In this blind tasting session, we select five wines, serve them blind and, as a group, work deductively through the tasting process to uncover the wine. The trick here is we actually serve ten wines – two wines with something in common, served in pairs. In each pair the two wines will be either the same wine in a different vintage (our classic approach), or the same producer and same vintage, but two cuvées or vineyards from the same grape variety(ies); or the same vineyard and same vintage, but two different producers of the same wine. You learn a great deal about the wines and having two wines to consider and to direct you in your answer can be helpful when they seem in line with each other or can totally throw you off the mark. Below is my recap of our tasting session.
1st Pair: 2010 & 2009 Domaine des Lambrays Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Clos du Cailleret’
This first pair of wines was inspired by Linden’s weekly trio #87 ‘Find Your Producer And Then Explore Further’ where he discusses Domaine des Lambrays and how we tend to associate this domaine with their reds but the whites are quite good too. The majority of the production at this domaine is Pinot Noir, so it makes sense that most of us only know the reds from them. They purchased the vineyards for the whites in 1993, and the white production represents a small percentage of what they make. Linden explained in his trio that, ‘Former estate director Thierry Brouin once told me that the Freund family would keep quite a lot of it for themselves.’
Domaine des Lambrays owns 37 ouvrées of the Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Clos du Cailleret’. One ouvrée is a traditional measurement used in Burgundy and is equal to 1/24 of a hectare. For the winemaking, they age the wine in French oak barrels for nine to ten months and half of the barrels are new. Domaine des Lambrays was sold to LVMH in 2014.
The 2010 and 2009 vintages are both excellent for white Burgundy and they are contrasts, so that’s why I chose these two back to back vintages. 2010 is a more classical-styled Burgundy vintage with more liveliness and tart qualities in the fruit. Then, back in 2009 the growing conditions were warmer overall producing more richness and riper flavours with more rounded textures to the wines.
The 2010 delivered aromas consistent with what I would expect from this wine with a raciness and elegance consistent with wines from Puligny-Montrachet. It showed toasty notes with a hint of vanilla, tart apple and pear aromas combined with lemony acidity. The wine was concentrated with a mouthcoating texture on the palate. This bottle was still showing quite youthful and some guessed it as being 2015 or 2014.
By contrast, the 2009 showed quite developed and mature aromas. Specifically, flavours of baked apples combined with sweet spices of cinnamon and nutmeg came through on the nose along with a nutty aroma that reminded me of walnuts. Overall the flavours were richer and riper here conveying a weightier feel on the palate, lacking the lift and brightness of the 2010.
2nd Pair: 2017 Domaine Christian Clerget Chambolle-Musigny & 2017 Domaine Christian Clerget Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru ‘Les Charmes’
The goal with this pair was to see the difference between a village level wine and a premier cru. One of my great discoveries during our trip to Burgundy in November were the wines of Domaine Christian Clerget. The wines are very much what I like in Burgundy – elegant wines with pretty aromatics, vibrant acidity, concentration and a lasting finish.
This domaine is based in the village of Vougeot and comprises 6 hectares. The vineyards are located in Morey-St.-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée. Christian’s philosophy is that good wine is made from healthy grapes, so his goal is low yields from ripe, flavourful grapes.
There is no use of herbicides, insecticides, or chemical treatments or fertilizers; their goal is to practice responsible viticulture. The grapes are meticulously scrutinized in the vineyard when picked and on the sorting table with only the best fruit kept.
Punch-downs and pump-overs are kept at a minimum to allow the terroir to express itself in the wines. Christian will use some whole bunch if it makes sense, but not in large quantities. For maturation, the process is slow with aging in barrel between eighteen to twenty months. The 2017 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru ‘Les Charmes’ saw 33% new oak and the Chambolle-Musigny less than that.
The 2017 vintage in Burgundy was finally one where there was a plentiful amount of wine made as opposed to the low yields and small amounts of wine made in 2016. 2017 produced charming reds with flavourful fruit aromas. While they are not as structured and vibrant as the wines of 2016, they are pleasing on the nose and palate and more accessible early. We can drink the 2017s while we wait for the 2016s to be ready.
