Category Archives: Wine Review Online

Laurent-Perrier, Champagne (France) Brut “Grand Siècle La Cuvée” NV

($85, Laurent-Perrier USA): Do not let the lack of a vintage date deter you from enjoying this fabulous tête de cuvée Champagne. Laurent-Perrier’s tradition is to blend their best wines exclusively from grand cru villages from the last three vintages to fashion this luxurious bottling. The deliciously creamy elegance of Chardonnay–50% of the blend–marries perfectly with the power of Pinot Noir to make an elegant, classy Champagne. 96 Michael Apstein Oct 25, 2005

Sauvion et Fils, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) Château du Cléray 2003

($10, W.J. Deutsch & Sons): I’m not a fan of most 2003 white wines from Europe because the scorching summer robbed them of acidity. But it’s hard to kill the acid in the Melon de Bourgogne, the grape from which Muscadet is made. Muscadet, which can often be a little lean, benefited from the extreme heat and the little extra ripeness in 2003. That ripeness and its citric acidity makes this one a great accompaniment to simple seafood, like steamed clams. 89 Michael Apstein Oct 11, 2005

Lucien Albrecht, Alsace (France) Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2001

($35, Pasternak): Albrecht’s regular Riesling is always quite good and well priced at about $15. This one, from the Grand Cru vineyard, Pfingstberg, is glorious. With lots of intensity and minerality, it delivers everything you’d expect from a grand cru vineyard. I recorked the unfinished bottle, stored it in the fridge overnight, and found it equally enjoyable the second day. 92 Michael Apstein Oct 11, 2005

 

A Conversation with Christian Moueix, Part II: Dominus Estate

Christian Moueix, perhaps the most influential wine figure in Pomerol and St. Émilion where he oversees his family’s ten properties, also owns Dominus Estate in the Napa Valley. During a recent trip to California to supervise activities at Dominus, he stopped in Boston and we met and tasted for three illuminating hours in my kitchen.

This article, the second and final part based on that visit, focuses on Dominus Estate. Part I, which appeared last month and is available by clicking on “Wine Articles” then “Columns,” focused on his family’s properties in Bordeaux.

Moueix is thrilled when he sees a bottle of Dominus in France because he does not sell it in his native land. A sighting means that a countryman probably has visited the Napa Valley property and thought enough of the wine to bring it back. Dominus, a personal venture for Christian, is entirely separate from the family’s holdings in Bordeaux. He purchased it without using family money and still has no plans to market it with his family’s other wines in France.

Moueix, an articulate and engaging man, spent two years at University of California, Davis where he received his master’s degree in enology in 1969. Two major things he learned there were the limit of technology in making fine wine and how much he loved the Napa Valley.

Upon returning to France in 1970, he was put in charge of the family’s estates, but craved a personal challenge. He knew he couldn’t compete with Château Pétrus or Trotanoy so he decided to look outside of France. Since he had fallen in love with Napa Valley while at Davis, he enlisted the help of Robert Mondavi to look there for a suitable vineyard.

Moueix didn’t want just any vineyard; he wanted one that was capable of producing truly outstanding wine. Mondavi introduced him to the daughters of the late John Daniel, who had owned Inglenook. The daughters owned the 120-acre original Inglenook estate, called Napanook, the grapes from which were responsible for some of California’s greatest Cabernets. He formed a partnership with them in 1982, creating Dominus Estate to make a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine. A buyout made Moueix sole proprietor in 1994.

The Napanook vineyard has a unique terroir, with a gentle, 5 percent slope up to the Mayacamas Mountains that Moueix regards as perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. Neighbors thought he was crazy when he pulled out a substantial number of perfectly healthy Chardonnay vines and planted additional Cabernet. But Moueix firmly believed-and today most winemakers agree-that certain varieties of vines should be planted only in specific locales especially suited to them.

As in the Bordeaux tradition, Dominus is made by blending wines made from a variety of grapes. Initial vintages were composed of about 75 to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance comprised by Merlot. In 1986, Cabernet Franc made its way into the blend, with Petit Verdot added in 1989. Cabernet Sauvignon still predominates in current vintages, but Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot continue to contribute.

