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Monday, 27 October 2014

Viranel Tasting Dinner at Pint Shop

Viranel tasting and dinner at Pint Shop with Cambridge Wine Merchants
Cambridge Wine Merchants have championed Languedoc wines for many years and supply a number of the city's restaurants, including Pint Shop.
One of two wine-making brothers, Arnaud Bergasse took us through a tasting of his wines along with a few plates of food.
Less than a year since it opened, Pint Shop has been a phenomenal success - on a dark Thursday night there was standing room only and two fully-booked sittings for dinner.
The food is "English revival" - traditional, slightly peasanty and utterly delicious - whilst the vibe is unpretentiously cool.
This matches perfectly with the effortless sophistication of Viranel's wines; they are all ripe yet fresh with precision, balance and minerality.
Based in Cessenon-sur-Orb in St Chinian, Viranel is a family business dating back to 1551 with 40ha and three distinct terroirs - low-lying alluvial for the everyday drinking and limestone and sandstone schist going up to 400m for the more structured wines.
The Wines
Trilogie Rosé Syrah, Cab, Cinsault; pale, easy drinking, fresh and balanced
Tradition Rosé Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault; darker, more structured and food-friendly
Tradition Blanc Grenache blanc, Vermentino, Roussanne, Bourboulenc; fresh, floral, mineral with some sweet spice
Tradition Rouge GSM+C, some oak; ripe dark fruits and freshness
V Rouge Syrah and Grenache, old vines, some oak; more texture and complexity
All the wines were very enjoyable, but the V Rouge was the most impressive.
Viranel wines are available from Cambridge Wine Merchants and Berry Brothers & Rudd.
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Friday, 24 October 2014

South West France - Wine Dinner

South West France wines are holding a dinner at The Boundary in Shoreditch on November 5.

As one of the ambassadors for this campaign, the Wine Gang's Joanna Simon will be hosting the event - a four course meal with 12 wines matched to each course.

To whet your appetite, the line-up is:

Aperitif:- Charcuterie Canapés
2013 Rive Haute Colombard Sauvignon
Salad of Bayonne ham with truffle.
2013 Domaine Chiroulet Rose
2013 Gouleyant Loin de L’oeil Sauvignon
2012 Les Vignes Retrouvées
Main Course:
Braised ox cheek, smoked boar, root vegetables, red wine sauce
2010 Plénitude
2011 Chateau de Hauterive
2011 Château d’Aydie
2012 Pigmentum Malbec
2012 Domaine de Cassaigne
2010 L’Empreinte
Prune Clafoutis, vanilla cream
2011 Chäteau d’Aydie (Pacherenc)
2011 Domaine Rotier
Wednesday, 5th November, 6.45pm, £70 pp
The Boundary, 2-4 Boundary St, London E2 7DD
To book tickets, call the Chateau Boundary ticket office on 020 7613 7564 or email the team at info@chateauboundary.com

If you want to know more about the event generally:


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Six St Chinian Wines

A tasting of six St Chinian wines held at Cambridge Wine Merchants for EASCA

St Chinian is a sub-region of Languedoc-Roussillon and one of the oldest winemaking regions in Languedoc. Based at the foot of France's Massif Central, it lies between the Pyrenean foothills and the Med and benefits from lots of sunshine and a degree of coolness from either altitude or sea breezes.

In general, the better wines come from the north of the appellation where the soil is stoney clay, rather than in the south where limestone dominates.

The grapes here are mostly the traditional GSM + C of Languedoc (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan) and all the reds had a distinct family resemblance - a southern warmth with dark fruits, freshness and concentration.
Mas Champart, St Chinian Blanc 2012 (The Wine Society, Berrys) a blend of numerous southern varieties, it is a sandy yellow. Fresh, clean and citrussy, it is long and poised with leesy, mineral underpinnings. Good.

A versatile, textured food wine with good freshness, this will match with anything from a local starter of roasted peppers, anchovies and chopped boiled egg to roast guinea fowl.

