Let me let you in on a little secret: It’s getting hot out there. As climate change wreaks havoc on our world in significant ways, it’s also messing with our expectations about wine, and presenting ample challenges to winemakers across the globe. Look no further than the wines of Beaujolais.

Overall, the 2020 vintage in Beaujolais was a relatively smooth ride despite intense heat and is considered an excellent vintage in many respects. It is a “more” vintage, to be sure–high yields, dense, concentrated fruit, and loads of acidity. And yet, while there are numerous fine examples of 2020 Beaujolais, even some of the finest bottles lack the defining lift and focus we’ve come to expect from the region. In other words, many of the wines are good, even great, when looked at in a vacuum of sorts, but they just don’t taste like, you know, Beaujolais.

In contrast, the 2019 vintage was a roller-coaster ride of frost, heat, and hail that severely cut into yields and generally made life difficult for growers. But despite all of that, the 2019 Beaujolais harvest produced wines of great elegance, charm, and complexity with the mineral edge and buoyancy we anticipate from the terroir.

Anthony Thevenet worked with Beaujolais legends such as Georges Descombes and Jean Foillard before setting his own path. Thevenet truly knocked it out of the park with his 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes. The fruit for this cuvee comes from a mix of 70-year-old vines located in Douby (in the northernmost part of Morgon) and in Corcelette. These are sandy plots that give the resulting wine a certain finesse and refinement, yet the age of the vines delivers great depth as well.

A balanced, well-integrated wine is like a finely tuned orchestra: There are a lot of different instruments playing, but you don’t hear them individually–it’s a mellifluous sound, not a cacophony of competing elements. The 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes is a perfect example of this. The bright, bold blend of red, blue, and black fruit is perfectly balanced by ample acidity and minerality and a few floral and savory notes as well. It’s not a light wine, per se, but it still offers grace and precision. It’s not particularly natty or funky, and yet I wouldn’t necessarily call it “clean” either. All in all, it’s a true stunner that certainly wouldn’t mind a few more years in the cellar.

As always, winemaking remains a tricky balancing act between imparting a producer’s style and philosophy and letting nature do its thing. Climate extremes present more tests for the winemaker, but thanks to ever-evolving winemaking techniques and the knowledge and experience gained over the last decade, the best producers are able to maintain regional characteristics and typicity while still, in effect, taking what nature gives them. Anthony Thevenet has mastered the trick with this terrific bottling.

Dominique Lafon, the legendary Burgundy producer, must’ve raised a few eyebrows when he invested in the Mâconnais more than two decades ago. What would inspire a winemaking superstar based in Meursault–one of the most prized villages in Burgundy and all the world–to venture south into this decidedly second-rate region? Lafon trusted his instincts, and it turns out that, as usual, he knew what he was doing.

Perhaps more than anyone, Lafon, along with longtime winemaker Caroline Gon, helped restore and resuscitate the reputation of Mâcon chardonnay. Once known more as a consolation prize for those who couldn’t afford “real” Burgundy, the Mâconnais today produces wines of prestige and pedigree while still offering great opportunities for the value-driven consumer. Look no further than the wines of Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, which Dominique Lafon founded in 1999.

 

With no oak influence, loads of bright acidity, and a steely, sleek minerality, you might mistake the 2020 Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine for a Chablis…until you get that pop of ripe orchard fruit and lemon curd that tells you this is, indeed, Mâcon. Lafon gets most of the grapes–all biodynamic–from his highest-elevation vineyard in the region, with nearly 40-year-old vines at an altitude of 350 meters.

An amazing combo of palate-cleansing freshness and deep, complex fruit, this would pair extremely well with pan-seared chicken breast in a white wine, shallot, and cream sauce. And at just over 30 bucks, it offers Burgundian brilliance at an attractive price.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are always excited to introduce our customers to up-and-coming winemakers, and we’re thrilled to offer an array of wines from a small, relatively new Burgundian producer from the Hautes Côtes de Beaune. David Trousselle, located near Saint Romain, grows single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir from the cooler areas in the hills west of the Côte de Beaune, and the quality-to-price ratio of his wines is nothing short of remarkable.

