Ao Yun is one of the most fascinating and exciting new wines in the world. It combines classical French winemaking and Tibetan farming, from one of the most incredible sites imaginable in the Northwest corner of China’s Yunnan province. It is produced by Moët Hennessy (Owners of Bordeaux Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem) in the foothills of the Himalayas near the legendary Shangri-La. This remote hidden paradise among the Mountains, is a world Unesco protected area in the three rivers region. It is grown on a patchwork of 314 tiny plots, on both sides of the Mekong, spread across four extremely high villages ranging from 2200m to 2600m. This breathtaking mountain terroir has no equivalent anywhere else on Earth, hence the name Ao Yun – ‘flying above the clouds’.
The local Tibetan people have worked this land for centuries, building millions of terraces that now play host to this unique expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Planted in 2002, no one has ever attempted to grow these varieties at this altitude before. The sunshine hours are quite short due to the shadows from the steep valleys, but UV levels and temperature variation from day to night are much higher. Combined with being situated at low latitude, but at such high altitude, means there is a significantly longer ripening period from flower to harvest than in Bordeaux or anywhere else in the World (140-160 days v 100-120). There is also very little rain fall here, which means no mildew or botrytis, allowing everything to be farmed organically.
This is an incredibly difficult undertaking in this location, Moët Hennessy searched the world for four years before finding this special site. The project is led by CEO Jean-Guillaume Prats, who was lured away from his 15 year position as Director of Chateau Cos d’Estournel. He then convinced Cheval Blanc winemaker Maxence Dulou, to bring his wife and two Children to this remote corner of China. To reach there from Shanghai, requires a three hour flight to the Yunnan capital of Kunming, then another hours flight over the Mountain tops to Shangri-La. You then have to endure a five hour drive over a twisting 4500m Mountain pass, to reach the new winery in the tiny village of Adong. Every single part of the operation was painstakingly brought in from France to ensure the highest quality, all the winemaking equipment, Oak barrels, bottles, corks and labels travelling this arduous route. This is a true human adventure in winemaking. A collaboration between Maxence, his Chinese technical team, and 120 Tibetan farming families who practice the viticulture to an extraordinarily high standard. Everything is done by hand working plant by plant, it takes 4 times more man hours in the vineyard here than in Bordeaux.
We were privileged to drink the 2014 Ao Yun at the New Zealand release, exclusively for Glengarry. This is only the second vintage and production is just 34,000 bottles with very little available in China. The blend is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, but tastes like no other region. Ao Yun is a sophisticated and graceful wine, with a freshness and purity unlike anything else. Despite being aged in 100% new oak, it is focused and elegant. There is a superb balance between the wild black fruit and Pauillac like graphite, minerality/acidity and the sweet polished tannin structure. Ao Yun offers something truly unique to the world of Fine Wine and we are very excited to have an allocation.
Black Estate are located in North Canterbury – note the name reference, no longer Waipara; a relatively recent decision sees the producers here group together to present a unified and clarified story as North Canterbury. And what a story it is. I was fortunate enough to visit there with a few of the team last weekend and unearthed a raft of new stories, wines and wineries, so much so that I’m planning my next visit already.
Our visit there was to join the team at Black Estate for lunch to celebrate a local delicacy, NZ truffles. The day started with a visit to Limestone Hills Truffière, where we were greeted enthusiastically by Rosie the beagle and Gareth. Limestone Hills has the largest variety of truffles of any plantation in New Zealand. A super successful truffle hunt followed where Rosie found many Périgord black truffles and bianchetto white truffles.
Next stop was Black Estate, their restaurant sitting on the original estate that was planted by the Black family. Still family owned, Pen runs the restaurant and is married to Nicholas who is the winemaker. Nicholas worked for many years for Danny Schuster, just up the road from Black Estate, and describes driving past Black Estate every day and being able to see only a small edge of the vineyard from the road. One day his curiosity got the better of him, leading him up the driveway, the rest as they say is history. Black Estate have three vineyards in North Canterbury, the home vineyard where it all started, Netherwood and Damsteep, all producing wines with very distinct personalities.
Lunch was of course all about truffles and matched with Black Estate wines. There was no dish that stood out as being the highlight, they were all just so damned good. Black Estate and their neighbouring vineyards run truffle lunches as part of the North Canterbury Truffle Festival. My advice – book now for next year.
Bordeaux Blanc at Glengarry Victoria Park review by Regan.
