To Burgundy and Back Again: 2018 Hospices de Beaune

Last year, on the third Sunday of November, the 158th annual wine auction was held at the Hospices de Beaune. People from all over the world meet in the historic walled city of Beaune, the “wine capital of Burgundy.” It is a treasure trove of medieval and renaissance architecture. There are still ramparts and a moat and battlements, fortresses and castles of the Dukes of Burgundy and the royal fortress of the Chateau de Beaune built in the 15th century for King Louis XI.

In the center of this bustling metropolis of 20,000 people is the Hospices de Beaune, a flamboyant masterpiece of Gothic architecture capped with a glorious roof of polychromed tile. This is a free hospital for the citizens of Burgundy. It opened in 1452 as the region was recovering from the dual ravages of the black pague and the enduring misery of the Hundred Years war.  Over many generations, winegrowers have donated fine vineyards to this great institution. The annual auction of wine by the barrels refills the coffers.  It is a great event and an excuse for the world of wine to meet in Beaune and party.
This particular year, I was there for a very quick week. Arrived Thursday the 15th and went to “La Releve – Salon de Jeunes Vignerons”.  A new generation of very young winemakers, the next generation of historic domaines. Everyone was about 25 years old. The domaines included Pascal Bouley, Chavy-Chouet, Y. Clerget, Philippe Colin, Topiary, Simon Colin, Edmond Cornu, Michel Niellon, Dufouleur, Arnaud Ente, J-M Gaunoux, Henri Germain, Maison Goichot, Alain Gras, Henri Delagrange, Joblot, J-L Joillot, Lucien Muzard, F & L Pillot, J-M Pillot, J-C Ramonet, Arnoux Pere et Fils, Caroline Morey & PYCM, Lafouge, Geantet-Pansiot, Confuron-Gindre and on and on… and on.
I then had dinner at La Superbe where I saw a Burgundy exporter with whom I work, having dinner with some of her best clients from Hong Kong, Singapore and Amsterdam. We shared greetings and a glass of champagne. I claimed the seat I had reserved at the counter and had scallops in the shell with chorizo and 2014 J-M Roulot Bourgogne Blanc. Crispy sweetbreads with girolles in creme and a glass of 2012 Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Guettes”. Pavlova for dessert. Great food and very good wine by the glass.
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A spooky, foggy Friday in Morey-Saint-Denis.

On a spooky, foggy Friday, I went to Morey-Saint-Denis. It was almost raining and very damp, good for growing mushrooms. The weather is always like this around the Hospices auction. I tasted at a couple of my favorite domaines including Dujac. (I wish I could buy more of their wines.) Beautiful 2017’s, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Combottes, Vosne-Romanee er Cru Malconsorts, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint Denis – almost painfully beautiful. Two thousand seventeen is a lovely and transparent vintage and finally, a plentiful one. The barrels in the cellars are once again full of wine. 

My old friend Pascal Marchand picked me up and we met his wife Amandine at a fantastic Nuits-Saint-Georges restaurant La Cabotte. You always see great winegrowers there and the Friday before the auction it was fully booked. I saw Thibault Liger-Belair and Nicolas Faure and Marie-Andrew and Marie-Christine Mugneret-Gibourg. They all got to try Nicolas Faure’s wonderful Aloxe-Corton. His domaine is all of one hectare and none of them had heard of him or tried his wine. They approved. He was thrilled to get praise from this illustrious group.

Then, I went back to Marchand-Tawse and tasted the 2017’s with Swedish buyers for the government monopoly. Very nice line up at Marchand-Tawse. Pascal asked me to come back the next day and taste the grand crus. The Swedish monopoly rarely buys any expensive wines so he did not present them to taste. My cab driver told me if I wanted to go from Beaune to Nuits-Saint-Georges on Saturday I would have to take the train because of the first day of “yellow vest” protest, the “gilets jaunes.” He was planning to stay home in Dijon with his wife and kids. As it turned out Pascal drove there in record time – because there were no police on the road.

