Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Burgundy Trip

Something of a holiday and a pilgrimage, I visited Burgundy to see the vineyards, taste the wines, and simply soak up the atmosphere of this famous winemaking region. It was romantic and thrilling to stand next to the great vineyards I had previously only read about and walk through the sleepy villages whose names adorn bottles of wines around the world. But it was also a chance to appreciate the French way of life - the rich food, the local market, the hours spent doing as little as possible. Whether you're into wine or not, Burgundy is a great place to visit, beautiful, historic, and with a high appreciation of the finer things in life.

horse ploughing the field, Clos-de-Bèze Grand Cru, Gevrey-Chambertin


Beaune


I stayed in Beaune, the main town of the Côte de Beaune. This proved to be a great base, not only because of its location. It's a vibrant town, brought to life by the wine trade but with beautiful architecture, good but surprisingly affordable restaurants, and a lively nightlife (well, for a French town). Even more surprising given my many visits across France, the locals were extremely friendly and welcoming.

Hospices-de-Beaune

the villages


It doesn't take long to get from Beaune to the famous wine villages. Hiring a bike is a good way to explore the nearest villages: Pommard is just down the road, and before you realise it you're in Volnay. The land is quite flat, the greatest vineyards on gentle slopes that rise up to plateaux home to forests rather than vines. The villages are small and sleepy, with a restaurant or two to cater for passing tourists. They're so close to one another, the back streets connecting each village, separated just by a world-class vineyard or two.

Pommard

Beaune is slightly further from the Côtes de Nuits, but it's still an easy drive. This northern part of the Côte d'Or is less beautiful and the villages (especially Vosne-Romanée) more austere and less welcoming. It is home, however, to vineyards so famous and expensive that it's startling to see them lying protected by nothing more than a low stone wall.

the vineyards


There's little about standing next to a Grand Cru to suggest that it produces wine worth hundreds, if not thousands, of euros a bottle. Only a church-like stone gate distinguishes them from the vineyards around them. All the vines look identical, trained on the single Guyot system. Many producers in Burgundy are organic or biodynamic and the vineyards have lots of beautiful wild flowers growing between the vines.

Visiting the vineyards is something of a religious experience: like a cathedral, they are peaceful, secluded, and have been in the same spot for over a thousand years.

the wineries


Walking up to some of the most expensive vineyards in the world presents no problem, but actually tasting the wine made from them does. The wineries are located in small, family buildings in the villages and are largely closed to the public, very few of them offering tastings.

One winery that has a tasting room is Domaine LeFlaive in Puligny-Montrachet, though it's pricey: €40 for four tasting samples. In Beaune, Joseph Drouhin give a 90-minute tour of their historic winery, costing €38 per person, visiting the cold, ancient underground cellars with wines dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century and war tales of resistance fighters escaping the Nazis. At the end of the tour, there's a chance to taste six of Drouhin's wines.

old press at Joseph Drouhin

the French


My sister and I stopped off at a wine shop in the small village of Morey-St-Denis. The owner was happy to give us a tasting of three of the village's wines: a Village and two Premiers Crus. After tasting them, my sister asked if she could taste the Village wine again (wishing to save some money and buy a wine she could actually drink now). The woman paused and reddened: "I don't think that would be possible. It is not easy to taste a Village wine after a Premier Cru. You would not be able to appreciate it." "But I just want to see if I still like it." A deep intake of breath, a shake of the head, and a reluctant pour. Nevertheless, my sister bought the wine. "Do you have a cellar?" the woman asked. "No." The woman cradled the bottle close to her: "Then how are you going to age the wine?"

the wines


This is the major problem with the wines of Burgundy. In the area itself, the wines are not that expensive (certainly cheaper than they are in the UK or US) but they need plenty of time to age before they are ready to drink. The whites we tasted from the 2010 and 11 vintages are still quite closed, while the reds are intense and surprisingly tannic. If you don't have the patience or wherewithal to age the wines, then it's difficult to justify buying them. However, most wine shops and restaurants do sell wine from past vintages, and I came away from Joseph Drouhin with a 1998 Côte de Beaune for just €35.

