My friend Jules over at xydrinks.com asked if I wanted to go along to the Domaine Faiveley tasting at Regional with him. At $35 for the tasting I was hard pressed to say no. And I’m glad I went, but not likely for the reasons you would expect.
In tasting these wines one of the first things I picked up on was that they were neither New Zealand wines nor really, really old wines. That in itself wasn’t the revelation, I knew that going in, but it was interesting to observe the the majority of my tasting experience centres around brand New Zealand or Geoff Kelly’s Library tastings where the weird and wonderful come out to play. This is partly by design (I really enjoy brand New Zealand and the Library tastings) but also partly due to circumstance. Tasting Old World wines in Welly is not easy. Not easy that is for someone of modest means. There are plenty of exciting tastings happening in price brackets that are simply beyond me. And obsessed I may be but I’m not ready to go without food and shelter for a bit of good wine. (Not saying I’ll never do that, I just haven’t yet.) So these wines were something different.
Domaine Faiveley is not a brand or a negociant, but rather a family who have worked in wine since 1825 with their origins in the Nuits St-Georges. The family always invested in land throughout Burgundy and are now one of the biggest landowners, with about 120 hectares as of 2012. They have continued to acquire land, having recently bought a new parcel in Gevrey Chambertin bringing their total up to 130 hectares in 2014. For most estates in Burgundy, you’re looking at 6-10 hectares maximum.
The wines were presented by Vincent Avenel, the Export Director for Domaine Faiveley. A man with conviction. Most wine folks are opinionated folks, but often these opinions, in terms of a group tasting may be shielded behind diplomatically worded language. Not so with Avenel. Some of his more colourful proclamations related to organic production and the Chinese market.
When asked about organic and biodynamic practices, he trumpeted that in Burgundy this isn’t possible. “Many Burgundians,” he said “say they’re organic but they don’t want to be certified.”
He goes on to explain that this is because they can’t, the weather won’t allow for it. For the past four vintages any fully organic producer would have been without a crop. He does however go onto preach a balance and encourages the behaviour of reasonableness. Dogmatism in vinters, he explains, is dangerous, especially when they speak like gurus. The challenges that have plagued the Burgundian producer since the 2011 vintage continue, the Cotes de Nuits was hit by hail with predicted losses of 20-80% for the 2014 vintage.
Asked about the boom in China, he quipped that there is no boom. That the Chinese market have bought their fill for the moment. More controversially he pointed out that the Chinese market, a very young market with only 6-7 years experience are not ripe enough to enjoy and appreciate Burgundy. Burgundy is not love at first sight, he said, as it’s too hard to understand the vast number of appellations and producers. Therefore, he explains, Bordeaux is more appropriate for the Chinese market.
My final observation of interest that wasn’t to do with the wines, was that this was my first wine marketer led tasting in a long time. And I don’t really enjoy being told what to taste, what to think, what to find in the glass. I much prefer to make my observations, get comfortable with my own assessments and then have them challenged by the views of others. When someone is waxing lyrical about the strawberry and liquorice aromas, the power of suggestion is too great and I waver on whether that observation was one that I shared, or one that was planted. Such are the woes of a wine blogger.
As the wine is what brought me to Regional on the night and likely what brought you here, I shall digress no further. Avenel was last in Wellington presenting at Regional Wine and Spirits in 2012 when his focus was on whites. This time around he’s come with more of his reds.
Both the whites tastes were from the Cote Chalonnaise where Faiveley have a holding of 55 hectares in Mercurey, about 2 of which was used for the Mercurey Blanc, and 4 hectares in Rully, the majority used for the Rully Blanc.
Both of the whites would have been aged in a combination of stainless steel and 3-4 year old oak, both aged 12 months.
Mecurey Blanc 2012 RRP $ 35.85
White Mercurey is rare as the limestone soil that is preferred by Chardonnay makes up only about 10% of the land, there is far more clay, the soil of choice for Pinot Noir production. Wines from Mercurey tend to be riper with more tropical fruit character.
A clear ripe, tropical character with plenty of exotic pineapple notes and flavours. There’s a sharp minerality to the wine on the offset, this softens into a creamy, soft textural quality. The acidity is steely and again rather sharp that pulls out into a somewhat bitter finish. This is a wine that’s screaming out for food. With a complimentary morsel I’m sure I would be singing a different tune.
Rully ‘La Villeranges’ Blanc 2010 RRP $34.05
The style in nearby Rully is very different, where a refined elegance is more prominent. The wines from here typically show more delicate white florals. Rully is the lesser known of the two making for a very affordable alternative.
Full bodied and rich, the wine shows a much sweeter, almost honied character with plenty of nuttiness, predominantly almonds. Softer and more refined in it’s aromatic profile. With a good dose of fleshy melon and ripe white peach flavours, finished off with a lingering honied finish on the palate. The wine continues to improve in the glass as the night wears on. This was one of the stand outs from the evening for me.