Went to Beaune, met my friends at Becky Wasserman and Company and we drove to the Chateau de Bligny to taste 2017 & 2018 Maison des Joncs with winemaker Jae Okchu. Originally from Korea, she works at Domaine d’Eugenie during the day and is doing her own micro-domaine thing at Dominique Lafon’s custom crush facility. I had two nice 2017 reds, a Cote de Nuits Village and a Savigny les Beaune and a a 2018 red and white.  Her wines have a lovely purity and presence. I am excited to be getting ten cases of each wine, beautiful, pure, natural wines. Arriving soon with Nicolas Faure’s 2017’s.

Then, I went to a wonderful party. Everyone was there except Denis Bachelet and Aubert de Villaine. Well, to tell the truth Lalou Bize-Leroy was not there either. Everyone else was, including Santa Barbarian Jim Clendenen. Alain Gras brought a terrine of woodcock decorated with the head and wings. Olivier Merlin tucked the wings into his glasses and they looked like rabbit ears. He is a very fun man who enjoys a party.  Jean-Marc Roulot and Dominique Lafon and I were drinking Olivier Lamy’s 2010 Saint Aubin “Derriere Chez Edouard” and they said it was the best white wine there.  Olivier Lamy blushed and looked sheepish. The two kings of white burgundy giving him praise. A good time was had by all.

Saturday morning was the tasting at the Hospices de Beaune. I really enjoyed the 2018 reds and whites. Many people were talking red, but Benjamin Leroux and I both really like the whites, especially the Corton-Vergennes Cuvee Paul Chanson and the Meursault-Charmes Cuvee Albert Grivault which is from the very top of the vineyard next to Meursault-Perrieres. I liked the Volnay 1er Cru General Muteau, Corton Cuvee Charlotte Dumay and the Mazis-Chambertin Cuvee Madeleine Collignon. Ben ended up buying two barrels of the Cuvee Albert Grivault. A friend bought a barrel of this in 2015 and Pierre-Yves Colin did a beautiful job on the elevage.

Saturday night I had dinner with Pascal Marchand at the wonderful Japanese restaurant Bissoh. Amazing food. Tuna Rossini, broiled tuna topped with foie gras. A Poulet de Bresse chicken leg cut off the bone and cooked tataki style. Had a bottle of Prevost Rose Champagne Fac-Similie from the first vintage, It was fabulous. A young man came over and asked who we were.  I told him I was a caviste from NY and that we had a shop in San Francisco too. He said, “Oh, you sell all of our wines.” He was a Perrin, from Beaucastel. He was with a young woman from Vieux Telegraphe, a Torres and the people from Vega Sicilia. Hospices weekend.

Sunday there was a wonderful, simple luncheon before the auction, lentils & sausages.  I brought a bottle of 1993 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru and my hosts told me that I should bring a bottle to the Paulee de Meursault on Monday. So I did.  Went to the auction and got shut out. Again. A friend got a barrel of Clos de la Roche and Ben Leroux got his Meursault-Charmes.

Sunday night was back to Bissoh, I had reserved a seat at the bar. Ended up having dinner with a Burgundy exporter, a young geologist from Santa Barbara, a friend from NY who is studying in Dijon, a collector from China and the owner/winemaker Egon Muller IV of Scharzhofberg fame. He showed us all photos of the trockenbeerenauslese grapes from the 2018 harvest and explained how difficult it is to make such a labor intensive wine. He also said that making eiswein was easy, you just had to get up very early and pick frozen grapes on the cold, dark hillside. It as fascinating to spend time with a great German winegrower in Burgundy and the typical kind of thing that happens during the crazy Hospices week.

Monday was the Paulee de Meursault, the annual party for the Burgundy growers that was founded in the mid-1920’s by Comte Lafon of Meursault. It is one of the few occasions where the growers get to see each other and share their best wines. The lunch starts at noon and ends around seven. There were almost 700 guests packed into the Chateau de Meursault.

