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I’ve always had a particular fondness for red Burgundy. At their best, these wines proudly display their terroir, that distinct sense of place; they boast a balanced mouth feel and are structured yet elegant. At Paul Marcus Wines, we have always taken pride in our extensive selection of Burgundy, and that remains true to this day.

Lately, I’ve been rather impressed by a couple of noteworthy producers who happen to lie at opposite ends of the Côte d’Or–and opposite sides of the price spectrum: Domaine Duroché in the far north of the Côte de Nuits and Domaine Maurice Charleux et Fils at the southern tip of the Côte de Beaune.

Photo of Domaine Duroché via Polaner Selections

Whenever you hear anything about Domaine Duroché, you are bound to hear the words “rising star.” Pierre Duroché joined the domaine in 2003 and took the reins of the operation two years later. Since then, he has turned the domaine around, bringing a new energy and focus to this esteemed Gevrey-Chambertin house that’s been around since 1933.

Duroché owns more than eight hectares of vineyard holdings in the Gevrey appellation. As you would expect, the utmost attention is given to the health of the soil. The grapes are rigorously sorted both in the vineyard and the cellar. Everything is de-stemmed, and the wines never see more than 15 percent new oak.

While Duroché’s top-level cuvees sell for upward of $500, their village-level wine still represents somewhat of a bargain. The 2017 Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin ($78) has understated power and appealing elegance, revealing the earthy, mineral Gevrey flavors that are so typical of the terroir. Though it will be sure to age gracefully, it can also be enjoyed young.

About an hour south of Gevrey–just to the southwest of Santenay, but still in the Côte de Beaune–are the three small villages of Maranges. The hillside commune of Dezize-lès-Maranges is home to the wines of Domaine Charleux.

Many of you are already familiar with these value-driven Burgundies; they have been a staple in our shop for many vintages, and are perhaps the most consistent Burgundies available in that price range. In general, the wines of Maranges are medium-bodied with just enough acidity to make them appropriate for near-term aging. The soils are clay and limestone, and most of the vineyard exposure is south to southwest.

The 2018 Maranges Vieilles Vignes ($29) is produced from vines that are more than 80 years old and offers admirable concentration and length. Somewhat dark-fruited, it exemplifies the liveliness of the 2018 vintage.
From the warmer 2017 vintage comes the 1er Cru Maranges ‘Les Clos Roussots’ ($33). The vineyards here have south and southeast exposure and are mostly blue-clay soils with some limestone. This red-fruited wine is forward and easy-drinking, with noticeable complexity in the raspberry-like finish.

We also have a few bottles left of the 2016 1er Cru ‘Le Clos des Rois’ ($30). These south- and southwest-facing vineyards contain a greater proportion of limestone, which gives this bottle ample structure and complexity. This wine has red-fruit aromas along with floral and spicy notes–simply delicious.

Of course, Paul Marcus Wines has dozens more notable Burgundy producers from which to choose. Let us help you explore the many delights of Burgundy. See you at the shop.

– Paul Marcus

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

Burgundy Wine

Let The Burgundy Conversation Begin…

Burgundy Wine

Photo Credit: Wine Folly

[CA] Mark, let’s talk about Burgundy, and the white wines from the Côte de Beaune.

[MM] (drinking) Uh, sounds good, where should we start?

[CA] Well, I remember a quote from a book I read some time ago. Let me share it with you. I think it will set the discussion – and eventually, our glasses – in motion!

Something about Burgundy excites spirituality. Where Napa Valley restores hope that beauty has a future in the modern era and Bordeaux simply makes one want to live, it is after savoring a fine Burgundy that even the most skeptical are willing to concede a higher power.

[MM] Was that from Matt Kramer’s book?[CA] Indeed. Your memory is congruent with your consumption…. The paraphrase above is from the elegant beginning to Matt Kramer’s brilliant book Making Sense of Burgundy.

[MM] Hey, Chad – I admire Kramer’s book as much as you do, but spare me the spiritualist folderol! If gods there be, then let him/her/it/they drink what they like. We wine-loving humanists need concede only that land, vines, and people combine in this little swatch of France to make two of the truly great wines on earth: red and white Burgundy.

