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A buying trip to Burgundy and the Loire 2003

A BUYING TRIP TO BURGUNDY AND THE LOIRE

(and during which a patron offers to sell me his hotel)

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In two respects this trip was different from all my previous expeditions to France. The observant of you will have noticed that I went to the Loire for the first time as well as Burgundy. The second difference is that I took my son Zac, who is in his gap year between school and university. For the first time, also, I set off mid-week. We arrived in Chablis on Wednesday evening, and booked into the wonderful Hostellerie des Clos, the best hotel in the universe. We had an excellent supper, washed down with a bottle of Grand Cru Chablis - Zac needs educating, and I really thought he should experience a top Chablis.

I warned Zac that we might not get lunch, so he'd better have a good breakfast. The hotel

does the best breakfasts in France. Zac gorged himself. We started tasting at -


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Domaine Leger, Épineuil. M. Leger was joined by his son for our appointment. He was very jolly, and disappeared to heat up gougères for us. Gougères are a Burgundian speciality - choux pastry flavoured with Gruyere cheese. The first lot were extremely crispy, even burnt. We munched away through the tasting. The son disappeared again. He came back with more gougères. Zac couldn't eat his second helping (too stuffed with breakfast). We tasted M. Leger's 2000s and 2001s in bottle. There are various bottlings: earlier and later, some done entirely in tank, some spending time in (not new) oak barrels. The oak barrels are a new feature at this estate, starting with the 2000 vintage, and I think they are a great success. I now buy his Epineuil that has been aged in barrel. It doesn't taste oaked, but somehow the time spent in barrel gives the wine more texture, more mâche.

Last year I arranged to buy a barrel of his 2000. This year I have arranged to buy a barrel of his 2001.

2001 was a difficult harvest, with hail causing trouble in the vineyards, but the wine in this cellar is fine. We tasted through the barrels, and M. Leger allowed me to choose what I thought was the best barrel, which he will bottle for us.

M. Leger was keen to show us his 2002, which we tasted from the tank. It has lots of potential.

He sent us off with a magnum of his wine, plus a bottle of fizzy rose that he has got Simonnet-Fèbvre, an old-established Chablis merchant, to make for him from his grapes.

We say our good-byes and go on to-


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Domaine Jean-Marie Naulin, Beines.

I wasn't sure if Mme. Naulin would give us lunch since she had made no mention of it. We started to taste: the village Chablis 2001, and then the Premier Cru Beauroy 2001. The village wine, as always with the wines from this property, exhibited a classic green-gold Chablis colour, also, a lovely, quite assertive, smell and good fruit in the mouth. The Premier Cru had a deeper colour, more golden, with less smell; however, in the mouth it was richer, with better length. A courtier, who is a sort of go-between dealing with growers and the large merchants, dropped in as we were tasting. Much conversation ensued. After all this conversation we retasted, and the Premier Cru had opened up, becoming considerably more expressive.

I can remember speaking to Mme. Naulin on the telephone at harvest time in 2001, and she was much exercised. It had been extremely difficult, with rain (a very bad thing at harvest time), and all sorts of problems. So I had been, well, less than confident about how the wines would taste. As it turns out, they are fine: clean, good fruit, fresh, for early drinking, but perfectly correct with excellent flavour.

M. Naulin then took us, including the courtier, to the cuverie to taste the 2002s in tank. The Naulins are very proud of their 2002s, and they look as if they will indeed be delicious. The courtier fiddled about taking samples, which she put into plastic bottles. She also had a curious syringe-like piece of kit. She lost the top of it (clear plastic about the size of a peppercorn). We set about looking for it. No luck. We continued to look. Zac found it. Relief all round.

The courtier pushed off, and Mme. Naulin invited us to lunch. The first course consisted of three dishes: herring, potato and onion salad, a coarse country pate, and beetroot. Zac has platefuls and platefuls. He thinks this might be the main coarse. He's already had a mammoth breakfast. But the Naulins have a young person, Corinne, a girl from Auxerre, who is doing a stage with them to learn about vineyard work and winemaking. She is so fat she is almost completely round. If you pushed her over she would roll. She eats Olympically. Perhaps her example made Zac think that the first course was the main course. Well, it wasn't.

