Thursday, November 30, 2006

Burgundy Bites Back (Day Five)

The last day dawned bright, hazy sunlight fighting back the growing shadows in our heads as we hit the road to Meursault. Re-enforcements had arrived from the UK the night before and the jeunes hommes finally got to swap the middle-aged mini van for a turbo-charged Alfa saloon. 2 appointments left, the taciturn but excessively talented Francois Jobard et Fils and thence to the legendary Comte de Vogue up in Chambolle. After that, nothing less than a flat out blast up to Chablis for an afternoon of grand cru chez Fevre and then down south for some hard earnt R&R. Legumes, lager and Lyonnaise hospitality, we could almost taste it.

Jobard rocked as ever, the most austere, massively powerful but contemplative wines you could hope to imagine. Monsieur, generous to a fault, cracked out a couple of divine 83 Genevrieres from the family vault that were just too fine to spit – 8am and it’s Circus Circus all over again.

Outside and it’s time to say farewell to LeBoo (see below), who was off in his newly rented noddy car to blow the cobwebs out of a few more cellars up in Gevrey. The man has surely shaken Burgundy to its’ very foundations with his boundless energy and passion for both wine and entrails. Only one more day and Veal calves can sleep safer in their barns. By farewell the Alfa showers his little Fiat Panda with some nuggets of expensive dirt as Taj Mahal kicks out of our stereo singing ‘She caught the Katy.’ How we laughed….

On the road again, Steve at the wheel with all the dials spun around to the PM and the road stretched out in front of us like a long black snake curling through verdant hills. The music’s taken a turn for the darker and Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley take turns in taunting us with miles of barbed wire and houses made out of human skulls. Alex, the buyer, has reached some sort of zen, maybe delirium as he desperately tries to conserve enough juice to support his beloved All Blacks tomorrow night. Then we’re in Chablis and the unsuspecting Juice is about to call foul.

We lunch at a seedy roadside revue with the notably ironic sobriquet ‘le Vrais Chablisienne’. The Maitre is surly, we are part fried and mildy aggressive when he pretends not to understand our French. We opt for safety in Steak, Frites and Salad…oh how wrong we were.

I’d love to relate how fantastic the wines were at William Fevre, I would ruminate on their fleshy, full fruited appeal and the crystalline minerality imparted in each and every one that can only come from those inimitable chalky hillsides. Unfortunately I can’t as while the team were enjoying THE vrais Chablisienne hospitality, TJ was feverishly wandering the streets in search of facilities to relieve the act of gastronomic terrorism wraught upon him at lunch by the fiend behind the stove. White knuckled he lurched back to the scene of the crime, palpitations growing with every step. A wry smile from the maitre on arrival, a knowing nod maybe….the swine. Red-eyed and beaten, Juice slunk out 20 minutes later to re-join the team and get the hell out of town. After all, a weekend off the clock in Lyon was calling. Things could only get better. Right?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Very Tasty Geyser

In the week the greatest football club in E13 went Icelandic, it seemed appropriate that The Juice was debating how to pronounce the word geyser. TJ is sure they are ‘geezers’ but Paul Draper reckons otherwise. And he should know. Draper has been in charge at
California’s stellar Ridge winery since Nixon was in the White House and is famous for his Geyserville Zinfandel. Bowing to his superior knowledge, TJ conceded they were ‘guysers’ and comforted himself with the thought he was sitting pretty with a tidy line-up of wines to check out.

Zinfandel is that most American of grapes, as much a part of the landscape as giant parking lots and drive-thru donut joints, and Paul Draper makes the best there is. The Geyserville is a cracker – however you say it. Best enjoyed in its youth, it is a master of the old iron-fist-in-velvet-glove trick with a perfume to remind you of Heston Blumenthal’s kirsch aromatiser (what? Ed.) With a hefty dose of ancient vine Carignan in the blend too, there is also a faint whisper of the Roussillon in there. Restraint and concentration in the same wine. Who woulda thought it?

