Wine column for week of December 17

Nicolas Potel is one of the rising winemaker stars in Burgundy. He established his own estate, Domaine de Bellene in Beaune, in 2006.
The name Bellene comes from Belenos, an ancient French god of sun and beauty similar to Apollo in Greek mythology and to the Celtic god of the sun, Bel.
The first name of the city of Beaune was Belena during the Roman period. During the Middle Ages Belena was renamed Bellene, and in the 18th century it became Baulne before people finally agree to the modern name of Beaune.
The image of the god Bel adorns Potel’s web site.
Potel focuses on organic winemaking as well as offering the finest wines through his negociant business. He aims to become the only “haute couture” or highest quality negociant in Burgundy.
The word negociant is French for “merchant” or “dealer”. Traditionally, negociants purchased, blended, matured, and bottled and shipped wine. Over time, the role expanded to include purchasing grapes to make wine. Potel is an example of the latter group.
His negociant business has the widest selection of grand cru wines from the region (grand cru vineyards represent less than 2 per cent of the total vineyard area in Burgundy). He buys grapes from some of the best vineyards in Burgundy.
Potel grows grapes at his Burgundy estate based on the ecological or organic principles of Jules Chauvet, often called the “father of natural wine”.
He says he uses a tenth of the amount of pesticides as his competitors and he allows chickens to wander among the vines to eat insects. Recently Potel purchased horses and carts to replace tractors.
Grapes grown organically are used in Potel’s domaine wines. Grapes bought from elsewhere go into his negociant wines and he has no control over their production.
Potel’s wines are pressed by foot or in basket presses from the Champagne region. These are the gentlest known methods for pressing. Fermentation involves only natural yeasts – that is, he only uses the yeasts on the skins of the grapes.
Removing the wine from the yeast lees, known as racking, takes place according to the phases of the moon. Potel said if the moon is exerting too strong a gravitational pull, the lees will be disturbed and it would be difficult to bottle the filtered wine. So he controls when racking occurs.
Wines shipped to Asia receive a special wax seal to ensure they are genuine, to ensure there are no issues of provenance.
Recently in Hong Kong Potel offered a blind tasting of red burgundies from 2009 and 2010. The 2009 vintage was very ripe with an early spring, he said.
This produced wines high in tannin and sugar but with “subdued” acidity, while the 2010 vintage had a good ripening period, with higher acids, lower sugar levels and soft tannins. These wines had “potential for long-term cellaring,” he said.
Potel described the dilemma for all Burgundy winemakers. Many of their wines only show their glory after at least a decade of cellaring, but consumers increasingly want wine to enjoy as soon as possible. Potel said it was always a challenge to make both kinds of wines, given the small production levels in Burgundy compared with regions like Bordeaux.
Twenty-one people took part in the Hong Kong blind tasting. The most preferred wine was the 2009 Griotte Chambertin grand cru from Potel’s Domaine de Bellene. In French, “griotte” is a kind of cherry used for making jam, and this wine had subtle hints of cherry aromas, along with violets, plus cherries and liquorice in the mouth. It had a long finish. I found it an elegant wine that suggested divine inspiration, such was its subtle yet intense nature. After a decade in the cellar it will be magnificent.
Interestingly, the least-preferred wine for the group was the 2010 Grands Echezeaux grand cru. It felt hard and rustic at first, with tannins that seemed disagreeable.
But that is a feature of Grands Echezeaux. Two hours afterwards, given some time for air to energise the wine, it displayed gamey and earthy flavours with hints of spice and red fruits, with a big and firm finish. This wine really needs at least a decade to be appreciated.
Between these extremes of appreciation was a range of eight more wines from 2009 and 2010 that suggested 2010 is a better year for cellaring. Potel is a winemaker to cherish and remember.
* Published 21 December 2012. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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