We are drinking a magnum of the Naulins' 1998 Chablis Premier Cru Beauroy. It is delicious.

The main course arrives: a hearty blanquette de veau. Corinne has disappeared for an inter-course cigarette. She returns to eat prodigious amounts of the main course. She stares at Zac hungrily as if he is the main course. Zac doesn't seem to notice. One rather fancies if Corinne were left on her own with Zac she would have him in a half-nelson or more compromising grip as soon as you could say "knife".

Zac is flagging. Last night he'd had a full-blown Michelin-starred meal. Today he'd had a gigantic breakfast. He's filled up on the first course, and now he's struggling through the main course.

In addition, throughout the tastings this morning he's been swallowing, not spitting (he doesn't have to drive, and it's his first time going tasting).

Cheese. With a lovely, mature red from Irancy. Corinne keeps eating. Her conversation during the meal is carried on with her cheeks full of food, hamster-like.

Pudding, A magnificent gateau made with cream, nuts, raspberry, meringue. Accompanied by Cremant de Bourgogne. There are five of us at table. The gateau is cut into eight sections. We each have a piece. Zac looks as though he's going to explode. Corinne continues to stare lasciviously at Zac and swallows her helping of gateau in the blinking of an eye. We are all offered more. No takers, except for Corinne. She eats all the three remaining pieces, in about as many seconds. And licks the plate, and the knife used to cut the gateau.

A wonderful lunch. The Naulins are so generous. They send us off with several bottles of the new vintage.

My impression of the 2001 vintage around Chablis is that it has tamed out far better than the growers could have darted to hope for, considering the seriously unhelpful weather conditions. All the growers we buy from have produced delicious, if forward, early maturing wines.


After the Naulins we zoom off to Vezelay (about an hour and a half's drive away) - we have overrun our time at lunch - and arrive slightly late at -

 

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Domaine Elise Villiers, Precy ie Moult.

We taste her two whites, "La Chevalière" and "Le Clos".

She tells us about the vintage. Rain before the harvest but not during. There was rot. She had to sort her grapes, and throw out large quantities. So it has turned out to be a very small production this year.

The resulting wines are fine: clean, with some weight and a flavour slightly reminiscent of pears (not pear drops).

Mme. Villiers says that since it is such a small harvest I'd better make up my mind about the quantities I'd like to take from her this year. So I do.

We return to the hotel in Chablis in time for supper.

Another Michelin-starred meal for Zac. I had warned him the trip would be hard work. He's exhausted.

I order a bottle of RavenCau's Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux 1995. It's corked. I call for the sommelier. He sniffs at it, tastes it, removes the bottle and glasses and brings us another bottle. It is wonderful. It is far more thrilling, interesting and delicious than the Grand Cru Chablis we had last night. It is the first bottle of Raveneau's Chablis I have tasted, and it is worth every euro of its high price.

FRIDAY

Domaine Heimbourger, St. Cyr les Colons. The Heimbourgers live on the edge of the Chablis appellation, in fact just outside it, on a road that leads to Irancy, a red wine appellation the other side of the autoroute from Chablis. They make reds and whites, straight Bourgogne and Chablis and Irancy.

The younger son of the household, Olivier, is in charge of the wines and vineyards. We taste through the 2001 whites. Then Olivier shows us a new wine - first vintage 2001 - a Pinot Gris. This is a pink/orange colour. It has a really interesting smell which in France reminded me of orange peel, but on retasting in Wales reminds me of wet dog. The taste is dry, less hairy than the smell, and absolutely unlike a rose. Interestingly, an agent in Paris who takes this wine told him to change the label (which claimed that the wine was a rosé). The Parisian agent is quite right: it's a vin gris.

On to the reds, 2001 vintage again. His straight Bourgogne is fine, as usual. His Irancy is better - with each succeeding vintage, as the vines in the recently planted vineyard gain age, this wine becomes more and more impressive.

