Because great wine wouldn't exist without a great team! A few pics I took this afternoon of the people I am learning from and learning with.
Domaine de Chevalier harvested the first merlot grapes on Wednesday September 24th. I spent the morning alongside the sorting table and the afternoon filling-in the fermentation tanks.
These merlot grapes come from the youngest vines of the estate (between 6 and 10 yo, called the “plantes”). These recently planted vines are located on poor soil made of deep gravels, thus yielding very low quantities of early ripening fruit which has to be picked about one week before the other merlots.
In order to only keep the finest berries, the grapes are sorted three times: firstly in the vineyard, then before and after destemming. The overall quality of the grapes we received was very high, without any trace of rot. The sorting at reception thus mainly consisted in eliminating under-ripe clusters (nearly inexistent), shriveled berries on black-stemmed clusters and raisins. The clusters are then transported to a destemming machine which separates the berries from the stalks. The berries then fall on a second sorting table where workers get rid of any green part as well as any “MOG” (Material Other than Grape) which might have made its way through the destemmer. The berries finally drop through a crushing machine into a container called a “douille”(far right on the picture above). The crushing machine breaks the berries’ skin, allowing the juice to run out of the fruit once in the tank. The douille is then transported to the fermentation vat with a forklift truck which lifts it to the top in order to discharge the content directly into the tank. We filled in two tanks both with 130 hl of grapes and one with 65 hl during this "pre-harvest".
As mentioned above, these were berries from the youngest vines, and the real deal at Chevalier, but also at other estates in Bordeaux, is planned for this week!
I started my second week at Domaine de Chevalier getting my shoes completely wet (and my socks at the same time) walking two hours between Merlot vines. Although I could feel the skin of my feet wrinkling, the shinning sun and blue sky above my head filled my soul with anesthetic. The objective of this “walk in the dews” was to pick 800 berries in three different plots in order to monitor the grapes’ ripening progress.
After getting my four aluminum trays full of berries, we had to hand-press them to analyse the juice’s pH, temperature, total acidity and must density. The juice pH is measured using a pH-meter which works simply by dipping a probe in the juice for a few seconds, the same way temperature is measured. Total acidity is a bit more complicated: 5ml of juice is mixed with 10ml of distilled water and 3 drops of bromothymol blue. Sodium hydroxide is then carefully added to the mixture, drop by drop, until the solution turns blue (or “duck blue” as the workers call it). The total acidity
can then be read on the sodium’s burette. Finally, the must density is measured by dipping a mustimeter which indicates the liquid’s sugar density. After cross-cheking the data shown on the mustimeter with the juice’s temperature, you get the potential alcohol of your wine. For instance, we measured a Merlot juice coming from young vines showing 1107 on the mustimeter at a temperature of 19.4℃. After searching the alcohol equivalent on a rather complicated grid, we concluded that this juice will yield a wine with a potential alcohol of 15.1 degrees (this juice was extracted from a young vine, or "plante". The average potential abv should be somewhere between 13% and 14%).
After these slightly scientific measurements, I did some more romantic “bâtonnage” or “lees stirring”. The lees are mainly dead yeasts and grape particles settled at the bottom of the barrel. Keeping the lees in contact with the wine during its maturation allows the wine to develop more complex aromas by the effect of “autolysis”, which is the self-destruction of the yeasts by their own enzymes. This phenomenon releases polysaccharides and amino acids which will give a fatter mouthfeel and increase aromatic complexity (bread, biscuit…). Regularly stirring the lees will maximize the integration of these compounds into the wine. At the same time, the production of reducing enzymes will permit to reduce the use of sulfur dioxide (SO2). However, the wine may become over-reduced, and stirring will allow to bring some oxygen to the wine, thus avoiding the production of hydrogen sulphide which may cause rotten eggs smell.At Domaine de Chevalier, bâtonnage is made every day by the end of fermentation (when must density reaches approximately 1010) in order to dissipate carbon dioxide, and continues daily for the next 3 weeks or so. Then the frequency decreases to twice a week to once every two weeks by the end of the ageing period. All right, this might not be as romantic as it sounded... Nevertheless, the result will definitely bring enjoyment to your romantic diners! ;-)
Today, I’ve had the chance to taste the same wine (Domaine de Chevalier red 2013) from nine different barrels, and the organoleptic difference between them was striking.