Trousselle uses traditional Burgundian techniques in the cellar. Chardonnay is pressed directly after the harvest and fermented and raised in mostly neutral barrels. Pinot noir is de-stemmed and given a short maceration prior to fermentation to increase color extraction, with minimal use of new oak. The resulting wines are fresh, supple, and full of character.

We are proud to offer four wines from this rising star of Burgundy:

2020 Bourgogne Blanc ‘La Couleuvraire’ ($29)

This chardonnay has a distinctively classic Burgundian nose with hints of Meursault and a nice mineral edge on the follow-through.

2020 Bourgogne Rouge ‘En Cre’ ($29)

A characteristic Beaune nose promises warm red-fruit flavors, and it surely delivers. The grapes for this lightly extracted bottling come from high-elevation, limestone-rich vineyards.

2020 Auxey-Duresses Rouge ($36)

This cool-climate beauty, from a tiny, recently acquired plot in Auxey-Duresses, offers lovely aromatics, taut minerality, and an elegant texture.

2019 Santenay Rouge ($36)

Boasting darker and denser middle fruit, the Santenay finishes with a slightly earthy and savory note.

I’ve never been to Corsica, but, man, it sounds like paradise to me. Mountains, forests, coastline, and sunshine–what could be bad?  Hey, you don’t get the moniker “Île de Beauté” (Isle of Beauty) for nothing. Oh, and Corsica has a winemaking history that dates back around 1,500 years. Are you in?

The island of Corsica seems to pack enormous diversity into its roughly 3,300 square miles, and that includes culture, cuisine, and topography. (“Mosaic” is a commonly used description.) A semi-autonomous region of France for the last 250 years, it owes as much to the Italians as it does to the French. (It’s actually closer to Italy than to France and was previously under the rule of Pisa and then Genoa.)

Reflecting both French and Italian influences, the wines of Corsica offer entirely distinctive, yet completely recognizable drinking experiences. A combination of warm temperatures, limited rainfall, high elevations, and maritime winds provides prime winemaking conditions, and a range of microclimates yields a dazzling array of wines–from elegant and mineral to fleshy and ripe.

For evidence, look no further than the two most acclaimed Corsican appellations: Patrimonio, in the north, with its chalky clay soil, tends to produce rich, textured, aromatic wines, while Ajaccio, to the southwest, turns out graceful, vibrant wines thanks to its persistent breezes, granite soil, and high altitude.

Abbatucci vineyards in Ajaccio.

The Ajaccio appellation is home to one of Corsica’s most renowned houses, Domaine Comte Abbatucci. Sadly, Abbatucci, founded more than 70 years ago, is still reeling from a massive blaze that destroyed much of the winery earlier this year. We are rooting for a speedy recovery, and not only because they produce some of the island’s most memorable bottlings.

The domaine is run by the obsessively biodynamic winemaker Jean-Charles Abbatucci, progeny of a French Revolution hero–and a man who is said to play traditional Corsican music for his, um, vines. (Ajaccio was the birthplace of another French Revolution hero, by the name of Napoleon.) They offer a dozen or so cuvees, in a wide range of styles.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we’re currently enjoying the 2020 Abbatucci Rosé ‘Faustine,’ made from the sciaccarellu grape. Most likely brought over hundreds of years ago from Tuscany (where it’s known as mammolo), sciaccarellu creates cherry-fruited, gently herbaceous, medium-bodied reds with smooth tannins and notes of black pepper. It also has a particular affinity for rosé, as Abbatucci’s offering shows. The wine is savory, salty, and bright; it would be difficult to find a more refreshing and satisfying sipper, yet it will hold its own at the most demanding brunch table.

