The Barry Smith interview: what is the nature of wine perception, and is wine flavour objective?


Professor Barry Smith (above) is an academic philosopher with a particular interest in flavour. A keen wine geek, he organized the first symposium on wine and philosophy back in 2004, and then published the first book on the topic in 2007 (Questions of Taste). More recently, he was founder and is co-director of CenSes – Center for the Study of the Senses. Hosted by the Institute of Philosophy (University of London), this is an exciting multidisciplinary forum for philosophical and neuroscientific research on the nature of our sensory systems and perception. [And in a real coup, they have got one of Britain's most famous scientists, Professor Colin Blakemore, on board.] I visited Barry to interview him about some topics relevant to my new book, and while I was there asked him some questions on the objectivity of wine flavour, which I thought I’d share here.

I began by asking Barry about his own background as a philosopher. How is it that philosophy can help neuroscience? Or would he no longer describe himself as simply a philosopher in the classical sense?

JG: What can your discipline, philosophy, give to neuroscience that can help here? Or would you consider that perhaps your discipline has changed a bit?

BS: Our discipline has changed a bit. We have always been interested in the nature of experience and the nature of perception. If you ask philosophers what their core business is, it is objectivity and subjectivity. This is one of the reasons I have got into this area. All the great wine critics go on and on telling you things, and then they say, of course, taste is subjective and it is all a matter of individual opinions. And then they tell you which vintage is better than another, and which domain is better. And I think, hold on, I thought it was all subjective and a matter of opinion. So is this just autobiography? If so, why should I care about you? They don’t really believe that it is entirely subjective.

People must feel obliged to say, it is subjective – like what you like. But then they behave entirely as if it was objective.

Entirely as though it was objective. I noticed this clash between what they say – the official line – and what they actually do in practice, which is to rate and give very normative pronouncements about which Domaines are better, which Chateaux are producing better wine, and which vintage is better. So they do have very clear judgments about this. In their favour you might say that they are confusing the perception of the flavour of a wine with evaluating it purely hedonically (I like, I don’t like). I am very hung up about this. A lot of ordinary tasters think the whole point of tasting is to come up with a verdict: thumbs up, thumbs down. If you give someone a wine and ask what do you think of that, they say, I quite like it, or I don’t like it. You think: I wasn’t asking that: I was asking what do you think of it? Not, how is it for you? But, can you tell me more about it? What do you notice? What is going on?

I think when critics say it is all subjective, they are saying your preferences are subjective. But there must be difference between preferences and perception. For example, I don’t see why critics couldn’t be very good at saying this is a very fine example of a Gruner Veltliner, or this is one of the best examples of a medium dry Riesling, but it is not for me. Why can’t they distinguish judgments of quality from judgments of individual liking? It seems to me you could. You know what this is expected of this wine and what it is trying to do: is it achieving it? Yes, but it’s not to your taste.

The general public don’t always separate hedonics from flavour perception. They don’t always separate liking from how something tastes. It is usually due to a bad argument. The bad argument is that you taste the wine and I taste the same wine; you like it and I don’t like it, so you say to me it can’t taste the same way to you as it does to me. If it tasted the same way you would see it was lovely and you’d like it. But why is that the case? It might taste exactly the same but you like that flavour and I don’t.

So there’s a step that’s missing, which is a separation of hedonics from perception.

Yes. We can do that in principle. Philosophers might be interested in whether liking was an intrinsic part of tasting. Is it that whenever you taste something, you can’t separate how it tastes from whether you like it. That is, if you like it, it would taste different from if you didn’t like it. As a philosopher I am interested in that separation. If you can’t separate them, how can you acquire a taste for something?

That is very interesting. Obviously our tastes aren’t static. Hedonics is interesting, but it’s not the most interesting thing. Whether you like something or not can change with time. It is not stable over time. But is perception stable over time? This is the Heraclitus scenario.

Suppose I didn’t like something. The first time you taste alcohol or beer you don’t like it. Then there’s a time when you really like it. Does it taste the same to you now as it did then? Some people say, no, I didn’t like it then and if I like it now it must taste different. Or, if it tastes exactly the same way before and after, what explains the change in my liking? Is it nothing to do with how it tastes? Is it just that I sort of flip? This needs to be explained. It is little bit of a paradox.

I suspect it tastes pretty much the same.