As you already know, most of the premium wine producers (especially in Bordeaux) age their wines in oak barrels for a few months before bottling it. Oak barrels will influence the final style of the wine by bringing oak-derived aromas such as wood, cedar, cloves, vanillin… (especially when the barrel is new), fire-induced smells such as roasted almonds, roasted coffee, smoke, burnt wood… (due to the making of barrels which implies heating the inner part) and oxidation-caused flavors such as dried fruits, toffee, etc. (due to the slow oxidation of the wine stored in this air-permeable material). Wood will also have an influence on the structure of the wine, bringing wood tannins and softening wine tannins at the same time.
Different wood origins create different styles. The most obvious is the contrast between French oak and American oak. French oak tends to be more elegant, with more wood, spices and tight tannins, while American oak will normally show more intense and sweeter vanilla smell, even coconut, with lower tannins. This is partly due to the difference of oak species: quercus alba or “white oak” in the U.S. has coarser grain and higher lactone content, while quercus robur (the “pedunculate oak”mostly found in Limousin forest) and especially quercus petraea (the “sessile oak” mostly cultivated in the forests of Alliers, Nevers, Tronçais and Vosges) in France have tighter grains and lower concentration of aromatic compounds. But the way the barrels are made also have a strong influence on the final taste of oak: the best oak barrels are made from staves naturally air-dried outdoors for over 24 months, allowing rain to slowly wash off the bitter wood tannins. A more economical way is to dry the wood in a kiln, but if this method helps to save time (and space), it doesn’t permit to eliminate the green and bitter oak tannins. Another factor which seems to affect the final taste is the way the wood is cut: French oak is always split along the grain, while American oak is normally sawn, releasing even more aromas.
Finally, in order to be bent, the staves are heated around a fire, and the intensity of the flame as well as the time spent nearby will bring different levels of toast. For instance, after 30 minutes or so at 130℃, the “chauffe” (heating) is considered “light”. If the producer extends the heating for another 5 to 10 minutes, the heat will reach 160℃ to 180℃ and give a “medium”to “medium plus” toast. Finally, another 5 minutes or so at 200℃ or more will give a “heavy toast”. The level of toast is normally indicated on the barrels with the letters L, M and H. The lighter the toast, the more the wood aromas; the heavier the toast, the more the empyreumatic flavours (roasted coffee, grilled almonds, charcoal…)
Even if different coppers use the same origin of oak, slight differences in the barrel production can lead to a significant difference in the final taste of the wine. For this reason, most producers will use barrels from different suppliers, giving them the possibility to fine-tune the final blend. During my first week at Domaine de Chevalier, a sales representative from barrel cooperage “Radoux” paid visit to the winery. Chief winemaker Nicolas Gougelet took us to the red wines cellar to try the 2013 Domaine de Chevalier red from different barrels to observe how the wine evolves in these seemingly identical containers. Here are my notes:
Cadus: fruity, fat, black chocolate.
Taransaud: long and elegant finish.
Radoux“Evolution”: in between Cadus and Remond, with more aromatics (graphite). Elegant.
Radoux“Revelation”: seductive nose but very structured palate, even slightly astringent. Good to bring structure to the wine.
Dargaud & Jeagle: wood, salted caramel, dense fruit.
Francis: roasted aromas, very structured.
Ana Selection: more greenness with some black currant leaves.
Seguin Moreau “Elegance”: candied black fruits and roasted hazelnut, pure, concentrated, round, fresh, harmonious. The best barrel we tasted.
From the notes above, you can see how startling the difference between each barrel is! I am trully considering coming back next year to take part in the final blending. This must be fun!
Some white wines have started to ferment, even though some Semillon is still hanging on the vines waiting to be picked. As you certainly know, the alcohol in wine is produced by the conversion of the sugars by the yeasts, and as living organisms, yeasts need nutrients as well as oxygen to survive. At Domaine de Chevalier, airing (aération) is normally conducted twice and timing depends on the must’s density. This is simply achieved by racking off about 60 liters of fermenting must out of the barrel (white wines at Domaine de Chevalier are only fermented in barrels) and pouring it back. Pure oxygen can also be diffused directly into the wine to further boost the yeasts. During aeration, nutrients can be added in minute quantities, such as thiamine (vitamin B1) which is an essential nutrient for many living beings (such as humans). It is interesting to notice the yeasts activity, by measuring the must’s density and temperature, before and after carrying out this operation: in some barrels where the fermentation didn’t really begin, the temperature was around 16℃, while in barrels where the fermentation was at its peak of activity, temperature reached 29℃!
