Étienne de Montille on the philosophy of winemaking

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

With Burgundy on our mind – and palate – in the midst of Burgundy 2013: En Primeur, we caught up with Étienne de Montille, who has taken Château de Puligny-Montrachet from strength to strength since taking over in 2001. Here he shares his impassioned blueprint for making great Burgundy.

I try to make the wine that I’ve learned to love. It is really important to make a wine that you feel comfortable with and want to drink. Afterwards it was just a matter of finding some customers who share the same taste and palate as me.

I’ve been brought up in an environment where the origin is everything. The direct link with the terroir is very meaningful. I learned that time is of the essence when it comes to wine, that every vintage is different, each vineyard is different. We not only have to accept that but turn it into a positive – and often fascinating – game. This is where we find ourselves today.

My goal is to pursue the path that my father has followed in his time. Which is to say, making wines of great transparency and sincerity, while avoiding any kind of ‘makeup’ and techniques that might conceal or distort that expression of terroir.

We are organic, but this is simply the best way to achieve what we want to achieve. There are very good wines coming from other areas of viticulture, so organic is not a prerequisite for me. It’s just a choice.

Of most importance to me is that sense of purity, balance and longevity. When you have a young wine, everything is a little bit blurred, and like us wine needs time to reveal its true personality. So you have to give it the necessary strength and balance to age beautifully. I think this is a big difference in some of the wines made in the New World, where they are mainly intended to be impressive much sooner.

I am being faithful not to the style of the house but to the Burgundy style and its history. One thing in particular I did not like about my father’s style was the austerity of his wines. They were young in some vintages, so we’ve changed the extraction method as well as elements in the viticulture to have a slightly riper fruit. So now, even in more difficult vintages, the wine will still offer a more silky quality of tannins than before. Otherwise I remain loyal to everything that I like about his approach: elegance versus power, and very natural, pure wines versus ones that are loaded with oak and perfume.

You have to go back to 2009 to find an ‘easy’ vintage in Burgundy. Yet I am surprised by the quality of tannins in the 2013 red.I love the fruit and the bouquet; it’s pure and quite complex actually, that floral hint and the earthiness. For the white, there’s a very nice tension in the wine and it looks a little like a 2011 vintage. I’m not going to tell you it’s the greatest vintage we’ve made, of course, but I could see from the Berry Bros. & Rudd tasting that it caught the audience by surprise, because they were maybe not expecting a vintage of that quality. This pleases me.

Find out more about Château de Puligny-Montrachet on bbr.com.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Long-distance crus

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Hong-Kong

David Jones, Senior Account Manager in Hong Kong, reports back on the growing local demand for the less-renowned vintages of Burgundy and Bordeaux

In our business in Hong Kong, over the course of the last six months or so, there has been a noticeable upsurge in appreciation for the value, quality and character typical of Bordeaux wines from past vintages such as 2001, 2002, 2004 or 2007. These are good vintages, but not in the ‘great’ category with 2005, 2009 and 2010, which have attracted so much attention in recent years. There is some inconsistency in these more difficult vintages yet, for the canny buyer, some gems are to be found – wines that are drinking superbly now, offering delicious maturity and complexity, and at very reasonable prices.

There may have been a feeling in the past that interest for Bordeaux in Hong Kong was all about the superstar châteaux and their legendary vintages, but it appears there is a developing awareness of the attractiveness of these older, less celebrated vintages from châteaux other than the top First and Second Growths. Some particular favourites of late have included 2007 Ch. Haut-Bailly, 2002 Ch. Du Tertre, 2001 Ch. Batailley, 2004 Ch. Giscours and 2004 Ch. Pavie Macquin.

Interest in producers such as these has always been an important part of the traditional Bordeaux business for Berry Bros. & Rudd in the UK. It was where the reputations of châteaux such as Ch. Lynch Bages or Ch. Haut-Bailly first started. These wines are now recognized and regarded as being the equivalent of Second Growths. It could be viewed as a natural part of the maturation of the Hong Kong market that a local interest will develop in learning about those châteaux offering consistent quality and value. What are the Ch. Lynch Bages and Ch. Haut-Bailly’s of the future? Batailley perhaps? Or Domaine de Chevalier?

With the 2013 Burgundies just released, it’s interesting to see this change relating to the interest in and demand for Burgundy. The equivalent of the Bordeaux First Growths are, of course, the famous Grand Crus from a few, select domaines. As has been reported via various news sources in recent years, Hong Kong and China have been the fastest growing markets for Burgundy. There are signs even that this interest is beginning to extend beyond the well-known Grands Crus and famous domaines, where it was initially focused.

Berry Bros. & Rudd have, for some time now, been championing a new wave of talented winemakers, those who have taken over management of domaines or set up their own businesses – the likes of Olivier Bernstein, Benjamin Leroux, David Croix, Pierre Vincent and Bruno Clavelier, to name a few. The interest in the Grands Crus and top Premiers Crus from these producers has been high for the last few vintages. Yet we are now seeing a growing appreciation for wines of similar value and quality from less well-known Premiers Crus, such as Aux Thorey and Les Damodes in Nuits-St Georges, Champeaux in Gevrey-Chambertin, or Clos de la Caves des Ducs in Volnay. We even witnessed a major success recently with a promotion for the Bourgogne Blanc of Dominique Lafon. It may take a bit of time before Burgundies at village level are selling out soon after the en primeur release, but the beginnings of a trend are there to see.

