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.

There’s a reason why nebbiolo remains one of the most prized grapes of the wine world. Few, if any, varietals can offer its combination of fruit, spice, earth, aromatics, acidity, and tannins–a blend of power and finesse that sends palates dancing.

Of course, the Piemontese DOCGs of Barolo and Barbaresco dominate the nebbiolo market, and why not? These regions produce some of the most enduring and memorable bottles you’re likely to find. However, if you head to the north of Piemonte, in the foothills of the Alps, you’ll discover the wines of Alto Piemonte, which provide more affordable and often more approachable alternatives to the bottlings of its Langhe rivals.

Image from Testimony of a wine junkie

There was a time, a couple or more centuries ago, when Alto Piemonte’s offerings commanded the respect and admiration that Barolo and Barbaresco do now. A one-two punch of phylloxera and fiscal downturn ended its reign as Northern Italy’s supreme red-wine region, but a renaissance that began in the late 1900s has only deepened in recent years, making Alto Piemonte a region worth investigating by nebbiolo lovers.

The typical expression of Alto Piemonte’s wines differs somewhat from that of its Langhe counterparts a couple of hours to the south; the wines of the north tend to be a bit more lithe, highly fragrant with softer (though still prominent) tannins and a well-defined minerality. There are a number of reasons for this distinction. First and foremost is the Alpine weather, which provides an abundance of afternoon sun but is tempered by colder nighttime air–helping to keep all of nebbiolo’s myriad elements in balance.

In addition, while the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco require cépage to be exclusively nebbiolo, the wines of Alto Piemonte allow for nebbiolo to be blended with other local grapes such as vespolina or croatina, which tend to accentuate the higher-toned flavors. There are also differences in soil composition: Alto Piemonte’s terroir is more volcanic in nature, instead of the limestone and clay that feature prominently in the wines of Langhe.

The Alto Piemonte is bifurcated by the Sesia River– Colline Novaresi to the east and Coste della Sesia to the west–and the better-known sub-regions lie directly on the river’s shores. Ghemme, on the right bank, and Gattinara, on the left, are the only two to have attained DOCG status.

Ghemme’s terrain includes more clay and sits at a lower elevation. Therefore its wines often have a fuller body and more pronounced tannins than that of its neighbors. With its volcanic assortment of granite, quartz, and iron, Gattinara produces wines known for their vibrancy and mineral-driven focus.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are currently featuring the all-nebbiolo 2008 Ca` Nova Ghemme, a wine firmly in its sweet spot. Displaying savory notes of earth and spice at first, this wine is rounded out by fresh acidity and a gentle but noticeable tannic grip. The 2013 Antoniolo Gattinara, also available in the shop, is a lively, graceful rendering that spends 30 months in oak and boasts buoyant red fruits with just enough tannic support. Made with 100 percent nebbiolo, this bottle can easily lie down for another decade.

Other Alto Piemonte appellations worth seeking out include the higher-altitude areas of Boca (east of the Sesia) and Bramaterra (west of the river), as well as low-lying Fara (southeast of Ghemme) and sandy-soiled Lessona, whose wines are among the most supple and polished of the region.

There are also wines that are simply labeled Colline Novaresi or Coste della Sesia, usually lighter, more ephemeral wines intended to be enjoyed young. For an example of this style, look toward the Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia rosso, a lean, refreshingly limber blend of 70 percent nebbiolo, 15 percent vespolina, and 15 percent croatina. (Bear in mind that this producer keeps output low, so these bottles move quickly.)

Fans of rosé can get in on the Alto Piemonte action, too. You can pick up a bottle of the Antoniolo Bricco Lorella rosato–aromatic, herbaceous, and dry, but with a bit of weight–or maybe Al Posto Dei Fiori by Le Pianelle, which ranks as perhaps the shop’s most full-flavored, complex rosé.

