Dinner with Jean-Emmanuel Bonnaire

Join us for dinner on July 11th with Jean-Emmanuel Bonnaire (pictured), the owner of two excellent grower champagne houses – Bonnaire and Paul Clouet.

Bonnaire Jean Emmanuel ChampagneAs a special treat for our clients, Jean-Emmanuel will bring a few mature bottles from the family’s personal collection dating from 1982 and 1996. Both were excellent vintages in Champagne.

Bonnaire is based in the Grand Cru village of Cramant, renowned as one of the top terroirs for Chardonnay. And Paul Clouet is located in Bouzy, another Grand Cru village and home to outstanding Pinot Noir.

We’re not the only fans of these houses.  Probably the most notable devotee is champagne expert Richard Juhlin, who introduced us personally to Bonnaire. He has scored some of their champagnes at 98/100 points – as high as legends like 1961 Krug, 1934 Pol Roger and 1959 Cristal.

My private cellar is full of bottles from Bonnaire.” Richard Juhlin

In all, Jean-Emmanuel will be presenting 7 champagnes for you to taste.

The Wines

NV Bonnaire Rose (90 points, Antonio Galloni)
NV Paul Clouet Grand Cru (92 points, Allen Meadows)
NV Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (92 points, Allen Meadows)
2008 Paul Clouet Grand Cru (not yet rated)
2008 Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (90-94 points, Richard Juhlin)
1982 Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (95 points, Richard Juhlin)
1996 Paul Clouet Grand Cru (93 points, Richard Juhlin)

Event Details

Tuesday 11th July
6.30pm – Aperitif
7-9.30pm – Dinner
The Devonshire Club
4-5 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YD

Prices are £130 for a single ticket, £120 each for multiple tickets. Your ticket includes seven champagnes, a three-course dinner designed to complement the wines, and £20 off any purchase of wines on the night.

Order your tickets by email to sales@closcru.com, or message us via the website.

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The “Seven Samurai” from Selosse

By Martyn Zemavicius

Having received an invitation from my dear friend Andrius to attend a blind champagne tasting called “the Seven Samurai”, I immediately told him I’d be there. Not just because every degustation Andrius organises is magnificent. Mainly because of the fun theme for the tasting.

His grand idea? To serve seven different champagnes from the house of Jacques Selosse, each representing a character from Akira Kurosawa’s legendary sword-fighting movie, The Seven Samurai. Moreover, each champagne would be opened by sabrage.

For those who have never seen the film, it tells the story of a poor village that gets raided every year by a band of 40 ruthless bandits, who steal the villagers’ crops and kidnap their women.  The villagers decide the only way they can save themselves is to scrape together what little money they have to hire samurai. They manage to find seven samurai who will fight for their paltry reward.  These brave samurai must defy the odds to defend the village and fight an epic battle against the bandits.

The wines were served in flights of two, with some chapter titles to give us clues.  So as we listened to the dramatic soundtrack from the film, we got stuck into our first flight.

Chapter One – The Walled Field Ends Below the Hill

  • NV Jacques Selosse Mareuil sur Ay ‘Sous le Mont’
    First release of this cuvee, which is 100% Pinot Noir (from a solera begun in 2005). Disgorged 2012.

Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八) was the character chosen to represent wine 1. Recruited by Gorōbei, he is an amiable fighter, if less skilled than the others. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.

As this samurai was less skilled, he symbolised the fact that the ‘Sous le Mont’ is made from Premier Cru fruit, whereas the other wines were Grand Cru. (The name ‘Sous le Mont’ can be translated into English as ‘below the hill’.)

  • NV Jacques Selosse Ambonnay ‘Le Bout du Clos’
    The first release of this cuvee (from solera beginning 2004).
    80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2011.

Kikuchiyo (菊千代) is a humorous character who claims to be a samurai, but has falsified his ancestry. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight. He reveals to the group that he is not a samurai, but a peasant. When the fight begins, he proves his worth.

