Our first trip to Burgundy with Brough Gurney-Randall
Old habits die hard! Having spent a career hunting down wine producers, writing vintage reports and newsletters from the frontline in Burgundy, I couldn’t resist writing to tell you about old friends -and some new ones – made on this four-day tasting extravaganza with a group of seven wine enthusiasts.
Firstly, I hope this report might give you a taste of what we do at ‘Tastes’ – be it in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain (and beyond) – and encourage you to consider joining me on a future trip.
Secondly, whilst I may have swapped importing wines from Burgundy for exporting people to Burgundy, I am happy to let you know where you can purchase these wines if any of them are of interest to you.
Whichever it might be, I hope I might hear back from you.
This was an unashamedly hedonistic visit for wine-lovers: four days of drinking and eating in the bucolic Burgundy countryside.
We hit the road at full speed after a bleary-eyed 6.30am flight to Lyon. After an hour’s drive from the airport, we were decanted among the vines with Benedicte Vincent at Château de Fuissé. I have followed the wines here for 20 years and they have been consistently good, but under the direction of Benedicte’s brother, Antoine, the latest vintages are more accomplished than ever. The small 2016 vintage produced almost steely, fresh wines more representative of more northern Burgundian appellations, whilst the 2017’s offer balanced, fuller flavours, more typical of wines of this appellation. The latter are fresh and lively but with full ripe fruit, textural on the palate and relatively forward. They are drinking well already but will put on weight and complexity over the coming year.
The Pouilly Fuissé appellation is expecting to have its best vineyards promoted to premier cru status in 2020 and the cynic in me warns that prices can only go one way. Their entry level Fuissé, Tête de Cru, becomes Tête de Cuvée, in anticipation of this move (to avoid any accusations of trying to confuse the public) whilst their les Brulés and le Clos vineyards will both become Premier Cru. There is a pleasing little twist in this story, since the Combettes single vineyard, situated with a more easterly aspect on the edge of the appellation, has not gained the higher accolade since it is not in a perfect sun-drenched position. However, this was always my favourite wine- being the most reserved and mineral, as well as the longest-lived. As usual, this was the most closed of the top 2017 wines with floral hints on the nose but taut and muscular on the palate. The 2012 served with lunch in the local Michelin-starred restaurant, L’O des Vignes, was just coming into its own with complexity and saline-edged depth. Just the ticket as we fell upon a much-needed and highly anticipated lunch!
The afternoon took us north to Mercurey to visit one of, if not the best grower in the appellation – Francois Raquillet. Francois is the epitome of a Burgundian grower, with a physique that would be welcome in a rugby scrum and hands that dwarfed the bottles he poured for us. We tasted two white 2017s: the village les Brigadière and the 1er Cru les Veleys – both good, though the latter certainly proved the purer and most complex. The 2018s, in barrel, looked very promising indeed – les Veley, in particular, had a wonderfully intense lime attack on the palate – always a good sign at this stage. We tasted three reds, the star of which was the Mercurey vieilles vignes 2017. This showed velvety fine tannins and dark intense fruit. The 1er Cru les Naugues is more closed, needing another year or so to loosen up, whilst the village appellation les Chezeaux is open and bright with pure cherry fruit. This is a tidy little Domaine producing svelte, characterful wines in this under-appreciated corner of Burgundy. Packing a couple of cases for the ‘Tastes’ cellar into the bus, we headed north for base camp perched above Beaune.
In reality, base camp is a huddle of luxury Gite cottages built onto the bedrock immediately above 1er Cru Grèves, widely regarded as Beaune’s finest vineyard. There is virtually no soil up here and no water either, so that a century ago it was home only to the very poor and was used as a country park for the inhabitants of the town. There are wonderful old pictures of the townsfolk in their Sunday best climbing up through the vineyards for a picnic on this exact spot. Breakfast here on a sunny morning is a magical experience and occasionally, on a bright clear day, one can see Mont Blanc gleaming on the horizon.
The Martin family (that’s Vincent, pictured!) have excavated a cave under the house – complete with bats – which houses a Jacuzzi, but also allowed ample storage for Tastes’ wine stock…
Over dinner that evening we pulled out a few bottles, including a bottle of Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay Clos du Roy 2010 and Savigny 1er Cru les Vergellesses 2005 Domaine Simon Bize. The former is still vigorous and would benefit from another year or two in the “bat cave”, but the Bize (sadly our last bottle) was magnificent: a composty sweet nose and complex palate with fine velvet-textured tannins. Note to self – “pick up any older vintages of Domaine Simon Bize if you can”! A fantastic close to the first day.
Another glorious day saw us arrive at the Cadus Tonnellerie in the flat land east of Ladoix beneath the imposing hill of Corton. If you have never visited a barrel-maker, you probably would not give a cask a second thought, however the skill and workmanship employed in their making is quite remarkable. A new barrel costs around 700 Euros and having seen the process from tree to finished article, it actually seemed relatively cheap.