[CA] Hey, it’s not my spiritual “fold-your-own”! I was just pointing out how, for many of us, Burgundy is at the apex of wine wonderfulness. Burgundy, both the whites and the reds, are arguably the wines that most clearly embody a particular plot of land. So before we talk about the wines, let’s quickly look at the region of Burgundy: The region is as complex as the wines it births!

[MM] You’re right – Burgundy is complex – so on with the show!

Burgundy basics

Where is Burgundy?

[CA] Generally speaking, the region of Burgundy follows the Saône river north from Lyon through the hilly vineyards of Beaujolais and on through the Mâconnais to Tournus, where it parts ways with the river and veers east into the Côte Chalonnaise. It then continues northeast, roughly paralleling the wiggly river, and into the glorious heart of Burgundy: The Côte d’Or. We may divide this “slope of gold” into the Côte de Beaune and The Côte de Nuits. It is in this 30 by one-half mile ridge that we find the very best Burgundies. Continuing northeast we come to the last great Burgundy region: Chablis.

[MM] Nice little geography lesson, Chad. My only quibble is that you’re perpetuating a misconception about the name of that storied slope. Although “Côte d’Or” does indeed translate literally as “slope of gold”, the name is really a contraction of “Côte d’Orient”, or “slope facing east”. Still, given the prices of some of the wines, there’s some poetic truth in calling it the “slope of gold”! Quibbles aside, how about one of my expertly drawn maps to help folks get the picture? Now stop snickering, Chad!

[CA] I’m not snickering at you, I’m snickering with you!

(Mark draws a pair of maps.)

[CA] Great!

Which grapes make up most wines from Burgundy?

[CA] Nothing difficult here: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Although other grapes, like Gamay and Aligoté, are used in Burgundy, we will deal here with wines that are exclusively Chardonnay for the whites and Pinot Noir for the reds. In some cases, the Burgundians blend Gamay with Pinot Noir to produce inexpensive, everyday wines called passe-tout-grains.

[MM] One of the great things about Burgundy is that it’s wine from single varietals (with the relatively uncommon exceptions that you mention). There’s a beautiful purity – at least in the best wines – that you don’t get in wines blended from several varietals. That purity is an especially clear “lens” for terroir – the specific soil, exposure, and mesoclimate of the vineyard comes through the wine in a particularly clear way.

[CA] I agree with your image of the lens and that there is in fact a unique quality that comes from a wine made with a single varietal. I must, however, add to your generalization of “blended wines”. There are many spectacular blended wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Bordeaux, for example, that have terroir, because terroir includes culture, and I would argue, are to some extent necessitated by culture –

[MM] Okay, let’s stay focused….

[CA] Oh, alright…pass the halibut over here, will ya’?

What should I eat with white Burgundy?

[MM] White Burgundies of all types go well with fish, pork, and chicken. The richer whites from the Côte de Beaune are divine with richer fish, such as salmon, scallops, lobster, and crab. In addition, anything with a butter or white sauce will play off the wine beautifully. If you’re doing the cheese thing, aim for richer cow’s milk cheeses, such as Brillat-Savarin. And as I’ve learned from you, Chad, white Burgundy is a great way to transition from Champagne to red wine during an extended, multi-course dinner.

[CA] It is surprising how versatile the white wines from Burgundy are! There are so many microclimates that the amazing Chardonnay grape can achieve a nearly unlimited range of weight, acidity, and complexity. There are also hundreds of fine producers, making the options even more bountiful. It is exciting! I agree with you about the fish opportunities – wonderful accompaniments to Chardonnays from the Côte de Beaune! If you are having an older wine or a particularly rare or fine wine, I say have it by itself! Wine is food after all….

The Burgundy bull’s eye

How do I begin to understand Burgundy?

[CA] Good question. Thinking & drinking. First, think of an archery target. Think of the concentric circles getting smaller and point values getting larger as you go toward the center. The outermost circle of the target represents the wines simply called Bourgogne (blanc or rouge), in which the fruit can come from anywhere in the Burgundy region. Bourgogne accounts for 56% of all the wine in Burgundy. But how will I recognize one of these wines in a retail store? Another fine question. Following each level of quality there will be a “Shelf example.”