Then off to the cuverie, which is a few hundred yards away the other end of the village, to taste the 2002s, which are not bottled yet. The cuverie is installed in some old stone barns. A couple of years ago - the last time I saw it - only one barn was being used and space was seriously limited. A considerable amount of work has been done since, and now the adjoining barn has been fixed up; throughout new insulation has been put in and extensive refurbishment has taken place.

We taste the 2002s. They look very promising.

Finally, back to the house, where we have a cup of coffee. On leaving, Olivier gives us a bottle of the Pinot Gris, and two little jars of Pinot Gris jelly, which turns out to be excellent on toast and with cold meats.

Originally I'd been hoping to see the Pommiers outside Chablis, but in the meantime I'd been in touch with M. Elliau near Saumur in the Loire, who looked as if he might be making interesting wines. I had been hoping to see him on Saturday, but he was going to be in Paris then, so I postponed the rendezvous with the Pommiers and arranged to see M. Elliau at 5 o'clock that afternoon. It was quite a long drive from the Heimbourgers to M. Elliau - about 5 hours. We stopped in Bellegard where there was a fascinating chateau: moated, locked up, with some broken windows, but in good structural order. We went to have look and walked round the outside. A lovely building, in brick a stone dating (if I remember correctly) from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There was a café housed in a magnificent outbuilding belonging to the chateau, with its entrance in the main square of the town. We had to press on, but I thought we could stop off here on the way back to Burgundy on Sunday when we would have more time.


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Domaine de la Fuye, Sanziers. This is M.Elliau's domaine. It is outside Montreuil-Bellay, where we have booked a room for the night. Montreoil-Bellay is a small town south of Saumur with a chateau and fortified church next to it, and a wine school. We check in to the hotel first, and then ring M. Ellian for directions to his place. He gives up trying to explain and decides to Come and fetch us. We follow him in our car, as he speeds off into the middle distance. We just manage not to lose sight of him. We arrive: at an unassuming brick and corrupted iron building which reminded me of a pig shed.

We start tasting. First, a dry white, which is nice enough, quite rich m the mouth. Then his basic Saumur Rouge 2001 - terrific! It has good colour and smells wonderful. It also tastes wonderful, with clean, vivid fruit, excellent balance, finishing with a hint of tannin, which suggests it will develop interestingly over the next few years. This is very exciting. M. Elliau farms his land organically, and is clearly very conscientious about his winemaking.

We taste his Saumur Rouge "Vieilles Vignes" 2001. Made from 43 year-old vines, this is denser and darker than the previous wine, with a marvellous' mouth-coating texture, lovely ripe flavour, and better length.

Next we try his Methode Traditionnelle (fizzy wine), which is nice enough, but not so exciting.

Finally we try his Coteaux de Saumur 2001 (made from Chenin Blanc). I had seen some new-looking oak barrels, and they are entirely used for this wine. It is sensational: a deep golden colour, with an extraordinary oaky smell, and in the mouth rich, fascinating, even oily; lusciously sweet, with perhaps a touch of aniseed in the taste. A remarkable wine.

M. Elliau then asks us if we'd like to taste his 2002s in tank. Everybody wants us to taste their 2002s. The weather was brilliant for growers all over northern France in 2002. Specifically, his dry white (which he tells us is completely unsulphured) looks pretty special.

This domaine is a thrilling new discovery, and I buy a few dozen bottles from him on the spot.

That night we have a dull meal - the worst meal of the trip - but our room is comfortable, and first thing next morning we go and have a look at the chateau and fortified church before heading off into the fog for Azay-le-Rideau -

Domaine Pascal Pibaleau, Azay-le-Rideau. I have been buying M. Pibalean's wines for a number of years through agents in this country. I'm a fan of his wines, and we are gradually selling more and more of them, so it seems logical to start shipping them direct ourselves. Also, since we were in the Loire, I thought he would be worth visiting, plus a friend of mine had dropped in on him and discovered that he made an interesting red from the Cot (Malbec) grape. My friend had given me a taste of it, but the agents don't ship it.