Cave des Vignerons de St Chinian, Le Secret Des Capitelles 2012 (Oxford Wine, Smiling Grape) dark fruits, olive paste and coffee beans. Juicy and fresh with a persistent finish. Something slightly lacking on the mid-palate.
Ch Cazal Viel, Vieilles Vignes Rouge 2012 (WineDirect) dark fruits with spicy black pepper and cloves. Fresh with a supple texture.
Ch Ladournie, Etienne 2011 (Loki) ripe fruits, violets, smokey / peppery and gamey. Firm with a supple texture. Good.
Domaine Marquise des Mures, Les Sagnes 2009 (no details) carbonic maceration of the Carignan and Syrah give this a bubblegum / boiled sweet flavour.
Ch du Prieure des Mourgues, Grand Reserve 2010 (Hedonism) restrained but complex nose of dark fruit and roasted spices; long and savoury with good underpinnings, a supple texture. Deft and assertive. Very Good.
With lots of dark fruit and spice, the reds will all match with red meats and darker game.

My top wine overall was the Ch du Prieure des Mourgues.
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Mondial Wine - An Offer

An Offer from Mondial Wine
Mondial Wine, an Italian specialist importer that has been around since 1985, made me an offer I couldn't refuse:

1) have a trawl round their website and pick a couple of interesting wines to review
2) in the meantime, take a money-saving offer for readers of this blog
I hadn't heard of them previously either, but Miss Bouquet recomends a couple of their wines here.
So, for 20% off your first order, just enter the code PREMIUM-READER at the check-out stage before October 31st.
I'll be posting my review of their wines shortly, but Miss B recommends:
Batasiolo Barbera D’alba Sovrana 2011, Piedmonte
Damilano Barolo ‘Lecinquevigne’ 2002, Piedmonte
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Saturday, 18 October 2014

Te Mata - Great Whites Tasting

A tasting of Te Mata wines
Te Mata is New Zealand's oldest family-owned estate and one of its most prestigious producers; its wines combine an old world structure with a signature New Zealand freshness.
With a classic approach and old money prices, Te Mata's wines are deft, elegant and sophisticated.
Estate Vineyards Range
Not many wineries can price their entry-level wines in the high teens - these were all precise, elegant and scored a Good; however, I felt they would be a more compelling purchase if priced in the mid-to-low teens.
Sauvignon Blanc 2013 textbook classic zesty NZ Sauvignon.
Chardonnay 2012 clean, precise, fresh.
Gamay Noir 2013 classic varietal raspberry and pinewood, fresh.
Syrah 2012 mulberry, dark fruits and spice; freshness. Clean and pure.
Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc
Impressive wines impressively priced - mid-twenties pricing gets you one of these more complex and structured barrel-fermented blends of Sauvignon, Semillon and Sauvignon Gris. All scored a Very Good.
2010 a good year; complex aromatic and mineral nose with pungent hints. Ripe tropical fruits, waxiness and salinity. Starting to feel mellow. Long, elegant and very accomplished.
2011 from a cooler year, feels rather oakier and less knitted-together at this stage.
2012 again a cooler year; shows as more fresh green herbs, zestiness and lime marmalade with a persistent minerality.
2013 a great year and a great wine; less aromatic initially, but amazingly powerful, concentrated  and intense. Very long and saline.
Elston Chardonnay
Burgundian style and Burgundian, mid-twenties prices; tip-toes elegantly between warm-climate softness and a nervily cool tautness. All scored a Very Good.
2007 fresh, complex harmonious and mellow with ripe fruit. Long and saline.
2010 toasty oak, ripe tropical fruit balanced with freshness and savoury leesiness.
2012 cooler, more focused and precise; the fruit is more orchard and white peach.
2013 complex and balanced, mineral and savoury. Initially, there are aromas of something akin to botrytris, minutes later it's gone and the lime zestiness dominates. Persistent finish.
Flagship Wines
Zara 2011 (£22.99) a barrel- fermented Viognier; floral, delicate, fresh, peachy and long. Very elegant. Very Good.
Awatea 2010 (£26.99) Hawke's Bay Cab / Merlot blend; blackberry, cassis and plum with a supple and mellow palate. Very Good.
Coleraine 2010 (£48.99) Bordelais blend of CS, Merlot and Cab Franc with an amazingly complex and densely-structured texture. Muscular yet deft, savoury and mineral. Very Good Indeed.
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Friday, 17 October 2014

