Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Louis Roederer Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon at La Fete du Champagne

Levi Dalton (host of the I'll Drink to That podcast) is the greatest wine interviewer ever; he gets that it is not about him. Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Louis Roederer Chef de Cave, has a few distinct opinions; and he is not shy about revealing them. Put these two together and you get the most informative and insightful of the seminars presented at the inaugural La Fete du Champagne extravaganza. The wines presented at the seminar were the Roederer Brut Premier and Brut Natural 2006 and the Cristal Brut 1995 and Brut Rosé 2002.

Levi Dalton and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon
Peter Liem introduced the panelists and, prior to the start of the proceedings, Jean-Baptiste gave a shout out to the Managing Director of the House (Frédréic Rouzaud) who was seated in the audience.

In response to Levi's opening question, Jean-Baptiste revealed that he had developed an interest in wine at an early age and that had prompted him to study Agronomy -- and then Winemaking -- at Montpellier. He worked in Bordeaux and the US after graduation and then came to Champagne. He currently oversees both the vineyard and winemaking at Louis Roederer.

He sees Champagne as a "climate story" with 50% of the climatic effect being Oceanic and 50% being Continental. Sun, water, and rain all influence grape growing with the chalk soils adding a defining element.

Louis Roederer farms 240 ha of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, 65 ha of which are farmed biodynamically, the largest commitment to that viticultural approach in all of Champagne. According to Jean-Baptiste, biodynamic farming produces richer, riper fruit.

Massal selection is used for propogation. Jean-Baptiste sees that as key to a necessary diversity in the vineyard.

Roederer Brut Premier

According to Jean-Baptiste, 240 years of history is encapsulated in this wine. The blend is 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier. Seventy percent of the grapes used in this wine is sourced from company-owned vineyards. Petit Meunier grapes are purchased from two sources and helps to round out the blend.

Roederer contends with an inconsistent climate but has to create a consistent wine and they employ horizontal and vertical blending to accomplish this task. For the vertical blending, oak-aged (cask) wines from eight vintages are employed. The strategy is to blend opposites: continental climate wines blended with oceanic climate wines. He is looking for micro-oxygenation, rather than flavors, in his use of oak.

Roederer Brut Natural 2006

Every Louis Roederer generation wants to create a wine that will help to ensure the future of the House. Frédéric (the current Managing Director) is no exception to that rule. He had a vision of a terroir-driven, low-dosage wine and, towards that end, he partnered with Philippe Stark to bring something new to the market. They began with fruit from the 35-ha Cumières vineyard, known for deep, dark clay soils in a south-facing, amphitheater-like setting. According to Jean-Baptiste, clay "sings" in continental years but does not do well in oceanic years. The Cumières terroir provides bigger frruit, acidity, and mineral notes.

The grapes are picked on fruit days (according to the biodynamic calendar). The wines have soft bubbles, creamy taste and a spiciness. The wine has been aged for 10 months in order to build texture. The high acidity drove a decision to go with 4.5 to 5 bars of pressure as high acidity combined with larger bubbles can yield harsh results.

Lemony-lime acidity with spicines on nose cofirmed in a long, spicy finish.

Cristal Brut 1995

This project began in 1995 when they began setting aside some wine for the future. Jean-Baptiste feels that keeping wines on the lees can hide the terroir over time -- not a good outcome if you are trying to produce terroir-driven wines. And, time on lees has to be counter-weighted by time-in-bottle to allow sugar digestion. A wine that spends 5 years on lees should be bottle-aged for an additional 5 years.

Pinot Noir on chalk is the story here as the combination delivers precision and purity. But it is a struggle. The grapes for this wine are secured from vines that are at least 25 years old with an average age of 38 to 40 years (According to Jean-Baptiste, it takes 15 years for the vines to burrow into the bedrock.).

The wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation. Nine grams of sugar are added and this lower dosage results in a more elegant, more refined blend.

Nineteen ninety-five was a classic vintage with half of its influence continental and half oceanic. The wine presented a lemony-lime acidity, with burnt orange and burnt toast notes, and a long, dry, spicy finish.

Cristal Rose 2002

This was a continental year when everything went "swimmingly." Conditions were perfect. The winds came from the north north east in September, resulting in cool nights, bright days, evaporation of water from the grapes, and concentration of grape constituents.

The fruit for this wine was sourced from 50-year-old vines grown in south-facing, biodynamically farmed vineyards in Aÿ. This terroir yields extra-ripe fruit.

The Rose showed ripe fruit (which Jean-Baptiste attributes to the Pinot Noir), orange, orange rind, minerality (attributed to the Chardonnay), bright acidity, and a spicy, long finish. Excellent mousse. The bubbles in this wine were more pronounced than the three previous wines. Fruity and not as biting as the other wines. Hint of tannin resulting from the Pinot Noir used in the blend.

Jean-Baptiste sees the Rose as a 40+-year wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, October 24, 2014

Part III of my review of Jamie Goode's "Rescuing Minerality"

This is the final installment of a three-part review of Jamie Goode's post titled "Rescuing Minerality." Where the first and second installments examined Jamie's discussions of terroir and the contribution of soils to wine quality, respectively, this post hones in on the elemental core of the article, minerality.

Jamie begins this section of his post by remarking on the relative youth of the term minerality in relation to wine. In this he is aligned with Alex Maltman (Minerality in Wine: A Geological Perspective, Journal of Wine Research, 2013) who, as I described in my post on the topic, sees minerality as "... a thoroughly modern invention which had received no mention in the works of the 'masters' (Peynaud 1987 and Vine 1997, for example) or the science-based tasting schemes (Jackson 2009 and Noble et al., Aroma Wheel 1987, for example).