Finally, mention must be made of the tiny Carema DOC. Bordering the Valle d’Aosta and a good 40-plus miles west of the river Sesia, Carema’s terraced, steeply situated vines produce streamlined, gloriously perfumed wines bursting with acidity and propped up by persistent, fine-grained tannins. The big fish in this little pond is Ferrando, whose expression of nebbiolo epitomizes the strength and beauty of Alto Piemonte and, in peak years, can age for 20 years or more. Paul Marcus Wines is fortunate to have the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Ferrando Carema. Get them while you can.


Say the word “Bandol,” and visions of blue-green waters, framed by white rock and graceful Mediterranean pines, immediately come to mind. However, there is more to this zone of Provence than just the Cote d’Azur’s outrageously beautiful coastline. Here, limestone soils, the sun’s generous warmth, and a refreshing coastal climate create an ideal environment for cultivating the late-ripening mourvèdre, Bandol’s flagship grape.

Wine map of Provence showcasing Bandol

Aside from mourvèdre, lighter varieties such as grenache and cinsault–both traditionally associated with Provençal rosés–are also permitted. However, the heavier-hitting mourvèdre grape must still make up at least 50 percent of rouges or rosés (although many producers choose to use more). While Bandol reds can be extremely tannic and take years to open up fully, the same cannot be said of the region’s rosés. Bright, full-flavored, and red-fruited, they deliver an almost decadent seaside pleasure–or simply an evocative sip on a sunny day.

Chateau Val d’Arenc

If you are feeling like you’d like a bit of Bandol rosé in your life, Chateau Val d’Arenc is a good ambassador. Using 80 percent mourvèdre in his blends, winemaker Gérald Damidot practices sustainable viticulture, keeps his yields low, and hand-selects the grapes that make it into the cuvee. With aromas of wild strawberries, watermelon, musk, and a little bit of tannin, this wine would fare well with a fatty fish such as salmon, or an herbed pork or chicken dish.

Domaine du Terrebrune

However, if you prefer something more delicate, grab the Bandol rosé by Domaine du Terrebrune, a favorite at Paul Marcus Wines. This one is lighter in both color and body, with a nose more floral than the d’Arenc version, and a palate that shows more genteel melon flavors.

La Bastide Blanche

Finally, you can reach for a Bandol rosé that is right down the middle, La Bastide Blanche. Neither too heavy nor exceedingly light, this “Goldilocks” wine serves as a great introduction to the rosés of Bandol. La Bastide Blanche also keeps yields low, and its cellar practices are meticulous. The grapes in this cuvee are from a limestone-rich area called Sainte-Anne du Castellet, imparting mineral flavors and bright acidity. With its aromatics of flint and strawberries, and its lingering watermelon flavor, it’s an exemplary expression of the Bandol terroir.

You can find all three of these at Paul Marcus Wines, or just let your mood decide!

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

​Excavation

artifact / ärdəfakt /
noun: an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest.

archeology / ärkēˈäləjē /

noun: the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

Experience

Wine can represent many things, like a particular flavor, a palatal experience, the time and efforts of cultivation, or the intellectual design of a product. And we can talk about it in so many ways too, evaluating wines geographically, aesthetically, linearly, horizontally. We use metaphor. We use qualitative biochemical data. We use narrative, and we attach it to a physical object destined for consumption, consume it, and begin to evaluate based on an array of potential methods of inquiry. If we are to treat the appreciation of wine in any academic way, that is to study it, we first must choose the method and scope of inquiry, which for me, particularly regarding older bottles, skews to the archeological.

Throughout my time at Paul Marcus Wines I was fortunate to taste, with some regularity, wines that far surpassed me in age and maturity. Over the past few years I’ve seen a surge in interest, enthusiasm, and availability of more obscure wines like this (18 year-old Sancerre Rouge, 28 year-old Portuguese Arinto, 30 year-old Santa Cruz Cabernet), wines that have taken on the secondary and tertiary characteristics of graceful development. Right away you can recognize acidity and color, defining characteristics of longevity, the ability to stay fresh, and the availability of concentrated fruit. But always, wines like these come with a caveat, a disclaimer of sorts about provenance, about transportation, storage, preservation, the guarantee on untainted products, the artifacts we so casually imbibe. So what can the study (and appreciation) of these agricultural remains signify about history? Perhaps that it inevitably devours itself.