I think it tastes very much the same. I have had experience of this. When I was a novice taster, I tasted lots of great white Burgundies and thought this was the epitome of white wine. I remember reading about Condrieu as one of the world’s great white wines. So I rush out, buy this expensive Condrieu, put it in the fridge, get ready – I’m very excited. And I open it up and I don’t really like it. I was surprised. I thought: why do people like this? I was disappointed in me as much as in anything else. Then I was talking to someone a little more experienced in wine. They said: don’t you love that bitter apricot kernel flavour? Don’t you like the oiliness of it? I suddenly went back in my mind and thought that is exactly what it tasted of. It was oily and fatty and had this bitter apricot character. I thought: that’s right. They said: it is really good with salty seafood. I suddenly could put all those things together in my mind. Without changing how I remember it tasting, I thought: I want to try that again. Now thinking of it with those descriptions and with that way of articulating and expecting it to be like that, I loved it. Now it is one of my favourites.

So this is like the way changing the name of the dish changes the liking of the dish.

I think it goes further than that: it directed my attention. It was like the blast of a whole symphony. Here’s this single thing: did I like it? No. Then my attention is directed to those apricot flavours, to the slight bitterness – to the voluptuousness of it and the oiliness of it. Now that I recognize those, I am kind of understanding what the parts are and why the behave together as they do, and it completely transformed my experience of it. Does it taste the same as it did? Yes. But the way I experienced that taste is different because someone has directed my attention to it a different way.

This is an issue I find interesting. If we a vocabulary for wine, this gives us hooks on which to hang perception. Without those hooks we wouldn’t give certain facets of the flavour attention. Sometimes the language we have for flavours in wine can make us approach the wine slightly differently. You experience the wine the same, the taste is the same, but you go into the taste in a different way.

You go into the taste in a different way – the way you experience that very same taste. People say: it had a different taste. I say, no, it is only if you are identifying its taste with your experience of it that you think it is the same. It is the same taste but a different experience of the taste. So I have to believe in objective flavours for me to say there is a different way I experience that flavour.

This brings us on to the issue of objectivity. In the past I have argued – perhaps erroneously – that the taste is not a property of a wine because it only exists as a taste when it is tasted by a taster. Your position, if I am correct, is that you have the molecules – the various components of the wine – and they construct flavour, which is separate from the perception of the wine. Then how we experience that flavour is subjective.

Yes, that is subjective, and it is variable. Not only across individuals, but it is variable in an individual across time, and across different conditions. The way I like to do this is to say, here’s the chemistry (the volatile and non-volatile elements). And people often go from talking about the chemistry to talking about how amazingly varied our perceptions of wine are. They ask: how could we ever get laws that go from the chemistry to all this variation in perception? It must mean that there is no such thing as objective taste. What I say is, you need an intermediate level. We need a level in between the chemistry and the variable perceptions, and this is flavour. Flavours are emergent properties: they depend on but are not reducible to the chemistry. Then these flavours are things which our varying and variable perceptions try to latch onto. Each flavour perception is a snapshot of that flavour. We don’t even want to think of it as static: we want to think of a flavour profile: something which itself evolves and changes over time. As a professional taster you are taking snapshots in each of your tastings and trying to figure out what the flavour properties of that wine are that will continue to endure and alter as the wine ages. How would it taste if it was a degree or two colder or warmer? You make predictions and then you can go back and sample it later and say, I was right: I figured that it needed another hour in the glass and needed to be one degree warmer and it would change like this. The thing about which you are making the predictions is flavour. This is what depends on but is not reducible to chemistry. Now you have two tough jobs instead of one, with this intermediate level. One task is to say, what is the relationship between the chemistry and the flavours that emerge. The second task is what is the relationship between individual flavour perceptions and flavours? These two jobs need to be done independently, but they have to reach the same terminus. Having this intermediate level gives you the job of saying how does my individual experience as a taster lock on to flavour, and how does the chemistry give rise to flavour. Don’t try going from the chemistry to perception, you need that middle level.

And how would you get to the flavour?

You do it by prediction. I think it is very interesting that winemakers are making a wine, tasting it, which at a very early stage of its life is understood by them to be a wine that will need this amount of time and development. It might need to stay a little longer in barrel, or it might need to be bottled after 12 months, or 18 months, or whatever. They are making predictions from the early experience of what it will be like, on the basis of having made many wines before, and tasted them early and late. They are building up predictions about that underlying flavour profile. Then, like Heraclitus, you are dipping into the water at different time. But when you make a prediction and you confirm it, this gives me a sense there is something you are getting objectively right.

