Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Hill of Corton

Wine Tasting Masterclass, Hilton Singapore, 11 February 2012

Together with Emily, I attended this excellent tasting, hosted by the Hilton Singapore’s charming sommelière Stéphanie Rigourd.  Two winemakers from the Burgundian village of Pernand-Vergelesses were featured, Ludovic Belin of Domaine Ludovic Belin and his cousin Vincent Rapet of Domaine Rapet.  I spent a week working in Ludo’s cellars last September (and snuck off down the road one morning to do a tasting with Vincent) so was more than happy to come along and support them both on their Singapore trip.
Ludovic Belin, very glad to be back in Singapore
The Corton Hill in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, home to the famous Corton-Charlemagne grand cru, is shared by three villages, Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny.  Both Ludovic and Vincent have prime plots in Corton-Charlemagne, as well as at various premiers crus, village and regional appellations in and around the vicinity of the Corton Hill.
The cover slide
Stéphanie worked a vintage with both Ludo and Vincent a few years ago, so they have an excellent rapport as can only form when you have made wine together.  Both she and the Hilton Singapore’s GM Alain Mahillon are great supporters of the cousins; they visit in Jan/Feb every year and you can guarantee they will bring their best wines to grace any Hilton event.

Tonight, the list of wines, all served blind, was:

Whites (Chardonnay)
  • 2010 Pernand-Vergelesses “Les Belles Filles” (Belin)
  • 2009 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru “En Caradeux”  (Rapet)
  • 2009 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Belin)
  • 2006 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Rapet)
Reds (Pinot Noir)
  • 2009 Corton-Renardes Grand Cru (Belin)
  • 1999 Corton Grand Cru (Rapet)
  • 1976 Corton Grand Cru (Rapet – according to Vincent, only 12 bottles of this wine are left in the Rapet cellars, so what a pleasure it was to be able to taste it with him today!)

So much wine, so little time...
For such a terroir-specific tasting, I expected that most of the attendees would have been quite well-versed in French wines and perhaps even Burgundy.  However, quite a few admitted during the compulsory introductions to knowing little about wine and the winemaking process, so Stéphanie guided us through the basic steps and the arcane system of French appellation laws. 

This was followed by presentations from the winemakers on their history and winemaking perspective.  Ludovic’s domaine is very young, having started out in 1997 with a very small inheritance from his mother, a Rapet, but he cut his teeth making pinot noir in Oregon and South Africa before founding his own estate.  Vincent is the eighth generation of Rapet winemakers, the latest in a proud tradition going back almost 250 years.   I’ll expand on this later in my upcoming posts on my Burgundy working holiday.

Vincent Rapet presenting

Tasting portions were poured while Stéphanie explained the correct approach to tasting wine.  I could probably have done with an expert refresher, but my thirst/alcoholism was such that I was sniffing intently well before I was supposed to; Emily was hissing in my ear to pay attention and stop being such a rude bugger.  Well, they should be thankful because I found that one of the bottles was hopelessly corked, so we were able to replace everyone’s glass before any more delicate olfactory senses were offended.

According to Stéphanie, in Burgundy, “just as most dogs look like their owners”, most wines should reflect the personality of their maker, so she invited us to guess who made each wine!  Emily and I picked them correctly, but then again, we had an unfair advantage, having tasted an inordinate number of wines from these two (and having also spent an inordinate amount of time with them) in the last six months!

Stéphanie Rigourd
In the way husbands sometimes rediscover their wives’ charms after many long years of marriage, I was pleasantly surprised to see how these wines had developed.  Belin’s Corton-Renardes had come along beautifully, showing much more floral and spicy finesse and much less wood, extraction and tightness than when I tasted it en cave back in September.  I wasn’t blown away by it back then, but it is now a delicious wine that I can recommend wholeheartedly.  The Rapet whites showed an intense, smoky minerality that won me over immediately.  And apart from the amount of sediment in the bottle, Rapet’s 1976 Corton was a sheer joy to drink, resoundingly clear in both colour and flavour.

Thank you very much to Ludovic and Vincent for their generosity with their time and wines, Stéphanie for her concise and enjoyable presentations and of course, organising the tasting.  Teaching a class whose members have such varying wine knowledge can be extremely challenging, with winemakers present even more so, and I think she did a superlative job bringing it together.  Stéphanie hosts these classes at the Hilton on a semi-regular basis, so do keep an eye out for them.
The wines of Ludovic Belin and Vincent Rapet are available by the glass at the Hilton Singapore's Kaspia Bar.  If you are in Singapore and interested in purchasing these wines, please contact William Chong at cre8destinyATgmailDOTcom

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