Earlier this week, our client services team visited some of the most exclusive domaines in the Cote d’Or. The weather was outstanding, the vines were verdant and heavy with fruit in anticipation of harvest, and a more perfect setting for our time in Burgundy would be hard to imagine.
Our first visit was to Domaine Ponsot. Situated on the hillside above Morey St-Denis, the views from the Domaine are both glorious and expansive. Perfect vines stretch out in neat rows towards the village, drawing your eyes eventually towards the horizon and the Alps which appear there on clear days. To describe the environment as picturesque just doesn’t quite do it justice.
Adjacent to Clos du Lambrays, the Ponsot chai was constructed in 2001 and was purpose-built to provide not only extensive production and cellar space, but also as an ideal architectural example of a gravity-flow winery. From the moment the fruit arrives, it is treated as gently as possible. After crushing, it is fed into wooden basket presses which have been in continuous use by Ponsot since 1945. This is just one testament to the importance the Domaine places on history and the utilization of long-standing and proven winemaking practices.
Laurent Ponsot served as our charming tour guide. A kind and eminently knowledgeable winemaker, Ponsot wears an expression of perpetual bemusement. Perhaps this is due to his unwavering confidence in how he runs the winery operations. Ponsot knows, with absolute certainty, that he will produce great wines, and he is secure in that knowledge.
After a brief tour of the library – replete with vintages dating back to the 1920s – and the main production areas, we were led to the barrel room. Avoiding new oak and letting nature take its course are the fundamental principles of Ponsot’s winemaking, and he is careful to emphasize that he is just one element in a grand combination of elements that create these phenomenal wines.
Standing in the beautiful vaulted chamber, the back wall of which is exposed to bedrock for passive cooling, Ponsot further described his winemaking philosophy and practices for us. He was careful to draw a distinction between bio-dynamic, organic, and natural winemaking, and the methods which he uses to produce his wines. Ponsot made it clear that he dislikes putting specific labels on winemaking methodology and that above all else, he strives for minimalist intervention. “In many ways, the wines make themselves; I am simply their steward during the process.”
Taking us through the barrels (some of which are as much as fifty years old) we were impressed by how evocative of place each wine was. From the Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes to the Griotte Chambertin, each wine leapt from our glasses shouting, ‘This is what I am, and this is where I am from!’ Truly, there is no better expression of the concept of terroir than a wine’s ability to do just that.
Ponsot produces more Clos de la Roche than any other domaine, and barrel-tasting the 2009 edition of his Vieilles Vignes was yet another lesson in why this wine is so sought after. Not only is it layered and deep, with red and black fruits on both the nose and palate, the most striking thing about this wine is the intense stream of minerality running through the mid-palate. When combined with a finish of confounding length, it is clear that this wine will provide enjoyment for many decades ahead.
After our visit to Domaine Ponsot, and our tasting of these exceptional wines, it is no wonder that Laurent claims to have more than a dozen people waiting in line for every bottle he produces. Known for their legendary ability to age and arguably second only to Romanee-Conti in their collectability, count yourself lucky if you are ever able to get your hands on these fine wines.
Make sure you view the following amusing video of Laurent informing us about the 2010 harvest.
Laurent Ponsot discusses the 2010 Burgundy Harvest from Antique WineCompany on Vimeo.
Tags: tasting, burgundy, ponsot, domaine ponsot, travel, clos de la roche, drc, romanee-conti, chai, production, press, cote d'or, pinot noir
General | Wine tasting
I received a message from my client “Anton”, a leading sommelier and “Gastro-Entrepreneur” in Moscow, asking if I was familiar with a wine made at a Monastery on an Island off Cannes in the Mediterranean. He’d seen a news story on Decanter.com about their Pinot Noir recently beating several great burgundy wines in a blind tasting, including Domaine Anne Gros Richebourg and Denis Mortet’s Clos de Vougeot.
The tiny Isle St Honorat takes just twenty minutes by car and speed-boat from my summer home, so Anton decided to leave the extended Moscow winter, and take a trip to the French Riviera where together we went to make our own assessment of the vineyard, winery, and the now famous “divine" wine.
At first it felt rather strange to be accompanying my host, Cisterian Monk Frère Marie Pâques, who, dressed in his habit, walked me through a technical tour of their vineyard. Two things were very noticeable early on, first was the evident pleasure that Frère Marie Pâques and his brothers derive from their viticultural activities, and the second is the level of commercial acumen which they apply in interacting with the “outside” world. I never envisaged that my wine career would lead me to be wandering around a vineyard with a monk, interrupted by occasional calls on an iPhone.
This tiny island is approximately twelve hectares, of which eight hectares are planted with vines, up to sixty years old. The older vines are generally Clairette, accompanied by Chardonnay for the white wine, with Syrah and the more recent plantings of Pinot Noir. The entire island is owned by the Monastery, there are no more vehicles or roads, its heart is the abbey, and on the north side a small boat harbour and very good restaurant, a commercial enterprise of the monastery. Currently the sales of wine, made mainly to island visitors and a few wine shops and restaurants along the Cote d’Azur, represent approximately 25% of their commercial income, the remainder being derived from the restaurant and the eau de vie (fruit spirit) which they also produce very successfully. Clearly our hosts were enthusiastic to see what we as wine professionals thought of the wine, and the tasting from barrique in the chai situated within the cloisters was most interesting. All the wines go through some degree of barrel ageing.
