Summer salutations to all of my fellow vinous followers! Apologies for the delay in this edition; it has been a busy time here in Bozeman. I hope that having a month off has allowed you all to revisit some of the prior reviews that have been languishing in your inboxes unread or if read, undigested. Now, we will get back on track and resume learning the wonders of the wine world!
I hope that you all have had some lovely summer activities and have been able to enjoy some crisp New Zealand sauvignon blancs and maybe a few roses here and there. As you may have guessed despite my lack of writing to you all I have stayed quite busy. The biggest news coming from the Newman household is my lovely wife and financial manager currently is in the process of growing a burgeoning sommelier to join our family. Yes that is correct… I will be entering fatherhood and while this is terrifying for me (and likely you) to imagine, is also exciting and filled with possibilities. We will be having a little girl due in September. Marilee is doing well and in general has been a rockstar during pregnancy with minimal abuse towards yours truly! So wish us luck as we enter this lifelong endeavor, as I’m certain we will need it. I will keep you posted as things progress. In addition, one of our founding members has also recently welcomed a new little bundle of joy into the world, so let me say a word of welcome to Sidney Claire Brown! She is a lovely addition to the Brown family and thankfully seems to have her mother’s looks and demeanor, which should serve her much better than her father’s would. I have no doubt that Sidney and the little Newman to be will have wonderful adventures together!
Ok, now that we have the sappy stuff out of the way, let’s move forward. In addition to creating progeny I have continued to advance my secondary career as a master of all trades. I recently provided a guided fly fishing trip of the local rivers which ended with many large trout in my nets. Rainbows, cutthroats, browns, and the occasional whitefish were hooked and landed on a regular basis. I do have photographic evidence for those who may question this as the truth. I will also have to give a small amount of credit to another of our list members who has previously provided a small tip here or there on how to improve my fishing skills. It seems that he did know a bit about fishing and though it now seems the student has become the teacher, I do appreciate the initial advice given to me by Stacy Johnson. I’m certain I’ll be able to repay the advice with more wine and guidance to the perfect spots on the legendary local waters. I am considering offering a float, fishing, and wine special in the future so get your requests in early as I’m certain space on this expedition will be tight!
I was also able to spend a lovely week on a lake with some of our family enjoying sun, fun, and yes of course some wine. Most of my time was spent being harangued by my 4 nieces (which provided some lovely insight into my life to come). When asking my brother-in-law for advice about how to deal with daughters (he has 3), his response was, “I have no advice… you’re screwed”. Not the most confidence inspiring comment… otherwise despite the general ineptitude at identifying wines and varietals it was a lovely week and included some truly delicious wines including Salicutti Brunello 2006, Brunelli Brunello 2004, Eyrie Pinot Noir 1998, Fichet Bourgogne Blanc 2005, Andre Clouet Champagne, etc. I was also able to reestablish my dominance at card games in general and Balderdash (which if you have never played is simply stellar).
In addition to continuing to master supplementary hobbies, I have been fortunate to lead many other tastings with exceptional wines and company. From lobster and white burgundy to porchetta and sangiovese to lamb and red burgundy to beef and Bordeaux, the wine and food scene at the Newman abode and our accessory tasting venues has never been better. And while I have experienced some disappointments (a few corked wines, list members that can’t remember which region belongs to which grape despite multiple educational reviews, etc) in general these have been stellar events. And more than once I have actually been pleasantly surprised by the progress that my pupils have made. Several have made excellent calls on certain smells in wines that we have shared, some have been able to guess grape varietals blind, and others have provided insightful pairing tips that have been invaluable. It is rewarding to see the progress of these few, although several (who will remain unnamed) still lag behind. I will continue to keep trying to move everyone up the ladder!
Since I know summer is busy, I will keep this month’s rendition to a minimum. While there are many other exploits that I could share, I will hold off and move into the topic of the month. Many of you know that my true passion in the world of wine is Burgundy. You may even recall that I sent a primer on Burgundy many months ago with some basic information on the area and the classification of the wines (please see issue 7 for reference and review if you need it prior to proceeding). Now at long last I can resist no longer and we will slowly but surely begin working our way through the region in more depth! Don’t fret, it will not be a continual barrage of Burgundy over the next year, but I will start to introduce the individual villages that I hold most dear. I will begin with a brief general recap of the region for those of you who deleted issue 7…
For now when I refer to Burgundy, I will be referring to the area known specifically as the Cote d’Or. I realize that there is much more to Burgundy than this area, but it simplifies things. The Cote d’Or is the middle section of Burgundy with Chablis and a few other villages north and the Chalonnaise and Maconnais to the south. The Cote d’Or is the famous area of Burgundy where all of the famous vineyards are located, hence why we will initially focus on this area. This issue will specifically address the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, which is one of my favorite villages and a good village to use as a transition point for those not familiar with the wines of Burgundy as these will often be the most similar to new world styles of pinot noir.