Vineyard at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Vineyard at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Visiting Piemonte

Last November, I was invited to Italy by the business consortium and viticultural association of Beilla, a small sub-region of the Alto Piemonte, west of Milan and almost to the Alps. It is an absolutely beautiful area, richin chestnuts, risotto, and an earnest wool milling industry. Right now, the region is in the process of redefining itself as a premium growing and production zone for grapes, particularly Nebbiolo. Today about 1,500 hectares of vines are planted in Alto Piemonte, primarily to Nebbiolo, though small amounts of Vespolina, Croatina, Uva Rara and Erbaluce are also planted. In 1900, however, over 40,000 hectares of grapes filled the region, a gross historical disparity which the winemakers there hope to resolve. The cool temperatures, extended sunlight exposure from altitude, latitude, and proximity to the Alps, and the geological event in which a volcano upended a mountain to expose ancient marine soils, all contribute to the severe minerality, acidity, and vivid coloration and red flavor of these Nebbiolo wines. Although the Langhe in the more southern part of Piedmont carries more commercial and critical weight in the industry now, the sheer volume of wine produced in the heyday of Alto Piemonte, and the evaluative quality of that wine, can shed light on both the cultural and natural history of the area. Touring vineyards and wineries, attending a seminar on soil types, tasting recent releases of wines from a dozen Alto Piemontese producers, and eating beautifully from the local farms and tables were all illuminating aspects of the culture and the cuisine and the heritage of the region, but nothing taught me more than tasting through a series of library bottles from four small wineries. It was easily the most personally revealing experience I’ve ever had with wine.

Before the tasting at Villa Era, a tiny producer in midst of laborious reclamation of vineyard sites from a century or so of forest encroachment, we toured the cellars (as we had the previous evening at Castello di Castellengo) to see the dusty, cobwebbed and moldy bottles of mismatched shape and size with tags and decomposing labels that date these artifacts through the past several centuries. These library collections of estate bottlings provide evidence that throughout time the properties yielded a product worth preserving in glass, underground in stable conditions, on the assumption that someday, someone would recognize that this was a fine wine designed to shine for future generations.

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Experiencing Aged Piemonte

The oldest artifact was a bottle of 1842 Castello di Montecavallo which is almost impossible to describe ingesting other than physical euphoria a, sensation of emotionally charged discovery. To share this piece of completely vibrant, assertive history, with the current generations of folks who farm the same land produced in me this neurological firing where I tried to connect pure sensory experience with the particular circumstance and somehow try to intellectually remember that this wine was deemed over the course of 175 years to be worth preserving, and that this gorgeous and completely unexpected semi-sweet but citric and lively wine five times my age was now going to be absorbed by my body. It felt as though I’d consumed an ephemeral dose of wisdom.

I know that’s hard to qualify. But trying to compare, or at least comprehend, the 1896 Castellengo and 1897 Villa Era was somewhat more grounded. I’d been in these cellars, walked in these vineyards; I was sitting in the building where 120 years earlier one of these wines had probably just finished fermenting, maybe just gone into barrel. One was reddish and slightly tannic, the other golden and slippery, and both were fresh. So you speculate. The grape, the vintage, the design? Two wines made a year apart within ten kilometers of each other and yet so fantastically different. And still with this surreal recognition that these wines were made around the time that my ancestors left Europe to participate in a different history a continent away.

Tasting a pair of wines, 1931 Montecavallo and 1934 Castellengo, I could sense some greater intensity, whether to do with process development or a renewed artisanal concentration in the wines after the industry fallout in the first decade of the 20th Century due to climate and disease, I don’t know. But the Montecavallo, like the 1842, offered a pure, sandy, pear-like quality, and the Castellengo, like the 1896, was denser, richer in color. The 1934 showed great definition as Nebbiolo, herbal, brilliant red, tannic and tough like a the skin of a wizened crabapple, a gorgeous wine and my favorite of the entire tasting.