Chablis - A Guide

A guide to visiting Chablis

With a modest-but-pleasant riverside and a few historic buildings in a relatively flat part of northern France, the small market town of Chablis is interesting enough, but hardly a must-see destination.
It is, however, a Mecca for oenophiles with a fondness for the sharp, strong, important wine that bears its name.
For holiday purposes, it is convenient to divide France into the northern part (mostly dull) and the southern part (mostly interesting). This means a minimum six-hour drive from Calais to get to somewhere nice and therefore a stop-over is required.
Depending on the eventual destination, the most obvious stopover points include Chablis - as well as Champagne, northern Burgundy or Jura.

The Hostellerie Des Clos (18 Rue Jules Rathier, 89800 Chablis, France) is a smart, sophisticated hotel in the centre of this little market town, next door to William Fevre.
Set in a former church and hotel de dieu, it is both luxurious and characterful; there is a courtyard with seating for drinks and breakfast is served in a former church.
Duplex rooms sleeping up to four cost around €180.
The restaurant at the Hostellerie Des Clos has a Michelin star, an extensive wine list, focusing on Chablis, and an oenomatic machine.
Set menus start at €45 for four courses, but the amuse bouche, pre-dessert and petits fours make it virtually a tasting menu in its own right.
Also recommended is the more contemporary Au Fil du Zinc.
Chablis is surrounded by vineyards with the seven Grands Crus sites just to the north of the town centre.
But to visit properly and understand what makes Chablis unique, take the 3-hour vineyard tour and tasting with oenologist-turned-guide Eric Szablowski of Au Coeur du Vin in his 2CV.
The centre of Chablis is small but pretty and makes more for a pleasant stroll than somewhere to be explored in depth.
Taste, Drink, Buy
There is no shortage of bars and cavistes proffering their wares on tasting in the town centre, but the best value wines we found were in the village of Chichee 3km away.
Domaine Ellevin, 3 Rue du Pont, Chichee.
Getting there
Chablis is about a four-hour drive from Calais - a handy stop-over point if heading south and just about manageable as a long weekend.
Chablis is not especially child-friendly, but the CWB children found enough to explore and keep them occupied for a 24-hour stopover.
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Two Loire Reds

Two Loire reds from Waitrose and Stone, Vine and Sun

If the main characteristic of the Loire is wines of freshness and lightness, we might expect that to apply more successfully to white wines more than to reds.

And yet the Loire's light, fresh and distinctively appetising reds are a real hidden gem; these two are both Cabernet Franc.

La Croix de Chaintres, Saumur Champigny, 2012 (£11.99, Waitrose) vibrant purple, varietal raspberry, violets and pine wood with some spice; soft red berry and red cherry fruit with a savoury freshness and supple texture.

Focused, long and well structured; pleasantly assertive and persistent. Good.

Chateau de Putille, Anjou, 2011 (£10.25, Stone, Vine and Sun) aromas of red and black cherries; pencil shavings, red and black cherry fruit. Long freshness and savouriness with a deft, supple texture. Good.

Match both wines with rare tuna steak, paté or duck.

Provided for review.

Other related articles
Loire Masterclass at Berry's
Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Harveys 12 Year-Old Signature Sherry

A cream sherry from Harveys

- "I'm bringing sexy back", SexyBack (Justin Timberlake)

Sherry is sexy again - first it was pale crisp fino, then the darker, more complex styles; finally it's time to reclaim the sweet stuff.

Sherry's much-vaunted and oft-delayed eventual revival has inevitably spawned various one-offs and special editions - from En Rama to vintage.

Now Harveys is relaunching its cream sherry - a slightly sweetened dark sherry with an average age of 12 years. With just 20% PX, it feels more off-dry than fully sweet and has a balanced freshness and bitterness.

Golden topaz, the nose is tangy and complex with dried fruit, roasted nuts and spices. The initial sweetness is balanced by freshness, leading to flavours of vanilla, butterscotch, salted caramel and roasted hazelnuts with more roasted nuts and spices on the finish.

Long, savoury and complex. Very Good.

Match with blue cheese, turkey with chestnut stuffing or wild boar.