The Cote d’Or is split into two halves, the northern half known as the Cote de Nuits and the southern half known as the Cote de Beaune. Gevrey-Chambertin is located near the northern tip and is the first major village (excluding a few smaller areas that are further north) that you come to if moving south from Dijon. Gevrey is arguably the most famous village in Burgundy and has the most Grand Cru vineyards (9 to be precise though generally only 8 in practice). You may recall from the prior email that Grand Cru is the top level in Burgundy (see diagram below for refresher). Also please note that in Burgundy it is the vineyard, not the estate that is classified. Thus, anyone who has grapevines in Le Chambertin is entitled to bottle it as grand cru Chambertin. This is an important fact to remember in Burgundy as not every producer makes the same quality of wine even though they may have vines very close to each other. This is part of what makes Burgundy so interesting and complex (or frustrating depending on your point of view).
Gevrey Chambertin produces all pinot noir. Recall from prior learning that there are only 2 (not entirely true, but lets just roll with it) grapes that are allowed in Burgundy; pinot noir for red wines and chardonnay for white wines. Gevrey-Chambertin produces only red burgundy, thus it is simple in that any wine containing the Gevrey-Chambertin name on the label is 100% pinot noir! Don’t despair that it doesn’t say pinot noir on the label… just trust me that it is.
Gevrey wines are famous for showing the robust and powerful side of pinot noir. While some villages in Burgundy are known for their wines of sensual finesse, Gevrey is darker, riper, more tannic, and more powerful. The wines can be very long lived in the cellar from the better vineyards. Classically they have slightly darker fruit (black cherry, black currant, black raspberry) and often have an alluring scent that hints at game meat, animal fur, etc. Many French people will use the terms animale or sauvage to describe these aromas. There are also scents of spices (fennel, clove, cinnamon) and crushed stone, damp earth/mushroom notes. These wines tend to have relatively robust tannins (in the spectrum of pinot noir) meaning that when young they can often have a very drying sensation on your palate. With time these tannins integrate and the wines become beautifully balanced yet retain their underlying power and can be simply fabulous. Let’s take a brief tour through some of the famous crus of Gevrey.
Le Chambertin is arguably the most famous and many people would say the best vineyard in all of Burgundy. This was Napoleon’s drink of choice so it has been good for a long time. Le Chambertin (see detailed map below) is a grand cru level vineyard. It is a powerful wine that generally warrants at least 10 years in the cellar before opening. Again, as I mentioned above there are many different growers that own vines in this vineyard so you will get different styles. We will go through a few growers to know below. Bottom line, if you have the chance to try a Chambertin, take it.
The other grand crus of Gevrey include Chambertin Clos de Beze, Mazis-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin, Latricieres-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin, and Mazoyeres-Chambertin. You will almost never see this final name as it for some arcane reason has the right to be labeled under Charmes-Chambertin, which is a better known and more respected vineyard, thus most growers use that name. That makes a total of 9 grand cru level vineyards in this village! Considering there are only 33 in the entire region, I’d say that is pretty good. In general, Le Chambertin and Clos de Beze are considered to be the two best. After that Mazis, Ruchottes, Griotte, and Latricieres are well respected while Chapelle, Charmes, and Mazoyeres are thought to be the lower quality of the Gevrey grand crus. This is generally reflected in price. Regardless, all of these wines are top quality in the bigger spectrum and trying them can be quite thrilling. Also please remember that grand cru level wines are labeled only with the name of the vineyard. You will not see the words “Gevrey-Chambertin” on these labels. See below for an example.
Now, let’s move on to the level just below the grand crus. These wines are termed premier cru, often written as 1er cru. On the labeling of these wines you will see Gevrey Chambertin; then either premier cru or 1er cru and the name of a specific vineyard. These are vineyards that have shown over the years to produce very good quality wines, but not quite up the level of the grand crus. You will notice on the detailed vineyard map that the grand cru vineyards tend to be in one fairly narrow band on the slope of the cote. The 1er crus are generally clustered just above and below this band. I will not bore you with the names of all the 1er crus of Gevrey. You can look that up if you want. I will, however, give you the names of those that are generally considered the best. The two best 1er crus of Gevrey are Clos St Jacques and Aux Combottes (sometimes seen as Les Combottes). These are often considered to be of grand cru quality and it is only political issues that keep them from being elevated. They are also often priced as such unfortunately… other excellent 1er crus include Lavaux St Jacques, Les Corbeaux, Les Cazetiers, Champeaux, and Combe aux Moines. These vineyards produce very good wines consistently and in the right producer’s hands can be absolutely stellar.
