Inexpensive Burgundies

July 23, 2008

I love Burgundy but do not love the price levels of these beauties. So I am always on the lookout for decent Burgundies at a good price. Today I got one that is fantastic value for the quality. The wine is A. Chopin & Fils “Les Essards” Cote De Nuits Villages. It is fairly high in acidity, still young, but already shows nice complexity and if it spends some time breathing it can become fairly soft. Definitely recommended, especially if you consider that I paid a whopping $25 for the bottle.

Update: the wine really exhibits much deeper, complex characters once you let it open for a couple of hours. I highly recommend to decant this pinot, it will thank you for it.

Cheers–Zoli

Name: A. Chopin & Fils, “Les Essards”, Cote De Nuits Villages 2005

Price: $25 (discounted off $35)

Body: Medium

Got it at: Dee Vine Wines, Pier 19, San Francisco

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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I had written about the Ahr region, the northernmost Pinot Noir region in the world (perhaps the northernmost red wine region) in an earlier post. At that time I reviewed a Frühburgunder, a little known clone of the Pinot Noir grape. What is planted most in the Ahr is actually Spätburgunder, which is identical to Pinot Noir. Some Pinots from the Ahr stand up to the best of Burgudies in terms of complexity and elegance and today’s wine is one of these examples.

JJ Adeneuer’s Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005 is entirely from a Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) vineyard. Adeneuer is one of the top producers in the Ahr valley and to me his style is probably the closest to Burgundy. Comparisons are difficult and unfair, though, because Pinot Noir in the Ahr do not need to, in fact probably should not taste like Burgundies. The soil is quite different, the Ahr is mostly slate, and the climate is also unlike the Burgundy with cooler days, but longer hours of sunshine.

The Rosenthal Grosses Gewächs is a stunningly beautiful example of a top German Spätburgunder. The nose is very similar to a Burgundy, you can definitely smell the Pinot grape, but it also exudes quite a load of alcohol. The wine has a relatively high alcohol content at 14%, but you can mostly detect it on the nose, not so much in the taste. As I sipped on it the first thing that stunned me was the absolute perfect balance of fruit and acidity. It is obvious that this wine maker is highly skilled, the wine is superbly executed just as a German engineered car. I tasted plum, black cherry, slight roasted coffee and on the finish just a hint bitterness with a vanilla undertone (which I can appreciate that it is weird, but the complexity of taste is amazing). What is perhaps even more beautiful than the taste is the structure of this wine. It is silky, creamy, a bit earthy, extremely seductive, as you want a Pinot to be. Great finesse and absolute elegance is the best words I can use to describe the way it comes across.

We had the fortune to taste several of Adeneuer’s wines with the wine maker and the Rosenthal was one of my favorites. I liked the J.J.Adeneuer N° 1 and the N° 2 as well, though the Rosenthal is in a different league. The N° 1 is relatively light and has a bit less complexity than the N° 2, though both are very nice and elegant. They are not cheap wines and honestly if I were to buy a bottle from Adeneuer now, I would definitely step up to the Rosenthal. The only other Adeneuer that I would compare to the Rosenthal was the Walporzheimer Gärkammer Grosses Gewächs, of which I still have a bottle at home. Look for that review soon.

Name: JJ Adeneuer, Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005

Rating: 9/9.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 49 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer’s Ahrweiler Rosenthal, 2005

Name: JJ Adeneuer, N° 1, 2005

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 35 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer, N° 1, 2005

Name: JJ Adeneuer, N° 2, 2005

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 25 euros

Got it at: Adeneuer winery, Ahrweiler, Germany

JJ Adeneuer, N° 2, 2005

There are two regions in the world that use this phrase labeling their wines. Both are absolutely fantastic and both are among my favorites. One of them is the Tokaj region of Hungary, which produces some of the best dessert wines in the world. The other is the Barolo region in Piemonte, Northern Italy.

Barolo is arguably the most highly prized of Italian wines. It is generally quite a fruity, big heavy wine with lots of tannins. In some ways it is the Italian equivalent of Bordeaux, though in actuality, the nebbiolo grape that is used in Barolos is more similar to Burgundy’s pinot noir. Nebbiolo is just as finicky and hard to grow as pinot and it requires similarly cold nights and sunny days. It is also as many sided as pinot noir, wines made from nebbiolo can have completely different tastes, such that you would have a hard time determining that the varietal is identical. You will also not find it in many places outside of Piemonte and a little patch of Sardegna. Some wine makers have recently experimented with nebbiolo in California but I do not know of other regions.

There are two schools of making Barolos, if you will: traditional and modern. Traditionally they left the grape’s skin on during the fermentation process, which lasted a long three weeks. This process extracted a huge amount of tannins from the skin of the nebbiolo, which is a varietal that is already extremly high in tannins. As a result, traditional barolos were literally undrinkable for the first 10-12 years, which is about how long it took them to start to soften up. During this time, according to traditional methods, the wine spent at least 4-5 years in large Slavonian oak barrels and then continued to be aged in bottles. Barolos are, as a result, some of the best aging wines in the world.

The new school is quite different. Partially to cater to modern taste and partially because of market pressures to get to sell wines earlier than the required 10-12 years, many wine makers in the Barolo region have changed the old methods. These days the fermentation process is much shorter and the aging is no longer in large Slavonian oak casks, but predominantly in small barriques from France. The French barrique softens the wine quite a bit and because the skin is only left on for a shorter period during the fermentation process, the tannins are not as dominant. Still, Barolos must age at least three years, mostly in oak barrels, and five years if the wine is labeled Riserva. As a result, modern Barolos are drinkable after a few years. They also taste much different, much heavier and complex than traditional ones.

Tonight we tasted a modern Barolo from the Prunotto wine house (vintage 2001.) This wine spent 24 months in small oak barrels, combination of French and Slavonian, and then another 12 months in bottles before it was put on the market. The wine is bone dry, still very high in tannins, full of black fruit and liquorice. As soon as you smell the wine, it hits you over the head. Once you taste it, the wine just takes over. It is one thing to call this a big wine, sure, but it is aggressive. It dominates everything else that may be hitting your taste buds and not just when you drink it but for many minutes afterwards. Barolos are different. They really are a category by themselves and this Prunotto is a fine example of that. Pair them with heavy meat stew, a fillet mignon with gorgonzola, or game such as wild boar or something else that stands up to it. You will feel like a king.

Name: Barolo Prunotto, 2001

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 33 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Barolo Prunotto, 2001