Category: Wine & Spirits in Asia

A bard day’s night

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Speyside

Ronnie Cox, our Brands Heritage Director and an ambassador for The Glenrothes considers the drams worthy of toasting the fêted Scottish poet come Burns Night

There are reputedly more statues of Rabbie Burns around the world than there are of William Shakespeare; the cause of this is undoubtedly the courage of Scots in leaving their country for pastures new, combined with the appalling treatment of the crofters by the landowners (mostly Scots) in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I consider Burns a pioneer of Scottish Socialism and he is rightly credited with being more than just a cultural icon. The extent of his importance is reflected in his selection as ‘the greatest Scot’ back in 2009 – a vote run by Scottish television channel STV, with the honour bestowed in celebration of his birthday on the 25th January.

I love Burns not for his political leanings so much as for his detailed observation and translation of everyday life; yet I also love the fact that he was an Excise man – the scourge of the ‘illegal’ distilleries in Scotland. He must have been desperate to have taken this job, for his love of the amber nectar is well documented in several poems whilst his abhorrence of the Excise man is shown below in the translated verse of ‘Scotch Drink’:

Those cursed horse leeches of the Excise,
Who make the whisky stills their prize!
Hold up your hand, Devil! Once, twice, three times!
There, seize the spies!
And bake them up in brimstone pies
For poor damned drinkers.

So what Glenrothes dram should be on hand for this special celebration on the 25th? Before dinner I would go for an Alba Reserve taken out of the deep freeze after a two-day rest. It pours like glue but vapourising on the palate delivers a citrus and vanilla surprise every time. With haggis you will need something spicy to counter the peppers and spices: for this try the Vintage 1998, even daring to dribble a little into the Haggis (first making sure it is truly deceased). For the pudding you will have a sublime choice of the relaxing style of 2001, which matches any mouthwateringly delicious chocolate or vanilla sponge platter. Slainthe.

Browse our full range of Burns Night drams on bbr.com.

PS When you buy a bottle of The Glenrothes in our London Shop, you will receive a free sample of The Glenrothes Select Reserve.

Category: Spirits

What to drink in 2015: Rhône

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

In our latest chapter on the wines to uncork in 2015, Adam Holden – Rhône Specialist – examines vintages past from this fabled French region

Anyone lucky enough to have reds in the cellar from the outstanding 1985, 1989 and 1990 vintages should consider finding a good excuse to enjoy them this year; though wines from the great domaines still have more to give. Following a lacklustre start to the vintage, 1995 yielded reds with, in some cases, brutal structure; in their 20th anniversary year this has now ceded to the more supple charms of dried fruit, liquorice and cherry. The 1998 vintage is widely perceived to be the best Southern Rhône vintage since 1990, not to overlook the north by any means, or indeed the whites; the best of which possess all of the delicious richness one would hope for, but which retain their underlying stony streak. Whilst the best of the 1998 reds still have some years before retirement, the leaner style of 1999 makes for good drinking now; in many cases the wines have fine definition and reflect a more elegant expression of the region.

An excellent vintage for the south, in some cases even rivalling the great 1998s, 2000 delivered true ‘vins du garde’ which will still benefit from being left in peace for a few years to come. The north is a good deal more problematic, with hail in the spring and rain in August. Focussing on good producers who were prepared to sacrifice yield for quality is the key and these wines can be consumed with gay abandon 15 years on from harvest.

The 2001 vintage was remarkable; great concentration wrapped up with elegant, finely grained tannins, demonstrated both in the north and the south, the obvious candidates have performed well of course but there is great quality from the less eminent hills as well. Most of the Rhône villages will have been consumed by now but any remaining wines from ‘senior’ producers will offer plenty of gratification this year. Alas, triumph followed by a fall for most in 2002, good producers made good wines, mostly in the north, but it’s certainly time to drink up.

The Rhône valley did not escape the heat wave of 2003 and producers grappled with the peculiarities engendered by the fierce heat of the vintage. Those with deeply rooted old vines shaped profound wines in some cases, with muscular structure, the south was particularly successful. The wines can be enjoyed now, for their massive, concentrated but ripe fruit which has plenty of pleasure to give, but equally, there is no panic for the top wines. Whites, however, should be drunk sooner than later, gregarious as they are.

Whilst not celebrated as one of the greats there is charm to be found in 2004, and some useful early drinking wines; the reds demonstrate a fresh, crunchy quality and the whites are exotic whilst fresh and linear, most will nevertheless be ready for the duck liver pâté by now. The 2005, by contrast, is hailed as one of the greats; even the junior wines are well preserved by the authoritative, peppery tannins, these can be enjoyed this year but those wines which are typically long lived are even more durable.

The 2006 vintage represents the best of both worlds, there is a lattice quality to the wines, they are multidimensional, nuanced and in most cases drinking well owing to the fine, supple quality of the tannins. The 2007s are rich wines with massive fruit, though unencumbered by the ruthless tannins of 2005; they are not for the faint hearted at this early stage but the ripe fruit means there is fun to be had matching them with robust fayre.

Another challenging year, the wines of 2008 are certainly for early drinking; the best producers – those who waited for full ripeness – fashioned wines in the bright, crunchy style which characterises the lean years but which has an allure of its own; particularly whilst waiting for the blockbusters to come through. The 2009 vintage combines the opulence of 2007 with some of the structure of 2005, only the basic wines are for enjoying now and can offer indulgently ripe black fruits. The 2010s offer something to truly look forward to; both whites and reds have the breath-taking balance and poise of a genuinely great vintage.

Read the previous instalments in our series on ‘What to drink in 2015‘ and find out more about the Rhône on bbr.com.

Category: Rhône Wine