Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan shadows our buyer Toby Morrhall as he tastes and selects wines for our en primeur offer of 2016 Burgundies
Vincent Morey of Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey. In this part of France it’s the winemaker you get to meet who more often than not is also the person who drives the tractor, prunes the vines and sells the wines!
My first visit to Burgundy for more than ten years to taste the 2016 vintage with wine buyer Toby Morrhall stirs up feelings of both nervousness and excitement. Mixed in with that is a little concern too that my school-boy French won't be fit for purpose when it comes to chatting with our producers. After all, in this part of France you get to meet the winemakers themselves, who are also, more often than not, the owners, tractor drivers, vineyard workers, order takers and marketeers!
I've been dealing with en primeur offers for the last twenty years at The Wine Society and regularly go to Bordeaux to taste the new vintage but I have only rarely visited Burgundy. It's a very different set-up. Unlike in Bordeaux where a property might be making one or two wines from around 70ha (for an average Médoc estate), in Burgundy a good sized domaine will be no bigger than 10ha but might make about 15 wines. Crucially, in Burgundy, you will also find one vineyard owned by several different growers, each with his or her own style. This is why Toby always says to follow the grower not the appellation.
> If you want to find out more detail on this, I recommend reading Toby's in-depth Guide to Burgundy
> You can order the 2016s from our en primeur offer before 8pm on Tuesday 20th March
Getting to Burgundy couldn't be easier, though. A very efficient Eurostar and TGV whisk me down to Beaune at over 200km an hour on a Sunday afternoon to meet Toby who has already been out cellar bashing for a week before I arrive and will stay on for a further week after I leave. Unfortunately it's just as cold in Beaune, if not colder, as it is in Ashwell, Hertfordshire. Oh well, you can't have everything!
Tasting new Burgundy
Before we meet the growers, 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.
Jérôme Galeyrand – Gevrey-Chambertin
My first visit on a cold Monday morning was to Jérôme Galeyrand a native of the Loire Valley who is now based in the Côte de Nuits. Galeyrand's not a supplier I know well but he is making great wines after only making his first vintage in 2002. He worked the harvest at Alain Burguet's Gevrey-Chambertin estate for a couple of vintages and decided winemaking was what he wanted to do and left his job in the dairy industry.
Jérôme Galeyrand in his compact cellar
He has quickly built up his small estate and established himself as a serious producer. He makes very good Gevrey-Chambertin and one of the best Côte de Nuits Villages I have tasted, Les Retraits, with a beautifully ornate label featuring Cistercian monks.
Jérôme Galeyrand's Les Retraits Côte de Nuits Villages was an excellent introduction to the 2016 vintage and a great way to start my trip!
The visit here gives me an insight into the 2016 vintage which Jérôme says was 'complicated' – just two barrels produced of one wine whereas normally there would be ten. A very hard frost on the 27th April devastated many of the vineyards. The frost hit very randomly so some vineyards were badly affected and lost much of the crop whereas others got off lightly.
> If you want to read more about what happens when vineyards are struck by frost and what can be done to protect them, Caroline Gilby MW talks about just this in her article 'Ice ice baby'.
Louis Boillot – Chambolle-Musigny
After a quick lunch of slow-cooked Côte de Boeuf and a small glass of 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin at Guy's Place (Chez Guy!) in Gevrey-Chambertin, off we go to see Louis Boillot in Chambolle-Musigny. His vines too were affected badly by the spring frost. He explained that frost is always worse in the spring compared to the winter as the cell walls of the grape and vine are ruptured when the plant warms up quickly after being frozen ( Caroline Gilby MW's article explains this further).
What was the effect on his output? Whereas he normally makes three barrels of Pommard, for example, in 2016 he made just one. But the Gevreys and Volnays he produces are really excellent, if only there were more.
After all the tasting in cold cellars it's also nice to taste different things in a setting the wines were made for.
The charming Ghislaine Barthod and aptly named pooch, Musigny, just before I smash my glass!
Ghislaine Barthod – Chambolle-Musigny
View the 2016s in our en primeur offer
View wines in stock
Next we move to a different part of the cellar to taste with Louis's wife – the charming Ghislaine Barthod; their lovely dog Musigny accompanies us, running all over the cellars. I show my lack of experience trying to balance my tasting glass and write at the same time by dropping my glass. Now I am more concerned about the dog's paws than the Chambolle-Musigny Beaux Bruns being poured.
Ghislaine too lost a lot of her production to frost, around 60% she says. One of my favourite wines here is the Chambolle-Musigny Les Cras which has all the charm of the winemaker and is simply delicious. Not having anywhere to put your glass down seems to be a trait in Burgundian cellars and something I'll have to get used to. I'll perfect the balancing act before my week is out, I'm sure!
The late François Lamarche who sadly died in a tractor accident in 2013. His daughter Nicole is now vigneronne and niece Nathalie looks after sales
Domaine François Lamarche – Vosne-Romanée
Our next stop is a very quick visit to Domaine François Lamarche in Vosne-Romanée and the very smartly dressed and sophisticated Nicole Lamarche. Nicole took over management of the vines and winemaking in 2006, sadly her father François died in a tractor accident in 2013, but Nicole has done his memory credit. The property makes 14 wines from its 10 hectares, including the grand cru La Grande Rue which is a Lamarche monopole (this is where the whole vineyard is owned by just one producer, something that is unusual in Burgundy); we try just eight , but what wines they are! Alas there's a 50% loss to frost in a number of vineyards here, so not much to go round.
Ma Cuisine in Beaune with its very impressive wine list and jolly Monsieur Le Patron chatting to Toby Morrhall
That night we have dinner at 'Ma Cuisine' in Beaune, it's one of the gastronomic highlights of the trip for me. Lovely food and an amazing wine list and virtually every vintage of Yquem, for those that can indulge!