I recently hosted a tasting of the recently landed 2014 vintage from Bordeaux. The unusual aspect to this event, was that they were all white wines. Bordeaux is one of the finest red wine regions in the world, but it is often overlooked for the quality of its superb dry whites, which easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest white wines of the world. Around 10% of the total production in Bordeaux is white wine, including the great sweet wines of Barsac and Sauternes.
Until the mid 20th century though, most people would be surprised to learn that around 50% of all wine produced in Bordeaux was white. Most of the vineyards were replanted with red varieties that were better suited to the terroir, after the great frost of 1956 that devastated the region. At this tasting we were just looking at the upper echelon of the region, primarily from the clay limestone soils of Pessac-Leognan, an appellation in the northern part of Graves.
The 2014 vintage had an Indian summer of record highs and sunshine in September/October, producing dry whites with generous fruit like the exotically tropical Château Carbonnieux Blanc. The top estates harvested late, and managed to keep their precise acidity, with beautiful crisp freshness and minerality we found in Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc. This was a really outstanding flight of wines, right from the piercing Château Oliver Blanc ($50), through to the extremely rare Vin Blanc de Palmer ($400). I’ve already grabbed a number for my own cellar as these are wines with a very long life ahead. You can drink them now if you wish but they’ll continue to improve over the next two decades. We coincidentally drank the 1983 R de Rieussec at the Old Bottle Dinner the week earlier, and it was fantastic at 34 years of age.
Despite the presence of two dry whites from outstanding Sauternes estates Suduiraut and d’Yquem, the Palmer was a real showstopper. A miniscule 1200 bottles were made of this special wine, the first vintage it’s been available to anyone but the owners or guests of the Château. It’s produced from the same varieties that were found in two bottles of 1925 Blanc presented to Château Palmer by a French collector in the late 1990s. After analysis, they replanted and the wine is now made from approximately 50% Muscadelle, 35% Loset, and 15% Sauvignon Gris. With 17 months on lees in 20% new oak, this is a most unusual wine that would be extremely difficult to identify the region from. This is an outstanding and unique white, that only qualifies as Vin de France ( the absolute lowest level of French wine classification). This is due to the Loset being outside the appellation rules. A special wine to hunt out.
The Bordeaux 2014 vintage is the latest to arrive on the world market. Each vintage in Bordeaux is picked over with a fine-tooth comb and seems to garner more attention than any other wine region. It is, after all, very large, with a history and reputation to match. While the rest of the world are certainly no slouches in the winemaking department, Bordeaux continues to occupy an almost unassailable position of grand mystique and self-perpetuating prestige, thanks in no small part to the locals’ own canny ability to promote themselves via their natural Gallic confidence in their product.
So what was the 2014 vintage like? After the dynamic duo of 2009 and 2010, widely acclaimed as the greatest pair of vintages ever in Bordeaux (a position possibly initially instigated by the locals themselves), every vintage since would have had to climb something the size of Everest just to be noticed. The elegant 2011 was always doomed, then, as that level of hype just wasn’t sustainable. The following 2012 was a very solid vintage, one for early enjoyment, while 2013 was the kind of vintage that no one wants to talk about. Particularly the locals. So what, then, of the 2014?
Early weather conditions in Bordeaux were not great, flowering was inconsistent and the resulting volumes down. Fortunately, a long, hot September and October provided just what was required and the vintage was rescued. This lengthy warm spell was particularly good for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, with Cabernet a variety that needs a decent amount of time on the vine to ensure ripeness. Merlot did not fare quite as well, its predominantly clay-heavy soils retaining much of the moisture bestowed earlier in the vintage. The moisture did provide ideal conditions for botrytis, thus 2014 is an excellent vintage for the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Acidity and freshness are key characteristics of the 2014 vintage. The red wines have good balance, tension and character. Tasting through a range of the 2014s, the various characters of the differing appellations voice their presence with confidence and strength. The Bordeaux white wines benefit from the fresh acidity and have a wonderful vibrancy.
Is there a comparable reference point for the 2014 vintage? Not as great as the 2009 or 2010, of course, but neither are the wines as expensive as those vintages. The 2014s are most definitely better than the 2011, 2012 or 2013 vintages. Stylistically, there are comparisons that can be drawn with the 2004 and 2008 vintages. They represent great value, given their relatively high quality is unaccompanied by Everest pricing.
