The Clark Foyster Burgundy 2014 en primeur tasting is the highlight of the tasting season. They have a small but stunningly good selection of producers in their portfolio. Even better, the owners of Clark Foyster Wines, Isabelle Clark and Lance Foyster, do not gouge their customers even though they sell such flash kit; there is usually something that anyone could afford (it would be good stuff, too).
Lance pays more attention to getting quality samples for his en primeur tastings than the vast majority of wine merchants. Alas, this does not mean that tasting unfinished wines is going to be pure pleasure. Small samples of wines plucked from their barrels in January can often be at their least pleasurable state of development and drawing concrete conclusions about how they will turn out can be bloody hard work – even when you have been doing this for 21 years!
Future predictions seemed especially hard in Friday’s Burgundy 2014 en primeur tasting. A lot of wines showed very well but I felt a significant number were in too much of a quaquaversal state to really divine much as to what they would be like as finished wines.
Moreover, at these tastings you get very little time with a very small sample of each wine. This is really deeply unfair on the wines and the winemakers as that is a world away from how they are to be enjoyed when finished.
I feel my tasting technique serves me surprisingly well in these abysmal conditions for assessing young Burgundy. It relies on me being a Zen Master – or more accurately I have highly trained mindfulness skills. The Editor is also blessed in this regard. Let me explain how this applies to wine tasting.
When you are doing something mindfully you are completely absorbed in the task you are doing. Other thoughts about unrelated things will naturally enter your mind – you acknowledge them but do not get engaged with them.
So when I pour myself a slug of 2014 Burgundy, I focus all my mind on the process of sniffing and tasting that sample. If other thoughts enter my mind I acknowledge them, then tell myself I am not interested in that thought now, because I am living in the moment of tasting that wine. If a wine is particularly engaging I can find myself sniffing and swirling it around my palate for quite a while.
This applies to both ‘interesting good’ and ‘interesting bad’ wines. Both may have properties that want to make you live in the moment of tasting them so you can truly understand how the wines make you feel in addition to the technical aspects of the wine.
I like to think I am a good technical taster, I am certainly a bloody marvellous blind taster. However, when it comes to the wines I love, notably red Burgundy and German Riesling, I tend to find myself thinking more about how a wine psychologically effects me, how it makes me feel, what emotional effects it has on me. This is because, for me, the wines of those two regions in particular are charged with deeply visceral, and intellectual, raw pleasure – at least they bloody well should be! Wines that fly at the pointy end of the pleasure party plane should not be reduced to dry technical analysis, you want to know whether it is going to tweak your aesthetes or give your whole body a rush of excitement with each taste.
After that rant, let us move onto 2014 Burgundy.
I asked our host for the wine merchant’s view of 2014 Burgundy:
Buy it – Lance Foyster.
I pressed him further. He suggested that it was a fleshy vintage for early drinking. More stuffing, he said, than the 2007s and more integrated, less prickly acid than in 2011. I though that was pretty encouraging.
Then as The Editor and I headed for wine number one another wine merchant chum came up to us looking gloomy. I asked his view of 2014 Burgundy. “It is good for white wines”, he dourly replied. So I asked what was wrong with the reds. He thought they were fleshy, fun wines for young drinking. This eased my nerves as this particular friend buys wines to age, so would not like a vintage for drinking young. This made me less worried about what I was about to taste.
I shall make this abundantly clear, I love drinking young Pinot, so early drinking vintages of Burgundy delight me – as long as they are shipped in time to enjoy the full, delightful, exuberant charm of young Burgundy.
I give the price per bottle excluding duty and VAT after the name of each wine.
So let us start with the misses:
When tasting these I definitely felt they were in an awkward stage of development, but I still feel confident saying the three wines we tasted were not all that good. My wine merchant friend confirmed the Fourrier wines had been showing badly at every tasting he attended. He also said, “You judge a vintage by Fourrier”, which I do not think is true. The wines:
Gevery Chambertain Vieilles Vignes 2014 (£28)
This was bloody awful. All I could smell was oak and the palate was thin and weedy with, again, far too much oak. Lance did say they only use 15-25% new oak, but either this was plucked from the newest oak barrel Fourier have ever owned or the wine was just so insipid that all it could display was oak character.
Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Cherbaudes 2014 (£49)
This had more of an impression of wine too it, but again it seemed hellishly oaky. There was a bit of fruit, and some density, but the balance was a real howler. I really hope this was just a poor sample that was not true to the final character because this is a wine I have a bit of a soft spot for. It is usually so lovely – not today.
Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Clos St Jacques 2014 (£125)
Now this had a bit more of the fruit and density one would expect from this vineyard. I could feel that there was a great wine tied up and gagged behind the wall of new oak I experienced. I can believe this will develop into a good wine. It will not be as great as this vineyard usually is; it may be that this will develop into the best Gevreys of the vintage, given a couple of years in the bottle, but I am far from convinced that it will be a valuable use of your money.
Oh dear… I cannot believe I am about to put this in the ‘misses’ category, but it was…
Domaine Sylvain Cathiard et Fils
Normally one of the very best producers in Burgundy, the wines on show displayed none of the finesse, complexity or class one would expect from Cathiard. I have to say when going through a tasting with the promise of Cathiard at the end one normally gets quite excited; our excitement was dashed against the rocks. I felt so let down.
Vosne Romanee 2014 (£40)
This was a large scale, monolithic wine – all power and structure, no beauty or finesse. The Editor quipped, “Do they have a reverse osmosis machine?” It was just massive with no beauty or charm. If you like huge wines with masses of ripe tannins, if you are an American for example, you will love this. You will also be a philistine as this was totally unlike any Vosne Villages should be like; there was no class, no refinement and certainly no regal complexity wants from Vosne. How sad.
Nuits St Georges Premier Cru Aux Thorey 2014 (£74)
One expects a degree of toughness from Nuits, but when a Cathiard Nuits is tough you know something is wrong. So it is a vile shock when this wine from Cathiard is an impregnable block of tannin with bugger all fruit and absolutely no charm. What a disaster!
Vosne Romanee Premier Cru Aux Malconsorts 2014 (£144)
This is incredibly hard to write as this is normally one of the most stylish and desirable wines from Burgundy. It is priced to match. Alas, in 2014 this was a tough lump of tannin with just a shade more fruit and the tiniest hint of pleasure than Cathiard’s other wines. You would have to be a raving loony to buy this; I am clinically insane and there is no way I would ever dream of looking to buy a bottle of this.
And now the hits:
A great success in Marsannay from Domaine Audion! They were not complex, profound wines, but they expressed the best characters of the vintage very well. There was one exception, the Marsannay Cuvee Marie Ragonneau (£12), where the acid was just a bit too high for the fruit. The other three Marsannays on show: Les Longeroies (£15.50), Favieres (£17.50) and Clos du Jeu (£15.50) were quite lovely with plenty of soft, fleshy fruit and just enough acid to make them lively and vivacious. They were a complete joy to drink. OK, you did not have much to think about when you were downing them but what fun they delivered – so much ripe, delicious Pinot fruit. If you order these include a (polite) request to Clark Foyster to ship them to you as soon as possible; these will not have a long life, 18-24 months from delivery, but during that period they will service you with an awful lot of pleasure.
I was remarkably impressed with these wines considering it is a soft, easy, young drinking vintage. They showed the characters of the vineyards very clearly which is, I am sure, down to the pragmatic winemaking approach of Florence and Simon who run the Domaine. With some vineyards they are practising biodynamic farming, but the eschew organic farming as it leaves too much copper in the soil and exposes their good selves to it.