So there is a temporal dimension to flavour?

That is right. This is why I think it is not just a flavour as a moment; it is a flavour profile in a wine. You, as a taster when you taste the wine in barrel or when it has been bottled, and you taste it after four years, five years, ten years: you have expectations. You know some of its trajectory. That thing has gone on having that evolving flavour independent of your moments of tasting, but you are making predictions about it.

Gamay focus 14 - Bow & Arrow Gamay 2014, Oregon

bow and arrow gamay noir

Bow & Arrow is a relatively new Oregon winery. It’s located in Portland where Scott and Dana Frank, the people behind it, work in the wine business. These urban wineries are pretty cool, I reckon. They bring wine to the city: who says that wine has to be made out in a rural location? There are no quality implications about trucking grapes into town, if you take some basic precautions.

Scott and Dana are focusing on Loire varieties: the other wine I tried of theirs is a brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend. But here I wanted to talk about their Gamay, because it’s a grape I’m really into at the moment. This wine is inexpensive (US retail just over $20), and it’s now being brought into the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene.

Bow & Arrow Gamay Noir 2014 Willamette Valley, Oregon
From Scott and Dana Frank, this is semi-carbonic maceration in large cement vats. Really vivid in colour, this shows juicy, primary fruit with lovely fresh cherries. It’s grippy, pure and fine with a primary juicy quality. Lovely purity. 93/100

Find this wine with

Penfolds' Chardonnays, from Koonunga Hill to Yattarna


Penfolds are famous for their Bin Series reds, a range led by the world famous Grange. But back in the mid-1990s they decided to try their hand at whites, and chose Chardonnay as their target. Yattarna was launched as the white Grange, but the project also launched a number of other impressive Chardonnays. These were the focus of this tasting, led by chief white winemaker Kym Schroeter. He’s now celebrating his 28th year with Penfolds after starting in 1987. His father was a winemaker, and there’s been a Schroeter in the company for over 60 years. ‘I was brought up with Penfolds since I was a kid,’ he says. ‘It’s a passion thing for me to work at Penfolds. I’ve got a daughter who’s almost 3. Hopefully she will be a winemaker too.’

Kym Schroeter

Kym Schroeter

Kym started off in the laboratory and was there for 3 years. ‘It was as boring as batshit,’ he recalls. The next job was wine show preparation, and this was followed by the first rung on the winemaking ladder. ‘I started off at the bottom with flagon and cask clarets, and friendly reds,’ he says. In 2002 he moved to whites. ‘They dragged me kicking and screaming,’ says Kym, ‘but I have been there ever since.’ Initially he worked under Oliver Crawford, but in 2008 he took over the role as the only senior white winemaker in the company. Penfolds have five red winemakers to the one white.

Interesting observation: Kym has never seen snow in his life!! How can that happen? They should let him out of the cellar occasionally.

Kym says that there was an uncomfortable time when there was the reverse take-over by Rosemount in 2001. They made some changes and a couple of vintages of Koonunga Hill suffered. ‘Since then we have been very traditional,’ he says. ‘Peter [Gago] is very one-eyed Penfolds and he won’t let change happen.’

penfolds chardonnays

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay 2014 South Australia
40% inner stave, 20% stainless steel, 40% small old oak. ‘I’m a bit of an acid junkie,’ says winemaker Kim Shroeter. ‘Even in the Koonunga Hill there is a nice backbone.’ This has peach and pear fruit with nice texture and a bit of citrus, as well as some lemon and nutty notes on the finish. 87/100 (£8.75 Corking Wines)

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2009 Tumbarumba, Australia
First made in 2005, this is a cool climate Chardonnay that’s usually from Tumbarumba. But in 2001 there was botrytis, so it was made from Henty. And in 2007 it was from Orange. But Tumbarumba, at 700-800 m in the base of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales really suits the style. Complex, taut, spicy and fresh with a lovely lemony edge to the fruit. There’s also a bit of flinty matchstick here. Lovely precision and freshness. 94/100

Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2013 Tumbarumba, Australia
Fresh and lemony with lovely precision and purity. Very linear and fruity with fresh pure fruit and a subtle spiciness. Very fine. 92/100 (£18 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Penfolds Cellar Reserve Chardonnay 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is always a single vineyard from the Adelaide Hills, made first in 2007, then 2010, then 12, 13, 14 and 15. Around 40% new oak, all French. Taut, toasty and spicy with a limey core and good acidity, showing white peach and grapefruit, as well as some nectarine. Rich and fresh at the same time with good acidity and some mealy notes. 93/100 (£42 Voyageurs du Vin)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 09A Chardonnay 2009 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Since 2003 this has always been from Adelaide Hills; it started off as a spin-off of the Yattarna project in 1994. 62% new oak. Amazingly complex nose of matchstick, spice, flint, citrus and fine herbs. The palate is fresh and linear with a spicy, flinty edge to the linear white peach and lemon fruit. Superb complexity and precision here. 95/100 (£45 Hailsham Cellars)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is ph 3.16 (very low) even thought the acidity is 5.7 g/l (not especially high). Fine, taut and lemony nose with hints of mealiness and some minerals. The palate is lively, spicy and quite pure with a smooth sweet, toasty edge to the pear fruit. Nice mouthfeel. 93/100 (£60 Majestic)

Penfolds Reserve Bin 12A Chardonnay 2012 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Fresh, pure, linear and lemony. Very tight and pure with keen acidity. Compact and concentrated This is so pure and primary with lovely pure citrus fruits. 92/100 (£245 per 6, Corney & Barrow)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2008 Soith Australia
1995 was the first release of Yattarna. It wasn’t great and fell over within about 2 years. It has evolved over time to include mainly three regions: Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Henty. Tasmania was 37% in 2006 (first year it was included), then it went up to 47% and the 87% in this 2008. ‘Tasmania really suits what I am looking for in this style,’ says winemaker Kim Schroeter. ‘This wine is refined, restrained, tight and linear. It’s all about purity of fruit with power.’ Fresh, linear and pure with white peac, lemons, spice and some minerals. Very spicy and crisp with good acidity. Lean and expressive with good concentration and some mineral flintiness. 95/100 (£62 Excel Wines, £65 Great Eastern Fine Wines, £113 Lay & Wheeler)

Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012 South Australia
A third each Tasmania, Henty and Adelaide Hills; 45% new oak. Has some spice and toast notes complementing the pure, linear citrus fruit. Really good acidity. Has great concentration with lovely tightness but also a bit of sweet peachy richness, all wrapped around a keen acidic core. 94/100 (£105 Laithwaites)

Find these wines with

Champagne Dom Pérignon 2006

dom perignon

New release of a classic. And it’s lovely. A really good vintage for Dom P. [Aside, I never realized before that Dom stood for Dominus, and was a title for monks. I always thought it was like some bad-ass 18th century French mafia-equivalent thing.] I was lucky enough to drink this, not just taste it, which is always a good thing. It helps you form a more solid opinion.

Champagne Dom Pérignon 2006 France
2006 was a season of mixed weather, with a warm, dry July followed by a cool, rainy August. Fortunately, September was warm and dry, and any botrytis present on the grapes dried out. Harvest started 11 September and lasted 3 weeks. The result is a Dom P that is refined with lovely fresh, well integrated toast and citrus flavours, as well as some pear hints. There are some richer notes lurking with some candied fruits offset by a hint of matchstick. Mineral and taut with a hint of pithy bitterness in the background. There’s real precision here, and while it’s delicious now, it’s really a wine for the future. Lovely. 94/100

Find this wine with

Dinner at Grain Store with the Hedges dudes, and 'Score Revolution'


I had dinner last week with Boo Walker and Christophe Hedges, of Hedges in Washington State. I visited Hedges, the custodians of Red Mountain, this summer and it was a great experience. Their slightly quirky approach and lovely, almost European-styled wines, were a breath of fresh air amid quite a lot of sweetly fruited, rather anonymous wines.

Boo Walker

Boo Walker

Christophe Hedges

Christophe Hedges

Although Boo was there at Hedges when I visited, this was the first time I’d met Christophe. We had a really nice evening together, starting off in the Craft Beer Co at White Lion St, and then heading to the fabulous Grain Store. Our conversations were lengthy, animated and completely unrepeatable.