We start the tasting with a rose 2001. It is fine, with a nice full finish. I have been buying this wine since the 1994 vintage, and it is a consistently good drink. It is made from the Groslot grape, which suffers a bad press - but just try this wine - it's lovely.

Next his dry white 1999, which is light, with a touch of the nettley smell I associate with Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Then an oak-aged white (3 to 5 year old barrels) made from old vines (40 years). This is wonderful, with a noticeable oaky flavour. He calls this La Noblesse d'Aziaum. It is from the 2000 vintage. Lovely wine.

Next we taste his reds. The star of the show, which turns out to be a special bottling (the counterpart of the Noblesse), called L'Héritage d'Aziaum, is his Cot, 2000 vintage: it has a dense dark colour, dense, rich smell, and brilliant flavour, with quite a bit of body without being over extracted. It also has impressive length and good acidity, promising a long and interesting development ahead of it.


Would we like to taste his 2002s? Of course we would t Again, exciting. Finally we go back to his office and taste two more wines - his Cremant de Loire, which impressed me so much I might buy some: small, frothy bubbles, good yeasty smell, with a good, full flavour. Lastly, his demi-sec 1999 - one of my favourite wines: it always tastes riper to me than his dry white - altogether a better drink.


M. Pibaleau asked us if we were on the look-out for other wines in the region, and I said sure. So he rang a friend of his, and we arranged to go for a tasting after lunch at two o'clock.


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We had an hour or two to kill in the meantime. We went to look at the chateau in the town of Azay-le-Rideau, one of the best known in the Loire. It now belongs to the French state, and has been immaculately restored, perhaps a bit too immaculately, with perfect parquet floors everywhere, which look badly out of place.

We still had some time, so we went to look at another chateau, Villandry, with magnificent formal gardens, and the chateau nestling into a hillside. Forme this was a rather more satisfying place, even though the château itself was shut. There was a bell high up on a wall in the courtyard as yon enter, with a long chain banging down and a notice inviting you to pull it to summon somebody to take your entrance fee. We pulled it. Nobody came. We set off round the gardens. We passed an estate worker. We said hello and that we'd rung the bell and nobody had come, and he said go ahead help yourself, look round the place. So we felt morally in the clear..

We got to our tasting, during which we were told about another grower in the next village, and would we like to go tasting there too? Of course we would. So the lady who was attending to us rang her friend in the next village and after finishing with her we went on to the next place.


By the time we'd finished the second unscheduled tasting we were running late for our next appointment. This was with an Englishman...

Domaine Guibertean Eggerton, Brézé.

Stephen Eggerton upped sticks with his young family recently and put himself through wine school at Montreuil-Bellay. Brézé is a few minutes' drive away. It was his invitation that brought us to the Loire. I have spent the last 15 years or so firing off letters and press releases to newspapers and magazines. And for more than 10 of those (with one or two honourable exceptions, such as Jancis Robinson) my efforts were completely ignored. Now, miraculously, when I send off press releases to local newspapers they usually print them! I had sent one to the Hereford Times last autumn, and Stephen's mother, who lives in Herefordshire, saw the piece and rang me to say would I like to buy her son's wine.

I'm always on the look-out for good wine, and my long term plan had been, when I ranged further than Burgundy, to go and look round the Rh6ne and the Loire (in that order). Anyway, the order has been reversed. Stephen invited me to stay the night and taste his wines. So we took up his offer.

We arrived about tea time at their house, the Clos des Cannes. It comes with vineyards. The land adjoining the house is being replanted, and there are more vines beyond, going over the brow of the hill, and some across the road; also, some parcels of vines near his partner's house at St. Just sur Dive.

When we arrived their eight-year-old daughter was very miserable because the fox had just eaten their chickens. She had discovered the feathery remains. And she had a nasty cold as well.

Underneath the house are cellars carved out of the rock (as happens in this part of the Loire).

As we drove around the area we saw many troglodyte dwellings - house fronts apparently squashed against hillsides, with the living quarters actually in the rock.

