Author: Chuck Hayward

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from Burgundy’s Fringe

JoursFollowing a busy day tasting the wines of the Cotes de Nuits, Jeff Loo, JJ Buckley’s man in Beaune spent the next few days attending sessions focusing on the so-called “lesser” appellations of Burgundy. While the villages of the Cote d’Or get most of the attention, the Grand Jours de Bourgogne tastings really open your eyes to the diversity of wines made throughout the region. Whether it’s sparkling wines, beaujolais and even high-octane brandies, Burgundy is so much more than pinot noir and chardonnay.

While not as glamorous, areas like the Maconnais and Burgundy are becoming increasingly important to the region’s economic well-being. The price of land in the Cote d’Or is becoming frighteningly expensive making it difficult for families to hold onto their properties. With such high prices today, only banks and multinational conglomerates have the wherewithal to purchase these expensive vineyards. With that comes a loss of the traditions passed down from generation to generation of winemakers and farmers, a blow to the region’s cultural heritage.

For years now, many large family owned negociants have traveled south to purchase vineyards in Beaujolais and the Macon to ensure they have consistent availability of fruit for the more affordable wines in their portfolio. The rise in quality of cru Beaujolais and site-specific Pouilly-Fuisses over the past decade are evidence that quality wines can be made outside of the Cote d’Or and at affordable prices.

Jeff Loo had this to say after his tasting sessions:

“As I tasted my way through the wines of the Macon region, there were plenty of examples that were simply meant for everyday drinking but I also found some stunning discoveries that would give wines from Chablis and Beanue a run for their money. 2012 is a super vintage here. The wines are expressive with great fruit profiles as well as weight and acidity. I get the feeling the best examples will easily age for a decade. Yet the quality is so good, it will be hard to keep them in the cellar.

Tasting through the wines of almost 100 producers was a thrilling experience. The winemakers I met are all fiercely proud of their regions and their wines. There’s a sense of pride to be found here and the top estates are making thought provoking wines that will please even the most jaded palates. To be clear, these are incredible values and it will be a big mistake if you overlook them. St Veran gets my nod as best of the bunch in 2012.”

Coming up is Jeff’s final report from the Burgundy’s most important trade event as he travels south to taste through the wines of the Cote de Beaune.

Click here to read our blogpost about the 2012 wines from Chablis presented at the Grand Jours. And here for Jeff’s updates from the Cote de Nuits.

Can’t make it to the Grand Jours de Bourgogne? These wines are great introductions to the “other” Burgundy.

2010 Vincent Girardin Domaine de la Tour du Bief Moulin a Vent “Clos de la Tour”

2010 Louis Jadot Chateau des Jacques Moulin a Vent Clos de Rochegres

2010 Georges Duboeuf Brouilly Flower Label

JJ Buckley at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne: Update from Chablis

Grand JoursThe Grand Jours de Bourgogne tastings began a few days ago with the traditional start to the event held in the northern region of Chablis. While our preferred focus was on the famed chardonnays of this famous region, one can easily be immersed (or most likely distracted) by the diversity of wines that come from the northern reaches of Burgundy.

Consumers and the trade are guilty of thinking that chardonnay and pinot noir represent the entirety of what is produced there. But there are intriguing subregions in the north including the Grand Auxerrois that sees minerally and racy sauvignon blancs emanating from the chalk soils of Saint-Bris, aligote wines that are more frequently found further south in the Cotes Chalonnaise and even some sturdy pinot noirs from the cold area of Irancy.

We just received an update from JJ Buckley’s Burgundy specialist Jeff Loo who is our man on the scene at this year’s Grand Jours tastings. He will compile tasting notes for the top wines of each commune while offering commentary on how each village fared with the 2012 vintage. The best of his on-the-scene reporting will be summarized along with his notes in a JJ Buckley report on the 2012 Burgundies to be published shortly after his return.