Just as Kikuchiyo was different from the others (not being a real samurai), this champagne is different. It is a blend of grape varieties, whereas the others are single variety. Not many people know that Le Bout du Clos is not a blanc de noirs. Anselme Selosse adds 20 percent Chardonnay to the blend, because this lieu-dit is very small and some Chardonnay was historically grown there. (‘Le Bout du Clos’ translates as ‘the edge of the walled field’.)

Chapter Two – The Essence

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2008)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2015.

Katsushirō Okamoto (四郎) is a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowning samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō vows to be Kambei’s disciple.

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2005)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2012.

Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵) is a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command, and helps craft the master plan for the village’s defense.

These characters represent Substance because they are both men of character at, with Katsushiro (the younger of the two) represented by the younger wine, and Gorobei the older.

Chapter Three – Origins

  • Jacques Selosse Extra Brut
    100% Chardonnay, an assemblage of 1992, 1991 and 1990 from Avize, Cramant and Mesnil. Disgorged 1999.

Shichirōji (七郎次) is an old friend of Kambei and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town and he resumes this role.

  • Jacques Selosse Origine
    100% Chardonnay (from solera 1986-92).
    Disgorged in 1999.

Kambei Shimada (田勘兵) is a ronin (a masterless samurai) and the leader of the group. The first to be recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.

These two characters both symbolise origins.  Shichiroji and Kambei have a relationship that begins years ago.  The Selosse Extra Brut is made from an assemblage going back in time, and the Origine is the predecessor wine to the Substance.

Chapter Four – Skill

  • Selosse 1998
    100% Chardonnay. One of the two finest vintages Selosse has produced.

Kyūzō () He initially declines an offer by Kambei to join the group, but he changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai, of whom Katsushirō is in awe.

Because of his supreme skill as a swordsman, his character was chosen to represent the 1998 Selosse, which is one of the two best vintages Selosse ever produced. (The other is the 1986, the vintage that earned Anselme Selosse the title of Winemaker of the Year in France.)

Chapter Five – Blue Blood

Just as we thought the tasting had finished, our other dear friend Andrej brought a decanter with red wine. And from the first smell it was very clear that this ‘blue blooded’ wine was imperial in quality. The nose alone was worthy of 100 points straight away. And it was poured from magnum, as befits an emperor of a wine.

  • 1959 Chateau Pavie, Saint Emilion (from magnum)

The story of the Seven Samurai takes place in 1586. At that time, the Emperor of Japan was Emperor Ōgimachi (町天皇).  He reigned from 1557 to 1586. His personal name was Michihito (方仁).

Bordeaux Chateau Pavie 1959

The Emperor

Arigato Gozaimasu

This was a truly unique tasting of great creativity, with much thought and time taken to organise it.  

These wines confirmed to me yet again that Anselme Selosse is a genius. His champagnes are magnificent and as full of character as the samurais immortalised on film.

The 1959 Pavie was and is one of the top red Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. In magnums especially, wines of this quality and structure can age gracefully for decades and could take pride of place on any imperial table.

I am bowing my head very low and saying arigato gozaimasu to Andrius and Andrej for my introduction to The Seven Samurai and The Emperor of Japan.

 

Champagne, Jacques Selosse, Grand Cru

The sabred bottles

A Visit from Mark Haisma

By Rostislav Petrov
 We were happy to have a visit at the Clos & Cru offices yesterday from Mark Haisma. He is an Australian making wonderful wines in Burgundy. He started going to the region in 2007, and has been based there full time since 2009. Rather than buying land himself, which is extraordinarily expensive in Burgundy, Mark works with growers and buys their grapes to produce his wines. He even likes to put name of the grower on the label (if they give him permission), which is rather unusual.
Burgundy Cornas Mark Haisma 2013

Mark Haisma

His wines are very fruit forward, but also terroir-driven. We tasted several 2013s with him, and they were great – despite the challenge of difficult weather conditions.
Mark also produces some Cornas, using the winemaking facilities of the up-and-coming Cornas star, Vincent Paris.
Thanks, Mark, for sharing your delicious wines.
Burgundy Cornas Mark Haisma 2013

The 2013s of Mark Haisma

Birthplace of the Rarest of Ports

By Margaret Elderfield

Standing in the shade of a 200 year old cedar tree on the terrace, high above Pinhao, it’s easy to imagine that nothing has changed here for over a century.  TerrQuinta do Noval Port Douroaced vineyards hug the curving landscape as far as the eye can see, and it’s only the metal roof of the temperature-controlled storage facility further down the hill that gives a hint we are living in the modern world.

