Napa Diary Day 3: The Unusual Zinfandels of Robert Biale

Situated in the middle of the valley just north of Napa, the Biale Winery is surrounded by vineyards of what is now an unusual variety in Napa Valley: Zinfandel. Sitting on the terrace that is the tasting room in the summer, I asked Bob Biale,  Why did you focus on Zinfandel in this location? “Because my dad loved the grape and kept it in the ground. It’s only recently–since the 1970s–that Cabernet has been the grape. The valley was full of Zin and Petite Syrah before the Judgment of Paris (tasting in 1976). We make about 15 Zinfandels, mostly from Napa Valley. As it turns out, Oak Knoll (the AVA just north of the town of Napa) is perfect for Zinfandel.” Biale is probably the preeminent winery specializing in Zinfandel in Napa.

The tasting room is a terrace in the middle of the vineyard

Zinfandel comes from wide-ranging sources here, with about ten single-vineyard cuvées, some a little unusual. There are about 300 cases of each single-vineyard wine. Most of the cuvées contain some other varieties (often from old field blends): only Limerick Lane and Stagecoach are 100% Zinfandel.

Grapes are sourced 20% from estate vineyards and 80% from long-term contracts with growers where the vineyards are farmed to Biale’s specifications. About 65% of the Zinfandel grapes come from Napa, mostly around Oak Knoll. There are also vineyards in Coombsville (south of Napa) and in Carneros (on the Sonoma side).  “If things are really warming up, Zinfandel may not be viable up Napa Valley. The profile for the (Zinfandel from Coombsville and Carneros) is cool-climate: brighter but surprisingly rich. If we need to, we may plant more there.”

Zinfandel is famous for uneven ripening of the bunches, often producing contrasting notes of jammy fruits and piquancy. Biale avoids this. “We remove 100% of the ‘wings’ from the bunches. The problem is that when you wait for the wings to ripen, the rest becomes over-ripe. The wings are dramatically under-ripe, even with them removed, the main cluster does not ripen as evenly as a Bordeaux variety, but we get more evenness this way. ” Alcohol usually ends up over 14%.

“We use open-top fermenters to let some alcohol blow off, punch-down for gentler extraction, and use all Burgundy barrels. We treat our Zin somewhat like Pinot, the Zins all have about the same new oak, only about 25%. Petite Syrah is bigger so it gets more new oak, 30-35%.”

‘Elegance’ is not a word that often appears in my tasting notes about Zinfandel, but the house style at Biale shows a purity of fruits, and, yes, elegance. The reference wine for the winery is Black Chicken, which comes from estate fruit, mostly around the winery and elsewhere in Oak Knoll. Quite a bit comes from old plantings of field blends, including a fair bit of Abouriou, a low acid variety that takes off the edge. “I give the original growers credit for this,” Bob says. “This is our flagship wine, it’s strikingly Oak Knoll in its nature.”

First Grade is the exception to the general house style of drinkability on release. Made since 2016, it’s based on a selection of barrels from estate vineyards around the  winery plus Aldo’s Vineyard and Stagecoach, and sees 50% new oak for 16 months. It’s about 78% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Syrah, with the rest from various varieties in the field blend. A much bigger wine, it’s intended to be ready after five years. Only about 120 cases are produced from just 4 barrels.

Cuvées from the famous Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa’s Atlas Peak (where Zinfandel is a tiny part of the vineyard, which is otherwise devoted to Bordeaux varieties) and Monte Rosso in Sonoma (where the vines are some of the oldest in California) are perhaps the most elegant. You might say that Stagecoach and Monte Rosso epitomize the difference between Napa and Sonoma, with a touch of  austerity for Stagecoach playing against a rounder impression for Monte Rosso. They convey that sense of top-flight wines of any variety that they will only deepen and intensify as they age.

An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.

2018 Zinfandel Tasting at Robert Biale

Black Chicken, Napa Valley
Faintly piquant impression, dry and fresh on palate, with surprisingly good acidity, although a faint burn from alcohol at the end. The acidity is all natural, we don’t acidify back,” Bob says. Faintly nutty on the palate, quite a bright style for Zinfandel, generally trending towards elegance rather than power. 14.8%    89 Drink -2025

Aldo’s Vineyard, Oak Knoll
This comes from a field blend planted in 1937. Some spicy notes to the nose, good flavor variety showing on palate. “This will go 10 years, easy,” Bob says. Palate is smooth and velvety, tannins scarcely evident, good freshness. The velvety texture–they call it pillow-soft at the winery–is typical of the vineyard. 14.8%    90 Drink -2030

First Grade,  Napa Valley

Faintly spicy but quite restrained on the nose, tight and relatively closed on the palate, and there’s actually a some sense of bitterness from the tannins on the finish. Although the tannins are not gripping or dry, they need to resolve to let the fruits come out. This should mature to quite an elegant style but it’s going to take time. 14.8%    92 Drink 2025-2035

Valsecchi, Carneros
“This is the southernmost of our Zins,” Bob says, “from less than 1 acre on the Sonoma side of Carneros, making only 1-3 barrels.” Slightly spicy nose. You can see the relatively cool climate character in the crispness of the refreshingly tart palate. Flavor variety is just beginning to develop. The winery describes the fairly tight style as ‘more Burgundian.’ 14.5%   89 Drink -2026

Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley
Nose inclines more to red fruits than black with some red cherries. Quite elegant, almost translucent impression to palate. Light tannins give structural support in the background. There’s a very faint touch of heat at the end.    93 Drink -2030

Monte Rosso, Moon Mountain District

More reserved on the nose than Stagecoah but a rounder, slightly more viscous impression on palate. Great sense of purity of fruits comes through, with structure more in the background than Stagecoach.The texture is very fine and conveys a taut sense of precision. 14.8%  93 Drink -2032

Napa Diary Day 2: Diamond Creek under Roederer

Diamond Creek is such a personal creation and idiosyncratic operation that it’s hard to image without Al Brounstein or his family, but with no third generation to take over, it was sold to Roederer in 2020. No one had planted vineyards this far north in the mountains when Al purchased forested land on Diamond Mountain to create a vineyard in 1968. Vineyards were planted with Bordeaux varieties smuggled across the border (fortunately on St. George rootstock, against conventional wisdom, so they have survived phylloxera and there are many original gnarled old vines on the property).