The Lytton Springs is a bigger beast and worth some time in the cellar too. At 10 years old it was still playing the field, the fruit refusing to fade gracefully. It had a moody, brooding power and the suggestion of something angry about it. You half expected the sweet cherries in the background to burst through the door like Jack Nicholson in The Shining: “Heeeeere’s Lytton!”

After the Zins it was time to take the bus to Cabernetville. Ridge’s Monte Bello vineyard is an undisputed First Growth of California. Winner of the recent Paris 1976 Revisited tasting, it is the sort of wine that just gets better and better with time. At four years old the 2002 was a case of still waters running deep but the 1992 was jumping. Fabulous colour with only a hint of amber – the foot was on the pedal but the lights hadn’t changed – and the nose? Oh, the nose: plum sauce, herbs, soy, and freshly sawn pine. This really was something. Running through it all was an uber-cool freshness not unlike the weird sensation TJ gets from Mrs Juice’s mint and tea tree oil conditioner. Wrapped up with some strict tannins, this was a beauty with time on its side.

And with all the glasses empty, off The Juice went humming Sinatra and blowing Icelandic bubbles into the night.

That Paul Draper, he’s some geyser.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Day Four in the Bibendum House

The crucial moment came early on Thursday morning when Willie sneaked a 2nd coffee when no one was looking. Fireworks I tell you! We rolled into JM Boillot and some wary Goedhuis looks foretold the fun to come. After some yummy Pommards and Volnays, Leboo was in full singing voice again and Robin, the ‘American Woman’ gave him a swift:

“It’s okay – you can stay over there!”
“No I don’t need an ASBO”, came the reply, “you’re gonna have to slap a torrefaction order on me!” As we all wondered exactly what that was (we still don’t really know by the way!), we moved onto the Boillot whites which impressed and amused all the way through. Again the Bourgogne Blanc was looking great, as was the Montagny. The Puligny Villages elicited: “This is absolutely a Ben Collins wine”, while the 1er crus Referts and Combettes were as groovy as Beaune on a Thursday night (trust me – we saw it – mayhem…or something like that!)

The journey from there was signposted by some extreme last minute turn-offs which left the Goedhuis car behind giving up prayers in the wind. But we made it, slightly breathless, and were rewarded with a stellar white wine line-up at Marc Colin, the king of St. Aubin…no wait…the king of Chassagne. They make delicious wines from both appellations, with complexity, structure and wonderful acidity that keeps the rich fruit and body well in check. And we finished with le Montrachet for which the Ben Collins note was: “Rare as rocking horse sh*t. Fat. Yum.”

Now what can you say about our next stop at Domaine Leflaive? Not much really!! Anne-Claude was in sparkling form, as were her wines which were class in a glass and so much more forward and easy to taste than the ‘04s where at the same time last year. The Swiss had joined us by now, laptops and all, and hush descended while barrels were quite literally rolled out to support their techno-literary weaponry.

We all continued to write on paper.

Meanwhile the Chevalier gave Willie cramp in “his left rib” – it was that good. Lunch at L’Auberge du Vieux Vigneron turned out to be astonishingly good, with enough Cote de Boeuf to feed a whole picking crew. Great slabs of meat thrown onto the open fire in the middle of the restaurant – and salads ordered to assuage any carnivoral guilt (though in reality they didn’t even get close). We waddled to the car and drove back to Beaune high on protein.

I would like to say that we had calmed down by the time we reached Tollot Beaut but that wouldn’t really be true. We tucked into delicate, perfumed, minerally reds from Chorey and Savigny-les-Beaune and Aloxe. Followed up by some delicious Bourgogne Blanc and Corton Charlemagne.

Back into the lift and up into the light (yes curiously many of these old Burgundy cellars have lifts…though it makes sense I suppose if you think about it).
“And now we’re in the world’s fastest lift”, crowed Leboo. “Go on!” The lift shaft wall inched by slower than the quarterly sales meeting.
“Nous allons arriver demain soir a huit heures!” Coffee no. 3 was now wreaking its own special kind of havoc. In the corner Johnny G groaned and in hushed tones assured the cellar master that “…fortunately Willie only comes to Burgundy every eight years.”