This afternoon, with the help of two other colleagues, I performed “ouillage” on about 100 barrels of 2013 Domaine de Chevalier red. The red wine of Domaine de Chevalier is aged in 225 liters oak barrels for more or less 16 months before being bottled, and a small part of the wine naturally evaporates, creating a space between the surface of the wine and the top of the barrel. The legend says that it is the angels who drink it, thus the saying “la part des anges” – “the angels’ share”. While the angels are having good time sipping out the precious nectar, the wine itself doesn’t really enjoy being in contact with oxygen at this stage of its life! Too much oxygen could promote the development of nasty bacteria and make the wine turn into vinegar. Therefore, except if you REALLY enjoy drinking vinegar, the headspace in the barrel needs to be regularly topped up with wine kept for this purpose, and this action is called ouillage, or “topping-up” in more pragmatic English (hem, I’ve just discovered that “ullage”does in fact exist…) This operation needs dexterity: it took me a few tries before I managed to refill the barrels to the right level without pouring wine all over the casks. Now you know why some producers like to paint the middle of the barrels with red wine lees: to avoid trainees like me to ruin the aesthetics of a sublime cellar.
The hard work of the day was fully rewarded with a cozy diner in company with the Bernard family and a few Hong-Kong and Finland friends around bottles of the 1981 vintage (birth year of one of the attendees). We started with a 1981 Bollinger RD 1981. This old champagne revealed a deep old gold color with intense aromas of marzipan, apricot, cherry stone and cinnamon. In mouth, the bubbles, which weren’t obvious at first sight, formed a delicate mousse lifting up flavours of roasted hazelnuts and candied fruits. This full-bodied Champagne was perfectly paired with a tasty foie gras on a slice of toasted bread. This was one of the most perfect pairing I have ever experienced so far. I didn’t take notes about the other wines as we were having diner (I find it rude to take tasting notes while eating with somebody), but I remember that the 1981 Domaine de Chevalier was intense, complex and showing a great harmony with aromas of marzipan and candied citrus fruits. A great white wine which birth was witnessed by Olivier Bernard, even though he bought the estate only two years later. This wine was sided by a lively, fresh, lemon-coloured Chateau La Louviere 1981 which showed obvious Sauvignon Blanc varietal aromas. Very fresh for its age! The red wines were great, with a Domaine de Chevalier 1981, a Chateau Margaux 1981 and a Chateau Latour 1981. The wines were poured blind. I noticed that the Domaine de Chevalier had a style in between Margaux and Pauillac, showing the delicate touch of the former and the Cabernet Sauvignon textbook aromatics (cedar, pencil lead) we often encounter in the latter. My first guess was therefore St Julien, but soon the smokiness and minerality typical from the Pessac-Leognan region started to emerge. The Chateau Margaux was very Margaux-like (silky, refined, delicate) and the Chateau Latour was very Latour-like (powerful, vigorous, deep). At the beginning, my favorite wine was the Domaine de Chevalier, but after thirty minutes or so, the grassy character started to become slightly more evident, while the Chateau Latour really began to show its true colors, with intense cedar and tobacco aromas on top of unfading black fruits aromas. It was definitely younger that the other two. This reemphasizes the importance of taking time when drinking wine! We finished diner around an immortal second growth from Barsac: Chateau Caillou 1981. In the future, if you want to organize this kind of diner for me, I was born in 1982. ;-)
Second day at Domaine de Chevalier. Today I wanted to spend some time working at the press, a wish kindly granted by maître de chai (chief winemaker) Nicolas Gougelet.
Domaine de Chevalier has only two pressing machines, both pneumatic, one with a capacity of 30 hectoliters (3,000 liters), and a smaller one of 22 hl. The presses are filled with the whole-cluster grapes brought in 30 kg cagettes, or plastic baskets, with 70 of those needed to fill the big press and 45 to fill the small one. The whole pressing process lasts for approximately three hours, divided in different cycles of different pressure, from 0.15 to 1.9 bars at most. This gentle pressure is one of the main reasons (if not the main) why pneumatic press is favored by so many producers, allowing them to extract a high quality juice. At one point, the juice is separated between free-run juice and press juice. This is decided according to the juice’s pH value. Indeed, the higher the pressure, the more potassium is extracted from the skins, thus the higher the pH becomes. The small press, which is filled with about 1,350 kg of grapes, yields approximately 700 liters of free-run juice and 70 liters of press juice. The first liters of juice are quite dirty, draining out a lot of dust and earth. They are put aside. Then, the juice quickly becomes clearer, and some dry ice (solid form of CO2) is spread on the tray where the juice drips in order to protect it against oxidation. Indeed, as the dry ice melts, it changes directly from its solid form (ice at about -80C) directly to its gaseous form, and CO2 being heavier than oxygen, it creates a protective layer above the fresh juice.