Way up Diamond Creek road, well into the mountain, the estate has four  individual vineyards, all with roughly the same blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc; Petit Verdot comes from a separate plot nearby. All replanting is based on propagation of vines from the original selection. There are no plans to change or expand production. The vineyard management and winemaking team at Diamond Creek stayed on, although winemaker Phil Steinschriber later retired and Graham Wehmeier came from Futo to take over.  The main change in the immediate future is a ten-year plan for some replanting.

The view from the winery looks down Red Rock Terrace and up to Volcanic Hill.

The contemporary winery sits at a high point looking over Red Rock Terrace, immediately below and facing to the north, with Volcanic Hill opposite, with the slope facing full south. Gravelly Meadow is to one side, and Lake is a very small vineyard to the other side. Next to Lake is the plot of Petit Verdot that is used for all the wines. Lake is the coolest site of all, and makes a wine only in some vintages; after that, Gravelly Meadow is the coolest, and Volcanic Hill is distinctly warmer. Indeed, going round the property, the extra warmth hits you as you go up Volcanic Hill. Soils are distinct, ferrous for red rock, gravel for Gravelly Meadow, and volcanic ash for Volcanic Hill. Harvest starts at Volcanic Hill in September, and ends several weeks later in Lake. Production is small, around 500 cases each, except for only 100 cases of Lake when it is made. The wines age for 21 months in all new French oak. The blends are all similar, with 76-78% Cabernet Sauvignon, and then Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot in decreasing amounts.

Tasting the 2018s soon after release, Red Rock shows as most forward and approachable, with Gravelly Meadow close behind. Both show black fruit aromatics with a fine tannic structure, typically elegant for Red Rock, and touch more textured and earthy for Gravelly Meadow. Volcanic Hill is more reserved, with less obvious, but potentially more complex aromatics, and the typically taut tannic structure more evidence against the fruits. It seems likely to be longest lived. All the wines have been running at alcohol levels around 14.5% for the past decade, up from an average of 14.1% in the previous decade. Occasionally Al produced a blend across the vineyards by selecting special barrels–the last vintage was 2013, with 70% Volcanic Hill, 25% Red Rock Terrace, and 5% Gravelly Meadow–and as of the 2019 vintage, the Three Vineyard Blend will become a regular feature (priced at the same level as the single-vineyard wines).

“Al thought Volcanic Hill would be the longest lived wine, but actually they all age equally well. But Volcanic always comes around last, there is no doubt about that,” said his stepson, Phil Ross, on a previousd visit. Tasting older vintages, I could not say I have a favorite: in some vintages I prefer Volcanic Hill, and in others Gravelly Meadow.

An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.

Tasting Notes on 2018 Vintage

Red Rock Terrace
Deep black fruits on nose point towards blackcurrents. Sweet ripe fruits on palate show faint hints of alcohol coming through the richness. Tannins are fine but the wine is still a little tight, although showing some forward black fruit aromatics. The style seems more modern than it has in previous years; at least this is the easiest and most overtly aromatic of the trio. 14.5%    92 Drink 2023-2040

Gravelly Meadow
Even a little darker and more purple in hue than Red Rock. Nose a fraction more intense with more obvious blackcurrant aromatics. There’s a greater sense of structure, although the tannins are very fine, showing just a touch of asperity against the ripeness of the fruits. It’s a little riper and richer than Red Rock, with the black fruit aromatics just beginning to come out. 14.5%    93 Drink 2023-2040

Volcanic Hill
Dark inky appearance, a little more intense than the others. This shows the smoothest palate of the trio and is the most reserved, with black fruit aromatics waiting to come out, and less evident than the others at first, although after a while they emerge to show greater complexity. The sense of reserve will turn into elegance as the wine develops and this certainly has the greatest potential in this vintage.    94 Drink 2024-2045

Napa Diary Day 1: Cabernet Purity at Corison

“Diurnal variation is the magic of Napa, that’s why it’s such a special place,” says Cathy Corison as we start tasting in the Kronos vineyard behind the winery. It was just beginning to warm up at mid-morning, with temperatures having dropped into the fifties overnight and being forecast to reach the nineties in the afternoon. A massive hand-carved travertine table has just been installed at the entrance to the vineyard, and we sat there looking over the fifty-year old vines towards the Mayacamas Mountains.

My first visit for July in Napa, I was catching up on the evolution at Corison. Starting with a wine appreciation course in college (when she thought she was going to become a marine biologist), which was based on French wine, Cathy’s reference point has been European. She’s known for making wines that favor elegance over power with moderate alcohol.

The tasting table at the entrance to Kronos has a view over to the Mayacamas Mountains

“I pick weeks before most,” she says. ” I care what the sugar level is. If we get too ripe, we lose the red and blue part of the spectrum, we are left only with black. I believe table wine should be 12.5% and if I could get ripeness at that level I would.” Alcohol levels are in the low 13%s in cool vintages, up to 14% in warmer vintages. Kronos, where the vines are oldest, usually is a bit lower than the other cuvées.

The other cuvées of Cabernet Sauvignon are the Napa Valley (a blend from three vineyards) and Sunbasket, a single vineyard from which Cathy had been making wine for 20 years when she was able to buy it in 2015. Its first vintage as a single vineyard designate was 2014. “When I bought Sunbasket, I hadn’t blended the 2014, so I made a single-vineyard designate, I had decided I would not make a single-vineyard designate wine unless I owned the vineyard.”

All the wines are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. “I am a Cabernet chauvinist, at least on the bench here. I believe Cabernet Sauvignon can do everything other varieties can do here.” New oak is similar at around 50% for all three cuvées. “I couldn’t make the wine in this style without oak, but I don’t want you to be able to taste it.”

The vines at Kronos are among the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. The story behind the vineyard is that Cathy was determined to find gravelly terroir for her Cabernet Sauvignon, and this turned up in the form of a neglected vineyard. It was thought that it would have to be replanted because the rootstock was AxR1, which was succumbing to phylloxera, but 6 of the 8 acres turned out to be clone 2 Cabernet Sauvignon on St. George rootstock. “The combination gives scraggly cluster of tiny berries and doesn’t bear very well, only about 1.25 tons/acre.” These are now wonderfully venerable vines. A 2 ha plot in front of the winery was in fact on AxR1 and now been replanted on St. George. (Cathy hasn’t decided yet which cuvée these grapes will go into.) The Kronos vineyard is infected with leaf roll virus–it turns an attractive red in the Fall–which is anathema to viticultural experts, but Cathy says this slows development, as well as reducing yields, and contributes to the concentration and lowers sugar levels at harvest.

