Monday, March 23, 2009

Burgundy Highlights from the Michael Skurnik 2009 Grand Portfolio Tasting

What’s one to do when faced with too little time and too many choices? Everybody has their own personal answer to that, I’m sure. As for me, especially when the predicament comes in the form of far too many wines from which to choose, focus is the key (not that a little randomization can’t be fun, too).

Michael Skurnik Wines’ annual portfolio tasting, held on March 11 in New York, posed just such a problem. With over 100 tables spread across two floors of The Altman Building, and with a typical range of six to twelve wines at each stop, attempting to taste the entire range would have been foolhardy if not well nigh impossible.

After a quick perusal of the event tasting book – a rather hefty tome at 173 pages – I opted to center my efforts on Skurnik’s Burgundy portfolio, largely made up of wines from Daniel Johnnes Selections.

If there was one thing that stood out at the end of the day, it was the overall quality of the 2006 red Burgundies I tasted. Though 2005 may be a “better” vintage from a textbook perspective, the 2006s are giving much more pleasure today and, in many cases, are showing their terroir and character much more transparently than the bigger, more concentrated and often tighter wines from ’05.

I had a lovely chat with Olivier Leriche, winemaker at Domaine de l’Arlot in Premeaux-Prissey, located at the southern extreme of the commune of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Both of his Nuits-Saint-Georges Blancs include 3-4% Pinot Gris. His 2006 “La Gerbotte” Blanc, produced from young vines in the Clos de l’Arlot, was soft and generous, a good choice for drinking while waiting for the much more intensely structured N-S-G 1er Cru Blanc “Clos de l’Arlot” to come around in a few years. His reds, though, are clearly the stars of the Domaine. The beautifully aromatic and tense 2006 “Clos de l’Arlot” Rouge gets my hard-won nod as my favorite wine of the entire event. No less impressive, though much more in need of time to reveal all its charms, was his 2006 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Clos des Forets Saint Georges,” displaying a spicier, more brooding style.

This was my first exposure to the wines of David Duband, a grower whose home base is in Chévannes, west of Nuits-Saint-Georges in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits. David took the reins at his 14-hectare estate when his father retired in 1995, immediately beginning to estate bottle is own wines and now farming completely organically. I liked his 2006s across the board, from a ripe, forward Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blanc, to a very fine Morey Saint Denis 1er Cru “Clos Sorbe,” to his extremely aromatic, loamy Échezeaux. Two wines, though, really stood out: a sweet red cherry fruited Clos de la Roche and a sauvage, intensely structured Charmes-Chambertin, produced from the very small-berried fruit borne by 88-year-old vines.

The work of brothers Cyprien and Romain Arlaud (pictured at left and right, respectively) at Domaine Arlaud stood in contrast to the relatively muscular style of Duband’s wines. The Arlauds are turning out soft, supple and very forward wines from their slice of the Côtes de Nuits. Practicing organic farming since 2004, with biodynamic conversion begun this year, Cyprien and Romain are working together to produce natural Burgundies, using no enzymes, selected yeasts, additive tannins or filtration. Sulfur use is minimized as much as possible, as are extractive techniques such as punching down of the cap. Their sister lends a hand on the farm as well, plowing 4.5 of the estate’s 15 hectares with her horse. Standouts in their lineup included classic examples of village level wines from both Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-Saint-Denis, topped off by a lovely, earthy 2006 produced from their .42-hectare parcel of vines in the Clos de la Roche.

Domaine Marc Roy’s Alexandrine Roy and I have been “friends” on Facebook for a while, and have exchanged messages on a few occasions, so it was fun to actually meet her in person. Her Marsannay Blanc “Les Champs Perdrix,” which does not go through malolactic fermentation but does see some bâtonage to bring out the wine’s flesh, displayed clean, vibrant fruit. Of her reds, the Gevrey-Chambertin “Cuvée Alexandrine,” a special vineyard selection of the smallest berries on the property, was clearly her favorite, as it was mine.

Lest you think I gave short shrift to the white Burgundies in the room, there were two estates whose wines I found particularly compelling.

Pierre-Yves Colin, formerly the winemaker at his family’s estate Domaine Marc Colin, started his own line in 2001 under the Colin-Morey marque. Pierre-Yves worked solely with purchased fruit in the first few years. Coming into his land inheritance in 2005 has allowed him to expand his production to about 5,000 cases per year, one-third from purchased fruit and two-thirds from estate grown vines. All of the wines in his range are aged in 350 liter barrels, 30% of them new. I found the wines – 2007s from Saint-Aubin and 2006s from Chassagne, Puligny and Meursault – somewhat difficult to assess but unmistakably promising in terms of their structure and balance. Produced in a highly reductive style, each cuvée showed a core of fresh fruit, firm acidity, supporting oak and clear minerality. These are wines that demand (and should reward) time in the cellar.

Two generations of the Barraud family – that’s Julien Barraud standing between his parents Daniel and Martine, above – traveled from their home in the Mâconnais to pour their wines at the Skurnik event. This was yet another table where I enjoyed the full line-up, from the Barraud’s simple but finely balanced Mâcon-Chaintré “Les Pierres Polies” to the spiciest and darkest of their many cuvees of Pouilly-Fuissé, “En Bulands.” In response to my question as to whether they encounter any difficulties presenting six different examples of Pouilly-Fuissé on the US market, Mme. Barraud’s reply was simple: “No.” There’s not much to go around and the quality of the wines speaks for itself.

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Just as choosing which wines to taste in a room of over 1,000 can be tricky, it’s also tough to winnow the highlights down to just one posting. In other words, I think that’s enough for now. There’ll be more to come from the Rhône, Italy and the US, so please stay tuned.


Steve Raye said...

Gee I wish I knew about this tasting beforehand...would have loved to attend...did you taste any of the Austrian wines? My company (Brand Action Team) just started working with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and Michael Skurnik Wines is one of the major importers....but I've yet to taste the wines.

David McDuff said...

Hi Steve,

Most of the Austrian (and German) wines in Skurnik's overall book are imported by Terry Theise Selections. As Terry has his own portfolio tasting(s) each year, there was only a modest sampling of Austrian wines on hand. And as I had chosen ahead of time to focus primarily on Burgundy, I made only a quick pass through the Austrian and German selections. Heidi Schrock's Muscat, an old favorite, was the only Austrian wine I sampled.

You may want to get in touch with Mr. Theise to request an invitation to his next tasting event.

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