If you’d like to experience the heights of Corsican winemaking, we have a couple of bottles each of Abbatucci’s higher-end wines: the 2017 Abbatucci ‘Monte Bianco,’ a sciaccarellu red of immense depth and complexity, and the 2016 Abbatucci ‘Diplomate,’ a stimulating, voluptuous blend of Corsican white grapes.

Up north, in the Agriates (considered by many to be Europe’s only true desert), you’ll find Domaine Giacometti, located in the far reaches of the Patrimonio appellation. Their 2020 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio Rosé ‘Cru des Agriate’ is made from 75 percent niellucciu and 25 percent sciaccarellu, and it balances a generous mouth feel with a dry, clean finish. (Niellucciu, an extremely close relative of sangiovese, is thought by many Corsicans to be an indigenous grape, but it might have, just possibly, been imported from Tuscany also.)

The 2020 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio Blanc ‘Cru des Agriate’ is a stony, yet textured vermentinu that ages on the lees in stainless steel. Best of all is the 2018 Domaine Giacometti VdF Rouge ‘Sempre Cuntentu,’ a highly quaffable sciaccarellu that requires nothing but two glasses and a friend.

The Sant Armettu winery is situated in the warm, craggy Sartène region, a lesser-known destination south of Ajaccio. The supple 2019 Sant Armettu Corse Sartène Rouge ‘Rosumarinu,’ a sciaccarellu aged in stainless steel, displays plush, dark fruit tempered by vivid acidity–perfect for succulent braised meats. Made from 100 percent vermentinu, the 2019 Sant Armettu Corse Sartène Blanc ‘Rosumarinu’ is structured and serious, with ample stone-fruit flavors.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2020 Domaine de Marquiliani ‘Rosé de Pauline,’ a legendary Corsican vin gris that blends sciaccarellu and syrah with a dollop of vermentinu. The result is a feathery, faded-pastel-colored wine with enticing, exotic aromas and a kiss of Mediterranean salinity.

All of these Corsican beauties are available today at PMW, as are several others, including two vintages of Antoine Arena’s Bianco Gentile–full-bodied and lush, yet subtle and sophisticated wines made from an ancient Corsican variety brought back from the edge of extinction. Visit us at the shop to learn more about these unique selections.

An oxymoron? Mutually exclusive? Magical thinking? No, affordable Burgundy really is a thing.

Of course, it is nearly impossible to buy a quality bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin or Puligny-Montrachet for $30 or $40. But improvements in winemaking (with perhaps an assist from climate change) have dramatically increased the quality of wines from less-renowned areas of Burgundy. And though we now taste many fine examples of pinot noir and chardonnay from a wide range of locales, Burgundy remains, for many of us, a unique delight and still provides the greatest expressions of these two grapes.

Here are a couple of whites and reds between $20 and $50 that exhibit the distinctive pleasure and beauty of excellent Burgundy without breaking the bank. Fair warning: They may whet your appetite for some of those more special-occasion wines previously mentioned.

Whites:

2019 Seguinot-Bordet Petit Chablis ($21)

The young and talented Jean-François Bordet comes from a family that has been making wine in the area since the 1590s (19 generations). The wine is classic–vibrant, lively, and textured (but no oak), boasting the distinctive, sea-fossil minerality that makes Chablis and Petit Chablis so unlike any other chardonnay from Burgundy or elsewhere.

2016 Marc Colin Saint-Aubin 1er Cru ‘Les Castets’ ($49)

For now, the Saint-Aubin appellation–nuzzled up next to Meursault and Chassagne in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune–still flies under the radar of many Burgundy lovers, but don’t expect that to continue for much longer. Here’s what Marc G. had to say after recently enjoying a bottle of the 2016 Colin: “After opening with a hint of reduction, it blossoms into an immensely satisfying, superbly balanced combination of fruit and freshness. Grab your crab crackers, and go to town!”