The gentle introduction came through the Clairette, a pleasant slightly aromatic, lemon tinges in colour, and its freshness is appealing for afternoon enjoyment then followed by a more classical rich Chardonnay, with good weight and power, the wines here seem to be very alcoholic. It’s an interesting paradox to see modern style wines that Parker might well rate very highly, made in a vineyard and by an organisation that goes back to the 5th century!
The red wines are indeed something special, comprising Syrah that will stand up against most wines grown south of the 45 parallel, and then the Pinot Noir, Cuvee St Salonius. Again it is power rather than elegance that is the order of the day.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to me, that when set against a background of fine burgundy, this wine will have attack! But frankly I don’t think for me it is what I expect from fine Pinot. I struggle to find complexity or elegance, but it is good.
But if you're looking for a great Syrah, then the Cuvee St Sauveur does the trick. It is very well made from 19 year old vines, 12 months in oak barriques. The power of this wine is quite remarkable, with spicy liquorice and deep black fruit loaded on to a firm structure.
The surprise was yet to come – the price! I’m afraid that at 190€ per bottle for the Pinot, it’s hard to see how the wine can compete in the competitive open international market. Whilst we might be willing to pay hundreds or even thousands per bottle for DRC and other fine burgundy, I think it’s a long time yet before anyone will see the value or "must have one" qualities of this wine beyond its novelty factor.
For me the Syrah, at around €40 per bottle, is well worth it, and especially with such a dinner party story about where the wine came from.
I had one final question to Dom Vladimir, the Abbot of St Honorat, who incidentally is of Russian decent and formerly an officer in the French diplomatic service, this helped enormously with my client "Anton”: from champagne, we’ve got Dom Perignon and Dom Ruinart, can we expect to see Dom Vladimir with bubbles? Who knows, with these Vintrepreneurs, and a little Divine Intervention, perhaps anything could be possible!
Tags: Travel, Pinot Noir, Clairette, Chardonnay, Syrah, French Riviera
It is mid-March, and seems to be getting warmer day by day here in southern France, this morning was so beautiful that I decided to make a visit to a couple of our hotel/restaurant clients on the island of Corsica to see if we could help with a pre-season stock up of their cellars. Our twin Cessna almost knows its own way from its home base at Cannes airport across to Calvi, a small town on the north west tip of the island. The Croisette and the coastal mountains fell quickly behind us and within 45 minutes we were navigating around the snow capped peaks to land at the small airport tucked into the bay among rocky foothills. There is a rustic feel to this place and lots of history, most famously being the island from where Napoleon Bonaparte originated, it was also at Calvi where the British Admiral Horatio Nelson lost one of his eyes in battle with the French. Antique Wine Company’s consultant sommelier Eleanor Shannon had joined me for the trip and we passed through the deserted terminal to find Hotel La Villa’s driver who zipped us up this hillside to enjoy lunch at their Michelin starred restaurant with its spectacular views beyond the medieval fort of the “old town”; the deep blue bay; and the snow covered mountains rising up in the distance. There was an early spring breeze coming off the sea, but it felt just warm enough to sit outside, all was quiet and serene. Eleanor and I were hardly surprised to find ourselves as the sole visitors, quite a contrast to what it will be like just two months from now. There are moments in life for Grand Crus, Montrachet and Meursault but equally pleasing, when one is in a region where the terroir and passion of the locals is as condusive to quality as Corsica, are the local wines.We agreed that it was a day for fresh fish and white wine and who better to choose the wine than the hotel sommelier, Mickael Sizero to suggest which white he would recommend from Patrimonio, the region we could see on the other side of the bay. The steward offered to bring us a special bottle he had in reserve, not listed on the menu, a 2008 Antoine Arena Grotte di Sole. Antoine produces red wine from the local Nieluccio grape and white from Vermentino on 17 hectares, three of which are called Grotte di Sole, apparently there was once a sundial there. (More...) All A.O.C. white wines in Corsica are made 100% with Vermentino, a grape variety grown also in three regions in Italy: Liguria, Piedmont and Sardinia. The grape, which probably originally came from Spain, produces a light, crisp, uncomplicated wine, with some floral and citrus notes. The wine paired well with an antipasto of “fish tartar”, a delightful risotto Saint Jacques, garnished with arugula and shavings of parmesan cheese, and finally, broiled Chapon (Grouper) with small, buttered potatoes. To conclude, M. Sizero offered us a delightful “vin doux” again, 100% vermentino, but produced with grapes infected by “noble rot” or botrytis cinerea. The wine named “Beau Tri Tis” of unmarked vintage, no doubt a secret combination of years, showed its deep golden colour and fresh acidity which to me resembled Alsace more than Sauternes, suggesting perhaps five years old rather than ten. The mystery remains open for further exploration, one thing for sure about wine is that…there’s always more to learn!
