On the road with my friends – reflecting about Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in central Burgundy

… One of the main attractions in Burgundy that I recall from 30 years ago: “Ici commence le Chambertin – ici finit le Chambertin”

When I was in Burgundy 30 years ago, I visited the vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin and I remember the panels “ici commence le Chambertin” and “ici finit le Chambertin”.  I loved these merry panels and now, back in Burgundy thirty years later, I keep on looking for them. My friends do not know, what I am talking about. And I am getting more and more frustrated. I could not understand, why I could not find the panels of the Chambertin vineyard. But then, I found out. The direction départementale des territoires (DDT) of Burgundy wanted to give a common “corporate design” to their winegrowing business to become eligible for the list of Unesco World Heritage. They decided that the two Chambertin panels are disturbing that common design image and had the panels removed despite the protest of the wine growers. I was very disappointed about this act of bureaucracy, in particular because later I came across some ugly panels indicating the names of other domains. Why on earth have these charming panels been removed and what was wrong with them in the light of some common design principles? They were THE attraction, mentioned even in the former old Johnson wine atlas. What did my Russian friend Anna always say: “Bureaucrats of all countries – unify.”

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Fortunately, there is another attraction that has not been removed: The smallest vineyard Larissa has ever come across

We stop at the smallest vineyard, Domaine de Jaques Prieur, just next to Chambertin Clos de Bèze. Larissa always comes back to this tiny vineyard, when she visits Burgundy.

 

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It is now hiding in the November fog.

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Nearby we try some of the few Pinot Noir grapes that had been left – no one else will pick them, as it is mid November.

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We also enjoy seeing the rose bushes carry rose hips. Roses are often planted along the vineyards as an early indicator for diseases.

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Yes, it is autumn – mid November. We soak in the famous names such as Château de Chambertin.

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We study the old wine making equipment in Château Clos Vougeot…

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… with an old wine press and an old fountain…

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… in the November fog.

 

It is great to be here with Russian friends and exchange about our wine terminology. For instance how to put the sense of “tannin” into an image. I compare tannin to “fur” tickling and biting my palate (I call this a  “Pelzli” in Swiss German – it is not an official term). My  Russian friends also feel that tickling in their palate and describe it as a knitting woman (“вяжущая женшина”). Yes, the full bodied and sometimes tannic wines – let us look at some of the factors that have shaped Burgundy.

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Сentral Burgundy has a long history in a varied terrain following a fault line and the vineyards are split between many, many owners

The wines of Burgundy mostly grow on east and south-east facing slopes of the Saône valley, capturing the sun early in the morning and benefiting from the warm temperature retained during the day. The slopes are shaped by a fault line that brings layers of various maritime epochs to the surface. The resulting structure of the slopes is very varied and has been studied by swarms of geologists – they found calcium from defunct shellfish and a mixture of limestone and marlstone, sometimes iron. Pebbles often retain the heat (the wines are then called “Les Cras”, “Les Caillerrets” or “Les Perrières”). Already in the 12th century, monks eagerly explored the potential of the terrain to find the best places for their vines – and wines. As a matter of fact, wine growing goes back to Roman times (mentioned first around 300) and to the early Burgundy empire (in 630 the duke gave a large domain to the Abbaye de Bèze which continues to live in today’s Clos de Bèze). Around 1400 Philippe the Bold (then duke of Burgundy) ordered the Pinot Noir grape to become the only red grape in central Burgundy. After the French revolution (1790) the ground belonging to the abbeys was sold – and this is why ownership of the vineyards is split today: 4900 domains, 115 trader-wine makers (negociant-éleveur) and 19 cooperations.

The terrain shapes the quality of the wines: East/east-southward facing slopes, altitude (less foggy higher up), ascent (the steeper the better), ground (more limestone than clay, sometimes pebbles) are some of the factors. There are about 2% Grand Crus wines, about 11% 1er Crus, and the rest are either labeled AOC communales or AOC régionales. The main grapes are Pinot Noir for red (thanks to Philippe the Bold) and Chardonnay for white.

