Friday, June 25, 2010

The 2010 Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory

The 2010 Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory is now available, the $112.75 price tag making it cheap at half the price. Its format is much the same as ever, but I know through personal experience just how much work is needed to keep it up-to-date and accurate. No self-respecting member of the broader wine industry can afford to be without it. I certainly cant. Orders at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Riddle of Old Vines

The inestimable Daily Wine News e-letter of June 17 had a teaser piece headed ‘If it says “Old Vines”, will you buy?’, pointing to an article written by Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator, and (on my reading) implied that Kramer was sceptical at best.

So it led me to reading the full article, and finding that it was full of interest and right on the money. Over the years, Matt Kramer and I have agreed to disagree on various matters, but not this time. Jumping to his conclusion, he comes down heavily (including via his cheque book) on the side of wines from old vines.

He covers all the bases, starting with the question, how old is old? There is no legal definition anywhere in the world, and only the Barossa Valley has come up with a (non-binding) charter: old vines, 35 years or older; survivor vines, 75 years or older; and centurion vines, 100 years or older.

I’m not going to repeat all the points Kramer makes, because the article is so well-balanced and written. However, there is one comment that may be a statement of the obvious, but I will make it nonetheless. Splitting the difference between old and survivor, and adopting 50 years (as does Kramer) as satisfactorily old, vines this age will only exist if they continue to be in good health and produce high quality grapes in acceptable quantities.

This in turn means the vines must have been planted on the right site – terroir if you will – with well-drained soil providing the right amount of nutrients; row orientation and aspect (north- or northeast-facing in the southern hemisphere) correct; and trellis/pruning method/canopy management all appropriate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

La Fontaine De Mars

La Fontaine De Mars is a nigh perfect alternative to three Michelin star dining in Paris. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a honeycomb of dining areas, arched colonnades outside on the ground floor, inside both on the ground and first floor, with all tables occupied from 7pm until 11pm, and a queue waiting for tables during much of that time.

The food centres around traditional southern France cuisine; Suzanne and I both started with warm salade tete de veau, which turned out to have no conventional salad, just herbs of Provence cooked with the melt-in-the-mouth cubes of veal cheek, a dish which required repeated raids on the bread basket. One of the specials of the night was cassoulet, which I chose, Suzanne taking the boudin basque off the main menu. The tete de veau was filling, the cassoulet brought me to a complete standstill. It’s possible to take the view that once you have eaten cassoulet you don’t need to go back a second time; if I had taken that view, I would have been much the poorer gastronomically. The beans and sauce had a creamy viscosity which challenged the two types of sausage and duck for supremacy. Glasses of very respectable Sancerre were followed by an outstanding 2008 Morgon Beaujolais, complete with a heavy wax capsule. With coffee and sparkling water the cost was 135 Euros. Open for lunch and dinner, La Fontaine De Mars is found at 129 rue Saint Dominique 75007, Paris; phone +33 (0)1 47 05 46 44; fax +33 (0)1 47 05 11 13;

Monday, June 14, 2010

Burgundy 2010: Crystal Ball-Gazing

In many ways, the weather of Burgundy can be as unpredictable as that of the Hunter Valley, hot one moment, raining cats and dogs the next. Grey skies and periodic rain ran right through May, but a burst of 30˚C days in the first week of June (followed by thunderstorms) certainly caused the vines to wake from their slumber and grow at the frenetic pace that has vignerons working from back-breaking dawn to dusk disbudding (removing unwanted shoots) from the 18-inch high vines. This very unpredictability makes the starting date of vintage far more difficult to guess than is commonly assumed, but the current betting is on a late September commencement.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

James on different wine closure alternatives

James explains the alternative options for wine closure, including cork, diam, vino lock and screwcap.

Academie Internationale du Vin

Vanya Cullen and I are the two Australian members of the Academie Internationale du Vin, drawn from wine professionals (most with winemaking background) from around the world, Europe providing most of the membership. Mid-year it makes a trip to a wine region, and in December meets in Geneva for a symposium at which learned papers are delivered (in French) by its members.

Three sun-filled and decidedly hot (plus 30˚C) days in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (above) and Gigondas greeted the 120 members of the Academie du Vin de France and of the Academie Internationale du Vin in a rare joint summer convocation. The first day began in the late afternoon with a ‘gaudineto’, a Provencale multi-course dinner at the Auberge de Cassagne, where most of us stayed (below). Visits to (and tastings, of course) Domaine des Bosquets and Chateau St Cosme in Gigondas (plus obligatory dissertations in rapid-fire French, covering all manner of things including the complicated geology underpinning the terroir of Gigondas) were leavened by a high quality lunch at Restaurant L’Oustalet on the main square of Gigondas under massive plane trees providing total shade. The afternoon (Palais des Papes) and dinner (Hotel de l’Europe) in Avignon were play-time events, the dinner made serious by the even better food.

The next day was largely given to Chateau de Beaucastel, with more dissertations, before a fascinating tasting of the components of Beaucastel Rouge: mourvedre (30%) providing tannin structure, grenache (30%) the core of the fruit flavours and drive; counoise (15%), a surprise packet liked by all for its intensity (nervosity), elegance and length; syrah (10%) giving colour and acidity; cinsaut (5%) mid-palate fruit and spice, the remaining 10% equally split between various white and red varieties. Lunch followed in a very large and very stylish white-tented outdoor setting before a visit to Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe (four vintages back to 1985). A costume change into best plumage was followed by hors d’oeuvres and Billecart-Salmon before a dinner in the Beaucastel Cellars, highlighted by 1987 Vielles Vignes (70 year old) Reserve Reserve Roussanne (golden and nutty), then 1980 Beaucastel Rouge, a glorious wine in exceptional condition.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rain on the Burgundy '08 vintage

Given the amount of rain and the widespread rot that engulfed Burgundy in August and the first 14 days of September (the day the cold, dry north wind arrived to start to dry it out), the ‘08 vintage must have been a huge challenge for the biodynamic vineyards of Domaine Leflaive.