Once you are below the 1er cru level, you have arrived at the village level. This is honestly where I find the value/quality line to start to intersect. Occasionally you can find great value 1er crus, but generally the village level is where to look. A village level wine in the hands of a great producer can often be better than a good 1er cru vineyard from a lesser domaine. Most of these wines will simply say Gevrey Chambertin on the label. Vines from any of the vineyards within the confines of Gevrey can be used in this wine so it does not all have to come from a single vineyard. Some producers will label their village wines with the name of a specific vineyard if all of the grapes came from that one place. This will look similar to a 1er cru label, but you will not see the title 1er cru or premier cru anywhere on the label. These are closer to everyday drinking wines or at least weekly drinking wines where as the grand cru wines are clearly for special occasions given the cost and rarity. If you have never tried much Burgundy, this is where I would encourage you to start. Good village wines can often be found for $30-50, which is a bit easier to swallow than the $150 or more often required for grand crus.
Now lets move on to an equally important aspect of these wines, the specific producers you want to look for. As I mentioned briefly, due to the fragmented Napoleonic inheritance laws in France the vineyards of Burgundy are completely splintered apart. Often one vineyard will have 40 or more owners!! The owners have different levels of talent and dedication to their crafts, so knowing which ones to pick can be very helpful.
Armand Rousseau is one of, if not the most, respected grower in Gevrey. Unfortunately his wines are stupid expensive and generally reserved for very wealthy collectors. A bottle of his Le Chambertin for example generally runs about $1500 or more now… so if you have the chance to try any of his wines take it. And if you have a bunch in your cellar, invite me over!!
My personal favorite from Gevrey is Jean Marie Fourrier. His wines are labeled under Domaine Fourrier and I have yet to be disappointed by any of them. His village level Gevrey Chambertin is better than most 1er crus! His wines are not cheap either, but the village wines can often be found for $60-70.
Another favorite is Domaine Trapet. Marilee and I were lucky enough to be able to tour the cellars and have lunch at the domaine during our time in Burgundy and the wines are nothing short of stellar.
Other excellent growers in Gevrey include Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Joseph Roty, Domaine Arlaud, Christian Serafin, Domaine Maume, Denis Bachelet, Dugay-Py, Claude Dugat, Alain Burguet, Domaine Dujac, Bruno Clair, Sylvie Esmonin, Frederic Esmonin, Harmand-Geoffrey, Denis Mortet, Camille Giroud, and Domaine Leclerc.
Of this list, the ones that I find in general to be the best values are Domaine Arlaud (often 1er crus available for $50-70), Frederic Esmonin, Geantet-Pansiot, and Camille Giroud. These producers are often significantly lower priced, however not significantly lower in quality. Any wine you can find from any of these producers would be worth trying so I encourage you seek a few out!
Wines from the best negociants including Faiveley, Drouhin, Jadot, and Bouchard can also be very good and is often a bit lower in price.
Other sources that I have found reasonable, but do not have enough experience to fully recommend include Pierre Damoy, Domaine Tortochot, and Louis Boillot. There are also a few other famous names that have very small holdings in Gevrey including Domaine Ponsot, Domaine Leroy, Domaine Perrot-Minot, and they continue to reach their normally stellar levels in Gevrey in addition to their home villages.
Now that I have completely overwhelmed you all with only one village of Burgundy (don’t worry it gets easier from here), I will finish with a few thoughts on pairing food. Burgundy in general is quite food friendly and versatile at the table. Gevrey Chambertin is maybe slightly less so than other villages. Given the darker fruits, robust tannins, and bigger body, I generally reserve Gevrey for heavier meals. Excellent pairings include of course the classic boeuf bourgignon, which is stellar. Roasted fowl, especially pheasant and grouse as they mirror the gamy aspect of Gevrey, can be quite excellent. Although not available here, generally a roast poulet de Bresse with a few glasses (or a few bottles) is stellar if you happen to find yourself in Beaune. A roast chicken would work nicely if you can’t get to France…. Pork loin or chops, especially with mushrooms can be very good. Any game meat, namely venison and elk, but also rabbit and although never tested I suspect squirrel, (gross—comment from the wife) is a potential partner for Gevrey. Braised meats, hearty ragu with meat, and even a simple grilled ribeye can all be excellent with a quality Gevrey. In fact as I finish this email, I just finished enjoying a 2014 Domaine Leclerc Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Lavaux St. Jacques with a simple grilled ribeye and potatoes. It was delicious…
I hope this will entice you to enter the vortex that can be Burgundy. Not everyone falls head first and becomes obsessed as I did, however knowing a bit about Burgundy and being able to add it into your vinous repertoire can be extremely rewarding as it is both the spiritual and physical true home of the greatest pinot noir in the world. I hope that you all are otherwise well and I look forward to another review in the near future. Au revoir…
J. “Gevrey” Newman, CSW