In the meantime here are a few observations from Jeff on his visit to Chablis:

“In 2012, it’s not just the grand cru or premier cru bottlings to look for. In this vintage, the village level wines and the lesser appellations found amazing success. The 12’s are very good compared to the 2010’s. They have an incredible roundness to them as though they already had enough bottle age to develop that ‘fatness’ that comes out in white Burgundies with age. Many winemakers considered the 2012’s as a combination of the styles found in 2009 and 2010 Chablis melding the fineness and acidity from ’10 and the richly textured fruit from 2009.  There really wasn’t a dog at this day’s tastings.”

The Tuesday tastings will be one of Jeff’s toughest days of the Grand Jours as he shuttles between four communes in the northern Cotes d’Or. He’ll be jostling and fighting for tastes of the crus of Vosne Romanee at the historic chateau of Clos Vougeot and then running up north to Marsannay to sample the wines from the commune of Gevrey Chambertin. In between he has tastings of wines from Nuits St. Georges, Morey St. Denis, Chambolle Musigny and more. Wow, I’m just tired writing about it.

Stay tuned!!

Drink with Jeff by enjoying these tasty Chablis:

2011 Domaine Louis Michel Chablis “Grenouilles”

2009 Domaine Laroche Chablis “Blanchots”

2007 La Chablisienne Chablis “Bougros”

St. Patrick’s Day and Wine: Maybe a Connection After All?


Peter Rosback of Sineann Winery

When it comes to holidays and wine, some combinations just make sense. We all know how much French wine gets consumed on Bastille Day, even here in the States. We have yet to see a similar celebration of wine connected to July 4th, something that would actually make sense given that wineries now exist in every state of America. But wine and St. Patrick’s Day? It’s all about Guinness and poitin on March 17th, not the pleasures from the vine.

But is it really? Ireland and the wine industry actually have extensive connections that go back centuries. The English wine trade’s first connections to Bordeaux and the Port wine region began in the 1600s with Irish merchants starting their initial forays into Bordeaux later in the 18th century. Back then, Irish citizens founded such notable wineries as Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages and Boyd Cantenac. Ireland’s role in Bordeaux’s economy is so deep that almost a dozen streets in the city refer to Irishmen.


An ancient Irish castle on a label from Owen Roe Winery

Developing wineries was not the only focus of Irish businessmen. Some of Bordeaux’s oldest and most revered negociants were founded by Irish businessmen and still conduct business today. The oldest negociant in Bordeaux, Tastet & Lawton, was founded by Abraham Lawton who emigrated to France from County Cork shipping their first wines in 1739. The firm remains in the family’s hands today with members of ninth generation guiding operations.

You might be even more surprised to find out that there are wineries growing vitis vinifera grapes in Ireland. This has all happened quite recently and the action has been centered in Cork. There are only a handful of domaines in existence and they are reputedly more likely to make whites than reds. Thanks to global warming, there has been a strong upsurge in grape plantings in England so more wineries in Ireland could be possible.

In the meantime, there are plenty of American wineries that celebrate their Irish heritage, particularly by using Gaelic in naming their wineries or for individual wines. Peter Rosback’s Sineann Winery has been producing exceptional pinot noirs from Oregon while the labels on the reserve wines from David O’Reilly’s Owen Roe Winery showcases stunning photographs of old Irish castles. The Concannon Vineyard in Livermore was founded by an Irish immigrant who was actually born on St. Patrick’s Day. Other wineries may not have such intimate connections to Ireland. Instead, you might find Irish references such as Limerick Lane with their popular zinfandel.

St. Patrick’s Day and wine? Not so far fetched after all!

Here’s a selected list of some Bordeaux properties that have longstanding connections to Ireland.

1990 Chateau Lynch Bages (Pauillac)

2009 Chateau Phelan Segur (St. Estephe)

2010 Chateau Kirwan (Margaux)

2000 Chateau Pichon Lalande (Pauillac)

Our featured California wine with an Irish connection is:

2010 Robert Keenan Merlot (Napa Valley)

The World of ZAP Changes, The Vintage Insights Remain the Same

zin 1If there’s one thing that the wine industry can once in a while guarantee, it’s a bit of consistency. The vines wake up in the spring, champagne sells like crazy as the holidays approach and the annual ZAP tasting is held during the end of January. In fact, ZAP has traditionally occupied the weekend before the Super Bowl just so zin enthusiasts don’t have to sacrifice football to enjoy their favorite wine.

