting. Pruning and de-budding are tailored to the age and shape of each vine while hedging, leaf-thinning, and crop-thinning are driven by the climatic conditions of each vintage. No chemical herbicides are used on the estate.

Harvest dates are determined on a parcel-by-parcel basis with Pensées de Lafleur fruit generally harvested last. The grapes are harvested by hand with selection in the vineyard and, following, at the sorting table in harvest-reception. Maceration periods are determined by the characteristics of the vintage.

The wines are racked into barrels immediately after fermentation and remain there for 18 months before they are bottled. The wines are racked every three months during the aging process.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Pomerol AOC (Bordeaux): Where excellence reigns

Two nights ago, Zachys hosted a tasting of the wines of Chateau Lafleur at New York's SC Culinary Suite. I will be reporting on that tasting but, prior to that, will provide background on Pomerol (this post) and the estate (following post).

Pomerol, at 800 ha, is one of the smallest communes in Bordeaux. This home to some of the most lauded Bordeaux offerings is generally grouped with St. Emilion and other neighboring communes into an unofficial sub-region called Libournais. The commune is located 3 km from the city of Libourne and approximately 30 km northeast of Bordeaux on a rolling plateau that slopes to the Isle River at its confluence with the Dordogne.

Pomerol is bounded by the Barbanne stream to the north, St. Emilion to the east, and Libourne to the south and east. The area was originally a part of the St. Emilion AOC but was awarded its own designation by INAO (the AOC governing body) in 1936. A total of 150 producers currently operate in the defined area.

Pomerol is blessed with a mild maritime climate with drier summers and higher daytime temperatures than experienced in other Bordeaux communes. The risk of frost is very low due to the moderating influence of the Dordogne and Isle rivers.

A rough approximation of the Pomerol soil is shown in the graphic below. The composition is a gravelly topsoil with layers of clay and sand with the clay more prevalent in the west and sand more apparent close to Libourne. The subsoil has a high proportion of a ferruginous sandstone which the locals call "crasse de fer." Several types of clay can be found in the soil but the blue clay is the most highly regarded. The Petrus vines are planted almost 100% on blue clay.

Pomerol soil composition with the Pomerol plateau shown in 
gray. (Source: Handout at 12/4/17 Zachys Lafleur Tasting) 
Originally from Neil Martin's book Pomerol.

The Pomerol plateau (the area shaded in gray in the map above) is home to the best producers. Its soil is a complex blend of gravel, clay, sand, crasse de fer, and iron oxide.

The vineyards are planted to Merlot (80%), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a dollop of Malbec. The current vines are very old and low-yielding. This, coupled with the small surface area available for planting, results in sky-high prices for the wines.

The wines of Pomerol are elegant and distinctive, characterized, as they are, by intense aromas, ripe fruit, and supple tannins. The wines are velvety and fruity in their youth and exhibit flavors of grilled almonds and black truffles in later years. The average yield is 38,000 Hl annually.

A map of the Pomerol wineries is shown below. Wineries of note include Petrus, Lafleur, Le Pin, and L'Evangile.

Pomerol wineries (Source: Handout at the tasting)

Chateau L'Evangile

I will cover Chateau Lafleur in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Barolo Zone's Bussia MGA (Monforte d'Alba): Too big to succeed?

At 292.3 ha, Bussia is the second largest MGA in Monforte d'Alba (and the Barolo Zone as a whole), bested only by Bricco San Pietro which weighs in at a massive 380.09 ha. The demarcation of this large surface area under a single MGA came about with the introduction of the MGA schema with the 2010 vintage and has not been wholeheartedly embraced by Barolo experts (Galloni, for example, says that the designation is "too large to be meaningful. Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA) sees the designation as an attempt to leverage the famed name by incorporating "... other vineyards which could be considered marginal" under its umbrella.)

The Bussia MGA, as currently designated, is shown within the red oval in the map below.

Bussia MGA is shown centered within the red
But today's Bussia is not the Bussia of yore. Prior to the 1960s, Barolo wine was a multi-vineyard blend but all industry players knew the important vineyards. It was not until 1961 that this knowledge was acted upon and two single-vineyard wines were introduced by Beppe Cola of Prunotto (Barolo Bussia) and Vietti (Barolo Rocche di Castiglione). On the Prunotto website, the Bussia vineyard (the source of this single-vineyard wine) is described thusly:
The Bussia vineyard is one of the most renowned of the Barolo zone, extending across 7.35 ha and is laid out like an amphitheatre, with a southeast/southwest exposure. A small cru, Bussia Vigna Colonello, is located on the interior of the vineyard.  A red Barolo of grand character originates from this vineyard. This wine expresses all of the peculiarities of this territory, offering intense and persistent aromas.
This description would seem to place the source of these grapes in the modern day Bussia Soprano. 

Renato Ratti's Carta del Barolo, published in the 1970s, gave us a glimpse of the notable vineyards in what is today's Bussia MGA. The map, reproduced below, shows a number of Class 2 and Class 3 vineyards and large swaths of open spaces between. Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana are mentioned, with Soprano incorporated into a Class 3 Zone called Granbussia. It should be noted that the vineyard referred to in the below map as Fontanile is now called Munie (Masnaghetti).