Jamie takes issue with a "literal view" of minerality where it is characterized as "... the perception of the rocks in the soil, by the palate." In taking that position, he is aligned with the aforementioned Maltman. The two charts below (derived from Maltman) show (i) the differences between the types of minerals found in wine and geological minerals and (ii) an example of the path ("protracted, rocky, and time-variant") that a geologic mineral has to traverse in order to be usable to a vine.

The above shows some of the difficulty in tasting geologic rock in wine but, further, absorption and distribution of the cations by the vine plant, and cellar activities associated with winemaking, further dis-associate the minuscule amounts of minerals found in wine from the geologic minerals in the vineyard.

Jamie identifies aroma and taste as the areas in which minerality has been mentioned (I will add "texture" to that list.). In his discussion, Jamie specifically refers to a matchstick/mineral character in white wines and then dismisses it as a volatile sulfur compound created during alcoholic fermentation. I have not researched this particular area. I have, however, looked at the aroma described as "earthy minerality" and my research shows this to be an off-odor caused by geosmin, a secondary metabolite produced by the fungus species Penicillum expansum. The final nail in the aroma coffin is Maltman's assertion that aroma requires volatilization in order to register on the organs of the olfactory bulb. Neither rocks nor minerals possess this capability.

Before turning to Jamie's discussion on taste I would like to explore the category which I have contributed -- texture -- and relate it to the term "chalky minerality." Based on the work done by an Australian and French research team (S. Vidal et al., Use of an experimental design approach for evaluation of key wine components on mouth-feel perception, Food Quality and Preference 15, 2004) and reported on in Wine Business Monthly (Bibiana Guerra, Key Wine Components in Mouthfeel Perception, November 2011), we learn that chalkiness is an astringency categorization (along with pucker, adhesive, dry, medium-surface smoothness, and coarse-surface smoothness). According to sensorysociety.org (and Richard Gawel, Secret of the Spit Bucket Revealed, aromadictionary.com), astringency is a tactile sensation, rather than a taste, and is primarily caused by polyphenolic compounds contained in certain foods (including wine) but can also be caused by acids, metal salts (such as alum), and alcohols. A key characteristic of astringency is the fact that it is difficult to clear from the mouth and, as such, builds in intensity on repeated exposure to the source. The source of astringency in wines is tannins.

Jamie divides taste in minerality into two areas: those associated with high-acid whites and those having a taste of "salty minerality." The "mineral" taste associated with "high-acid" white wines is quickly dispatched with an admonition that they should be so described. The "salty minerality" is described by Jamie as being the "best use of the term" and he asks whether this could be "caused by mineral salts in wine, absorbed by vine roots." He posits that the minerality of wine fluctuates between 1.5 g/L and 4 g/L "which may be enough to confer some flavour on the wine." The Waterhouse Labs at UCDavis places that range at 0.2 to 2 g/l while winesofczechrepublic.cz places the range at 1.8 g/l to 2.8 g/l. Second, it seems (and please correct me if I am wrong) that there is an attempt here to equate mineral salts with saltiness but, according to Wikipedia: magnesium ions are sour to the taste; dilute solutions of potassium taste sweet; and calcium ions vary to human taste, being reported as mildly salty, sour, "mineral-like," and "soothing." Further, if there were to be a mineral taste imparted by these salts it would most likely be aligned with the potassium ion (sweet) as that ion comprises 50-70% of the mineral concentration in grape juice.

Jamie points to two cases as evidence that the soil type influences the mineral composition of the wine. He did not have to go that far. We know that different soils have differing CEC and will result in more or less minerals being available in the soil. But that does not prove that the wine tastes mineral. He shows where Anders Pueke grew Riesling in three different soils and then found chemical differences when the sap was analyzed. Notice here he said chemical differences. I am not sure if he meant mineral differences. Because chemical analysis does not advance the point. Further, was minerality (salty) found moreso or less so in the wines? He also mentioned Randall Grahm placing rocks into wines and getting a textural change. As Stephen Mense points out in his post (Rocks in our wine ... or just our heads? tableintime.com, 10/31/12), Grahm's intent was to "determine if minerally flavors and aromas would be communicated" from the rocks to the wines. Mission unaccomplished as "the alterations did not have the effect of making the wines taste more like rocks or gravel."

According to Jamie, "It follows that increased soil microlife could lead to more mineral wines." I am missing something. I can agree that increased soil microlife could be beneficial in a number of ways but I do not see how it leads to more mineral wines. I would be willing to say that increased soil microlife would eventually result in increased mineral levels in the soil but it is not clear that that automatically translates into increased mineral uptake by the vine plant. Nor does it show that these additional minerals would be delivered to the fruit versus other parts of the plant. And, why is this not a constant. Why are not all wines (red or white) that are subjected to organic/biodynamiic treatments exhibiting this salty minerality?

I am not sure but this looks like an awesome leap of faith to me.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anselme Selosse (Domaine Jacques Selosse) at La Féte du Champagne

He has been described as "... one of the most revered producers in Champagne" and the initiator of the "grower revolution" (Walters, The World of Fine Wine, Issue 36, 2012). And he was going to be in NYC participating in the inaugural edition of La Féte du Champagne. I just had to be there. And almost didn't make it because everyone and his brother had the same idea. Thanks to the bulldog-like tenacity of Ron, and the organizing committee opening up some additional seats closer in to the event, I was able to get in the door. But it is not about me. It is about him. Anselme Selosse. Proprietor of the renowned Domaine Jacques Selosse.