Besides emptying the baskets into the presses, I also learned how to analyse total acidity, pH, potential alcohol and turbidity. I also learned how to clarify the juice the traditional way, known as débourbage à l’esquive. The esquive is the plug which seals the hole at the bottom of the barrel’s side. After pressing, the wine is transferred directly into the barrels which are stored in a cold room (about 4C) over night. The low temperature helps the gross particles in the must (juice) to settle at the bottom of the barrel. The clearish must is then racked off by the hole at the bottom of the barrel, using a hoist towards the end, and poured into another one. Most producers use stainless steel or concrete vats to clarify their wines, and Domaine de Chevalier is one of the few estates to carry on with this traditional method.
Tomorrow’s plan: fermenting white wine aeration and 2013 reds topping-up (ouillage).
8:00 am, the sky is blue, the air is fresh, the vineyard of Domaine de Chevalier is still hidden under a veil of morning mist. I am going to stay here an entire month with the objective to gain practical winemaking experience which should come in handy during my teaching activities as well as in my Master of Wine studies.
As I stepped out of the car, I noticed a team of pickers already gathered between the vine rows. My first day’s program wasn’t very clear yet, so I offered Adrien Bernard (Olivier Bernard’s first son) to join the pickers this morning, especially that I needed some exercise after my long journey from China. I joined in and started my adventure with the first step of winemaking: the harvest.
The picking of Sauvignon Blanc at Domaine de Chevalier started last Wednesday (September 10th), and this was the second trie, or the second time pickers had to pick grapes in these rows. Indeed, all clusters rarely reach perfect maturity at the same time, and quality-minded producers such as Chevalier will not hesitate to go through the same plot many times to only pick perfect berries. This second trie was a coupe rase (clearcutting), which means that every remaining cluster had to be picked, taking care, of course, to cut-off the rotted parts if any. We finished harvesting the few designated plots within three hours, and we then spent another hour to do some leaf-trimming around Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (the west-facing side) to allow a better air circulation and to allow them to get better exposure to sunrays.
My objective today was to study the different steps of grapes handling before pressing. I was therefore impatient to see how they protect the fruits against oxidation before they reach the pressing machine, but I was disappointed (in a good way though) to discover that they actually do nothing at all! Indeed, when you pick grapes, you can use many techniques to protect your harvest against oxidation, for instance by dusting potassium metabisulphite powder which will liberate sulphur dioxide once wet. Domaine de Chevalier doesn’t need these for different reasons. First of all, the grapes are hand-picked, which means the clusters are undamaged and that no juice is running out of the berries, thus dramatically reducing the risks of oxidation. Secondly, the white grapes are only harvested during morning time, when the temperatures are low, thus ensuring the freshness of the grapes brought to the press. And finally, the winery is located in the middle of the vineyard, which means the time between the grape is cut off its mother vine to the moment it is pressed is very short, thus limiting the risk of oxidation too.
Once the grapes are picked, and before throwing them into the press, a producer can choose to destalk and crush them. None of these are performed at Chevalier. Regarding destalking, Hugo Bernard (Olivier Bernard’s second son) explained that this is useful when you have a very big production and in need for a higher capacity of pressing. Indeed, the stalks take a lot of place in the pressing machine, but the current capacity (two pressing machines) is more than enough to deal with Chevalier’s six hectares of white grapes. Crushing is also not performed as this could release too much phenolics. This reminds me of Burgundy producer Dominique Lafon who explained, during a Master Class organized by Jasper Morris MW at the Institute of Masters of Wine, that crushed grapes allowed for a quicker pressing (1.5 hour instead of 2.5 hours), but that heavier sediments and more green phenolics were released. On the other hand, pressing uncrushed grapes permitted to obtain a more elegant juice. This is exactly what Domaine de Chevalier is looking for by keeping the clusters undamaged.