Modern Respects

The more recent presentations, a 1960 from Villa Era, and a 1965 and 1970 from Tenuta Sella, a producer PMW has recently carried, proved a welcome familiarity, more within the bounds of my previous experience. These were wines with structure, ripe and dusty fruit and emphatic texture. These were wines wound with youth, wines that I expected to develop further. In the Sella wines, particularly, a continuously operating producer since the 17th Century, I tasted exuberance, a great and yet unrevealed potential. I felt aligned with Nebbiolo, a tart little corner of recognition on my palate, but I also felt the resonance of timbre, a uniformity, or at least a seam of connective tissue that stitched me to the place, to the people, to the things this circumstance in time and culture had revealed.

Tenuta Sella 1965 Lessona & 1970 Lessona

Tenuta Sella 1965 Lessona & 1970 Lessona

And then after sharing a bottle of the 2010 Sella Lessona over dinner back in California, and talking and laughing and telling the story, exposing the narrative and presenting the evidence, one can still only project the future. We have what we have and we have what has been preserved and with that we have to make do. I know that in Alto Piemonte they used to make great wine and that over time the wines changed and adapted and that now by looking back, it is also possible to look forward, to understand the history and prehistory of a specific place, the culture of past, present and future through artifacts.

(credit: Patrick Newson)

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!

Part I

1. Why Burgundy?

The great wines of Burgundy satisfy the body and the soul. This is not to say other wines, indeed many other wines, don’t; but the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of the Cote d’Or do so in a unique and inimitable way. But it’s not really about the varieties here; it’s about the specificity of the land. The song of the grapes is nowhere bettered than in the vineyards of Burgundy. The medium is the message here, and the medium is the earth.

And the wines sing with subtle gusto and a surprising finesse-filled force. It is, in some final analysis, the complexity and the generosity of the wines of Burgundy that makes them my favorite wines. The music enters the heart and mind simultaneously. The emotional and aesthetic commitment the best wines ask is stunning and it is precisely because they ask us to feel and speak that they reach so deeply into our hearts and minds. The parallel, of course, is that the old vines reach equally deeply into the limestone and marl to retrieve the inner harmonies of the land.

Whether notes or letters, Burgundy generates a dialogue, indeed it generates language.

Burgundy is a place, and its heart, the Cote d‘Or, is only thirty miles long and about half a mile wide. You could walk it in a day, though it might take longer because you would likely be; as I have been, happily distracted by the peace and the beauty of the vines lacing around the old stone houses like green and gold scarves.

And because of the power of the Burgundian terroir – the sun, slope, and soil, among other things – the earth’s soul as it were, is also in every bottle. And this is how we come to truly know Burgundy, or any wine, and that is by drinking it, by being open to its seductive and haunting pleasures: the place-ness of Burgundy is in every bottle, and while it is always best to visit the wine regions we love, Burgundy is shipped; thanks to all the gods, to the far reaches of the world, if in miniscule quantities, including Paul Marcus Wines.

Burgundy, it seems, allows us a bit of time travel.

2. Where in the world is Burgundy?

The Cote-d’Or is in central eastern France. If you happen to be driving from Paris, allow about three hours. If you’re going in the right direction, and have a hankerin’ for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, you should be heading southeast through Auxerre, toward Beaune, the wine capital of the Cote-d’Or. If a steely Chardonnay is what you want then Chablis is the place for you and you need only go about two hours along the same route, this time exiting at Auxerre. The Cote Chalonnaise, Macon, and Beaujolais are all a bit farther south along the same route.

3. Is Burgundy difficult to figure out?

Yes. And no.

Its essential nature is easy, and the wines are complex, but Burgundy is the most complicated of France’s wine regions and it is also, in some ways, the most difficult to understand.

