On the surface, 2009 appears to have been a great year for the wine consumer, but there are always two sides to everything:

2009 was a great year for buyers seeking allocated items, which were suddenly very available, at great prices, but those suddenly strapped for cash were left standing on the sidelines frustrated.

2009 was a great year for wineries all across Europe as they harvested great quality fruit, but many of those same wineries are sitting on large reserves of previous vintages.

2009 was a great year for retail stores who took advantage of the large number of closeouts, but in the process they became dependent on only selling great deals.

2009 will be remembered by future generations as a great year for wine, but most wine professionals will consider it the most difficult of their careers.

In summary: It was not fun working on the distribution side of the wine industry this past year. High end items, no matter good or rare, became impossible to sell and retail buyers were mostly interested in wines that had been greatly reduced in price. That is a difficult climate in which to earn a living. The average cost of my everyday drinking dropped dramatically this past year, but, ironically, I probably tasted more great wines than ever before. Daniel Johnnes’s La Paulee hit New York City in March and the quality of the wines consumed was staggering. DRC, Jayer, Raveneau, Leflaive, etc., were poured at the Gala dinner in abundance, but the real highlights were the wines of Coche-Dury that were shown during the Grand Tasting. In a room packed with hall of fame caliber wine makers, the wines of Coche-Dury stood out. There were other great wines on display that afternoon, but the Coche wines were magical. Each cuvee was incredibly rich, yet perfectly balanced and elegant. In a twist befitting 2009, Monsieur Coche could not attend the tasting due to death of his father and father-in-law. Hopefully, he will be able to attend in 2011. While living through 2009 was a challenge most of the time, perhaps the year will provide better memories down the road. The 2009 vintage appears to have been outstanding in Burgundy and hopefully the wines will wash away any bitter memories of the year. Enough said about 2009, it is time to start praying to Bacchus for a great 2010. Happy New Year!

I tasted several 2007 CDPs blind at a recent lunch. After the wines were revealed, I realized that I had taken one sip of the Clos Saint Jean Ex Machina and dumped into the spit bucket.  The wine was one dimensional and had a roasted fruit quality that I do not like. However, my opinion of the 2007 Machina is vastly different from that of a famous critic. Robert Parker wrote that he “tasted the 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape Deus-Ex Machina three times from bottle. On two of the three times I thought it was the single greatest red wine I have ever tasted. The third time it was merely perfect.” After tasting this wine, I find that quote baffling. Mr. Parker has experienced just about every legendary wine made in the past century, yet he said that the Machina is perhaps the greatest red he has tasted. I have great deal of respect for Mr. Parker and his accomplishments, but I have to question the condition of his taste buds at this stage. Mr. Parker had an incredibly sensitive palate for most of his career, but perhaps age has caught up to him. It is certainly possible that at the age of 62, Mr. Parker’s palate is no longer what it once was. Mr. Parker will remain relevant as long as the public is interested in his opinions, but I wonder how much longer that will last. I entered the wine world reading the Wine Advocate and followed Mr. Parker’s advice religiously. Unfortunately, I now look at his opinions with skepticism.  1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild or 2007 Ex Machina? Hmm…..

Savigny-les-Beaune is a village that is ignored most Burgundy drinkers, but its wines can be some of the best values in Burgundy. Camus-Brochon, based in Savigny, is a producer that I have seen in the market, but never tasted. The domaine’s 2002 village bottling showed bright, primary fruits on the nose and good weight on the palate. Chandon de Briailles is my reference domaine for Savigny and the Camus-Brochon compared favorably. The wine is not as traditional and firm as those from Chandon, but it certainly is not modern. I enjoyed the rich fruit of the wine and found it to be very pleasant. Despite being seven years old, the wine still seemed young and fresh.

Our annual company Christmas party started with an assortment of wines tasted blind. One of the white wines was very flowery on the nose and showed a touch of oak. In the mouth, it was medium-bodied and elegant with a strong presence of mineral. There was a distinct herbal/mint flavor on the finish. I guessed that the wine was a high level Puligny-Montrachet. The wine turned out to be a Montrachet from grapes located on the Puligny side of the vineyard. Domaine Ramonet is one of the great producers of Montrachet and the mint flavor is often found in their wines. After an a couple hours, the wine really began to open up and show more intensity. It will certainly improve over the next decade or so, assuming it does not prematurely oxidize.