Reds:

2017 Maurice Charleux Maranges 1er Cru ‘Les Clos Roussots’ ($33)

This jewel comes from one of our great longtime friends, Charles Neal, who imports a remarkable selection of wines from France that just about always offer an exceptional price-to-quality relationship. (He’s also written a definitive book about Armagnac and remains a knowledgeable and gifted music writer.) Maranges is the southernmost appellation in the Côte de Beaune and is beginning to enjoy recognition as an area that delivers first-rate, generously flavored wines deserving of greater attention. Les Clos Roussots is a parcel from south/southeast vineyards at about 1,000 feet. It is a delicious example of the lush, full-fruited wines of the area. All of the Charleux wines are worth seeking out, including the newly arrived 2017 Santenay 1er Cru ‘Clos Rousseau’ ($36), made from 30-year-old vines and offering a touch more minerality from the limestone soils.

2018 Faiveley Mercurey ($35)

Given the prices of Burgundy, it’s rare that I can say, “We have trouble keeping this in stock.” But that has been the story with this wine–multiple customers coming back for multiple bottles, or cases. Mercurey, in the Côte Chalonnaise, south of the Côte de Beaune, can produce wines of great strength and character that bear a resemblance to Pommard. So far, 2018 is proving to be a lovely vintage for red Burgundy, and this charmer from Faiveley shows what both place and vintage have to offer. It has classy, expressive, upfront fruit notes that make the wine immensely appealing right now, but also enough backbone and grip to let you know that there is more to be revealed with another few years in the bottle.

As always, keep an eye out for exciting new arrivals over the next few months, especially as more of the stunning 2018 reds start rolling in. For instance, we’re awaiting the 2018 Auxey-Duresses from organic grower Agnes Paquet, a darling of the three-star Michelin somms in France. Also new in the shop is the 2018 Domaine des Rouge-Queues Santenay ($49), a dark-fruited, earthy, yet supple pleasure.

Everyone at PMW loves Burgundy, and we strive to curate our selections very carefully to offer attractive options from various climats–and at a range of prices. At the highest level, Burgundy can be an almost otherworldly experience (in more ways than one). But thankfully, we can defy some conventional attitudes about the area and show that reasonably priced, quality Burgundy is not a fantasy.

As the holidays approach, our thoughts often turn to bubbly, which makes Champagne appreciation a rather important topic this time of year. Last month, in Part I of our Champagne survey, we discussed how to recognize the three major categories of Champagne producers. In Part II, we will now consider the region’s distinct styles and flavor profiles.

Rosé Champagne

What would the world be like without rosé Champagne? In fact, pink champagne was produced in limited quantities until the late 1970s. However, since the 1980s, the demand for rosé Champagne has taken off, and thankfully, it appears there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style combined with high acidity also make for very food-friendly offerings.

Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method is not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of rosé production. More specifically, winemakers will add somewhere in the range of 8 percent to 20 percent (usually around 15 percent) of a red still wine–often pinot noir from a well-reputed village such as Bouzy.

A second and less utilized method of production is known as saignée. In this case, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rosé wine: leave the juice on the grape skins and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French, the verb saigner means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.

The resulting rosé wine often exhibits a darker hue, along with juicier, bolder flavors. Some argue that this style of rosé Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, because the flavor compounds are more effectively integrated.

Blanc de Blancs

The second style of champagne, referred to as Blanc de Blancs, is composed entirely of white-skinned grapes. In the case of Champagne, this is almost always chardonnay. And while chardonnay is grown throughout the region, some of the finest examples come from the Côte des Blancs.

The Côte des Blancs lies south of the Champagne capital of Épernay and stretches southward more than 20 kilometers. Here, chardonnay reigns supreme, where it is planted to predominantly east-facing vineyard sites. Over the centuries, each grand cru village in the Côte des Blancs has established a reputation or characteristic style: Cramant for its heightened aromatics and bouquet, Avize for its focus and delicacy, Oger for its fine bouquet and raciness, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for its superior finesse and intensity, and Vertus for its inherent fruitiness and roundness.