Crushed Paimpol beans, piquillo, lemon confit & courgette, squid ink aioli, silver mullet

Crushed Paimpol beans, piquillo, lemon confit & courgette, squid ink aioli, silver mullet

Baked onion, chestnuts & pickled walnuts, red leaves, spiced bread sauce, roast wild duck, grated chilli chocolate

Baked onion, chestnuts & pickled walnuts, red leaves, spiced bread sauce, roast wild duck,
grated chilli chocolate

Wild mushroom & Montgomery cheddar croquettes, truffle salt

Wild mushroom & Montgomery cheddar croquettes, truffle salt

The food at Grain Store is just so lovely. It’s very creative, with a lot of vegetable use, and delicious. It’s great for sharing, although the menu seems to have got a bit more starter/main of late, and less small-platey.

Light smoked potato mousseline, lovage oil, mussels

Light smoked potato mousseline, lovage oil, mussels

Sprouting seeds & beans, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin, potato wafer

Sprouting seeds & beans, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin, potato wafer

Christophe is very interesting. Not a man to compromise, and not shy about voicing controversial opinions. Take for instance Score Revolution, an initiative that he and the Hedges team have started.

There exists an acknowledged relationship between the global influence of wine critics’ numerical wine ratings and the lessening of terroir’s effect on a finished wine’s aromas and flavors; the “sense of place” which differentiates one wine from another is eliminated, or dramatically reduced. Winemakers whose families have been making wine since the Gauls have been forced to chase scores and put aside their desire to make origin–specific wines.

While Hedges Family Estate considers wine critics the lifeblood of the wine industry, we urge them to let their words speak for themselves. We urge them not to undermine their own eloquence with the base and elementary 100–point system. How can you apply a number to any art form? Quantifying a subjective experience is simply not logical. Let us allow winemakers to practice their art with the freedom to let their land speak, allow consumers to make their own decisions and exercise their palates, and allow wine critics to practice their craft and let their words speak for themselves.

Hedges no longer submit their wines for scoring by critics, which is brave, and I kind of agree with many of their points. But I still score wines, because despite the limitations of the scoring system, it lets readers know just how much I liked the wine. I could use stars, or ticks – but I use the daft 100 point scale because that is what the powerful critics have always used, and so the sorts of people who buy more expensive wines can relate to these scores. Maybe I should stop scoring?

We tasted one Hedges wine. It was lovely. And I gave it a score! Will Christophe and Boo still be friendly towards me?

Hedges Family Estate La Haute Cuvée 2013 Red Mountain, Washington State
The previous vintage of this was the first biodynamic Washington State Cabernet, and the first biodynamic wine from Red Mountain. This is complex, spicy, dense and rich with lovely fine-grained tannins. Nice density of pure blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Dense and with some structure, but also with a lovely silkiness. 94/100

Find this wine with

The Manchester derby


So, today was fun. It was the Manchester derby.

Some explanation is needed. In the English Premier League, this is one of the biggest of all derby games (when two teams from the same city play each other). And at the moment, arguably the two best teams in the country are the two Manchester clubs. City in blue; United in red.

I was born in Manchester and my family tradition is blue. The city is pretty much evenly divided, blue and red. But since the early 1970s, United have had the upper hand much of the time. And since the 1990s, they had it pretty much all the time. City maintained a strong support base, but ended up yo-yoing from the top flight to the second tier of English football. And then, in 1998, they plummeted to the third tier.

Still, their support remained strong and committed. I saw a lot of games that season, mostly away. The football was dire, but the occasions were great. As a supporter it was great to go to the smaller grounds of lower-ranking clubs, where a visit from City was like a mini-cup-final. There were many low points though. 3-0 defeat away to Reading at the horrible Elm Park. 1-0 defeat away to Wycombe Wanderers mid week. And 0-0 at the dull Manor Ground to Oxford United.

Today’s game was a first for me, though. A first visit to enemy territory. Old Trafford. Back in the late 1990s City had a player from old East Germany, Uwe Rosler. He was a hero. There’s a famous City chant about Uwe’s grandad bombing Old Trafford (it was hit in 1941). Such is the feeling of the City fans towards their rivals.