£11.99 for 50cl at Tesco; provided for review.

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Sherry Institute: Cadiz Wine Dinner - Almadraba Tuna and Jerez Wines‏
Harveys at IWC Taste of Gold‏
Harveys 30 Year-Old PX Sherry‏

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Jackson Estate

Two ambitious wines from New Zealand's Jackson Estate

Grey Ghost Sauvignon Blanc (£18, Majestic, Ocado, Tesco) oaked Sauvignon is something unusual - especially from the New World, which specializes in crisp, modern aromatic styles produced in temperature controlled stainless steel.
This oaked Sauvignon is a mixture of modernity and tradition; pale straw yellow, with varietal Sauvignon aromatics plus some oatmealy-cashew, lime zest and toasty oak.
Sweet ripe pineapple, guava and citrus fruit with zesty freshness leads to a savoury, buttery, brazil-nut mid-palate with a long finish.
Complex and impressively constructed. Good.
Match with monkfish in a herb broth.

Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2012 (£19.99, Majestic, Ocado, Tesco) Surprisingly dark for a Pinot, mostly toasty oak on the nose, rather smothering the Burgundian vegetal / farmyard underneath. Ripe black cherry fruit, sweet, oaky spice, tobacco leaf, mocha and freshness - good precision, texture and length.

A class act for certain, but a more androgynous style of Pinot than a willowy, waywardly naturally-beautiful Burgundian - a made-up, stomping, Bowie-esque Jean Genie.

Technically Very Good, but somehow lacks the ethereal elusiveness of a really compelling Pinot.

Match with duck or other dark game.

Provided for review.

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Jackson Estate Stich Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough
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Image credit: http://banditblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/52590035108803a8858c9dfeea16fafd.jpg

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Errazuriz Estate Series

A tasting of Four Estate Series wines from Chilean producer Errazuriz with colleagues

Chile is an oenological big blowsy tart-with-a-heart; with complex geology, no Phylloxera and a combination of altitude and cooling sea breezes, it should make great wines.
Yet if in practice all too often the results are unsophisticated attention-seekers, at least some producers, including Errazuriz, are starting to make more interestingly nuanced wines.
These four are somewhere between those two extremes - fault-free and expressive with occasional complexity, they are crowd-pleasers with some ambition.
Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Aconcagua Valley, RRP £9.99, Waitrose, Majestic, Budgens, Morrisons, NISA; various independents.

Textbook generic New World SB, aromatic gooseberries, nettles and cut grass. Tropical fruits and fresh acidity. Light, uncomplicated, expressive.

Estate Series Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Casablanca Valley RRP £9.99, Tesco, Bargain Booza, Fresh & Wild

Ripe tropical fruits, clean acidity and some textural complexity from wild yeast fermentation and lees aging. Granitic soils add a hint of minerality.
Estate Series Merlot 2013, Curico Valley RRP £9.99, Tesco, Majestic, Budgens, NISA, Booths, various independents

Expressive varietal nose of red fruits, coffee and spice with some toasty oak. Juicy and refreshing, uncomplicated.
Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Maipo Valley RRP £9.99, Waitrose, Morrisons, Booths, various independents

Complex nose of cassis, oak and spice; supple palate with ripe bramble fruit, a touch of cool mint and vanilla. Good concentration and balanced freshness.
Long, ripe and plump - slightly drying tannins on the finish, but some food might fix this.

Sealed under screwcap, all these wines benefitted from some aeration. For me the most assured overall was the leesy, textured Chardonnay; the group's favourite was the Cab.
Provided for review.
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Monday, 6 October 2014

Polugar Vodka

Russia has made few friends and antagonised numerous others with its foreign policy in 2014, to the extent that it is now on the receiving end of a number of sanctions.