[MM] Here’s a Bourgogne Blanc (white Burgundy) that we sell a lot of, because it’s cheap ($8.99), light, crisp, and easy to like. It’s made by Lamblin & Fils, a producer who happens to be in the Chablis region of Burgundy. As you explain, the Chardonnay grapes could come from anywhere in Burgundy, but in this case, they happen to come from around Chablis.

Shelf Example: 2001 Lamblin Bourgogne Blanc

[CA] Next come the Appellation Communale wines, where the fruit must come from the specific place-name (called a “commune” in France) on the label. (A vineyard name is permitted, but the letters must be significantly smaller than the name of the commune.) The Appellation Communale wines, which account for 30% of the wines of Burgundy, correspond to the second concentric circle on the archery target – they come from smaller geographical areas and are worth more, both in cost and quality.

[MM] Wine geeks sometimes call these “A.C. wines” in order to indicate that they’re more specific than ordinary regional Bourgogne but not as specific as Premier Cru wines from specific vineyards. By the way, in Europe, a commune is not a place where hippies hang out and name their kids after flowers. It’s the smallest local political division, usually comprising a town and the surrounding countryside, and bears the name of the town. Here’s an A.C. white Burgundy from the commune of Meursault.

Shelf Example: 1996 Chapelle Meursault

[CA] The next level of quality comes with the Premiers Crus, which use the name of their commune followed by the name of their vineyard. The Premiers Crus account for only 11% of all Burgundy. They correspond to the third concentric circle on the target – a tightly defined set of areas and similarly elevated cost and quality.

[MM] Now we’re getting specific! Burgundy is all about the pyramid of specificity – from region to commune to individual vineyard. The terroir of each vineyard is capable of producing a wine that tastes unique, and chasing that uniqueness is part of what makes drinking and learning about Burgundy so rewarding. Here’s aPremier Cru white Burgundy from Les Charmes vineyard, located in the commune of Meursault. (It’s worth mentioning here that almost every Burgundy vineyard is divided among lots of owners. Thus, one easily could run into a Meursault Les Charmes from a different producer than the one shown here.)

Shelf Example: 1998 Boillot Meursault, Les Charmes

[CA] Exactly right Mark, there are a lot of wines from Les Charmes vineyard, which is of particular interest for someone who wants to do a more advanced white Burgundy tasting – one that includes Meursault Les Charmes bottlings from different producers. This type of tasting can be very educational (and somewhat expensive), but one will ultimately come away with a sense of the vineyard itself.

[CA] However, there are exceptions to the seeming rule that a vineyard name on the label means a Premier Cru wine in the bottle. For example a wine labeled Meursault Desirée is not a Premier Cru vineyard but is a particularly good vineyard.

[MM] Fortunately, the punctilious French labeling laws come to the rescue here. A Premier Cru wine always will say “Premier Cru” somewhere on the label. But your observation is a valuable one – Premier Cru is a general indication of higher quality, but not all Premier Cru wines are better than all A.C. wines. One still needs to know something about the producer and vineyard in order to make an educated guess about the quality in the bottle.

[CA] The next level in quality is truly a leap to the top shelf: the Grands Crus. These vineyards nearly always represent the very highest quality wine available in Burgundy – the bull’s eye in the target. There are 30 Grand Cru vineyards. Each has its own appellation. The Grands Crus account for a mere 3% of all wines from Burgundy.

[MM] Grand Cru wines are freaking expensive (usually $75 and up) and almost always require considerable bottle aging before they’re ready to drink. But boy can they can be amazing – and of course at that price, they ought to be! (As wine writer Stephen Tanzer has said, “for that amount of money, I expect a wine to give me an orgasm and wash my car.”) Anyway, here’s a Grand Cru white Burgundy from the vineyard Le Montrachet. This vineyard straddles the Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet communes, which lie directly south of Meursault.

Shelf Example: 2000 Lafon Le Montrachet

What other indications might tell me about the quality of the wine?