In its youth, a Blanc de Blancs can sometimes seem a bit austere or one-dimensional. Fresh citrus, lemon curd, and biscuit are common descriptors. However, with several years of aging, wonderfully complex nuances can develop like toasted bread, grilled hazelnuts, dried flowers, and even salty-savory notes.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs is a (non-rosé) sparkling wine vinified using only red-skinned grapes, which, in the case of Champagne, means pinot meunier and pinot noir. Hardy pinot meunier buds later than chardonnay and pinot noir, and for this reason is most often planted in the more frost-prone areas of the Marne Valley. Meunier-based champagnes will often exhibit more earthy, nutty flavors, along with dried orchard fruits. They pair wonderfully with heartier fare like roasted meats, mushroom-based dishes, and pungent cow’s milk cheeses.

Pinot noir is the variety most often found in Blanc de Noirs. In Champagne, pinot noir generally ripens earlier than chardonnay and pinot meunier and is most often planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. Providing body, structure, and complexity, pinot noir-based Champagne reaches great heights in the grand cru villages of Bouzy, Ay, and Ambonnay.

A great example of a Blanc de Noirs from the villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay is André Clouet’s Brut Grande Réserve. Terrific shades of red fruits, roasted hazelnuts, and biscuits showcase the opulence and superb balance of this grand cru Champagne.

This delightful bottle (along with dozens of others, spanning every style) is available at Paul Marcus Wines. Come visit us at the shop to learn more about the wonders of Champagne.

Champagne, perhaps more than any other wine region in the world, is recognized for its high-profile luxury brands. Grande Marque (essentially “big brand”) houses like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and Louis Roederer are familiar to just about anyone who has ever celebrated with a bottle of bubbly. However, if one looks more closely, Champagne is comprised of an elaborate infrastructure of grape growers, family-owned wineries, and even cooperatives.

Yet, understanding who makes what, and how, is much easier than one might think. The first step is recognizing the three major categories of producers. All you need to do is look for the fine print on the label; a set of two-letter abbreviations will let you know in which category your Champagne belongs. The three most significant abbreviations are outlined below.

NM (négociant manipulant)

These producers buy fruit from independent growers to produce their wines, although many of them maintain their own vineyard holdings in addition. Most of the larger Champagne houses, including Les Grandes Marques, fall into this category. You can identify a producer as a négociant manipulant by the letters NM written in fine print.

Examples of NM producers in Champagne: Krug, Bollinger, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Jacquesson, Fleury, Taittinger

An example is Taittinger shown below. Note the term NM in the bottom left-hand corner of the label.

RM (récoltant manipulant)

The wines in this category are commonly referred to as grower-producer Champagne. These producers may only use a maximum of 5 percent purchased grapes in the production of their wines; at least 95 percent must come from their proper vineyard holdings. These bottles will have the letters RM written in fine print.

Examples of RM producers in Champagne: Bruno Michel, Franck Pascal, Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, Marie-Courtin, Ulysse Collin

An example is Pierre Moncuit shown below. Note the term RM in the bottom right-hand corner of the label.

Here is another example of an RM producer, Marc Hebrart. Notice the RM designation listed in the middle of the label.

CM (coopérative de manipulation)

A Champagne with the CM abbreviation signifies that a cooperative cellar produced the wine with grapes sourced from its member growers. Perhaps the most famous CM brand is Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, which sources its grapes from more than 4,500 growers and creates a wide array of blends with fruit from across the region. Note the term CM listed on the label of the brand’s memorable prestige cuvee, Palmes d’Or.

Please keep in mind that these classifications are not qualitative ones. There are great NMs, mediocre CMs, and lackluster RMs. There are also a few other designations to recognize, although they are not often found in the United States.

SR (société de récoltants): This abbreviation refers to an association of grape growers, often family members, who share a winemaking facility, but produce wine under their own labels and are not part of a cooperative.

RC (récoltant coopérateur): An RC producer is a cooperative member who sells a wine produced by the co-op, but under its own name and label.

