If you read our columns regularly, you know we spend a lot of time in Bordeaux. Many of you have even traveled with us on visits along the Garonne and Châteaux Roads.
But much as we love Bordeaux, we are equally devoted to the wines produced in Burgundy. That said, it’s always a bit of a culture shock to drive from Bordeaux to Burgundy. The change is startling! The two regions could not be more distinct.
Bordeaux is instantly impressive. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architectural treasures, the city was famously a model for Baron Haussmann as he redesigned Paris. Of course, the Bordeaux Médoc is filled with castles, each grander than the next, replete with crystal chandeliers, priceless works of art and manicured lawns.
Beaune, Burgundy’s wine capital, is charming and picturesque, but nothing as glamorous as its western cousin. Instead of grand boulevards lined with Corinthian columns, we find tidy homes with quaint shutters. Dainty flower gardens mark the small streets and side lanes. In the surrounding communities of Meursault, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanée, there are no spectacular châteaux — the ancient abbey Clos Vougeot (pictured above) is one of the few exceptions. Here the vineyard properties are excruciatingly tiny — just a few slim rows in many cases.
And like the modest homes and villages, the Burgundians are also more reserved and conservative than their Bordelais counterparts. One could say that they let their wine production do the talking for them…. and does it ever!
Although Burgundy accounts for only 3% of all French wine production and a mere 0.4% of global production (statistics from guildsomm.com) it also famously markets the world’s priciest wine. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (of course) holds the world record for the most expensive wine sold at auction. In the fall of 2018, two bottles of the 1945 vintage went for $558,000.
And, just to add to the dizzying $$$, the average price for Domaine Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru or Christophe Roumier Les Amoureuses will be well over $1,000 and can go as high as $21,000 depending on the vintage. There are numerous other examples….
Suffice it to say that Burgundy’s conservative demeanor doesn’t necessarily mirror the value of their wines.
OUR FAVORITE VINTNERS
The past two vintages in Burgundy were hit hard with frost, so it was especially gratifying to tour the region a few weeks ago for the 2017 release and to get a head start on the upcoming 2018 vintage.
We have, of course, already received and shipped our 2017s from Henri Boillot and other Burgundy producers. We’ve also previously reported that 2017 was particularly good for Chardonnay. We can now say that 2018 looks quite promising for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well. In fact, many winegrowers are saying Burgundy 2018 may rival anything in recent decades, even the mythical 1947! But more on that as the story develops…..
Domaine Louis Michel & Fils
We’ve visited Guillaume Michel, current owner-winemaker at Domaine Louis Michel on a number of occasions. This year, Guillaume was all smiles as he tasted us on his 2017 Chablis and shared information about his production, which was up significantly.
The Michel family has been producing wine since the 19th century. Guillaume Michel, vinifies his Chablis only in stainless steel tanks to preserve the natural qualities of the Chardonnay grapes. As a result, the wines are consistently pure and fresh, with polished finesse.
The Domaine produces 12 wines from all four Chablis appellations with seven Premiers Crus and three Grands Crus. We were thrilled to sample four of the Premiers Crus and two of the Grands Crus, including the legendary Grenouilles. One of the rarest Chablis Grands Crus, Grenouilles consists of 9.5 hectares of old vines with perfect exposure on a southwestern slope. The appellation is known for its mineral expression and tremendous aging potential. Guillaume calls it, “Absolute perfection. The vines always produce beautifully. I never worry about them. We’re extremely lucky to have a parcel of them.”
In the reception area at Domaine Leflaive, the first thing we noticed is a photo of Anne-Claude Leflaive. We realized too that it’s been almost four years to the day since her passing. Impressively, her presence and legacy are still very much in evidence.
Domaine Leflaive consists of some of the most precious terroir in Burgundy — Grand Cru vineyards like Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet — terroir Anne-Claude was determined to protect through biodynamic viticulture and holistic farming.
The estate continues to maintain biodynamic-organic practices. And we marveled at another example of Anne-Claude’s naturalistic endowment when vineyard manager Sylvain Pellegrini led us into her “Cave de l’Oeuf” — an egg-shaped cellar constructed using the proportions of the Golden Ratio (just like the Mona Lisa and Great Pyramid of Giza). Building materials from a mixture of wood, clay, straw and earth bricks create a natural humidity of 80% and a constant temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Truly a nurturing space.
After leaving the cellar we experienced the tasting of a lifetime — 2017 Domaine Leflaives ranging from Premiers Crus such as Meursault sous le Dos d’Âne, Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon, Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières, Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles, to Grands Crus Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet.
By the time we left, we’re walking on air. Such unbelievably beautiful wines!