Moueix adopted a Bordeaux model-unusual for California at the time-by making only two wines, Dominus, the flagship “chateau” or “estate” wine, and Napanook, a “second” wine. The total production, like at his family’s properties in Pomerol and St. Émilion, is relatively small, consisting of just 70,000 to 100,000 bottles (6,000 to 8,000 cases) annually. Half of the production meets his rigorous standards and is bottled as Dominus. The other half is either sold off in bulk or is bottled under the Napanook label.

Since Napanook comes from grapes grown on the lower-flatter and less well-drained-part of the vineyard and from the youngest vines, it is more approachable than Dominus. Made from less intense fruit, it could be overwhelmed by oak flavors and tannins acquired during barrel aging. Moueix uses older oak barrels and keeps Napanook in them for a shorter period of time to maintain the wine’s balance.

Moueix is equally judicious with his use of oak aging for Dominus. Although he ages Dominus in small French oak barrels for 18 months, only one-third of them are new. Christian’s son, Eduardo, who was instrumental in managing Dominus, told me previously that he did not like calling Napanook a “second” wine because he is fearful that the second wine concept won’t be embraced by the US market. After tasting multiple vintages of Napanook, especially the 2001, I think he may be mistaken. Napanook represents an excellent opportunity to buy classy Napa Cabernet at a reduced price, usually less than half that of Dominus.

Christian’s plan in California, based on life-long involvement with making great wine, was to let the terroir speak. He was ahead of his time in California with this focus on the vineyard. The prevalent thinking in California when Moueix started Dominus was that winemaking technology, not the vineyard, was responsible for great wine. Now, most winemakers in California aiming to produce outstanding bottles agree that-as in real estate-making superb wine comes down to location, location, location.

Moueix planned to avoid irrigation and acidification, which he believes reduces quality. (Grapes, like all fruit, lose their acidity as they ripen. In warm climates where grapes can get very ripe, winemakers sometimes add acid to the fermenting juice-acidify it-in an attempt to keep the wine balanced and lively.) He has held to that plan. The vineyard’s proximity to the Mayacamas Mountains provides it with adequate rainfall and explains why he has never needed to irrigate, according to Moueix. And, as with all his wines from Bordeaux (even those from the scorching 2003 vintage), he never has acidified Dominus or Napanook.

Even after 20+ years, Moueix still finds Dominus challenging. Everything-the land, the climate, the predominant grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon-is different from what he grew up with in Pomerol. (The family’s Pomerol estates contain practically no Cabernet Sauvignon.) Even the terms to describe the soil are different than in Bordeaux. In California, when winemakers speak of a gravel-like soil, Moueix says they point to small pebbles of alluvial origin. In Bordeaux, gravel is composed of large pebbles or rocks at least one inch in size.

As we tasted various vintages of Dominus, I got the sense that Moueix-always a perfectionist-was not quite satisfied with many of the wines. He sometimes wonders whether Napa Valley is too warm to produce what he calls “wines of sensitivity.” A problem in Napa Valley is that heat spikes in September can send the grapes’ sugar levels from not quite ripe to over ripe quickly while the ripeness of tannins and flavor compounds lags behind. The dilemma for winemakers is difficult: should one pick earlier at lower sugar levels, when tannins may be astringent but when one can make wines with lower alcohol and more elegance, or later and riper, when tannins are supple but alcohol can be inelegantly high?

Moueix plans to deal with this dilemma in a way that contradicts conventional wisdom. Although it is now widely believed that lowering yields invariably heightens quality, Moueix plans to increase yields slightly at Dominus. His theory is that a larger crop will take longer to ripen, giving tannins time to ripen before sugar levels become excessive. Judging by Moueix’s extraordinary track record, I suspect that Dominus-which is already superb-will become even better in years to come.

THE WINES

Napanook, Napa Valley (California) 1999 ($50): A dry year in California, 1999 produced some concentrated, tannic wines, including Napanook. Despite the great aromas from the glass, the alcohol and over extraction shows. Moueix finds it curious that many pundits ranked this wine higher than the 2001 Napanook, which he believes is a far superior wine. 85

Napanook, Napa Valley (California) 2001 ($50): This is a classy, easy to savor Napa Valley Cabernet. More restrained but better balanced than the 1999, the 2001 is supple and plush. It expands and becomes even better after it has been opened for an hour or two. 90