For example, Karen MacNeil, author of the very useful The Wine Bible, lists eight grands crus in Gevrey-Chambertin, but Allen Meadows, author of the Burgundy-only newsletter, Burghound, claims there are nine, while the long time Burgundy aficionado Clive Coates says; “There are eight or nine grands crus…” I’m going with nine because you will find nine different names out there in the market. To wit, you will find both “Charmes-Chambertin” and “Mazoyeres-Chambertin” in any (sensible) wine shop that deals in Burgundy, though they have been listed by Matt Kramer as “one and the same vineyard.”

Furthermore, a few of the premier Crus in Gevrey-Chambertin have alternate names, yes, alternate names; for example Petite-Chapelle can also be called Champitenois and Issarts, Plantigone.
This, in a region where there are over eighty growers of the famous 117 acre Grand Cru vineyard of Clos Vougeot. In theory we could have eighty wines in the shop that all say “Clos Vougeot” though some might be labeled, “Clos de Vougeot.”

Easy, right?

4. How do I drink Burgundy?

Fill your glass. Repeat.

Only slightly more seriously: drink your Burgundy s l o w l y.

It is vital to drink the best wines over time. You want to interact with a great bottle of wine for as long as possible. No good wine will show you everything in thirty minutes, let alone allow you to understand all it has to offer.

The better the wine, very generally speaking, the more complex the wine and so, the longer it takes to discover. I think it’s best to give the particular bottle of wine you’re drinking plenty of time to open up, and, if you like it, get a few more bottles to drink over the years.

5. Will Burgundy age?

I’ve heard it said, in wine classes no less; that Pinot Noir does not age. This is maddening because so many pinot noirs do age; indeed they do so fabulously well. I’ve had wonderful, even fruity Pinot Noirs from the 1950s that were stunningly complex while still offering primary flavors. Furthermore, many white wines from Burgundy can age effortlessly for decades.

6. Why are the wines of the Cote d’Or so dang expensive?

Because it’s a tiny region and the farmers who tend the vines have very little wine to sell and there is no (significant) way to expand production. A producer might only make one barrel or less (25 cases) of any one wine. That’s twenty-five cases, or fewer, for the whole world. Not a lot to go around. Here’s a breakdown of the various levels of Burgundy to give you an idea of the rarefied stratification of the Cote d’Or:

Burgundy that is simply labeled “Bourgogne” the lowest level of classified Burgundy (either red or white) makes up 52% of the total wine production. This is wine that can come from anywhere in the legally demarcated region of Burgundy. Village level Burgundy makes up a further 35% of the total production and the wines have only to come from within the village boundaries. That means 87% of all the Burgundy produced in the Cote d’Or is not even vineyard-specific. Which is remarkable because Burgundy is all about the relationship of the site and the bottle. Premier Cru Burgundy makes up another 11%, meaning the wines labeled Grand Cru make up a microscopic 2% of the total wine production.

Part II

Getting Specific: Gevrey-Chambertin

A name from Gallo-Roman times, Gabriacus, first noted in or around 640 AD, for the village of modern-day Gevrey-Chambertin, a wee tot of a village in the heart of the wine Mecca of Burgundy. Gabriacus, a town where vines have been grown, grapes harvested, wine made and drunk for many, many centuries. In fact 120 vine stocks were found in Gevrey-Chambertin in 2008 dating from the 1st century BCE. Now that’s history.

In 1847 Gevrey appended the name of its most illustrious vineyard, Chambertin, which is named after the monk Bertin (Champ de Bertin). It seems somehow fitting that over the past forty years the population of this village has only increased by about 100 people (the population in 2008 was 3,084 and in 1975 it was 3,001) because the practice of wine growing and winemaking has changed very little over the years.

So there are, depending on whom you ask, thirty-three or thirty-four Grand Crus in Burgundy’s Cote-d’ Or, 8 or 9 of those, again depending on who you ask, are in Gevrey-Chambertin.