Yet tasting the ‘08s – only one bottled by May 30, 2010 – there were little or no signs of botrytis and none whatsoever of any mould or other taint. The sorting table did get rid of 20% of the crop, leaving grapes with low pH, high acidity and 13% to 14% potential alcohol. The wines have evolved in barrel and (thereafter) small closed tanks at a snail’s pace, the malolactic fermentation still to finish for some; some will not be bottled until after the 2010 vintage. It is clear they will be very slow-developing wines, a radical contrast to the ‘06s, for example. Our tasting ran through Puligny Montrachet (commune), Puligny Montrachet Les Clavoillon, Les Folatieres, Les Pucelles, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet, an exhilarating ride up the quality ladder of Burgundy – particularly given the quality of the starting point. Domaine Leflaive (not to be confused with Olivier Leflaive) is one of the greatest producers of white burgundy; its wines are expensive and scarce, but each and every ‘08 will be worth fighting for when they arrive in Australia towards the end of this year – possibly in two shipments.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The beauty of Hostellerie de Levernois

There can be few restaurants anywhere in the world with park-size gardens even approaching the beauty of those of the Hostellerie de Levernois on the outskirts of Beaune: manicured lawns and shrubs trained into sculptures; towering trees; a permanent stream with substantial fish (not carp); and Burgundy roses in abundance.

There are 25 rooms that are far less costly than one might imagine, a tariff that ensures a permanently full house. The restaurant, which takes bookings from all and sundry, has one Michelin star, but is obviously looking for a second; it has all the requisite space, the ambience and the immaculately-clad staff smoothly moving constantly around the floor.

I did not know it was listed in Michelin as a house specialty, but I urge first-time diners to have (as an entrée) Risotto carnaroli au vert, cuisses de grenouilles et escargots de Bourgogne – a frothy, pea-green tangy broth of al dente rice, de-boned frogs legs and snails. And so much more. We were the guests of Veronique Drouhin and husband Michel Boss, the 2002 Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru (Morgeot, though not labelled as such) was a perfect bottle of wine starting to find full expression, and a 1992 Chambolle Musigny Les Baudes 1er Cru (the year Veronique Drouhin married and Vanya Cullen sang solo in the church as a surprise for Veronique) was in equally fine fettle.
Hostellerie de Levernois , 21200 Beaune; phone (03) 80 24 73 58; fax (03) 80 22 78 00;;

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ma Cuisine in Beaune

An annual rite-of-passage is a meal (one the bare minimum) at Ma Cuisine in Beaune. A chalkboard menu offers half a dozen entrees and slightly more main courses, the food at the heart of the traditional Burgundian cuisine, a €28 menu at lunch ridiculously cheap – salad of chicken livers, fillet of pork in creamy sauce, and a large serve of époisses my choice of three alternatives for the three courses. 2006 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Caillerets was the first wine for the four of us (including Vanya Cullen and partner Peter) on the principle that – given the impossibility of finding this great producer on wine lists in Australia – we should take every opportunity to drink it. It comes from a tiny holding of 0.18 hectares planted in 1937 and 1971, and was everything one could hope for. A gamble on a 1966 Santenay of Domaine des Hautes-Cornières seemed well worthwhile at only €66, even if we didn’t expect much. A recent release from the cellars of the Domaine, it was absurdly good, the red fruity flavours still fresh and round, the tannins – of course – soft.

Ma Cuisine, Passage St Helene, 21200 Beaune; phone 03 80 22 30 22;

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On a mission

I am a man on a mission when I come to France each year. It is not to drink as much Burgundy as possible – that is taken for granted – but to eat birds and offal. Just as Bordeaux is off my menu, so is lamb (especially) and beef. True, neither of these meats are Burgundy-oriented, but it is the scraggy bony cuts of lamb and the thin slices of beef that are the kiss of death. So a restaurant on the peripherique encircling Beaune called Piqu’Boeuf, garlanded with steer’s horns, had never merited more than a passing glance. But it had been recentlly recommended by a French friend, and so Suzanne and I decided to give it a go. When I spied Brioche de foie gras poêlé aux brioche and ceps at the head of the entrees, my heart leapt: fresh foie gras flip-flopped in a searing hot pan delivered all I hoped for. Suzanne’s Raviolle d’escargots was a sophisticated dish from presentation to stomach. I went for the maximum with my main course: a 400 gram Entrecôte de boeuf charolais du Maquignon cooked rare on the massive fireplace-cum-barbecue, and a mountain of pommes frites. Suzanne had Rumsteack de boeuf charolais, all the numerous charolais dishes coming from a single producer – grand cru beef, for sure.

The wine list is adequate, and you do get decent glasses. A ‘99 Domaine Billard Gonnet Pommard Clos du Verger Premier Cru at €46 was standout value, even though I had never heard of the producer – nice enough wine. With a few other bits and pieces the bill was €134, cheap at half the price.

Piqu’Boeuf, 2 Rue Madeleine, 21200 Beaune; phone 03 80 24 07 52;,; closed Tuesday and Wednesday.