I’ve come to Quinta do Noval, the birthplace of the rarest of ports – the Nacional – a monopole vintage port made entirely from ungrafted vines that grow in a single vineyard adjacent to the quinta. It is produced in tiny quantities, only 200 to 250 cases for an entire Nacional vintage, and released only in the best years.

The quintas of the Douro were traditionally self-supporting farms as well as wine estates.  And at Noval they like to preserve tradition.  They still keep geese, pigs and chickens to feed the workers on the estate.  On the day of my visit, a communal lunch of grilled fish for the workers is being prepared in the courtyard, as I follow Ana Carvalho, my guide for the day, past the chapel and the old dormitory rooms, towards the special plot of vines.

A Viticultural Mystery

The Nacional monopole consists of 2 hectares of vines planted over 5 terraces, all ungrafted.  The name ‘Nacional’ was chosen because these vines are entirely Portuguese.  They are not grafted onto American rootstock, yet in this small vineyard they have managed to survive the scourge of the phylloxera louse, which decimated European viticulture in the 19th century.

As is traditional in the Douro, the vineyard is planted as a field blend, consisting of 15 varieties inter-mixed.  The most prevalent varieties are Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and Sousao. The average age of the vines is around 35 years old at present.

There are a few European vineyards where ungrafted vines can survive, and these are typically in sandy soils, which phylloxera cannot tolerate.  Surprisingly in the case of Nacional, there is no sand. The soil is Douro schist with a high proportion of clay.  

So how to explain the mystery? They simply do not know why the vines here have developed an immunity. They have tried planting ungrafted vines elsewhere on the estate, but the experiments have never worked.  The vines begin to show tumors on the leaf, and then typically die within 1-2 years.

Needless to say, Noval are scrupulous in their cultivation of this vineyard.  They never bring in plant material from outside the plot, and have been treating the vines organically.  They hire in a donkey for a week at a time when necessary for ploughing (Ana jokingly calls him their “consultant”).

Respecting Tradition

Vinification is very traditional, and begins with foot treading in open stone lagares. The human foot is the ideal instrument for getting the necessary extraction from the skins without crushing the pips, which would result in excessive bitterness. Typically the workers link arms and begin with 3 hours of military-style “marching”, working forwards and back systematically in a line.  Then comes a few hours of “freestyle” treading, accompanied by music and even dancing in the lagares.

The grapes macerate for just 2-3 days, with pigeage 3-4 times a day.  One-half of the fortifying brandy is added just as the fermenting juice is being drained from the lagares, to arrest fermentation and preserve sweetness in the wine.  The other half of the brandy is added in vat. This facilitates the integration of the spirit.   

Wood maturation takes place for up to two years more in a mix of old vats, made of oak, but also cherry and chestnut.   

But as with all of the best vintage ports, the Nacional benefits from extended bottle ageing in cellar. The complex and powerful bouquet of a mature vintage port, decanted at its peak, is an incomparable experience every wine lover should have at least once in their lifetime.

The Whims of a Great Terroir

The Nacional vineyard has its own whims, distinct from the rest of the estate.  For that reason, Noval do not always declare a Nacional Vintage in the same years as the estate vintage.  For example, 1996 was not a declared Vintage year, but the Nacional was so outstanding that Quinta do Noval decided to declare a Vintage Nacional.  By contrast, 2007 was a great year for the Noval estate vintage port, but the Nacional simply did not sing, so it was not released.  