[CA] Great question. I always look for the best producers and the finest vintages. And the price. The price almost always goes up according to the quality of the producer, vintage, and vineyard site.

[MM] Of these factors, I think that producer is most important. Certainly vintage is significant, especially if you intend to age the wine for a long time. But the “best” vintages” aren’t always the best wines for current drinking. In addition, good producers usually make good wine in less than ideal vintages. And at this point, we should remind readers that we at Paul Marcus Wines pride ourselves on helping our customers make sense of the various producers, vintages, and appellations.

[CA] Great point! It is true that there are great wines made in most vintages, usually by the best producers, producers who know their vineyards and who are willing to cut away some of the early fruit to ensure the remaining fruit gets ripe. It is also worth mentioning, as you indicated, that the Paul Marcus Wines staff drink these wines and have come to know the producers we represent! As evidenced tonight!

Some Côte de Beaune appellations

[CA] Let’s look at a few of the wonderful Appellations Contrôlées in the Côte de Beaune:

[CA] Chassagne-Montrachet: There are a total of 864 acres of vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet. Of this, 836 are commune-level and Premier Cru. The remaining 28 acres are Grand Cru. The Grand Cru vineyards are split between Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. The hyphen adds to the confusion. It was added as a marketing device (with great success) to sell all the wines from Chassagne and Puligny as an extension of the very great single vineyard of Le Montrachet. Chassagne-Montrachet wines of all levels should have richness and a noticeable mineral component from the clayey-chalky soils.

[CA] Puligny-Montrachet: There are a total of 606 acres of vineyard in Puligny-Montrachet. Of this number there are roughly 248 acres of Premiers Crus (14 different vineyards) and 77 acres of Grands Crus (4 different vineyards); the remaining vines are commune-level. The wines from Puligny-Montrachet taste similar to those from the adjacent Chassagne-Montrachet, but the best Puligny wines show a bit more elegance and breed.

[MM] Meursault: This appellation’s relatively large 1,079 acres of vineyards lie just north of Puligny-Montrachet and just south of Volnay. The wines from Meursault are a little richer and softer than those from neighboring Puligny-Montrachet, which makes Meursault a great “bridge wine” for people who are used to drinking richer California Chardonnays and want to try white Burgundy. Meursault’s 89 named vineyards include no Grands Crus, but Les Charmes,Les Genevrières, and Les Perrières are the vineyards that come closest to Grand Cru quality.

[MM] St.-Aubin: “Aubin”, in my Americanized pronunciation, rhymes with “oh man” – as in, “oh man, are these good wines and good values!” The 585-acre appellation sits in a side valley that extends westward from Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. St.-Aubin is a more modest appellation than the others listed here – meaning that the wines are a little lighter and a little less complex. But from the right producer, the wines have a graceful balance of lively acidity and vibrant fruitiness, and they’re often cheaper than other Côte de Beaune wines of comparable quality. I’ve especially enjoyed wines from the two Premiers Crus vineyards that abut Puligny-Montrachet: En Remilly and les Murgers des Dents de Chien (“big rocks shaped like dog’s teeth” – a mouth-watering vineyard name if ever there was one).

Drinking white Burgundy

Chad & Mark spend hours tasting some new releases from Château de Puligny-Montrachet.

[MM] One fine day in May, our good friend Nicholas Griffin from Beaune Imports brought by a bunch of newly-minted 2001 white Burgundies from the Domaine du Château de Puligny-Montrachet. This producer has made very good wines for many years, which we’ve happily sold for many years. In 2001, however, things changed. Winemaker Etienne de Montille, from one of the best producers in all of Burgundy, Domaine Hubert de Montille, has taken over in the vineyard and in the cellar. The changes include a transition to biodynamic farming, fermenting with local, indigenous yeasts, and unfiltered bottling of the wines. The results of these changes are spectacularly delicious wines that more accurately reflect their terroir.

A few weeks later, Nicholas generously dropped off more bottles of these wonderful wines so that Chad and I could taste through them at our leisure and write them up for this newsletter. Amidst halibut, sea bass, mango, and several cheeses, we polished off the better part of six bottles over six hours. Yes, the wines were that good. Following are our favorites.

