Here at JJ Buckley, January brings with it thoughts of Bordeaux, as the Union des Grand Crus travels the country pouring the latest releases while we make plans for attending the en primeur tastings in France. And with Bordeaux on the brain, it’s not too hard to start dreaming of Paris, the city where we land before traveling south, and where I always make sure to get in an extra day to check out the latest and greatest culinary pit-stops.
Like almost every major city these days, Paris is undergoing another seismic shift in their dining scene. With strong influences from American cuisine (including the arrival of many expat chefs), the plates arriving on today’s Parisian tables highlight bold colors, fresh ingredients and light-handed cooking techniques. In short, they are quite different from the requirements of haute cuisine, which dominated French cooking for decades. Traditional French dining once meant maintaining a large staff and paying rent in pricey neighborhoods. All of the required overhead kept prices too high at a time when diners started tightening their wallets and eating out less. At the same time, the strong traditions surrounding French cuisine and service left little room for younger chefs to innovate in the kitchen and promote a relaxed environment in the dining room. Paris was ready for change and (thankfully) that change has arrived. (more…)
If you read enough catalogs from wine retailers and journalists, it’s likely you’ve seen articles about their visits to wineries as they explore wine regions across the globe.And while certainly an industry perk, these visits really are to the advantage of both the participant and the consumer. It’s important for the trade to get a better understanding of the wines they sell and it’s always good for the reader to enjoy a visit, even if it is only vicariously.
But it’s one thing to visit and taste. It’s altogether a different thing to take time off to actually make wine. And that’s what a few members of JJ Buckley’s wine staff are planning to do in the upcoming weeks. Not for the faint of heart, this means long days of physical labor, dragging hoses and picking at grapes. Early mornings, groggy and tired from hard work, combined with the after-effects of long nights spent tasting wine and unwinding with co-workers. Any romance about making wine disappears as bees and snakes lurk in picking bins in a cellar that reeks of smelly yeast and fermenting grapes.
But trust me – I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. (more…)
2011 Napa Vintage Preview with a Glance Back at California Futures
Post by Chuck Hayward | July 24th, 2012
California Cabernet Society’s Annual Barrel Tasting
The annual Bordeaux futures campaignattracts unparalleled attention, and there are many who feel the hoopla that surrounds it is undeserved.But it cannot be denied that en primeur focuses the attention of critics and merchants across the globe on the qualities of the vintage at hand. Interestingly, the lack of a futures program for California wines means they collectively escape the spotlight that Bordeaux wines enjoy (or rather endure, in the case of the 2011s). Instead, information about the latest vintage of California wines tends to come out bit by bit from those few critics who actually have access to winemakers and their cellars. However, it wasn’t always that way…
As the market for California cabernet became more serious in the mid-1980s, many wineries began to emulate the way Bordeaux presented new vintages to the press and the market. Recognizing that consumers were becoming increasingly familiar with the en primeur system for Bordeaux, and at the same time taking advantage of Robert Parker’s increasing influence in the California cabernet segment of the wine industry, MacArthur Beverages, a Washington D.C. retailer, held the first ever California futures tasting for their clients in 1985. Over the next few years, Parker attended the event as well and published his assessments of the unfinished wines while also offering practical advice to consumers interested in purchasing domestic wine futures. (more…)
JJ Buckley’s Andrew Frieden spending some QT with Feytit Clinet
One of the advantages of spending a full week in Bordeaux at en primeur is the luxury one has to get to know a wine. Any other time of year, that would come through a winery visit, hanging out with the owner or winemaker, kicking the dirt, tasting through some barrel samples or older vintages. But, that is hard to do at en primeur. There, I relish the opportunity to taste a wine more than once. It really helps to taste a wine twice, three times, though four times is probably ideal. Call it statistics. You get a real sense of what the wine is all about after you have sampled it a few times.
So it was with Feytit Clinet, as we had a chance to taste the 2011 for the first time with Jeffrey Davies who is consulting with the estate, then once again at the Rive Droite tasting, where we had more quiet time to spend with the wine. It was then that we started to notice intriguing nuances in the wine that we hadn’t quite picked up on the first time. We tried it once more, perhaps too quickly at a negociant, but it wasn’t enough time to really pin down what it was that made the Feytit Clinet stand out. Then I found out we would have one more opportunity to taste it at the winery….where I hoped we could find a telltale sign that would best explain the wine’s mystique. (more…)
Wherever one finds vineyards and wineries, good dining usually follows. And
Tower of power! DRC display at Ma Cuisine
when it comes to Burgundy, the local cuisine expresses itself in a very direct and focused manner. This is not a region of haute cuisine for the wealthy, the gastronomes, or foodspotters who populate cities and other foodie destinations. Rather, Burgundy’s cuisine perfectly reflects the region’s wine culture. Honest and straightforward without embellishments, the food is much like the vignerons who have worked the land for so long.