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1991 (No longer available except at auction): I remember a vertical tasting of Dominus in Boston in 1996 at which time the 1991 stood out. The wines from the 1980s were quite tannic, but the 1991 heralded a new, more balanced style. Moueix attributes the change to the increasing age of the vines, and more importantly, experience with the vineyard. He noted that every parcel of the vineyard is different and that it takes time to learn how to handle the grapes from each plot. The 1991, even better now, has evolved and developed alluring elements of tobacco and smoke along with a dried fruit character. 93

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1994 (No longer available except at auction): The 1994 Dominus is a wine with, as Moueix would say, sensitivity. A stunning wine, it has everything: great aromas, plenty of powerful bright fruit, and those seductive, hard to describe, not-quite-fruit flavors that linger in the seemingly endless finish. It has real finesse. 96

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1996 (No longer available except at auction): This is a real powerhouse of a wine that may still become more elegant as it evolves with more bottle age. I prefer the nuances of the 1994, but this would be hard to turn down with a big slab of charbroiled beef. 90

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 2002 ($125): This is a voluptuous wine with lots of everything, including black fruit, alcohol, and supple tannins. Consumers who look for intensity and power in their cabernets will love it. 88

Postscript: Although Christian has loved the Napa Valley from the outset, his continuing lament is that he wishes he knew which specific elements of the weather in California made the difference between a good and a great year. In Bordeaux they know exactly what they need-even though they don’t always get it-to make great wine. But in California he is still trying to figure it out. I suspect that’s part of why he makes such great wine; he is always thinking.

Back to Part I

September 27, 2005

Budini, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2003

($11, Vine Connections): Here’s what I refer to as a “pizza wine,” an inexpensive, flavor-packed bottle that can hold up to pepperoni. It is a fresh, ripe Malbec that, thankfully, is neither overoaked nor over extracted. Budini is the name of an Argentine cat that can appear larger than it is by puffing its fur when threatened. Like the cat, the wine is deceptive; it has amazing quality for the price. 86 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2005

Luca, Altos de Mendoza (Argentina) Syrah 2003

($30, Vine Connections): Laura Catena, daughter of Nicolas, who runs one of Argentina’s best wineries, aims to make small quantities of very high quality wines from particular sites. Although she started in 1997, her first commercial wine was from 1999 because rain effectively washed out the 1998 vintage for her. The excellent quality she has achieved in such a short time suggests that this is a label to watch. She blended a little Bonarda and Malbec into this Syrah and achieved a lush, intense wine with hints of smoked bacon fat and a vibrant finish. 91 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2005

A Conversation with Christian Moueix

Perhaps people who spend their entire life with Merlot become like the wine: easy-going and charming, without hard edges. That describes Christian Moueix, a man who is remarkably straightforward, especially for someone so important and influential in the world of wine. His intelligence and insight were immediately apparent during a wide-ranging, three-hour meeting and tasting in my kitchen last month.

The son of Jean-Pierre Moueix, Christian oversees the family’s ten properties in Pomerol and St. Émilion, including Château Pétrus and Château Trotanoy, and runs a Napa Valley winery, Dominus Estate. The family company also manages and consults with many other châteaux situated on the right bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River.

This article, the first of two about Christian Moueix, focuses on his family’s properties in Bordeaux and issues related to that great region. Part two, which will appear next month, focuses on Dominus Estate.

Although he was in the US for one of his usual trips to oversee Dominus, his mind was not far from Pomerol. Very involved in the day-to-day running of his family’s French properties, Christian watched the weather reports in France while in the US and called home frequently to direct viticultural practices in preparation for a heat wave. “When a heat wave is predicted, it is very important to afford the grapes maximal shade by not trimming the canopy of the vines. Keeping the grapes cool is essential,” according to Moueix. He thinks that part of the reason his family’s properties did so well in 2003–a scorching year–was an unsightly but beautifully functional canopy.

The other major factor contributing to their success in 2003 was reliance on Merlot, which grows well in clay soils that retain water well. Even their Merlot vines planted on limestone, a less water-retentive soil, did well because they are old enough to have developed very deep root systems in search of water. Not everyone in Pomerol in 2003 was so lucky. Château Le Pin, for example, bottled no wine in 2003; the locals referred to it as Le Pin Grillé (literally, grilled) because the grapes were so roasted.

Moueix also offered an illuminating assessment of so-called “garage wines”–expensive wines made in very limited quantities at small production facilities. He believes that a garage wine is defined not just by small production but also by a lack of reliance on terroir. If size were the only criteria, all the châteaux of Pomerol would qualify because of their microscopic production. Despite its tiny production from 5 acres of vineyard, Moueix does not regard Château Le Pin as a garage wine because of its unique location.

