Champagne: great legend, nice history, funny story

By Aymeric de Clouet

When in April 2017 the Company of Legal Experts specialized in Collector’s items and Paintings decided to go on a trip to Champagne, I was not expecting to stumble upon a painting that would enlighten Champagne’s history as we know it.

 
Let me make myself clear: I am writing about Champagne’s history, not the monk(y) business. Although Dom Pérignon was a legendary wine maker at his time of life, he died 1715, long before the first bottle of “Champagne” was produced. He was famous for his red wines, still today 75% of Champagne vineyards are covered with black grapes. Dom Pérignon produced the finest red wines of his time, so popular that his name became the equivalent of a Grand Cru village: one used to order “a barrique of Verzenay, a barrique of Sillery, and another of Pérignon”.

 
There, you have it: a barrique. Before the Royal Edit of 1728, no wine in France could be transported or sold in any other form than in a cask, which made it impossible to make sparkling wines. It is only with the use of bottles that the production of sparkling wines could take off. It is only in the year 1728 that Louis XV, at the request of Champagne producers (Champagne being a red or pink still wine, mainly) that the authorization to bottle and sell was granted.

 
After bottling, a strange phenomenon appeared, which took many decades to understand: because of the frost in October, the fermentation process stopped and with the warmer days in April, it started again, causing many problems with exploding bottles and corks.

 
All this is now well known and established. Of course, British writers claim that they invented sparkling Champagne before the French. Like all good stories, it has some truth in it: because they imported wines from Champagne in casks, because they bought them early after production, and because they had the right to bottle (unlike the French) and had precisely strong bottles (due to coal instead of wood in the glass factories) and corks (due to the long relationship with Port), they had all the means to produce sparkling before France, and they did. But the sparkling they produced was champagne wine with an addition of molasses, probably very sweet, and dark, not very close to modern champagne.

 
In conclusion, as the foundation date of Ruinart proves, the first official sparkling Champagne may be dated back to 1729. To this date, the oldest painting known about it was the “déjeuner d’huîtres” by Jean-François de Troy in 1735, with the famous cork in the air. But on this day of April 28th, we discovered in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Rheims the painting by Alexis Grimou called “le buveur de Champagne” (the Champagne drinker), depicting a man in a gown holding a bottle with a cork. The cork is tied with strings and a wax seal on top, and the man has the characteristic position of the thumb on top of it! Undated, it would prove nothing, except for the fact that the author died in 1733.

 
The only conclusion is that as soon as 1732, the first champagne bottles already had a “muselet” to prevent cork accidents, three years after the creation of Champagne, as we know it. The painting expert with us checked if it was a later addition by another painter, but it was not. The oldest painting of a Champagne bottle is now .

 

Another interesting detail is that Alexis Grimou was a student of François de Troy, Jean-François’ father. More than two centuries later, the rivalry still goes on.

 

 

 

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017

 

Many congratulations to Chateaus Grandis and Domaine de la Confrérie for their silver medals at the Decenter World Wine Awards 2017.
The Decanter World Wine Awards is the world’s largest wine competition with more than 17,200 wines entered in 2017. The 219 expert judges, including 65 Masters of Wines and 20 Master Sommeliers, rewarded examples of excellence. The silver medal identifies “a very accomplished wine with impressive complexity”. We are very pleased and proud of our producers. Congratulations again!

 

FAIR WINES is the PR/Sales agent for French artisan wine producers aiming to establish distribution channels in the UK and Japan. Our intention is to foster a symbiotic business relationship between importers and producers so that the importers enjoy value for money, and the artisan producers establish a stable distribution channel. At FAIR WINES, quality and integrity are respected as much as profit.

 

Here are the winning wines:

 

Chanteau Grandis 2012

 

Château Grandis is a family owned petit chateau located in Haut-Médoc in the Bordeaux region and produces around 50,000 bottles per year. The chateau has been classified as Cru Bourgeois.