A Burgundy tractor
This was an educational and enlightening trip on which I was able to discover further the nuances between the wines of the different villages. Morey-St-Denis produces fragrant but powerful Pinot Noir; Volnay's is delicately appealing yet with surprising depth; while the wines of Santenay, at the bottom of the Côte de Beaune, are intense, spicy, but floral and fruity. (My favourite wine of the trip was Lucien Muzard's 2010 Santenay from the Maladière Premier Cru.) The trip allowed me to taste wines from the 1998 and 2001 vintages, just a short drive away from the vineyards from they which they originated. And, despite its fame, Burgundy can still surprise: some of my favourite wines I tasted came from Maranges, an appellation covering several small villages near Santenay which I had never previously heard of. Whether you're a casual wine lover or a wine geek like me, Burgundy, with its food, its history, and its ambience, will delight.

La Tâche

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Beaujolais

The leading figure in Beaujolais is Georges DuBoeuf, who has probably done more to attract attention to Beaujolais over the last 50 years than anyone else. He created and promoted the commercialisation of Beaujolais Nouveau, but also produces serious Cru wine. I met him once and he told me, with a chauvinism only a charming, elderly Frenchman could get away with: "Beaujolais is a woman you flirt with, maybe spend a night with, and then forget about. Burgundy is a woman you fall in love with for the rest of your life but can never afford to marry. Bordeaux is a woman you marry and then divorce." 

Having spent a weekend in Beaujolais I have to disagree with Georges: these are wines I will come back to. Probably the most underappreciated and least understood of all of France's wine regions, Beaujolais is known for simple, fruity, inexpensive wine, most notoriously in the once ubiquitous Beaujolais Nouveau. My recent trip to Beaujolais uncovered a very different side to the region: a scenic, sometimes dramatic, and isolated area sheltering hilltop villages little changed over the years. Dirt tracks lead to dusty tasting rooms and weathered winemakers shyly pouring world-class wines. Quality may vary, but when Beaujolais is good it's as distinctive and memorable as any of France's best wines - and much more affordable.

view from Chiroubles


where is it?

In its rare moments of pretension, Beaujolais calls itself "southern Burgundy" to associate itself with its more illustrious neighbour. Although administratively within Burgundy, Beaujolais couldn't be much more different. The soil is sandy and rocky, dominated by granite. There are vast plains churning out basic Beaujolais, rising to steep, high undulating hills for the quality wines. It's a beautiful region to visit, even if there is little going on: this is an area time has little touched.

Chapelle de la Madone, Fleurie, looks down on hillside vines

the grape

98% of Beaujolais is planted with Gamay, an easy to grow grape that produces fruity, immediate, purple-coloured wine. The vines are planted using the gobelet system - small, stubby vines reaching upwards into a outstretched claw. This allows dense plantings - between 9 and 13,000 vines per hectare which is some of the densest plantings in the world - to encourage high yields. Much maligned, Gamay is always fun but occasionally quite serious.

gobelet vines and granite soils


the appellations

winery inside the church at Juliénas
There are three tiers to Beaujolais. Around 50% of production is the basic Beaujolais AC, which is cheap, fruity, and forgettable. As the vineyards rise from the flat plains, the grapes qualify for Beaujolais-Villages, a significant step up in quality which accounts for 25% of production. The greatest wines come from the ten Crus, in the midst of dramatically situated vineyards. Here, the cheerful fruitiness of Gamay is accompanied by an unexpected structure, concentration, and intensity. Despite being close to each other, each Cru has a distinct profile, from tannic Moulin-à-Vent, floral Fleurie, spicy Juliénas, to ageworthy Morgon. These wines are fruity enough to be drunk young and on their own, but substantial enough to be aged and drunk with hearty, meaty dishes. 