The  Côte d’Or is surrounding Beaune. To the north of Beaune there are Gevrey-Chambertin (AOC wines are all red and there are 9 Grand Crus) and Nuits St. Georges (97% red and 3% white). Then there is the terrain of Beaune (85% red and 15% white). South of Beaune there are Meursault (mostly Chardonnay – white wines with an oak influence resulting in the typical buttery taste), Puligny Montrachet /Chassagne Montrachet (also mostly Chardonnay – white, but also some red from Pinot Noir) and Santenay /Maranges (80 to 90% red and 10 to 20% white). The Meursault/Montrachet Chardonnay wines must have been the model for the oaky/smoky international Chardonnays in the US, Chile or South Africa. The fresh and crispy Chardonnay wines from Chablis were not, what the international world liked – and they made “Chablis” a synomym of “cheap wine”. As Chablis is really my prefered Chardonnay wine, I do not care that the world does not know – let Chablis wines continue to be a well-kept secret…

I also learn that “Passe-Tout-Grain” is a wine blended from Pinot and Gamay (prevailing in Beaujolais)… this is what we call “Dôle” in the Valais (Switzerland).

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Source: Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine, 5th edition, Beazley 2005, p. 55 (also the summary overview has been mostly extracted from Johnson and in addition from “petit guide: Les vins de Bourgogne”, Aedis éditions 03200 Vichy, Florence Kennel et alii).

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When driving home from Beaune I found out that Burgundy is only a three hours’ drive away from my hometown Basel. Well, in early medieval times Basel was even part of Burgundy*. I decide that I will not wait another thirty years to go back to Burgundy. And maybe then – they will have reinstalled the charming Chambertin panels?

* around 1000 AD, Basel was part of the kingdom of Burgundy, see “historischer Atlas der Region Basel”, Merian Verlag 2010.

 

 

On the road – my highlights from the Beaune wine events

In November 2014 I was in Burgundy with friends from Russia. We tasted wines and I also bought some bottles. Back home I started to share my “treasures” with friends. Recently it was a “St. Denis Premier Cru 2001” (Veuve Moroni) – a perfect match to my beef meat pie Provence style. In the nose I found some fruit and a roasted note, in the palate the wine was spicy and fruity reminding me of dried prunes. This experience motivated me to go back to my notes about Beaune, where we stayed in a wonderful apartment  and enjoyed the wine events.

My personal highlights from the November Beaune wine events were Bouchard Aînée et Fils, Patriarche and the Marché au vin (Hospices de Beaune). I did not enjoy Besancenot very much, but I loved the medieval cellar of Bouchard Frère et Fils, and also the truffle-wine tasting of Vin des Tonneliers was a good experience.

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Bouchard Aîné et Fils

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Within the Beaune wine events, Bouchard Aîné et Fils invited for a tour in their cellar. We found a careful selection of wines and each wine was perfectly matched with a delicious bite (the bites had wonderful French names – as they are only possible in French). The selection contained some vintages even going back to 1962.

Students presented the wines along with the bites were full of enthusiasm, plans and optimism.

This was the selection of wines we tasted:

Grands vins blancs de Bourgogne

  • Crémant de Bourgogne en Magnum: Dry.
  • Rully 2007: Balanced taste of lemon. With it we had a millefeuille des pain d’épices à la gelée de pomme et de foie gras.
  • Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot 2007: Very strong, almost too much for me.
  • Meursault 1er Cru le Porusots, Cuvée Humblot Hospices de Beaune 2008: Fresh apple, acidity. With “coeur de Tsar de Saumon fumée d’Ecosse sur pain Porlane et beurre Bordier aux alges fumées”.