He is optimistic that garage wines will not take over the world. In fact, he believes that consumers’ infatuation with these wines will fade because they are finding that these wines do not develop with age. His older brother Jean-François, who owns retail wine shops in Bordeaux and has a good pulse on consumer reactions, sees sales of these wines dropping. And in the US, prices for La Mondotte and Château de Valendraud, (two garage wines praised highly in American publications) have fallen dramatically.

Moueix vehemently disagrees with those who consider Château Hosanna (one of his newer properties in Pomerol) a garage wine, contending that it does not fit the mold due to its well-defined terroir. The property, which formerly was named Château Certan Giraud, has venerable vines in its well-established vineyard. When he purchased it in 1999, the Giraud family asked him not to use the Giraud name, and he–being a pragmatist–agreed. Since he already owned a brand called Certan, he considered calling it Château Certan. As a courtesy, however, he visited neighboring properties bearing “Certan” in their names to seek approval from their proprietors.

Monsieur Thienport at Vieux Château Certan had no objection, but Madame Bareau-Bader owner of Château Certan-de-May balked (foolishly, in my estimation). As Moueix noted, he is in the business of promoting Pomerol, so the last thing he wanted was a fight, especially over mere words, so he abandoned Château Certan and named the property Château Hosanna. (This anecdote offers a good example of how self-defeatingly rigid some French wine producers can be. Given the family’s track record, Moueix undoubtedly will make spectacular wine from this property, and the 2000 is already stunning. Any other Château entitled “Certan” would have gained cachet from Moueix’s efforts under the intended name, but Madame Bareau-Bader failed to see that.)

In any case, Château Hosanna, immediately adjacent to Château Pétrus, is planted with 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. Moueix believes that this combination makes a more feminine, approachable wine than Pétrus, which is almost 100% Merlot. He immediately increased the potential quality of Château Hosanna by selling a small parcel that was well situated but nevertheless inferior to the main vineyards, which are contiguous with Pétrus.

Moueix’s family has a long and storied relation to the broader region surrounding Hosannah and Pétrus. Jean-Pierre Moueix started the business in 1937, and was responsible for putting the wines of Pomerol, Bordeaux’s smallest appellation, on the map. The Médoc traders ignored the right bank wines of St. Émilion and Pomerol when producing the famous Classification of 1855, more because of geography than commercial protectionism. The wines from the châteaux of the Médoc, situated on the Gironde river’s left bank, were widely known in the 19th century because they could be shipped easily down the river to the Atlantic and beyond. By contrast, the wines of Pomerol and St. Émilion were effectively landlocked to the north on the right bank of the Gironde, and consequently had narrower commercial appreciation. That changed gradually, largely due to Jean-Pierre’s diligence, and today many wines from Pomerol fetch prices far higher than those of their Médoc neighbors despite lacking classified growth status.

Christian’s current project in France is to raise the visibility of Château Magdelaine, a property in Saint-Émilion that his father purchased in 1952. Most of its 27-acres lie on Saint-Émilion’s centrally located limestone plateau, but a third of them are situated on the surrounding clay slopes. The vineyard is planted with an unusually high percentage of Merlot for Saint-Émilion, 90%, with the remainder devoted to Cabernet Franc. This blend is not unusual for Moueix, all of whose properties emphasize Merlot. (Although Michel Rolland, who owns Château Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consults around the world, is frequently referred to as Mr. Merlot, I suspect Christian Moueix knows as much about this grape as anyone).

Although Merlot often grows better in water-retaining clay than in limestone, Christian thinks that the Merlot at Château Magdelaine does well because the roots are forced to dig through the limestone to find water and nourishment. He believes wine from vineyards located on the plateau, such as Belair and Ausone, can age “practically forever” because the limestone bedrock supplies structure. Although the main parcels of Château Magdelaine were planted in 1976, the oldest block, planted in 1921, remains in production. The youngest vines, comprising about one-third of the vineyard, are themselves reasonably mature at 15 years of age.