From the 1960s until at least the 1990s, Beaujolais was known for Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine almost straight from the barrel for immediate consumption. The novelty of drinking wine that's only just been fermented created a fashion which led to it being responsible for over 60% of Beaujolais sales in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, Nouveau has dominated perceptions of Beaujolais and it's difficult to convince consumers that the region is capable of more than these simple, fruity wines. Nouveau is still big in Japan. 

the wines

I had a lot of fun tasting Beaujolais over the course of just a couple of days, sampling wines straight from the cask or drinking it with lamb, chicken, salads, and on its own. This is an extremely versatile wine, as evidenced by two informal visits to producers in the Fleurie Cru. Unlike Burgundy, wineries are open to public visits, though you might have to interpret a few wayward signposts to find what you're looking for. 

Domaine de la Madone, Fleurie
Located on the top of a steep hillside besides a small chapel, Jean-Marc Dupres makes wines solely within the Fleurie appellation. There is quite a range, including a fresh, floral, aromatic Viognier (€9; ✪✪✪✪), the only white grape planted in Fleurie. Of the traditional styles of Beaujolais, the Cuvée Speciale (€12.80; ✪✪✪✪✪) from old vines was most noteworthy: fruity, spicy, and intense. Dupres also makes a couple of wines using oak-ageing, also from old vines: the Prestige (€14.50; ✪✪✪✪✪) is aged in old oak barrels, giving it a round, smooth complexity, while the 1889 (€27; ✪✪✪✪✪), made partly from vines planted that year, sees a prolonged 25-day maceration (the norm in Beaujolais is 10-14 days), with two years in new oak, marrying the fruity profile of Gamay with cocoa, chocolate, and coffee from the oak.

Clos de la Roillette, Fleurie
At the bottom of a dirt track outside the village of Fleurie, we were hosted by winemaker Alain Coudert's shy, softly-spoken son in a cellar that probably hadn't been cleaned in several decades. Once again, the most interesting wines were from old vines, this time planted in the 1930s. The Cuvée Tardive (c.€15; ✪✪✪✪✪) was attractive, complex, and, with gripping tannins and high acidity, ageworthy. Likewise with the Griffe de Marquis, which I tasted from the 2013, 2012, and 2007 vintages. The 2007 (✪✪✪✪✪✪) was a magnificent example of how Beaujolais can defy preconceptions: a gamey, meaty, animal nose, yet remarkably fresh on the palate with high acidity and a long, fresh, spicy finish.

Where else in the world can you leave a tasting room with a bottle of quality wine that you can drink later that evening or age for a few years - and for just €7.20, as we did with Clos de la Roilette's Brouilly (✪✪✪✪)? I know of no other region where such outstanding wines retail at such affordable prices.

At its best, Beaujolais is unassuming rather than simple. Too unassuming perhaps: Beaujolais needs to assert its quality more confidently to change people's perceptions of the wines. It could do with developing a proper tourist infrastructure, to help visitors explore this beautiful region - even at the cost of opening up its timeless nature to the twenty-first century. As it is, enjoy it while it's still vastly underappreciated.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Washington Wine Trip

I've written about Washington wine before, but this week I had the opportunity to explore the state's wine further with an exhaustive trip through the many AVAs. Washington wine is at an exciting stage right now, as ambitious winemakers and grape-growers match varieties with the best sites. I came into Washington hoping to discover which grape variety expresses the state, but left convinced that Washington, like the greatest regions of France, is best understood through the distinctive terroirs of each AVA. This makes understanding Washington wine complicated, but it's well worth it as this is a fascinating and very varied wine region.

ignore Puget Sound: most of Washington's grapes are grown in Columbia Valley


the climate

Over 99% of Washington's wine is produced in Columbia Valley, a large, all-encompassing AVA in arid eastern Washington. In the growing season, the days are hot and long - Washington receives 8 days more sunshine a year than California - but the nights are cold with temperatures falling as low as 10 degrees. This wide diurnal variation prolongs the growing season, allowing the grapes to ripen fully while retaining high acidity. This acidity is a defining characteristic of both whites and reds, giving the wines a vibrancy not always present in warm regions.

the soils

the basalt soils beneath Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla. Some soils are so deep and rocky that wells dig 400m down before finding water.