The constant wave of Trick-or-Treaters finally ceased and I decided that it was time to satisfy my serious craving for a Chateauneuf du Pape. After spending most of the afternoon working on a blog post about the region’s wines, I had zero interest in drinking anything else. Writing about wine is like watching the food network, after a while you need the real thing. My blog post centered on the 1998 vintage and how the wines from that year are not aging well. I felt confident in my scathing assessment, but I wanted to open a bottle for confirmation. The 1988 and 1989 Pignan made by Chateau Rayas were two of the most enjoyable bottles I have ever consumed. Both vintages, drank in the late ‘90’s, were incredibly fragrant and delicious. My wife and I bought the 1998 Pignan anticipating that it would equal those previous vintages. Unfortunately, the bottle I opened on this evening failed that goal miserably. The wine showed some sweet fruit on the palate, but it reeked of alcohol. After a 30 second debate, it was poured down the drain. Determined to find a decent ’98, I opened a Domaine Le Vieux Donjon. The flavors were of roasted fruits and the nose was a one dimensional wave of alcohol. Down the drain it went. Having played baseball as a youngster, I believe in three strikes before you are out. The final ’98 was from a very small, old school producer named Mourre du Tendre. I had high expectations for this rare wine. Unfortunately, the wine was pure alcohol. Robert Parker scored each of these wines between 93-96 points. I bought them based on Parker’s recommendation and trusted that he was accurate in his evaluation of their potential. Obviously, this tasting did not change my view that ‘98s are not developing well. Thankfully, the fourth bottle that I opened was a winner. The 2000 Domaine Charvin CDP is deep, dark and very pure. Although it is youthful and tight, the wine clearly is going to be fantastic down the road. I sat on my couch Halloween night and scanned the t.v. for a good scary movie. Dracula is always a winner, but it seemed redundant. I had already experienced enough horror for one day.

After graduating from college in 1996, I became interested in wine and discovered the Wine Advocate. One of Robert Parker’s particular passions was the Rhone valley and I dissected his book on the subject. His writings inspired me to seek out the wines from CDP, which at the time represented tremendous values. Scouring the local wine shops, I was able to find several CDPs from the ’88, ’89, and ’90 vintages. The wines were rich, complex, and fascinating. Those memories were still fresh on my mind in October 1999 when I read Parker’s glowing review of the 1998 vintage, which he called “a thrilling year in Châteauneuf du Pape.” I raced out to grab several of the just released bottles and began to taste through them. The wines, with their smooth textures and rich fruit flavors, were delicious. I envisioned enjoying the ’98 CDPs in my old age as they reached their peak, and I loaded up on several producers. However, my view of these wines has changed drastically since then. About a year ago, I began to open some ‘98s which Parker rated very highly and have been extremely disappointed. The wines have not developed the complex aromas that I associate with top notch CDP. Many of the wines smell of alcohol and taste of roasted fruit.

2007 is perhaps the most anticipated vintage in CDP since 1998. Robert Parker just released his final report on the ‘07 CDPs and has declared that “this is a truly historic and profoundly great vintage.” However, I have my doubts about the vintage. In March of this year, I attended a ‘07 CDP tasting and left wondering if the year was a repeat of ’98. The wines were very rich and showed a tremendous amount of upfront fruit. Like the ‘98s, the ‘07s are very appealing right out of the gate, but even flashier. In the eleven years since the ‘98 vintage, many growers have pushed back their harvest dates and pick much riper fruit. In addition, many of the CDPs produced today contain a much higher percentage of syrah than they did twenty years ago. Syrah used to only represent a fraction of the final blend, but there are many ‘07s that contain 30% or more. In the hot climate of CDP, Syrah grapes tend to get very ripe. As a result, many of today’s CDP have dark, jam-like flavors that were not traditionally found in CDP.  It is highly unlikely that they will develop the classic bouquet that is a signature of the region. In an effort to produce more intense wines that show well at a young age, the growers have quietly created a new category: Shiraz du Pape.
Cecile Tremblay recently relocated her winery to Vosne-Romanee after a short stay in Gevrey-Chambertin. For several years, Cecile had shared a facility with Pascal Roblet in Bligny-les-Beaune, but she seemed destined to end up in Vosne. Domaine Cecile Tremblay has several holdings in the village and one in nearby Chambolle-Musingy. Cecile is relative of the late Henri Jayer, himself a native of Vosne, and several writers have noted that her winemaking style is reminiscent of his. The wines are fragrant and intensely flavored like those made by Jayer, but they are not as intensely oaky in their youth. I visited Cecile Tremblay’s cellar in Blagny-les-Beaune twice and was blown away on both occasions. Out of barrel the wines are incredibly seductive. The bottles that I have opened in the U.S. have been excellent, but were too young to reveal the promise that they showed in the cellar. The first vintage bottled under the Tremblay label was 2002, so it impossible to taste a perfectly mature bottle made by this producer. I have sampled selections from the estate’s portfolio every vintage since 2003. Unfortunately, I missed out on the 2002s. I did find a bottle of the Vosne-Romanee village from that vintage while in Paris, but it exploded during the flight home.