With this pair, some thought the 1er Cru ‘Les Charmes’ was a grand cru and the first wine in the pair was a 1er Cru. They were very impressed by the showing of both wines in this pair and especially the high quality of the village level Chambolle-Musigny. Both wines showed refinement and concentration leading some to conclude they were from Vosne-Romanée. The Chambolle-Musigny delivered aromas of red berry fruit, raspberry notes combined with floral perfumed notes that reminded me of roses and then these flavours led through to a silky texture on the palate.
The Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru ‘Les Charmes’ showed darker fruit aromas of dark cherry and dark raspberry notes with a juicier quality to the fruit and deeper concentration through the palate. On the palate more structure came through as well as more body; it felt like a more serious wine and yielded a long finish.
3rd Pair: 2016 Cigliuti Barbaresco 'Vie Erte' & 2016 Cigliuti Barbaresco 'Serraboella'
Azienda Agricola Fratelli Cigliuti (“Cigliuti”) is a small family estate located in the historical village of Neive in the Langhe hills of Piedmont. Their vineyards comprise 7.5 hectares with 6 hectares in the Barbaresco Cru of Serraboella and 1.5 hectares in the Bricco di Neive Cru; they make approximately 30,000 bottles a year. The family has been in this region since the 1300s. Renato Cigliuti started working in the winery when he was a boy. After World War II, when the area of Piedmont was quite poor and many people were leaving, he decided to stay and to continue making wine. The first estate bottled wine was made in 1964. Prior to this time, they used to sell the grapes and unbottled wine on the local market.
They use organic farming practices, and the vineyards are looked after by Renato, his wife, Dina, and their two daughters, Claudia and Silvia. In the Serraboella Cru there are chalky, limestone soils which produce wines with structure and concentration. The Barbaresco ‘Serraboella’ is made from 60-year-old vines, and the structure and concentration from these old vines comes through in the glass.
Then, in the Bricco di Neive Cru there are sandy soils which create wines with elegance. Barbaresco ‘Vie Erte’ is a proprietary name meaning ‘steep vineyards’, and the grapes for this wine are from the Bricco di Neive Cru.
For the winemaking, they are hands-off in their approach preferring that the wine take its natural course. They use indigenous yeast and ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. Then, ageing takes place in a combination of large Slavonian oak botti and French oak tonneau (500-litre) for Barbaresco ‘Serraboella’. For the Barbaresco ‘Vie Erte’ ageing is in Slavonian oak botti.
The vintage of 2016 is outstanding for Barbareso. The growing conditions produced Nebbiolo with good sugar levels and ripeness while also yielding wines with structure and lively, fresh fruit aromas.
2016 Cigliuti Barbaresco ‘Vie Erte’ showed aromas of violets and mint combined with savoury spice and pretty fruit aromas that are lively and fresh with dark cherry fruits dominating. This wine has structure; you felt the tannins on the sides of the palate and throughout. It’s clear this wine has many years ahead with the strength of the vintage shining through and delivering a long finish. Several guessed other strong vintages for Nebbiolo such as 2013 and 2015 as the vintage here.
The 2016 Cigliuti Barbaresco ‘Serraboella’ is persistent with intensity and structured tannins. These are the elements that stand out in this wine. While the tannins are very much present, they are fine and not jarring. It’s a wine that needs time for these tannins to integrate or needs some rich meat like oxtail or steak. Flavours of tar combined with dark cherry and dark raspberry come forth on the nose. Because of the structure felt in these wines, some guessed Barolo here. Most were impressed by this flight.
4th Pair: 2014 Opus One & 2014 Ao Yun
The point of this pair was to provide the opportunity to taste a well-made wine from China and to see how it will stand up to its well-established counterpart in Napa. Here, we have a Bordeaux-style blend made in Napa paired with a Bordeaux-style blend from Yunnan Province, China.
Opus One was the vision of two legends – Robert Mondavi at his eponymous estate in Napa Valley, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. The goal with this wine was to produce a wine that would respect tradition while also being forward thinking with improvements and innovation. The vineyards are made up of four parcels located in the western side of the Oakville American Viticultural Area (“AVA”). Two parcels that make up just over 40 hectares are located within the To Kalon vineyard. Then approximately 28 hectares are in the Ballestra and River parcels, which are the vineyard area surrounding the winery. All five of the traditional Bordeaux grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec – are all grown here.