Grands vins rouges de Bourgogne

  • Beaune 1er Cru Clos du Roi 2014: Bitter and full of tannin (not (yet) perfectly integrated)) – we later had a Clos du Roi 1962 which shows, the 2014 has potential to mature.
  • Beaune 1er Cru les Marconnet 2012: Cherry nose and taste, soft tannin, already drinkable.
  • Gevrey-Chambertin 2012: Dried prunes, can feel the tannin. Served with it was a sausage marinated in Marc or in French “habit de Gentleman Farmer: Sabodet lyonnais … cuit dans le marc frais de pinot noir de Bourgogne”.
  • Savigny-Les-Beaunes 1er Cru Les Peuillets 2005: Smoky taste, prune, astringent tannin (I call this “furry”).
  • Corton Grand Cru Cuvée Docteur Peste, Hospices de Beaune 1998: Soft (“velvet paw”) and note of cacao. Served with “brillat Savarin couronné d’une dentelle de truffe de Bourgogne sur pain Poilâne aux raisins de Corinthe”.
  • Beaune 1er Cru Clos du Roi 1962: Color is orange, for 1962 still fresh and flowery (reminding me of roses).

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Patriarche

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At Patriarche we find this note, that, twinkling with an eye, says “Charlemagne owned a vineyard in Corton. It could well be that this wine stimulated his genius and gave him the empire of the west”. Could well be.

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As in Bouchard Aîné et Fils, students serve the wines and explain to the visitors, what they are tasting.

The student presenting the wine from Pernand-Vergelesses has lived in this village for five years. He loves his village and in particular the old church. The village is located above Aloxe-Corton on 350m, he says. The slopes are exposed to the south, the wines, he continues, show finesse and bitterness. He recommends to drink them with dark chocolate, lamb gigot or Reblochon cheese. The student dreams of runnng a boutique for wine and food, when he has graduated. From his explanations, I learn that a vineyard a little off the grand cru slopes might be a good and affordable option in Burgundy.

The student introducing to the Chambolle-Musigny will take over the winery of his family, Domaine de l’Évêché in Saint Denis De Vaux ( www.domainedeleveche.com). He does not only know his wines, but also his iphone – and he teaches me, how to generate the variations of “e” that are needed for French. Also the student at the stand of Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Cailles proudly tells me that he will take over the winery of his parents. And the young girl that presents the Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru comes comes from the Côte du Rhone and dreams of emigrating to Australia or South Africa. I enjoy talking to these young people planning their life.

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This is the long list of wines that we could taste.

  • Hospices de Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Dames Hospitaliéres 2004
  • Aloxe-Corton 2009
  • Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru 2012
  • Chassagne-Montrachet 2013: Soft, nutty, buttery; 2010 more open, lemon
  • Meursault Charmes 1er cru 2008: Reminds me of orange
  • Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru 2012: Cherry nose, flowery taste (violet?), tannins well integrated. I bought one bottle
  • Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Cailles 2009: Fruity (prune), good tannin, powdery cacao.
  • Hospices de Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Dames Hospitaliéres 2004
  • Hospices de Beaune Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Forneret 2000 (assemblage Vergeresses et Savigny): Soft and outgoing, dried prunes.
  • Chambolle-Musigny 1er cru 1980 (Magnum): soft and dense
  • Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru 1977 (Magnum): Soft and slight taste of framboise toffees

Larissa has been here before, meets old acquaintances, and they offer an additional tasting just to us:

  • Meursault Charmes 1974: Color copper, taste woody and smoky, some caramel
  • Corton Renardes 2008: It was a lighter year. Cherry taste
  • Aloxe-Corton, 2009: Fresh and biting tannin, dense. I buy a bottle.

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Marché au vin (Hospices de Beaune)

Alla and I had tickets for the “Marché au vin” belonging to the Hospices de Beaune. Again students presented a wonderful selection of wines, not only from the Hospices, but also from other châteaux/castles. The wines of the Hospices have the addtion “Cuvée…” indicating who donated the vineyard to the Hospices founded in 1443 by Chancellor of Nicolas Rolin of Burgundy as a charity hospital – very modern he was at that time!

The student responsible for the Beaune 1 er Cru Les Cents Vignes has a girl friend that is from Belarus. He can speak some Russian which eases our conversation. The student serving the Marsannay tells me with fervor that he wants to trade with wines.

The student at the stand of Gevrey-Chambertin tells me that he was taught not to say “wood”, because clients often associate “wood” with a bad taste that may dominate all other flavors. They should rather say “dense” or “strong”.