Gevrey-Chambertin is the largest of all the Cote’s villages and is also the place where, again, depending on who you ask, the highest expression of Pinot Noir is reached on Earth.

So where can I get great Burgundy?

Duh. Paul Marcus Wines always has a great selection of world class and affordable Burgundy! To get more specific information about any of the following wines, come in and ask one of the staff members at the shop.

Here, at a 30% discounted rate, is The Super Summer Six-Pack:

(a) 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “La Combe Aux Moines,” 90.
(b) 2011 Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Fontenys,” 100.
(c) 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice,” 83
(d) 2009 Dom. Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V., 90.
(e) 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin V.V., 80.
(f) 2004 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin “Coeur du Roy,” 125.

The full list price is $568.00, but for this offer you can have these gems for $395.00!
A huge savings for some of Burgundy’s best wines, so treat yourself!

Further Offerings from the Rack & Cellar:

1. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “La Combe Aux Moines”
90. / 12 available
2. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “Petits Gazetiers”
85. / 6 available
3. 2011 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin
55. / 6 available
4. 2011 Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Fontenys”
100. / 12 available
5. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos Prieur”
84. / 12 available
6. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
75. / 12 available
7. 2011 Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice”
83. / 12 available
8. 2011 Dom. Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin
98. / 11 available
9. 2010 Sylvie Esmonin “Cote de Nuits-Villages”
40. / 4 available
10. 2010 Dom. Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin “Charmes-Chambertin”
180. / 6 available
11. 2009 Dom. Bachelet “Cote de Nuits-Villages”
60. / 2 available
12. 2009 Dom. Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
90. / 15 available
13. 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin
54. / 12 available
14. 2009 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
80. / 7 available

15. 2009 Bachelet Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
90. / 15 available
16. 2006 Dugat “Charmes-Chambertin”
434. / 3 available
17. 2006 Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin
128. / 5 available
18. 2006 Dugat Gevrey-Chamberitn “Lavaux St.-Jacques”
287. / 3 available
19. 2006 Denis Mortet Chambertin
675. / 3 available
20. 2006 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru”
248. / 3 available
21. 2006 Burget Gevrey-Chambertin “Mes Favorites”
75. / 12 available
22. 2006 Lecheneaut Gevrey-Chambertin
70. / 3 available

* The 2005 vintage deserves a special note. It is one of the all-time great vintages in Burgundy in the last two decades. Though you can enjoy them now, these wines will age gracefully for another twenty years – if you can wait that long! These are powerfully structured wines though they do not lack finesse or subtlety. The ‘05s are disappearing fast and this is a great collection of world-class wines. Don’t miss them!

23. 2005 Guy Castagnier “Charmes-Chambertin”
145. / 3 available
24. 2005 Guy Castagnier “Latricieres-Chambertin”
155. / 2 available
25. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Charmes-Chambertin”
151. / 3 available
26. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Lavaux St.-Jacques”
123. / 8 available
27. 2005 Confuron-Cotetidot “Mazis-Chambertin”
161. / 12 available
28. 2005 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin “Coeur du Roy”
189. / 2 available
29. 2005 Dugat-Py Gevrey-Chambertin V.V.
142. / 12 available
30. 2005 Guillard SC Gevrey-Chambertin “Platiere”
62. / 12 available
31. 2005 Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin “1er Cru”
218. / 3 available

Domaine Dagueneau - Pouilly-Fume

The Producer

Didier Dagueneau, maverick of the Loire Valley, produced some of the greatest Sauvignon Blancs the world has ever known. Unfortunately, his life and his career as a vigneron were finished far too soon, in a manner which, though devastating, wouldn’t have been much a surprise to those who knew him. A perennial thrill-seeker and risk-taker, Didier, who also enjoyed professional motorcycle-racing and later, dog-sled racing, met his untimely end at the age of 52 when the ultralight plane he was piloting crashed shortly after landing in September of 2008. During his tenure at the helm of Domaine Dagueneau, Didier adopted a similarly unorthodox attitude in both the vineyard and the cellar.