MA (marque auxiliaire or marque d’acheteur): Essentially, MA signifies a “brand name,” one that is not owned by the grower or producer of the wine, but rather a supermarket, hotel, or restaurant chain. MA brands are commonly referred to as BOBs, or “buyer’s own brand,” as well as “private labels.”

ND (négociant distributeur): A wine merchant who markets Champagne under its own name gets the ND abbreviation.

Now that we’ve discussed the different producer categories, stay tuned for Part II of our Champagne survey, which will consider the distinct flavor profiles offered by wines of the region. In the meantime, visit us at Paul Marcus Wines, where we feature a wide variety of grower-producer Champagne from the likes of Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, and Ulysse Collin, as well as offerings from the esteemed NM producer Jacquesson among many others.

Coteaux Champenois

Drinking Champagne on a regular basis is something that is regrettably not all that common for many of us. It has a biased reputation for festive or special occasions only. Certainly, price understandably plays a factor here. But the region of Champagne itself, at least in my opinion, should be considered more often, even if you don’t want bubbles in your glass! It was, after all, originally a still wine producing region–and those wines still exist today.

The Coteaux Champenois is an appellation within the region which extends over hundreds of communes and produces excellent still wines. Today, a handful of producers continue the tradition of making both still reds, whites, and roses. For many producers, still wines are made for blending purposes into their sparkling wines. However, some decide to bottle their still wines, as is. Many find the red examples to be most compelling.

So why don’t we see more of these wines available in shops from one of the arguably greatest terroirs on the planet? Limited quantities, low demand, and a lack of marketing generally contribute to this; meanwhile, most of what is produced is simply consumed within the region itself. If you do have the opportunity, seek out these wines and the following producers, such as: Pierre Paillard, Paul Bara, and Jacques Lassaigne — to name a few.

As far as taste, the wines are high in acidity and light in body. This is no surprise since Champagne is known for its typically cold weather. One red we found especially compelling at the shop is Pierre Paillard’s 2012 Les Mignottes Bouzy Rouge for $53. It contains all Pinot Noir from Bouzy’s deep sedimentary soils. Bouzy may be known for its hard chalk soils but small amounts of sedimentary soils do exist, and are ideal for the grape. The wine is highly mineral-driven, fine, and detailed with extremely fresh cherry fruit. This wine is a true standout that any Champagne or Burgundy Pinot Noir fan should consider!​

Château Simone RoseCellaring Rose?

Cellaring is a common practice for wine enthusiasts, whether for just a couple bottles or several hundred. But for those who do age their wines, how many hold on to dry rosé and drink it long after release? At the moment, the market for dry rosé is certainly “flowing.” Just last week in the shop Paul recollected how some years ago you had to really search to find a good rosé. Now, we are fortunate enough to find a wide range of excellent expressions in this category along with ample quantity. In fact, an entire section of the shop between the spring and summer months is entirely devoted to the “pink stuff”. However, although dry rosé is certainly acknowledged more often as a fine-wine category, with a wide range of price points to support, it is still not commonly cellared.

At the end of the day, rosé is primarily made to satisfy consumers’ desires for fresh and enjoyable sipping wine to drink during the warm weather months. Producers pick their grapes early, ferment at cooler temperatures in stainless steel, and avoid malolactic fermentation, in the hopes of give the market exactly what it wants—a charming, delicious, and crisp wine.

Nonetheless, there are several dry rosé bottlings currently carried in the shop that we can recommend cellaring; one in particular is truly a gem, and anything but basic. It is certainly worth seeking out and putting it to the test, well, in a few years!

Château Simone

Château Simone is located in the tiny appellation of Palette within Provence. Many are completely unaware of Palette due to its famous and much larger neighbors, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and Côtes de Provence. The wines made at this 20 hectare property are unique to say the least with outstanding quality. The area is surrounded by a pine forest, the Arc River, and the Montagne Sainte-Victire mountain range. The vineyards sit on limestone soils at elevations as high as 750 feet, creating a microclimate with superb growing conditions. Some of the vines are as old as 100 years in age. For over two hundred years the Rougier family have run the Château, and are every bit as lovely as their wines.