Tasting

Allocations of Nacional are tiny.  For example, the whole of Belgium gets only 12 bottles, and Canada gets only 6.  (Fortunately for those of us in Britain, the UK gets the largest overseas allocation!)

This wine is so rare, that our own Rytis Jurkenas has only ever been lucky enough to taste the Nacional once in his lifetime, when he sampled the 1980 (and awarded it an Excellent 93 pts).

Regardless of the rarity, the exceptional quality of the Nacional is not in doubt.

In the 2011 vintage – that year when growing conditions in the Douro were nigh-on perfect for producing great port – the wine was showered with critical acclaim, achieving 100-pt scores from James Suckling, Robert Parker, Wine & Spirits magazine and Wine Enthusiast.

To quote Neil Martin: “This is the kind of elixir that leaves you speechless.”  – 100pts  (The Wine Advocate, Issue No. 212)

Night of the 1990s

By Martyn Zemavicius

1990 was a rarity in the world of wine.  Not only was it a great vintage across France, but also across Europe and in many of the top regions around the world.1990 Vintage Tasting Dinner

With so many appellations reporting a great harvest last year, we will have to wait and see if 2015 can equal the 1990 vintage for consistent high quality.  

In the meantime, we decided it would be interesting to taste a few bottles from the great 1990 vintage across Europe. (We made sure to partner the wines with gourmet dishes, as the winemakers no doubt intended!)

All of the wines for our tasting were sourced from a single, top quality English cellar, and fortunately they arrived for the tasting in top condition.

To prepare our palates for the wines to come, we kicked off with a delicious magnum of NV Le Brun de Neuville, Cuvee Selection. It had been kept on the lees in 15 meter deep underground cellars for more than 3 years, and it was very tasty.  

1st Flight

1990 Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Champagne (from magnum). 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier. Named ‘Cuvee Royale’ because it was served in the Royal Households of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
A powerful champagne, with honey notes typical of 1990. It went amazingly well with a wild mushroom amuse bouche.

2nd Flight

1990 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Spatlese Oberemmeler Hutte, von Hovel
Von Hovel dates back to the 12th century, when monks constructed the property and cellar. The ancestors of the current owners acquired the estate from Napoleon in 1806.

Wine made from Oberemmeler Hutte monopole vineyard had such a bright colour, it could be taken for a 3-year-old wine. On the palate, with 7% alcohol it was feather light, with sweet yellow stone fruit that went so well with foie gras – probably the best match of the evening.

1990 Alsace Gewurztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre, Trimbach
Trimbach’s most famous wine is the Riesling Clos Sainte Hune, but this particular Gewurztraminer must be among the best wines they make from old vines. All the grapes came from the former wine estate of the Lords of Ribeaupierre. Made only in exceptional vintages, this was the biggest surprise of the night.

Like the Riesling that preceded it, the colour was very bright. It had the Trimbach style of being dry with very strong structure, full of fruit but elegant at the same time. Still so much life left in this wine that it could live for another 20 years.

3rd Flight

1990 Grand Cru Corton-Clos des Cortons, Faiveley
Many consider Faiveley to be the best of the large-scale producers in the region. Our top choice would probably be Louis Jadot, if pressed. But when it comes to the legendary ‘Corton-Clos des Cortons’ monopole, from the 1990 vintage no less, we certainly didn’t say no!  Based in Nuits St George since 1825 when the house was founded, Faiveley are known for tannic wines that are full of fruit. And this wine was no exception.
Hand bottled, without filtration.

At 25 years old, the tannins were still grippy, but the fruit concentration and richness compensated – especially tasted together with duck breast and red berry sauce.

1990 Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, Paul Jaboulet
It’s not a secret that Jaboulet produces some of the Rhone’s greatest wines, including the famous Hermitage La Chapelle. We would argue that the Domaine de Thalabert vineyard in Crozes Hermitage is the little brother of La Chapelle. Here Jaboulet produces very high quality wines that are superior to most growers Crozes Hermitage. Robert Parker thinks that the 1990 vintage will eclipse the 1978. I have tasted the legendary 1978 La Chapelle on two occasions, but never had a chance to taste the 1978 Domaine de Thalabert. This bottle from 1990 was absolutely amazing and the winner of this tasting.
Made from 40-60 year-old vines. Yields of 25-30 hl/ha. Aged in wood for 12 months.

It took a while for this massive wine to open up. Gamey, smokey with unbelievable dark fruit concentration and incredible length. Any Rhone lover – or any fine wine lover – should try this wine at least once!

4th Flight

1990 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l’Herault
Mas de Daumas Gassac is often called the ‘First Growth of the Languedoc’ or the  ‘Lafite of the Languedoc’. Rightly so. I still cannot forget few years ago a 1982 I tasted from jeroboam, how amazing it was.
1990 for Gassac was a most unusual year, as a vine (called ‘Crespy’) sprouted a new leaf as early as 20 January. Made from a very large selection of different grapes planted on red glacial soils.  68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Syrah, 2% Pinot noir, 2% Tannat, 1% rare varieties: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera. Long fermentation, no filtration. Yields at 40 hl/ha.

Tasting the 1990 proved again that this wine is among the best in the world.

1990 Clos du Marquis, Chateau Leoville Las Cases, Saint-Julien
Chateau Leoville Las Cases is without doubt the best estate in St-Julien, and it often produces wines of first-growth quality. The vineyards are superbly situated on gravelly clay soils that stretch between the village of St-Julien and Chateau Latour. Their Clos du Marquis is considered to be the best 2nd wine made in Bordeaux. These days it is made from separate plots, but in the 1990 vintage it received 63% of Leoville Las Cases grapes that would nowadays have gone into the ‘grand vin’.

Rich, powerful and concentrated. Marvellously well-balanced wine, with exotically perfumed notes typical of Las Cases. Over the past year I have tasted it four times. It is absolutely delicious, and without doubt is better than some ‘grands vins’ of St-Julien.

5th Flight

1990 Tignanello, Marchesi Antinori
Tignanello is famous for being the first producer in the Chianti region to age Sangiovese in barriques, and to blend wine with non-indigenous varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon (instead of the traditional white wine grapes used in chianti blends). The first vintage released was 1971, and Antinori was accused of vinous treachery and treason. It had to be labelled as a lowly vino da tavola. But Antinori had the last laugh, as Tignanello soon attained critical acclaim.

Dark berries and gamey notes. Starting to show some leathery notes too. But still a lot of life left in this wine with heaps of fruit, spice and a long finish.

1990 Brunello di Montalcino Sugarille, Pieve Santa Restituta
Gaja purchased Pieve Santa Restituta in 1994, so it was good opportunity to see if wines made there were as good as they are under Gaja’s ownership. The answer is an unqualified ‘yes’! The single vineyard ‘Sugarille’, located on the north-eastern side of Brunello, is situated at 350 meters above sea level. There is a gentle south-west exposure and rocky soils. This estate always had the potential to be one of the finest in the region. Indeed, Antonio Galloni thinks is it’s “easily among the finest in the entire appellation”, and we would agree with that.

Wine was so complex with a lot of aromatic floral notes, ripe dark forest berries, full bodied, very well balanced and with a long finish. I must say that this time I preferred it over the 1990 Tignanello.

Conclusion

This tasting proved how high in quality the 1990 vintage was across Europe. We would advise wine lovers to put some in their cellars before it becomes too rare and expensive, as inevitably happens with the great old vintages from top estates.

 

Walking with giants – two Cristal tastings

Stephan Reinhardt, the new kid on the block at Wine Advocate with responsibility for Champagne, presented an illuminating masterclass in London last weekend. He took us through a vertical of Cristal from 1999 to the recently released 2006. This period corresponds with the stewardship of Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, which has seen some developments in the vineyard and the production methods. We were also privileged to try a number of older vintages of Cristal at a private celebration which created the opportunity to contemplate a possible evolution in style.

Cristal Saatchi

Cristal tasting at the Sattchi gallery led by Stephan Reinhardt

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