Washington is a geologist's paradise, with a huge amount of different soils within vineyards let alone across the state. 13,000 years ago, the Missoula floods swept across eastern Washington depositing a variety of soils that otherwise wouldn't be there. At high altitudes, the original volcanic soils still remain. Changing from site to site, these soils are the reason that Washington has such a varied terroir. Furthermore, these difficult soils, combined with very low winter temperatures (winter freeze is a problem), mean that Washington remains phylloxera-free, all the vines planted on their own roots.

the grapes

In the 1990s, Merlot was the state's signature grape variety but fashion has seen it overtaken by Cabernet Sauvignon. I feel Washington's greatest wines are from Syrah, a variety which for some reason is a difficult sell throughout the USA. I was also extremely impressed with the Malbecs I tasted: like Mendoza, the diurnal temperature variation allows the grape to ripen slowly and fully, bringing out all its phenolic qualities. Whatever the variety, Washington's reds share an aromatic florality, ripe red and black fruits, firm tannins, and high acidity. There's an Old World-New World overlap in the wines: fruit forward, but delicate, and with an enlivening acidity.

the many grapes planted in Red Willow vineyard over the years
The whites are less consistent. Riesling used to be the most planted grape because its natural high acidity suits the climate, but it rarely demonstrates sufficient complexity. It's been surpassed by Chardonnay, which for some time producers were making in imitation of big, oaky California examples. Chardonnay is beginning to be planted on more suitable, high altitude sites, leading to more restrained wines with better acidity, but I don't think it best represents the terroir of Washington. Sauvignon Blanc perhaps does this most successfully, with a full body, floral aromas, and a dry, mineral finish, while Viognier, which is often flabby in warm regions, retains sufficient acidity alongside its characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas.

the AVAs

For a region that is little known outside the state, Washington has an excessive number of AVAs (13). Even more confusingly, three of them spread into Oregon and a "fourteenth," The Rocks District, is entirely within Oregon. However, having visited many of the AVAs, it's clear that each one has its own distinct identity. It may take some time and a great deal of consumer education, but Washington is best understood by breaking it down into its different areas rather than by grape variety.

Walla Walla Valley



Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla
Perhaps Washington's best known AVA due to an impressive marketing campaign, Walla Walla is in actual fact quite small, with just over 500ha planted even though the AVA stretches into Oregon. The best vineyard is Seven Hills, which takes in several small, windswept hills at the southern end of the valley. It receives 300mm of rain annually and growers have had to drill a well over 300m deep to find 10,000-year-old water to irrigate the site.

Stand-out wine: L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Perigee 2012 ($49) ✪✪✪✪✪
A Bordeaux blend with beautiful ripe, perfumed fruits, and herbal, menthol, bitter chocolate, and mocha aromas. The tannins are firm but integrated, giving the wine great structure.

The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater

a typical rocky vineyard in The Rocks District
This new AVA is entirely in Oregon, but within the Washington Walla Walla AVA. This is extremely confusing, but makes some kind of sense. The soils of Washington do not stop at the political boundary and it will need continued co-operation between the Washington and Oregon wine boards to spread knowledge of the region's different wines. The name of the AVA is clumsy but again makes sense: the soils are extremely rocky (unlike the rest of Walla Walla). The Syrahs here are particularly interesting: floral, perfumed, almost hedonistic, yet with restrained fruits.

Stand-out wine: Delmas 2012 (92.5% Syrah, 7.5% Viognier) $65 ✪✪✪✪✪✪
From the driving force behind the creation of The Rocks District AVA, this Syrah/Viognier blend has a dark, intense complexity, with coffee, truffles, dark chocolate, and liquorice, all lightened with floral and herbal aromas of lavender, myrrh, ginger, and orange peel. Also worth mentioning are Proper's Estate Syrah ($42) from both 2012 and 2013 (both ✪✪✪✪✪) and Balboa's 2012 Malbec ($34; ✪✪✪✪✪).

Horse Heaven Hills

Horse Heaven Hills, overlooking the Columbia river and Oregon

A high, undulating plateau taking in over 4,000ha of vines, Horse Heaven Hills includes one of Washington's greatest vineyards, Champoux. This vast AVA (it covers a total of 228,000ha) is windswept and bleak, reminding me of the Yorkshire moors without the rain. 24 different black grape varieties are planted, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate.