Back into the car, we waved goodbye to the clearly relieved Goedhuis crew. Onto the road and on with French radio – let’s just sing ‘American Woman’ anyway shall we? At this point, with my teeth fairly jangling around my mouth and my purple a shade of tongue, I took a dive in the 9th round and returned to the hotel to quite literally attack the hotel computer again…poor thing.

The boys continued onto the Merry Moreys – Bernard and Coffinet. By all accounts the Morey-Coffinets won hands down and we can’t wait to get our hands on those Chassagnes and Pulignys. One more big dinner at La Regalade and we were able to send our stomachs on sabbatical…decaf anyone?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Day 3 in Burgundy

TJ was now firmly into the routine of getting up early to scribble, feeling a bit dodgy, and repeatedly crashing the poor hotel computer with a wonky USB drive. Fortunately breakfast was a real fortifier. Juice to wake your mouth up, coffee to wake your brain up, baguette to wake your stomach up, and muesli to wake your…er…digestion up.

Our 8.30 was at Denis Mortet and we joined up with the Goedhuis boys and girl to continue our tasting tour. There was a palpable air of sadness in the cellars as we tasted without the legendary Denis, who passed away earlier in the year. The wines were a treat with the Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc screaming for attention. At the top end, the grand cru Chambertin was outstanding, the perfect experience punctuated only by Ben taking a call to arrange the weekend tee-off times. Willie’s hysterics soon put paid to that though…you can’t even give these boys a sniff of a joke and hope to get away with it.

On to see the gentleman, Etienne Grivot, where 1st order of the visit was sorting out dinner plans.
“And under what name would you like to book the restaurant?”
“Monsieur Willie Lebus” (pronounced Leboo). And thus a Brazilian-footballer-style one word name was born…Leboo had arrived! The wines were of seamless purity and flavour. Each vineyard perfectly expressed its terroir under the watchful care of this Burgundy Master. Of the Echezaux…”C’est comme une caresse…” And it was.

Meo-Camuzet will always stick in the mind for having the coldest cellars, some great but chilly wine, and some lively Bibendum-Goedhuis cut and thrust.
“You want someone to come and work for you Goedhuis?”
“Thanks Willie, are you sending the Kiwi carpenter?”
“No I was thinking more of the four-eyed monster.” Well don’t worry dear reader; I’m still here, glasses polished and ready for action.

The next destination had all the old boys salivating like mad. Ghislaine Barthod’s hero’s welcome for Leboo – “C’est un honeur” with much bowing and hugging, had our man scuttling bright-faced behind a barrel, with just a suspicion of a ghost in the trousers! For the Bourgogne Rouge and Chambolle Village, dix points! This lady is the undisputed queen of Chambolle and utterly charming to boot. As we marvelled at the quality of the 1er crus, strains of ‘American Woman’ rang out across the cellar.
“You’re scaring me Willie” Goedhuis’ female member was getting a true baptism of fire and started edging back towards the barrels. “American woman, listen what I say…”

Off into a vrai shed and there’s the mercurial wine genius, Emmanuel Rouget, larger than life, with his raft of blue chip appellations bursting from our glasses to pop a few synapses in the brain. As we said goodbye to Emannuel, he loped off to try to pull our friend Claude Kolm out of the ditch he had reversed his car into. Ahh….the glamorous life of the cult winemaker.

Final stop of another long day was at Domaine Chauvenet, where the ever genial Christophe Drag (pictured above) welcomed us with empty glasses and a full breadbasket – what a man! Perhaps it was the wine, but it seemed like the finest walnut bread any of us had ever eaten. And his Nuits St. George Villages and 1er crus were nothing short of sensational as well, with creamy black fruit, richness and balance. And as we left we were relieved that Christophe agreed to attend our En Primeur tasting on January 9th. Of course we had to promise him an ‘exciting’ night out afterwards in London…you’ll come along too won’t you?!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bibendum in Burgundy - Episode II

Day 2

Into the car after the 1st night’s sleep at Hotel La Closerie and off we set. “I think the boot might still be open; Ben, are we going for a bit of extra down force there?” With all doors finally closed the car was a bit less draughty and we hit the road with more calls of “drive on Binks!” emanating from the back seat.

First stop was Vincent Girardin, a modern and extremely efficient operation in Meursault. Home of good value whites in a very definite house style – we can’t wait to take delivery of the St. Aubin en Remilly white which is a top-value crowd-pleaser.

Visits to Fourrier and Drouhin Larose under the belt, we were armed with more clues as to the quality of the vintage. The village level Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee and Nuits St. George wines were really starting to stand out, and the red Bourgognes were a delight too. By now our teeth were starting to take on a funny colour and espresso stops were becoming ever more vital. But all was about to take another very exciting turn as we headed towards Nuits St. George station. In a whirlwind of noise and colour, the 12.34 pulled into the station and suddenly Willie Lebus was upon us. Our amp went to 11 as the air in the car turned blue and exuberant. We arrived for lunch at Matrot where we hooked up with the delightful Graham Gardner, negociant to the stars. With his own fair hands he had prepared a delightful and simple lunch in the salle de vendangeurs (where the pickers feast during harvest) that consisted of jambon persille, rustic pate and gooey epoisses which slowly oozed its way across the plate to meet you. With their colourful clothes and bawdy stories, Willie and Graham quickly established themselves as the only 2 queens in the village – thank goodness we were amongst friends!

Then a tasting of the 2005s with Thierry Matrot, resplendent in a pair of new scaffolding-style spectacles, and a sensationally grubby yellow fleece that looked for all in the world as if it had come from the Bibendum Marketing Department! The wines were incredibly distinct with racing acidity and great intensity of fruit. Not an ounce of new oak in those ones and it really showed with cracking wine again at Meursault Villages level, all the way up to the opulent 1er cru Charmes. From there onto Domaine Robert Arnoux and the impeccable hospitality and smile of the big chief, Pascal “Mr Smooth” Lachaux. After grabbing a sneaky look at where some of the wrapped up pallets were heading, we were ushered into some extremely smart caves. First up were his rare negociant wines which were superb and limited to a maximum of 75 cases of each appellation. Understatement of the year award was snapped up by Graham who announced that the Grands Echezaux “might not be cheap…”!

Then into the Domaine Robert Arnoux wines where superlatives rolled off the tongue with alarming regularity. The Borgogne Rouge will be fantastic value, as will the village wines from Nuits, Vosne and Chambolle. The Vosne Suchots elicited a “that’s proper wine*” from Monsieur Collins and the Echezaux and Romanee St. Vivant were off the scale.

We finished the day off with one of our absolute favourite producers, Nicky Potel, who is a scholar and a gentleman. Every year the wines get better and better but the prices stay well this side of the troposphere. Look out for great quality and value reds and whites. With 105 wines done and dusted for the day delirium was starting to set and poor Graham, whose bags disappeared on the flight over, was by now firmly the rabbit in the headlights:
“What an honour it is to work with a man with pink socks! You’d better get on to La Chemiserie in town and tell them they have ‘un client important’ coming in.” Graham’s a great bloke though, and even after being dismissed as the Weakest Link, he still managed to grin and promise us good allocations.

Dinner at cult Beaune restaurant, Ma Cuisine (above), was fabulous and came to a competitive conclusion with the Bibendum crew and the Goedhuis table next door swapping glasses for some blind tasting challenges. You’ll be pleased to hear that we won... or so we thought anyway.

*anyone who knows him will appreciate that this is high praise indeed from BJC

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bibendum in Burgundy Episode One

As with every great Bibendum trip, the fun begins on the journey and this was no exception. After Joe, Alex and I scored a direct hit with speedy passage on the Democratic Republic of Gatwick Express, poor Alex came a cropper as we stood in the queue for security. Delighted with their impending Nile cruise, a charming couple in front decided to share their feelings by turning around and calling Alex an “Australian a**e-kisser.” The poor Kiwi didn’t even have time to pull out his British citizenship test handbook in protest. Barely had that slight gone through to the wicket-keeper when the security guard at the X-ray machine got a bit shirty and waved our boy off with a rather loud “bloody foreigners”. With it still being very early in the morning, we were left wondering whether he might be insulted three times before the cock crowed! So far, so welcoming…and we hadn’t even arrived in France yet!

