Here we go again. The Endless Debate.
What are the Greatest Wines in the World?
Try to be neutral while you try to be correct.
One good answer is the bottle you have in front of you or the next one you have in mind.
That your taste, and that’s correct.
But if you want to take notice of the many who have made it their life’s work to travel the hills, dales, aromas and flavours of the world’s great wines you will see some solid agreements emerging. Writers, bloggers, commentators, sommeliers, restaurateurs, connoisseurs and amateurs have come to the precise conclusion.
Yes, the winner is …. Bordeaux. No, it’s Burgundy! Or is it Champagne? The Rhine? Barolo? Jerez? Oporto?
Sorry Otago, Oregon, Napa, Margaret River, Mornington. You may have to wait a little. What’s a few more decades in the vinous march of time?
Neutrality is not a given. In Bordeaux, they drink 70-80% Bordeaux wines. In Burgundy, they maintain a 70-80% preference for their own. And why wouldn’t they? Both are correct.
Here at TML, we have our conclusion. Burgundy by a nose.
We have been very fortunate over the years to be invited to see some of the finest pinots and chardonnays. The legendary Bulletin Place lunches and dinners in the seventies in the company of such palates as Evans and Halliday are rich in memories.
These days wines from the best years of the great domains are increasingly beyond us non-millionaire consumers, and we turn, not unhappily, to the lesser knowns.
On our travels, we have always had a ready glass for new adventures.
Which is why we were delighted to receive a call to wander among the smaller villages of Burgundy. Four whites and four reds. Some familiar. Others a new thrill.
It takes a village to raise a child
Driving southeast from Paris on the A6 a couple of hours rolls you comfortably through Chablis, although you would certainly stop for a glass of this most sublime of light whites (a chardonnay) and perhaps a plate of soul-stirring andouillette. On another 40 minutes and you enter the Valley of the Saone and for the next 50 km the river, the railway and the road head south. On your right, rising not very high, are hills cradling some of the most expensive agricultural land in the world. The Côte d’Or, divided into the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune.
Pinot noir presents first with names like Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne Romanée, Corton, Pommard and Volnay popping up like signposts in a red heaven.
Then towards the southern end, you’ve covered less than 40km, the world’s greatest chardonnays arise … Meursault and the Montrachets.
They are the great wines, but it is the precocious youngsters that we are about today. The Village wines.
These wines come from vineyards as historically recognised and as much loved as the great ones, but due to minor differences in location, soil and aspect are just below the shoulders of the crown.
They make up about 40% of the planted area and surround the Grand and Premier Cru vineyards, usually a little further down the slope.
Let’s taste a village at a time…
We were recently introduced to this cheerful crowd of youngsters by Burgundy expert Jean Pierre Renard. Four village whites and four village reds.
Here is some of his wisdom.
“The name of the place is the name of the wine. We don’t drink chardonnay or pinot noir.”
How to describe a Burgundy wine?
“How to describe ‘Australian’ wine? All different. How many wines does Burgundy make from just two grapes in a year? There are 3900 estates, all produce between 10 and 15 wines. Each vintage we elaborate more than 60,000 wines.”
“Chardonnay is the son of Pinot Noir, a crossbreed discovered in the tiny village of Chardonnay in the 5th century.”
“Burgundy expensive? No. Only the top 2% are above $50.
I’m hoping to help you appreciate entry-level wines bringing the emotion of the whole area.”
…starting with the whites
Saint-Bris, Montembrasé Domaine Jean-Louis et Jean-Christophe Bersan 2015.
A surprise to start. Not chardonnay but sauvignon, much better known in France up on the Loire. This was soft and lovely, classic non-aggressive sauvignon blanc. Pure fruit sweetness, tropical and clean. Just 134 hectares of this grape has been classified here, all else is chardonnay. You have to know the St-Bris means SB.
Bouzeron, Les Courcelles. Les Champs de Thémis 2016.
From a 6ha organic vineyard created in 2014. Another little surprise. The grape is Aligoté, sometimes used in a Kir with cassis liqueur. Here it is handled beautifully not as tart or aggressive as in the past. Salty, licorice-like fennel. White pepper. A nice balance with a gentle mouthfeel, quite long rounded with soft acids.
“Precise and sharp, a perfect aperitif, good with paté,” says Jean Pierre.
Monthélie, Domaine Jacques Bavard 2015.
Rubbing shoulders with grand vineyards this little chardy gem is aged 12 months in oak barrels without stirring. Then six months in stainless steel before bottling without fining or filtration.
Bright and sharp, aromatic and well balanced. Fine and smooth with good refreshing acids. Serve with prawns just tossed in the pan, or soft blue cheeses.
Viré-Clessé, Quintaine Domaine Michel 2015.
The Michel family has been growing vine here for 6 generations, now with 21h of vines averaging 60 years old on the best slopes.
Aged 24 months in stainless steel, this gives us more traditional deep chardonnay notes of roast nuts and honey with white flowers. Full flavoured, complex, lovely balance with a clean finish. Yum.
Great with chicken dishes, ris de veau or creamy risotto.
Now the reds
Irancy, Fût de chêne, Domaine Verret 2015.
Jean-Pierre continues to surprise and delight. Irancy is the only appellation allowed a second red grape – César. Sounds familar, the Romans brought it with them. This wine has a pinot nose but something darker lurks. Quite firm. “A bit green now, but will much develop over 5 years.” Pinot here can be a bit thin by itself, César adds some firmness.
Givry, Les Teppes, Domaine Michel Sarrazin et fils 2016.
Quite firm on the nose and darkish swirled in the glass. (Even some powerful pinots can be palish to look at). In the mouth this wine is cool and refined with a nice level of juicy fruit. Easy to drink with fine tannins. “Elegant. Very young, from a good vintage. Needs 4-5 years”
Santenay, Comme Dessus, Domaine Roux Père et fils, 2016.
A tiny fifth generation family estate. 100% pinot, hand-picked, traditional vinification in vats. Matured in one-third new oak barrels for 15 months. Pure pinot nose, soft fruit still a bit firm in the mouth. “More austere, more concentrated, lots of fruit but a tight young wine needing 4-5 years.”
Fixin, Crais de Chêne Domaine René Boumier 2015.
50-year-old vines, organic certified. Aged 18 months in one-third new oak. (More than 3 years old the barrels contribute not much in extra complexity). A bit chalky and minerally on the nose, with a super surge of dark fruits in the mouth. Full complex and lengthy. Delicate tannins. “From fantastic terroir in Fixin, the little brother of Gevrey Chambertin. Blackberry black currants. The tannins are important. You need some but not too firm. Make the wine dry and delicate in the mouth. They should be soft so you go for a second glass.”
Such is the allure of pinot noir and chardonnay at their best we should all be content, well if not quite content, at least welcoming to the offerings of it’s more modest appellations.
Thanks to Jean Pierre, we looked at just eight, but there will be many more of village quality in your bottle shop. A steady stream of delights. These ones would cost a fraction of the Grands Crus, not cheap but certainly in the ‘affordable between friends’ range for true believers.