Tags: Travel, Food, Michelin Star, Sommelier
Leaving Mexico city behind, I now find myself on the way to my client's ranch, where a traditional Mexican lunch is on the menu. Driving out of the city, you cannot help but stop to contemplate the surroundings. At 7000 feet above sea level, Mexico city has 21 million inhabitants, one of the largest cities in the world. Maybe here more than anywhere else, I realize the surreality of the journey. Avoiding the potholes, and speeding through less than recommendable towns, I already anticipate the final destination, as I know from past experiences of this client, what awaits me will be a grand spectacle, worthy to be noted as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Yet again, this experience did not disappoint.
Seated by the lakeside in an english garden, while the family and I enjoy a bottle of 1990 Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache, I must admit I have one of the best jobs I could imagine. Aside from the gorgeous locations I am fortunate to visit, the fine wines I am obliged to enjoy, it really is the people I share my time with that make these moments special. Clients become friends, and just to be able to share a meal with such interesting men and women, makes my work a real pleasure. We enjoyed La Tache accompanied with tacos and guacamole, and even though the depth of the concentrated fruit was impressive, black cherries and black currant rather than red fruits, even the slightly spicy guacamole didn't overpower the taste of this great wine. The aroma was difficult to detect as it got lost with the scents of the garden, but the colour was a deep concentrated purple, a still solid colour for a 20 year old wine.
Moving on to lunch, one of my worst nightmares. My client hands me his cellar book and asks me to choose the wine for lunch, a traditional menu of steamed lamb, roast pork and fajitas. I always feel in a really difficult position wanting to remain polite and modest, but what exactly is modest for a client who drinks Chateau Petrus every day? My solution is usually to suggest a vintage and leave it to my host to choose the wine from that vintage. Having agreed on a 1990 Burgundy to start, I suggested that Pomerol from the 70's was especially delicious now, so my host decided on Chateau Petrus 1975 from Magnum. Served carefully but directly from the bottle without decanting, the tannins had incorporated themselves to form the skeleton of the wine, with prune sitting on the robust structure. I was pleasantly surprised, the colour was a deep mahogany having lost all purple traces, perfect balance in the mouth, a very long finish, and absolute purity. This Magnum of Chateau Petrus could have lasted another 20 years easily.
The lunch was served in the wine cellar, which can accommodate about 20 diners. I have worked with this client for the past 5 years, and first visited the ranch 3 years ago. At the time, the cellar was no bigger than 50 square meters, but now, we have expanded it to 250 square meters, a duplex cellar with one floor underground and the other at ground level. The main entrance is on the ground floor, but of course no daylight ever shines through the heavy door. The rustic stone and wrought iron racking create a truly authentic atmosphere, adapting to the beautiful mexican surroundings.
Sitting under a blue sky, no smog anywhere and 21 degrees in the early spring sunshine, a glass of Domaine de la Romanee Conti in my hand, I realize I really do have the best job in the world.
Tags: Travel, Wine cellar, Domaine de la Romanee Conti
Looking out over the skyline of Mexico City, from this beautiful 23rd floor penthouse, a client has requested a specific wine cellar to accommodate his fine wine collection, notably a very convincing selection of Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite and our client's favourite, Chateau Petrus. While overlooking the plans to create a showroom for such exceptional examples of fine wines with our architect, I pause to wonder at how much the wine industry has changed. As little as 50 years ago, the finest wines were usually found in the cellars of castles, European country houses or on the dinner table of Lords and Ladies. But today, you can travel all over the world and most diners will have heard of Bordeaux wine.
As I review the plans with the architect to work out how we can contain and display 1150 bottles, 55 magnums and 30 large formats, I imagine that in past times it would have seemed inconceivable to construct a wine cellar in a penthouse. We decided to keep things relatively simple, and arranged the bottles geographically by region, segregating Margaux, Pauillac and Pomerol from Burgundy and Italy, for example. We also placed the young vintages on top, only accessible by ladder, whereas the old vintages are on the bottom of the racking; and finally, horizontally down the middle, an overview of the features of interest, of course prominently featuring Chateau Petrus. The vintages at current ideal maturity for consumption were arranged for easy access.
As the shapes and sizes of the bottles vary from one to another, we had to think about how many different size racks we would include in this cellar. Finally, we decided that we would only have three sizes, one for the Burgundy and Bordeaux, one for the Magnums and one for the Imperials.
Like many clients, this gentleman enjoys entertaining with wine so we decided to include a small dining area in the cellar itself. We decided that our target humidity level would be slightly lower at 60%, instead of 75%, so that just by turning off the air conditioning and leaving the cellar door open a few hours before the wine themed dinner, the cellar will have reached a comfortable temperature. Also this lower humidity level reduces the likelihood of condensation and mould attacking labels, which can be important in protecting value if you are an investor as well as a drinker.
Wine cellars have really evolved so much over time. A wine collection needs to be taken care of and, done properly, can become a decorative and entertaining feature of a home. This client prefers discretion so demanded a solid rather than glass door to the cellar; and I guess, at 300 feet above street level, there’s little chance of anyone peeping though the window!
Tags: Travel, Wine cellar, Chateau Petrus
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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