The Paulee de Meursault used to award a barrel of Meursault to the author of the best book written about Burgundy the year previous. Many wine authors lament the fact this entire barrel is no longer awarded but the “Laureate” does get a nice parcel of Meursault and this year’s was donated by Domaine Latour-Giraud.  There is a literary prize, a scientific prize, a philosophy prize and an award to a Meursault producer. Or two. Or three. These honored Meursault producers then open the doors to their caves after the seven or eight hour lunch and continue this dionysian revel.
The guest of honor this year was prolific author Irene Frain. She is a novelist, journalist and historian, author of thirty-three books, countless essays and works of journalism. She taught at the University of la Sorbonne.  She was honored for her life’s work, fiction and non-fiction works and many social causes, particularly dealing with women’s rights and economic equality for women.  She has written about Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Curie and Phoolan Devi, the Indian bandit woman who terrorized India between 1981 and 1983.  She is an amazing author.
The food started with a foie gras dish.  Then a lovely fish, Daurade Royal.  Navarin de homard. Charolais beef.  Three cheeses.  A chocolate passion fruit dessert. Coffee. A Dionysian revel.

People bring big bottles. I had a magnum of 1999 J.F. Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Fuees”. I went with an old friend from Saint Louis and Peter Burroughs from Becky Wasserman & Co. and a fascinating German businessman who has decided to take the wine business class at the Lycee Viticole in Bordeaux. At the age of 66. He brought some fabulous wines, 2002 Rousseau Clos St Jacques, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, 2001 De Vogue Musigny, etc.  Benjamin Leroux brought some really big bottles, six liters.

Sitting behind me was Carlton McCoy Jr. the chef sommelier from The Little Nell in Aspen, CO. He was with a gentleman from Arkansas named Graylon who had just bought Heitz Cellars in Napa Valley. We ended up going to La Colombiere later that night for a late night supper, a bottle of Prevost Rose Fac-Simile, a bottle of 2012 De Montille Pommard Rugiens and a 2007 L-M Liger Belair Vosne Romanee 1er Cru “Reignots”. Quite a night!

Not bad for a quick week in Beaune!

Can’t buy 2015 Christophe Roumier Musigny? Don’t worry we have you covered

Burgundies to buy

Disappointed that you can’t buy Christophe Roumier’s 2015 Musigny? You’re not alone. He made 360 bottles of it—for the whole world to fight over. Looking for Mugneret-Gibourg, Dujac, Jacques-Frederic Mugnier and Domaine de la Romanee Conti without success?

Well don’t give up hope. There’s a whole new world of amazing Burgundy out there waiting for you to discover it.

Burgundies I can’t buy and Burgundies I can

There is a category of Burgundy that I now classify as “Wines I used to buy.” There are two reasons why: price and scarcity. I don’t think I have to tell you their names.

People ask me all the time if I have any wine from this or that famous domaine, and the answer is no. If the answer is yes, then the price is too high and they won’t buy it (but first they have to tell me how much less it used to cost).

For years I have advised people to buy the most modest wines from the world’s best winegrowers. This strategy works the world over, though less and less frequently in Burgundy.

There is hope! Established but underperforming domaines are being revitalized by a new generation taking over, a generation with the passion and know-how to elevate them. Many of these growers are recent graduates of Beaune’s wine school, the Lycee Viticole, and are practicing the best techniques of farming, harvesting and cellar work, often by bringing back the old traditions combined with modern knowledge. They are growing better grapes, carefully pruning, limiting yields, sorting so that only the best bunches are used, vinifying intelligently and practicing the best elevage possible.

The wines are top notch, and not yet chased by every collector the world over.

Exciting brand new domaines are being created like Heitz-Lochardet in Chassagne Montrachet, Domaine des Croix in Beaune, Domaine Nicolas Faure in Nuits Saint Georges and Domaine de la Cras in the Coteaux de Dijon. There are new negociants like Benjamin Leroux, Marchand-Tawse and Chantereves, and almost of the established negociants are making much better wines than in the bad old days.

