Continuing The Burgundy Quest

Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan continues his travels with Burgundy buyer Toby Morrhall assessing the 2016 vintage and enjoying some of the region's legendary good grub along the way!

Not only a table to put my glass on but also a range of delicious whites at Vincent and Sophie Morey Not only a table to put my glass on but also a range of delicious whites at Vincent and Sophie Morey

Vincent and Sophie Morey – Chassagne-Montrachet

We are up bright and early the next morning to see Vincent and Sophie Morey and a lovely range of white wines, and a table to put my glass on while I taste!! Toby and the Moreys engage in long conversations about the merits of Diam corks; this is a subject which seems to feature a lot at many of the visits.

Toby has done a brilliant job over the years persuading many of our growers in Burgundy to use Diam corks. These closures look like an ordinary agglomerate cork but appearances in this case are deceptive. Diam have solved two of the greatest problems of the otherwise excellent natural cork: firstly, a fault commonly called 'corkiness', a musty-smelling taint caused when a cork infected with a substance called trichloroanisole (TCA) communicates this to the wine, and secondly, the natural variation between different corks in porosity to air, which can lead to extreme variation in the oxidation of wine. Diam corks are a highly technical solution to these dual issues and can even be bought with differing specifications for desired porosity.

Toby wrote an article on the subject a while ago which you may find of interest

> You can order the 2016s from our en primeur offer before 8pm on Tuesday 20th March

Domaine Jean Chauvenet – Nuits-St-Georges

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Then it was on to Chauvenet and the charming Christophe Drag whom I have met before and was one of the most engaging of all the suppliers we met. Production was down by 35% in 2016 whereas 2017 was a much bigger production, fortunately. We shall see how those wines turn out in due course.

There are no fewer than seven premiers crus here including Argillats, Les Damodes, Rue du Chaux Les Bousselots, Les Perrières, Les Vaucrains and Les Poulettes, and also some seriously good Bourgogne Rouge. All the premier cru wines benefit from long ageing but are well worth the wait. Since 2009 Christophe cold soaks the grapes for a few days to extract colour and the wines are then aged in barrel for around 18 months. His wines are quite 'chunky' in style but beautifully perfumed none-the-less.

Christophe Drag in his cellar – he was one of the most engaging of the growers we met Christophe Drag in his cellar – he was one of the most engaging of the growers we met

Domaine Maume Tawse – Gevrey-Chambertin

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Our next visit is to Domaine Maume Tawse and the dynamic and charming Englishman and winemaker Mark Fincham. Laid back and with a great sense of humour, Mark is also an excellent communicator. He told us an amusing tale of carrying out green harvesting in the vineyards (this is where the grower will remove immature bunches of grapes from the vines, when they are still green, to reduce yields and improve quality. The theory being that the vine then puts all its energy into fewer bunches):

'I was taking out bunches from vines in a particularly beautiful spot in the vineyard and had only just started work when I decided to just lie down in the sun for five minutes. Two hours later I woke up wondering where the time had gone!'

Well, despite this laid-back attitude, Mark's Mazoyères-Chambertin was a knock out for me, alas only two barrels were made, however.

Domaine Tollot-Beaut – Chorey-lès-Beaune

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The delightful Nathalie Tollot of Domaine Tollot-Beaut – delicious, pretty Chorey here but severely hit by frost sadly
The delightful Nathalie Tollot of Domaine Tollot-Beaut – delicious, pretty Chorey here but severely hit by frost sadly

At our next stop in the northern part of the Côte de Beaune we are greeted by the lovely Nathalie Tollot, fifth generation vigneronne in charge of this family property. Mother Nature was particularly cruel here in 2016 and though the wines are lovely, barely any was made, 70% having been lost to frost. To compensate, they decided to amalgamate a number of their parcels in order to maximise the amount made.

The character of the vintage, according to Nathalie, is a bit like 2014 but with a bit more body. 'It's a vintage which may shut down and blossom later,' she says. In amongst the wines we taste is an extremely elegant Aloxe-Corton.

Despite the lack of wine this year, investment in the winery has to go on and Nathalie explained that they had recently purchased a destemming machine which she says has increased the quality of the fruit here further. Hopefully there will be more wine next year so that we can really see the fruits of this investment!

With half an hour to kill before our next appointment (an unusual feature of these trips!),Toby and I have a coffee in a tiny local bar while we wait for the very engaging Amélie Berthaut to finish with another visitor. It was worth the wait.

Domaine Berthaut – Fixin

It was worth the wait her wines were lovely. A graduate of the University of Bordeaux, Amélie runs the estate with her father Denis. The estate is made up of some 13 hectares, mainly in the village of Fixin but also with parcels in Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Echezeaux. Though these are not wines we currently offer en primeur, Toby said we would be buying some to offer in the future.

She showed wines from Fixin, Gevrey, Vosne, Chambolle, Clos Vougeot and Echezeaux, with the stand-out for me her Vosne-Romanée from 90-year-old vines. Amélie explained that she only makes 10 barrels of this wine, five of which get returned to her aunt from whom she rents the vineyard.

One to keep an eye on for the future – Amélie Berthaut One to keep an eye on for the future – Amélie Berthaut

Domaine Coche-Bizouard – Meursault

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The laughing Alain Coche (right) with our buyer Toby Morrhall
The laughing Alain Coche (right) with our buyer Toby Morrhall

It was one of the most pleasurable mornings of my visit next with the laughing Alain Coche and his excellent range of whites. There was more discussion of Diam corks as there had been at most of our visits. As elsewhere too, we talked about how much Alain lost to the spring frosts and sadly the effects were devastating here too with Alain losing 60% of what would be his normal crop. To put that in perspective, Alain made just 8 or 9 barrels of his Meursault rather than the usual 25.

Auxey-Duresses was one of the stars of the tasting for me with soft gentle fruit but with intensity too. Though most people would associate Meursault with its glorious whites, a little red is also made and Alain makes a pretty little red Meursault designed to be drunk in its youth which we occasionally offer too.

Despite the early hour (It's about 8.30 in the morning at this point) I notice that Alain seems to be swallowing every single wine we taste while the rest of us are busy studiously spitting! 'Breakfast Burgundy style', Toby says! No wonder Alain laughs all the way through the tasting! Still, it's a great advert for his wines…

Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet – Meursault

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Jean Philippe Fichet illustrating his technique in the vineyards of chopping off superficial roots to encourage the main root to dig down deeper
Jean Philippe Fichet illustrating his technique in the vineyards of chopping off superficial roots to encourage the main root to dig down deeper

Our next port of call, again in the village of Meursault, was to taste the amazing wines of marathon runner Jean-Philippe Fichet who is visibly chuffed with the results from his immaculate and well-ordered cellar.

Just like Philippe, the wines are sleek, clean and gorgeously sinewy – in a nice way, of course! Precision seems to be the watch word here with the wines tight and very well made. Philippe lost around 40% of his crop in 2016 (particularly at the lower Villages level), but what he has produced is as consistently excellent as always.

Jean-Marc Vincent – Santenay

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Jean-Marc and his wife Anne-Marie Vincent are one of the nicest couples you could meet – a definite highlight of my trip – and their wines aren't bad either!
Jean-Marc and his wife Anne-Marie Vincent are one of the nicest couples you could meet – a definite highlight of my trip – and their wines aren't bad either!

Finally it's on to my last visit and the highlight of the trip for me with two of the most delightful people you could hope to meet, the husband and wife team of this small domaine, Jean-Marc and Anne-Marie Vincent.

The frost wasn't so much of a problem for Jean-Marc but downy mildew was. This destructive vine disease is caused by damp warm weather during the vegetative growth period. Jean-Marc said it was a really difficult year in 2016 with all sorts of problems, not just the frost but the summer heat causing the vines to suffer from hydric stress too. 'There was just such an array of different trying conditions,' he said, 'not least, a big contrast between spring, which was very wet, and summer, which was very dry.'

But Jean-Marc and Anne-Marie are an astute pair and managed to craft some excellent wines despite all the challenges and Toby was able to put together a collection of smashing whites and reds for our en primeur offer.

Homeward bound

By this point it was time for me to leave Toby and head back to the UK. Just as well, probably, as by now my teeth were starting to hurt from tasting all the young and still quite acidic wines! In fact, it took several days for them to calm down. I suppose the buyers must just be used to it.

Early the next morning I took the train from Beaune, again via Paris where I had a 20-minute coffee stop with my sister who lives and works there. From there it is back on the Eurostar and then home (to just outside Hitchin – which funnily enough is twinned with Nuits-St-George). And what's the one thing I crave after all that fantastic Burgundian food and wine? A nice cup of tea and beans on toast. Must be getting old!

Though I only spent a fraction of the time that our buyer Toby Morrhall did on this trip assessing the 2016 vintage, it was pretty full-on. I always come away from such experiences both impressed by the fortitude of our buyers and the perseverance and diligent craftsmanship of our growers.

Though quantities are sadly down in 2016, I can assure you that the quality of the wines we have chosen is superb. Do give them a try if you can.

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