Stand-out wine: Andrew Will Sorella 2009 ($85) ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
One of the US's great red wines, the Sorella is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, varying with each vintage. This is a prime expression of the Champoux vineyard, first planted in 1972. As with Washington's best wines, the Sorella has firm, drying tannins which give the wine a gripping mouthfeel, lifted by a vibrant acidity. The fruits are soft and ripe, yet delicate, elegant, and restrained. This is a serious wine with long ageing potential. A year and a half ago, I visited the Andrew Will winery on Vashon Island near Seattle, which is one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had.

Red Mountain

steep Viognier vines at the top of Red Mountain
The smallest AVA is where the Washington story began, with Jim Holmes and John Williams planting vines in 1972. Jim Holmes claims they didn't know what they were doing, but there may be some false modesty at play. The small mountain, so barren it had never been planted with any crop before, has a varied, rugged topography that results in outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This is the AVA that may push Washington on to the international map: Duckhorn of Napa have recently planted here, and Aquilani of Canada have bought over 250 of the AVA's potential 1,600ha.

Stand-out wine: Force Majeure Estate Syrah ($65) ✪✪✪✪✪✪
A rich, lush nose of red and black fruits, with a peppery spiciness, but floral, perfumed, and balanced - a typical Red Mountain combination.

 

Yakima Valley

Syrah vines leading up to Red Willow's chapel
The biggest AVA besides Columbia Valley, the quality and style of Yakima wine fluctuates. Its best and most historic vineyard is Red Willow, first planted by the Sawyer farming family in the early 1970s. Once again Cabernet and Syrah excel - the Syrah grown on the steep south-facing slope below the chapel looks and tastes French.

Stand-out wine: Owen Roe Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($72) ✪✪✪✪✪
From the original 1973 plantings on the Red Willow vineyard, this is another perfumed Cabernet, with cedar, oak, pencil lead, cocoa, chocolate, and black tea. Gripping tannins and a full mouthfeel belie a long, subtle finish. 

Columbia Gorge

With just over 150ha, Columbia Gorge is the most unusual of Washington's AVAs. It again extends into Oregon and its wine culture is closer to Portland than Seattle. Rainfall varies from 250 to 1,700mm, depending on location - like the other AVAs, topography, climate, and soils vary remarkably. Due to the cooler, wetter climate, white grapes dominate, particularly Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Stand-out wine: Savage Grace Chardonnay 2013 ($26) ✪✪✪✪✪
From Celilo vineyard, which is considered the finest in the AVA. On a mountainside with volcanic soils, the climate is maritime, receiving up to 1,250mm of rain each year. This cool, wet climate results in light, acidic wines such as this Chardonnay from up-and-coming winemaker Michael Savage. This wine stands comparison with the best Chablis: citrus, mineral aromas, with light cream and baking apples on the palate, with a crisp acidity.

Columbia Valley

Many wineries source grapes from individual vineyards all over the state, which will be labelled Columbia Valley. It's difficult to generalise about these wines, which will vary according to site, blend, variety, and the winemaker.

Stand-out wine: Avennia Justine Red Rhône Blend 2012 ($40) ✪✪✪✪✪
Although Syrah emerged as my favourite Washington grape, a handful of winemakers are also making wine from other Rhône varieties. Maryhill of Columbia Gorge make an excellent Mourvèdre ($45; ✪✪✪✪✪), demonstrating how exciting that grape can be in the right hands. The Justine from Avennia is 49% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache, and 23% Syrah. Dark, earthy, and floral, this is voluptuous, immediate, and powerful: Washington wine in a nutshell.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Bonfires Green: Napa in Bloom


Driving around the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in this balmy March, I've been noticing the different stages of the vines as they slowly begin to enter the growing season. As we have barely had a winter - a day or two of rain here and there and the nights get chilly - some of the vines are still autumnal, unpruned, with flowers wildly growing among them. Others were pruned some time ago and already they are beginning to flower. It's fascinating seeing the differences at this time of the year, down to a winemaker's or grape-grower's choices, the fertility of the soil, exposure to the sun, age of the vines, and the trellising system.