 

The quality of Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux wines has leapt over the last decade. Today, with what the estates know about their vineyards, and the drive to produce the best level of wine possible, the wines have never been better, and they continue to remain affordable alternatives to the more expensive Classified Growths in the Médoc. Chateau Grandis is no exception and has been producing better and better wine, in particular since the ownership was handed down to Brice Vergez from his father 10 years ago.

 

The wine is well balanced and elegant, and also has intensity of flavour. It could be cellared up to15yrs.

 

 

Bourgogne 2014 from Domaine de la Confrérie

 

Domaine de la Confrérie is situated at the heart of Hautes-Côtes de Beaune in Burgundy. It is a relatively small family producer with a cultivated area of 10 hectares. The wine-making philosophy of the owner, Christopher Pauchard is to work with the grapes, carefully letting heir personally emerge. His wines are balanced, light but complex, can impress by their elegance and fine flavour rather than sheer power.

 

Bourgogne is made from the vineyard adjacent to Meursault. No wonder it has a general Bourgogne classification with Meursault quality.

Domaine de la Confrerie 1

To be or not to be an authentication expert: that is the wrong question.

aymeric

 

By Aymeric de Clouet

As a legal expert in wine matters, I feel that there is a need for clarification in the wine industry on the matters of counterfeiting. The first one would be: there is no such thing as a wine authentication expert.

A wine expert is someone who has an extensive knowledge of wine, wine areas, wine producers, changes in labels, foils, the history of glassmaking, etc. At the end of the day, a wine expert does not even need to taste wine, just like an expert in jewels does not dig out stones, or an expert in paintings does not necessary paint.
Like his colleagues for other objects, the wine expert spends his life learning all techniques, all stories of old, everything that can help him make an accurate statement about bottles. Because the expert’s job is threefold:
1. authentication assessment
2. evaluation
3. assistance in selling

But the authentication assessment is not an authentication certificate, because no one can be sure that a bottle is authentic. Not even the châteaux and producers dare to confirm their own bottles. The utmost certainty they give is: “no element was found that could lead us to think the bottle was fake”.

And so is the limit of an expert’s mission settled.

An expert can declare that he found no element that was unlikely for the time period or the château considered.

An expert, on the other hand, can declare that a bottle is fake, to his opinion, for this or that reason. But even then, one must be cautious as to the definition of a fake bottle.

A bottle with the cork and the wine of origin, but with a label so destroyed that it was replaced by a copy, is this a fake? No. It does not have the same value than the original one, but it is not a fake. Someday, we should explain to wine collectors that it is extremely rare to have both perfect levels and labels. It happened to me only once in 25 years, in a fantastic château cellar near Rambouillet, that had all the right elements.

(Even if it is not the theme, I will give three elements to you: natural soil, high humidity, but flowing wind through two small windows that prevented humidity to remain stagnant. No concrete, no wood cases, no artificial temperature control…)

A bottle is fake as soon as the wine is transferred from its original bottle or the cork changed by anyone else than the château. Yes, but this does not go without problems: in the many decades when the châteaux accepted to change corks every 50 years, do you honestly believe that they would open a bottle from the same vintage to refill the natural loss of wine? Some châteaux took, for example, one bottle delivered to fill the others. Some others added glass balls to raise the level without adding wine. But many just added the wine of the year, thinking that it would do no harm, on the contrary it would “freshen up” the old juice. Hence some nuclear traces from younger vintages, in perfectly authentic bottles from pre-nuclear era. Same goes with younger foils and labels, for older vintages. Only Yquem kept for decades enough original material to recondition the old bottles with the exact same label and foil.

Understanding history helps to understand today’s world, and the priority of an expert is to know it. Of course, ignorance is bliss, and many people prefer certainty than doubt. Well, certainty is more comfortable, but it does not exist.

Let us take another example: it was common in the years before the end of French colonies to use some Algerian wine to “better” (i.e. to raise the level of alcohol, which was the main quality criteria at that time) in French wines. If we analyse some of those great wines today, we will find that they are not 100% Pinot Noir, but are they fake? A practice that dates back 80 years, that cannot be remedied, is it a fake from the expert’s point of view? It would be today, but it was hardly so at that time, there was even names for that. Same goes for the paintings’ expert when he has to say who, between the students and the master, painted the picture! It is not 100% the Master, but such was common practice at Renaissance time.