Dining out in Burgundy makes you realize how much of its cuisine populates America’s tables. Here, the menus often feature escargots presented in their shells or puff pastries. Your meal might start off with some jambon persille, a country-style pate featuring chunky ham joined in aspic with spices and parsley. And it will be hard to escape the classic boeuf bourguignon, chunks of fork-tender beef in a deeply flavored, richly colored gravy, a dish almost too intense and powerful to pair with the region’s subtle pinots. You’ll also see the trademark gougeres, warm cheese puffs that are so prevalent, and addictive, at receptions or before a meal. The highlight of the cheese cart is epoisse. Pungent and runny, it commands your attention and pairs well with an after dinner marc de bourgogne. (more…)
After seven consecutive days of tasting the 2011 Bordeaux reds from morning to night, nothing was more soothing on my palate than a trip south to Sauternes to taste the vintage’s deliciously sweet (and tannin-free!) whites. Amidst a week of rumblings regarding the patchiness of 2011 reds compared to ’09 and ’10, I found the persistent voice of an extraordinary vintage in Sauternes after visiting eight of the top chateaux.
To talk vintages in Sauternes is to talk botrytis, and in 2011, this noble rot spread quickly and uniformly, allowing growers to start picking early (at peak ripeness), to pick quickly, and to finish early. The result is evident in the purity of expression and freshness in the top examples that we tasted. (more…)
As we packed our three cars and made our annual migration from the Left Bank over to the Right for our last days in Bordeaux, we put together the mosaic of the 2011 Bordeaux vintage. Although weather patterns can tell part of the story, there is no substitution for one-on-one conversations with vignerons, and, of course, tasting the actual wines. It was at a negociant tasting where Denis Durantou’s wines singlehandedly confirmed our suspicions that Pomerol may be appellation of the vintage. So directly afterwards, we did what any savvy Bordeaux buyer would do – we squished three into the back seat and made the long trek across the Gironde and Dordogne rivers into Pomerol.
Aside from a quick trip to Chateau Le Gay in 2010 and one ill-advised “back roads” (long story) journey to Cheval Blanc last year, I had actually never been to the village of Pomerol - and I almost missed it once again. The only business of note in the tiny town was a small office of La Poste, and what I can only describe as an open-air junk shop with a man in overalls tinkering away. The rest of the landscape was all low slung buildings and a gentle sea of vines. (more…)
The sweet wines of Sauternes are undoubtedly wonderful, but they’ve always remained something of a mystery to me. I certainly knew the basics about botrytis (aka “noble rot”), the grape varieties, (primarily Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with a bit of Muscadelle at some properties) and of course their great aging potential. They’d always appealed to me, primarily due to the incredible juxtaposition of sweetness and acidity achieved in the greatest Sauternes. But aside from a lone visit to Yquem two years ago, I’d never spent any time in the region or met any of the producers.
It was thus on the last day of our week at en primeurs, when three of my JJ Buckley colleagues and I found ourselves with an entire day to spend in Sauternes and Barsac. We visited eight of the top producers: Doisy Daene, Climens, Yquem, Suduiraut, de Fargues, Rieussec, Coutet and Guiraud. At each stop, we received more insight into soil types, harvest techniques, production methods, and the wines’ versatility. We were treated to two meals paired with Sauternes, each highlighting the ways in which these wines can be enjoyed with any course, from starters to dessert, and – surprisingly – everything in between. (more…)
For the past decade, I’ve been a huge fan of the Count’s wines, especially Chateau d’Aiguilhe. The success of d’Aiguilhe is credited with putting Cotes de Castillon on the map, and indeed the wine drinks like its St. Emilion neighbors. Its beautiful, distinctive nose alone would give it away in any blind tasting lineup and it always displays inky black fruit, followed by a lifted mineral quality towards the finish. A big wine for the buck, it was my go-to bottle when I was a struggling artist on a limited budget.
I first met Count Stephan von Neipperg roughly four years ago, at a tasting in New York. Then, I was just a fan of Bordeaux, and I found myself confronted with a perilous lack of spittoons. As I tried to find one, I noticed a friendly gentleman with a moustache, a bright orange sweater tied over his shoulders, holding an instantly recognizable bottle. I blurted something that, by that point in the evening, bore only distant linguistic similarity to “d’Aiguilhe?!” Count Stephan replied animatedly, “So, you know d’Aiguilhe?” The bottle turned out to be his similarly labeled Canon La Gaffeliere, and served as a wonderful introduction to Neipperg’s other wines. We shared a lively conversation, and despite my state, he extended an invitation to tour d’Aiguilhe. (more…)
Bordeaux is not Napa. Most wineries are closed to tourists and the same standard applies to wine professionals, even during the busy en primeur week. Appointments are mandatory, and difficult to secure at most of the top wineries. And while a handful of chateaux like Prieure-Lichine allow visitors to rock up unannounced, Bordeaux, like much of France, remains a rather formal place.
So it was a bit disconcerting when our Bordeaux buyer impulsively decided to pull into the parking lot of Chateau Lafleur. Perhaps he was still riding the high following our incredible visit to Petrus (more on that in another post). But this is Bordeaux – you just don’t do this! (Especially at Lafleur….) Yet lo and behold, we quickly found ourselves in a small and intimate cellar, sampling some of the best wines of the vintage with Jacques Guinaudeau, the personable owner who was most generous with his time. (more…)