It’s thirsty work watching machine and man hammering out new barrels, so the next stop was Domaine Dubreuil Fontaine in Pernand Vergellesses for a tasting with Christine Gruère-Dubreuil. Pernand is a charming village, as vertical as it is horizontal, with spectacular views south towards Beaune. Tucked into the Côte behind Corton Charlemagne, it has some superb terroir that is both over-looked and under-priced. We started by comparing Pernand Vergellesses 1er Cru Sous de Fretille Blanc (2017) against their Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. As you would expect the grand cru impressed with both power and youthful, honeyed richness but the Sous de Fretille, which shares a very similar aspect to its grander neighbour was a cracker! Ripe fruit, fresh taut acidity and perfectly harmonised oak combined to offer a lovely wine to drink in about a year’s time. The first bargain of the day! We followed with the reds (2016) with Volnay “village” level Beaune 1er Cru Montrevenots, Pernand Vergellesses 1er Cru Ile de Vergellesses and finally Corton Bressandes Grand Cru. The star here was the Ile de Vergellesses, a plot which punches well above its Premier Cru status and, for my money, took the Grand Cru on head to head. The Beaune too was very accomplished: forward and silky textured – it is a lovely wine even now. A super tasting with excellent wines suitable for drinking over the next five years.
Lunch was in Pommard with Domaine A F Gros. The wines here are a different style, more modern with greater extraction and a greater influence of oak. This Domaine has holdings that combine the Vosne vineyards of the Gros family with the Pommard holdings of the parent branch of the family. Certainly, the Vosne Romanee ‘aux Reas’ 2014was a beautifully crafted wine for immediate drinking as was the Pommard 1er Cru les Pezerolles of the same vintage, though the house style rather dominates the fundamental differences in terroir. Funnily enough, their Hautes Côtes de Nuits 2015 we had with lunch was for me, the most impressive wine, bearing in mind its place in the pecking order. Deeply coloured with juicy forward fruit and just enough backbone to give it balance and complexity.
Next, we ventured into white wine territory travelling through Meursault and Puligny, to Domaine Jean Noel Gagnard in Chassagne. Beware, there are lots of Gagnard’s lurking in the area and none of them are cheap! However, these are wonderful age-worthy whites of immense depth and complexity. Spending between 18 to 20 months in barrel, they combine both power and elegance. A bottle of the 2007 Chassagne Montrachet Caillerets (drunk in London recently) was exceptional and only just beginning to reveal its full potential. We tasted a series of 2017 Chassagne 1er Crus, namely Chenevottes, Maltroye, Boudriotte (actually 2015) & the magnificent Caillerets. These wines are allocated and hard to come by, however we picked up a few precious bottles before leaving – including 2013 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Petit Clos (a ‘lieu dit’ within Morgeot) which was destined for our last night’s feast. Incidentally their entry level Hautes Côtes de Beaune Blanc (2017) should not be sneered at either– steely and mineral with judicious oak – it was a very attractive wine at a quarter of the price of the Caillerets!
Dinner that evening was with Guillaume Lavollee of Domaine Genot Boulanger in the Cedre Hotel’s beautiful landscaped garden in Beaune. It is a couple of years since last tasting these wines and they are without doubt better than ever, with both purity and elegance. The whites are crystalline, the oak totally absorbed by the fruit. Guillaume uses just 20% new oak across all his wines leaving the terroir to express itself freely. The Puligny Montrachet les Nosroyes 2017 was typically steely and pure as you would expect, whereas the Meursault Meix Chavaux 2017 surprised, being also remarkably fresh and bright too. So often Meursault is weighted with more new oak but not here -and the progression as this wine puts on weight with age will be fascinating to see. We had two 2015 reds, both top vineyards in their appellation, Aloxe Corton 1er Cru la Chapitre and Beaune 1er Cru Grèves. Both showed very fine tannins and drank beautifully, but would certainly improve with a couple more years in bottle. The Aloxe perhaps had the greater complexity but it was barely worth the argument. We polished off the cheese board with Corton les Combes Grand Cru 2012 – lovely already but with brooding depth yet to emerge over the next 2-3 years.
Day three took us north to Nuits-St-Georges and the Côte de Nuits. Here we tasted at the magnificent Domaine Clos de Frantin owned by the great négociant house of Bichot and at a brand new, one-man band négociant, Nicolas Morin. Nicolas is at the cutting edge of modern Burgundian wine-making, working closely with growers who own land, and making the wines in his own style – in Nicolas’s case this is natural wine-making with minimalist intervention with sulphur. He has worked as a winemaker across the globe before settling in Burgundy to take on the winemakers’ ultimate challenge: Pinot Noir. These are certainly interesting wines with great concentration and masses of flavour. From the range tasted (all 2017) there were two stand-out wines here, the Nuits-St-Georges les Longecourts and the Marsannay aux Genelières both of which had silky-textured, deep, dark fruit and great length. There were distinct violets on the Nuits and chalky mineral cut on the Marsannay. He also makes an interesting 100% Grenache from the Ventoux which he sells under the inventive name of Intravinous – rather good we thought! A hugely interesting and educational visit – and certainly a name to watch for the future.