The student presenting the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 asks us, whether we know, why “Charlemagne” is a white wine. The answer: Charlemagne loved red wine, but his wife would always notice drops of red wine in his beard, when he came back home from Burgundy. So Charlemagne decided to switch to white wine which did not leave traces in his beard. If it is not true, it is well invented.

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Some of the wines have their price.

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These were the white wines we tasted:

  • Marsannay Blanc Les Champs Perdrix 2013 : Lemon taste
  • Meursault (Château de Meursault) 2011 : Oily. Nutty taste
  • Meursault (Château Meursault) 1er cru 2008 : Taste of butter and minerals
  • Meursault 1er cru (Château Meursault) 2002: Almond, oily, perhaps some honey
  • Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011: Flowery, spicy (vanilla), nutty (almond), mineral taste.

The red wines on offer were:

  • Marsannay Le Parterre  2011: Cherry, fresh, light Tannin.

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  • Beaune Cuvée Marie-Sophie Grangier (Hospices de Dijon) 2009: Sour cherry (griotte), wood
  • Gevre- Chambertin  1er Cru 2008: Griottes, toasted bread, spicy (pepper), a little much acidity
  • Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Orveaux 2008:  Prunes, spices, acidity, still closed
  • Volnay 1er Cru  Clos des Chênes 2003: strong, cassis, well-integrated tannin
  • Beaune 1 er Cru Les Cents Vignes: Dried prunes, round, clean, tannin.

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Vin des Tonneliers – Tasting with truffles

Vin des Tonneliers is a wine dealer that invited to taste wines with truffle bites.

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I liked this Pommard en Brescul and bought a bottle.

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These were the wines we tasted with the truffle bites

  • Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Guy Amiot, Baudines 2010: Melon taste, buttery
  • Meursault 1er Cru: good match with meat bites, less good a match with cheese from Savoy
  • Domaine 19 vingt (blended village and grand cru): Well balanced
  • Clos de Vougeot 2006: Griottes
  • Pommard “En Brescul” Giboulot  2008: Balanced
  • Corton 2003 (already harvested in August, as it was a hot year): Cacao, bitter tanning caramel. Recommended to drink it within thenext four years.

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Bouchard Père et Fils

The highlight of Bouchard Père et Fils is their medieval location – in the Beaune Castle. The kings from Louis VI to Louis XIV used it to control the population of Beaune. The family Bouchard acquired the castle in 1775. Also since 1731 the family has been in the winegrowing business which they enhanced after the French revolutiuon, when most wine estates of Burgundy were sold. Today it is Bouchard’s 9th generation; they sold the estate to Henriot in 1995, but continue to manage and enhance it together with Henriot. The vinifcation takes place in Savigny and the wine bottles are stored in the castle caves, on a surface of 4000m2, 10m under the ground, at a constant temperature of 14 degrees and 80% humidity. A guide takes us down the steep stairs into the cellar. We are full of respect, when admiring the many bottles – they are “naked” without labels (the corks keep the identification of the wine). The family also keeps some old bottles, even from the 19th century, to be able to investigate the aging process of their wines. The oldest bottle is a Meursault from 1846 that was still drinkable. They recork their bottles every 30 years and then also taste them.

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After having left the cellar, our guide took us to this romantic garden.

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The tasting took place above the ground and was accompanied by cougères, the apéritif cookies of Burgundy. A perfect match with the wine.

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These were the wines we tasted

White Crus

  • Beaune Clos Saint-Landry 1er Cru 2011 (Monopole)
  • Meursault Perrières 1er Cru 2011
  • Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009
  • La Cabotte Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 2003

Red Crus

  • Savigny-le-Beaune Les Lavières 1er Cru 2011
  • Beaune Marconnets 1er Cru 2009
  • Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot 1er Cru 1989
  • Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 1er Cru 1976 (Related with the legend of Anne from Austria that  prayed for a son and then gave birth to the later Louis XIV).

 

Domaine Besancenot

The Domaine de Besancenot invited to taste eight grand cru wines, however… this winegrower was a disappointment for me. The atmosphere was sober and the cellar was not really clean. This was an “anti-highlight” and I would not return here.

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We also visited some winegrowers around Beaune – not related with the November wine days. I will talk about them later, in particular about my personal highlights.