Our tasting notes: 2001 Château de Puligny-Montrachet whites.

Bourgogne Blanc ‘Clos du Château’ ($19):

[CA] 1st note: If this is the lowest level of fruit in the Côte then Whoa! Build a moat because I’ll drink it all.
2nd note: Pale straw. Pears picked from a tree in full sun. Fresh mango notes with mineral punctuation and slight hints of sun-dried raspberries. The finest Bourgogne blanc I have tasted in years!

[MM] Citrus and pear aromas set the stage for a beguiling “acidity trajectory” on the palate – the wine enters mellow, rises in pitch, and then falls away gently and gradually. This is amazingly classy Bourgogne blanc.

St.-Aubin En Remilly ($35):

[CA] 1st note: A truly great bottling from this vineyard.
2nd note: Minerals mixed with river-washed stones. The summer hay color belies the richness of the middle palate and the long and complex finish.
3rd note: …the long and complex finish. Details: Because it will get better in 2-5 years and is a great value, it is a perfect wine for the cellar.

[MM] Stony minerals and crisp apples on the nose. Great finesse and follow-through on the palate – soave fruit wrapped around a brilliant core of minerality. The wine fattens up nicely after it’s been opened a couple of hours – don’t drink it too quickly!

Puligny-Montrachet ($40):

[CA] 1st note: Wow! This “AC” wine has some serious “DC”.
2nd note: Lightly toasted, buttered sourdough notes provide a great foundation for the sliced ripe pear on the mid palate. A dollop of crème fresh and blood orange accentuate the complexity, range, and depth of this wine. Tangerine notes ring around a single smooth stone garnish and the mineral chords that will give this wine longevity.
3rd note: Before going out on a wire a tightrope walker would do well to taste this wine. It would give her a helpful and delicious idea of balance. Details: This is the best wine for current drinking, along with Bourgogne blanc, but will age well for 5-15 years. Really.

[MM] Great, galloping minerality. So much topography here – peaks and valleys, alpine vistas above timberline. This wine walks the tightrope between fruit and minerality. (Which one of us said that first, Chad?). It’s perfectly balanced right now. I want to drink it right now. Oh, I am drinking it right now. Lucky me!

Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Chalumeaux ($50):

[CA] 1st note: Whirls & worlds of richness and chalk laced with hazelnut, un-toasted pine nuts, and fresh white corn. A Meyer lemon garnish suggests the terrific acidity and structure that keeps the wine suspended.
2nd note: It is, above all else, the mining the vines did and the layers of soil and sub-soil they met along the way that give this wine its unique class. A truly great wine!
3rd note: This Chardonnay is the BMW 7-series of wines: it has incredible luxury and comfort while still driving like a racecar. Details: Absolutely drinkable now. But you could wait a few years for this (unless you just can’t help it. I understand.) Will age with grace and dignity for 15 years.

[MM] Undeniable Premier Cru breed – almost unbearably high-toned. Thirteen extra overtones. This is a young wine. If the A.C. Puligny-Montrachet walks the tightrope between fruit and minerality, then this wine dances it. If, like Chad and me, you’re an intrepid explorer, drink it now. But set aside at least one bottle for a decade or so. Great wine.

For those who want more [PS from CA and MM] If we haven’t answered all your questions about Burgundy, then check out our first article on Burgundy in the November 2002 Paul Marcus Wines newsletter. It covers some of the same ground as our dialogue here, but with an emphasis on red Burgundy.

Better yet, come visit the store and ask any of us to tell you more about Burgundy and more about the wines from Burgundy that we’re jazzed about right now. Everyone who works at Paul Marcus Wines is a Burgundy lover, and we’re always happy to share our knowledge and enthusiasm.

Back-to-School Burgundy Special

If you’re ready to have as much fun as Chad and Mark, then take advantage of our Château de Puligny-Montrachet special through September 15th. When you buy any six wines from this producer, we’ll take 10% off. This deal includes everything from the $19 Bourgogne on up…. Besides the 2001 wines mentioned in this newsletter, we have wines going back to 1997, plus a Pinot Noir from Monthelie. We also have a tiny quantity of Grand Cru wines – please inquire.