Their rosé is produced in a similar fashion to their red wines and contains mostly Grenache and Mourvèdre with small amounts of Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Picpoul Noir, Muscat de Hambourg, Tibouren, Théoulier, and Manosquin. It is produced much like a red wine, moving from a wooden basket press to wooden vats for fermentation, along with one and a half to two years of aging in Foudres and another year in mature barrique. The dedication to this aging process gives this wine outstanding structure, power, and complexity that will certainly stand up to a decade of cellaring.

Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

This morning I started off with the visit I was both most excited and most concerned about. Jean Pierre Charlot at Domaine Joseph Voillot in Volnay has been through the ringer more than anyone that I am slated to visit. The hail and small crops of previous vintages have impacted him more than most, and he’s also on the wrong end of the spectrum of those affected by this year’s frost.

Canvassing The Damage

Jean Pierre welcomed me into his office and we quickly overcame the fact that there wasn’t much middle ground on our language barrier. A brief chat and then we headed out to the vineyards for a survey of the damage. We go to Volnay 1er cru Champans and all is well. The growth looks great! It’s like nothing happened. Then we go to Volnay 1er cru Fremiets about 300km away and it’s a horror show. The vineyard is devastated.

More of the same as we visit his vineyards for village-level Volnay and Bourgogne rouge. Many vines are barren. Others have a small fraction of the normal growth. Some have produced a second bud, so on top of all the other challenges this frost has presented it also means that growers have to do two harvests one month apart. Think about all that additional work for the winemakers, yet for far less product. As rough as recent vintages have been for Jean Pierre this is the worst.

Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

Voillot looks on in frustration at Fremiets Vineyard in Volnay

All told, these vineyards are down 90%. Jean Pierre has 9 hectares of vines in total and he’s lost about 7 hectares-worth in the frost. When you catch him in the moment you see his frustration and concern, and then he simply states it; all that work in the vineyard down the drain, and both his financial and mental fortitude have been pushed to the limit. But then he (more or less) shrugs it off, rhetorically asking “What can you do?” So we head back to the cellar.

The Cellar

The Voillot cellar is a thing of beauty. The mold covering the bottles is off the charts, but otherwise it’s orderly and clean…though clearly not as full as Jean Pierre would prefer. We dig into the 2015 barrel samples and I can safely make the blanket statement that these wines are a fantastic overall quality and express some serious terroir. I look forward to not just tasting, but drinking these wines over the next 20 or so years. These are the epitome of elegance and charm, and they exude a real sense of place. If you’re not yet familiar with these wines do yourself a favor and seek them out.

The harsh reality.

Other Bourgogne Travels

Following my visit with Jean Pierre I headed north for a photo tour of a number of grand crus in the Nuits. Chambertin Clos de Beze is a particular favorite, but it’s great to see all of these vineyards up close and in person. I eventually made it to the top portion of Clos des Lambraysfor a little lunch of leftover poulet de Bresse, cheese, bread and wine while I soaked in one of the better views I’ve come across so far. Late in the afternoon I visited with Domaine de Bellene in Beaune, which included another look at some 2015s in barrel.

The wines are in various stages of completion with some still working through malolactic and showing a bit of prickly CO2 on the palate, while others are already beautifully harmonious. Overall the whole Domaine operation is quite smaller than expected, and the conversation about running the negociant side of things is illuminating. Particularly the emphasis on slowly growing the options beyond the big name fruit sources of Gevrey, Meursault, etc., as those wines have gotten so expensive in recent years. The Saint-Romain blanc is a standout, as is the Saint-Aubin, an appellation that seems to be well represented on this trip so far.

We also had an interesting aside about premox, which the Domaine admittedly encountered in a couple of their wines a few years back. The consensus seems to be a stretch of time where winemakers emphasized a combo of too gentle a pressing, too little sulfur, too much battonage, and too much oak. Seems about right.

Time for me to hit the sack as I’ve got an early call in Gamay country tomorrow!