Travels in Wine / Burgundy

Travels in Burgundy: Officially Beguiled!


Matthew Horsley Matthew Horsley / 13 March 2019

Shadowing Toby Morrhall on his trip to source 2017 Burgundies was like taking an extended masterclass in the region's wines.

It is extremely rare to get the opportunity to taste so many different wines of such pedigree alongside each other, even if you are inthe wine trade! As I know what a privilege it is to have had this opportunity, I wanted to share the experience as best I could with fellow members. It's no substitute for tasting the wines, granted, but I hope it has sparked interest in this region's great wines and revealed a little of what goes on behind cellar doors in the interest of seeking out the best wines we can.

Burgundian villages even in winter are pretty delightful
Burgundian villages even in winter are pretty delightful

Domaine Georges Roumier in Chambolle-Musigny and a highlight of the trip

For me, this was the undisputed highlight of the trip, so forgive me if I wax a little lyrical! It isn't just that the wines of Roumier are sensational across the board; they are incredible representations of their individual terroirs. Like friends at a dinner party they each have different personalities, styles, accents and physiques. Les Cras, a vineyard famed for its limestone soils smells smoky and mineral with a salty/saline palate. Ruchottes-Chambertin, hidden just above Clos de Bèze, is shy and pretty but with steel; like the unassuming guest of their more extrovert neighbour. Clos de la Bussière is stern and takes a while to relax. Bonnes-Mares is rich and meaty with leather and spice – the Master of Ceremonies. And finally, Les Amourouses – the Lady in Red with her silk dress, curves and irresistible perfume – the star of the show. My red Burgundy 'wow' moment. I know, what a cliché, I hear you say!

Style-Summary: Immensely elegant and individual wines with a real sense of place – one of Burgundy's great properties.

From belle of the ball to king of the castle…

Worth a visit. The 16th century cellars under the Château de Meursault ©Hans Strand
Worth a visit. The 16th century cellars under the Château de Meursault ©Hans Strand

Château de Meursault

I've been lucky enough to try Château de Meursault's whites on a number of occasions – wines that I believe showcase how good relatively humble Meursault can be. The whites, as expected, were very good, but I was taken rather by surprise by the reds. The highlights for me were their Volnay Clos de Chênes 1er Cru that was deep and spicy with notes of cinnamon and plum, and the Pommard Clos des Epenots 1er Cru – pinot on steroids with immense weight and dark fruit. Of the whites, particular standouts were their Charmes Dessus, a wine with a subtle, withdrawn nose but incredible concentration, weight and attack on the palate; Perrières with its immense focus and streak of minerality surrounded by creamy oak, and Champ Canet, a delicious combination of the two.

Château de Meursault is something of a rarity in Burgundy where grand properties are the exception rather than the rule. But here is a truly grand building with ancient cellars dating back to the 15th century running beneath it. You can visit the château (though you need to make an appointment) and I would thoroughly recommend it: it's an amazing experience for anyone in the area.

Style-Summary: Broad, rich whites and impressively supple, generous and seductive reds.

…and into Beaune, the epicentre of Burgundian wine

Domaine Chanson, Beaune

Domaine Chanson – a beautiful town house in the middle of Beaune
Domaine Chanson – a beautiful town house in the middle of Beaune

Our final day started with a trip to Domaine Chanson – a beautiful town house in the middle of Beaune - where we met head winemaker Jean-Pierre Confuron. Chanson have a huge range of wines from across Burgundy and we had a chance to taste pretty much across the board. The reds stood out for their fabulous fragrance and fruit-forward style. Highlights were the Côte de Nuits-Villages 2017, a wine that outshines its lowly 'village' classification, the Savigny-lès-Beaune Dominode Premier Cru for its dense red fruit and baking spice flavours, and their Beaune Clos du Marconnets Premier Cru which showed amazing ripeness with a soft, supple palate and long finish.

Style-Summary: Delicious, fresh and fruit forward reds for the early-to-mid-term drinking.

Volnay in the background
Volnay in the background

Domaine de Montille, Volnay

Recently I've developed a real interest in California pinot noir, especially those from coastal areas like Santa Barbara or Sonoma coast that have used part or whole-bunch fermentation; a once traditional technique that has become fashionable again. What does this do to the wine? The main effect is that, despite increasing potassium levels and therefore decreasing acidity, the flavours and aromas that result give the wine extra lift and freshness and some say, silkier tannins.

One Burgundy property that fully supports whole-bunch fermentation is Domaine de Montille (as well as other famed properties such as Dujac) and as a result their wines, under the careful supervision of head winemaker, American-born Brian Sieve, have amazing energy and life to them. In fact, freshness is so key to Brian that he doesn't pick his grapes based on ripeness and potential alcohol… he picks based on acidity.

This ethos was highlighted for me in a pair of cracking Volnays. The first 'Les Mitans', is 2/3rds whole-bunch fermented giving a surprisingly full, Oriental spiced red with sensational structure, grip and acidity. The second, 'Les Taillepieds', named after the sharp gravel on which growers slashed their feet while digging in to the earth, is 100% whole bunch and showed an amazingly compact character that was both robust and mineral as well as exotic and spicy all in perfect harmony. Even at the lower end I found the wines of de Montille outstanding – including their Beaune Premier Cru Grèves and straight Bourgogne! It'll be fascinating to see how these wines develop as they age.

Style Summary: fresh, bright, whole-bunch fermented reds intended for long cellaring and amazingly elegant whites.

The 2017 Vintage

This trip was all about assessing the 2017 vintage and though I only joined Toby for a small part of his time in the region and being a newcomer to the area, it was clear that a distinct vintage style was emerging.

The 2017 vintage was, for me, a joy to taste – the wines are deliciously pure, finely structured and are a fabulous reflection of their terroir. You can read Toby's fantastic report on the vintage and mouthwatering range of wines in our current en primeur offer. Toby spends many weeks across the year out in Burgundy to really get a feel for each vintage, no region is as diverse year on year as Burgundy and it is quite an art getting the producers to be truly frank about it. This is where the time and effort put into these relationships really pays off and it's what our buyers are masters of.

Where to go next?

Back to the beginning of the trip – Baptism by Water!

Back to Travels in Wine homepage

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