The process of selling En Primeur is not as long-established as you might think. A little history: The role of the négociant in Bordeaux is intertwined with the region in many ways; initially establishing themselves in the region, they were first and foremost businessmen, though not from Bordeaux itself. The early négociants were of German, English and Dutch origin. Regarded by the châteaux as outsiders, it became necessary to employ a middle-man, giving rise to
the role of the courtier, i.e. one who acted as intermediary between the buyer and the seller. At this time négociants bought wine in cask, immediately after the grapes had been vinified; the négociant would then blend and bottle the wine. It was not until the 1920s that Philippe de Rothschild led the charge to change this system, with his the first château to bottle the wine within the estate. He quickly convinced all the first growths to follow suit. The négociants continued to purchase the wine immediately upon vinification, but instead left it with the château to look after and bottle. Initially only involving the five first growths, in 1967 all of the classified growths were required to estate bottle, with all French wines following shortly after. The négociants carried all the costs of these stocks and aged them until they were ready for sale. It was not until the financially hard times of 1974 that, to relieve some financial pressure, they began to sell the wines to retailers globally while still in barrel at the châteaux, marking the birth of the En Primeur system we know today.
We have recently published our complete guide to En Primeur 2016, you can download a copy here
This year’s En Primeur campaign is just around the corner, Vintage 2016. This year fortunately looks to be following in the path of the 2015 vintage; whilst it is still early days, indications are that sensibility may just prevail. Now, if you’ve been an En Primeur customer for a while, you might be reading this and thinking ‘Yeah, right, we’ve heard that before.’ What is apparent and being confirmed day by day as the International media and trade taste in Bordeaux, the vintage is very good indeed. In fact, it appears that this vintage is one to make a song and dance about and to ensure you have in your cellar.
So what’s the talk of sensibility and comparison to the 2015 vintage? Similar to last year, whilst the vintage is looking to be exceptional, we are not seeing these statements in lights with grand claims that this is a vintage of a lifetime or such things. There is far more sensibility around how the vintage is being presented, as the reality is that the market is just not the same as when the 2009 and 2010 vintages were sold in vast quantities globally. The rise of the new markets and interest in Bordeaux through this period drove prices to new levels. Since then it has been a case of the market finding its balance once again.
Which of course leads to the next fascinating piece in this puzzle and where we need to see further sensible approaches. The prices for these wines are yet to be determined and time will tell as the Chateaux owners release their wines on the market. What we do know now is that these will need to be realistic and in line with the current market. Early conversation indicates this is where the vintage is heading.
Putting all that aside, the 2016 by all reports is looking excellent. Of course, we are not going to take the reports for granted and will be presenting to you our views from tasting the wines. This year I will be tasting a little later in Bordeaux, tasting the week after Easter. I’m heading to Bordeaux with a full schedule of tastings over the week. I’ll be keeping you up to date with how the wines look on Twitter (#lizziewine). You’ll also be able to follow things via the Glengarry Facebook page and on our blog site – www.aboutwine.co.nz
Our 2016 Vintage Report and recommendations will be online post my tastings and we’ll be back in touch as the wines start to be released.
If this is all new to you, do check out our En Primeur FAQ page or feel free to contact the team, who are all very happy to assist you with general En Primeur enquiries, preparing your wish list or anything else fine wine-related.
Last week we had the first of our Burgundy 2010 tastings at Victoria Park, having not tried the 2010 wines since they arrived in New Zealand I was looking forward to this one. This was the first in a series of Burgundy tastings we are running and looked at Bourgogne and Village wines. The next tasting looks at 1er Cru with the third tasting a real gem – all Grand Cru – details are on the Glengarry website. The first flight was; Domaine Vincent Girardin Meursault Le Limozin 2010, Domaine Lamarche Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits 2010, Domaine de Bellene Bourgogne VV 2010 and Domaine Jessiuame Santenay 2010. The Meursault was magic, pure, clean and very precise (we are now thinking well have to do a 2010 White Burgundy tasting), the two Bourgogne were excellent, there were a few wine industry people in the room who were shaking their heads as to how these wines could be sold for such great prices compared to some of the Pinot noir on the market here. The final red wine of the flight took a step up to the village level, it was great to see a progression, which prompted expectation for the next flight. Santenay is one of the villages I look out for on wine lists, it’s a lesser known village and in the right vintage (which this clearly is) and in the right hands, you are in for a well priced treat. The second flight was all about looking at the differences of three villages, the wines Domaine Michel Gros Nuits Saint George 2010, Domaine Anne Parent Pommard Croix Blanche 2010, Domaine Tortochot Gevrey Chambertin Champerrier VV 2010. This was a great flight for learning the differences between the villages, from the savoury chewy and spicy characters of the Gevrey, to the perfume and plush characters in the Nuits, finishing with the rich, round berry characters in the Pommard. When I visited with Anne Gros, I recall her mentioning that for her the 2010 vintage expressed very clearly the terroir of each site and village, these wines will be a wine educators dream. The final flight, three wines Alex Gambal Vosne Romanee VV 2010, Domaine Gros Frere et Soeur Vosne-Romanee 2010 and Domaine Anne Gros Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau 2010, as we tasted through each of these, I was sure I’d come to the wine of the night, all we’re excellent and all stand out. If I had to pick one wine from the night, it would have to be the Anne Gros Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau, delicious, the length was so long, I still had the memory of it with me as I headed home.