Anselme participated in all elements of the La Féte du Champagne program: (i) At Table 17 of the Grand Tasting he poured Initial Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Version Originale Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Les Carelles Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, and Millésime Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2002; (ii) he participated in the seminar series as part of a panel with Peter Liem in a seminar titled simply Jacques Selosse; and (iii) he had the seat of honor at one of the tables at the event-capping Gala Dinner. This post will focus on Anselme in the Jacques Selosse seminar.

The Selosse seminar was moderated by Peter Liem with translation (required due to Anselme's limited English) provided by Jean-Baptiste Cristini. The wines featured at the seminar were all lieu-dits:
  • Jacques Selosse Sous Le Mont Mareui-sur-Aÿ Extra Brut Premier Cru
  • Jacques Selosse Le Bout du Clos Ambonnay Extra Brut Grand Cru
  • Jacques Selosse La Cote Faron Aÿ Extra Brut Grand Cru
The format of the session was (i) a question posed by Peter Liem, (ii) an answer (in French) by Anselme, and (iii) a translated version of the response provided to the audience by Jean-Baptiste.

There ws a definite Taoist bent to this session. In response to a Peter Liem question on what had brought him to his current winemaking style, Anselme said that he had traveled far and wide before coming home to work with his father. And he had come back asking questions like "What is terroir?" At that time he had not wanted to take anything for granted (in terms of winemaking in Champagne), nor did he want to take only his father's traditions. He does not see tradition as structured and closed. Rather, he sees it as continually evolving. Transmission (from father to son, for example) must be taken into account but it is not about a recipe, but more about the conveyance of methodology and a way of thinking. He is currently transmitting his way of thinking to his son but does not want that to be in any way constricting.

Continuing, Anselme said that a wine will illustrate the indigenous character of its environment. The work that is done should not drive standardization. He, as an example, does not do much work in the vineyards. There is no creation in winemaking; the winemakers job is to reveal what is already there; and each producer must reveal the essence of his/her wine. Two of his guiding principles are:
  • It is not about "what one does" but about "what one does not do" -- He has no demands when it comes to viticulture. He just brings the fruit to the center.
  • Respect the life of the soil -- No pesticides; no compacting of the soil. The vine is defined by water it has accessed.
Anselme posits that winemaking is oxidation of organic matter. Aging is also an oxidative process as it involves the degradation of organic material. It is that degradation that reveals the many facets of a wine. He does not want to put his wines into a strait jacket; he wants them to express themselves.

Peter asked him why he had chosen these particular wines for the seminar given their limited production volumes. Anselme said that he had wanted to share what is most rare for him at this event. His single-vineyard wines, he said, were inspired by Burgundy, where the "horizontal and vertical presentation of wine is the norm." While discussing the Sous Le Mont, Anselme said that, in many ways, wine is water from the rocks, with minerals transmitted from the rocks into the vine (Ed. Note: This is a controversial position). This particular vineyard is east-facing, with balanced organic matter and some clay in the soil. The Clos Ambonnay wine is from a south-facing vineyard at the bottom of the slope and with more clay in its soil than the Sous Le Mont. It is, as such, more rounded than its counterpart. La Cote Faron is also from south-facing vineyards.

In terms of his winemaking style, the use of soleras ia a way of averaging out the climatic variations and allows the face of the region to be revealed.

At this point the floor was thrown open for questions. Having written about Tom Stevenson questioning his winemaking style, I queried him about his thoughts on Stevenson's critiques. Ron followed up with a question on his thoughts on oxidation as a topic. Anselme revealed that he had first met Stevenson 25 years ago and that they had not seen eye to eye. They met again 10 years ago; and nothing had changed. In his view, there are two important elements in wine appreciation: the nose and the mouth. He believes that, in Stevenson's case, the textural responses in the mouth are the most important. He recognizes that diversity is the key. There should not be a simplification of winemaking or a single arbiter of style. Oxidation is a fact of life.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Inaugural La Fête du Champagne sparkles

The inaugural edition of La Fête du Champagne, organized and hosted by Peter Liem and Daniel Johnnes, was a grand production -- in the tradition of La Paulée -- with Producers and Sommeliers galore and Champagne flowing like water down a dry gulch after a torrential downpour. As marketed, the event would provide a Grand Tasting (at which more than 20 producers would pour their wines), a series of themed seminars (running sequentially and slotted within the timeframe of the Grand Tasting), and a Gala Dinner (to which attendees could bring bottles of Champagne to share). Expectations were exceeded.

This event was highly anticipated, a result of the caliber and track record of the organizers, as well as a broad-based love for the subject wine. A testament to the pent-up demand for such an offering was the fact that the Selosse seminar was sold out on the first day of a pre-offer to customers of the event's Grand Cru sponsor; and tickets to Peter Liem's session were closed out very soon thereafter.

The weather in New York had been exceptional for the three days leading up to the event and the day-of followed suit. The weather was a portent of what awaited us within the confines of Astor Center, the event locale.

The seminar schedule is shown below.

I did not attend the Peter Liem event because it sold out early. My buddy Ron and his wife Bev did attend and they thought that it was exceptional. According to Ron, Peter laid out the various terroirs of Champagne in a manner that was very enlightening to him in terms of its meaning in the glass.