I was a guest of Ben Smith of Concha y Toro, who are one of the many sponsors of Manchester United – their official wine brand. He managed to score a couple of tickets (these are pretty much impossible to get), and so we flew up for the day. It’s kind of ironic. The joke goes that most Manchester United fans, drawn by the success of the club, have no connection with Manchester, and many of them live in London. Here I was, doing the United fan cliche of flying to the game from down south, as a City fan.

We were seated high up in the gods in the east stand. Old Trafford is a vast stadium, made to feel even more vast by its uneven development. Twickenham (the rugby venue) is bigger (82000 versus 75000 capacity), but feels smaller because of the way that it’s built, with all stands the same size, so the ground has a coherence. Same with Wembley. Old Trafford has two stands with three tiers, but because of the way the roof overhangs, you don’t have a full view of  the rest of the stadium. It takes a while to get used to.

The game? It was pretty good, but ended up a 0-0 draw. I know this sounds boring, but it was a really engaging encounter. Both sides were well organized and cancelled each other out a bit. I think this report has it about right.

I was a little relieved at the result, to be honest. You see: I am one of those sad individuals who supports a sports team and cares about the outcome, even though I know this is silly on many levels. So had City scored, it would have been hard for me to contain my excitement, and even though football grounds are pretty safe places these days, it’s appallingly bad form to sit in the home area and cheer the away team.

On another level, though, following sports is fairly harmless and creates an interest. It’s something you can share with others. And, as with life, the outcome is entirely unpredictable. There’s the ever-attendant risk of failure, as well as the hope of success. It captures some of the emotions of real life in a different context. Today’s game was also a lovely break from real life: a chance to switch off and focus on something entirely different for a while. As for a wine connection? As with sport, with wine there is no guaranteed outcome. Whatever your competence level, whatever degree of winemaking ability, there is the vintage, which is beyond human control. Every year is akin to a fresh game. You can only deal with what is in front of you. Whatever the past form, there is always the opportunity for the underdog to cause a shock. Form comes and goes. Old stars fade; new ones emerge. And it is tremendous fun watching this all unfold.

Researching my new book

i taste red

At the moment, I’m spending a good portion of my waking moments in research activity. It’s a lovely aspect of what I do: dealing with new ideas. There’s something thrilling about discovering fresh things, and grappling with areas of academic endeavour where you have to face unfamiliar concepts and see through the jargon.

The thing that really interests me is bringing together different fields of science. If you can fuse together ideas from separate fields, you can often uncover some really interesting shared principles. The way science works is that everyone ends up operating in quite a narrow field. And scientists in particular disciplines rarely speak to those working in other areas. But synthesize these varied ideas and you end up with something very interesting.

Flavour lends itself to a fully multidisciplinary approach. There’s so much to be said about the practice of wine tasting that draws on psychology, neuroscience, physiology, psychophysics and even philosophy. Getting stuck into these varied disciplines is just so much fun, and I hope this will be a really good book.

Gamay focus 13: Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin a Vent Les Rouchaux 2011

thibault liger belair moulin a vent

This is a really interesting Beaujolais from Thibault Liger-Belair, who has taken his Burgundian approach to the Gamay grape. I’ll let him explain his journey:

I have made a part of my studies in Beaujolais and in particular in Belleville, I’ve always been attracted by the beauty of this region, its landscapes but also by the quality and diversity of the soils. I have ask the question to create a sort of Burgundy model by isolating each terroirs inside the same appellation, for to understand and try to find the best identity of each one. My curiosity ever more important always given my desire to include other appellation, other grape varieties. And so do it again what I had built in Nuits Saint Georges in 2001 in Moulin à Vent in 2009. The Beaujolais region represents the tip of the Massif Central, mainly composed of old granites. Granite is a hard rock, poor and well suited to the Gamay grape that is generous. It is located a hundred kilometers of Nuits-Saint-Georges. We find many similarities with the Burgundian model, both the Cru and Climates, as the modes of vinification and aging. We also find common points with the aromas and structure of Burgundy wines. I would say that the wines of Beaujolais are cousins of Burgundy wines.

To create the Domaine and buy the first vines I’ve tried to understand the different types of soil in my inquiries with the winemakers tasting the wines and especially by walking through the vineyard. What surprised me in the first place is to see as much difference in an area as small, it reminded me the Burgundian terroirs. However I haven’t seen too much producers make a difference between each parcel, if they have vines in Moulin à vent they will produce a unique cuvee of Moulin à vent without isolating the different types of soils. Hard to understand when you have a Burgundian approach which isolates each parcel.