Tasting the range from 2018 (Napa Valley has been released, Sunbasket and Kronos are bottled but not released yet), leaves a strong impression that the focus is on elegance and purity of fruits. The Napa Valley has the most direct fruits, conveying a great sense of purity, with silky tannins in the background. Sunbasket adds a more direct sense of tannic texture to the palate. (There is also a Cabernet Franc from a few rows at Sunbasket, which shows a more reserved style than the Cabernet Sauvignon). The tannins in Kronos are so velvety that it actually seems more approachable at this point than Sunbasket, but the greater sense of density deepens the palate and promises the greatest longevity. The star of the show here is the purity of Cabernet Sauvignon.

For my reality check, to see how the wine pairs with food as opposed to a tasting, I had a Kronos 2004 with dinner. It still felt like a baby, age showing in even greater finesse on the palate, with the silkiness of the tannins contributing to an enhanced sense of the purity of Cabernet fruits, giving a translucent impression to the palate.

An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.

Tasting Notes for Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 at Corison

Napa Valley
Nose offers a delicious faintly piquant impression, relatively aromatic, then ripeness is nicely offset by freshness on the palate. Tannins are already quite silky. The aromatics carry through to the palate, which offers subtle hints of the oak aging. This really could be enjoyed almost immediately, but should become increasingly elegant over the next few years. 91 Drink 2022-2030

Sunbasket 2018 
Nose shows a touch more asperity than the Napa, not as soft or intense as Kronos. The sleek silky house style comes through, tannins are a touch more obvious on the finish, so this needs a little more time than the Napa bottling. It will probably continue to show a slightly more robust style as it develops.   92 Drink 2024-2035

Kronos Vineyard
The most intense of the range but relatively approachable because tannins are so velvety. The elegant house style with that sense of delineation to the fruits comes through the intensity. Very faint sense of piquancy in background keeps the palate criso. Youthful structure shows directly only a faint dryness onb the finish.    94 Drink 2024-2044

Kronos 2004

Still quite dark, maroon with some purple hues. Black fruit aromatics show hints of blackcurrants. Showcases absolute purity of Cabernet on palate, with pronounced cassis. Intense aromatics on opening integrate as the wine opens in the glass.Age shows in the extra smoothness on the palate, with very fine silky tannins, and no rasp to the finish; there’s no tertiary development yet. The palate flattens as it opens, bringing a feel of more European restraint. 13.8%   94 Drink -2035

Creeping Modernism in Chianti Classico

Unlike areas such as Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo, there has never really been a debate in Chianti Classico about modernism versus tradition. The nearest equivalent would be the controversy as to whether to include international varieties; at first seeming necessary in the 1980s to ‘improve’ the Sangiovese, it became irrelevant two decades later as quality was improved by new cultivars of Sangiovese. But for those who wanted to make modern wines in a forceful style, it was easier to label them as ‘super-Tuscans’ rather than fight for the soul of Sangiovese.

The exclusion of most of the top wines from the Chianti Classico region by being labeled instead as IGT Toscana was one of the driving forces for the introduction of Gran Selezione in 2010, a new class intended to be the top tier of Chianti Classico. This did not take what might have been the most obvious course of requiring 100% Sangiovese or a single-vineyard source, but had only the restriction that grapes must come from the estate, not be purchased.

Initially embraced by  relatively few producers, the first vintages were mostly wines that had previously been Riservas but that made it through the screening committee to be approved for the new category. There was a small but significant change in character from the old Riservas: the Gran Selezione were denser, smoother, and more inclined to black fruits rather than red.

A couple of vintages later, the trend had intensified, and where producers had wines at each level of the category, it wouldn’t be much of an over-simplification to say that Chianti Classico still tended towards the classic fresh red fruits, the Riserva showed more structure, and the Gran Selezione began to move stylistically towards Brunello. There was a trend for Gran Selezione to be 100% Sangiovese and often to come from a single vineyard. The wines were a mix of a super-set of the old Riservas, a handful of super-Tuscans that had reverted to Chianti Classico DOCG, and new cuvées introduced specifically for Gran Selezione.

The Chianti Classico CoNNEction Tasting held in New York and other cities this month, with 250 wines from 100 producers, showed that the situation has developed further. It now seems the rule rather than the exception to present a tier of wines, from Chianti Classico, to Riserva, to Gran Selezione. Caught in the middle, Riservas vary from being closer in style to the Chianti Classico to being closer to the Gran Selezione. Quite often, the difference between Chianti Classico and Riserva is slight: this is not a criticism of the Riserva, but a comment on how much the general quality of Chianti Classico has improved in the past decade.

Not only has the quality improved, but the style has changed. There are still some Chianti Classicos with a classic flavor spectrum of bright red fruits, but they are certainly no longer sharp with obtrusive acidity: the best remain fresh but have a new smoothness. However, they seem to be outnumbered by wines with relatively soft palates, moving towards black fruits, and often hard to equate with Sangiovese. This is not because the Sangiovese has been overwhelmed with international varieties: often enough these wines are 100% Sangiovese or close to it. They have a sort of interdenominational character resulting from taming the tannins and acidity. They are pleasant wines, probably more attractive to the consumer than the tart old style, but do they offer a distinct identify? How do they compete in the international market except on price? Is this a creeping modernism resulting from convergence of styles based on worldwide common approaches to viticulture and vinification?

This concern is exacerbated by the development of Gran Selezione. With more than 100 Gran Selezione cuvées now available, it is harder to get a bead on the category, but I sense some dilution from that early determination to produce wines that could compete with super-Tuscans. Now the Gran Selezione tends to be the best wine that each producer can make, but is that good enough? Can you make a top tier in a hierarchy without any assessment of the terroir from which the wine comes?

Around half the Gran Selezione at the tasting struck me as nice enough wines for current consumption, but not really offering enough distinction from Riservas; or perhaps to be more critical, I would say they really comprise what the Riserva should offer. Perhaps it’s inevitable that the imprimatur of the class when there were only twenty or so must have been diluted by its expansion and success. Perhaps it’s too hard to apply my criterion for great wine to the class: that it should become increasingly interesting as it ages. Many of these wines are attractive for immediate consumption, but is that enough? If I were on the committee that approves Gran Selezione, I would add the criterion of requiring ability to age for at least a few years.