This vineyard is right on the edge of the Napa city itself, where the vines are already beginning to blossom. Even though Napa is cooler than the rest of the valley, there's more direct exposure to the sun in these flat vineyards and the nights don't get as cold or foggy.
Slightly further up the Silverado Trail, Black Stallion's vines are well into the flowering process. These vines are probably Chardonnay, which is beginning to flower across Napa and Sonoma.
The next two vineyards are right next to each other on the Silverado Trail, yet in a completely different state. One is pruned and already beginning to show flowers, while the other is unpruned with wild cover crop, looking like it's in total disarray. Minimal pruning such as this originated in Australia, where it's widely practised. In warm climates, it increases yields without affecting quality. I don't know if this vineyard is deliberately following the Australian practice, or if it's simply because they've been waiting all winter for winter to actually happen. A month ago I visited Kelly Fleming Wines in Calistoga, where they hadn't pruned the vines yet. The reason was simple: they were waiting for it to rain before pruning, otherwise there was a chance any rain would spread fungal diseases in the vines. It still hasn't rained since.


At nearby Baldacci Family Vineyards in Stag's Leap, the vineyard workers were busy pruning the Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with still a bit of work to do. Here, the vines have been kept tidy with two canes left growing on the vine before being completely pruned this weekend. Winter pruning keeps the vine healthy, but also reduces vigour. Baldacci have likely been trying to keep a balance between healthy and vigorous vines over the dry, warm winter.







In Oakville, two of Napa's most prestigious and expensive wineries are taking similar but different approaches to tending their vines. Groth are letting the grass grow long between vines, which have been minimally pruned but then tidied by hand. Those at Plumpjack have the same trellis system and long grass between the rows, but the vines have been fully pruned.




At nearby Saddleback, the carefully pruned Pinot Blanc vines are just beginning to blossom.











Besides the thick older vines above, there are lots of plantings of young vines around Napa. They're stick thin, carefully trained and pruned to aid their development. Mustard flowers grow in between their vines, which has been a characteristic sight over the last two months.




Back towards Sonoma in the Carneros AVA, the Chardonnay vines are really beginning to bloom - what D. H. Lawrence called the "the bonfires green" of spring. Back in England, spring was one of my favourite seasons, when the bleakness of winter passes and the land livens up in colour. Here it's different, because the winter's as warm as an English summer, but seeing the vines come to life is still beautiful and invigorating, making me look forward to seeing the vines progress over the summer months.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Côte de Nuits

Following on from my tastings of Pinot Noir from around the world, I attended a session organised by Vins de Bourgogne to learn more about the famous appellations of the Côte de Nuits. Stretching from south of Dijon to the village of Nuits-St-George, the Côte de Nuits is a series of vineyards on east-facing slopes where some of the world's greatest Pinot Noir is grown. The session concentrated on the three villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny, which lie less than 10km apart yet have very different flavour profiles. Considering their proximity to one another, the differences between the wines from these villages was extraordinary.

the vintage

All the wines came from the 2011 vintage, whose wines were described as fresh, fruity, supple, and lighter than usual but well balanced. In true French style, the weather conditions for 2011 were related to us in some detail: the growing season started early in a dry, sunny spring; conditions changed "dramatically" in July, however, to a cool, wet summer; the end of August reverted to a sunny September with low rainfall. The lightness of the vintage means that the wines generally may not have the ageability of consistently warmer years such as 2012, but the wines we tasted were still young.

the villages

During the nineteenth century at the height of Burgundy's fame, many of the area's small villages took on the name of their most acclaimed vineyards: Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey Morey-St-Denis, and Chambolle Chambolle-Musigny. Generally, the best vineyards - Premier Cru and, for the very greatest, Grand Cru - are on slopes above the villages. These vineyards are called climats, individual sites which have their own particular style, character, and identity. Lower down the slopes are the village appellation wines, the more straightforward expressions of each area. Distinctive but less acclaimed vineyards that go towards village appellation wine also have their own name: lieux-dits.