A technique which is sometimes used by producers to extract more aromas from the grapes, especially with aromatic grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, is the one we call skin-contact or macération pelliculaire in French. This operation consists in leaving the white grapes in contact with their skin for a few hours before pressing them. This is normally done on crushed grapes but it can also be achieved with whole clusters kept at low temperature. This technique will extract aromas from the skin of the grapes, and will result in a wine with more pronounced varietal aromas. However, this isn’t the kind of wine championed by Olivier Bernard. According to Domaine de Chevalier’s owner, this would mean making a wine which is more a “Sauvignon Blanc wine” rather than a “Pessac-Leognan wine”, or in other words “making a varietal wine instead of a terroir wine”.
So far, I’ve discovered that the domaine uses a minimal approach to grapes handling. I like it, and I am definitely enjoying it! Tomorrow, I’ll try to focus on the next step: pressing.
I’ve been working in the wine industry for the past seven years. I started at the beginning of 2007 as international / purchasing manager for an importer in Nanning, China. At the beginning, wine was just a job like any other, just a way to make a decent living of. Quickly though, I found myself enjoying more than what I thought. Indeed, there aren’t many jobs which require you to travel around the world, which imply regularly eating well and drinking well, which brings you in contact with passionate people, which make you want to learn more about diverse subjects such as geography, history, science, sociology, etc. These many aspects of the product slowly re-ignited my thirst for knowledge (which was first initiated when I learned Chinese), leading me to buy-in wine-related books and to register to wine courses.
The first real wine course I took was in 2009. Our Bordeaux wines supplier put me in contact with the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB)’s wine school (l’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux) which was recruiting China-based "Bordeaux Wine Accredited Educators" to preach the wines of the Gironde department among Chinese consumers and professionals. After convincing the school about my enthusiasm and willingness to help them in this task, I was kindly invited to stay five days in Bordeaux to visit, taste and learn with a few other Chinese classmates.
This first experience further aroused my curiosity, and a few months after my return to China, I enrolled in the Level 3 course of the Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). During that intense week in Shanghai, I discovered how vast the wine world is, and how fascinating it could be! Not only French wines regions became clearer to me, but I also discovered the wine styles from other European countries and from the “new world”.
One year after completing the Level 3, I engaged myself in a two-year study of the Level 4, also known as the WSET Diploma. Meanwhile, I left the importing company to work for the CIVB, mainly dealing with the development of the Bordeaux Wine School activities in China, teaching nearly 2,000 students between 2011 and 2012. This was a great experience. Two years ago however, while finishing my Diploma studies, I decided to leave the promotional body in order to create my own company focusing on wine education and online marketing.
As time goes by, teaching experience increases, and just like the more you understand wine the more you enjoy it, the more I teach the more I take pleasure out of it. However, in order to stay at the top, one needs to never stop learning. This is the reason why I started to study for the Master of Wine (MW) last year. What a challenge! But how great fun it is for someone who loves studying!
When I take part in classes taught by someone who has technical experience, such as viticulture or winemaking, I really feel the speaker’s knowledge doesn’t only come from books and that he/she really masters the subjects, illustrating his/her explanations with detailed, real-life examples. In order to get this kind of ability too, I’ve been considering taking part in the making of a vintage or two for the last three years. This would also definitely help me in my MW studies considering that candidates are expected to demonstrate real-life experience and not only paraphrasing out-of-the-book-knowledge. Well, I am pleased and excited to actually write these few lines from a plane which is taking me towards this goal! Tomorrow, I will arrive at Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux where I will get my hands dirty for a whole month, helping out in both the vineyard and the cellar. I am thrilled and really impatient to start! I will try to share this experience daily, posting comments and pictures here. ^^
Le vin permet des rencontres improbables dans des lieux parfois insolites, telle ma rencontre à Nanning (« petite »ville du Sud de la Chine) avec Serge Hochar, propriétaire du domaine viticole le plus célèbre du Liban : le Château Musar.
Ce domaine est situé dans la ville de Ghazir, à une vingtaine de kilomètres au nord de Beiruth. Les vignes sont quant à elles plantées à une quarantaine de kilomètres dans les terres vers l’Est, sur les sols rocailleux de la plaine de la Bekaa, là où le soleil brille
plus de 300 jours par an. Le climat est donc aride dans cette partie du bassin méditerranéen, et la production de raisins de qualité est notamment possible grâce à l’élévation des vignes, cultivées à plus de mille mètres d’altitude. Si l’isolement de cette région génère des complications évidentes au niveau logistique, la difficulté d’accès l’est aussi pour l’ennemi juré de la vigne : le phylloxera, et les vignes peuvent donc y être plantées « franches de pied », i-e sans porte-greffe.