The best Gran Selezione stand out as wines that can compete on the international market with Brunello di Montalcino or equivalent super-Tuscans, although in a less powerful style. At least when young, the difference is becoming partly a matter of personal stylistic preference, although even here I’m uncertain whether Gran Selezione will have quite the same longevity. For all my criticism, Gran Selezione has restored the reputation of Chianti Classico, and I suspect its success has had a knock-on effect in improving Riserva and the basic DOCG wines.

My top wines at the tasting were mostly Gran Selezione, but included a couple of Riservas and even one Chianti Classico tout court.

Rocca di Castagnoli,  Stielle, Gran Selezione, 2016

Nice depth here, really nice balance, smooth without going to chocolaty or nutty extremes, nut as savory as the Riserva: this is more modern, the Riserva is more what I expect in Chianti Classico.   (Sangiovese 100%)

Querciabella, Riserva, 2017

A deeper, rounder, version of the Classico. More complex on palate with some sweet herbal impressions: similarities are greater than differences, which is a tribute to the quality of the Classico, not a criticism of the Riserva.   (Sangiovese 100%)

Fontodi, Filetta di Lamole, Gran Selezione, 2018

Attractive nose is deeper and more aromatic than the Classico. Only a touch deeper and rounder, a hint of tobacco on the finish, more of a bite at the end. In the same style as the Classico, the main difference from the Classico is some additional complexity on the palate. (Sangiovese 100%)   

Fattoria Di Fèlsina, Rancia, Riserva, 2018

Rancia shows similarity of style to Berardenga, but has greater fruit density, more depth, but similar lovely rounded fruits. (I like this better than the super-Tuscan Fontalloro, which has become too powerful for my palate.) This is lovely wine, pretty much ready now.  (Sangiovese 100%) 

Fontodi, Vigna del Sorbo, Gran Selezione, 2018

Some soft aromatics on the nose intensify from the Classico and Filetta di Lamole. Palate is softer, deeper, blacker, the aromatics are still present, rounder with greater fruit density. Without wishing to be pejorative, the style shows some international influence in moving in a round chocolaty direction towards Montalcino. (Sangiovese 100%)  

Querciabella,  DOCG, 2018

Smooth, silky, elegant, very much the house style, and although perhaps it doesn’t have the weight of Riserva, quite in line with that level. May well be the most elegant Classico. (Sangiovese 100%)  

Ruffino, San Lorenzo, Gran Selezione, 2016

Very much the same style as the Riserva Ducale but just a little rounder and deeper, modern style faintly relieved at end by savory hints. Good depth and potential to develop flavor variety.   (Sangiovese 83%; Merlot 12%; Colorino 5%)

Bordeaux 2017: A Vintage to Pick by Appellation

2017 is a great year for defining differences between appellations on both left and right banks, even if those differences do not always conform to the common historical definitions. The general character of the year is surprisingly classical, although without the herbaceous or bitter background that young Bordeaux used to have: you might call it a modern take on the classical character. Many wines will be ready relatively soon (think about starting mostly about four years from now and drinking for about eight years). This will be a fine year for restaurant wines, with the best retaining their typicity in a more approachable style; there’s  just enough stuffing to support mid-term development without any dilution. Wines that have moved towards an international character are less obvious this year; the effect of vintage has been to damp down the style into a smoothness from which black fruit aromatics just poke out.

The UGCB presents the vintage in London in October, and in the USA in January.

The UGCB tasting held in New York this week showed most of the great chateaux (excepting the first growths). I started with Pessac-Léognan, where most reds are relatively subdued, but show good sense of texture on the palate, although that classic impression is reinforced by bitterness often running ahead of the fruits. They should mature to a smooth elegance for drinking in the mid term. In top châteaux, Pape-Clément just shows its international character with black fruit aromatics poking out through the tannins, while Smith Haut Lafitte shows as one of the most obviously international wines in Bordeaux this year, with a soft, almost opulent impression just cut by the tannins of youth. Haut Bailly shows classicism with structure presently outrunning the fruits but suggesting good aging potential, Domaine de Chevalier is perhaps not quite as smooth as usual but has good aging potential, and Les Carmes Haut-Brion really shows its 55% Cabernet Franc. Whites tend to show a  grassy herbaceous character, sometimes verging on sweaty, but with sweet citrus fruits, as typified by the attractive Carbonnieux. In top wines, Domaine de Chevalier gives a classy impression of subtle citrus, if not quite at its usual level of crystalline brilliance, and Pape-Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte reverse the relationship of their reds, with Pape-Clément full, rich, and almost opulent, while Smith Haut Lafitte is not quite as overt.

Moving from Graves to Margaux, the first impression is the increased finesse of the structure, with tannins still evident, but showing a finer-grained character. In terms of historical comparisons, this is a lighter vintage for Margaux. Going in deeper, Margaux seems to split into two parts: the top wines have the structure and balance to age at least through the mid-term, and may require longer than the wines from Pessac-Léognan; but most wines are somewhat lighter, and fall into the category of what you might call restaurant wines, lovely for the mid-term but without potential for real longevity. The general character should be to age towards delicacy, with the best wines showing a savory character. In the first group, I would place Chateaux du Tertre, Rauzan-Ségla, perhaps Rauzan-Gassies; in the second group come Kirwan, Durfort-Vivens, Desmirail, Cantenac-Brown, Brane-Cantenac, Prieuré-Lichine, Malescot-St.-Exupéry. Dauzac, Ferrière, and Marquis de Terme are rather tight, while Giscours as always is a little on the full side for Margaux, but the vintage makes it a little short. Lascombes is more classical and less international than preceding vintages. I’m less convinced about the potential of Margaux, compared with other appellations, to stay on the right side of the line between delicacy and dilution.

The Crus of the Haut-Médoc more or less follow Margaux, although texture is generally not quite so fine. La Lagune stands out for elegant aromatics; and the smooth aromatics with hints of blackcurrants mark out La Tour Carnet as part of the international movement. In Moulis, Clarke has just a touch more elegance than Fourcas-Hosten, while in Listrac, Poujeaux approaches Margaux in style this vintage.