Peter Liem and Daniel Johnnes at opening seminar
(Picture courtesy of Ron Siegel)
I did attend the following three seminars and found them exceptional in terms of content, moderator-panelist interaction, and attendee participation. The Louis Roederer session was moderated by Levi Dalton (host of the I'll Drink to That podcast) and Levi did an excellent job of staying out of the way and allowing Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon (House Chef de Cave) the time and space to provide an excellent perspective on the House's philosophy and practices and how that mapped with the environment (terroir) in the production of its wines. The wines presented at the seminar were the Roederer Brut Premier and Brut Natural 2006 and the Cristal Brut 1995 and Brut Rosé 2002, excellent wines all.

Levi Dalton and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, Roederer Chef de Cave
The second seminar that I did attend was a rather lively affair led by Daniel Johnnes and featuring Champagne - Food pairings chosen and presented by four Sommeliers. The pairings were as follows:
  • Pascaline Lepeltier, Wine Director, Rouge Tomate: Jacques Lassagne Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Le Cotet with Hawaii Walu Crudo from Andy Bennett, Exective Chef, Rouge Tomate
  • Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier, Le Bernardin: Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru with Le Bernardin Salmon Rillette from Eric Ripert, Chef/Owner, Le Bernardin
  • Rajeev Vaidya, Chef Sommelier DANIEL: Georges Laval Brut Nature Cumières Premier Cru with Mosiac of Venison and Daikon Radish from Jean-François Bruel, Executive Chef, DANIEL
  • Rajat Parr, Winemaker, Sandhi Wines: Savart Expression Brut Nature Premier Cru 2009 with Smoked Sturgeon, Caviar, and Rye from James Kent, Executive Chef, NoMad Hotel.
This was a fun and revealing exercise which Daniel spiced up by having us go back and taste some of the foods with Champagnes they were not originally paired with. A key takeaway was that while Champagne is an easy call (in that it pairs with everything), texture matters.

Panelists for A Sommelier's Perspective
Dishes paired with the Sommeliers' Champagne choices
Ron and Bev at the Sommelier's Perspective
My final seminar was my most highly anticipated. I have written extensively on Anselme Selosse in this blog (Selosse: Terroir expression or market misdirection?) and dialogued with Tom Stevenson, noted Champagne writer, on Selosse's style (Tom Stevenson's Selosse critiques; Galloni versus Stevenson; and Continuation of response to Tom Stevenson) so I was looking forward to getting his perspective on the issues. Anselme speaks little English so a translator was utilized to facilitate communication between him and the audience. Peter Liem moderated the session. This session had a few shortcomings in that (i) Peter's questioning was not tightly focused enough, (ii) the translator seemed to not fully relay what Anselme was saying, and (iii) just the fact that a translator was being used meant that we got half of the input that we would have if we spoke French. That being said, it was a fascinating session. Anselme is extremely philosophical in his approach to winemaking and conveys that in both his speech and carriage. I disagree with him on his concept of minerality but he is the winemaker and I am the drinker. Ron and I queried him on the Tom Stevenson issue and he became very animated; he left the translator behind. I cannot be convinced that the translator captured the length and breadth of all that he said in response to those two queries. Anyway, click here for my blog post on the Selosse seminar.

Anselme Selosse, Jean-Baptiste Cristini, and Pascaline Lepeltier
Sposa with Anselme Selosse post seminar
Author with Peter Liem
After my final seminar, I repaired to the main area where the Grand Tasting was being held. Ron had already made a pass through so were were able to head to the "prime" spots first before doing a more stately pass through the bevy of pourers.

And the Champagne flowed. each table was pouring either three or four bottles of their estate's best offerings. It all went too quickly. In addition to the Champagne tables, there were a number of food stations peppered throughout the hall with the standouts being, in my opinion, a spicy, yielding, wagyu beef from DeBragga. The Grand Tasting was scheduled to end at three and these guys were relentless in getting pourers and attendees out so that they could prepare for the Gala Dinner.

Ron with Anselme Selosse at the Grand Tasting
The dinner was a blast. And not because of the food, which was, with the exception of the chicken, less-than-memorable. But that faded into a distant memory, drowned under an avalanche of fermented beverages, sharing and comparing of stories and wines, and establishing contacts for the "next time."

We were welcomed with glasses of Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos 2011 and that was featured throughout the cocktail hour. Canapés prepared by James Kent, Abram Bissel, Guenter Seeger, and Daniel Boulud were served during this period.

Our table ran along the far wall and we were seated next the the owner of Wally's and just behind our Chief Interlocutor for the evening, Zach Baum of Crush Wine and Spirits.

The evening began rather tamely with some relatively basic mags but then began to pick up the pace, both in terms of quantity and quality. Each person had three glasses and those very quickly became inadequate for the volume of wine that was rapidly coming downstream. For example, our table was being managed by Levi Dalton, Raj Parr, and the Somm from the Bristol Hotel in Paris. These guys were in charge of our wines and ensuring that we got them in a timely fashion. In addition, the producers were walking around and pouring their wines into your glasses (At least one producer sat at each table.). In addition, folks from other tables were bringing their wines over and pouring us. And, finally, Crush Wines had instructed that every wine poured at their table should be poured for us also. Pretty soon I was drowning. A partial listing of the Champagnes poured at dinner is provided below as an Addendum.