After more than 20 years of the same tasting format, ZAP undertook some radical changes in the structure of this year’s event. Instead of the “Grand Tasting”, which has usually been held at the pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco, the day’s festivities were spread amongst three nearby buildings. Re-branded as the “Zinfandel Experience”, ZAP created three themed tasting sessions which lasted two hours with each session held three times over the course of the day.

Most importantly, “this revolutionary new format” was also significantly downsized with each of the nine tasting sessions allowing only 350 people. Compare this with the almost 9000 people who showed up each year under the old format and we are talking a big reduction in the number of people who can attend.

A lineup of Bedrock zinfandels

A lineup of Bedrock zinfandels

Not only was there a decrease in the number of attendees (and the long lines waiting for the tasting to start) but there was a significant decline in the number of wineries who poured their wines. This slimmed down tasting had about 30% fewer wineries sharing their wines and even fewer available for the trade portion tasting a few days earlier. It’s pretty clear that the ZAP of old is changing.

In addition to providing consumers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the pleasures of zinfandel, ZAP’s traditional January date has also allowed some folks in the trade to gain a look into the latest vintage coming to market, in this case, the wines from 2012. While zinfandel and cabernet don’t have much in common in the vineyard or the glass, over the years, the ZAP tasting has provided an insight about the style of the soon-to-be released California cabs. Generally, the basic qualities of a zinfandel’s bouquet and palate are a good indicator of what can be expected in cabernets from Napa and Sonoma from the same vintage.

The hype surrounding California’s 2012 vintage has been building since the grapes were crushed. Following a dismal 2011 harvest, winemakers were keen to have some good news to tell the trade and the drumbeat has been fairly insistent ever since. Not only was the quality deemed exceptional but there was going to be plenty of it.

Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars

Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars

With that background, I was looking forward to tasting as many 2012s at ZAP’s trade tasting as possible and was ready to be impressed. Maybe I arrived with high expectations but there was clearly nothing among the zinfandels I tasted that made the 2012s stand up and be noticed. The bouquets were moderately intense with soft expressions of pure fruit. There wasn’t much complexity to be found aromatically but that can be expected at this early point in their development. The palates of the best 2012s mimicked the aromatics with medium bodied flavors of dark red fruits. While pleasant, there was something missing, that wow factor that separates the best vintages from the rest.

It’s important to remember that this is just a small window on what the 2012 vintage has to offer. It’s interesting to note that similar observations have been made about the 2012s that were recently poured at the Premiere Napa Valley Auction. There will be opportunities to taste 2012 cabernets will be coming soon during the next few months. Check in with JJ Buckley’s blog to get the latest on the vintage!

Host your own ZAP tasting with these zinfandels from JJ Buckley!!

2012 Brown Estate Zinfandel

2011 Ridge “Ponzo Vineyard” Zinfandel

2010 Tofanelli Family Zinfandel

JJ Buckley Takes On 2010 En Primeurs

JJ Buckley Takes On 2010 En Primeurs

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 4th, 2011

The JJB Team Infiltrates Pavie

With the entire JJ Buckley team finally assembled in Bordeaux, we’ve begun our first forays into discerning the potential of the 2010 harvest. We came to Bordeaux to make our own assessments, but without blindfolds and earplugs…  it’s hard to look at the new vintage without being affected by early coverage from the front. Whether it is journalists who got the first peek at the harvest or the negociants and the winemakers themselves, opinions are already floating around. Early reports have focused on three aspects of the vintage: the elegant profile and high-toned nature of the fruit, the amount of tannin in the wines and the alcohol levels.

