Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More $1 Burgundy

I just opened the 1999 Michel-Colin-Deleger Marangeres 1er La Fussiere and it's yummy. It comes across a little simple for a 1er, but the tart cherry and mushroom Pinot Noir taste are definately there. There is plenty of structure and the finish goes on for quite a bit. Like the rest , it lacks a little power and heft of flavor. It drinks like a simple bourgogne rouge, but that's ok, it cost me a frickin' dollar. So some of it is going in the marinara, and the rest is going down my gullet, as I tune up for a night of whiskey drinking at the Oasis.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pleased with myself and my Burgundy


Saturday, January 26, 2008

White Burgundy

Vic "The Velvet Hammer" Vicari, my sales person for Winebow came in this week with an inventory reduction list. Every distributor in the state is discounting wine, trying to get rid of wine they didn't sell during the big season. Usually it's some shit that they overbought, and even after a thousand case stacks in a thousand A&P s, they still have too much of it . Sometimes it's good wine that I buy and I'm a little miffed to see it on sale when I just bought some last month. So mostly I avoid this type of thing, but I took a look.
It was titled "cooking wine" and was a list of several 2000 and 2001 1er Cru white Burgundies, $12 a case. I couldn't resist, I bought six cases, and I bought them even after they assured me that they hadn't completely lost their minds, the wines were in fact shot. Such is the nature of my hopeless romanticism, I figured how shot could they be?
The Michel Colin-Deleger & Fils Puligny-Montrachet La Truffiere 2001 was the first bottle I cracked. The fruit was there and so was the acidity. It was a little oxidized, and the wine sort of fell apart mid palate. I would have been disappointed at $50 or $60 , but at $1 it was hard to be too critical. Then there was the sheer joy of actually cooking with 1er Cru Montrachet, dumping it on shrimp and garlic, boiling it in a pan. So much fun.
The next wine was the Michel Colin-Deleger & Fils Chassagne-Montrachet Les Chenevottes, which was thoroughly shot. It tasted like old olive oil and looked like a urine sample from someone who is suffering from dehydration. To test just how shot, I gave a bottle to a few musicians I know, a bass player, a guitar player and a saxophone player. Even they, with their great and persistent thirst, were reluctant to drink it, they did, but they hesitated.
So I don't know what to do with stuff. I am seriously considering opening each bottle and dumping it into the bathtub. The next time someone asks me if I drink a lot of white Burgundy I can literally say I bathe in the stuff.
Next Michel-Colin-Deleger et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumes, which was pretty damn good, again missing a little penetration of flavor considering it's a 1er, but it tasted like something you might pay $30-$35 for.
So, two cases of drinking wine and one case of bath water for $36.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Champagne AOC Expansion

The French government is considering expanding the AOC region of Champagne to include forty new communes that have historically been excluded from the region. This is significant because in order for sparkling wine to bear the name of this most famous region, it must be produced from grapes grown within Champagne. As you might imagine, there are literally billions of dollars at stake.

Proponents of the expansion point out that instead of expanding the region, the government is really filling in gaps between villages already part of the Echelle de Cru. We are asked to imagine the poor french farmer, toiling in obscurity, growing his grapes outside the delimited zone. While it is true that many villages were not included in the classifications between 1919 and 1927 for reasons that have nothing to do with terroir, I find this argument a little disingenuous. Seldom does any government do anything for a handful of farmers.

So then why, and why now, and why so much? The discussion on expanding the Champagne region has been going on since the mid 1980's, but never in all that time has the pressure for more Champagne been greater and the chance for more profit as tempting. To understand some of the motivation behind the expansion, visit the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy web site.