Domaine Dagueneau - Pouilly-Fume

The Region: Pouilly-Fumé

The wines of the Pouilly-Fumé AOC are prized for their minerality and perfume, with a smoky aroma (hence the name ‘Fumé‘, French for ‘smoked‘) often making an appearance in the best examples, Dagueneau’s not withstanding. This is largely owing to the presence of flint (which, combined with clay, is known locally as ‘silex‘) in the region’s famed limestone soils. These top-tier wines can age longer than your average Sauvignon Blanc–five to ten years for many, and even up to twenty for Dagueneau’s finest bottlings.

Production

Didier was not afraid to break the rules, and those who consume the wines of his domaine will be handsomely rewarded by his experiments. Low-yields were an established constant, but the boundaries of viticulture and viniculture were constantly pushed, from organic viticulture to natural fermentations to experimental barrels. Unlike most Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Dagueneau’s wines have always been raised in oak barrels, though the size, shapes, and proportions of new to neutral barrels has varied with both vintage and vineyard.

Didier may no longer be with us, but his children, Charlotte and Benjamin, have taken over the domaine and continue to produce stunning wines with clarity, precision, and freshness that wine critics agree would make their father proud. The most recent releases, now available in the store, are no exception.

The Wines

The 2010 Blanc Fumé de Pouilly, Dagueneau’s “entry level” cuvée, is intended to be a very direct, pure, and typical example of Sauvignon Blanc from a typical Pouilly-Fumé vineyard. It truly is a spectacular example of what wines from this AOC should aspire to be–brimming with chalky minerality and racy citrus.

The 2011 Pur Sang, perhaps the Domaine’s most popular cuvée, is bursting with aromas of citrus, quince, and fine minerals, with mouth-puckering acidity punctuating the intense and ethereal palate. The grapes come from chalky limestone soils that are almost entirely lacking in silex.

The 2011 Buisson Renard, grown on silex soil and formerly the most mineral of the Dagueneau cuvées, is tamed by oak ageing to form a rich, opulent wine held together by a firm, flinty backbone.

Finally, the 2011 Silex is the “Grand Cru” of Dagueneau’s wines. Highly sought-after year after year, this wine can be slightly more austere than its contemporaries, due to lower clay content in the soil. This may not be the right wine to pop open tonight, but those who are patient enough to wait for this stunning wine to reach its peak will reap significant benefits. For the slightly-less-patient, we also have the 2010 Silex in stock.

A Map of the Jura Region

Jura

Jurassic Wines: They’re Not Just for Dinosaurs Anymore (New Arrivals from Jura!)

Tucked in between Burgundy and Switzerland, the Jura wine region has, until recently, somehow managed to remain off the radar of most American consumers. It’s sort of understandable–this area tends to produce the favorites of wine geeks in search of something new and different. However, a bit of understanding can lead to appreciation by any wine drinker for these unique and often ‘funky’ wines.

A Map of the Jura Region

Jura’s unusually cool climate allows the production of refreshingly crisp whites with mouthwatering, tart acidity and ultra-pale reds that astonish with their unexpected complexity. Sparkling wines, known as Crémant du Jura, thrive here as well, taking advantage of high acidity levels in the grapes to make wines that are similar to Champagne–but a lot more affordable. Easily recognizable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir beckon the uninitiated with their familiarity, a gateway to the more obscure grapes of the region–Savignin (known elsewhere as Traminer), Poulsard, and Trousseau.

Vin Jaune

The most distinctive, and probably best-known wine style of Jura is Vin Jaune, or ‘yellow wine‘. To make Vin Jaune, very ripe Savignin grapes must be harvested from low-yielding vines. They go through the usual white wine routine–conventional fermentation, secondary malolactic fermentation…seems pretty standard, at first. But here’s where things get crazy–the wine is then transferred to old Burgundy barrels that are filled incompletely, and placed in an area that is well-ventilated and therefore subject to temperature fluctuations. This is basically the opposite of how a winemaker would want to store any other type of wine during the vinification process, but for Vin Jaune, this is how the magic happens.