I had the idea to try to purchase the best parcels all located on the historic hill where you find the windmill at the top. With the objective to understand and produce wines like their climate and its variety: Gamay. The first plots were purchased in 2008, to produce the first vintage in 2009. We reproduced the same farming methods that the domaine in Nuits Saint Georges by :
– Plowing and removing all herbicide.
– Convert all parcels from the first year in organic and biodynamic farming.

The work we are trying to do in the vineyards is for to awaken the soil and its terroir, ask to the roots to go deeper and search to nourish the grapes by revealing the identity of each soil in the bottle .

Concerning the vinification, I try to do the same work that I do in Nuits-Saint-Georges without carbonic maceration because, I consider that this type of vinification give some standard wines. It’s why all is destemmed with some very long maceration, nearly one month, with some pumping over nearly every day and 1 or 2 pushing down only for to move the hat. The aging is made in barrel, for the” Rouchaux” and “Vieilles Vignes” in 2 or 3 years barrel without new oak and 20% new oak for the cuvee “La Roche”. We keep the wine for a period between 12 to 15 month before bottling.

Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin a Vent Les Rouchaux 2011 Beaujolais, France
13% alcohol. Deeply coloured. Powerful nose of raspberries, damson, grapefruit and black cherries. The palate is structured, fresh and focused with juicy raspberry and cherry fruit, as well as nice grip. This is fresh, vivid and quite powerful with a density that you don’t normally associate with Gamay. There’s also a spicy minerality here. Structured but with finesse, still. I reckon this needs a bit of time. Serious, robust and lively. 93/100 (£22 Lea & Sandeman, Berry Bros & Rudd)

Find this wine with

Clos de Tart: a vertical tasting of one of Burgundy's most celebrated wines

jacques devauges and sylvain pitiot


Clos de Tart needs little introduction for most wine lovers. It’s Burgundy’s largest Grand Cru monopole (where the whole vineyard is owned by one producer) and for the last 20 years it has been under the safe stewardship of the fabulous map-making Sylvain Pitiot (above right). Now Sylvain has retired and handed over to Jacques Devauges (above left), formerly of Domaine D’Arlot, so UK agents Corney & Barrow put on a retrospective of Sylvain’s work. It was thrilling to be able to taste from his first vintage, 1996, to the 2013.

clos du tart

These wines are just lovely, and this is reflected in the high scores. The two anomalies are the 2004 (which had a problem with ladybirds) and the 2003 (which was just too hot). My favourites were 1999, 2002, 2005, 2010 and 2013.


Clos de Tart 2013 Burgundy, France
Finely aromatic with red cherry fruit. Beautiful, pure and perfumed. The palate is supple, fine and detailed. It’s ripe but perfectly poised with sweet red cherries and hints of spice. This is so pure, elegant, fresh and detailed with some structure, and even a hint of pepper. Thrilling. 96/100

Clos de Tart 2012 Burgundy, France
Fine spicy framing to the nose which shows red cherries and plums. Structured palate is a bit chalky with firmness and some grip. Quite savoury and taut but not lacking finesse. An angular, structured wine. 93/100

Clos de Tart 2011 Burgundy, France
An aromatic nose: finely detailed with hints of herbs and spice complementing the sweet red cherries. The palate is peppery with supple, structured cherry and plum fruit. Nice definition with lovely sweet pure fruit. 94/100

Clos de Tart 2010 Burgundy, France
There’s a fine sappy and herbal undergrowth note to the sweet cherry fruit nose. Fine palate with beautiful finesse: good structure, fine-grained and textural, showing red cherries, spice and plums. Beautiful balance here. Youthful and beginning to develop a savoury side. 96/100

Clos de Tart 2009 Burgundy, France
Warm, slightly spicy nose with a faint hint of soy. Beautiful sappy red cherry notes. The palate is supple, pure and detailed with ripeness but also some elegance. Good structure to the red fruits, with real finesse and balance evident. 95/100

Clos de Tart 2008 Burgundy, France
This is distinctive. Fresh, floral perfume on the nose, which shows pure red fruits and a hint of pepper. The palate is vivid and fresh with a lightness and focus, as well as good acidity and grippy tannins. It feels firm and angular in the mouth, and really youthful with a peppery finish. I don’t know how it will age. 95/100