In the vineyards they practice sustainable farming and are certified as a green winery as part of the Napa Valley Vintners - Napa Green Initiative. It’s a sustainable certification program that includes protecting and restoring the Napa River watershed; saving energy and water; reducing waste and carbon footprint; and being conscientious employers and good neighbours.
The winemaking is led by Michael Silacci who is very focused on what happens in the vineyard as well as the winery. The wine is bottled after 18 months of ageing in new French oak barrels. Then, it’s held an additional 15 months before being released into the market always on 1st October.
2014 in Napa was a challenging vintage at first with the earliest bud break they had ever seen at Opus One. Then weather conditions improved promoting healthy grapes but resulting in higher than normal yields. They started harvest on 5th of September, but rains interrupted the harvest which eventually finished on 7th of October. The blend for the 2014 was the following: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 2% Malbec.
Ao Yun is a Bordeaux style wine produced in northern Yunnan Province, and the name means "flying or roaming above the clouds". The team behind this wine (Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits part of LVMH) spent four years searching for a site to plant vines to make world class wine. In the end, they ended up purchasing a site that had some vines that had been in existence since 2002. The vineyards are located in four different villages in Yunnan – Xidang, Sinong, Shuori and Adong. For winemaker, Maxence Dulou, the Tibetan farmers who work these vines are an essential part of the winemaking process.
The vineyards are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with approximately 10% Cabernet Franc as well as a portion of more recently planted Petit Verdot and Merlot. They’ve also planted some Syrah. These are high altitude vineyards located at 2200 to 2600 metres (approximately 25% less oxygen there), and in addition to the high elevation, the air is quite dry. Thus, they practice organic farming as the lack of rain helps reduce the threat of botrytis and mildew. The winemaker is the talented Maxence Dulou formerly of Saint-Émilion estate Château Quinault. The vineyards receive 30% less sunshine because they are located in a steep valley, and this results in a longer ripening period. In terms of rainfall in wine regions, Maxence describes this area in Yunnan as being a hybrid between California and Bordeaux.
The 2014 is a cooler vintage for Ao Yun, and the yields were also quite low at 15 hectolitres per hectare. It’s a blend that’s primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc. This wine was fermented in tank and then aged in a combination of French oak barrels and terra cotta jars (baijiu jars).
These two wines were the biggest contrasts of the night. I suspected that would be the case, but I wanted to pit what is considered to be one of the finest examples of a Bordeaux blend wine in Napa next to a very fine example of the same being made in China. My challenge with this pair, which I knew going in having tried the 2013, 2014 and 2015, was that 2014 was a cooler vintage for Ao Yun, so many found the wine to be quite green.
The 2014 Opus One showed lots of sweet aromas on the nose including sweet spices of vanilla, cinnamon and clove as well as ripe fruit notes of dark raspberry and blackberry. Some found the oak to be taking centre stage here. On the palate the tannins were chewy and the depth of flavour combined to give a long finish.
For the 2014 Ao Yun, more herbal aromas of thyme and rosemary came from the glass along with more red berry and cherry notes along with a bit of green pepper. This wine was also concentrated with flavour, but it had more vibrancy and didn’t have the oak aromas and ripe character of the Opus One. It’s a wine made for food with its components of fruit, acidity and tannins well balanced with perhaps the acidity showing a bit more in this cool vintage.
In May of 2019, we held a dinner with Maxence, and he described the unifying qualities that you find in a glass of Ao Yun. Maxence described the three vintages of 2013, 2014 and 2015 (featured in the dinner) as having symmetry with the following three elements in common: “ripeness and freshness in the nose, soft tannins and a long, salty and minerally finish.” He went on to explain that each vintage shows its unique qualities too reflecting the climate differences of each year. I have found this to be true and felt these elements in this 2014.
5th Pair: 2013 & 2011 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese
This final flight provided the opportunity to taste two vintages of TBA. I put this pair in as the sweet treat for the night. It’s been a challenging time in Hong Kong, and I thought something decadent was appropriate. Also, TBAs are wines I find most people rarely get the opportunity to taste.
