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No Beefsteak but some Burgundy

Having being recently invited to lunch at Le Cocotte, a restaurant of some standing here in Taipei, I was looking forward to the food almost as much as the wine. The occasion, a gathering of the ‘Beefsteak and Burgundy [dining] Club’ meets monthly and is populated by a diverse membership whose specialisms range from robotics to removals.

On arrival I was handed a glass of ‘Champagne’ and having tasted it I looked behind the bar for the bottle. I should have expected as much but the sight of the four wines we were to be served over lunch, sitting swaddled in tin-foil, produced the very slightest of palpitations deep in my innards. I knew that it would not be long before I was asked ‘what I did for a living’ and the realisation that a wine ‘expert’ was in their midst would make the blind tasting an altogether more interesting prospect…for some.

As we took our seats, paid homage to the Queen and our respective leaders of State, all I could think about was the origin of the inch of effervescence that sat whispering from the flute before me. ‘Touch of yeastiness, chalky texture, citrus and apple fruit…ok, its traditional method, old world, more than likely French but definitely not Champagne, acidity is too low…so Cremant but which, de Loire or de Bourgogne…?’, oh the joys of drinking in public. I’ll be honest, I went for the Loire, seduced by the apple and minerally mouth-feel, ignored the bright but not whistle clean acidity and of course if you close your eyes to the obvious you end up looking foolish; it was from Burgundy.

The wines that followed were more straightforward. Firstly an excellent, aromatic and pointed dry Muscat from the Minervois, then a dough and bruised apple scented Savagnin from the Cotes du Jura, before a final sweet wine from Ste-Croix-du-Mont. This appellation being on more elevated terrain, peers down through the botrytis inducing mist onto the vineyards of Sauternes that squat on the opposite shore of the Garonne.

I do not know if I will be invited back, but tasting (even when blind), drinking and eating in good company, especially when accompanied by some less than usual wines is a rare pleasure. Below are reviews of the four tasted:

Maison Vitteau Alberti, ‘Cuvee Agnes’, Cremant de Bourgogne NV
Grape: Chardonnay
Wine-making: Traditional method
Note: As mentioned above, this has a lovely chalky texture and fine fruit. The acidity is crisp and less taut than Champagne but this makes it easier to appreciate. Good value.
Price: 1,480NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes,
www.cellierpoetes.com

Clos du Gravillas, ‘On the Rocks’ Muscat Sec, 2013
Grape: Muscat blanc a petit grains
Wine-making: Stainless steel
Note: This is excellent Muscat with the sweet aromas of grapes and white flowers whilst being deliciously dry, bright and minerally. Excellent value
Price: 1,080NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com 

Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Cotes du Jura, 2009
Grape: Savagnin
Wine-making: Kept in old oak barrels for three years without topping up and with a veil of flor adding aromatic complexity.
Note: Not the most popular wine of the day but these strongly savoury and bone dry wines require a certain amount of practise to appreciate. If you like Fino Sherry or Amontillado you will like this.
Price: 1,680NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com 

Chateau La Rame, ‘Traditionnel’ Ste-Croix-du-Mont, 2012
Grape: 100% Semillion
Wine-making: This is botrytised sweet wine matured in tank for two years.
Note: Sweet but with good freshness this young, honeyed apricot and lemon scented wine has less obvious fat than a Sauternes but most would never notice the difference. The price for a full 750ml bottle is a bargain.
Price: 1,580NT
Score: 15.5/20
Available from: Le Cellier des Poetes, www.cellierpoetes.com

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Jean Bourdy and the wines of Chateau Chalon

The wines of Jura in Eastern France are not well known. The proximity of Burgundy to the west casts a long shadow that has helped consign the sometimes equally impressive wines of this small region to the periphery. It is remarkable that I had to leave Europe and move to Taiwan to experience the most comprehensive tasting of Jura wines yet to pass my lips. The presence of Jean Bourdy (our guide to the tasting) from the eponymously named Domaine is a result of the work of importers in Taiwan like Vinaria who are willing to pursue and promote the unfashionable and esoteric.

With nine wines poured (including reds made from the local Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir and whites from Chardonnay), all are worthy of further discussion but I am impelled to talk about the tiny appellation of Chateau Chalon. This hill-top village has a measly 19 hectares of vineyard. They are made with one of the oldest and most important grapes for wine-lovers: Savagnin. Important because it is the parent or grandparent of many of the wine world’s favourite varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner and possibly Pinot. For wines to qualify for the Chateau Chalon appellation, they must be ‘vin jaune’ in other words matured biologically under a veil of yeast (locally known as voile (literally veil)) that is similar to the flor that covers the Fino style wines of Jerez and Montilla in Spain. This results in a signature aroma, easily identifiable as being similar to that of these Spaniards but this is where the similarity ends. Once bottled, Fino style wine starts to deteriorate. This is partly a function of their inherently low acidity and that without the security of their blanket of flor; they slowly fall apart. Chateau Chalon is the complete opposite. Firm of body, dense and with searingly precise acidity that makes these wines thrillingly vivacious and age-worthy. These wines are not inexpensive and neither should they be. They are rare, more Velázquez than Vettriano, majestic and as far from moribund as wine can get. Buy some.

Vin Jaune, Cotes du Jura, 2005, 13.7%
Grape:
100% Savagnin
Wine-making: Biologically aged for seven years
Note: Beautiful flor nose, all bruised apple and yeast, but with some sharp smelling citrus as well. Mouth-coating, fresh, concentrated and persistent. Complex and delicious.
Price: 4,500NT
Score: 18/20
Available from: Vinaria 02 27847688

Chateau Chalon AOC, 1969
Grape:
100% Savagnin
Wine-making: Biologically aged for seven years
Note: Pale orange in hue, hugely complex nose of nut, citrus (orange), mushroom, honey and coconut. Searing acidity, dry but with more texture and glycerol then you would find with a fine amontillado. Still with jaw-slackening verve and freshness. Immensely long finish. This was an honour to drink but for sheer pleasure I would take the 2005.
Price: 24,000NT
Score: 18.5/20
Available from: Vinaria 02 27847688

Chateau Chalon, 2005 (Vin Jaune), 13.7%
Grape:
100% Savagnin
Wine-making: Biologically aged
Note: Pale gold, cheesy, delicately oxidative (nut, mushroom etc) but with a fresh citrus, yeasty and apple core. High acidity, intense and concentrated. Great length, truly magnificent.
Price: 5,500NT
Score: 19/20
Available from: Vinaria 02 27847688

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