Graves and Margaux are all black fruits, and red fruits first appear in my notes when I arrived in St. Julien. But the main difference is the contrast between the clarity of the palate in Margaux and a tendency towards a fine chocolaty texture in St. Julien, strong in Beychevelle, just evident in Gruaud Larose, and almost imperceptibly in the background in Branaire-Ducru. Chocolate is the unmistakable mark of St. Julien in this vintage. Its soft, almost furry, tannins may make the wines seem more approachable sooner. As always, Langoa and Léoville Barton are the wines that stay closest to the historical roots of St. Julien, with Langoa very fine and Léoville showing more presence through a translucent palate. Léoville Poyferré and Lagrange show the smoothness of the international style, making them among the softer wines of the appellation. Gloria is elegant but not as fine as St. Pierre, which is moving in a savory direction. Talbot’s round, ripe character is a far cry from the old dry style of the Cordier house, and an indication of the change in Bordeaux.

Pauillac stands out in this vintage for that characteristic combination of finesse and firmness in the tannins, which are more obviously tamed than in St. Julien, Margaux, or Graves. The wines show lovely firm structure, sometimes with the plushness of Pauillac just poking through. Three chateaux in the two Rothschild groups illustrate the range. Armailhac shows the restrained power of Pauillac, but there is something of a reversal of the usual hierarchy with Clerc Milon showing more elegant black fruit aromatics; Duhart Milon is rounder and finer, and moves in the direction of Lafite. Grand Puy Ducasse has increased in refinement and moved closer to Grand Puy Lacoste, both showing a certain roundness and plushness to indicate they are in Pauillac and not St. Julien. Lynch Moussas offers the Pauillac version of a restaurant wine. Lynch Bages is lovely and firm, Pichon Baron is a little brighter than most Pauillacs and seems less dense then usual, while Pichon Lalande is quite typical of itself and the appellation, although again just short of the density of a great year. St. Estèphe is always difficult to assess at the UGCB because few chateaux are represented, but there seems to be a tendency to show the hardness that can characterize the appellation. Phélan Ségur seems more successful than Chateau de Pez or Ormes de Pez.

There is something of a reversal between St. Emilion and Pomerol, with the top wines of St. Emilion showing an opulence and richness driven by Merlot, while Pomerol tends to show something of the relatively greater restraint of St. Emilion. But the range here extends from overtly lush wines to those where the dryness of the finish attests to an underlying structure needing time to resolve, to those that verge on herbaceous, giving the impression that the grapes may not have been uniformly ripe. At the lush end of St. Emilion come Beau-Séjour Bécot, where soft, opulent fruits bury the tannins and give an impression half way to Pomerol, Canon-La-Gaffelière with a chocolaty impression, and the even finer Canon with its hints of blueberries, raisins, and chocolate. There’s more impression of Cabernet Franc in La Couspade and La Dominique, while Clos Fourtet, La Gaffelière, Larcis Ducasse, and Pavie Macquin are relatively restrained. Perhaps the surprise is Valandraud, which in a turn-up for the book shows this year as the most classical representation of St. Emilion, slightly nutty, nicely ripe, but not too overtly Merlot-driven.

In Pomerol, the finesse of Bon Pasteur gives the lie to Michel Rolland’s reputation as the architect of excess, Beauregard is clearly driven by Merlot but stops a touch short of opulence, and Clinet gives an impression almost of belonging to St. Emilion rather than Pomerol. The general impression is more restrained than usual.

Conditions late in October favored botrytis, but in a limited tasting—some of the Sauternes ran out before I got to them at the end—the wines seemed more inclined towards elegance than towards the luscious power some reports have suggested. Again showing the capacity of the vintage to reverse historical trends, Chateau de Fargues is elegant and subtle as always, but not as evidently botrytized as usual, Rieussec has good density with impressions of botrytis, and Suduiraut has the greatest botrytic influence.

Pricing so far often seems too close to the great 2016 vintage for comfort, but wines that could be found at, say, under two-thirds of the price of the 2016, would offer a good opportunity to appreciate the styles of many chateaux in the relatively short term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Emilion 2016: a Vintage for Left Bank Lovers

“I’m finding it hard to see a lot of love in these wines,” one taster said at the tasting of 2016 St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé in New York. Indeed the wines are quite tight at present, but although elegant is not the first word I usually use to describe St. Emilion, it was often the most appropriate description in my notes.

The general impression of the vintage is fine, structured, and still a little tight. In a blind tasting it might be difficult to identify most of these wines as being predominantly Merlot because their texture has a finesse you might not usually associate with the variety. Most need at least 3-4 years, not so much for the tannins to resolve, as they are generally fine and tend towards silky, but to let flavor variety come out from under. They remind me more of the Left Bank than of the usually plusher character of the Right Bank.

The style of 2016 is a great compromise between the extremities of earlier years. At the same tasting of the 2010 vintage six years ago, my problem was in distinguishing wines from one another  (Oenologues Triumph in St. Emilion) because they all showed much the same character of furry tannins behind soft black fruits. And then four years ago at the tasting of the 2012 vintage, the wines were tight and alcoholic, often verging on tough, with quite sharp tannins (Alcohol and Tannins in St. Emilion: Cheshire Cat Years?)

By contrast with the earlier years, 2016 has a great sense of balance between fruits and structure. Of course they vary in their stages of development. A few are really still tight, but in most, flavor variety is just beginning to poke out from the palate, with some wines now moving in a savory direction. They should become increasingly fine as they age over the next couple of years, and then show increasing generosity and delicious refinement for at least the next decade.

I hesitate to project beyond that, but there were a few older wines on display to give some indication of aging potential, among which Dassault 2000 was quite mature and really at its peak with signs of tertiary development, Grand Pontet 1995 was flavorful but quite dry at the end, and Grand Corbin Despagne 1989 is à point although not showing tertiary development. (I had the 1988 at the château a year ago, and it was even better, making the point that Grand Corbin-Despagne really makes 30-year wines.) The best wines of 2016 may therefore well last for two decades or more.

The 2016 Vintage

Bellefont Belcier: Very smooth on palate, with structure just holding the fruits back, but very fine impression promising elegant future.

Chauvin: Very fine impression with smooth, silky tannins, flavor variety just coming out, moving in a savory direction with a tang on the finish. Fine result for vintage.

Clos des Jacobin: Fine elegant impression to nose, elegant structure and fruits on palate against silky background, flavor coming out and moving in savory direction.