Table 1. Ratti classification of vineyards that
fall into the modern-day Bussia MGA
Best sub-regions of high qualitative peculiarity Sub-region with special characteristics Historic sub-regions of wine growing

Bussia Soprana Arnulfo

Bussia Sottana Dardi

Fontanile Gran Bussia

Pian Della Polvere


Santo Stefano

The Petrini map of the Great Vineyards of Monforte d'Alba (pp. 152 - 153 of A Wine Atlas of the Langhe) shows three clusters of vineyards in what is today's Bussia MGA. As it relates to Bussia, Petrini states:
To the west, as you turn to Barolo, you will find the vineyards of Bussia. Further south lie Dardi, Pianpolvere, Visetti and Arnulfi ... Bussia is an area that embraces two separate villages, Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana. Considered as a whole, Bussia includes some outstanding plots that produce wines with superb sensory profiles, beginning with their very fresh, intense aromas. The great vineyards in this Atlas include Munie and Pugnane with Bussia Sottana, as well as vineyards that surround the hamlet itself and from which it takes its name. Similarly, the vineyard below the houses at Bussia Suprana is named after the little village and ranks in quality alongside the celebrated Colonnello, Bricco Cicala, Romirasco and Gabutti della Bussia vineyards.
In the foregoing, Petrini has expanded Bussia to be all of the vineyards around Bussia Soprana and Bussia Sottana, to include Gabutti. The vineyards to the south are not included in this construct. The Bussia MGA blows away this distinction by incorporating the vineyards to the south under this broad umbrella.

Masnaghetti is convinced that Soprana, Colonnnello, Cicala, Romirasco, and Gabutti should be considered part of one major sub-zone. In his Barolo map, Galloni classifies the vast bulk of the Bussia MGA as noteworthy (the third level of his classification scheme) with only Cicala, Romirasco, and Pianpolvere Soprano rated as outstanding (the second level in his classification scheme).

Below is a map of the Bussia MGA and, following that, brief descriptions of each of the sub-zones.

Named after the pharmacist who bought the property in 1874. Vineyard exposure is south and southwest, with west exposures in the lower sections. Elevations range between 250 and 320 m. The sole grower in this sub-zone is Costa di Bussia

Bussia Soprana
As mentioned previously, Masnaghetti seeks to group the sub-zones around this vineyard into a larger whole. Petrini speaks to a classic designation -- Gran Bussia -- where the wine contained a proportion of fruit from each of the vineyards (Poderi Aldo Conterno does bottle a Gran Bussia wine, for example.). The Bussia Soprana Valley is protected by the high hillside "running from the village of San Giovanni di Monforte to Boschetti at Barolo" and produces fruit of uniform quality. The character of the wines reflect a "common origin in their restrained fragrance, austerity, and structure ..."

The producers in this zone include: Fratelli Barale, Bussia Soprana, Domenica Clerico, Francesco Clerico, Aldo Conterno, Alessandro e G. N. Fantino, Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Prunotto, Rocche dei Manzoni, Oreste Stroppiana, and Terre del BArolo

Bussia Cicala
This vineyard is located in the upper part of the Bussia Soprana Valley and the vines form a bowl with aspects ranging from southeast through southwest. The slope is sheltered from the wind. Clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron.

Bussia Soprana
Four hectares under vine. Barolo from this zone has "excellent structure and crisp, clean aromas that evolve over time into tar. The prominent tannins merge with other elements to produce a wine of outstanding character" (Petrini).

This vineyard has a southwest aspect. The wine has the elegance and harmony of the Barolo commune and structure and power of Serralunga (Petrini).

Five hectares under vine with southwest to west exposures at 355 to 395 m elevation. The west-facing plots are highly prized due to being sheltered and being warm enough to ripen the Nebbiolo.

Seven hectares at 400 m with southwest exposures. Wholly owned by Aldo Conterno. Clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron. Similar soil to Cicala but less brown.

Bussia Sottana
Classe as having excellent characteristics by Ratti. Southwest-facing with elevations ranging between 280 and 340 m. Producers here include: Batasiolo, Damilano, Giacomo Fenocchio, Conterno Fantino, La Boca, Monti, and Armando Parusso.

This is a 7-ha vineyard with the best plots being above the village. The topmost point of the vineyard is known as Mondoca. The wines are "classic Barolo, mineral at times with somewhat rugged tannins. The Mondoca wines are "fuller, complex, and less subtle." Producers include: Francesco Clerico, Angelo Germano, Alsssandro e G. N. Fantino, Oddero, Poderi Colla, Prunotto

An 11-ha vineyard with west to southwest exposures and elevation ranging between 250 and 330 m. The lower part of the vineyard is known as Bofani while the upper portion is called Funtanin. Wines of great elegance and finesse are produced from this vineyard. Producers include: Batasiolo, Cascina Ballarin, Franco Conterno - Sciulun, Conterno Fantino, Giacomo Fenocchio, Livia Fontana, and Armando Parusso.

One of the most highly regarded and homogenous crus in all of Monforte d'Alba, according to Masnaghetti. Unquestionably one of the most privileged spots for Nebbiolo in the Langhe, according to Galloni. The wines are tannic, mineral and possessed of less fruit than neighboring crus. Pianpolvere Soprano, which is differentiated from the broader Pianpolvere, has fleshier wines. Producers are Fratelli Adriano, Famiglia Anselma, and Pianpolvere Soprano.

This vineyard is a continuation of the hill descending from Munie. Nine ha in size with west and southwest exposures. Soil is richer than Munie's. Producers are Giancarlo Boasso, Cascina Pugnane, and Mario Marengo.

Six ha with south and southwest exposures. "Wines have a mineral character and are at times somewhat tannic."Producers are Fratelli Moscone, Attilio Ghisolfi, and Terra del Barolo.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme