Burgundy Intro

Hello everyone!  I realize it has been a while since we last touched base, but rest assured that you will be reimbursed for the missed months.  The delay took place for two reasons and I will briefly explain them now to appease those of you who are wondering what the hell I’ve been doing.  First, the creation of a truly functional Newman Wine Cellar has been undertaken and completed.  This unfortunately required that we move into a new house so along with the wine cellar creation came all the hassles of moving.  And while I won’t say that I ended up with my dream cellar, I am pleased to say that I have a functional multipart cellar that has allowed storage for all of my wine appropriately for the first time in my life.  And though I do currently have some room to grow I’m sure that won’t last.  If any of you all would like to send a bottle or two as congratulations, please do. Please ask for in person delivery as there are some well known and rampant wine thieves that live next door.  Their pilfering has already reduced cellar stocks significantly… I would send some pictures, but instead I will leave it open to the mind and request that you all come to visit in person to see how it has taken shape.  I think you will be impressed with my ability to adapt to difficult circumstances imposed on me and my poor wines by my lovely, but slightly aggressive and anti-compromise life partner (love you dear).  Regardless I am thrilled to have good storage lined up for the foreseeable future and look forward to hosting you all with some fine vintages in the future.

The second reason for postponement of my latest missive is that I felt you all as my loyal customers and readers deserved someone who not only claimed to be knowledgeable about wine (lots of people do that who have no idea what the difference between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are), but who actually had some credentials that would give all of you peace of mind that I am not just talking out my rear end when it comes to these emails.  Therefore to ease all of your minds and to make sure that the growth of this venture continues, I have undertaken and completed my first true certification.  Yesterday, 6/6/16 I became a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators.  For those of you wondering if I just made up those names here is a link www.societyofwineeducators.org from which you can review the credentialing process and rest assured that this is not a figment of my imagination.  This is my first step towards potentially changing careers and I do anticipate going on to become a Certified Wine Educator in the future, however given my beautiful partner’s desire for high end furniture to decorate our new abode and her lack of desire to foot the bill for it, I will for now continue to proceed in my current employ.  Feel free to send congratulatory gifts, wines, etc to the above mentioned address.

Now that those explanations are out of the way lets move on to actually discussing some wine.  I have been holding this one back, but today is the day that we begin to dip our noses into the vinous wonderland that is Burgundy!!!  Burgundy is my first and greatest wine love.  I still vividly remember the 2002 1er Cru Volnay that I sipped in 2006 at Le Petit Pois on the downtown mall in Charlottesville during my 4th year of medical school.  The aromas were mind blowing, hauntingly beautiful.  It seemed as if a world were wound up in that bottle.  And the palate to describe it as elegant, graceful, ethereal would be an understatement.  It was the quintessential “power without weight”.  There were so many flavors and sensations yet the wine seemed to float and dance across my taste buds.  That wine completely hooked me and created the current situation (some might say disaster?) of my obsession with wine.  So beware!  You are forewarned that Burgundy can cast a trance on you much deeper than any siren of the seas… but, lets proceed shall we.

This will be a brief introduction to Burgundy.  It may feel long, but tomes have been written about Burgundy (I in fact own most of them) that are thousands of pages.  Burgundy is THE MOST COMPLEX region in the world.  It is the home to the highest highs of wine lovers and also home to some of the lowest lows when a precious bottle turns out to be a dud (of which I’ve had several). Burgundy runs the gamut from affordable, every day drinking wine to the most expensive wines on earth (La Romanee Conti currently runs about $12,500 per 750ml, feel free to send one or two my way).  Burgundy is not only complicated in terms of the terroir, which generally reigns supreme here, but also in the producers.  Napoleonic code requires that inheritance be split amongst all of the offspring, therefore vineyards that were formerly owned and worked by one person are now split hundreds of ways.  Growers have a few rows in vines in one vineyard in Chambolle, a few more in Morey St Denis, and maybe a hectare in Nuits St George.  This means (frustratingly) that two wines from the same vineyard and the same vintage may be drastically different depending on the producer!!  If one enjoys new oak and high tannin they may make their wine in that style, while another may prefer grace and elegance over power.  The possibilities are endless, however it is also quite frustrating that learning the geography alone is not enough, you must carefully research, and ideally taste different wines.  I will give you a short list of producers that I have found to be consistent and classic to the terroir that they work at the end, however I highly recommend exploring some on your own.  Regardless of the effort, the results when they come together are truly spellbinding…

While it is very complex overall, the general basics of Burgundy are quite simple.  It is a region in the east of France, towards the Northern climes for grape growing and they grow primarily only two grapes.  Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir.  White Burgundy is Chardonnay.  That’s it.  Sure there are a few other grapes you’ll see occasionally (Aligote and Gamay mostly), but the essence of Burgundy is those two grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay.

burgundy wine mapAs you can see from the image to the left, Burgundy is split into 5 sub-regions, Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune (the Cote de Nuit and Cote de Beaune are also referred to collectively as the Cote d’Or), Cote Chalonnaise, and the Maconnais.

Today we are going to focus on Chablis and regional red Burgundy.

Chablis is slightly disconnected from the rest of Burgundy and is quite far north, very close in fact to Champagne which we discussed in an earlier edition.  It is also on similar soil to Champagne with a soil composed of chalk and Kimmeridgian limestone.  Chablis grows only chardonnay.  No reds here.  And if you are thinking to yourself… damn it Newman, I hate chardonnay, please hold on a minute and give Chablis a chance.  Chablis has as much in common with a rich, oaky, opulent Chardonnay from California as it does with red Bordeaux.  Ok, that’s an exaggeration… however if you told me you didn’t like chardonnay and then I served you a Chablis without telling you what it was, I will almost guarantee that you will like it (I’ve actually done that experiment with multiple people and have yet to have a failure yet).  Given the northern location, Chablis struggles to ripen grapes.  Therefore the resulting wine is generally very taut, mineral driven, with racy, mouth-watering acidity.  There are notes of iodine, sea breeze, chalk, lime zest, and crisp green apple.  These wines have much more in common with Sauvignon blanc from a flavor and mouth feel standpoint than with most other chardonnay (including most other white Burgundy).  I would be remiss not to at least mention the classification status of Burgundy.  Those of you who are astute readers will have noticed in my initial intro as I described the Volnay that hooked me there was a strange 1er cru associated with it.  This is shorthand for premier cru.  Burgundian vineyards are split into 4 classifications.  They are:

  1. Regional – Bourgogne is what the label will say and that means the grapes can come from anywhere on the above mentioned map
  2. Village – this will have the name of whatever village the vineyards are in that produced that wine.  Chablis for example is a village, as is Volnay and Vosne-Romanee.  Generally a step up in quality and price
  3. Premier cru – these are individual vineyards within villages that have been recognized for consistent, outstanding production.  (the classification was done mainly by Cistercian monks, so when I say consistent we are talking centuries here).  These wines will be labeled with the village, the vineyard name, and the designation 1er cru or premier cru.  Excellent wines, generally the best value to price is found in this area.
  4. Grand cru – these are also individual vineyards, but they have been recognized to outshine even the premier crus and produce the epitome of Burgundy wine.  There are 33 grand cru vineyards in all of Burgundy, accounting for about 1-2% of all production.  Truly the creme de la creme.  I generally consider there to be more than that as the Chablis grand cru is counted as one because it is a contiguous parcel, however there are clearly different climats which give different wines and they have names.  But I digress…

Back to Chablis

Chablis vineyardThis image gives you a stark and telling view of the above mentioned limestone and chalk soil.  Chablis in general is aged in steel, cement, or neutral wood.  It would be somewhat sacrilegious to put these grapes into a new oak barrel and mask all that minerality with toast and vanilla.  These are great wines to drink in the summer.  Chilled down to about 40-43F they are crisp, cooling, and the acidity is quite thirst quenching.  In fact, writing this is really making me want some Chablis right now.  For those of you who are new to Burgundy I would advise trying a village level Chablis.  These are generally not too expensive ($15-30).  They are fantastic with sea food, light fish dishes, and with cheese or as an aperitif.  I will recommend a few producers below.

Before that, let’s delve briefly into red Burgundy as this is what truly gets the blood moving for me… for now we will keep it simple.  Regional red.  Nothing further.  Although if you would like to delve further with some additional study I will certainly provide more insight as requested.

Red burgundy is, as mentioned before, (at least for our circumstances) always pinot noir.  Most of the red wine is produced in the Cote d’Or (golden slope) although there is some lovely pinot produced in the Chalonnaise.  Bourgogne, which is the label term for regional Burgundy can come from anywhere in Burgundy.  The grapes may be mixed with grapes from other villages etc.  These are excellent wines when made well and offer good value if you get one from a good producer.  The pinot noir of Burgundy is different than the pinot noir of anywhere else.  While there certainly is outstanding pinot noir being produced in places like the Willamette Valley in Oregon and Central Otago, NZ, the essence that these new world pinot producers are trying to capture is Burgundy.  The pinot noir of Burgundy tends to be less ripe (bright red berry fruits), higher in acidity, and to have characteristics of wet earth, game, iron, and blood (depending on the village).  There are also loads of floral notes in some of the villages.  Bourgogne at its best has fresh cherry, raspberry, and red currant with notes of lilac, and lily, and under currents of iron, crushed limestone, and sometimes a lovely gamey/barnyard funk that is truly titillating.  At its worst, it is poorly made plonk that is barely drinkable with a tannic rusticity that leaves a green, astringent, and metallic taste.  Again, producer recommendations to follow.  Pairing wise, Bourgogne is very versatile.  Great with lighter meat dishes such as pork, chicken, brats etc, good with heavier fish, and good with dishes sauced with mushrooms or other savory toppings.

I’m sure that is more than enough for one edition, so lets get to some wines you can actually buy!!

Chablis village level; should be around $15-30; some producers may be more, but generally not.  My favorite producers for these wines are Louis Michel (fully stainless steel aged, laser like precision, crisp, refreshing, and delicious), J-P & B Droin (you can often also find some of their 1er Cru Chablis for only around $25-30, I’m particularly fond the Vaillons), Roland Lavantureux (neutral wood aged, so will be a little rounder than the Louis Michel), Domaine Costal, Domaine Servin, William Fevre (excellent value), Christian Moreau, Joseph Drouhin, and Vincent Dauvissat (may be a bit more expensive, but delicious). The best producer in Chablis is often considered to be Francois Raveneau, but unfortunately given his wines collector status they are pretty pricey, often around $80-100 for even village level.

Bourgogne rouge (yes I am mostly fluent in French now); generally between $15-50; $50 is generally the very highest regarded producers and they often drink more like a village level; my favorite producers for these are: Domaine Montille (from vineyards based around Volnay, delicious red berry fruits and floral notes), Domaine A et P de Villaine (from vineyards in the Chalonnaise, this is the proprietor of the more famous Domaine de la Romanee Conti and these are his personal vineyards rather than the firms holdings, delicious), Henri Gouges (from vineyards outside of Nuits St George, this will have lots of gamy, earthy deliciousness), Domaine Gachot-Monot (the Chantes des Muses was served at our nuptials and is from just outside of Chambolle-Musigny giving it a very elegant profile), Michel Lafarge (fantastic, classically produced wines from near Volnay that actually require cellaring even at this level!!), Camille Giroud (the 2012 Bourgogne was also served at our wedding and is still drinking beautifully), Ghislaine Barthod “Les Bons Batons” (another beautiful wine, that often drinks above its level, probably a little closer to $35-40), Domaine Chevillon (a bit more rustic, from near Nuits St George, but still quite good), Joseph Roty “Les Pressioners” (from near Gevrey and also with lots of animale and savory notes), Domaine Fourrier, Domaine Denis Bachelet, Domaine Arlaud, and Domaine Meo-Camuzet also make excellent regional reds that are more affordable than their higher level wines;

I have intentionally tried to give a long list of options for this one as these wines are unfortunately hard to find due to small production.  Other possibilities that are easier to find include Domaine Faiveley which is very enjoyable and Joseph Drouhin.  These are two larger firms who in addition to vineyards they own purchase grapes so they have a larger production.  A so called “negociant”, but we will save that until next time….

Until next month I will hope that you all enjoy the start of summer and sip some stellar wines.  As always feedback and reviews on wines you have enjoyed are welcomed.

Yours in vine,

J. Newman, CSW