The life of a judicial expert is filled with those “judgment calls” when you have to explain to non-professionals the subtlety of wine knowledge. Explain, instead of dictate. Convince, not impose. Still, in the end, you can get real results: last year I could find enough proof during a Police investigation to have an auction in Britain stopped and a counterfeiter of old cognacs arrested. But in this case, it is the counterfeiter who lacked subtlety.

An announcement

milon.jpeg

FAIR WINES is proud to announce Aymeric de Clouet’s next auction, which will be the event of the year in Paris. It takes place at Millon on 8th June 2017.

An extraordinary private cellar, held in the same family for three generations, with rare treasures such as sixteen bottles of Mouton-Rothschild 1945, twenty-three Château Lafite-Rothschild 1945 as well as the famous ’86 vintage, and also Haut-Brion and Latour 1928, Mouton 1937, Petrus 1945 and 1961 (in magnum and in fantastic condition), Ausone 1953, Cheval-Blanc 1953, 1961 and 1982, Château Margaux 1986, etc.

Should you wish to receive the catalogue, and/or if you have any inquiries regarding our service, please write to us at info@fairwines.co.uk; we will gladly assist you.

 

 

No one wants a great vintage

by Aymeric de Clouet

(This article was originally published in French.)

Every year the Primeurs campaign in Bordeaux is the opportunity for a nuptial parade from the producers in front of critics and journalists. Every year is an opportunity to explain why the vintage is even better than the previous one, which was already fantastic, the opportunity to widen one’s vocabulary in order to express it all. But the truth is, the last thing that producers, journalists and professionals want is a great vintage.

The good old times are past, when people knew how to handle a great wine, cellar it for 30 or 40 years with infinite patience. The times when it did not matter if a wine was completely undrinkable for 10 to 15 years. There are fewer old cellars, because of new buildings, robberies, and lack of finance.

The times are over when a small vintage was an economical nightmare for the producer and a long punishment for the consumer. All grands crus are at least drinkable and the last horrible vintage in Bordeaux dates back to 1992. Even 2007, a wine with little future, can be enjoyed in 2017.

The times are over when producers forced the vineyard to produces huge quantities of red, and with smaller yield came a better quality, steady demand and better margin.

The more you look into it, the more the wine industry is moving towards Champagne’s strategy: the same taste every year, to the utmost joy of restaurants, while even investors and owners are happy, because the speculation and price variations are limited but safe. Even producers are happier with a good vintage rather than a great one: it means steady price increase, instead of up and downs. 2010 was a difficult vintage to sell, to explain, and in the end made a loss for investors, despite the quality. In times of mediocrity, one needs to adapt.

We have to thank our predecessors who made 1928, 1947, 1959 and 1961 that we enjoy so much today, wines with genius instead of wine with skills. And even if I only mentioned reds here, I could say as much about whites, when 1964s are fresher than 2002s.

Value lies in aesthetics, whether it is with food or wine, not in the product quality. Patience lacks, and education, to appreciate great vintages. Will 2005 be the last real one? We can only hope that new trends will help to make great wines again, with the return of concrete vats, the end of overheated casks or excessive macerations, etc. The hope in balance between tannins, acidity and alcohol in wine.

Sakura Wine Awards 2017

 

 

Dear all,

Hope you are well.

There is good news that I would like to share with you. At Sakura Wine Awards, one of the largest wine competitions in Japan, the producers whom we have been working with have just received the Gold and Silver Award respectively. We are very pleased and grateful to those who have been supporting us in many ways.

Here are the winning wines:

Gold: Bourgogne 2014 (white) from Domaine de la Confrérie in Burgundy.

Silver: Chateau Grandis 2012 (red) from Chateau Grandis in Bordeaux.

Among other things, we work with wine producers. Aymeric de Clouet is well connected to wine producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. He is constantly asked to give his opinion on wines from a wide range of producers, the most famous chateaux to unknown ones. Occasionally he meets a new producer who astonishes him. For those, we work together to raise recognition and establish stable distribution channels in Japan and the UK.