Owing to these unusual conditions, a thin layer of yeast (known as the voile) forms on top of the wine, similar to the flor in Sherry. Then the winemaker must sit patiently for at least six years, as the wine slowly oxidizes, protected by the voile from turning to vinegar. This patience is eventually rewarded with the resulting dry, aromatic, nutty wine–often with aromas and flavors of exotic spics such as turmeric, cardamom, and ginger, walnut, almond, apple, and sometimes honey, with a deep yellow-orange appearance.

For best results, Vin Jaune should be allowed to breathe for a while before serving, and paired with its neighbor and natural ally, Comté cheese.

The Wines of Jura

Cremants du Jura

A thorough exploration of the wines from the Jura region would comprise a wide variety of flavors and styles. It’s always nice to start off with some bubbles, and Domaine de Montbourgeau’s Crémant du Jura is an excellent choice. This 100% Chardonnay sparkler is light, fresh, and bursting with racy citrus acidity, making for the perfect aperitif or a great bottle for brunch.

Whites

To ease in to Jura whites, it’s best to start with a good old-fashioned actual white wine, before moving on to those zany orange ones. Michel Gahier’s 2009 Chardonnay ‘La Fauquette’ is a lovely example, brimming with Chablis-like minerality with undertones of dried apricot. Faint nutty aromas hint at the slightest bit of oxidation.

For an introduction to Vin Jaune, look no further than Jacques Puffeney’s 2006 Arbois Vin Jaune. Monsieur Puffeney, known to his peers and admirers as “the Pope of Arbois“, is one of the most well-known and revered vignerons in the region, and for good reason. This orange wine is produced only from the finest barrels after eight and a half years of aging under voile–two years longer than the minimum requirement. This enticing wine shows intense oxidation, dripping with honey, almond, and hazelnut aromas, dried apple flavors on the rich and creamy palate, and a surprisingly bone-dry finish.

Reds

It’s not just the whites of Jura that are worth talking about–the reds are pretty fascinating themselves. Often receiving less attention and shorter aging from their white counterparts, Jura reds (made from Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir) differ wildly from what most American palates are accustomed to consuming, in that they are so light as to frequently be mistaken for rosés, yet highly complex on the nose and palate, filled with floral and peppery aromas and often a healthy dose of terroir–or less euphemistically, funk.

Trousseau, the most powerful of the Jura red grapes, is often used to add structure and color in a blend alongside Poulsard–but it can undoubtedly shine on its own as well. Michel Gahier’s 2012 Trousseau ‘Les Grands Vergers’ demonstrates intense, hearty blackcurrant fruit, cherry candy, earthy, smoked tea, and marked peppery and gamey notes, softened by hints of violet perfume.

Another bottling from Michel Gahier, 2012 Ploussard (a confusingly similar synonym of Poulsard) is much paler in color than the Trousseau, but is by no means lacking in flavor. The nose is lovely and floral, reminiscent of roses and ripe, juicy strawberries and cherries. The palate, however, is no delicate flower. Tannin and minerality give great structure to this faintly tinted wine, making it a “serious” wine that also happens to be very, very easy to drink. Another wonderful example is Jacques Puffeney’s 2011 Poulsard, which echoes many of the flavors in Mr. Gahier’s bottling, which may have something to do with the fact that they are neighbors. The Gahier leans a bit towards a more fruit-forward style, with the Puffeney shows a little more earthiness.

Some Jura Wines Available at Paul Marcus Wines

All of these Jura wines (and many more!) are now available on our shelves. Whether you are just beginning to explore this intriguing appellation, or have been drinking Jura wines since before they were cool, there’s definitely something for everyone in this un-sung, under-appreciated, and frequently under-valued region.