Les premiers plants de ces 180 hectares furent plantés en 1930 par le père de Serge, Gaston Hochar, alors que le pays était sous mandat français. Né le 20 Novembre 1939, Serge est le
premier fils de Gaston, et il sera de facto destiné à prendre la relève. Il rejoindra son père dès l’âge de 18 ans (son premier millésime sera le 1959), avant de se rendre à Bordeaux entre 1963
et 1964 où il y complètera une formation en oenologie sous la tutelle de Jean Ribereau-Gayon et d’Emile Peynaud. Dix ans après son retour, la guerre civile éclate et durera près de 15 années. Le domaine continuera malgré tout à produire du vin, et l’obstination de Serge Hochar pendant cette terrible période lui vaudra d’être élu l’Homme de l’Année (« Man of the Year ») en 1984 par
la revue spécialisée d’outre-manche « Decanter ».
Les vins du Château Musar ont la réputation de ne laisser personne indifférent : adorés ou abhorrés, débordant de caractère pour certains et plein de défauts pour d’autres. Bref, il fallait absolument que je goûte ces vins, que je me forge ma propre opinion ! C’est désormais chose faite, grâce à Summergate, distributeur du domaine en Chine, qui organisa une dégustation à Nanning au début du mois de Mars, en compagnie de M. Hochar en pesonne.
Nous avons commencé la dégustation avec « Musar Jeune » en version blanc et rouge. Ces deux vins ont été créés pour répondre à la demande du marché pour des vins plus fruités, ou« accessibles plus jeunes ». Le blanc dans sa version 2011, vinifié à partir d’un assemblage de Chardonnay, Viognier et Vermentino, présente des notes d’abricot confit, de confiture d’agrumes et d’épices orientales.L’acidité en bouche est plutôt basse, sans pour autant nuire à l’équilibre général de ce vin à la texture velouté. Le rouge 2011 est très fruité, avec des arômes prononcés de cerise bien mûre, et agrémenté d’une petite touche de réglisse. Ces deux vins remplissent parfaitement leur mission !
Le premier « grand vin » de Château Musar que nous avons dégusté fût le 2005, le dernier millésime mis sur le marché. Et oui, Château Musar est élevé au moins sept ans dans les caves du domaine avant d’être commercialisé ! Le vin est vinifié en cuves ciment où il reste environ six mois avant d’être transféré dans des barriques françaises à 20% neuves. Après un an, les différentes cuvées sont alors assemblées dans les cuves en ciment et l’assemblage est laissé à se reposer une nouvelle année. Le vin est ensuite embouteillé, sans collage ni filtration, et est entreposé dans l’obscurité des caves du domaine pour au moins quatre années supplémentaires. Lorsque vous ouvrez une bouteille de Château Musar, ne vous attendez donc pas à sentir des arômes de fruits frais (dits « arômes primaires »), mais plutôt des arômes tertiaires de fruits secs et de sous-bois. Revenons à notre 2005. Le vin présente une couleur rubis tirant sur le grenat, et ce qui est marquant est la transparence de la robe : les cépages utilisés (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan et Cinsault) nous ont plutôt habitué à des couleurs profondes, ne laissant pas filtrer la lumière. Au nez, comme prévu, nous ne retrouvons pas les fruits rouges de la version « jeune », mais bien des notes de cuir, de lard fumé, d’épices avec un soupçon de mûre. Le corps est d’intensité moyenne avec des tannins très bien intégrés. Un très joli vin, mais« trop jeune » pour Serge Hochar...
Le Château Musar 2003 est beaucoup plus animal, avec des notes cuirées très prononcées et ce côté « brettanomyces » (odeur proche de celle d’une écurie et provoquée par une levure du même nom) que certaines personnes reprochent aux vins du domaine. D’après Serge Hochar, les brettanomyces ont un rôle à jouer dans la fermentation alcoolique, notamment dans la conversion des derniers sucres en alcohol. Ces brettanomyces créent de l’acidité volatile (autre reproche souvent faite à ses vins) qui va permettre au vin de développer davantage de complexité après de longues années en bouteille. Serge me parla ainsi du millésime 1984, qu’il surnome son« madère » à cause des sucres résiduels et du très au niveau d’acidité volatile qu’il affichait au début (1,23 g/l au lieu de 0,6 à 0,9 g/l normalement). Et bien, cette acidité et ces sucres se sont transformés, et le « défectueux » Château Musar 1984 est désormais réclamé corps et âme par les quelques sommeliers qui ont eu la chance de le goûter ! Cela sera possible à partir de cette année, après presque 30 années de vieillissement en cave ! Pour l’anecdote, les vins ont développé une telle acidité car ils avaient commencé à fermenter dans le camion qui mit une semaine avant d’arriver à la cave !