The yield at Château Magdelaine is always among the lowest in St. Émilion, typically averaging 40 hl/ha. Moueix produces only about 60,000 bottles (5,000 cases), about half of which goes into a second label, Château Saint Brice, which is not sold in the US. (With the 2004 vintage Moueix changed the name to Les Sanges de Magdelaine because second wines are not supposed to carry the word Château on the label.) The wine for the second label comes typically from young vines and those planted on the lowest part of the slope, the Pied de Côte, which don’t do as well, especially in rainy years.

Moueix is a great fan of the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux and thinks that it may turn out to be even better than the 2000 after a decade. He believes–and my tastings of a wide range of 2001s confirm–that the individual appellations are distinct and identifiable in a year like 2001, whereas the slightly riper character of the 2000s blurs the delineation between one area and the next. (Angelo Gaja has the same opinion comparing Barolos from 2001 with the riper 2000s.)

Although Moueix described the 2001 Château Magdelaine as having the “typical delicacy of Bordeaux”–which it certainly does–it also has considerable complexity and vivacity, as well as extraordinary length. It is remarkably approachable now, but its fine, supple tannins suggest it will also develop beautifully. Moueix attributes the vivaciousness of Château Magdelaine to the limestone plateau and the approachability to the high percentage of Merlot in the blend. (A 1982 Château Magdelaine, pulled from my cellar and tasted in preparation for Moueix’s visit–I’ll stoop to any excuse to open a great bottle–had developed beautiful mushroomy flavors buttressed by similar vivacity.) I would snap up current vintages of Château Magdelaine, such as the 2000 and especially the 2001, because they are severely under priced (about $50-80 for each) compared to wines from neighboring properties.

Click Here for Part II

August 30, 2005.

Casa da Vila Verde, Vinho Verde (Portugal) 2003

($10, Signature): Casa de Vila Verde has overcome the problem that plagues all too many bottlings of Vinho Verde-cutting acidity without the ripe fruit flavors to balance it. The scorching heat of 2003 ripened grapes nicely in this northwestern part of Portugal, which explains the better fruit flavors-green apples-to complement that refreshing zing. An excellent choice for spicy cuisine. 87 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

2002 Red Burgundies: Catch Them While You Can

Although they may lack the cachet of wines from small growers, such as Lafarge or Mongeard-Mugneret, the Burgundies made by négociants, especially in 2002, are not to be missed. Négociants are companies, either large or small, that buy grapes or newly made wines in bulk from growers. If they purchase grapes, the négociant vinifies the wine. If they buy newly made wine, they age and finish them in their cellars, bottle them under their label and market them.

On the label of Drouhin’s Domaine wines it says “Recolte du Domaine” under the name of the wine; those wines that are not Domaine wines will have “mise en bouteille par Joseph Drouhin.” near the bottom. Drouhin feel that all their wines – whether they be Domaine or négociant wines – are equally fine, and therefore they do not try to highlight the Domaine aspect.
Many négociant firms, such as Maison Louis Jadot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Maison Louis Latour, own substantial amounts of vineyards themselves, giving them the opportunity to combine their grapes with ones they purchase. Others, like Nicholas Potel or Alex Gambal, own very little–Potel has less than 4 acres–or none at all. A big advantage of négociants is that they produce reasonable–at least by Burgundy standards–amounts of wine that are available on retailers’ shelves.
Négociants have always dominated the Burgundy wine trade. Fifty years ago, it was a rare grower or domaine, such as the Domaine de la Romanée- Conti, that bottled and marketed the wine themselves. For the most part, the entire production went through négociants. Pressured in part by American importers, such as Alexis Lichine and Frank Schoonmaker, small growers started bottling their own wines in the 1950s and the era of the grower began. In the 1970s, négociants actually encouraged growers to bottle because adverse economic pressures prevented them from buying as much wine as the growers wished to sell. Some in the trade feel the development of the French highway system did much to stimulate growers to bottle themselves, as direct sales to visiting consumers became commonplace. In 1970, the négociants controlled about 70% of the market according to Jean Charles Boisset, a leading négociant. Even today, with growers continuing to shift toward bottling and marketing their own wines, négociants still control about 64% of the business, according to Boisset.

Though the total volume lost by négociants to growers over the last three decades seems small, much of the loss was from top-notch growers who owned prized parcels in premier or grand cru vineyards. Faced with the prospect of losing the cream of crop in terms of supply, négociants like Maison Louis Jadot responded by buying additional vineyards as they became available. Négociants have always owned property themselves–Jadot and Drouhin each own or control about 150 acres–in addition to the wines they purchase. Typically, though not invariably, they bottle the wines from their individual vineyards separately, but only subtle differences on the label identify this point to the consumer. The only difference between Louis Latour’s domaine and non-domaine label is the disc on the neck that says either Domaine Louis Latour or Maison Louis Latour, with the latter utilized for the négociant wines.

