Calgary Wine Life: A Field Guide to the Wines of Albert Bichot

10 02 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Peter has kicked off the 2019 blogging campaign in style, with an intriguing comparison of wine preservation methods that will make a significant contribution to the annals of Pop & Pour science. And me? Well, I’m back doing one of the things I do most frequently on this blog: covering a tasting. This one was a casual drop-in scenario, bypassing the formal sit-down presentation, and on this date that was just fine by me. The frigid weather has left me irascible and more than a little crabby. Fortunately, we’ve got a prescription for those blues… and its not more cowbell. It is glorious, glorious Burgundy.

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I’ve mentioned my love affair with Burgundy (and Pinot Noir more generally) enough times on PnP, so I won’t belabour the point here. I had not tried any wines from Albert Bichot before, but I was promptly faced with 15 (!) of them, in a carefully curated sequence of whites and reds, from Chablis to Grand Cru, complete with a bonus round detour into Beaujolais Cru territory. Fifteen! I was titillated and daunted in approximately equal measure. How the hell is a guy supposed to keep these all straight, what with the small pours, limited analysis time, and numerous distractions around the table? I like to meditate on a half-bottle or more, savouring and seeing how the wine develops over time, as one’s palate habituates to the initial impressions. This is another kettle of fish entirely, with a pace more like Whac-A-Mole than a game of chess, although I do have my tricks, particularly a powerful secret weapon: “Beginner’s mind”. This is an application of mindfulness, where one deliberately pays attention to the present moment, concentrating the attention into a laser beam focused only on the wine in the glass, and then seeing what associations are dredged up. With beginner’s mind, you explicitly adopt a form of make-believe in which you imagine that the liquid in the glass is foreign, entirely novel, never before encountered, and see what this clean slate provides. Might sound hokey, but give it a try during a tasting. It’s like a palate cleanser for the brain. All this aside, I will not take much credit for the fact that I WAS ultimately able to keep all these wines distinct in my mind’s eye. This was more testament to the artistry of the 6th generation producer Domaines Albert Bichot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 14

14 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

After last night’s quirky yet mightily delicious Rioja, I’ve got the distinct feeling that this weekend run of three wines is going to deliver fireworks. Lo and behold, today’s reveal is a Chablis from one of the best known, most emblematic producers in the region. Burgundy remains my favourite wine region despite many strong contenders. And Chablis, that northern Burgundian outpost of stark minerality and abject crystalline purity, is a particularly singular wine region unto itself. Plagued by viticultural hazards, including regular springtime frosts and the odd unpredictable hailstorm, grape growing is no easy task in this hinterland. I continue to marvel at exactly how these hard-working vintners can distill these harsh conditions into such sheer, stony, precise, pixelated and elegant wines. They are known for a distinctive “gunflint” note, described as “goût de pierre à fusil“, or “steely” if you prefer something rather less martial. ‘Minerality” remains hard to definitively pin down as a construct. We have to date identified no specific “mineral” receptors in the human gustatory system, and yet one cannot reasonably deny the existence of such aromas in certain wines. I’ve even heard the argument that Chablis is where Chardonnay shines most brightly, its true spiritual home. The notion that this grape’s genuine essence could be more ethereal mineral than gaudy fruit intrigues me to no end, subjective viewpoint though it may be.

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William Fevre began with the 1959 harvest, although William’s father Maurice was growing grapes back in the 1930s, mainly in Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards. Today William Fevre owns the largest number of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the region, populated mostly by old, low-yielding vines. The estate was purchased by the Henriot family of Champagne in 1998. Although such a takeover can sometimes be a harbinger of decreased quality, the Henriots instead implemented a new philosophy geared towards better preservation of the nuances of Chablis terroir: use of new oak was abolished in favour of old barrels with an average age of 6 years. Grapes are grown organically, although the estate isn’t particularly fussy about getting official certification. William Fevre seeks to preserve even the most muted variations across individual sites. This focus is coupled with an emphasis on “instant appeal” in the wines, one of those ideological melds of tradition and avant-garde technology that works, and works well.

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The 2015 vintage in Chablis was characterized by a late onset of winter, with some frost and rain until the end of May followed by hot, dry weather at the start of June until the end of August. This is pretty optimal for the Petit Chablis and (non-Cru) Chablis vineyards, lesser sites where grapes can struggle to reach an appropriate degree of ripeness. Indeed, the fine folks at Bricks chose well here. According to William Fevre cellarmaster Didier Seguier, “It’s a perfect vintage for the lower appellations, Petit Chablis and Chablis… These can be difficult in cool, late years, but in ’15 they have a good level of ripeness and freshness.” The entry level Chablis AOC profiled here is harvested manually, with the grapes receiving a brief, gentle pneumatic press followed by gravity settling of the juice. Some fine lees is retained, and the wine does undergo malolactic fermentation (many basic Chablis do not, although I believe the practice has become more common in the region of late). Maturation occurs only in stainless steel.

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Cork Rating: 3.0/10 (Points for total and utter clarity as to region and vintage. Alas, there is little else to score here.)

This all sounds textbook. Frankly, that’s exactly what I am expecting here, in the very best way. I am not disappointed. The fruits include tart Granny Smith apple and the most stern and austere of the green pears, followed by some suggestions of under-ripe hard nectarine, lemon and watermelon rinds (you know, that watery white stuff), a few ghosts of pineapple and starfruit. White berries do occur in nature (e.g. the snowberry) but they are largely unpalatable. If one were indeed edible, I feel I would detect such a note in this taut, precise little dynamo. A pleasing minerality of matchlock musket, chalkboards, and Epsom salts begins to billow from the glass, and I welcome more associations of green banana peel, salted cultured butter, margarita glass rim, and Siberian peashrub/caragana flowers (let’s go with “acacia” for those of you following along on a tasting wheel). The fresh acid is far from meek, malo notwithstanding, and the finish recalls an abrupt sharp slap followed by a few conciliatory caresses. This aggression will not stand, man. Truth be told, this is far too classy to merit more than a few allusions to anything truly bellicose.

89+ points





Joseph Drouhin Hospices de Belleville Beaujolais Duet

23 11 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Great region, great wines, great story.

A few posts ago I was discussing the intractable dilemma of trying to locate value Burgundy, that nearly mythical beast of the wine world, and I’ve since realized that I neglected to mention the obvious solution to the problem:  just look for Cru Beaujolais.  The Beaujolais region is technically part of Burgundy, located just south of Macon and north of Lyon, and while it can produce its share of forgettable wines, the main difference between Beaujolais and the other zones of Burgundy is that its top wines are shockingly wallet-accessible.  In fact, Cru Beaujolais, wines from one of the ten top quality Cru subregions in the area, might be some of the greatest wine bargains on Earth, pinnacle expressions of a classic grape at absurdly reasonable prices.  Case in point:  the two bottles to be discussed below, which each clock in at $27-$30 retail and which combine old-vine vineyards in top locales, one of Burgundy’s best producers and a hell of a good back story, all for the price of a basic forgettable Bourgogne Rouge.

Unlike the rest of red Burgundy (which is crafted from Pinot Noir), red Beaujolais is made from Gamay, the thin-skinned and light-bodied red grape well known to Canadian wineries whose spiritual heartland lies in this region’s ten Crus.  True story:  Gamay used to be grown all across Burgundy until 1395, when the (likely self-titled) Duke Philip the Bold ordered the “very bad and disloyal plant” uprooted in favour of the more aristocratic and noble-approved Pinot Noir.  His decree was not all that impressively enforced way down in the south of Burgundy, so pockets of Gamay remained in Beaujolais, quietly, until the danger of extermination had passed and the region was officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin.  While it’s true that Gamay may never quite reach the lofty heights of nuance and complexity that Pinot can, it can offer a pretty reasonable facsimile at an absolute fraction of the price. Read the rest of this entry »





Value Burgundy Battle: The NEW Cellar Direct

20 10 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Cellar Direct Does Burgundy.

Conscientious readers may remember this post from over a year ago where I introduced Cellar Direct, an Alberta-based online national wine club featuring subscription-based access to a specially-curated selection of non-interventionist natural wines.  Thirteen and a half months later, Cellar Direct is still doing its thing, but under a revamped and significantly more flexible business model.  Now, instead of paying a fixed amount per month for semi-recurring shipments of pre-selected wines, you simply keep an eye out for regular wine offers (generally to be unveiled weekly on Saturdays) and then place an online order for as few or as many bottles as you want, which are shipped to you shortly afterward in temperature-controlled trucks to keep your wines in cellar-like comfort during transport.  This simpler, less demanding offer-based approach is a boon to buyers in the tighter economic times in which we currently find ourselves in this province, and Cellar Direct’s streamlined e-commerce interface allows them to keep prices reasonable even while offering highly researched, quality-focused wines from traditional producers that truly pop and that you won’t see at your neighbourhood wine store.  If any of that piques your interest, you can sign up for the club’s offer newsletters and find out more info at cellardirect.ca.

Cellar Direct’s first online offering under its new and improved structure was the excellent  Senorio de P. Pecina Rioja Crianza that I have already gleefully tried.  The next offer is due out this Saturday and tackles what is often considered (including by me) to be the biggest oxymoron in the world of wine:  value Burgundy.  Wines from Burgundy can make the toughest weep and turn the deepest skeptics into lifelong followers of the vine; unfortunately, they can also empty your wallet with shocking efficiency and leave you feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.  It can be exceedingly difficult, especially at lower price points (which for Burgundy can mean anything under $50ish), to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle, and finding anything $30 or less that properly showcases the region can be a massive challenge, especially when you’re not sure where to look.  Cellar Direct’s upcoming offer this week, as well as a further offer coming in mid-November, try to be your map and compass to this frustrating yet enchanting region of legend.  Let’s see how they do, starting with a bottle due to hit your inbox in a few days… Read the rest of this entry »





Burgundy: White Tasting, Part IV

26 04 2012

OK, time to bring this long and winding road of a tasting review to a close.  I had set this up so that we’d end on a high note with the most prestigious bottles in the tasting, the illustrious Grand Crus, but for reasons outside their control, the drinking experience ended up being somewhat anticlimactic.  And no, it wasn’t because we were 10 bottles in by this point.  That’s what made the next morning anticlimactic.

FOURTH FLIGHT

A.k.a. over $300 worth of wine that really shouldn't be open yet.

Grand Cru vineyards are the rarest, best-positioned, most historic, highest-quality growing areas in all of Burgundy…or at least their classification is meant to reflect as much.  As you might expect, Grand Crus come in very limited numbers (only 32 in the Cote d’Or, according to my friend the Internet) and they produce minute quantities of wine each year with prices to match their prestige and scarcity.  I didn’t have the overflowing bank account to go too crazy and delve into the elite of white Burgundian GCs — the series of adjoining Grand Crus bearing the “Montrachet” name, including Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, etc. are almost certainly the creme de la creme of white Burgundy, but they’re also a hilarious pipe dream in my current circumstances — so instead I turned my focus to two wines from the well-regarded but much cheaper Grand Cru of Corton-Charlemagne.  Unfortunately, both bottles were from relatively recent vintages, and we quickly discovered that, with great white Burgundy, time is your ally. Read the rest of this entry »





Burgundy: White Tasting, Part II

19 04 2012

If you missed the inaugural entry about my dozen-bottle, Bourgogne-Blanc-to-Grand Cru, no-holds-barred white Burgundy tasting, check out my write up of four 2009 Bourgogne Blancs of varying levels of quality and corked-ness here.  Tonight we’re jumping right into Flight #2.

SECOND FLIGHT

Slightly out of order: from left to right, Wines 1, 3, 2.

From the basic Bourgognes, we move up one quality level and correspondingly narrow our regional focus with three village-level wines, so called because the village closest to the vineyards where each wine’s grapes were grown is the prominent identifying feature of the classification.  Even though Burgundy is a relatively small wine region (the Cote d’Or, the key quality area in the heart of the region, is only around 40 km long and in most spots less than 2 km wide), each of the main wine villages rests on slightly different soils and lies on slightly different aspects, which result in wines with clearly identifiable local identities.  I’ve read about the flavour differences among the various villages, but this was my first chance to experience them myself.  The plan was to open a bottle each from the three most well-known white wine villages in Burgundy:  Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet.  However, after checking in with at least half a dozen prominent Calgary wine stores and being unable to locate a village-level Chassagne anywhere, I had to sub it out for Plan B:  a village wine from the nearby town of Saint-Aubin, which certainly doesn’t have the reputation of its more illustrious neighbour but which has been known to produce solid whites at (relative) value prices.  Would it stand up with the best Chardonnay spots in Burgundy?  Um, not so much. Read the rest of this entry »





Burgundy: White Tasting, Part I

12 04 2012

It begins: the first 4 of a dozen hopefully-representative white Burgundies.

I acknowledge that it’s definitely been awhile.  I spent my evenings last week cleaning out my basement, then took the Easter weekend off, then faced a total loss of home Internet for a few days, all of which added up to a blog-less streak of epic proportions…sorry about that.  To make it up to you, instead of posting a lonely wine review tonight, I’m diving back into action with the first instalment of a multi-part writeup showcasing the results of the long-planned white Burgundy tasting that I’ve had in the works since January and that fulfills a 2012 New Year’s Resolution of mine.  More on the planning behind the tasting and the rationale for the various wines selected here.

To summarize for those of you who don’t feel like clicking on the link above, the goal of the tasting was to open bottles from the four main Burgundy quality classifications (Bourgogne Blanc, village level, Premier Cru, Grand Cru), spanning  some of the key sub-regions for Burgundian whites (Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Corton-Charlemagne), to see how the wines from each of the sub-areas differed from those from others and how the wines from the same sub-areas varied from producer to producer and between quality levels.  I will vouch from experience that delving to the bottom of these analytical quandaries required a lot of drinking.  Such is life.

Cork Ratings for wines 1-3: 2.5/10, 6.5/10, 5/10. Meh.

There were 12 bottles open for the tasting and an esteemed panel of four judges with glasses at the ready; we tried the wines in four flights grouped by quality classification, going in ascending order from the base Bourgogne Blancs to the Grand Crus.  My actual tasting notes from the first flight are below, and the write-ups of the other three flights will be coming soon to an Internet near you.  At the end of the day, while the tasting didn’t instantly reveal the inner mysteries of Burgundy to me, it was a useful (and highly entertaining) crash course on a region that I haven’t spent nearly enough time getting to know. Read the rest of this entry »








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