(by Chad Arnold and Mark Middlebrook)

I spent 25 wonderful days in France & Spain visiting regions such as: Burgundy, Loire, Paris, and Cataluna during the month of March. Some of the many highlights were:

Burgundy: Always A Highlight

The 2001 Côte de Nuits reds are excellent. This is a terroir-driven vintage, which I find exciting. If I had to generalize at this point, I’d characterize the vintage as a very good one, perhaps somewhat similar to the ’93s, showing great precision with lots of lift and brightness. Although it is not a super-ripe vintage, the fruit is intense. There’s a nice balance to the mouth feel and the specific terroirs sing out brilliantly. Some wines drink well early, but most should be medium-term drinkers (five to eight years). We are especially looking forward to carrying the wines of Confuron-Coteditot, a new producer for us from Vosne-Romanée. His wines are very stylish, clean, and delicious, with the village wines from Chambolle, Gevrey, and Vosne-Romanée drinking very well young. His premier crus are going to be more stunning with a little time.

A good place for lunch in Gevrey is Aux Vendange de Bourgogne, which serves traditional French Burgundian food and has a wonderful wine list from Gevrey (of all places!). It’s not that expensive, either. My favorite place to eat is Ma Cuisine in Beaune – it has a super wine list that is unbelievably affordable and wonderful country-rustic food.
Rhône: The wines in the northern Rhône were in fine form, as was the food at Le Chaudron in Tournon. The trip continued into the southern Rhône and then west to Languedoc. Our stops at Château la Canorgue and Domaine de l’Hortus were heartwarming – good people, good wines, good food.

Cataluña (Spain)

A two-day detour into Spain was highlighted by a meal at the Michelin two-star Cellar de Can Roca in Girona. The meal began with the sommelier wheeling out three carts the size of painting easels – one each for red, white, and Champagne/rosé wine lists. Needless to say, the choices were superb and varied, as was the food. It featured clams, baby fava beans, skate wings with fennel, salt cod with truffles, goat, and many desserts.

Loire

Then we were back to work and into the Loire, which showed off its wonderful 2002 vintage. It’s a very generously flavored vintage with a nice acidity to push those ripe flavors. 2002 is solid and four-square – no arguments here.

Paris

The trip ended where it began, in Paris. The meal at Au Bascou in the 3rd arrondissement was exemplary. While the wine list is not inspiring, the food is. I remember a wonderful smoked tuna in puff pastry appetizer and great main courses that featured goose and milk-fed baby lamb. I can’t imagine how one could ever get a bad meal here.

Burgundy Watch

In our November 2002 newsletter, we described the consummate pleasure of drinking red and white Burgundy – and warned you that enjoying this pleasure requires choosing carefully among the many producers, appellations, vineyards, and vintages. We’ve been tasting a lot of Burgundies lately – especially from older vintages going back to 1995 – and we’ll use this “Burgundy Watch” corner of our newsletter to call your attention to wines that we think are drinking particularly well right now.

Red Burgundies

1996 Jacky Truchot Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Aux Combottes’ ($50): Here’s aged, premier cru Gevrey in its prime: lots of secondary aromas and flavors reminiscent of autumnal things – drying leaves, mushrooms, game, spices – and still plenty of fruit and acidity.

2000 Albert Morot Beaune ‘Cent Vignes’ ($36): This is a young wine that’s drinking well now, with Morot’s typically graceful muscularity and Beaune premier cru elegance. This wine is a great introduction to red Burgundy, as well as a worthy mid-range bottle for Burgundy lovers.

White Burgundies

1997 Denis Pomier Chablis ‘Côte de Léchet’ ($25): Premier cru Chablis can be a charming thing when it’s young – a bracingly tart, stony, lemony palate awakener. But it turns into something else again with some bottle age, as this bottle shows: deeper, more complex, still vivid, but now more suave. This wine takes 45 minutes or so to fully open up after you’ve pulled the cork, but if you have the patience, you’ll be rewarded with a lovely glass of aged Chablis for not a lot of money.