These Polugar vodkas invoke a Russian heritage but are actually made in Poland, so are presumably not affected.
They were banned by Russia's overbearing, rapacious, imperial ruler in the C19th, but have been rediscovered and restored by the Rodionov family based on historic research.
Current Russian legislation still does not permit these grain-based distillates to be made in the country.
Made from grain and spring water, they are purified using birch wood charcoal; they have a distinctly bready aroma and flavour that is more complex and less harsh than any vodka I have ever tried.
Previously, the nearest thing I'd had to a bread-based drink is the dark-brown, frothy, malty-bready, sweetish kvas.
These are quite unique.
Single grain range
Wheat doughy-bready aroma; long, intense and warming, but lacks the bitterness of traditional vodka.
Single Malt Rye adds aromas of rye bread and meadow grass.
Classic Rye aromas of freshly-baked rye bread with a touch of sweetness and spice.
Infusions range
No. 1 Rye & Wheat doughy, with freshly-baked, home-made breadcrust; sweetness, warming finish.
No. 2 Garlic & Pepper pungent roasted garlic aromas; warming, lingering pepperiness.
No. 3 Caraway pronounced, complex sweetly spiced aromas and flavours of central-Asian-style caraway bread. This really brings back memories of living in the Soviet Union.
No. 4 Honey & Allspice sweet, floral honey and warming allspice. Unsurprisingly.
Match with traditional Slavic zakuski - rye bread, pickled cucumbers, kolbasa, boiled potatoes with butter and dill, preserved bell peppers and tomatoes.

Provided for review.
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Further reading on Russia

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Pure Chablis: The Tasting

Tasting notes from a horizontal tasting of Chablis vineyards organised by the BIVB and run by oenologist-turned-tour-guide Eric Szablowski of Au Coeur du Vin

After a tour of the vineyards of Chablis with Eric in his 2CV, it was my turn to do a bit of work with a tasting of 30-odd wines from Petit Chablis up to Grand Cru.

For the most part, the judges don't lie and the best wines were the Golds from the best classifications; the best wine overall was the Chablisienne Les Preuses.

For newcomers to Chablis, Petit Chablis is as good a place to start as any - these easy drinkers have the character of Chablis in a lighter, simpler form.

Petits Chablis 2012

Grown on different soils (portlandian, if you were wondering), Petit Chablis is a "junior" version of the real thing - an inexpensive entry-level wine for general drinking. These wines were light, sharp and pale, a good aperitif.

Domaine William Fevre white stone fruit, elegant and persistent
Jean Dauvissat pere et fils floral and rounded with white flowers
Domaine Servin floral, mineral and persistent
La Chablisienne flinty and precise, from Chablis' co-op
Domaine Charly Nicole sweet spice, ripeness, almost honeysuckle
Domaine Sebastien Dampt floral and rounded with beeswax and lime marmalade

Chablis 2012

The first of the "real" Chablis, these were richer and more golden-coloured.

Domaine de Chantemerle richer, more harmonious, balanced and integrated; good texture, assured.
Domaine Gautheron some honeysuckle, floral sweetness and zestiness; good texture
Domaine Jean Collet elegant, mineral; a zestiness develops
Domaine Vocoret et fils white flowers and sweet spices
Domaine Daniel Seguinot et Filles flinty, mineral precise and elegant
Domaine de la Motte precise with stray / hay notes

Chablis Premiers Crus rive droite 2012

Premiers Crus are, incongruously, the second rank of Chablis - these right-bankers were richer and more complex.

Domaine Pinson Freres, Mont de Milieu (Gold) complex honeysuckle and beeswax, rich and ripe orchard fruits. Good textured richness.
Domaine Garnier, Mont de Milieu (Silver) sweet ripe orchard fruits, honeysuckle, persistent finish
Simonet Febvre, Forchaute (Silver) sweet ripe orchard fruits, honeysuckle, zestiness, persistent finish
Domaine Jean-Paul et Benoit Droin, Montee de Tonnerre (Bronze) zesty and pungent, pronounced minerality; fresh with a persistent finish

Chablis Premiers Crus rive gauche 2012

Domaine Pinson Freres, Montmains (Gold) more power than elegance; ripeness and richness. Harmonious with a persistent finish.
Domaine de la Motte, Vau Ligneau (Gold) from a small, cool valley apart from Chablis, the wines can be rustic, but this is atypically elegant. Ripe focused sweet citrus, concentrated and mineral.
Claude Chevalier, Montmains (Silver) floral with orchard fruits and white flowers; elegant and mineral.
Domaine Daniel Dampt Cotes de Lechet (Silver) ripe citrus with mineral persistence.
Domaine Laroche, Les Jaudevey (Bronze) rich, honeyed, ripe citrus and orchard fruit

Chablis Grands Crus

So, we're finally there - this is the best of the best of Chablis; the top seven vineyards, all south-facing, all in a group on a slope overlooking the centre of Chablis.