Everything about Domaine Clos de Frantin is on a bigger scale and the great thing here is one can taste from great terroir across the Côte de Nuits. The Domaine itself has only seven hectares of vines but is enviably stuffed with great vineyards. So, in our hour and half in the cellar we covered quite a lot of ground…
- Vosne Romanee 2014
- Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Chenes Carteaux 2015,
- Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Chabiots 2015,
- Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St Jacques 2017
- Chambertin Latricieres Grand Cru 2009
In reverse order, the 2009 Latricieres is in a sweet spot at the moment and will be for 4–7 years. Mid weight: sweet and ripe with “sous bois” complexity. Fine and very pretty for a Chambertin.
Lavaux St Jacques 2017 showed juicy ebullient fruit and needs to settle down (keep for 2-3 years). The 2015s were opening up nicely and typically wearing their hearts on their sleeves: The Chambolle – super fine but driving intense fruit – whilst the Nuits was typically darker, with a more brooding profile. The Vosne 2014 made a lovely entrée and was drinking well, but it looked a little feeble in this line-up, especially after Nicolas Morin’s offering just beforehand.
We decided at lunchtime to carry on our exploration of the wines from Marsannay, especially as Nicolas was eating in the same restaurant and it turned out was a great friend of Sylvain Pataille, another very good name in this appellation. Sylvain’s 2014 Marsannay Blanc was wonderful, with touches of acacia and a fresh, almost crunchy finish. For red, we tried a different producer, Domaine Fournier, whose 2017 – whilst still a tad youthful – was delightfully fresh and juicy. Great value to be found in this appellation and with a vintage like 2017 in the cellars, with its beautiful ripe clean fruit (in both white and red), what is there not to like?
In the evening we were in the very capable hands of chef Adeline Borra who runs a terrific cookery school in Beaune. This modern open-plan kitchen is rather like being given the chef’s table at a top restaurant except with more elbow room. Adeline created at the working end of the room whilst we organised precious mature bottles from some very special growers. To start we compared Chassagnes from Bernard Moreau and Jean Noel Gagnard. The Gagnard 1er Cru Petit Clos was 2013 and impressed due to its greater weight and complexity. However, Moreau’s 2016 is a different style, silky and feminine, a bit shy right now but this will be stunningly beautiful once it has a further three years to catch up. And so, as Adeline produced the Boeuf Bourguignon Ravioli (followed by pork tenderloin and then cheese – of course) we gently eased into the reds…
Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Chênes Carteaux 2009 Domaine Henri Gouges
Very elegant for Nuits – almost Chambolle prettiness, yet complex fine tannins and great length
Nuits St Georges 1er les St Georges 2006 Domaine Thibault Liger Belair (Magnum)
Nuits’ best vineyard. Bigger and darker, with hints of pepper and leathery sweet fruit. Kirsch and dark chocolate here. It doesn’t get much better than this…
Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques 2007 Domaine Armand Rousseau
Yes, it does! Again a grand cru in all but name and, whilst it might be a lighter vintage, the elegance and depth and sheer vinosity of Rousseau is quite simply magical. A beautiful wine.
Vosne Romanée 1er Cru les Orveaux 2003 Sylvain Cathiard
Rich and savoury, yet surprisingly fresh for such a hot vintage. A touch of raisiny sweetness and Christmas cake but still very lovely with good length
Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru aux Combottes 2002 Domaine Dujac
So Dujac in style (think super-refined and glossy) and still youthful, but beginning to show its many charms. It needed time to open up, but the last sip was perfection.
And so, to bed…
Our last day – and the rain the growers were all praying for looked likely to be forthcoming – so it was breakfast at the farmhouse table before heading south once again for the airport.
But first a bit of history, care of the Abbaye de Philibert in Tournus, a fascinating Romanesque monastery with a remarkable history. The relics of St Philibert were carried here in AD 875 from northern France by monks escaping the Viking raids. Here he is pictured right – and certainly not looking overly happy with the world. The building is pre-gothic and the 11th century architecture is unique, showing emerging techniques that would evolve to produce some of the great cathedrals of the 12th & 13th centuries. The mosaic pavement discovered only about ten years ago is also quite extraordinary and well worth the visit. There is no better way to prepare for a splendid four-course lunch than hearing about the ascetic lives of monks who for centuries shut themselves away for a life of prayer and contemplation. With noon approaching, we abandoned all saintly thought and hastened for the un-assuming village of Pont de Vaux and its Michelin-starred restaurant in the Logis hotel.
A brash exterior hides an elegant dining room and a highly accomplished chef. With just two hours to spare at the table we had to work hard to fit in a couple of courses (plus some weirdly wonderful amuse bouche), an amazing cheese board and dessert before leaving. This was a terrific ending to the trip, accompanied by some excellent local wines of great character. I will be investigating a certain Domaine Michel whose two Vire Clesses were exceptionally good, rivalling many a Pouilly Fuissé. For red, a Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Pimentiers 2015 Domaine Arnoux (based in Chorey) was first-class and highly recommended. Two addresses to seek out for our next visit!
We toasted ourselves with Deutz Brut Classic Champagne on a job well done, before merrily heading home for a week of rest, soda water and a strict diet.