Cristal Rosé in Mag

Lobster: Marinated with Truffles, Grapefruit, and Radish
-- Abram Bissel

Roasted Poularde: Porcini Cream, Oyster Mushrooms, Salsify,
and Swiss Chard - Daniel Boulud

Part of our contribution to the evening

This was a Champagne dinner but we figured that by the end of the evening, folks would be craving some red wine so Ron and I took, in addition to some excellent Champagnes, multiple bottles of Burgundy and Barolo.

Red wine time
Ron with a bottle of '99 Chambertin
Parlo and Bev with Daniel Johnnes
Beauty and the Beasts. Nicole Beloyianis,
Event Organizer, between Ron and Author
A great night. Drank some phenomenal Champagnes. Met some good people. Drank some great reds (By the way, the guys from Wally's brought a 1982 L'Evangile, one of my favorite wines). I would be remiss in not pointing out what a great job Nicole did from Day One up until the last glass was drained. It was a pleasure to work with efficiency so immaculately packaged. Kudos to Peter and Daniel for visioning this event and delivering at such a high level the first time out of the gate. I will be back.


Addendum -- Partial List of Champagnes Poured at the Gala Dinner (as compiled by Ron Siegel)

1976 Dom Ruinart BB Mag
1989 Krug Collection Mag
1985 Dom Rosé Oenotheque Mag
1923 Veuve Clicquot Mag
1982 Dom Oenotheque Mag
NV Raphaele & Vincent Bereche Côte Millesime 3L
1981 Krug Collection Mag
1975 Dom Mag
1975 Bollinger RD 3L
L'Accomplie Brut 3L
1999 Pierre Peters Cuvee Special Mag
1990 Dom Mag
2002 Dom Ruinart Mag
1996 Bollinger Grande Anee Mag
1989 Clos ds Goisse Philipponnat Mag
1995 Cristal Mag
1995 Dom Oenotheque
1989 Cristal Mag
1964 Delamotte Mag
1979 Cristal
1982 Agrapart & Fils Mineral BB Mag
1990 Dom
1982 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie Mag
1988 Dom
1985 Dom
1985 Deutz Cuvee William Millesime
1982 Dom
1976 Taittinger Comte Champagne

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review of Jamie Goode's "Rescuing Minerality": Part II

Jamie Goode gets back onto the "minerality" path after what he terms a "side step" into the concept of terroir. That "side step" was covered in the first installment of our three-part review of Jamie's post titled Rescuing Minerality. This post covers the second major topic in Jamie's post, the contribution of soils to wine quality.

Jamie begins his soils discussion thusly: "The current scientific consensus is that the way that soils have their influence on wine quality is through their effects on water availability... According to this view, soil chemistry is not important." Ronald L. Jackson (Wine Science: Principles and Applications, 3rd Ed.) concurs that any role that soils have on wine quality is indirect. According to Jackson, "Of climatic influences, soil type appears to be the least significant factor affecting grape and wine quality, or to be poorly correlated with wine characteristics." The table below summarizes his understanding of the soil influences in the vineyard.

Soil Influences in the Vineyard
Geologic origin of parent material
Little direct influence on grape quality
Soil texture (size and proportion of mineral content)
Affects aeration, heat retention, water availability, and nutrition availability. In turn affects grapevine growth and fruit maturity
Soil structure
Affects aeration and mineral and water availability
Soil depth
Influences water availability
Soil fauna and flora
·       Generation of the aggregate structure of the soil
·       Interconversions of various forms of nitrogen
·       Extraction (and eventual solubilization) of inorganic nutrients from the mineral content of the soil
Soil color
·       Influenced by moisture content, mineral composition, and organic component
·       Influences the rate of soil warming in the spring and cooling in fall
·       Influences vine growth directly by reflecting photosynthetically active radiation up into the canopy
Soil pH
Affects mineral solubility and availability
Organic content
·       Improves water retention and permeability
·       Enhances soil’s aggregate structure
·       Enhances nutrient availability
Source: Jackson, pp. 240 - 246.
In Jackson's view, one of the most important aspects of soils, as it relates to wine quality, is uniformity as soil variability often results in asynchronous berry development and reduced wine quality.

Jamie feels that the focus on water availability infers that "soil chemistry is not important." But I have not noticed that particular perspective. In the table above, Jackson mentions soil pH and organic content. In my post on soils and vineyard site selection, I excerpted from a table to construct a chart (reproduced below) which shows the characteristics of the best soils; and soil chemistry elements are featured prominently.

Further, the soil's cation exchange capacity (CEC) is a major enabler of the vine's nutrient acquisition. Minerals bind to the clay and humus colloids in the soil and these minerals are released in exchange for hydrogen ions secreted by the vine roots. Cation exchange varies according to soil type. Soil chemistry is extremely important.

Jamie contends that the bulk of soil mineral content comes "from decaying organic material, not decomposed rock and it is microbial activity in the soil that affects the ability of soil to break down organic matter into mineral ions that can be used by the plant." This contention is not shared by Jackson  who stipulates (p. 245) "... the mineral content of soil is primarily derived from the parental rock substrate." The figures below show the weathering of rocks into minerals.

Source: geology.csupomona.edu

Jackson goes on to say that if conditions are warm and moist, then all organic material is "rapidly mineralized." In cooler, drier conditions, mineralization is only partial (putting the vine's mineral needs at risk if Jamie's position is accurate) and the bulk of non-mineralized material forms the majority of humus.