The estate owns two holdings north of Chambolle, one in the grand cru Chapelle-Chambertin and the other in Morey-Saint-Denis. Tres Girard, which borders the R.N. 74, is fairly flat and an unspectacular village level lieu-dit. Cecile’s vines in this site are relatively young at 30 years of age, but her bottling can be beautiful. The wine is not as rich or complex as the other cuvees her collection, but it shows the touch of a great winemaker. 2003 is not proving to be my favorite vintage in Burgundy, as many of the wines show roasted fruit flavors that I do not enjoy. The 2003 Cecile Tremblay, Morey-Saint-Denis, Tres Girard is an excellent wine, but it does reflect the vintage. While not roasted, the fruit is very dark and the wine has a slightly rustic texture. Many of the 2003 were very ripe and enjoyable when young, but I fear that the negative effects of the vintage will become more apparent as they age. I liked this wine, but not as much as other vintages.

Xavier Monnot, imported by Bobby Kacher, is a 17-hectare estate based in Meursault. I was unfamiliar with the producer until the other night when my brother-in-law showed up with one of their bottles. Les Chevalieres is a village level vineyard in Meursault located near Auxey-Duresses and Monnot owns 2.5 hectares in the site. The 2005 Les Chevalieres by Monnot is very good. The wine shows some toasted oak on the nose, but it is not obtrusive. In the mouth, this medium-bodied wine is mineral and well balanced. While not a show stopper, the wine was typical of Meursault and enjoyable.

I was recently browsing through the shelves of a large discount retailer in north Jersey when I spotted a stack of an unfamiliar Gevery-Chambertin. The regular price was listed as $55, but it was on sale for $19.99. Intrigued by the notion that a Gevrey could be so cheap, I looked closer at the label which read “Vin Selectionne et eleve par la Famille Claude Dugat.” The Dugat family is famous in Gevrey for producing small production wines that are very expensive. Claude and his cousin Bernard (Dugat-Py) run separate operations in the village and their wines are slightly different in style. The wines made by Bernard are very dark and tightly wound. Claude’s wines tend to be more approachable and show new oak flavors when young. Bottles from both producers are hard to track down, but I have encountered them on occasion. However, I had never seen the label in question. Adding to the intrigue was the shipping tag on the side of the boxes. The destination was Tokyo, Japan.

The label indicated that the wine was made at the Claude Dugat winery from purchased fruit, but I had never heard of such a project. A google search revealed little insight, but I was able to solve the mystery by scanning through the Mark Squire’s Bullentin Board on eRobertParker.com. A gentleman located in Tokyo named Ernie Singer posted on the board that the wines under the Vin Selectionne et eleve par la Famille Claude Dugat label were made by Claude’s son (Bertrand) and daughter (Laetitia). Both kids studied under their father and the first vintage produced was 2002. The wine was either made from purchased grapes or must. Mr. Singer claims to have purchased the entire production of the negociant wines and, therefore, they are only available in Japan.

I was thirsty after conducting such an exhausting background check and thankfully the wine proved to be delicious. The bottle did not show any of the green notes that have plagued many of the red wines from the 2004 vintage. On the nose, the wine revealed red fruits and a touch of earth. Medium-bodied, it was elegant and full of vibrant fruit. A touch of new wood framed the flavors. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine, and it showed the skill of a talented winemaker(s). One mystery still remains unsolved, however. How does a wine destined for Tokyo end up in New Jersey? Could the wine be a part of a larger illegal import business involving corrupt politicians? No way, not in Jersey.

The Cote Chalonnaise village Givry is known as an excellent source of good value red wines, but it also produces a small amount of wonderful whites. Domaine Baron Thenard is one of Givry’s most important estates and has vast holdings throughout Burgundy. In addition to being the second largest owner of Le Montrachet, Thenard owns plots in the grand crus Grands Echezeaux, and Corton, Clos du Roi. However, the best value in the portfolio is a white wine made from the estate’s hometown. Domaine Thenard’s Givry blanc is very aromatic and lively on the palate. The 2007 vintage produced wines that high in acidity and of medium weight, and this wine is a prime example.