To say that Anne Gros makes good wine is like saying Valerie Adams can throw things.
Every time I have the very great privilege of tasting Anne’s wine I am surprised and delighted all over again. One of the great things of course about the last tasting that I did was that all of the wines were from the great 2009 vintage. This vintage has proved itself again and again and while Anne Gros has established herself in the challenging vintages the rewards in a stunning vintage are undeniable.
We went through and tasted all of the 2009 Anne Gros wines that we have in stock here and they were all spectacular from bottom to top and even though they were approachable now the group thought that most would benefit further from a bit of age.
We started with the Bourgogne Chardonnay as a little palate cleanser it showed some lovely white floral notes and hint of toasty oak. We followed with the Bourgogne and Bourgogne Hautes Cote de Nuit both showed well and offered extremely good value although most thought that the Hautes Cote de Nuit could do with another year or so bottle age the Bourgogne was on the whole pleasurable now. We then moved in to the Chambolle Musigny La Combe D’Orveaux and Vosne Romanee Les Barreaux and both of these are a step up from most village wines and her skill in getting the most out of her grapes shines here. Anne gets a wonderful depth of flavour in her wines but without massive extraction just sublime.
But wait there’s more! (This by the way is the part of my job that doesn’t feel like working at all!) We did the Clos Vougeot, Echezeaux and Richebourg. Just for fun one of the group suggested that we did them blind this was great as it took away any preconceptions that we may have had. I am happy to say that I did guess them correctly when it came to the reveal –phew reputation intact! They were as expected all remarkable and a delight to taste the Richebourg stood out from just the sheer power of the wine, this is a massive wine and would be a worthy addition to the cellar of a serious Burgundy collector. With that said the star of the night was without a doubt the Clos Vougeot it was elegance personified and enjoyed by all. The Echezeaux was a star in its own right it had lovely spice notes and fantastic structure it was another five star wine but just slightly overshadowed on the night by the Clos Vougeot
This was a very special tasting of one of the world’s greats, the very first ultra premium wine in America. Opus One was founded in 1980 as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Bordeaux 1st Growth Château Mouton Rothschild, and American icon Robert Mondavi, to create a single Bordeaux style blend based upon the finest Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
French in style but Californian in execution, Opus One is produced with uncompromised attention to detail and this was an extremely rare opportunity to taste six vintages together, 2003 to 2008. We were even contacted by Opus One themselves as they don’t often hold this large a vertical. At over $600 a bottle most of the attendees had never tried the wine and thus there was a lot of anticipation. We started with the vintage 2004 from Champagne Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin which is their best value wine by far. Stunning quality for only a slightly higher price, everyone should be drinking vintage champagne! Though just to show it can happen to the best, we did had a corked bottle which had to be hastily replaced.
The two older vintages showed a lot more maturity than the others, that is to say they were approachable now.. Bear in mind I double decanted all the wines at 11am and they then sat in the bottles with the corks out until 8pm! These wines can handle a lot of air and have significant aging potential. Both the 2003 and 2004 were very Bordeaux left bank in style with a fine slightly earthy grain. The 2005 Opus One came out the consensus wine of the night with its dark blackcurrant and cassis intensity. For me the 2006 needed the most time with all the complexity sandwiched together in very tight layers that were saying “Come back in twenty years”. I loved the open elegance of the 2007, a real outlier, a Burgundian Opus One. So refined and impeccably balanced this what I’d buy for myself. The 2008 was the hardest to assess, this only arrived from Bordeaux (Where it is sold worldwide through the negociants there) a few weeks ago. It seemed a little simple and one dimensional in comparison to the others, but really this is just too young to make a call on right now. From a very hot vintage the fruit is just swamping everything else and was the most Californian in style. Overall this was an extremely impressive tasting, the wines are very much left bank Bordeaux in style rather than ‘traditional’ Napa. Though with richness of fruit that you only see in years like 2009 in Bordeaux. In fact, all the wines showed a lot of similarity with Mouton itself in their refined flamboyance. These are built for the long haul and in my opinion, 10-15 years is the minimum for getting the best out of them. For my palate I think the sweet spot would be around 20-25 yrs of age.