All of this is aided by the explosion of absolutely top-notch U.S. importers who find, support and distribute this new generation. Becky Wasserman is, famously, one of the most important Americans to work in Burgundy. She discovered legends including Lafarge, Bachelet and the aforementioned J-F Mugnier. She and her family have also found and supported some of our favorite young producers, including Nicolas Faure, Chantereves and, of course, Benjamin Leroux.

The Wassermans are not alone. Many of our favorite importers are working with new producers — Grand Cru, Douglas Polaner, T. Edwards, Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch, Michael Stephens, Jeanne-Marie des Champs and more.

Who are tomorrow’s untouchable stars?

Christophe Roumier had a very talented intern named Dominique Le Guen who took over his father-in-law’s domain – Hudelot-Baillet in Chambolle Musigny. Buy his wine.

Young Maxime Cheurlin became a vigneron in 2010 at Domaine Georges Noellat. His grandmother had sold the family’s grapes to negociants for 20+ years. He graduated from the Lycee Viticole in Beaune and staged at Emmanuel Rouget and Gros Frere et Soeur. Look for his wine too.

Some of the best new domaines produce off the-the-beaten path appellations. Look for Berthaut-Gerbet in Fixin, Sylvain Pataille and Bruno Clair in Marsannay, Hubert Lamy in Saint Aubin, Domaine Lafouge in Auxey Duresses.

In Rully, Dureuil Janthial, Stephane Aladame in Montagny makes pure and beautiful white wines. Domaine Chanzy and Aubert de Villaine making great wines in Bouzeron. Dominique Gruhier is in Epeneuil, near Chablis, which you probably haven’t heard of but really should get to know.

These are all high-quality Burgundy wines that are great values. We encourage you to check out the wonderful, still unheralded appellations they call home.

Even if you’re interested in the most sought-after villages there are tremendous producers for you, too. In Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Digioia-Royer and Domaine Anne & Herve Sigaut make beautiful, traditional wines from great sites. The Sigauts, in particular, have some very old vines. 2015s from both producers are still available—and they’re just a fraction of the price of today’s stars.

In Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Duroche and Domaine Marc Roy make incredible wines, including from village plots perfectly situated right next to Premier and even Grand Cru vineyards. The most famous Burgundy village of all Vosne Romanee, there are wonderful producers who haven’t yet found international super-stardom. Georges Noellat, Jerome Chezeaux, Regis Forey, Vincent Legou and Richard Maniere all bottle classic Vosne Romanees that I am very happy to be laying down in my cellar.

You can still find good deals in Burgundy and outstanding quality if you keep an open mind and are willing to try wines from new producers and appellations.

How to get access

If you would like first crack at these great new wines, and at special discount, please sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to select the Burgundy sub-list on the second page (and any others that appeal, of course). It’s probably worth noting that when we do get the hardest to find wines, our most active subscribers hear about their wines first, too.

New domaines (first generation)

Domaine Heitz-Lochardet — Chassagne Montrachet

Domaine Georges Noellat — Vosne Romanee

Domaine Cecile Tremblay — Morey Saint Denis

Domaine des Croix — Beaune

Domaine Nicolas Faure — Nuits Saint Georges

Domaine de la Cras — Coteaux de Dijon

Domaine Sylvain Pataille — Marsannay

Dominique Gruhier – Epeneuil

Great new negociants

Benjamin Leroux

Chantereves

Marchand-Tawse

Reinvigorated Domaines

Domaine Bernard Moreau – Chassagne Montrachet

Domaine Georges Noellat

Domaine Hudelot Baillet – Chambolle Musigny

Domaine Hubert Lamy -Saint Aubin

Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet – Fixin

Underappreciated Appellations

Beaune (especially Beaune 1er Cru)

Auxey Duresses

Pernand Vergelesses

Ladoix-Serrigny

Santenay

Fixin

Marsannay

Chassagne – red

Epeneuil

Montagny

Mercurey

James Bond and the terroir of Cognac

Is there terroir in Cognac?