Our Easyplane sat in dense fog for an extra hour, which gave the Russians in the seats behind us ample time to mutter abuse about Tottenham and their win over Chelsea – just as well Willie wasn’t there. Even with the plane filling up with this sort of hot air, at least it didn’t smell like our Mitsubishi Grandis at the other end in Geneva. Early opinion was divided as to whether the “Chunderbus”, as it soon became known, eclipsed the Citroen “worst car ever made” Xsara Picasso of the Bordeaux trip.

It wasn’t long before “straight on, my man” could be heard from the back seat as Ben Collins, who had arrived on a different flight, announced himself as the Maitre de Directions.

“We need one of those glass screens between the back seats and the driver to drown out Marton. You could have one of those buttons you press if you want to talk to us. And you can address me as ‘Your Eminence’….wait…you’re not writing all this down are you?!?!” With a swift and stealthy clip round the ear from Ben chalked up early on, the stage was well set for Bibendum goes Bonkers in Burgundy. Smooth motorways, beautiful sunshine, a dash of electro on French radio, and a hilarious running commentary from Ben “I’m giving myself 10 for that one” Collins.

Sit back, soak it up, and enjoy…

First stop that afternoon was at Fontaine Gagnard where we were treated to a succession of extremely good whites. Of course, the real business here is the 2005 Burgundy vintage, which is exciting everyone who gets anywhere near it. The often subdued Burgundians can hardly keep the smile off their face this year and the wines are a joy to taste. Without wanting to over-generalise, both whites and reds, where well-made, are showing great balance, with wonderfully fresh acidity keeping sweet and often opulent fruit well in check. There is great elegance and wonderful texture in many of the wines and they are much easier to taste at this early stage of their lives than has been the case in previous years. Now back to Fontaine Gagnard…producer of Chassagne Montrachets of the finest quality. Each premier cru retained its very unique individual style, and while the Caillerets and Vergers were excellent, the Boudriottes was positively singing. At grand cru level, the real star of the show was the Batard Montrachet which showed incredible definition and character, and a finish that even the great Serge Blanco would be proud of.

Next stop was Clos des Lambrays with its very elegant maison and incredible caves. Thierry, the smartest and most genial host in Burgundy, welcomed us and showed us into the “new cellar – built in the 18th Century” (above). There we tasted delicious Morey St. Denis Villages and sensational quality premier cru before moving on to the awesome grand cru Clos des Lambrays. For many this was the wine of the day and Thierry summed it up best with “Il y a du punch”. We couldn’t agree more mon ami.

Then on to Hudelot Noellat in Vougeot, where we were treated to a slightly unexpected but sensational line-up of wines. Both here and Lambrays were new producers for Bibendum to visit this year and both were well worth the trip. Wonderful village wines from Chambolle Musigny and Vosne Romanee were followed by equally impressive premier crus. And by the time we got to the Clos de Vougeot, Romanee St. Vivant and Richebourg, the word ‘yum’ was echoing around and smiles were wide. Great concentration, complexity, freshness and just plain luxury.

A pattern had already started to emerge and it’s really good news for the vintage. The grand crus are, in most cases, exceptional, as you would expect given the vintage conditions and the prices they will garner when they hit the market. Under that though really wonderful wines have been made all the way from Bourgogne rouge and blanc, through village and up to premier cru level and there will be some really great value buys this year. And so after 20 hours, one plane ride, 40-odd wines, many jokes about Kiwi carpenters, and one lost Bibendum branded clipboard, an exhilarating first day came to an end – great stuff.

Wines of the first day…
Fontaine Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet Les Boudriottes 2005
Clos des Lambrays 2005
Hudellat Noel Chambolle Musigny 2005