LVMH, the multibillion dollar international luxury goods conglomerate, owns such brands as Moet, Krug and Veuve Cliquot. Read their quarterly reports and it becomes quite apparent that Champagne is less an artisanal agricultural product than another brand commodity like handbags, watches and Marc Jacobs socks. The 2007 third quarter report from LVMH boasts impressive growth in the wine and spirit sector of their business, 9% in the U.S., 15% in Europe and a whopping 22% in Asia. The big marque houses look to the East and wonder how on earth are they going to produce enough Champagne to get a billion Chinamen dancing on table tops at the new year?

Cognac or Champagne, it all begins in a vineyard, and when agricultural realities rub up against corporate models, problems arise. If you have a delimited region with harvest limits, the only solution for continued growth and expanding markets is material outsourcing. You can't blame these guys for thinking this way, it's their nature and their stock prices require these sorts of approaches. On the other hand, there is only so much of something that you can produce, and still call it a luxury item.

Last year the Champagne region produced 30 million cases, the vast majority by the likes of LVMH. Again, according to their own website, LVMH sold 5 million cases in 2006 and is experiencing double digit growth in emerging markets. Industrial protocols are the antithesis of luxury and the artisanal myth surrounding Champagne. It is hard to imagine applying corporate growth and production expectations to anything agricultural and winding up with anything but shite.

So to expand or not to expand? Well, maybe. The French government has appointed a committee (there is always a committee) of experts in fields such as geography, geology, history ,agronomy, and my favorite, phytosociology. The identity of these experts however, has been kept secret in an effort to prevent influence from interested parties. Unfortunately, this has only added to the credibility problem by removing the transparency needed to gain public support.

To make matters worse, according to noted authority Tom Stevenson, "Although any new land is supposed to conform to certain criteria, such as soil, subsoil and exposure, nothing is quantified and amazingly, no minimum requirements have been set." Stevenson points out that an exhaustive geological study, known as the Zonage project, has already been done in the Zone of production. In every 50m x 50m parcel, a hole was dug to ascertain the type and nature of the soil. It is this type of objective and transparent approach that would make the whole thing seem like something more than a corporate land grab. It is a very scientific and sound approach, which is probably why I hate it.

This is not to say I disagree with using the Zonage information as a starting point to find out where the geological delimitation of Champagne stands. However, we must remember that they are essentially evaluating art and culture and that a strictly scientific approach simply misses the point. Vineyards in Burgundy and the Mosel, were delineated by monks, who answered only to God. In the upper Duero in Portugal, geologists, who can tell us where a rock and soil stop and another starts, determined the region. In each case the wine itself validated those delineations over the centuries.

So, what about the grapes, what about the wine? In Burgundy, Grand Cru wine has proven itself to be exactly that. A region like Pouilly Fuisse which has been excluded from the Cote d'Or, as it is not on the hill, has none the less proven itself a region of great wine with producers like Ch. Fuisse and Colette Ferret. So if Champagne is to be expanded, who is looking at the fruit, where's the wine in all this and how does it taste? The wine is the thing, it's absence from the center of this debate speaks volumes.

Stop me if you have heard this one... an argonist, a geologist, a historian, a geographer, a photosociologist and a sommelier walk into an AOC.....

For instance, the village of Loivre is located very near currently established Champagne communes. A soil sample reveals that the vineyards are comprised of soil and rock consistent with the rest of the region, with proper drainage and aspect to the sun. Then the wine is tasted over several vintages, then and only then is the decision to expand the AOC to include Loivre in made. A multiplicity of criteria, with the wine at the center of the decision.

The grower-producers in Champagne release " Special Club" Champagnes that go through two rounds of blind tastings. Perhaps this same peer review process could be used to insure that new producers of grapes and wine are meeting the quality and typicity expectations of Champagne. Perhaps this consolidation of the region will provide not only more fruit for Negoociants, but more wine from as of yet unknown wine producers.

Perhaps. Right now, it just looks bad. A multinational corporate land grab, and an outsourcing of raw materials, the dilution of one of the great wine regions of the world. Unless the French Government uses objective, tangible criteria and applies them transparently, the appearence of naked greed will be hard to avoid.