Burgundy is the spiritual home of two of the planet’s most famous grape varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Chardonnay’s epicentre are three small villages south of Beaune; Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. They produce undisputed, elegant, benchmarks for Chardonnay growers around the globe.
The home of Pinot Noir is a little bit more stretched. The Cote d’Or certainly. Many aficionados would lean towards the Cote de Nuits – although why deny the greatness of Volnay and Pommard on the Cote de Beaune? Some go further and tune in on the strip between Nuits-Saint-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin. Some writers go further still and describe the village of Vosne-Romanee as the absolute epicentre,
The Côte d’Or – Where is it?
The Cote d’Or is split into two sub-sections. The Cote de Nuits, a slope that runs from the southern suburbs of Dijon down through Nuits-St-Georges to the village of Corgoloin just north of Beaune. The Cote de Beaune runs from Ladoix-Serrigny, in the shadow of the hill of Corton down to just south of Santenay.
The Pyramid of Quality
Concept of Terroir
A sense of place. The exact geographical location where the wine is from. The geology, the soil, its aspect in relation to the sun and its exposure to the elements. The best vineyards are generally those where the locals noticed the snow would melt first. Not too low on the slope, where it can be muddy or marshy and not so high up the slope where it is colder and windier. These specific sites and their hierarchy have evolved over centuries into the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) classification system.
Regional – Bourgogne Rouge. Generic Pinot Noir. Also includes the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune and Hautes-Cotes de Nuits.
Village – The name of the village – can carry the name of a single vineyard, a lieu-dit.
1er Cru – the village followed by the name of the 1er Cru vineyard.
Grand Cru – Top of the pyramid of quality – just the name of the Grand Cru vineyard.
The Cult of Burgundy
It is possible to get really in-deep with Burgundy. It’s a natural realm for anoraks and geeks. The history of the vineyards and their smallness, parcellated and divided by Napoleonic Law, creating a multitude of small growers. The French tax system also creates an environment of constant re-distribution. When a parent dies, the sons and daughters often have to sell some of their vines to pay death duty.
Then there’s who’s hot, who’s not. How the vintage affected the exact micro-climate in that vineyard. When the grower chose to pick. There is an almost endless stream of Burgundy gossip. The web is thick with Burgundy blogs, bulletin boards and chat rooms.
At its best Burgundy should be about elegance and finesse. Subtle and sensual. Mercurial and complex. The ultimate Pinot Noir? Certainly the benchmark for the grape variety. Many of the most influential New World winemakers have made the pilgrimage to Burgundy to worship at the altar, find out how they do it there and occasionally sneak a cutting from La Romanee-Conti back in their luggage. You can often come across Pinot Noir vines in California with some Burgundian roots.
Negoce vs Domaine bottling
Until the end of the 1970s almost all Burgundy was sold by Negociants – the Negoce. Growers would sell their grapes, or the must or barrels of finished wine to the large houses who would finish the wine off, bottle and distribute. There has been an ever-increasing trend for growers (Domaines) to bottle their own wine. While there are a couple of decent Negociants, in our opinion the best Burgundy comes from the growers themselves. If you have to sell a barrel to the Negoce to fund cashflow, are you really going to sell them your best one?
Nicolas Cheveau (Pouilly)
In southern Burgundy, near Macon, the primal presence of the two jagged rock faces of Vergisson and Solutre dominate the skyline above the tiny village of Pouilly, the village that time forgot. When we first visited, the whole Cheveau family, from grandparents to grandchildren, gathered in the doorway to watch the hotshot wine merchants from London taste their wines. Young Nicolas Cheveau makes Macon, St-Veran, Pouilly Fuisse and Beaujolais, leaving his white wines on their lees for up to twelve months to add texture and complexity.
Denis Pere (Pernand-Vergelesses)
We had been looking for good Pernand-Vergelesses for years and finally we found it. A small family Domaine, run by two brothers, the wife of one of the brothers and the son of their sister. Pernand-Vergelesses is sandwiched between the hill of Corton and the village of Savigny-les-Beaune. The Denis family make a spread of Pernands in red and white at Village and 1er Cru level, some Corton Grand Cru and a delicious Cremant de Bourgogne.
David Dubuet (Monthelie)
Young, twenty-something David Dubuet veered onto our radar with his 2004 vintage and we have been following this boyish, rising star ever since. Less well-known than its immediate neighbours, Volnay and Meursault, Monthelie can offer refined, rarely-seen whites and pure high-toned Cote de Beaune Pinot. The winery has been in the family for longer than David or even his Dad can remember. Best guess, two centuries. The Domaine has just 6 hectares, which is still plenty to keep the family busy. In between caring for their new baby, David’s wife Aurelie still works at her parents’ hotel/restaurant, the Hotel du Centre in Meursault.
He makes Monthelie in both white and red, Meursault, Bourgogne Rouge, Beaune “les Epenottes” from close to Pommard border and Monthelie 1er Cru “Champs Fulliot”. Brand new, from the 2010 vintage is lovely, pure Auxey-Duresses. The Monthelie Rouge comes from 4 parcels of 30 year-old vines around the village. Always easy to like. Pure, bright, pristine, high-toned Pinot fruit, supple tannins, intense and concentrated. A cavalcade of summer fruits, strawberries and cherries to lift the chill.
Pierre Guillemot (Savigny-les-Beaune)
The fabulous label led to a chance purchase in a fancy Delicatessen in Miami South Beach. The silky, pure, traditional style of its contents led to a phone call which led to a visit in August (with an exhaustive, half day tasting), which led to us cramming several cases into our van in Burgundy on our latest trip.
Three generations of the Guillemot family live in, or just off, the village square in Savigny-les-Beaune north of Beaune. When we visited in August, grandmother, mother and grandson were bottling and packing cases while father Pierre was scrambling here and there to prepare everything for the imminent, early harvest. Grandfather was having a lie-down. Grandson, fresh out of the local wine college, the Lycee Viticole in Beaune, took us through the entire line up. White Savigny, Bourgogne Rouge, Savigny at village level, multiple Premier Crus and their Grand Cru Corton. All in multiple vintages. Their style may seem elegant and silky and ethereal, but they all have classic Savigny structure – a tannic backbone that, coupled with the fresh Pinot acidity, gives all their reds enormous aging potential. A point amply demonstrated when he hauled out a 1991 in August and a 1992 in October.
Michel Lafarge (Volnay) BIODYNAMIC
The quiet village of Volnay has around ninety-five growers and Michel Lafarge plays a central part in its history. He was mayor of the village, as were his father and grandfather. Famous for his reds, the 2006’s are the epitome of Volnay finesse and rich elegance. Lafarge also makes a very elegant, quietly classy style of Meursault from the Volnay end of the appellation. Other highlights in his freezing cellar were the finest Beaune Greves we’ve tasted – a rare treat, considering he makes just one barrel. There seems to have been a seemless succession from Michel to his son Freddy but nobody really knows who does what. Biodynamism remains a touchstone for us. The compelling organic system based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and the lunar calendar is winning over growers everywhere. Burgundy seemed resistant until some high profile growers such as the former Mayor of Volnay, Michel Lafarge, switched. It came as a surprise to us that 80 year-old Michel and his son Freddy had converted as long ago as 2000. Everything is so understated and discreet. Who knows who does what in their cellar, the quality is seamless and peerless. This is their Volnay Selectionees – their favourite barrels, better parcels, generally older vines, up a notch from their basic Volnay. Silky like crushed velvet. Sensual, elegant and feminine.