Domaine Henri Boillot
We’re fortunate to be one of the few U.S. importers for Henri Boillot’s wines, so needless to say, we always stop in to taste at his property in Meursault. There’s plenty to enjoy, since Henri and his son Guillaume produce 32 different wines. Currently the Boillots own eleven of those properties. And, significantly, in a piece of new news they shared with us, they’ve just purchased another Monopole. Clos Richemond is the name of the new acquisition. They also own the Premier Cru monopole Clos de la Mouchère.
What we realized with this most recent tasting is that the 2017 reds are showing particularly well — especially the Volnay Premiers Crus and the two new Grands Crus: Échezeaux and Latricières-Chambertin. (And we we still have stock!)
When we first met Yves Confuron, the acclaimed winemaker for Courcel, he wasted little time with formalities. Instead, he immediately led us down a dark stairway into a cold, musty cellar. Grabbing his “pipette” he began to extract wine from his barrels.
What we tasted was dense and lush. The elegance of the wine contrasted dramatically with the small, rustic cellar. We peppered Yves with questions, which he begrudgingly answered. Eventually, he warmed up to us, realizing we were sincerely in love with his wines.
Courcel produces approximately 30,000 bottles a year from 26 acres in Pommard. Yves works a green-harvest in August to keep the fruit load balanced. The wines are developed in barrel for an astonishing 21 to 23 months, with a third of the barrels being replaced each year. After racking they are bottled without fining or filtration.
At the end of our visit, we decided Courcel is the ultimate Burgundy conundrum – a small, quirky, homespun winery producing unbelievably sophisticated, refined and highly sought-after wines.
Maison Joseph Drouhin
Burgundy is known for its tiny plots and family estates, but Drouhin is one of the gigantic exceptions. The Domaine owns some 78 hectares (193 acres) making it the largest estate in the region. The Drouhin winery in Beaune is always a fascinating visit. Numerous historical artifacts are on display, including an ancient grape crusher.
The vast Drouhin cellars, which sprawl beneath the city of Beaune, are astounding. Originally excavated by the Romans, over 2,000 years ago, the caves were owned at various times by both the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France.
With this visit, we were impressed with the high quality of the entire line-up from the négociant collections to the estate wines. We also appreciated the fact that many of the Drouhin wines are very affordable and make for a great introduction to Burgundy.
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair
One of the hottest winemakers in Burgundy, Thibault Liger-Belair took over winemaking at his family’s 250 year-old Nuits-Saint-Georges estate in 2002. A year later, he also began producing wines from vineyards in Richebourg, Clos Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée Petits Monts, and Bourgogne Rouge. In 2009, he expanded the domaine into Beaujolais. More recently, he began producing a Beaujolais-Villages and several Moulin-à-Vent Crus. Currently, there are some 28 distinct labels.
The Liger-Belair wines are prized for their concentrated flavors, structure and density. Thibault utilizes stem inclusion for added minerality and aromatic freshness. After tasting most of the 28 wines from the 2017 vintage, we felt that the wines are made for aging. The quality of each appellation is apparent, particularly with 3-5 years in the bottle. A wine that is approachable now in their lineup, is the Bourgogne Rouge — a wonderful blend of power and acidity.
We spent an entire afternoon at this ultra-modern, high-tech property, learning about new processes and experiments while savoring glasses of TL-B.
Mongeard-Mugneret is one of the lesser known producers in Vosne-Romanée Les Petits-Monts. But then consider the neighborhood — with legendary properties such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy just around the corner!!! Ironically, the estate is one of the larger producers in the appellation, with labels ranging from Bourgogne-Rouge to Richebourg that the family have owned since 1786.
The wines are made in a traditional style, without filtration and exhibit robust, full-bodied aromas and flavors. They benefit from four to five years of bottling. We especially enjoyed the 2015 Echezeaux Grand Cru — beautifully perfumed, intense with a silky purity. The 2013 Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Plateaux was all black currants and truffles — incredibly luscious. Prices for the Mongeard Mugneret are anything but petite, however, considering the neighborhood and extraordinary heritage of these wines. But you wouldn’t expect anything less.
Domaine Henri Gouges
We had never visited Henri Gouges before this trip, so it was a huge treat to meet current owner-winemaker Gregory Gouges. The Gouges wines are absolutely stunning, easily some of the finest production in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
The estate itself dates back to the 1920’s when Gregory’s Great Grandfather, Henri, began to acquire vineyards, creating what would ultimately be the majority of today’s estate. The property is particularly known for its cultivation of White Pinot Noir. Henri propagated a vine with all white clusters post-veraison.
Gregory continues to produce brilliant wines in the style and manner of his Great Grandfather and to cultivate the White Pinot Noir — now known as “Pinot Gouges” — in La Perrière as well as in the Premier Cru vineyard and Gouges monopole of Clos de Porrets-Saint-Georges.
Much of the news coming from Ponsot these days concerns the departure of Laurent Ponsot. So, we were eager to meet Alexandre Abel, the new winemaker, brought in by Rose-Marie Ponsot, who has taken over sole responsibility of the estate. Alexandre has broad experience, having previously worked in Chile, South Africa and the Languedoc. He’s low-key and affable, but as he describes his first vintage at Ponsot, you immediately sense his focus and passion.
While guiding us through the cellar Alexandre explains that maintaining the Ponsot-style is a priority. The late harvests, so characteristic of the estate, will continue. (Alexandre waited until September 19th to harvest in 2017, while most other estates harvested the first week of September.) Like his predecessor, Alexandre avoids heavy extraction. After a quick pumpover the first day, he implements small pigeages. The wines stay on the lees for 30 months and finish in used oak barrels.
The wines we tasted were powerful, fleshy, voluptuous and just flat-out indulgent. Clearly Alexandre Abel is off to a great start!
Domaine Olivier Bernstein
Just the name “Olivier Bernstein” makes us weak in the knees! His wines are truly exceptional and it’s difficult to imagine a vintner who takes more care in the production of his wine: seven Grands Crus and three Premiers Crus.
Although he is officially a négociant, Olivier and his team are fully in charge of the vineyard work on their plots. No expense is spared in the cultivation and development of the vines. After harvest, Olivier hand selects specific woods with a cooper who then creates barrels just for him. Once a vintage finishes aging, he sells off the barrels — never using them again.
During this visit, we tasted the 2018‘s, which at Bernstein are definitely living up to the early hype. The Grands Crus Bonnes-Mares, Clos de la Roche, Charmes-Chambertin and Clos de Vougeot show tremendous promise. Particularly unforgettable were the final trio: Mazis-Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze and Chambertin — or as Olivier calls them the Prince, Queen and King. The Queen was shining gloriously the day we tasted. And we left feeling very much like royalty ourselves.
No denying it. Burgundy provides many of the world’s most desirable wines. Though the properties are often austere and the producers a bit reticent, the wines are grand and richly expressive. Here a few great bottles to enjoy now or add to your collection:
Domaine Louis Michel
2017 Chablis Villages. $24.99
2017 Chablis Premier Cru Montmain. $30.99
2017 Chablis Premier Cru Vaulorent. $35.99
2017 Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre. $35.99
2017 Mâcon Verzé. $36.99
2017 Pouilly-Fuissé. $46.99
Domaine Henri Boillot
2017 Meursault Village. $45.99.
2017 Volnay Premier Cru Les Chevrets. $76.99
2017 Volnay Premier Cru Les Fremiets. $76.99
2017 Volnay Premier Cru Les Caillerets. $89.99
2017 Échezeaux Grand Cru. $179.99. Limited stock!
2015 Bourgogne Blanc. $35.99
2015 Pommard Epenots Premier Cru. $129.99
Maison Joseph Drouhin
2017 Pouilly-Fuissé. $28.99
2016 Chassagne-Montrachet. $65.99
2016 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. $194.99
2016 Gevrey-Chambertin. $59.99
2015 Aloxe-Corton. $49.99
2016 Vosne-Romanée. $83.99
2016 Musigny Grand Cru. $799.99
Domaine Henri Gouges
2016 Pinot Blanc. $36.99
2016 Bourgogne Rouge. $36.99.
2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru. $188.99
2015 Nuits-Saint-Georges Vaucrains Premier Cru. $129.99
2015 Nuits-Saints-Georges Les Pruliers Premier Cru. $99.99
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair
2016 Bourgogne Rouge Les Deux Terres. $36.99
2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges La Charmotte Premier Cru. $79.99
2014 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru. $199.99
Domaine Mongeard Mugneret
2015 Nuits-Saint-Georges Boudot Premier Cru. $159.99
2015 Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots Premier Cru. $299.99
2015 Vosne-Romanée En Orveaux Premier Cru. $284.99
2015 Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes Premier Cru. $149.99
2015 Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru. $439.99
Domaine Olivier Bernstein
2014 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru. $299.99
2014 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru. $259.99
2014 Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. $399.99
2016 Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru. $649.99
2016 Grand Cru Box, including 7 Grands Crus. $4,600
Domaine Olivier Bernstein & Domaine Leflaive Pre-Sale
PLEASE NOTE: Our 2017 Olivier Bernstein and Domaine Leflaive pre-sales are coming up in the next few weeks. Please let us know if you’d like to receive pricing and availability. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850-687-1370.
And a few more treats…..
2015 Domaine Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de La Baronne. $119.99
2016 William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses Magnum. $199.99
2017 William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses. $82.99