The 1er Crus
These wines were well paired as they shared a vintage as well as both being labelled as classic representatives of the Domaine Faiveley style. The 2010 vintage was one of the last 100% harvests for volume before the string of reduced vintages from 2011-2014 due to inclement weather.
Mecurey ‘Clos de Myglands’ 1er Cru 2010 RRP $51.50
The Mercurey Clos de Myglands was made from a 6 hectare monopole vineyard. Once the hardest to sell due to a lack of recognition, that attitude has shifted and the wine is now sold out prior to the next vintage.
Opening with the soft, delicate notes of raspberries, strawberries and red cherries that are verging on black. This is all wrapped up in a whisp of smokiness. The palate is rich but with a thinner body than I would hope for. More of the red fruit and berries with a dash of spice and a gravel earthiness. There’s good tannins and structure, pleasant vanilla flavours and a decent weight.
The Clos de Myglands vineyard sits farther north than it’s counterpart on a gentle east facing slope. The wine was aged 14 months in 25% new oak. Of the two, this one is much easier drinking on the night, very friendly and approachable. This wine can be happily enjoyed now or held onto for a short while.
Nuits St George ‘Les Porets St George’ 2010 RRP $119.40
The Nuits St Georges was the first plot of land bought by the family. In the 1860s the family moved away from being a negociant when they bought this piece of land and became a domaine. The wines from here are traditionally more structured and in this tasting the wine from the south was indeed more structured and angular with a much darker profile.
The wine shows a far more masculine style, a weightier palate and firmer tannins. There’s a huge amount of fruit on the palate for this one, with more in the way of black fruit and berries, a lovely sprinkling of sweet spice and far more prominent oak. There’s more obvious ageability that can be attributed to the wine. Still rather young, I expect this wine will be rewarded with greater beauty given time.
80% of the wine produced by Faiveley are estate made, meaning they’re made from Faiveley grown fruit. The Gevrey Chambertin wines in this tasting are the exception.
Both 2009 and 2011 were early picking vintages but for very different reasons. 2009 was a very good warm year and the fruit ripened early. 2011 was wet and the rot was gaining. Avenley readily admitted that the fruit had the required maturity, however, it lacked concentration.
2011 was pure and fine, however a less intense year. The 2009 was showing some reduction, however, this was not from overuse of sulfur, rather a trait of a warm vintage in Burgundy.
Gevery Chambertin 2011 RRP $93.50
Closed, shy that gently opens to reveal delicate, soft red fruit and florals. A very pretty wine with nice red fruit, however, it lacks weight or punch in body. The wine is easy and approachable but not very exciting. Perfectly acceptable when compared against the ‘09 but pales sharply against the ‘11 1er cru. Ropey tannins. Drink now.
Gevery Chambertin 2009 RRP $70.40
The darker colour when compared to the ‘11 is immediately apparent. Where the ’11 was pretty, the ’09 is a sexy wine with plenty of cured meat flavours and a more masculine darker fruit concentration and riper tannins. The reductive elements were clearly present, however, they didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment to be found in the wine. The palate is not as exciting as the nose, but it does show a good weight of fruit and a nice concentration.
Gevery Chambertin ‘Issarts’ 1er Cru 2011 RRP $131.25
Thin and very pale both in appearance and palate weight, lending the wine a juice-like feeling. More complex and interesting qualities are starting to show through with a nice bit of spice, plenty of florals and a gritty earthiness. Delicate and elegant with good tannins and a nice healthy finish. A lovely wine.
The Grand Crus
Both Vougeot and Corton were described as minefields to work on. The Vougegot because it is the largest Grand Cru site in Burgundy with an array of aspects. Faiveley owns 2 hectares spread over three plots of land. As the only red Grand Cru on the Cotes de Beaune Corton is a huge mountain and south east exposure and again a number of aspects to contend with.
Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2011 RRP $272.35
Delicate and elegant. Soft and beautiful. This is Pinot Noir. Red strawberry, raspberries with a bit of cherries and plenty of smokiness throughout, liquorice on the finish. Very well balanced for structure, firm but not overpowering tannins and good, healthy acidity. A lengthy finish showing the oak treatment with plenty of vanilla. Far more feminine than the Corton. This is a true beauty with a nice body.
Corton ‘Clos de Corton’ 2011 RRP $254.95
More masculine in it’s spicy, earthiness. The fruit was not coming through as easily. Leaving the wine to be dominated by woody notes and an earthy quality. Both the tannins and the oak treatment are more obvious when tasted alongside the Vougegot. The wine has a good length with a ripe roundness to the palate. There’s lots of liquorice and aniseed on the finish. I would want to put this one away for a good wee while to allow it to round out and find greater balance