It would be interesting to get Jamie's perspective on these divergent opinions between him and this Jackson fella.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jamie Goode's "Rescuing Minerality" Post as viewed through the lens of my research: Part I

Jamie Goode, one of the most prolific and respected wine writers of the day, recently wrote a post on his blog (wineanorak.com) titled Rescuing Minerality. As this is a topic in which I have great interest, I have read the article a number of times since its publication and finally decided to write a review piece which examines Jamie's post through the lens of the research which I have conducted and reported on in these pages. The original post can be viewed as having three major components -- terroir, soil science, and minerality -- with the latter two being tightly coupled. I will review each of the components in separate posts beginning with terroir in the current instance.

Jamie begins the post with four definitions of terroir which comprehensively capture the major streams of thought that swirl around the topic today. Based on my past work, I have developed the below timeline which shows the evolution of sense-of-"placedness" as it relates to wine.

                                                        Terroir Timeline

"Terroir-Advancing" Event
Classical Greece
Preference for wines from Aegean Isles
Rome (Early)
Preference for wines from the south
Rome (Late)
Preference for wines from the sub-regions of the Bay of Naples and Latium
Middle Ages
Burgundy -- “First wines prized for their ability to display ... individualized aromas and flavors”. Cru as a vineyard plot
Arnaud III de Pontac doubling the price of Haut Brion wines because -- he said -- they were “special”
Word terroir -- which originally meant territory or land in France -- was extended to describe “an area of land valued specifically for agricultural properties”
Quality being extended to tradition first mentioned in Julien’s Topographie. Cru as a Chateau
Barolo, Gattinara, Asti, Montalcino, and Rioja begin to adopt Bordeaux principles
Bordeaux proprietors define quality as cru (estate) + grapes + tradition
Word terroir used as a designator for a vineyard’s natural environment and to characterize the wines from the grapes grown therein
French Frauds and Falsification Law -- French wines sold commercially had to indicate its origin on the label
1906 - 1912
Bordeaux, Cognac, Armagnac, and Champagne demarcated
Law made it illegal for an unauthorized producer to use an appellation name
Champagne boundaries finalized to include Aube
Law restricting the varieties and viticultural practices that could be used for appellation wine
Law creating the AOC system. It combined earlier legislation and stipulated regions, varieties, minimum alcohol levels, and maximum vineyard yields

Based on the foregoing, terroir, as construed today, differs significantly from its origins and intent. The Cistercians demarcated their vineyards to show differences in grapes grown there and, as a result, established a tradition of Burgundian wines. I maintain that they initially established a tradition of Burgundian vineyards -- because the wines should have been indistinguishable from others due to oxidation and sourness -- and that evolved into a tradition of Burgundian wines. Somewhere along the way there was a successful marketing effort to monetize that tradition. Bordeaux recognized the pecuniary benefits of traditions and sought, successfully, to establish its own. They did not spend the hundreds of years getting to understand the characteristics of their vineyards -- as the Burgundians had done. They just claimed it. The AOC system, set up to deter counterfeit wines, evolved into a "deviser" of taste and quality. It was not set up around terroir. Rather, terroir was devolved upon it. To my mind, terroir is all about tradition and monetization of same.

That being said, it must be noted that there are differences in wine depending on where the grapes are grown. Jamie refers to these as macro- and micro-scale effects and uses differences within a vineyard and similarities across a region to illustrate his point. I will use differences across a region and differences between vineyards compared to a model to illustrate the same point.

According to UC Davis, regional differences in grape quality are evidenced by:

  • Earlier maturity in warmer regions
  • Lower tonnage in cooler regions
  • Less color, acid, and varietal flavor in warmer regions
  • Lower price in warmer regions

The color and acid assertions are shown in an Amerine and Winkler (1938) study which reported on similar varieties grown in each of the degree-day Regions (I - V) and showed a decline in both measures as the study progressed from cooler to warmer regions. The regional differences are further borne out by the table below which shows grape production and price in each of the California regions (The state of California can be divided into 5 broad regions -- North Coast, Central Coast, Northern Interior, Central Interior, and Southern Interior -- with the coast being cooler than the interior.).

2003 Total Grape Crush
2003 Percent
Cabernet Sauvignon Ton/Acre
Cabernet Sauvignon $/Ton
North Coast
Central Coast
Northern Interior
Central Interior
Southern Interior

Data Source: UC Davis

The table shows the highest production in the warmer central interior but the lowest prices per ton of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from the North Coast are widely perceived to be some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in the world. So, an example of a macro-scale difference in quality depending on where your grapes are grown.

In terms of the micro-scale, I have recently developed a viticultural architecture model and then sought to flesh out the elements of an ideal vineyard based on this architecture. My contention here is that differences in the variation from this ideal would reflect "terroir" differences between vineyards. The architecture and model elements are provided below.


The ideal climates for vitis vinifera are Mediterranean and marine west-coast climates, both of which are characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

Vitis vinifera requires a minimum of 1250 hours of sunshine to provide ripe fruit.

In cool climates, slopes with southern aspects (S, SE, SW) allow vines to accumulate the maximum amount of sunshine as they pursue growth and fruit maturity. In continental climes, on the other hand, eastern, northern, and northeastern exposures are preferred.

In cooler regions a vine needs approximately 500 mm water/year while the need increases to 750 mm/year in hotter climates.

Planting at or near the highest feasible points in the vineyard allows the viticulturist to meet the grapevine's need for good air and water drainage.  A slight to moderate incline is desirable for air and water drainage.

The optimal soil type also has a moderate content of low cation exchange capability (CEC) clay.