Some of their wines are very modern Gevrey in style, like the Vieilles Vignes, whereas others are lighter and more charming, the Clos Village springs to mind. All of their wines had ample merit to make into your wine fridge but, which one exception, these are still wines to drink young. Any wine you buy from these intelligent, thoughtful winemakers will give you a lot of pleasure, but I will just pick out three ‘must buy’ wines:
Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru Les Goulots 2014 (£40)
This had a wonderful, remarkably complex nose that was clearly Gevrey – but soft, charming Gevrey. There was ample complexity and a good tannic structure on the palate with a relatively sedate level of acidity, but that did not stop it being lively and full of energy. It was very long and complex on the palate and just made you want to kiss either Simon or Florence (whoever was closest).
Morey Saint Denis Premier Cru Les Millandes 2014 (£41)
This was harvested slightly earlier than the other Heresztyn-Mazzini wines in order to keep the fresh acidity and it it an extra dimension of life. It was a brilliant Morey, and not even a Morey de Chez Gevrey. It had all the silky, sexy Morey perfumes, I always get a hint of something floral from good Morey wines, and plenty of delicious fresh fruit. The palate was indeed lively but certainly not unbalanced. The very slightly higher acidity, I think, will make it unsuitable for long ageing, but who gives a tinker’s cuss about that? When you have a Morey that is so delicious on release just go for it and drink the scrummy little bleeder. My friend Cyprien Arlaud has some serious competition in this vineyard.
Clos Saint Denis Grand Cru (£84)
This was candidate for one of the few properly good Grand Crus of the vintage. Whilst the Morey was Morey this was Clos St Denis de chez Gevrey. It had a powerful depth of character, but all tied up in a powerful core of intensity. It was not amazingly giving, but the Burgundy purist could well think this will age exceedingly well. Dense, structured, but beguiling with its come-hither fruit. The things I would do to have a bottle or two of this do not bear thinking about.
Domaine Francois Bertheau
I feel a little strange including this producer in my ‘hits’ section as I usually cannot stand his wines. But in 2014 they were tits-lovely. Charged with the really spell-binding, lovely fruit of Chambolle they titillated at every sniff or taste. The Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru was a true Chambolle Bonnes Mares, scented, soft, delicious, but also showing some of the dimension and regal character of this Grand Cru. Simply adorable.
However, I am well aware that these wines stand no chance of ageing for even the medium term, and since they are priced like diamonds I would find it hard to recommend, say, the Bonnes Mares Grand Cru at £125 a bottle when it will fall apart with alacrity. Only buy if you have impressive amounts of folding and you like your pleasures young and fruitsome.
Christ, do these people know how to make wine? Yes, they bloody well do! Make damned good wine at that. Everything I tried (and I do mean EVERYTHING, see the first wine I recommend) had me dancing about on one leg or singing little songs of pure happiness. This is where you drop your sponds bomb, not that it will do you an amazing amount of good as they make bugger all – curses! Let us begin with their white wine:
Bourgogne Aligote 2014 (£5)
Never in a life themed on drinking anything fabulous I can get my hands on have I ever had an Aligote this good. It stunned me – and I thought it was indescribably better than the fabled Aubert de V.’s Aligote. It was charged with peachy, pear fruit that made it seem more like a bien loché Pinot Blanc or a lovely Pinot Gris. This was true both on the nose and on the palate. There was good, but not excessive acidity. It was a dream wine. If I saw this on a restaurant wine list I would bite their hands off to get a bottle. And the price is just incredible, even with VAT and duty on top of that it is just a great drink at a great price. Top bunny for a Lady (Godiva = fiver). I should point out that this is grown in Vosne villages vineyards which might explain its outstanding quality at this price.
Nuits St Georges 2014 (£20)
Now here is a Nuits for those who love Vosne; it had more charm and exotic character than almost any Nuits I have ever tried. The tannins made an attempt at butch, but could only manage to give it a fleshy, delicious structure that will make you drink this as you would water after a week in a desert. Totally delicious.
Vosne Romanee 2014 (£22)
Never has a Vosne villages been more come hither! It is charged with exotic fruit that has some real density to it, indeed, for such a voluptuous wine in the context of this vintage it seems quite tannic. But don’t let that make you think this Vosne is anything other than a highly delicious, extremely attractive harlot of a wine, giving away her rich and varied selection of skills for an extremely generous price. Oh yeah!
Vosne Romanee Premier Crus Chaumes, Les Beaumonts and Les Brulees 2014 (£38 per bottle each)
Forgive me from covering these three premier crus together, for, even though they were probably the wines that most seductively tweaked my tweakables in 2014, there is little to choose between them in terms of quality. Accept any when you take your wheelbarrow stuffed with Ayrtons (Senna = tenner) around to the Clark Foyster office to try and petition them to sell you some. They were certainly wines of the vintage, fleshy, fruity, forward, but they were charged with a bit more spanky sex power than almost any other wine.
The Chaumes had a real depth of concentration, a product of the 100-year-old vines this comes from in this normally not ultimately thrilling vineyard. This wine had thrills a-plenty.
The Beaumonts had the exotic class one expects from the vineyard and really tickles my ticklish bits. Glorious. How such brilliant Vosne can be made in this not great vintage stuns me.
The Brulees, my favourite Vosne Premier Cru, was no less silky or sexy than the other two Vosne Premier Crus but had that slight rough, earthy edge I love so much in Les Brulees. Mega fab!
Echezeaux Grand Cru (£60)
Trying the Echezeaux was such a moving, transcendental experience that I completely forgot I had tried it. The Editor tells me I was stupefied and incoherent for several minutes whilst raving about higher planes of existence.
I must admit that only one wine really interested me here. To paraphrase my chum Hanneke Wilson MW, “Ladoix, just what is it for?”, I certainly have no idea! An Aloxe Corton 2014 (£19) had some nice fruit but was a bit hard and lacked charm in my book (my book being ‘Davy’s Bumper Book of Dissolute Experiences and Louche Lifestyles’). This one was good:
Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2014 (£32)
If you are capable of holding the two incompatible ideas of ‘red Corton’ and ‘having a good time’ in your head that is precisely what this wine was like. It had the Corton stony hardness but also some flesh and body. At this price it is a bargain – well worth the money.
Domaine Henri Jouan
I found all the wines here in such an awkward stage of development I would hate to pronounce on them and so prejudice your thinking.
Domaine Sophie Cinier
The Editor said he did not go for the wanton harlot nature of the Pouilly-Fuisse Classique 2014 (£13) or Pouilly-Fuisse Collection 2014 (£14). I found them to be quite nice examples of the confident structure of Pouilly-Fuisse. The Editor much preferred the Pouilly-Fuisse Vers Cras 2014 (£15) and Puilly-Vinzelles Les Longeays 2014 (£15) which he said were stonier, more linear and focussed. He was right.
We popped round the corner to the bargain wonder food merchant Shoyu Ramen for a quick lunch and it was bloody marvellous and hardly cost a penny. Next time we shall skip the soft shell crab tempura and gyoza and just focus on the incomparable ramen, and possibly the 7% sweet potato beer which… had interest. Here is the Editor having a great time with his ramen.
The Editor and I would like to extend our huge thanks to Lance and Isabelle, bosses of Clark Foyster wines, who enabled us to attend this tasting. If I may be deeply personal for a moment, we’ve been quite depressed this last six months (well, since our priceless collection of red Burgundy was stolen last March, really, I wish the f***ing insurers would pull finger), what with me being incredibly psychotic for a long time and having such severe pains in my arm and hand I was completely unable to write. We thought we would not be able to make it to this tasting, then suddenly we could. We were so happy to see Lance and Isabelle, and to enjoy the vast majority of their wines, that I feel our depression has turned a corner and things might be finally looking up for us. Thank you so much, Lance and Isabelle!
The Editor’s smartphone correctly recognised that the day was so special it made a little video to capture its brilliance.