In my experience, the négociants’ domaine bottlings always have a little extra pizzazz because they have complete control of the grapes from start to finish. But weighing in on the other side is none other than the very straight talking Pierre-Henri Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot, who has remarked to me on several occasions that some of the best wines Jadot has made came from vineyards owned by someone other than Maison Jadot.

The 2002 vintage was superb for both reds and whites. Many winemakers told me that the extraordinarily healthy grapes allowed them to conduct an unhurried vinification to extract pure flavors. The recommendations below focus on the reds because I–along with many producers–believe they are more exciting, in the same league as the great 1985s and 1990s. The 2002 reds are immediately charming (as were the 1985s), yet they have plenty of stuffing for protracted aging and development. I am betting that the 2002s, like the 1985s, will evolve beautifully and have stashed many cases in my cellar.

Many 2002s are still available at the retail level and will remain after the microscopic amounts of the much more inconsistent 2003 vintage have disappeared from the shelves. The 2002s also have the advantage of having been purchased with a far stronger dollar, and are bargains compared to their 2003 counterparts. While I’m sure there are many fabulous 2003s–Jadot’s Bonnes Mares springs to mind–the 2002 is a far more consistent vintage and a safer bet for long term cellaring.

2002 vintage reds from five leading Burgundy negotiants are reviewed below, with the negotiant houses appearing in alphabetical order:

Bouchard Père & Fils

Joseph Henriot, of Champagne fame, rapidly reinvigorated this venerable Burgundy firm after he acquired it in 1995. Henriot proved that dramatic changes in the cellars could improve the quality instantaneously and buy time while the necessarily slower improvements in the vineyards took hold. Bouchard Père & Fils, the largest landowner in the Côte d’Or (or “Golden Slope,” the heart of Burgundy), with over 225 acres, had failed to keep pace with the times, but Henriot changed that seemingly overnight.

Bouchard Père & Fils, Santenay (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($24, Clicquot, Inc.): Luc Bouchard told me that he finds the wines from Santenay unappealing in difficult vintages and that Bouchard won’t buy in those years. However, in a year like 2002, Bouchard purchased heavily, the equivalent of just over 3,000 cases. With the appealing characteristic rusticity of Santenay, Bouchard’s 2002 is unexpectedly charming and graceful. It’s a great introduction to Burgundy. 88

Bouchard Père & Fils, Monthélie 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Duresses 2002 ($30, Clicquot, Inc.): A domaine bottling, this wine is amazingly intense for a Monthélie. A great perfume, coupled with a long, sweet finish and supple tannins, means it’s delightful now. 90

Bouchard Père & Fils, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Beaune du Châteaux 2002 ($40, Clicquot, Inc.): This wine, which has been sold widely in France, made its first US appearance in 2002. A blend made exclusively from up to 16 of Bouchard’s 1er Cru vineyards in Beaune which are not bottled separately, such as Beaune Marconnets or Beaune Grèves, it’s a great buy. The grapes from the small plots Bouchard owns are harvested and vinified separately and then blended to create Beaune du Châteaux. A pure fruit nose, gives way to up front fresh red fruit flavors, great delicacy and length. 91

Bouchard Père & Fils, Volnay 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot 2002 ($55, Clicquot, Inc.): As Clos des Ursules is Jadot’s flagship from Beaune, this is Bouchard’s standard bearer from Volnay. This portion of the Caillerets vineyard, Bouchard’s first acquisition in 1775, was subsequently acquired by others through inheritance. A marriage to a member of the Carnot family brought it back to Bouchard and explains its elongated name, Ancienne Cuvée Carnot. A vertical tasting of it back to the 1964 in Bouchard’s cellars in 2000 showed how beautifully this wine ages and evolves. Its fabulously floral nose screams Volnay. But its combination of power and delicacy coupled with extraordinary length make it special. Mild to moderate tannins are ripe, not intrusive, and assure a lovely evolution. 95

Maison Joseph Drouhin

Drouhin, one of the great négociants located in Beaune, produced a stunning line of village wines in 2002, perhaps in part because Drouhin’s winemaker, Laurence Jobard, the first woman winemaker in Burgundy, has been with the firm for over three decades. This house, like all négociants, maintains that all their wines–whether they be domaine or négociant wines–are equally fine, and therefore it does not try to highlight the domaine aspect. On the label of Drouhin’s domaine wines it says “Récolte du Domaine” under the name of the wine, whereas negotiant bottlings will have “mis en bouteille par Joseph Drouhin” near the bottom.