Corbin: Firm palate with hints of chocolate on finish, nice flavor variety already beginning to show with the finesse of the vintage. Flavorful palate is moving in a savory direction.

Dassault: Firm palate moving in chocolatey direction, underlying texture with savory flavors, a touch of tannins at end on long finish.

de Pressac: Minty impression to nose, nice solid impression with good flavor variety showing on palate, moving in savory direction, with hints of mint coloring the palate.

Faurie de Souchard: Very smooth indeed, very fine texture to palate, with tannins just showing on dryness of finish, with hints of mint and chocolate. Very fine indeed.

Fonplégade: The most approachable wine in the 2016 tasting. Quite a rich nose tends to buttery impressions, with good structure and elegant balance on palate. Fine silky tannins evident only by faint bitterness on finish. Touch of heat at end but otherwise very sophisticated for St. Emilion. Tannins moving in chocolatey direction.

Fonroque: Restrained nose, fine palate shows rather fresh acidity considering vintage and appellation, quite tight and backward. Might be difficult to identify this as 90% Merlot in blind tasting. Needs time to release flavor variety.

Grand Corbin: Tight and backward, almost fresh acidity, tannins tight on finish with touch of bitterness, somewhat of an old school impression with reflections of the left bank.

Grand Corbin-Despagne: Very faint buttery impressions to nose. Fine texture in background on palate, structure shown by a little bitterness at end but is very fine. Long finish promises goof future development.

Grand Pontet: Elegant impressions to nose, fine and tight, follow to palate. Fine texture should turn silky with age. Flavor variety is just beginning to show. Should mature to real elegance.

Jean Fauré: Very restrained nose, really quite dumb. Palate shows a little more texture than most, but not so lively (yet). Quite structured and a bit uncertain how long it might take for fruit to come out.

La Tour Figeac: Some flavor variety beginning to show against background structure evidenced by almost-phenolic bitterness at end. This needs time to come around. A savory impression on the finish is promising.

Ripeau: Fine structure supports savory notes on palate, somewhat backward in being gripped by acidity, and a little uncertain as to future supply of generosity.

Yon Figeac: Generosity is hiding behind the structure. Smooth palate shows flavor variety just coming out, structure in nice balance with fruits, which will emerge more clearly in next year or so.

Older Wines

Dassault (2000): Mature impression with nose showing some tertiary notes and some high-toned aromatics with oxidative notes. Shows some development on palate with touch of sous bois contrasting with the high-toned aromatics. Around its peak, with the risk of oxidation taking over with further aging.

Grand Pontet (1995): Faintly minty, faintly herbal impressions to nose, following to lovely palate on edge of showing mature development. Quite dry on the finish but good flavor variety. Some people might find this a little dry.

Grand Corbin-Despagne (1989): Surprisingly youthful with no signs of tertiary development. Nose is a little dumb but palate is à point. Smooth palate with tannins almost resolved, moving a little towards minty herbal impressions. May be on verge of fruits beginning to dry out.

 

Encounters of the Strange Kind with Sommeliers in France

I admit that sometimes I have issues with sommeliers. I respect sommeliers who try to help diners to match a wine they will enjoy (at a price they are prepared to pay) with a meal, I respect sommeliers who try to find unusual wines or unexpected matches with food, I respect sommeliers who are highly opinionated even if their opinions clash with my own views. But I do have a quarrel with sommeliers who decide I should not be allowed to drink a particular wine with my meal.

Some years ago I went to dinner in a famous restaurant in Strasbourg with a group of scientists from a conference I was attending. We ended up ordering a mixture of fish and poultry, so I looked for a white wine and settled on a Domaine Leflaive premier cru from Puligny Montrachet that was at a price point I thought the group would be comfortable with. “Oh no, you don’t want to have that,” the sommelier said. “It is not ready yet. You want the Puligny village wine (from the same vintage).” This wasn’t completely unreasonable as a view, but I felt that the premier cru would have more interest and would on balance go better with the variety of dishes we had ordered, so I said we would stick to it. The sommelier went off grumbling. He returned in due course with a bottle of Leflaive from the right vintage—but it was the Puligny Montrachet village wine. “This isn’t what we ordered,” I said. “Oh no, you don’t want the premier cru,” he said, and went through the whole litany all over again. At that point I gave up and we had the Puligny. Very nice it was too—but the premier cru would have been better!

Last week in Haut Savoie, a sommelier once again told me I had got it all wrong. I was eating with my wife at a restaurant where the only choice is how many courses to have on a tasting menu. The dishes are exclusively fish or vegetables, and the style is very modern (no cream sauces). It’s always a bit tricky to choose a wine when you haven’t been able to choose the specific dishes, but I thought the Clos Rougeard Brézé 2009 from Saumur would be very suitable. “Oh no,” said the sommelier, “you don’t want to order that. It is much too powerful to go with the food.” I demurred politely by saying I thought it should be more or less ready now (I had the 2011 a few months ago and it wasn’t quite ready). The sommelier then looked for other arguments. “Anyway, it is much too oaky now, it will clash with the food.” This seemed a surprising, not to say deceptive, argument, as the Foucault brothers never used much new oak on Brézé, and I imagine they would instantly have taken away his allocation if they had heard this. And why was it on the list anyway, if it’s unsuitable for the cuisine? With an increasing air of desperation, the sommelier proposed various alternatives in the form of a series of white Burgundy premier crus from 2015 or 2016. Talk about new oak! I stuck to my guns, and there was something of a delay before the wine was disgorged, but it arrived in time for the meal. With which it was absolutely brilliant!

What’s the common pattern here? I am very much afraid it is that in these (and other similar cases) the restaurant has been able to obtain a scarce wine at a reasonable price and has not taken advantage by marking it up, but the sommelier cannot bear to share it. It’s greatly to the credit of the restaurants that they don’t go in for price-gouging, but it’s somewhat presumptuous to assume that they can tell who deserves to enjoy the wine. I feel a bit suspicious about this, and am inclined to wonder if the same attitude is shown to all diners.