La Chablisienne, Les Preuses (Gold) Chablis' co-op, but starting to become a domaine with acquisitions of vineyards. This is rich, complex and harmonious, with sweet spice and well-integrated buttery oak.
Domaine William Fevre, Bougros Cotes de Bouguerots (Silver) flinty with pungent hints, ripe citrus and orchard fruits, long and persistent. Just not quite as concentrated or intense as the Gold.

Other related articles
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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Three Alsace Wines

Three medal-winning wines from Alsace's Les Vignerons Recoltants de St Hippolyte

One of the many very pleasant things about a holiday in France is the opportunity to stock up on superior wines at everyday-drinking prices.

We bought these three medal-winning Alsace wines from the supermarket for around €5 each; with taxes and duties, something of equivalent quality in the UK would have cost £10+.

Riesling 2011 (Paris Gold) Sandy yellow, ripe peach and honeysuckle blossom; ripe peach fruit, fresh citrus, beeswax and minerality with a touch of white pepper on the finish. Ripe, clean and long. Good.

Pinot Gris 2012 (Paris Gold) Sweet ripe orchard fruit, sweet spices - rounded, assured and deft. Good.

Gewurztraminer 2012 (Colmar Gold) Ripe stone fruit, pineapple, beeswax and sweet warming spices with lychees and rose petals. Complex and assured. Good.

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Friday, 3 October 2014

Taylor's First Estate Reserve Port

Young reserve ruby port should be bursting with fruit, eucalyptus, sweetness and alcohol.
This Taylor's First Estate, a blend of reserve ports, has all that youthful exuberance, but also a hint of something more complex and aged; some leather and cigarbox on the nose, a savouriness on the palate and a mellowness about it.
Ripe dark berry fruits, cassis, eucalyptus, cooked mixed fruit and warming spice - sweetness, freshness and savoury persistence.
Like Christmas cake laced with cough mixture - in a good way. An excellent entry-level port.
A dessert in its own right, match with chocolate and cherry torte - or dark chocolate.

£12, widely available; provided for review.
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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Domaine Ellevin, Chablis

Chablis is not a big place, a modest market town with a riverside and various remnants of a mediaeval past.
The appellation of Chablis covers both the vineyards surrounding the town itself and those of 20 neighbouring villages. Just a few miles south, in the village of Chichée, is Domaine Ellevin.
We had contacted owner Alexandre Ellevin in advance and arranged to meet up on our way back from a holiday in southern France - Chablis being pretty much half way between the Rhone and Calais.
Working out of a converted garage, Alexandre has a small tasting area hung with maps and the various awards his wines have won over the years.
Beyond is a bottling line and storage area; he farms 16ha but supplies most of his wine to a negociant with no trouble selling the remainder himself - there was pretty much only current vintages available of his four wines.
Describing his choice, Alexandre explained that he has greater freedom with a negociant - the local co-op would take his grapes en masse, but would require his entire crop.
By contrast, a negociant, working through a courtier (middle-man), would agree a set price for a predetermined amount of finished wine which it would bottle and sell under its own label allowing Alexandre complete freedom to do whatever he likes with the remainder.
We tried all four wines; if the petit Chablis is a crisp, uncomplicated aperitif, the AOC Chablis has more complexity and underpinnings.
Most impressive, however, are his two Premiers Crus, from Vaucoupin and Vosgros. In the arcane nomenclature of Chablis, Premiers Crus are in the second rank of vineyards after the top seven Grands Crus.
Both wines have the taut, steely precision and intensity that is characteristic of top Chablis; the Vaucoupin showed a little more fruit and is just ready for drinking now whilst the Vosgros is still intensely mineral and needs longer in bottle to open up.
We bought as much as would fit into a car boot already groaning with holiday stuff and bottles from other wine regions we had visited. It was an easy choice - the two Premiers Crus are not only the best, but also ridiculously good value at under €10 each.
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