We taste the 2002s in barrel. Stephen and his partner believe in oak maturing, including new oak. He has a fervent and enquiring interest in making the best wine possible, and he is clearly fascinated by all aspects of the business, both in the vineyard and the chai.

He does seem to have rather landed on his feet. His partner's wife was Iris teacher at wine school, and once he'd finished his course, he joined her husband. Vineyard land doesn't come cheap these days, and finding a partner rather than going it alone, particularly a French partner, gets you going much more smoothly.

The wines? They are impressive. There are two reds, from Cabernet Franc, and one white, from Chenin Blanc. The white is a serious wine, with beautiful balance, plenty of oak flavour and really good ripeness. The reds have a very fine texture - a sort of sheen about them - that I think suggests that they have lots of potential. The 2000 subsequently tasted back in Wales was much more impressive three days after it had been opened.

We went out to a restaurant that evening and had a very jolly meal.

The next morning, Stephen took us around his vineyards, which he is in the process of converting to organic methods of cultivation.


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We set off for Burgundy, stopping for lunch at Bellegarde, in the cafe by the chateau, and marvelled at the high ceilings and aristocratic windows. Murals had been painted on the walls inside by one of the most incompetent artists in history. A curious mixture.

Monday morning -
Domame Alain Voegeli, Gevrey-Chambertin.

Today is an ambitious day. I have arranged seven appointments, including a visit to the Gachots, where we will be given lunch. I have only allotted M. Voegeli half an hour, because he only makes one wine and is usually fairly brisk.

Would we like to taste his 2002? We go down into his cellar full of barrels. We taste the 2002, which has really nice fruit and reminds me of his 1999. We taste from various different barrels, one new and several older ones. He opens a bottle of his 2001, which we taste (I have already bought and shipped this) and he tells us that his wines last well - he doesn't keep older vintages himself, but a friend and customer recently opened a fifteen year old bottle of his wine for him and it was excellent.

By the time we get to the next appointment we're already running quarter of an hour late.


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Domaine Bernard Amiot, Chambolle-Musigny.

M. Amiot has retired and sold his vines. But he still has wine to sell. Again, tastings chez Amiot are usually fairly brisk affairs, so I have only allotted him half an hour. A mistake.

We taste 98, 99 and 2000. The star is a village Chambolle-Musigny 1999, but from a specific vineyard "Aux Echeseaux". This has a very open nose and the taste just makes you go "mmmm".

I reserve some of this wine, for shipping sometime in the future.

By the end of the tasting we are running over half an hour late.


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Domaine Philippe Gavignet, Nuits Saint Georges.

I was a little bit apprehensive about this visit, because for various reasons I hadn't ordered from him after my visit last year, so I thought I might not be very popular. I apologised to him and explained why. He seemed entirely unworried. I had remembered from my tasting last year his village Nuits Saint Georges 2000, which particularly impressed me, and I assumed that he would have none left. I was in luck - he still had stock of it! Previous vintages of this wine had failed to impress me, and I haven't bought it before.

Off we go tasting. We are treated to a very full tasting, both in barrel and bottle - so we sample his 2002s! He's thrilled to bits with them. Quite right too.

I arrange to collect some cases of his Nuits Saint Georges 2000 in a couple of days' time.


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Domaine Gachot-Monot, Corgoloia.

We arrive at the Gachots nearly an hour late. They are building a new chai, where they can both make the wine and store it. Originally they had hoped to start building a year or two ago, but there had been some sort of hitch. Now it's under way and half built. It's planned to be ready for this year's vintage.

First we taste the 2001s in barrel. They are not bottled yet. Interestingly, many growers are bottling their 2001s later than usual. There is some tannin apparent in this vintage, and I have a theory that the wines are being left in barrel a little longer to allow them to soften and round out. It should be said that the 2001 wines here are fine - a nice vintage. I suspect it may turn out to be a better vintage for reds in the Cote de Nuits than the C6te de Beaune - M. Voegeli's Gevrey-Chambertin 2001, for instance, is excellent.

We taste through his 2002s. His Cote de Nuits Villages "Les ChaiBots" has a natural alcohol level of 13%.