Sometimes you do wonder how a wine comes to be on the list. At a restaurant in Beaune, I ordered a Pommard premier cru from a good vintage from a producer I did not know, because the price was fair and I assumed that in Beaune they would certainly know their producers. My tasting note starts “This gives a whole new meaning to rusticity in Pommard.” The wine was truly terrible, over-ripe and raisiny, fruits steadily deteriorating in the glass, and a heaviness suggesting over-chaptalization. I hesitated as to what to do, as my impression was that this was the style, and unexpected though that might be, I wasn’t sure there was a single flaw that would be a reason for sending it back. So I said to the sommelier, “Would you taste this wine and tell me what you think.” He grimaced, and said, “We did wonder why you ordered it. Would you like to choose something else?” I asked why it was on the list. “The proprietor comes here often for dinner and likes to see her wine on the list.”

Most sommeliers are pretty quick to whisk a flawed wine away, or to replace a bottle if a diner points out a defect, but the bane of my life is the sommelier who won’t admit to a fault. This happens to me more often in France than anywhere else, and once again I am left with the sneaking question as to whether the sommeliers are equally patronizing to all their customers. In the mid nineties, at a restaurant in Provence, I ordered a 1989 white Burgundy. When offered for tasting, it was slightly oxidized, enough that you couldn’t really see typicité. (This might be a common enough event today, but this was years before the premox problem first appeared.) When I said that I thought the wine was not in top condition, the sommelier drew himself up to his full height and intoned, “Ce sont des arômes de quatre-vingt neuf.” (That’s the bouquet of 1989.) I said as politely as I could that I did not agree, because I was currently drinking 1989s from my cellar and none of them had any oxidized aromas. Grudgingly he brought back the wine list, but advised me not to choose another 1989 because all his wines of that vintage had this aroma. A whole cellar of oxidized wines at a Michelin-starred restaurant!

Sometimes the restaurant redeems itself. Dining at a small restaurant near Nice, we ordered a Chablis that turned out to be corked. The waiter seemed a bit dubious (the restaurant did not run to a sommelier). At the next table was a gentleman dining alone of whom the staff were all making a great fuss. The waiter took our bottle off to him to taste a sample. “Nothing wrong with it that I can see, most enjoyable,” I heard him say. The waiter returned to say that they didn’t think there was anything wrong with the bottle, but of course I could choose something else. (It turned out the gentleman at the next table was a well known local food and wine critic; I hope his taste for food is better than his taste for wine.) Ten minutes later the chef came out from the kitchen. “I am so embarrassed,” he said, “that bottle is so corked I can’t even cook with it!”

Assemblage in a Beaker: Clos des Epeneaux 2018 Leads to Some Heretical Thoughts

A visit to Comte Armand is always an education in the intricacies of classifying terroir in Burgundy. The domain’s famous holding is the 5 ha monopole of the Clos des Epeneaux (which makes up about half of the estate altogether). Located at the junction of Grands and Petits Epenots, the clos is surrounded by a wall that was built at a time when both Epenots had only a single owner, so defining it as a single Cru. But in fact the wine is a blend.

“The magic of the clos is that you can do an assemblage from four different areas,” says cellarmaster Paul Zinetti.   There is significant variation in the soil even within its walls. Topsoil is deeper right at the top of the Clos and at the bottom, with 60-80 cms resting on fragmented rocks. Other parts are shallower with only 20 cms of depth, sitting on a horizontal stones and a compact bedrock. There is quite a lot of iron in the soil. It’s more calcareous at the top.

In effect the  clos is divided into sectors by location (upper versus lower) and age of vines (35- to 90-years). Each part is vinified separately, and assemblage occurs at the end of élevage. Usually all the lots go into the final blend, but sometimes some are declassified (to Pommard Premier cru without a name). Tasting barrel samples shows how each part brings its own character.

The youngest vines near the top give a wine that is tight and fresh. A plot of older (55-year) vines with similar geology but lower down gives more aromatics, turning from red to black fruits. 65-70-year old vines on the calcareous terroir at the top give wine with more aromatic lift and an impression of elegance as well as power. This sample is perhaps the most complete in itself. The oldest vines, from the lowest part, give flatter aromatics but greater structure.

Concentrating on the proportions, but warning that the blend was only approximate as the wine is only part way through élevage, Paul did an assemblage in a beaker, swirled it around, and then presented the sample for tasting. Immediately you could see the increase in complexity, with hallmark black fruit aromatics balancing chocolaty tannins.

This creates somewhat mixed feelings about terroir. If it wasn’t for the accident that the clos was enclosed by a single wall, very likely it would have been classified into more than one part, and tastings would focus on the changes brought by the terroir of each climat. (Of course, the comparison here isn’t simply on the basis of terroir, as each part of the clos was planted at a different time.)

If these were separate cuvées, once again one would be marveling at the infinite variety of Burgundy. But the blend was vastly more complex than any of the individual samples. The relative merits of blends versus single-vineyards are in contention elsewhere, of course, and in regions such as Barolo the argument has swung one way or the other according to fashion.

The difference in Burgundy is that the detailed classification of so many premier crus (extended by the division of communal appellations into lieu-dits) has pre-empted discussion. Has it ossified the situation? You have to wonder whether Clos des Epeneaux is representative of a more general situation, whether it might be a mistake to classify  some of the smaller premier crus  separately, and whether blends of adjacent premier crus might be more complex? When is the whole greater than the sum of the parts, and when are the separate parts more interesting?

Tasting Notes (ordered by age of vines in each sector)

35-year-old vines: Light red fruit impressions with fresh acidity, fine texture on palate, tannins a little tight but elegant, aromatics a bit flat but just a touch of chocolate at the end.

55-year-old vines: More aromatic impressions, more towards black fruits, finer texture, greater aromatic lift with some hints of blackcurrants. Elegant style feels more like Volnay than Pommard.

65-year-old vines: A more complete impression, with elegance as well as power, and yet more aromatic lift, in fact quite aromatic, with lovely balance. Partly reflects fact that combination of vine age and position at top of clos gives smaller berries.

90-year-old vines: More structured and less aromatic, more sense of black fruits, firmer tannic structure evident.

THE BEAKER: Immediate sense of greater complexity on nose. Palate is quite firm with subtle hints of chocolaty aromatics, but in balance with structure (not as light as first sample, not as dense as last sample). Fine granular texture, chocolaty tannins show on long finish. Promises an elegant future.

Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum: A Visit to Domaine Robert Ampeau

The concept of the current release has virtually no meaning at Robert Ampeau. All week I’ve been tasting current releases in Burgundy, varying from 2017 to 2018 depending on whether producers want to show bottled wines or barrel samples. But tastings at Robert Ampeau start way beyond where others leave off. A tasting in the cellars yesterday included only one wine from the present century, a 2002 Meursault Charmes, while all the others, red or white, were between 1999 and 1976.

