February 2019

New initials after my name

On Friday last week I learned that, after several years of study, I had passed the final stage of the Master of Wine qualification, and I am now a Master of Wine (MW).  The MW is generally considered the highest qualification in the wine world; there are 384 MWs in the world and around 50 in the USA.

There are three stages to the exam.  The first two take place at the end of the second year of study: theory and tasting.  Theory consists of five three hour papers, covering everything from viticulture to winemaking, quality control and the business of wine.  At the same time there are three tasting exams over three days, each featuring 12 wines to be tasted blind - 12 white, 12 red and 12 mixed (sparkling, dessert, fortified etc).  A typical question would be to identify the variety, region, quality level and price of the wine.

The final stage of the MW exams is the research paper, and this is what was approved last week.  I wrote mine about wine in seventeenth century poetry (if you are interested in reading, you can request a copy here).

When I got the results I was in Paris with friends and we had a wonderful day celebrating, culminating with dinner at La Tour d’Argent and its famous wine list.  A fitting place to be on such an occasion!

Two weeks of wine travel: Champagne

Earlier this month I spent a week in Champagne, visiting smaller, grower producers.  There’s a revolution going on in Champagne, with a movement away from wines blended across the whole region and subject to long, autolytic aging, and towards more and more precision: single variety, single village or even single vineyard wines, a little like the Burgundy model.  

And these wines are thrilling.  When tasting them you have to forget everything you thought you knew about champagne and instead taste them for what they tell you about their grape varieties or origins.  And suddenly the region and its wines become so much more fascinating, when you start to distinguish these subtle differences in taste and style.

Some of the producers I visited who are making stunning examples in this new world of champagne include: Marguet, Vilmart et Cie, AR Lenoble, Eric Rodez and Bérêche.  We also enjoyed outstanding wines from Deutz, Charles Heidsieck (both slightly larger houses making outstanding wines at present), Prévost, Tarlant, Agrapart, Selosse, Gimmonet and Suenen.

Two weeks of wine travel: Burgundy

Every day spent in Burgundy is a joy for me, and this quick trip was no different.  In Chablis we enjoyed a big tasting at La Chablisienne, the brilliant co-op in the town; and an outstanding tasting and lunch with Christian Moreau, whose 2017s are a joy but whose 2018s look profound already.

In the Côte d’Or, the 2017s were being bottled at Meo-Camuzet, but they still showed well, in particular the Nuits St Georges Boudots, Corton and Echezeaux.  Eve Faiveley showed us a range of her 2017s at Faiveley’s newly renovated facilities in Nuits St Georges.  What a transformation this domaine has undergone: the wines now show much greater finesse, purity and charm than in the previous generation - all to the good!

Finally, we had the pleasure of spending a morning with Amélie Berthaut (Gerbet), who is almost single-handedly transforming the reputation of the village of Fixin, north of Gevrey-Chambertin.  Her 2017s show Fixin as decidedly northern Côte de Nuits in style, but with a degree of precision and purity rarely seen this far north.  Do not miss these wines!

Dining

Please see my comprehensively updated dining and travel tips page on my website for all my latest thoughts on dining in Paris, Champagne and Burgundy.  But to highlight just one outstanding meal: Les Avisés in Champagne.  Les Avisés is the restaurant at Domaine Selosse in Avize, and part of the hotel of the same name.  

For many visitors, just having access to the Selosse wines at (very) reasonable prices is good enough reason to go.  But do not sleep on the food, which is top class.  The lunch menu is a bargain 49 euros, and changes daily.  There are no choices, but when food is this good, why wouldn’t you trust the chef?

The 10 Best Wines I Drank in February

This was a particularly decadent month - all of the following were enjoyed off wine lists in France with generous friends.

  • Comte Georges de Vogüé, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2002 - at its apogee now and drinking spectacularly.

  • Arnaud Ente, Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts 2011 - on the very few occasions I’ve had Ente, somehow it always manages to live up to the enormous hype.  This too was sublime.

  • Champagne Jacques Selosse Rosé NV - disgorged 2018.  An old friend, but how can you ever tire of this magic?

  • Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes-Chambertin 2010 - ethereal, airy, lacy, incredibly fine even now, but with years still to run.

  • Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St Jacques 2005 - I’m a bit hesitant to open ’05 Burgundy at present because some can still be closed.  But this is just unbelievably satisfying and true to type of this ‘wild corner’ of Gevrey-Chambertin.

  • Coche-Dury Meursault Les Caillerets 2011 - all the power and tension of this domaine, just beginning to flower.

  • JM Boillot, Pommard Les Rugiens 2002 - a domaine recognised for its whites rather than its reds, but this was just a spectacular, sweeping, floral display of Cote de Beaune glory at 17 years old.

  • René Engel, Vosne-Romanée Les Brûlées 2002 - a sentimental pick because my first Engel, and a wonderful if not great wine: quite gamey now on the nose, but a palate of infinite silkiness and gentle spice.

  • Champagne Suenen, Oiry, NV - Oiry is a more or less unknown village just outside the Côte des Blancs and Suenen may be the only producer bottling an example.  This has so much intense saline and chalky minerality it almost knocks you back.

  • Champagne Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Beguines NV - a hard to find 100% Meunier champagne from this tiny domaine.  This bottle alone makes you reassess the quality potential of this unloved variety.