Maison Drouhin, Chorey lès Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($25, Dreyfus Ashby): Wines from Chorey les Beaune, the only village in the Côte d’Or without a premier cru vineyard, offer great value when they are crafted by a talented producer like Drouhin. With pure fresh red fruit flavors, this one is uncomplicated and charming now. An excellent buy. 86

Maison Drouhin, Côte de Beaune, (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($25, Dreyfus Ashby): The Côte de Beaune appellation, less well known in the US than Côte de Beaune Villages, ranks between Beaune and the Beaune 1er Cru in stature, acording to Véronique Drouhin. Primarily made from wines from the young vines of Drouhin’s flagship property, Beaune Clos des Mouches, it has forward, pure ripe fruit flavors, little tannin, and good acid. It is a fine example of Beaune–as good as many producers’ Beaune 1er Cru–and represents an excellent value. 88

Maison Drouhin, Pommard (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($43, Dreyfus Ashby): The denser, spicier, black fruit component makes this a delicious village wine and highlights the difference between it and the more delicate, red fruit-dominated wines of Beaune. 90

Maison Drouhin, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($200, Dreyfus Ashby): A domaine bottling, this Bonnes Mares is staggeringly good, plush and balanced, with a seemingly endless finish. 96

Maison Drouhin, Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($175, Dreyfus Ashby): Sometimes wines from Grand Cru vineyards are disappointing. Not this domaine bottling. It has a magical combination of power and elegance and the extra umph that should characterize a Grand Cru. 95

Maison Louis Jadot

Jadot indicates a domaine wine, for example, Bonnes Mares, by inserting the domaine name in the small rectangle at the bottom of the label. Label of negociant wines lack the rectangle and say “. . .mis en bouteille par Louis Jadot.”  The Jadot wines from Beaune, where the firm is based, are stunning across the board and–by Burgundy or even California Pinot Noir standards–reasonably priced. The are probably the finest array of Beaune 1er cru I have tasted, which explains why I bought a case of each for my cellar. The three recommended below are just a sampling. If you run across others, don’t pass them up.

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Theurons 2002 ($36, Kobrand): A bottling from a vineyard owned by the heirs of the Jadot family–Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot–this is a concentrated wine, rather big for a Beaune, with great texture and length. 92

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Boucherottes 2002 ($36, Kobrand): This more muscular wine, also from a family owned vineyard on the border with Pommard, has great color and concentration without being overdone. Exceptionally long, it’s even bigger, but not necessarily better, than the Theurons. 92

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos des Ursules 2002 ($48, Kobrand): Jadot’s flagship Beaune from a portion of the Vignes Franches vineyard, the Clos des Ursules is always a winner. The 2002 is no exception. With more structure than their other Beaune 1er Cru, it should turn out very well. A wonderfully balanced wine. 94

Louis Jadot, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Petit Chapelle 2002 ($55, Kobrand): From purchased grapes, Jacques Lardière, Jadot’s exceptionally talented winemaker, has produced a very good, earthy, surprisingly big wine from a lesser known premier cru. 90

Louis Jadot, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($100, Kobrand): Also from purchased grapes, this Charmes Chambertin attests to the validity of the appellation contrôllée system. It has more of everything–complexity, length, and power–than the Petite Chapelle. 94

Louis Jadot, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($125, Kobrand): Always my favorite, Jadot’s Bonnes Mares, a domaine wine, is suave, long, layered, and luxurious. The tannins and structure are there, but unobtrusive, and bode well for development. 97

Maison Louis Latour

Always known for their superlative white Burgundies–it’s hard to find a better Corton Charlemagne–Latour has made substantial improvement in their reds starting with the 1999 vintage.