Selbach-Oster is located in the Mosel, and the family has been making wine for over 400 years. Today, Johannes Selbach along with his wife Barbara and more and more with the help of their son, Sebastian, manage the vineyards here. These vines grow on steep slopes with soils mainly made up of slate. The vineyards cover 24 hectares in these key areas in the Middle Mosel: Zeltingen to Wehlen, Graach and Bernkastel. Their specific vineyards are the following: Zeltinger Himmelreich, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Graacher Domprobst. Most of the grapes that are grown at Selbach-Oster are Riesling with 2% of Pinot Blanc. The vineyards include a large proportion of ungrafted vines and some vines that are up to 100 years old.
The Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard is located down from and is a continuation of Wehlener Sonnenuhr. It ends at the southern end of Zeltingen. It has the driest soil of the vineyards where Selbach-Oster makes wine. The vineyards here are very steep, and the soil is made up of large pieces of blue Devonian slate. It also has a small amount of subsoil comprised of decomposed slate and that sits on top of slate bedrock.
In 2013 the vintage was challenging in Germany, and a small amount of wine was made. However, botrytis thrived, so it’s an excellent vintage for Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines. Some producers actually didn’t make any Kabinett or Spätlese wines.
By contrast 2011 was great for Germany. It’s also a vintage where the quantity of wine was made after a few vintages of production levels being low. However, hail hit the Middle Mosel on 26th of August, and some vineyards lost as much as 50% of their crop. But, the long Indian summer helped the vintage. Botrytis was able to develop and though dry conditions set in, the grapes with botrytis managed to keep clean flavours and produced very fine wines at the BA and TBA levels.
In the 2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese, the aromas were quite pure and jumping from the glass with cardamom spice notes and a flavour that reminded of apricots dipped in honey. Honeysuckle and floral aromas persisted from the glass intermingling with the sweet fruit. However, as many commented after, the acidity was very much present and provided lift to the richer flavours felt in the wine. It wasn’t cloying and invited another sip. This wine was my favourite of the night.
The 2011 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr TBA was a darker colour in the glass – a light amber colour - and offered a contrast to the medium gold colour of the 2013. More sweet spice notes prevailed here with an aroma that reminded of peach cobbler combined with flavours of nectarines and also honeyed notes. It lingered on the palate and delivered a long finish. This wine was my second favourite of the night. I rarely drink TBA, and this pair reminded me of what I’ve been missing. It’s time for more TBA in my life!
So, that’s a rap for our “Vintage Pairs” tasting sessions for now. Have you heard? We’ve introduced a whole new way of tasting with you - online via live streaming wine tasting sessions. That’s right, we’re tasting with you via Facebook live from the comfort of your home. Join Florian and me online next Thursday (16th of April at 4:30 p.m.) for our wine chat about white Burgundy. You simply go to our Facebook page a few minutes before the tasting is to begin and click on the link. Then, make comments and ask questions, and we will respond just like in an in-person tasting.
In this session we will cover what to expect from Chardonnay when grown in Burgundy’s most famous villages for white – Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. We will also discuss Burgundy’s famous whites grown in Chablis - a wine region located above the Côte d’Or. And, we will talk about the hot white grape in Burgundy with the young and hip sommelier crowd – Aligoté – as well as discuss an area in the Côte de Nuits where you probably didn’t expect to find white wine – the village of Nuits-St.-Georges (they do some blending here of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc which is quite unique in Burgundy).
The wine tasting 6-packs are still available and come with four tasting booklets (HKD 3,000) delivered directly to your door. The bonus this time is for those who purchase the tasting pack you will automatically be enrolled in a lucky draw to win wine luggage specially designed for 5 bottles of wine and called a Piccolo. This luggage is made by our preferred wine luggage provider VinGardeValise. Also, we are still offering the 20% discount on Coravin Model One and Two as well as a 20% discount on white wine Zalto glasses as we want you to be able to enjoy these wines from the same glasses we use. How about purchasing this tasting pack as your Easter gift to your special someone? I know I’d love to receive this 6-pack of wines, Coravin and Zalto glasses from the Easter bunny this year. Until Thursday, I wish you many happy wine experiences!