Wines are released when they are ready, or perhaps more to the point when the domain feels like selling them. I asked Michel Ampeau, who has been making the wines since Robert died in 2004, what vintages were on sale now. I thought I must have mistranslated the years from French when he said 1993-1996, and wondered whether perhaps he had really said 2013-2016, but no mistake: both reds and whites from the mid 1990s are on sale now, giving an almost unique opportunity to start with mature wines.

Production is 60% red and 40% white. There are holdings in ten premier crus, including four in Meursault. The wines are meant to age, or perhaps more to the point, have reached an interesting stage of maturity when released. Since current releases haven’t really reached the era of premox, it’s impossible to say if that will be a problem for the whites, but typically they peak around fifteen years of age and hold until twenty. I suspect that the traditional style of winemaking in an oxidative manner will avert any problem.

The style of the whites is rich and full, so I wondered about late harvest, but Michel says he is an early picker. This may explain why they maintain their freshness for decades. Meursault Sous Le Pièce shows a classically nutty flavor spectrum, Meursault Sous Le Pièce adds hints of honey and spices, and the Charmes premier cru adds a subtle hint of minerality. The complexity of Meursault Perrières shows at one why it is considered a candidate for promotion to grand cru, with complex layers of flavor on a seamless palate. This is the epitome of the classic style of Meursault. Puligny Combettes is a textbook example of the purity and precision of the appellation.

The reds show a great combination of a sheen to the palate masking great fruit density with a structure of supple tannins faintly evident in the background. Although they show development (the youngest we tasted was 1999), all have a sense of liveliness that gives an impression of being a decade younger than the real age. Savigny-lès-Beaune and La Pièce Sous le Bois from Blagny age much longer than you might expect for those appellation, in the generally soft, earthy style of the house, and Auxey-les-Duresses Les Ecussaux adds faintly herbal notes. Beaune Clos du Roi shows a smooth opulence, Pommard is broader but still sophisticated, while the Volnay Les Santenots premier cru tends to earthiness. Reds age easily for 30 years.

Wines from the great appellations show great typicity and ageability, but the surprise and the bargain are the wines from lesser appellations: and the domain is also remarkable for its ability to produce high quality in lesser years, vintages such as 1994 or 1997 showing well today.

Domaine Leflaive and the 2017 Vintage

The atmosphere has certainly changed since I first visited Domaine Leflaive. Twenty-five years ago, I called one morning for an appointment. Anne-Claude answered the phone herself and said, come along this afternoon for a tasting. Today, emails to the domaine get an automated response saying that visits can be arranged only through your local distributor. Yesterday I turned up for an appointment at the domaine in Place des Marronniers in Puligny Montrachet where I have always gone in the past, wandered around until I found somebody, and was then told by a rather brusque, not to say definitely put-out, gentleman, “You are in the wrong place.” “This is Domaine Leflaive?” I asked with some puzzlement. “Yes, but it is the wrong place.” Eventually he said, “you have to go to Rue l’Église.” No further instructions emerged until finally I was able to extract a street number.

7 Rue l’Église is the original cellar of Domaine Leflaive, before they moved into Place des Marronniers. There I found Brice de la Morandière, Anne-Claude’s nephew, who returned from a career running international companies to take over after her death in 2015. He has expanded the old cellars, which are now used for fermentation and first year aging of the local wines. Place des Marronniers is used for second year aging, and there is another facility nearby for producing the wines from Mâcon.

“At Domaine Leflaive, there is only one method,” he says. “We haven’t changed anything. “One year in barriques is followed by one year in steel. First the wine likes to have the oxygen from the barriques, then it likes to have the mass from the stainless steel.” The only difference is the proportion of new oak, rising from 10% for Bourgogne to 15% for village wines, 20% for premier crus, and 25% for grand crus. The intention is that oak should be integrating when the wine is released. “With grand crus you see the oak integrating over the two years it spends with us, with Bourgogne Blanc, if it shows it’s hard to get rid of it. We would be upset if you could taste the oak.” There is battonage during aging. “I read all those articles about battonage being bad—totally unscientific and wrong. If you don’t do battonage, the wine oxidizes slowly but surely.” (Élevage is a little different for Mâcon, which ages in a mixture of concrete and steel, single-vineyard wines from Mâcon get about 10% in old barriques, and the transition to the ‘Leflaive Method’ comes with Pouilly-Fuissé.)

It was worth persevering to get to Rue l’Église because the tasting illustrated the style of Leflaive from Mâcon to grand cru. Production in Mâcon has been expanding and is now up to 24 ha. “In 2017 we decided to start some single-vineyard wines as we could see there were interesting differences,” Brice explains. There was some unconventional thinking here. “One is west-facing, the other is north-facing.” Comparing the west-facing cuvée, Les Chênes, with the Mâcon-Verzé, the single vineyard is deeper and more textured on the palate. A single-vineyard wine from Pouilly-Fuissé, En Vigneraie, comes closer in style to the wines of Puligny, with stone and citrus fruits texturing the palate, but without the characteristic minerality of Puligny.

We tasted a range of premier and grand crus from 2017. “This was the fourth-earliest ever at Leflaive, starting on August 29,” Brice says. “This is really early in our world. The first August harvest was 2003. I came back here in 2015 and three of my vintages have been August years. Although 2017 was an early vintage, the wines don’t turn out over-ripe or too alcoholic.” They are 13.5% alcohol, but taste like less. The character is very linear for an early vintage, presently showing as a somewhat understated style. “2017 is a fantastic vintage, amazingly subtle and elegant,” Brice comments.

Clavoillon shows the smoke and gunflint that is classic for Leflaive’s Pulignys. Sous le Dos d’Âne from Meursault is sweeter and broader, less austere, with less obvious minerality. Pucelles, as so often, moves towards the smoothness and roundness of the grand crus: somewhat shy and reserved right now, its minerality is in the background. Bâtard Montrachet moves to a sense of power, more obvious oak mingling with the stone and citrus fruits: a sense of holding back makes it obvious the wine is too young now. Chevalier Montrachet shows that unique property of the grand crus: it is simultaneously more powerful and has greater sense of tension. Going up the hierarchy, there is greater refinement rather than greater power. Il vaut de detour.