Before I tell you about the properties we visited and the wines we tasted, it is worth reminding you why we offer Burgundy en primeur more than a year after the harvest. My colleague, Fine Wine Manager Shaun Kiernan explained this following his visit on a similar quest last year, and it is worth explaining again:
Tasting new Burgundy
'A little explanation on why Toby makes his selection of wines for our en primeur offer over a year after harvest. Malolactic fermentation plays an important role in the production of Burgundy. This is a second fermentation taking place after the first alcoholic fermentation, turning sharp malic acids into the softer lactic acids. You need to wait until this process is fully complete before going out to taste the wines from barrel otherwise you are not getting a true impression of the wine.'Shaun Kiernan, Fine Wine Manager
Having arrived late on Monday evening to a torrential downpour it was lucky our first visit on Tuesday was the pretty village (or commune) of Puligny-Montrachet, just a stone's throw away from our base camp in Beaune. A short drive which sees you pass through Beaune's two most famous communes – Pommard and Volnay, boasting 56 premier cru sites between them.
If you want to gen up on your Burgundy wine classifications, take a look at Toby's extensive guide to the region.
For those that have been to Burgundy (or even read the books!) you'll know that the hills are a patchwork of vineyards each with a different shape, personality and quality. Domaine Etienne Sauzet, whose winery is located at the bottom of the hill of Montrachet, gave the perfect chance to see this tapestry and the wonders sewn therein.
Sitting in a tasting room with the hill rising up in front of us we tasted through the range – from village level to the premiers crus of La Garenne and Champ Gain at the top of the hill, to Champ Canet in the middle and Les Referts at the bottom, a few metres' elevation away from anonymity.
It was our first tasting and I was already staggered by the difference in each site. The wines of Sauzet have an excellent vibrancy and elegance to them, whilst each showcasing their individual terroirs beautifully.
Style Summary: Elegant, bright and focused white wines. Stylish village wines and powerful, concentrated 1er and grands crus. Wines typically spend 12 months in barrel before racking in to tank for a further six months on fine lees before bottling.
Iconic Domaine Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin
If Puligny-Montrachet is a tapestry, with its intricate, oddly shaped patches of vineyards, then the hills of Gevrey-Chambertin resemble something much more Mondrian in style! Driving along the Route des Grands Crus is truly eye-opening; whizzing past famous names like Latricières, then Chambertin, Aux Charmes and Clos de Bèze… and stopping outside Domaine Rousseau, opposite the iconic Clos St. Jacques vineyard, is an experience I'll never forget.
The wines of Rousseau were, for me, by far the most opulent we tasted. The Chambertin was fabulous, powerful and rich with sandalwood spice and luxuriously sweet cherry. But it was the Clos de Bèze that stole the show for me. Rousseau's particular plot in Clos de Bèze is a mound no more than half a metre higher than the rest of the vineyard, but this is all it needs to get that extra exposure resulting in an exotic dark fruit and spice-packed wine – an amazing contrast to the Chambertin about 150 metres to the south.
Speaking to Toby after the tasting he explained that what makes Rousseau's wines remarkable (and sadly, extremely highly sought-after) is the way they seem to put on weight as they get older – in which case, these will benefit from a very long slumber but you'll be richly rewarded if you have the patience (and are lucky enough to get hold of some.)
Style Summary: Rich, opulent and sexy red wines that gain weight with age. Both the Chambertin and Clos de Bèze see 100% new oak with the other grands crus in one-year-old oak. One of Burgundy's great wines.
Domaine Drouhin-Laroze – one of the prettiest cellars
Just down the road from Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin is Domaine Drouhin-Laroze – a charming hidden-away property that has one of the prettiest cellars in the region.
We started with their Gevrey-Chambertin village wine which I, personally, thought was the best village wine we tasted on the trip. Next was Lavaux St. Jacques, a cool premier cru site located in the north-west of the commune that showed a delicious perfume of violets and blueberries with soft, pretty tannins. We moved on to their first grand cru site with Latricières-Chambertin in which they use 25% whole bunch (for arguably, greater complexity and silkier tannins) – another cool-ish site the nose is elegant and understated but with surprising weight and dark fruit on the palate alongside plenty of grippy tannins – a great option for the future. Their Bonnes Mares from Chambolle-Musigny was rich and spicy with amazing structure thanks to the use of 80% new oak. The star again had to be the Clos de Bèze that was both full and rich yet completely weightless at the same time. Stunning.
Style-Summary: Elegant terroir-driven reds and one of the few Gevrey producers who excel in Chambolle.