Friday, March 19, 2010

Négociant turning into Vigneron

It always an experience visiting different wine growers and wine makers in Burgundy. Everyone has his own story to tell; can be recent history or can be generations of experience put together. The winery we visited this week is more of recent history. Alex Gambal winery goes back only to 1997 yet his wines will surely age enough to create history.

When asked how he chose to start his winery here in Burgundy, how he chose this region out of any other region, he answered, “Burgundy chose me!” With those few introductory words I immediately understood that the wines we were about to taste were going to be great. From those words Alex could be identified as a true passionate wine maker in Burgundy, always on the look out to make great wines.

Starting as a négociant in 1997, Alex recently bought around 2 hectares along the Cote D’Or and now produces around 60,000 bottles per year from 20 different appellations. 20 different appellations vinified and bottled separately, all showing the true character of the site. In fact, Alex tried to explain how he tries to translate the true character of the place into his wines. He thinks that the word terroir has be overly used and abused and that with over 200 appellations in a small region like Burgundy, character and style of wine can vary with every vine row.

After a tour of the cellars we started our tasting with a very interesting wine, never tasted before in Burgundy, Blanc de Noir. Just like Blanc de Noir Champagne this is Blanc de Noir yet still not sparkling. Therefore a still white wine coming from the Pinot Noir grapes from their vineyards in Volnay. Grapes are picked and unlike for other red wines they are pressed for 2 to 3 hours to extract only the juice. The juice is then drained into a steel cuvee and after transferred to one year old oak barrels where both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation occur. After 10 months of maturation in oak the result is a lovely balanced wine with very good acidity and straightforward fruit, ideal to serve as an aperitif or to be drunk with light summer lunches.

Another wine which caught my attention was St.Aubin Premier Cru Les Murgers des Dents de Chien 2008. Yes, first what struck me was the name given to this vineyard site, yet as soon as I tasted it the minerality and lovely racing acidity of this wine left an impression. Alex explained that the name comes for the calcareous soils around their vineyards in St.Aubin which when broken down look just like dogs’ teeth. The Chassagne Montachet Premier Cru La Malroie 2008 tasted after the St.Aubin, had complexities on both nose and palate. The nose showed citrus fruits yet with touches of apricot notes whilst the palate had lively acidity balanced with minerality and fruit. A wine to age surely for another 5 to 6 years to appreciate better its complexities.

From the three red wines we tasted, Clos Vouguet 2007 again showed complexities just like the Chassagne Montrachet. Tannins where present yet well integrated and will surely soften out into a harmonious wine as it ages. The Vosne Romanee 2007 which will be ready to drink sooner, showed stunning notes of red fruits of cherries and raspberries on the nose with hints of mint not so typical of Burgundy, yet a characteristic noted by Alex in this wine.

All wines reflected both vintage and character of site. One of the final questions I asked Alex was, “with all the different appellations in Burgundy, with all the négociants and vignerons, is Burgundy wine just for the passionate wine lover? Can it be too complex to understand?” Here Alex compared vineyard sites to music scores and wine makers to composers. All wine makers can have music scores they can play. Yet only a few develop their talent and become a philharmonic orchestra. Consumers have to choose between the different bands and orchestras where only the most passionate can enjoy the best crescendo.

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