The best vineyard soils "permit deep and spreading root growth" and provide a moderate supply of water year-round.  Wine grapes do best in moderately fertile soils that are unsupportive of vigorous vine growth. 
Vineyards sited on convex land patterns are preferable to those on concave landforms.

Soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is considered optimal for vine plant growth as most of the needed nutrients and micro-organisms are available in that range.

The most effective means of combating diseases are (i) a good canopy management program and (ii) a rigorous preventative fungicide treatment program.

It is important that there be a balance between the vine root system and its canopy. In that regards, vines should be planted with higher density in poorer soils and less-densely in fertile soils. Many of the high-quality European vineyards are planted at between 5,000 and 10,000 vines/ha.

A well-managed canopy should have one grape cluster per shoot --assuming an average size of 5 to 8 ounces per cluster -- and 10 - 15 leaves per shoot in order to ensure proper ripening.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The sparkling wines of Bugey AOC (Ain, France)

In a recent post I shared a graphic of the full scope of French AOC sparkling wine production and identified the relevant bucket into which each instance fell. One of the least known of the identified AOCs is Bugey, a small wine region within the Ain départment which, though encumbered by anonymity, has the distinction of being one of four regions (the others being Die, Gaillac, and Limoux) which produce sparkling wines using both the method Champenoise and the Method Ancestrale. The sparkling wines of Bugey (circled in orange in the map below) are explored in this post.

Bugey is sometimes mentioned as being part of the Savoie region but, as shown in the map below, that is far from the truth. The wine region, a VDQS prior to gaining AOC status in 2009, covers 500 ha in 65 villages sited alongside the Rhone as it wends its way south in Savoie and then northwest in Bugey.

Expanded view of Bugey. Source: wineandvinesearch.com

The existing Bugey soil is a result of both the formation of the French pre-Alps as well as the terminal activity of Ice Age glaciers. While fairly heterogeneous, the soils fall into one of two broad camps: (i) clay and limestone (white clay, mountain scree) or (ii) silica and limestone molasse (terminal deposits). The almost-hidden patches of vineyards which comprise this region face southeast or southwest and are, on average, 5 ha in size.

Bugey has identified three cru vineyards (shown in the map below) within its territory and wines produced in these areas are allowed to place the cru name on the label.

Bugey crus. Source: vinsdubugey.net
The Cerdon cru is comprised of vineyards resident on slopes to the west and south of the namesake village. These steep, south-facing vineyards sit at 500+ m elevation on clay-limestone soils. A total of 10 villages are included in the Cerdon cru. The Montagnieu cru runs along the right bank of the looping Rhone and, as a result, its vineyards face either east or west. The Belley vineyards reside on the gently sloping hillsides between the foothills of the mountain and the banks of the Rhone. The vineyards that are actually in the foothills face steep gradients and limestone boulders. The soil here is variable.

Sparkling wines are produced in Bugey under three separate AOCs: Bugey AOC sparkling, sparkling Bugey Cerdon AOC, and sparkling Montagnieu AOC.

Bugey AOC Sparkling
This AOC covers white and Rosé sparkling wines produced region-wide using the traditional (Champagne) method. A total of 56.5 ha across the 65 villages are engaged in growing grapes for the production of this wine. The Rosé is made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes -- together accounting for at leas 50% of the blend -- plus Mondeuse, Pinot Gris, and Poulsard. The white is made from a blend of Chardonnay and Janquère -- at least 70% of the blend -- plus, based on the winemaker's bent, Aligoté, Mondeuse white, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Poulsard. Annual production averages 4000 hl.

Bugey Cerdon AOC
This wine is produced in a Rosé style only using Gamay and Poulsard grapes as the source material. The grapes for this wine  are grown on 136.4 ha of vineyards located on clay-calcareous soils that top the steep hillsides of the 10 villages that comprise the Cerdon cru. The wine is made using the Methode Ancestrale which, in this case, is comprised of the following steps:
  1. Grapes are hand-picked
  2. Then pressed
  3. Partial fermentation at low temperature (preserves the softness, aromas, and colors of the grape; allows retention of some live yeasts) to approximately 6% abv
  4. Light filtration
  5. Bottling
  6. Second fermentation in bottle. At conclusion, 7.5 - 8% abv plus fair amount of sugar
  7. Filter wine
  8. Re-bottle.
This process yields a crisp, tart, sweet wine with a grapey aroma and red fruit flavors. Annual production is at 9620 hl, 30% of the volume of all wine produced in Bugey.

Sparkling Montagnieu AOC
White sparkling wine (dry and semi-dry) made by the traditional method from grapes grown on 23.1 ha in three villages. The varieties involved are Aligoté, Chardonnay, Mondeuse (three together must make up at least 70% of the blend), Janquère, Pinot Noir and Gamay. The grapes are grown on clay and limestone soils infused with small stones and, in some areas, parted by bedrock outcrops. Annual production of 1530 hl.


Of the three wines listed, the Bugey Cerdon is the most well-known; but that is relative. Most of the production is consumed locally -- very.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 6, 2014

French sparkling-wine map

Sparkling wine production in France can be placed into four broad categories:
  1. Champagne -- King of the hill. Reserved for sparkling wines produced within the delimited area of the Champagne wine region.
  2. Crémant -- sparkling wine made using the méthode traditionelle. Wines in this category include Crémant de Loire, Crémant d'Alsace,  Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Die, and the newly minted Crémant de Savoie. These wines have to adhere to the following restrictions:
    1. Harvested by hand within set production quotas
    2. Whole-bunch pressed
    3. Sulfur dioxide use limited
    4. > 9 months on lees
    5. About half the carbon of Champagne
    6. Submitted to a QC tasting panel for approval
  3. Méthode Ancestrale -- wines are generally bottled with residual sugar. Effervescence gained via refermentation (or continued fermentation) in the bottle.
  4. All others -- sparkling wines made in any of the available sparkling wine production methods to the exclusion of the Méthode Ancestrale.
These four sparkling wine types are mapped to their respective regions in the figure below.