Vincent Latour (Meursault)
Vincent Latour and his wife Cecile live just off the village square in Meursault. They have a spread of vineyards in Meursault, Saint Aubin and Volnay. Over the last decade Vincent has eased off his use of new oak and his vines are older. Although nothing has changed in terms of ownership or who holds the reins, the domaine has changed name from Latour-Labille to Vincent Latour. On a recent visit, we were blown away by his “basic” Bourgogne Blanc – in our opinion better than many growers’ grander Meursault. Vincent also has several grander vineyards – among them; Meursault Poruzots, Charmes, Perrieres and Goutte d’Or.
Sylvain Mosnier (Chablis-Beine)
It’s been a long search and we are excited to have found a fabulous new Chablis. Stephanie Mosnier gave up her job in logistics to come home and take over her father Sylvain’s domaine in the small village of Beine. She makes top-class Chablis – tightly-wound, concentrated and crystal clear, a wonderful balance of fruit and fresh acidity.
At the heady, top shelf end of Chambolle, we have Freddy Mugnier, a genius producer with legendary status. Burgundy on the world stage! If you never taste this man’s wines you will have missed out. Pinot Noir reaches the heights here, instantly distinctive, utterly seductive.
Quietly spoken and modest, Freddy took us into his shiny new cellar, expanded to absorb “Clos de la Marechale” which has recently reverted from Faiveley back to the Mugnier family, trebling their holdings overnight! Trebling and troubling – quite a leap in volume and a leap in the dark economically, but the first vintage (2004) is delicious. He could have bottled it all as Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Marechale, but decided to bottle what he sees as less favoured spots as village Nuits “Clos des Fourches”. He insists that good wine is made in the vineyard, and that it is his job as winemaker “not to mess it up” once the grapes are harvested.
How to describe the wines? “Strawberry drenched satin”, “Velvet wrapped strawberries with a dusting of sugar”, and other over-the-top descriptions are not out of place here. “A wine can provide intense sensations without being heavy,” he says.
Freddy Mugnier grafted some Chardonnay onto some of his old vines at the lower end of Clos de la Marechale, “to make some white wine for my wife”. This is only his second vintage. He only makes a barrel and we are delighted to get an armful of bottles.
Michel Noellat (Vosne-Romanee)
On one of our visits, everywhere we went on the Cote was gearing up for the annual Festival of St Vincent, the Saint of Wine. This involves decorating houses, shrubbery and trees with colourful paper flowers followed by processions. The Noellat brothers were clearing up after the St Vincent Festival in Vosne-Romanee. After the procession, they were this hosts for St Vincent himself. Based in the village of Vosne-Romanee, the Noellat brothers Alain and Philippe inherited the Domaine from their father Michel in 1989. They have a great range from Bourgogne Rouge, Fixin, a charming Village Nuits-St-Georges (from the Vosne side), several Vosne-Romanee 1er Crus up to Clos Vougeot and Echezeaux. They have just 0.47 of a hectare in two parcels in the Clos Vougeot, one from their father and one from their aunt, Madame Corbet-Tremblay. Both are very nicely positioned. All their wines are made in an upfront, plump style with concentrated, brambly fruit and minimal oak.
Paul Pernot (Puligny-Montrachet)
Weathered face, gnarly hands and never seen without his flat cap – he’s 70-ish and still very much in the driving seat. Every time we visit Paul Pernot in Puligny-Montrachet a few kilometres south of Beaune, we are struck by the sheer elegance and stunning quality of his wines. One of the top handful of growers in the village – his Pulignys have exquisite delicacy and poise but with the structure to age gracefully.
Monsieur Pernot’s Pulignys are assembled from several parcels including some vines between 40 and 45 years old. A complex mix of nuts, a touch of honey, tangerine peel and wild white flowers. Tightly wound in the nose when young, large-scaled in the mouth. The epitome of classy white Burgundy.
His Bourgogne Chardonnay is from vines planted in 1975 with a small track separating them from Villages vines. He also adds one rocky parcel de-classified from the 1er cru Champ Canet vineyard. The Puligny is an assemblage from several parcels with vines between 40 and 45 years old. Always with a fabulous, ethereal perfume, wonderful depth and poise and a hint of 1-2 year old oak (used firstly by the Batard and the Bienvenues-Batard). The Folatieres vines were planted in 1956. He treats them to 30-40% new oak. The wine is concentrated and has a massive finish. His Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet is quite a different balance, less upfront in the nose than the Folatieres but seriously enticing. An explosion in the mouth, a complex mix of nuts, a touch of honey and wild white flowers. The Batard needs time. It is all it should be – tightly wound in the nose when young, large-scaled in the mouth. If you can bear to wait 5-15 years your patience will be repaid, but, if you can?t wait, pour into a decanter for an hour before serving.
Famous for his elegant white Burgundies he also has some parcels of old vine Pinot Noir. This is traditionally made, mature, old-school Pinot, dripping with smoky, autumn fruit.
“Les Reversees” is a small vineyard on the outskirts of the mediaeval town of Beaune. Its character is usually described as plump and rustic.
“Clos du Dessous des Marconnets” is a tiny walled vineyard, a monopole, owned solely by Monsieur Pernot, on the slope above the mediaeval town of Beaune.
Those of you who are familiar with our shelves of Burgundy may have come across Noellat from the village of Vosne-Romanee in the Cotes de Nuits. Vosne-Romanee is a name that makes Pinot lovers go misty eyed.
Alain Noellat’s daughter Sophie did a very short stint with us as an intern. This unfortunately coincided with some serious love-sickness. She had fallen in love with Arnaud Sirugue, the son of another wine-making family, from around the corner, less than 100 metres from her home. That, and the contrast between a quiet French village and a flat in Brick Lane, made her revise her plans. Shuttle forward 18 months and the two were married in the summer of 2013.
An unexpected benefit for us was a re-awakening of our interest in the Sirugue family’s wines. We tasted when we visited in June and were impressed. They are elegant, focused and very pure.
Cyril Audoin (Marsannay)
We were pleased to have been the first in the UK to have heard about Cyril Audoin. On one of our visits to Burgundy he treated us to lunch in a tiny vineyard workers’ bistro and was horrified when one of his own very old bottles was corked. Luckily for us, he ran back to fetch a replacement. Not much white wine is made on the Cote de Nuits and his white Marsannay impressed us so much that it has become a firm Winery favourite. Cyril, now in his late 20s, started making wine when he was 12. Swashbuckling Cyril is something of a local Casanova – every time we visit, he seems to have a different (always drop-dead gorgeous) girlfriend. He told us that he has recently bought a love shack in the quiet village of Chambolle-Musigny. Lock up your daughters!
Brigitte Berthelemot had been in the world of finance and decided to switch careers. After studying in the Loire she came to Burgundy and snapped up two small Domaines who were selling up, Yves Darviot and Jean Garaudet. The vineyard real-estate is dreamy; Beaune-Greves, Beaune Clos des Mouches, Pommard Noizons, Monthelie, Meursault-Charmes. She and her cellar master Marc Cugny are making pure, clean Burgundy – modern, yet not marked by oak.
We met Tomoko Kuriyama a couple of years ago. She’s a friend of Eva Fricke and we would often bump into her on the Rheingau while she was working as winemaker at Altenkirch in Lorch. She moved to Burgundy recently to start a mini-Negociant with her boyfriend Guillaume Bott, who is winemaker at Simon Bize in Savigny. We tasted in their temporary cellar, a chill-room in a corner of a wooden case manufacturer between Beaune and Savigny. 2010 is their first vintage. The courtiers (who work behind the scenes putting grape sellers in touch with buyers) have a soft spot for Guillaume, so their first collection had some surprisingly serious Appellations – Meursault and a sensational Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Morgeots, for example. We were quick to load their first bottling, a delicious, classic hazelnutty, village Meursault into the Winery van, making us their first export sale.
How did Tomoko come to be in Burgundy? Winding back, she was born in Tokyo in 1968. Her first husband was German and when her kids went to Uni in Germany, she had to find something to do. She learnt German, thought about Uni herself, then thought about wine. Living the Franken side of Frankfurt she knocked on the legendary Paul Furst’s door. Although he didn’t take her seriously at first, he did take her in eventually. She became an apprentice and did everything. After three years with Furst, she went to Geisenheim, then to Breuer in Rudesheim, then to the amazing, biodynamic grower, Peter-Jakob Kuhn in Oestrich-Winkel, before landing the job at Altenkirch.
Guillaume Bott was born in Dijon and lived in Beaune where he went to the Lycee Viticole for five years. he says he was a poor student. He did stages at Vannieres in Bandol and Sauzet in Puligny before moving to Bize.
Tomoko and Guillaume have now moved in together and collaborate in every area. Clearly, with their pedigree, they have a bright future ahead of them!
Anne-Francoise Gros and Francois Parent (Pommard)
The marriage of Anne-Francoise Gros from Vosne-Romanee on the Cote de Nuits and Francois Parent from Pommard on the Cote de Beaune brought together some amazing vineyards under one roof. Although all the wine is now made by Francois with Anne-Francoise concentrating on “Le Marketing”, they still keep their separate labels.
Richness and purity of fruit are the hallmarks here.
Huber-Verdereau (Volnay) BIODYNAMIC
Three years ago, we were having a cosy chat with the legendary Anne-Francoise Gros who is considering switching to Biodynamism when her son walked in. He was doing an internship with Thiebault Huber-Verdereau in Volnay, who was already Bio. Sounded interesting, so we hot-footed it over to the tiny Domaine.
Former sommelier Thiebault Huber, originally from Alsace and a disciple of Marc Kreydenweiss, inherited some vines in the village of Volnay from his Grandmother. It wasn’t such a difficult choice – should he buy some vines in Alsace or move to Burgundy to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? Despite being a small Domaine of just 8 hectares, he has 34 different parcels of vines spread across 5 villages. To avoid chemical run-off, he has agreements with each of his 60 neighbours to treat the first adjacent row of their vines. The neighbours now prefer picking those rows, with the deep, healthy fruit and it may only be a matter of time before they make the switch to Bio themselves.
There aren’t many growers in Chassagne-Montrachet and we’ve been on the lookout for years. A chance call to the Jouard brothers by the church paid off. A Russian dealer had cleared them out of village Chassagne, but Francois did have a tiny bit of their intense 1er Crus for us: Morgeot, Les Chaumees-Clos de la Truffiere and Maltroie. People talk about minerality with Chassagne-Montrachet, yet these seem more exotic, wild even. Toasted hazelnuts, incense, herbs and orange peel.
David Juillard – 36eme Ouvree (Hautes-Cotes) ORGANIC
Our search for Biodynamic Burgundy brought us to David Juillard and his 36eme Ouvree. It was a slippy slidey drive in the thick snow up on the Hautes Cotes de Nuits to meet him at his father-in-law’s winery where until recently he made his super-sleek saturated reds; a fabulous Bourgogne Rouge (made from Morey Saint Denis fruit) and two intense Nuits Saint Georges, Aux Thorey and 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges.
Francois Labet – Chateau de la Tour (Vougeot)
The only Clos Vougeot made within the walls of the Clos. Suave, affable Francois Labet has a fantastic holding of old vines, many over 100 years-old. Even his normal bottling is made from 65 year-old vines.
After an internship in Australia, Marie-France Largeot and her husband, Remy Martin (yes, really!), took over her father’s Domaine in Chorey, just north of Beaune, seven years ago. She makes lovely, plump, often precociously juicy Pinots from vines in Savigny, Aloxe, Chorey and Beaune.