To make good wine takes time, decades or even sometimes over two generations. The quality is a result of a tremendous amount of tireless work, which is not possible pursued without lifetime passion. Nevertheless, this outstanding work is often not noticed enough. We have been keen for Confrérie and Grandis to be recognised as they should be and their wines sold at a fair price, so that their livelihood would be secured, allowing them to focus on wine production. It is a big problem that younger generations don’t succeed making wine when it is more struggle than reward. Thus receiving major awards means a lot to us.

Thank you again for your warm support and we will continue our efforts.

The tasting notes on old Bordeaux

The old wines that fascinate us are the ones that are beautifully grown but somehow neglected by critics, and/or undervalued for a reason. For instance, Aymeric de Clouet bumped into a previous owner of Cos d’Estournel at a restaurant in Switzerland a few weeks ago. They chatted as old friends do, and concluded that 1993 is one of the vintages initially considered poor but matured into excellent 20 years later.

Here are Aymeric de Clouet’s latest tasting notes on old Bordeaux.

Hope you enjoy them.

 

****************

My ranking is based on a five-star system: five is the top of the world, needless to say very few wines get there, and not every year. Four is excellency, three very good, two interesting (if not too expensive), one is insufficient.

Château Clerc Milon, Pauillac 1986 : ***

Although not as expansive as its glorious leader, Mouton-Rothschild, Clerc Milon 86 is a very good wine, very sharp and at its peak. Far from the current concentrated wines, it is fine and discreet, with a very pleasant scent and a lasting taste in the mouth. Very good. Drink now.

Château Fourcas Hosten, Listrac 2009 : **

One of the best price quality ratios in Bordeaux, Fourcas-Hosten is a reliable source for good value, like many Listrac/Moulis wines. This 2009 is pleasant but definitely not one of the best I tasted from this château. Good, can be better. Go for the 2012, it is cheaper, and I find it better.

Château Croque-Michotte, Grand Cru Classé (or not) Saint-Emilion 1961 : ****

I am enthusiastic about this wine. 1961 is a great vintage, one of the greatest post-war (unlike 1982) but at this time many wines were still incorrectly vinified. This was excellent, a great finesse indeed, but all the complexity, great length, and perfect balance that are required to make a great wine. Not even expensive.

Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan 1986 : ***+

A neglected wine by critics, Les Carmes is a fantastic vineyard in the heart of the city. I have tasted nearly everything since 1953 and I deeply recommend it in most vintages, until it was bought and completely transformed recently: the wines are darker, more concentrated, less typical and with less individuality, they could be made anywhere in the world: well, now they have good grades! This 1986 is a good example: strong personality does not required strength and concentration. Ample aromas, everlasting taste, not feeling of overuse of casks, etc. A great old fashioned wine. Forget the new arrivals and stick to the great ones from the past.

Château Haut Bailly, Pessac-Léognan 1998 : * (and I am sorry)

One of my favourite wines, I was shocked and surprised to experience such a tragedy: a mediocre Haut-Bailly! In fact, it was so average and uninteresting that we decided to open another bottle of wine and stop drinking it! I tasted the rest over three days, to make sure. Maybe it was the bottle, but the wine was flawless, it was just… nothing. No aroma, no taste, poorly balanced with bitter tannins… Nothing ! I really need to taste another bottle.

Château Latour-Martillac, Pessac-Léognan 2010 : **

Always a good value wine, it is pleasant to have those in a restaurant. Still, the 2010 is in its poor phase, good but closeted, with more potential than actuality. Buy now to store, start drinking in four – five years minimum.

Château Canon, 1er Grand Cru, Saint-Emilion 1975 : ***+

Like another me, Canon 75 is subtle and elegant, complex and refined… Let us stop there. Definitely one of the four – five best terroirs in Saint-Emilion, Canon has an amazing record of great vintages. This is one of the (few) very good 1975, the most disappointing vintage in History, but it is not a great one. Drink now after good decanting.