This is a feature of the vintage throughout Burgundy: very high levels of alcohol and exceptional ripeness. The only people not happy in Burgundy are the sugar merchants because there has been very little chaptalisation. Another feature of the vintage is that despite the high alcohol levels the wines have extraordinary balance. My feeling is that many of them will be good for drinking throughout their lives, both young and old. The summer was dull - Cloudy, but dry. The ripening was going very slowly until September, when the sun came out and shone uninterruptedly for several weeks, ripening the grapes and producing sugar levels that even old hands in Burgundy have never seen. Happily, because of the dull summer, the wines have good levels of acidity, thus giving them balance, despite the exceptional ripeness. All very exciting.

Damien Gachot's 2002s are full of promise. Tasting here is always the high point of my annual visit.

Then lunch. We are joined by Alain, who works at the domaine. Without wishing to be disparaging, he appears to be a bit simple. He is sweet and gentle and unshaven. We drink as an aperitif a brew that Damien has been experimenting with: he calls it his Martini. It is a concoction based on his Bourgogne Passetoutgrain mixed with Marc de Bourgogne and various spices. A friend of his in the village, another grower, makes his own version and gave Damien the recipe because he liked it so much. He thinks his efforts are nowhere near as good as his neighbour's, and he can't understand why not since he has absolutely followed the recipe to the letter. Actually, I think it tastes great.

With the meal we drink a white Côte de Nuits Villages 1998 and a red. his Nuits Saint

Georges "Aux Crots" 1998, which is wonderful.

After that excellent lunch, slippage has happened time-wise.

Our sixth tasting is at -
Domaine Thevenot-Le Brun, Marey les Fassey.

We arrive here exactly an hour late - precisely the time we have arranged for the seventh tasting. So my first request on arrival at the Thevenots is to use their telephone to postpone the final tasting that day.

Would we like to taste the 2002s?

Off we go. After the tank and barrel tasting, M. Thevenot opens 14 bottles for us, 7 whites and 7 reds. I'm the world's least assiduous note-taker, but when I go to France I take notes. The Thevenots' wines are highly individual: often the reds display blackcurranty flavours which I don't usually associate with burgundy, but at the same time they are absolutely the product of Pinot Noir grapes. The whites are good too, and both the reds and the whites age well.

The Thevenots also make the best, blackcurrantiest Creme de Cassis I have ever tasted from blackcurrants grown on their estate and with marc distilled from their own grapes. Since discovering this scrumptious drink sales of Cassis have shot ahead spectacularly.


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Domaine Christophe Mary, Corcelles les Arts.

This is a micro-domaine consisting of 3.5 hectares, of which 2 are en metayage (meaning he only gets half the wine because the vines belong to somebody else). So, in effect, his domaine extends to 2.5 hectares, roughly 6 acres.

He makes good reds and really thrilling whites. The quantities are tiny. He is contracted to sell a proportion of his production to local merchants, further reducing the amount he has for sale in bottle. Last year I bought 11 cases from him. This year he has allowed me 31 cases.

His range includes: in white - Meursault village and Premier Cru, Puligny-Montrachet village and Premier Cru; in red - Auxey-Duresses and Pommard. The whites are delicious young, but I feel sure they will develop interestingly if cellared. The style is fat and rich, but with really good acidity.

We taste the 2002s. The whites have attained incredible alcohol levels here - the Meursault Charmes 15.7%! Nearly all of them are over 13%. The amazing thing is, as with the reds, the wines seem beautifully balanced.


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Domaine Pascal Prunicr, Meursault.

Here is a young grower who I think is going places. He is a good friend of Damien Gachot. He has a spread of wines, both red and white, from Saint Remain,

Auxey-Duresses, Meursault, Monthelie and one wine from Beaune.

So far I have only bought his Saint Remain, but I will now be buying his Auxey-Duresses, Meursault, Monthelie and Beaune. The whites tend to be quite tight in their youth, but open up with bottle age, though having said that his 2001 Meursault, which I have arranged to buy, is well developed and good for drinking now. My impression of the 2001 vintage for whites from the Cote d'Or is that they are for early drinking, approachable straight away. There seems to be plenty of fruit in the wines. I place it above 1998 in terms of quality.