Maison Louis Latour, Marsannay (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($17, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour has fashioned a remarkable value with this simple Marsannay, a town not known for producing engaging red wines. Its bright fruit makes for a charming, easy to drink wine. Not to be missed. 88

Maison Louis Latour, Chambolle Musigny (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($48, Louis Latour, Inc.): Here is a great village wine, fleshy and plump, with unexpected length. Delicious now. 90

Maison Louis Latour, Volnay 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) En Chevrets 2002 ($34, Louis Latour, Inc.): This has the quintessential Burgundy character of loads of flavor without heaviness. Impeccably balanced, it is unusual to see premier cru wines at this price. 90

Domaine Louis Latour, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Vignes Franches 2002 ($46, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour owns about a third–over 7 acres–in this prized vineyard from which he makes consistently excellent wine. The 2002 is glorious, concentrated and well structured. I would drink his Volnay En Chevrets while waiting for this one to evolve. This is another one that went into my cellar. 93

Maison Louis Latour, Pommard 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Epenots 2002 ($50, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour owns a small portion of this vineyard and combines his grapes with others to make this appealing wine. Plumper than his Beaune Vignes Franches–in keeping with the character of Pommard–it’s juicy and supple. 90

Maison Nicolas Potel

Nicolas Potel is a new breed of Burgundy négociant. He and his father, Gerard, the highly regarded manager of Domaine Pousse d’Or (a high-quality estate specializing in wines from Volnay and adjacent towns), started a small negociant business in the mid 1990s. When Gerard died suddenly in 1997, Nicolas focused on the négociant business, Maison Nicolas Potel, which was recently purchased by Cottin Frères (a company that controls a larger Burgundy négociant, Labouré Roi). Armand Cottin, President of Labouré Roi, told me he intends to keep Maison Nicholas Potel entirely separate to allow Nicholas to work his magic with the necessary financial support behind him.

Nicolas Potel, Bourgogne Maison Dieu (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($19, Frederick Wildman): Potel owns just one small, four-acre, vineyard called Maison Dieu between the towns of Beaune and Pommard, on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The wine doesn’t even qualify for a town name, but must be sold under Burgundy’s least prestigious appellation, Bourgogne. Despite its lack of pedigree, it’s a lovely wine, silky and rich, without heaviness. It surprises with layers of flavors expected only in wines from grander locales. (Starting with the 2003 vintage, Potel will label this wine as Cuvée Gerard Potel to honor his father.) A great buy. 88

Nicolas Potel, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos des Vignes Franches 2002 ($36, Frederick Wildman): The pure cherry-like fruit is packaged here in Potel’s signature silky suaveness. Tightly wound at this stage, I expect it will blossom beautifully over the next five years. I also put this one in my cellar. 90

Nicolas Potel, Pommard 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Pezerolles 2002 ($55, Frederick Wildman): Explosively rich, lush and long, it’s hard not to drink this one now. But I’m sure that cellaring it will pay dividends in the future. 92

August 1, 2005.

Nicolas Potel, Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) Maison Dieu 2002

($19, Frederick Wildman): Potel owns just one small, four-acre, vineyard called Maison Dieu between the towns of Beaune and Pommard, on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The wine doesn’t even qualify for a town name, but must be sold under Burgundy’s least prestigious appellation, Bourgogne. Despite its lack of pedigree, it’s a lovely wine, silky and rich, without heaviness. It surprises with layers of flavors expected only in wines from grander locales. (Starting with the 2003 vintage, Potel will label this wine as Cuvée Gerard Potel to honor his father.) A great buy. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005

Maison Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2002

($25, Dreyfus Ashby): The Côte de Beaune appellation, less well known in the US than Côte de Beaune Villages, ranks between Beaune and the Beaune 1er Cru in stature, acording to Véronique Drouhin. Primarily made from wines from the young vines of Drouhin’s flagship property, Beaune Clos des Mouches, it has forward, pure ripe fruit flavors, little tannin, and good acid. It is a fine example of Beaune–as good as many producers’ Beaune 1er Cru–and represents an excellent value. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005

Bouchard Père & Fils, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Beaune du Châteaux 2002

($40, Clicquot, Inc.): This wine, which has been sold widely in France, made its first US appearance in 2002. A blend made exclusively from up to 16 of Bouchard’s 1er Cru vineyards in Beaune which are not bottled separately, such as Beaune Marconnets or Beaune Grèves, it’s a great buy. The grapes from the small plots Bouchard owns are harvested and vinified separately and then blended to create Beaune du Châteaux. A pure fruit nose, gives way to up front fresh red fruit flavors, great delicacy and length. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005