Some observations:
  • There are a total of 25 sparkling wine appellations in France with one designated as Champagne, eight as Crémants, four as Méthode Ancestrale, and 12 not-otherwise-attributable.
  • Jura and Savoie (seven) and The Loire Valley (five) are the French wine regions with the most sparkling wine AOCs.
  • A total of 26 separate varieties are utilized in the production of sparkling wine in France.
  • Chardonnay (13 instances), Pinot Noir (10 instances), and Chenin Blanc (7 instances) are the varieties most frequently encountered in French sparkling wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Winery visit with Domaine François Carillon (Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy)

French vacation days are (i) plentiful and (ii) fully subscribed. That was the unenviable situation we faced when trying to book appointments for winery visits in Burgundy on May 1, Labor Day on the French holiday calendar. And given that the 2nd was a Friday, people were just going to make a long weekend of it. So, try as he might, Raj could only convince one winemaker to see us on May 1: François Carillon of Domaine François Carillon.

Domaine François Carillon is a relatively new estate but has roots stretching back to one John Carillon who was listed in the records of Puligny in 1520. The most recent link back to this long-lived family vocation was Domaine Louis Carillon et Fils, incorporated by Louis Carillon in 1981 and providing a vehicle wherein he could produce wines with his sons Jacques and François. In the enterprise, Jacques was responsible for winemaking and François the viticultural aspects; and they continued this arrangement after their father's retirement. More recently, however, the brothers decided to split the assets of the company between them and form two separate wineries: Domaine François Carillon and Domaine Jacques Carillon. The 2009 vintage was the initial vintage for both Domaines.

It was François' winery that we would be visiting on this French holiday. We got there at the appointed time and pulled on the winery door but it was locked. We hung around in the street for awhile, waiting for François to show. It took a minute but, instead of being displeased, we treated him like a long lost brother. After all, he had left his family at home to come see us on a holiday. For a Frenchman, this is sacrilegious.

Hanging around in Puligny waiting for Francois
to show

After the asset split, François owned plots in Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet as well as a negociant business. His goal is to steadily degrade the quantity of the negociant business and increase the size of the estate. To that end he has grown the estate from 5 to 11 ha to include 69.12 ares in Chassagne-Montrachet and 65.67 ares in Saint-Aubin. The distribution of the Domaine's Premier Cru vineyards are shown in the maps below.

François' heart is in the vineyard and his farming practices are designed to deliver excellent fruit to the cellar door. Farming is organic with a caveat that chemical intervention will be implemented if extreme conditions are encountered. Grape production levels are managed by pruning and de-budding with a goal of 8 bunches per vine.

As we entered the cellar François mentioned that it had the capacity for 300 barrels and, like most Puligny cellars, was not deep due to the high water table. Grapes are hand-harvested and sorted prior to presentation to a pneumatic press. The juice is fermented in oak barrels (15% new for Village, 20 - 25% new for Premier Crus) for 4 to 6 weeks, with natural yeasts powering the process. The wines spend a year in the oak barrels where they are subjected to bâtonnage. Bâtonnage ceases when malolactic fermentation is complete. After the residence in oak, the wines are transferred to stainless steel tanks for 6 months in order to "refine their breeding."

Puligny wines have been described as "portraying a floral elegeance alongside a stylish, steely concentration" by BBR and "... taut, precise, and mineral" by Ben Lewis MW. François' goal is to produce wines with fruit, elegance, and finesse. We examine how close the 2012 vintage of the Domaine François Carillon wines approach these ideals. Another area of interest in tasting these wines was to examine how well a noted viticulturist (François) had transitioned into the role of vitiviniculturist. A selection of the wines tasted are presented below.

Bourgogne 2012 This wine is blended from three different parcels in Meursault, Puligny, and Chassagne. Rich, concentrated with sweet citrus fruit and melon. Fresh and balanced.

Puligny-Montrachet 2012 This wine was sourced from 11 plots on clay-limestone soils with average vine age of 35 years. Citrus, ripe white and yellow fruits, almonds. Mineral, fresh, balanced.

Les Champs Gains 2012 Clay-limestone-pebbly soils with vine age averaging 46 years. Fatter and richer in style. Floral with subtler fruit. Lemon zest, peach. Mineral. Elegant and balanced.

Les Folatieres 2012 Forty-six-year old vines on clay-limestone-pebbly soils. Only three barrels of this wine was made in this vintage. Rich with a racy finish. Saline minerality.

Les Combettes 2012 Not as cutting as some of the wines that have gone before. Great fruit balance with citrus dominant. Fresh with excellent finish.

Les Perrieres 2012 Concentrated, rich, with citrus, spice and hazelnut on the nose. Bright and elegant. Mineral with a balanced finish.

Chevalier-Montrachet 2012 Only 1 barrel of this wine made. Toasty note. Green papaya. Searing acidity. Mineral-driven.

The crispness and mineral-driven nature of the wines tasted at François Carillon are very representative of Puligny wines and the high quality of the offerings demonstrate that the Domaine is in excellent hands -- even if those hands have been formed in the vineyard.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme