by: Daniel Čečavac, November 28, 2018
Over the years, Grand Cru term has been widely used by wineries in different countries in order to distinct their wines on the market. Whether the intention was to refer to the limited production, old vineyard plots, quality attributes of the wine or the accent of French words, it is a “questionable” marketing strategy which seems rather misleading and brings more confusion to the general consumer. Translated to “great growth,” grand cru term originates from France and it is used to showcase wines made from the most reputable vineyards from Burgundy and Alsace and represents the highest level of classification of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). It is also used in Champagne region, however here it is the whole village that is classified as grand cru, while in Bordeaux the term grand cru classé has a totally different meaning and it refers primarily to château or domaine whose vineyards are planted around their property in a single plot or as a group of parcels within AOC.
The hill of Corton in Côte de Beaune, Burgundy
So what makes a grand cru site great and superior to premier cru, village or regional sites? First and foremost, grand cru site has a unique terroir which reflects in the wines later on. Whether it is a white chalk from Kimmeridgian marl soils found in Côte des Blancs area of Champagne responsible for intense minerality in Blanc des Blancs champagnes or the iron-based stones and clay found in Corton Grand Cru giving firm structure and longevity to Pinot Noir, terroir also involves elevation, aspect, temperature, amount of sunlight and precipitation, drainage capabilities, wind exposure, micro-climate and meso-climate, age of vines and human factor. A grand cru site is usually limited in size and has much stricter rules for allowed grape varieties, clone and rootstock selection, pruning techniques, yields, sugar and potential alcohol levels.
Wines made from grand cru sites should reflect a true site terroir, they should show varietal characteristics in finest and most delicate layers followed by the intense complexity and structure to evolve for decades. Yes, they are pricey as hell and if they come from the special lieux-dits in outstanding vintages expect to pay 250+ € for a bottle.
For the three consecutive years I have a pleasure to host a wine masterclass at Zagreb VINOcom, regional leading wine festival which takes place at Hotel Esplanade. Considering first two were Bordeaux masterclasses, verticals of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Château Gruaud Larose, it was time to offer something different now.
Being a great Champagne aficionado and having a recent wine exam in sparking wines for diploma in WSET, the idea for the workshop was to start with the champagne, fill out the middle with other French leading wine regions and finish with the champagne. Making sure to include famous vineyards, best wine-makers and outstanding vintages. Over the years, I had opportunity to try some wines from the line up at several occasions and each time the wines were consistent.
Grand Cru Tour de France masterclass included 10 wines from vintages 1995 to 2014 with two excellent non vintage and 1995 vintage Charles Heidsieck champagnes, exceptional Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos and its iconic wine-maker Vincent Dauvissat, a white Bordeaux from Domaine de Chevalier, two wines from the hill of Corton; Henri Boillot’s Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru and Faiveley’s Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru, then Rhone titans M.Chapoutier with his Ermitage and E.Guigal with Côte-Rôtie of Château d’Ampuis, Les Quartz single vineyard Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Clos du Caillou and Pauillac’s Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste.
All the wines where checked with Coravin system a night before, not only for possible faults but for readiness for drinking which determined timing of decanting. While all the wines showed clear bouquet and were free of faults, 2005 Faiveley’s Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru was at deep sleep.
As it was the case with my previous masterclasses, it was rather a small group of 11, most of them being directly related to the wine industry. From wine-makers and enologists to sommeliers and wine enthusiasts. Miloš brothers Ivan and Josip from the iconic Miloš winery from Pelješac, Croatia, Ilija Malinkovski of Château Kamnik from Macedonia, Darko Lugarić, a sommelier and co-owner of Restaurant Agava in Zagreb and Mislav Maršić, enologist at Grabovac winery from Imotski, Croatia are just a few names who attended the masterclass.
The masterclass was divided in two parts; starting with NV champagne and 4 whites, while the second part included 4 reds with Vintage champagne at the end. All the wines displayed amazing precision and purity of fruits. With a exception of 2005 Faiveley’s Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru, most of the wines were drinkable and showed an intense terroir, varietal and vintage characteristics. Oak was not bypassed and although notably marked in 2013 Domaine de Chevalier’s Blanc, 2011 Henri Boillot’s Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru and in less degree E.Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie, Château d’Ampuis, the oak was generally well integrated and balanced with the fruit structure.
Most of the wines would benefit from additional bottle age, however Charles Heidsieck’s 1995 Blanc des Millénaires, 1996 Château Grand Puy Lacoste, 2007 Le Clos du Caillou’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Les Quartz” and 2009 M.Chapoutier’s Ermitage “Cuvee de l’Oree” I find at the sweetest spot to consume now. The 2014 Dauvussat’s Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos,” 2005 Faiveley’s Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru and Domaine de Chevalier’s Blanc have huge potential to develop for another 20+ years!
ASSEMBLAGE / ELEVAGE & TASTING NOTES
NV Brut Réserve, Charles Heidsieck
Assemblage / Elevage: The grapes are carefully sourced from 60 crus with the three distinctive ones; Oger Grand Cru in Côte des Blancs for Chardonnay, Ambonnay Grand Cru in Montagne de Reims for Pinot Noir and Verneuil in Vallée de Marne for Meunier. After the fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is racked in order to remove it from the lees to have a clean vin clair (base wine). Before blending takes place, the malolactic fermentation is encouraged to soften up the natural acidity. This non-vintage champagne has a blend in equal proportions of: 1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Noir and 1/3 Meunier. Although non-vintage, a 60% of base is the 2010 vintage with remaining 40% of blend going on reserve wines with a average age of 10 years. Note that 40% is the maximum portion of reserve wines that can be blended in Champagne. Along with the houses of Krug, Roederer and Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck has a large stock of reserve wines that are used for the non vintage cuvées. Reserve wines give richness and roundness and make champagnes more accessible and attractive. This NV champagne spent 6 years on its lees before being disgorged in 2017. This is a brut style champagne with a rather high dosage of 11 g/L of sugar and 12,00% of alcohol.
Tasting notes: This “baby Krug” has a lovely precision and richness followed by beautiful freshness and intense minerality. The champagne offers citrus (lemon curd), green, stone and exotic fruits (baked apple, apricots, mango) with massive brioche and pastry notes. The palate is creamy combining white chocolate with fine delicate mousse and nutty character (almonds, pistachio, hazelnuts). The finish is long with intense minerality of wet stones. Rich and toasty Charles Heidsieck style. 40% of reserve wines and long lees ageing are making sure this champagne is approachable and that should be enjoyed now. This is the best value NV champagne on the market that could easily rival some NV prestige cuvées. Highly recommended. Importer for Croatia: Enozoik
2014 Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos”, Domaine Vincent Dauvissat
Assemblage / Elevage: Along with François Raveneau, Vincent Dauvissat is probably the best Chablis wine-maker owning some of the best and the oldest parcels from sought after grand cru climates Les Clos and Les Preuses. Dauvissat is a traditionalist focusing on natural farming. The grapes are picked by hand and are not de-stemmed. The fermentation takes place in both stainless steel tanks and oak with extended élévage in 6 – 8 years old oak barrels. Dauvissat prefers ageing the wine in oak as he believes the oak helps to soften up the wine as Chablis from the exceptional sites without oak can be rough and austere. The malolactic fermentation happens spontaneously while the precipitation of tartrates is carried out with a assistance of winter cold. Dauvissat makes long-lived wines often fetching very high prices.
Tasting notes: The 2014 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos offers intense citrus (lemon zest, grapefruit) and ripe stone fruit notes (nectarine, pear) along with herbal character (nettle, green bell pepper) and touch of smokiness. The wine has a firm structure and full body coupled with racy acidity and seashore accent of iodine (oyster shell and wet stones). Grainy and salty finish with incredible persistence and lots of tension. With such a firm backbone this Grand Cru Chablis has ability to evolve for decades. Drink 2024 – 2050.
2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Grand Cru Classé de Graves
Assemblage / Elevage: Being the hottest appellation of all the major ones, Pessac-Léognan is usually the first appellation to harvest. It has a distinctive terroir, a mixture of gravel, sand, quartz and clay with stones of various sizes which contribute to greater terroir expression. About 20% of Pessac-Léognan appellation goes on white wine production, and they offer the most complex and age-worthy white Bordeaux examples. 2013 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sémillon. Vinified without skin contact, fermented and aged in 40% new oak for 18 months with regular bâtonnage. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve the freshness.
Tasting notes: In this outstanding year for white Bordeaux, Domaine de Chevalier’s Blanc is a contender for one of the best white wine made. Mineral driven, it displays pronounced intensity of ripe stone (peach, nectarine) and citrus fruits (orange peel, lime zest) followed by baking spices (vanilla, cinnamon, coconut) and white flowers. Very posh bouquet. The palate is richly textured, combining freshness, vibrant stone fruits and nicely integrated oak. Ends with a slight tannic grip and grapefruit finish. Made for the long haul. Drink 2022 – 2045
2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Domaine Henri Boillot
Assemblage / Elevage: Located on the Montage de Corton, and bordering Côte de Nuits, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru is the last in a row of the six Grand Cru sites of Côte de Beaune. This 60 ha site has vineyards on three sides that encompass 270 degrees occupying slope at mid level and making some 300,000 bottles of pure Chardonnay expression often rivalling much prized Montrachet and Mersault. Henri Boillot prefers pesticides and herbicides free viticulture, low yields and late harvest with ripeness at peak. Grapes are gently crushed to avoid heavy phenolics and bitterness in the wine. For the 2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru yields were a mere 28 hl/ha. The ageing took place in large percentage of new oak (75%) of 350 l for the period of 18 months.
Tasting notes: Ripe and fleshy with a slight mineral reduction. Notes of ripe pear, green apple and citrus with a hint of elderflower. Very muscular and structured with a pleasant tannic bite. Oak is well integrated. Powerful and concentrated, yet balanced with moderate acidity. The finish is long and persistent with some warmth. 14,00% alcohol. Still a bit firm and tight. Give it another 4-5 years and drink until 2030.
2009 Ermitage “ Cuvee de l’Oree”, M.Chapoutier
Assemblage / Elevage: The most acclaimed appellation of the Norther Rhone and the home of Syrah. Out of 140 ha of vineyards in Hermitage, 30 ha goes on white grape varieties (Marsanne and Roussanne). Densely planted vineyards with 10,000 vines / ha and very steep slopes with gradients up to 50% are some of the key features of this exceptional appellation. M.Chapoutier a pioneer in biodynamic, owns the most of the vineyard sites, a total of 34 ha. Grapes for Cuvee de l’Oree are sourced from Les Muriets lieu-dit situated on the easter side, planted with 90 to 100 years old 100% Marsanne vines. The yields are extremely low, only 13 hl/ha! The vinification takes places in 50% stainless steel and 50% in 600 l oak. Ageing on the lees lasts some 6 months before the wine is bottled. Only 477 cases made!
Tasting notes: Flamboyant and luxurious bouquet with deep gold colour. Intense minerality of warm stones. Ripe stone and tropical fruits (peach, quince, mango) with a waxy and honey note. Hint of vanilla, toast and butter. Very creamy mid-palate with a lovely kiss of oak. Loads of glycerol and complexity. Full bodied with high concentration and low acidity. The wine offers multilayered oily texture with superb long warm finish of bitter almonds. Drink now – 2025.
2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Les Quartz”, Le Clos du Caillou
Assemblage / Elevage: This remarkable Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Quartz of Le Clos du Caillou estate which made its debut in 1999 comes from the Les Cassanets parcel planted with 40 – 100 years old vines. Rocky and sandy soils with plenty of galets which are typical for this terroir and contribute extra warmth. The wine is a blend of 85% Grenache with 15% Syrah. While Grenache matures in foudres ranging from 20 – 120 hl, Syrah ages for 18 months in new French barriques. 9000 bottles made.
Tasting notes: Deep garnet with explosion of ripe sweet fruit (blackberries, cherries, strawberries, raspberries). Jammy with intense garrigue (sage, lavender) and menthol. Plush fruits with good freshness. Some leather, licorice and violets. Full bodied with silky texture and velvety sweet tannins. The finish is long with menthol note. 14,50% alcohol. Consume now – 2028.
2005 Corton “Clos des Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru, Faiveley
Assemblage / Elevage: Another Corton, only this time red one! Not only it is the largest Grand Cru site in Burgundy and the only Grand Cru location in Côte de Beaune for red wines, Corton is also alongside Musigny the only site in Burgundy to produce wines from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Along with Romanée-Conti, Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley Monopole is the only Grand Cru site in Burgundy to include in the name its landowner. This blockbuster wine comes from 2 ha Le Corton lieu-dit located on the norther side of Montage de Corton with elevation of 300 m. The soil is poor, well-drained and compose of clay and rocks with a large percentage of iron. Most of the vines were planted in 1936 and 1967 with the latest plantings in 2002. Faiveley prefers hand picking, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel and shorter maceration time. Élevage took place for 18 months in 50% new and 50% one time used, lightly toasted oak barrels.
Tasting notes: This massively structured red Corton was not in the mood for the afternoon chat. Given it came from the outstanding 2005 vintage, even after 13 years it clearly displayed closed youth stage. Aerating the wine for 5 hours and double decanting in the hotel room a night before and decanting again for additional 3 hours in the morning has helped in some minor degree. Bouquet delivers intense freshness and purity of red fruits (cherries, blackberries) coupled with wet earth scents and truffles. Thick mid-palate with ripe seductive fruit. Robust structure, very mineral and earthy with big and firm tannins. Still tight and reserved. Ends slightly peppery and astringent. I wonder if 10 more years would be even enough for this beast to reveal it muscular facets. Patience will be required. Revisit in 2028 but don’t be surprised if it still sleeps.
2003 Côte-Rôtie, Château d’Ampuis, E.Guigal
Assemblage / Elevage: From one of the hottest years in the history, the 2003 heatwave have caused extreme temperatures, drought conditions and one of the earliest harvests ever. Temperatures on the steep and heavily terraced slopes of Côte-Rôtie were close to 60 C degrees causing blockage in vines and putting on hold maturity. One of the reasons why many grapes from the 2003 vintage had high sugar ripeness but unripe tannins. Guigal purchased Château d’Ampuis in 1995 and completely renovated and modernised the property including instalment of their own cooperage which allowed them more flexibility in wood ageing and need for various barrel sizes. There are seven lieux-dits used for Château d’Ampuis; Le Clos, La Garde, and La Grande Plantée in Côte Blonde and La Pommière, Le Pavillon Rouge, Le Moulin and La Viria in Côte Brune. The average age of vines is 50 years, and Château d’Ampuis is a good alternative to pricey and much more limited Guigal’s “La” range. Guigal’s 2003 Côte-Rôtie, Château d’Ampuis is a blend of 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier. Up to 20% of Viognier is allowed to be used either as a co-ferment with red varieties or as a blend. Viognier not only assists in Syrah’s colour stabilisation but contributes with its floral and exotic fruit aromatics. Fermentation was completed in stainless steel with 4 weeks of maceration. The wine was aged for 38 months in new oak barrels. Some 26,000 bottles have been made.
Tasting notes: The best wines from Côte-Rôtie have a good ageing potential, but most importantly in addition to ripe red and dark fruits they will have incredible freshness marked by strong mistral winds. Very hedonistic and seductive nose from the start! Sweet baking spices (vanilla, cardamon) with plenty of garrigue (smoked thyme, anisette and sage). Classic bacon fat followed by intense scents of warm earth and dried flowers. Concentrated with juicy mid-palate and silky textures of deep core fruit. Loads of tobacco, graphite and leather. This is all backed up with amazing freshness and moderate alcohol levels 13,5% (considering the hot vintage). 38 months in new oak didn’t go on the expense of fruits, rather the oak is so well integrated and balanced with the wine structure. This sublime wine has ripe velvety tannins and long spicy finish. One of the highlights of the masterclass! Still going strong. Drink 2020 – 2028
1996 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 5ème Grand Cru Classé
Assemblage / Elevage: The winner of 1996 vintage is Cabernet Sauvignon. The growing season was perfect in Medoc, with sunny and dry conditions, quick and good flowering and optimal phenolic ripeness resulting with thick skins. And then for the first half of September, strong winds coupled with sunny and dry conditions have dried out the vineyards and concentrated the grapes. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste has one of the largest single block vineyards of 58 ha located at Grand Puy (great hill) on 15 meters of altitude. The vineyard is densely planted with 10,000 vines / ha with the average age of 38 years. Closeness to the estuary of river Gironde and the Atlantic ocean creates a favourable micro-climate in making medium bodied, structured, long lived wines. It is said that the best Pauillacs taste like an “iron fist in a velvet glove”. Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste is certainly one of the best valued classified wines in whole Bordeaux. 1996 GPL is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot. The wine was aged between 16 – 18 months in 75% new Allier oak.
Tasting notes: I have been fortunate enough to try this epic wine for several times. Although each time with consistent notes, this bottle was screaming with intense aromatics of cassis, violets, menthol followed by roasted coffee beans, leather and tobacco. Meaty and concentrated with plenty of fine grained tannins. Intense forest floor, game and graphite. Structured claret from the classical vintage. Although there are still some tannins to be resolved, I like how the wine shows its charm. This is what aged Bordeaux is all about. Being at the sweetest spot right now. Enjoy within forthcoming 5 – 10 years.
1995 Blanc des Millénaires, Charles Heidsieck
Assemblage / Elevage: After a series of difficult years, 1995 harvest was universally declared as a great vintage after 1990. However, it soon fell in the shadow of the outstanding 1996 vintage. Although the yields were higher, the quality of grapes was excellent and the 1995 delivered balanced wines with a good ageing potential with most successful being Blanc des Blancs. Charles Heidsieck offered its Blanc des Millénaires with 1983 vintage and 1995 was the only fourth edition of this prestigious cuvée. The grapes are sourced from Cote de Blancs subregion from the most sought after Chardonnay sites in the whole Champagne with 4 Grand Cru villages: Oger, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Cramant, Avize and the premier cru Vertus. It is said that “Cramant is for complexity and age-ability, Avize for intense minerality, Oger for creaminess and weight, Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance and Vertus for floral freshness. All in all, these are exceptional vineyard sites with marked white chalk soils, responsible for age-worthy Blanc des Blancs of incredible finesse and freshness.
After the fermentation, the base wine is racked from its lees followed by malolactic fermentation to soften up high natural acidity. Next phase includes blending of crus and the addition of liqueur de tirage with selected yeast to initiate the second fermentation, after where the wine undergoes extensive lees ageing (minimum 15 years) at 10°C at Gallo-Roman chalky cellars also known as Crayères dating back to 3rd century. 6.88 g/l of acidity is balanced with a rather high 12.2 g/l dosage, an upper limit for Brut style champagne. This bottle of 1995 Blanc des Millénaires was disgorged in 2016, having written DEF code on the cork. That means it spent impressively 20 years on the lees!
Tasting notes: This has been 7th time in the past two years that I had opportunity to taste this exceptional champagne. Each and every time with so much pleasure and joy. 1995 BDM is stunning, with incredible precision and complexity. Sheer intensity of developed Chardonnay, bringing orchard fruits, ripe apples, nutmeg, hazelnuts, ginger and white flowers. Amazing freshness of oyster shell and wet stone character. The palate is voluptuous with plenty of brioche, yeast, citrus and creamy mousse. 1995 Blanc des Millénaires is multilayered with great definition. Pure hedonism. Although this exceptional champagne could still develop in the next 10 years, there is so much pleasure in popping the cork now. There are still some bottles available, however they are running fast and going up in price, so hurry up! Importer for Croatia: Enozoik