Le Château Musar 1991 était sans aucun doute le plus accompli de tous les vins dégustés, avec des arômes évoluant sans cesse dans le verre, signe de qualité. Le nez commence par révéler des notes de pain d’épices, de pruneau et de noix. Après une petite heure, ces arômes évoluent vers des senteurs de figue, de dates et de pâtisseries orientales. En bouche le vin fait preuve d’un équilibre parfait et se termine sur une longueur digne des plus grands vins. Serge pense certainement que ce 1991 a encore de longues années devant lui, mais je pense personnellement qu’il est à son apogée et qu’il doit être bu maintenant.
Le dernier vin de la soirée était le Château Musar 2005 dans sa version blanc, conçu à partir d’un assemblage de Merwah (clone du Sémillon ?) et d’Obaideh (clone du Chardonnay ?). Ce vin ne m’a pas enthousiasmé. Je l’ai trouvé dominé par des arômes très prononcés de yahourt à l’ananas ! Ayant une bouteille chez moi, j’ai décidé de l’ouvrir afin de retenter ma chance, mais cela ne s’avéra pas convaincant. Cependant, je manque de recul et d’expérience avec ces vins, réputés pour leur aptitude à se bonifier avec l’âge, et il sera donc intéressant de voir comment celui-ci évoluera après quelques années.
Mis à part le blanc 2005, les vins rouges de Château Musar m’ont enchanté : ils font preuve d’élégance et de complexité, et leur style est unique. Le prix des millésimes « récents » sont tout-à-fait abordables (à partir de 25 Euros pour le grand vin) et ont tendance à s’envoler rapidement. S’ils représentent donc un bon investissement pour les spéculateurs, ils s’avèrent encore un meilleur investissement pour les gens qui, comme moi, achètent du vin tout simplement pour le boire.
Une semaine de cours épuisante enfin teminée ! Le plus éreintant n’est pas forcément les six heures d’élocution quotidienne, mais la préparation qui implique une bonne centaine d’heures à retravailler les diapos et à s’assurer que les participants reçoivent la meilleure formation possible. Au moins, les diapos sont maintenant quasiment au top, et la préparation du prochain WSET niveau 3 devrait être beaucoup plus « cool ».
Pour cette formation, nous dégustons un peu plus de 80 vins et spiritueux, de styles et d’orgines très variés, du Châteauneuf-du-pape au Malbec argentin en passant par le Shiraz effervescent d’Australie, les Xérès et autres vins mutés et même les single-malt écossais. C’est aussi pour moi l’occasion d’y inclure quelques bouteilles prestigieuses et d’en faire profiter tout le monde. Ainsi, nos papilles ont été ravies, entre autres, par un Champagne Bollinger « La Grande Année »2004, un « Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus » Beaune 1er Cru 2009 de chez Bouchard Père et Fils, un blanc du Domaine de Chevalier 2003, un Château Clinet 2007 face au Château Montrose de la même année, un Château de Malle 2004, un Domaine Huet « le Haut Lieu » 2004 dans sa version sec, un sublime
Barolo 2009 de chez Pio Cesare, un Clos Mogador 2008 du Priorat en Espagne, un Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny Port, un Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl 2009 comparé avec un tout aussi exquis Domaine Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Saint Catherine Grand Cru 2009, etc. Et comme nous étions peu nombreux, chacun pouvait rapporter quelques bouteilles chez soi afin de « réviser » ;-)
Cette lourde tâche maintenant terminée, je vais enfin pouvoir me reconcentrer sur d'autres activités tout aussi chronophages, à savoir la préparation du « Wine Experience » de Bettane et Desseauve qui se déroulera les 14 et 15 Mars à Shanghai et ma préparation pour l’examen de première année du Master of Wine, qui aura lieu le 3 Juin à Londres.