Gevrey-Chambertin

There are 320ha of vineyards in the village AC, making it one of the largest for red wine in Burgundy. Beyond this broad area, there are some of the most renowned vineyards in the world: 26 Premier Cru (80ha) and 9 Grand Cru. The Premier Cru vineyards are, unusually, higher - at 380m altitude - than the Grand Cru, which are around 300m. The best wines from the village are full, structured, tannic, and long-lived.

Morey-St-Denis

Situated between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, the wines of Morey-St-Denis combine the best characteristics of the two: the powerful structure of the former and the aromatic elegance of the latter. Much smaller than Gevrey-Chambertin, there are just 87ha of Pinot Noir, 35ha of which is Premier Cru. Despite its size, there are still four Grand Cru vineyards, including Clos-St-Denis and its most renowned, Clos-du-Tart.

Chambolle-Musigny

Larger than Morey-St-Denis with 152ha (56 of them Premier Cru), there are two Grand Cru vineyards - Les Bonnes-Mares and Musigny. The former adjoins Morey-St-Denis's Clos-du-Tart and the wines have more structure, depth, and intensity. Musigny, one of Burgundy's greatest vineyards, is more aromatic, the character for which Chambolle-Musigny is known. There are also two Premier Cru vineyards which rank as some of the finest of Burgundy: Les Charmes and Les Amoureuses. Next to and very similar to Musigny, we heard Véronique Drouhin describe the latter's wines as like "wearing a cashmere sweater."

the wines

We tasted two wines from each village: a village appellation wine and a Premier Cru wine.

Jean-Claude Boisset Chambolle-Musigny Les Chardannes 2011

I found this wine somewhat bitter: the wine did not undergo any racking which may have contributed to a slightly reductive nose. Despite this, there's a nice floral character and the relatively high amount of new oak (45%) is well integrated. With soft tannins, this is a balanced, lightly fruity wine but lacking intensity of flavour. ✪✪✪✪

Domaine Frédéric Magnien Les Bourniques Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2011

A very perfumed nose, with wild strawberries and redcurrants, and a very subtly integrated amount of new oak (50%). On the gentle palate, the fruits are ripe but very subtle, with light tannins. Despite the wine's soft, fine texture, there is real depth held up by very good acidity. Best drunk 2020 onwards. ✪✪✪✪✪

Domaine des Beaumont Morey-St-Denis 2011

Despite having the second least amount of new oak (30%) of any of the wines we tasted, it felt the most noticeable perhaps because the oak had a higher level of toast. The fruits are bigger, denser, riper, and darker than its Chambolle-Musigny equivalent. Likewise on the palate, the tannins are more noticeable, firmer and more gripping. This is a complex, involved, if slightly rustic wine. ✪✪✪✪✪

Joseph Drouhin Clos Sobré Morey-St-Denis Premier Cru 2011

The nose of this wine is immediate and beautiful, with ripe red fruits and blackcurrants, roses and thorns, and oak and vanilla. The Drouhin style is not too much extraction, and despite the ripeness of the fruits this wine is balanced and elegant. Lightly gripping tannins on the palate, with dried fruits - figs and prunes - as well as raspberries and blackcurrants. There's a discreet use of new oak (20%) with smoke and light pepper spices. The acidity, however, is a bit sharp at this stage. ✪✪✪✪✪

Domaine Harmand-Geoffrey Vielles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin 2011

An incredibly intense nose, with oak, smoke, earth, dirt, dried roses, blackberries and brambles, and raspberries - the fruits are hiding behind the oak (40% new). On the palate, the fruits are black and ripe, as are the tannins. A dense, interesting, though slightly heavy wine. ✪✪✪✪

Domaine Taupenot-Merme Bel Air Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2011

An odd nose that felt a bit grassy and cereal at first, giving way to baked fruits (plums) and oak. The tannins on the palate are gripping and dominant. A big, full mouthfeel that's hard to assess right now - the wine needs another ten years. ✪✪✪✪✪


conclusions

Reading or hearing about the differences between the three villages is one thing; tasting them another. The wines from Chambolle-Musigny were clearly more aromatic and delicate; those of Gevrey-Chambertin more powerful and forceful; the style of Morey-St-Denis lay in between. For that reason, Morey-St-Denis won the day for me - pleasingly elegant but with depth and structure.