Yet if there is one word that can describe our tastings so far, it would be “surprising.” It’s only been one day and the JJ Buckley team has recorded a little less than 100 wines in our notebooks. While that might not be much in the bigger scheme of things, there are definitely a few conclusions that can be drawn, and I feel confident that these observations will hold true as we taste more. (more…)

Burgundy:The Big and Small of It

Burgundy:The Big and Small of It

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 1, 2011

Tasting 2009 Whites at Louis Jadot

Our trip to Burgundy has been a spectacular vinous pilgrimage on a number of fronts, but most importantly, we accomplished our mission. Trekking the holy trail that leads south from Dijon through the Cotes-de-Nuits, we spent a couple of days getting up-close-and-personal with winemakers and current releases, as well as assessing what lies ahead. Afterwards, we headed to Beaune and invaded the offices of Louis Jadot where we encountered a positively knee-buckling line-up of wine, including some pretty amazing older vintages.

In addition to getting insight into the wines themselves, these few days also highlighted one of Burgundy’s great polemics. It goes something like this:

The Vineyards Of Romanee-Conti

With the idea that smaller is better, industry pundits and connoisseurs typically hold large wineries and negociants in lesser esteem (sometimes in outright contempt) than small, farmer-winemaker estates. The romantic story of the noble vigneron tilling his vineyard and fighting the large, soul-less city-based firms just to get the mortgage paid speaks to the “little guy” in all of us. But is personal passion inherently superior to corporate pursuits? Critics of big business think so, alleging that large firms lack a unique voice, producing dumbed-down wines aimed at an audience that doesn’t know any better. (more…)

Food & Wine Reign Supreme in the Rhone

Food & Wine Reign Supreme in the Rhone

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 16th, 2011

JJBers Taking Orders, Blogging, or Bragging. You Decide.

Visiting wineries is hard work. You might be rolling your eyes, as my non-industry friends tend to do when I say that, but trust me. Now, that’s not to say a little fun can’t be mixed in, too! Our recent trip to the Rhone Valley for Decouvertes provided the perfect opportunity to dabble in both. After marathon tasting sessions during the day, at night we were beneficiaries of some pretty spectacular meals.

When looking for restaurant recommendations, folks in the wine business are usually spot on.  Winemakers and sales reps spend a considerable amount of time wining and dining to promote their products, so they are usually a great source of information for anything from a good cup of coffee to a three star dining experience.  Keep that in mind the next time you visit a wine region and need a suggestion for dinner.

Les Mangevins Restaurant in Tain L'Ermitage

Consequently, the first night on our stop in the Northern Rhone we were steered towards a small restaurant in spitting distance from our hotel, thanks to the export manager at one of the wineries on our schedule. The sleepy village of Tain L’Ermitage provided the setting for what would prove to be the best meal on our whole trip.  Called Le Mangevins, this small, intimate bistro was just what we wanted. With only one evening seating (8pm, with lunch service at 12), diners quickly filled the tables in the small, warm room, and the menu was comprised of a chalkboard with a handful of dishes posted daily. The owner Vincent Dollat guided us to choose intensely flavored dishes, prepared simply by his wife Keiko to highlight fresh, local ingredients. A small loin of pork with just a kiss of seasoning rested atop mushrooms cooked to perfection and made me swoon, as did a soup of scallops. We left the restaurant full and happy. (Le Mangevins, 6 Avenue Dr. Paul Durand, 26600 Tain-l’Hermitage, 04 75 07 73 85)

Wineries also love to host parties during wine tasting festivals, and as great wine and great food go hand-in-hand, these can be ground zero for some pretty stunning cuisine. The next night found us at just such a fête, and it must be said there are few people who can throw a party like Michel Chapoutier. Clearing out warehouse space next to his offices and just down the street from Le Mangevins, some 400 customers, importers, and press members settled into a food-and-wine coma. The dégustation dînatoire (culinary voyeurs will want to check out the menu below) featured no less than thirteen bite-sized dishes elegantly presented in a continuous wave of decadence, many of which employed Chapoutier’s wines in their preparation. Following that procession, plates of meat and game were heaped onto tables, along with a mountain of local cheeses. We were speechless at the bounty, but it didn’t really matter because our mouths were full anyway. (more…)