Clos de Tart 2007 Burgundy, France
Warm, spicy, slightly herbal nose with notes of earth and tar. There are some sweet berry fruits here, too. The palate is warm and a bit earthy with a sweet and savoury character, and fine spicy notes. This seems quite evolved and a tiny bit mushy, but it’s still delicious. 93/100

Clos de Tart 2006 Burgundy, France
Sweet, warm and complex on the nose with hints of earth and herbs. The palate has nice poise with sweet cherry and plum fruit. Textured and rounded with a bit of fine-grained tannic structure. Finishes a little dry, but it still has plenty of life in it. 93/100

Clos de Tart 2005 Burgundy, France (from magnum)
Warmly aromatic fresh floral red cherry nose, with some plumminess and refined spicy notes. The palate is quite beautiful, showing sweet, well defined cherry fruit. Very pure but still has lots of structure. The sweetness of the fruit and the precise, chalky, mineral structure and working in perfect harmony here. Beginning to show a bit of evolution, but also with a long life ahead of it. 97/100

Clos de Tart 2004 Burgundy, France
Distinctive fresh red fruits nose with some green hints, and a faint touch of medicine. Very distinctive. Fresh, supple palate with attractive red cherry fruit but a slightly angular greenness that’s rather off-putting. 88/100

Clos de Tart 2003 Burgundy, France
Such an atypical wine from the famously hot vintage. Rich, sweet berry fruits nose with a bit of spiciness. Warm with some tarry richness. The palate has a minty edge to the ripe, sweet, structured berry fruits. Dense, sweet and atypical, finishing minty. It has appeal, I guess, but so unusual for Clos de Tart. 92/100

Clos de Tart 2002 Burgundy, France
There’s some warmth to the nose, with sweet, slightly fudgy cherry and berry fruits. The palate is sweet and focused with generous ripe cherry and plum fruit, and good structure under the fruit, which demonstrates ripeness and concentration. Quite thrilling in a riper style. 96/100

Clos de Tart 2001 Burgundy, France
Very fine well defined nose showing lovely cherry fruit and appealing spiciness, as well as a hint of earthy evolution. Silky texture here: real elegance and also good freshness. Fine grained yet firm tannins and pretty cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice focus on the finish. 95/100

Clos de Tart 2000 Burgundy, France
Warm, spicy and fudgy nose with some herbal notes of tea and autumn leaves, alongside sweet red cherry fruit. The palate shows freshness and a bit of earthy, undergrowth character, as well as grainy structure. Warm, silky and delicious – and drinking very well now. 95/100

Clos de Tart 1999 Burgundy, France
Sweet, slightly tarry, spicy nose with fine herb notes, and mint and earth hints. Smooth, ripe, fresh palate driven by sweet berries and cherries, together with good structure and depth. There’s lovely ripness to his wine but it’s accompanied by superb definition. It still feels quite youthful, and there’s a fresh finish. Massive potential here for further development. 96/100

Clos de Tart 1997 Burgundy, France
Sweet, floral, aromatic nose with herbs, tea and leather. Very pretty in an evolved style. Superbly elegant on the palate with mature characters of iodine and earth, as well as sweet-tasting cherry and strawberry fruit. 94/100

Clos de Tart 1996 Burgundy, France
Warm, spicy and a bit herbal with some earthy hints. Supple palate is mature but shows fresh red cherries, some spice and a touch of undergrowth. Nicely structured with fresh acidity the key. 94/100


Champagne Vilmart et Cie Grand Cellier d'Or Premier Cru 2010

vilmart et cie grand cellier

I recently reviewed Vilmat’s Grand Cellier NV Cuvee, and really liked it. Now it’s the turn of its elder sibling, the Grand Cellier D’Or 2010. This is a remarkable wine that’s still very much in its first flush of youth. I’d age this for a bit. It’s remarkable.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier d’Or Premier Cru Brut 2010 France
This is 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir from a single old vine plot in Rilly, aged for 10 months in 228 litre barrels. No malolactic fermentation here. Complex nut and toast notes with rich pear and a bit of peach. Very bold but not too heavy, showing great power and depth of flavour, as well as real complexity and plenty of finesse. This is one to age for a few years, and I reckon it could turn out pretty profound. 94/100 (£70 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Find this wine with