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Domaine Ponilean, Volnay.

Thierry Ponileau is a charming fellow, and very talkative. I always allow extra time for this tasting, because apart from the talking he also gives me a comprehensive tasting.

We start with the 2002s in barrel. Whites first, then reds. His reds when they are young are showing more and more tannin. Zac is finding this tasting hard going.

We go to his tasting room and try his 2001s in bottle. Again, grippy tannins are in evidence.

It's tough for Zac. There was rot in the grapes in 2001, so Thierry bought a sorting table to weed out the rotten grapes. His wines consistently have good colour and 2001 is no exception - rot attacks the pigments in grapes (so good colour in the finished wine is at least an indication that the sorting of the grapes has successfully got rid of the rotten ones).

There are some pieces of Comté cheese, saucisson sec and bread for us to nibble on as we taste and chat.

The tasting lasts 2 ½ hours, finishing as a special teat with his Corton-Charlemagne, of which he only produces a minuscule quantity. It is an enormous wine, with amazing length of flavour.


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Domaine Didier Montehovet, Nantoux.

This domaine is run not only organically but biodynamically. Didier Montchovet used to teach winemaking in Beaune, and in fact taught Mme. Villiers at Vezelay to make wine.

The winemaking here is getting better and better. In particular the red Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2000 stood out on this visit: very pretty, good for drinking now, but with potential for cellaring as well.

We tasted, of course, the 2002s - the first time I have tasted in barrel here. With their Chardonnay they had two harvests. They picked early but left some bunches on the vines and then picked two or three weeks later. The wine from the first harvest tastes good, very good, with nice acidity, but not so different from other vintages. The late-picked wine is extraordinary: thick, viscous, with low acidity, demi-sec; a monster of a wine, with over 14% alcohol. The Montchovets will assemble the wine from both harvests into a single cuvee, which looks as though it will add up to something considerably more exciting than the sum of its parts.

Our last tasting on Tuesday was at -
Domaine Michel Servean, La Rochepot.

Michel Serveau is an amusing fellow who likes to fill you in on a bit of gossip each visit. He is also a talented winemaker, for both reds and whites. A bottle of his red Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune 1996 opened recently was mighty impressive, with the ripeness, richness and beauty characteristic of the loveliest red burgundies. His whites age well too, always exhibiting good structure.

His white Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2000, the first wine we tasted, is even better than his outstanding 1999. I could go on about its attributes, but ultimately it's better because it tastes more delicious. And for me that's what counts. His red Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2000 is a lovely drink, ready for drinking now, unlike his 1999 which needs keeping. I have already bought some of his 2000 and will buy more.

We also tasted his Chassagne-Montiachet 2001. Again, I was impressed. It seemed soft, approachable and very pretty. I have bought the 1995 and 1997 in the past, and they are taking a long time to come round. The 1997 is still not really showing at its peak, and the 1995 is only now beginning to fire on all cylinders. I'm thinking of buying the 2001, but I might have to keep it for five years......


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I like to have this account of my trip to France ready for the London tasting. I've run out of time.

I will just tell you about the patron who offered to sell me his hotel. It is the hotel (half chateau) I stayed in last year. The house is a maison forte - a sort of fortified house with a moat. It has been beautifully restored by the patron. Last year there was a woman about the place who seemed to be in charge. This time she wasn't there. Also, last time, the restaurant was full. This time only one other table was taken. It has a Michelin rosette, I like the cooking here, and standards are being maintained, but the place did have an air about it of not succeeding somehow. For instance, the wine list appeared to contain the same bottles as a year ago.

The loo in our bedroom didn't work that night. The patron came to fix it personally at eleven o'clock at night.

The next morning, when I was paying him I asked if we could look round upstairs because it's such a wonderful building. He said no, it was private, that was where be lived. I said oh. And he said unless I wanted to buy it..... And laughed. Somehow I felt he wasn't joking.

Tom Innes
Fingal-Rock
Monmouth