In “Goldfinger” there is a great scene where James Bond and M are having dinner with Colonel Smithers of the Bank of England and learning about the gold business. After a presumably sumptuous dinner the banker brandishes a beautiful cut crystal decanter and says, “Have a little more of this rather disappointing brandy.”

M looks at and sniffs at his glass and asks, “Why, what is the matter with it?”

Know-it-all James Bond states categorically, “I’d say it was a 30 year old Fine and indifferently blended with an overdose of Bon Bois.”

The banker replies, “Quite right.”

M, obviously perturbed says, “Colonel Smithers is giving the lecture 007.”

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James Bond knows all about the terroir of Cognac

What is Bond talking about?

Look at the map of Cognac and you will see at the center, just below the town of Cognac,  the region named Grande Champagne. Around that is Petite Champagne, which is in turn  surrounded by Fins Bois which, finally, is surrounded by Bon Bois. There is even a further outlying region named Bois Ordinaires which obviously James Bond wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

At the very center of the Grande Champagne region is the village of Segonzac.  The plateau above the village produces the most age worthy brandies of the entire region. For me Cognac is the greatest illustration of the very concept of terroir, indeed I think that it proves that terroir exists.  Here is an excerpt from Nicolas Faith’s fantastic article, “Jurassic Vineyard – How Cognac Loves that Crazy Old Chalk”  in issue 14 of “The World of Fine Wine” from 2006:

“There is nothing except geography – and geology and all of the other factors that compose the mystery of terroir – to explain the superiority of brandies fem certain parts of the region, above all from the best subregion – and then, as we shall see, not the whole of the subregion.  For there is simply no other possible explanation.  To start with, virtually all of the vines are of the same variety: the relatively neutral Ugni Blanc.  The dominance of this variety has reduced the effect of terroir when compared with the brandies produced before phylloxera from more aromatic varieties like Colombard and Folle Blanche.  All the grapes are harvested at the same time at virtually the same alcoholic degree, which varies only between vintages and not between parts of the vineyard. The grapes are fermented in exactly the same fashion, then all of them are stored for a few weeks with no sulfur or other additive. The distillation process is equally standardized, taking place in precisely the same type and size of stills, with those for the second fermentation limited to 25 hectoliters. The stop and start points of the “heads” and “tails” – the flow of the first heavily alcoholic and last underproof spirit from each individual distillation – do indeed vary, but that’s a matter of style rather than of quality and in any case the variations are pretty minimal.

The raw spirit is then matured in oak casks of exactly the same size.  They produce two rather distinctive styles of Cognac, depending on whether they are made from the relatively open-grained Limousin type of oak or the tighter-grained Troncais.  But in marked contrast to the to the situation as far as wines are concerned, fine Cognacs are aged not just in both type of casks but also in those of very different ages – the most extreme are those made by the deeply reputable house of Delamain, none of which has ever seen a grain of new wood.”

So Cognac, unlike any other wine or spirit producing region is produced in the same fashion from the same grape variety.  The differences come from the soils that these grapes are grown in and the blending of the brandies of different ages and the age of the barrels.  The expert blenders in Cognac have found that the only brandies that improve with age past ten or fifteen years are those from the Grande Champagne region, especially from the plateau above Segonzac.  Over the years more and more vines are planted in the very best subregions of Cognac and fewer and fewer in the Fins Bois, Bois Ordinaires and Bond‘s disappointing Bon Bois.

After phylloxera ravaged the region it was replanted to one varietal. In Segonzac the chalk soil is highly porous and the subsoil is composed of thick bands of similar chalk. The thin topsoil drains well and the thick spongy chalk subsoil retains water releasing it slowly.

This friable Jurassic chalk, called Campanian chalk, is only found on the upper slopes in the heart of the Grande Champagne region and includes a species of fossil that is found nowhere else: Ostrea vesicularis. The soil also contains lumps of crystallized iron pyrite called marcasite which, incidentally is also found in Pauillac.  Petite Champagne has another variety of chalk called Santonian chalk which is almost as good for growing grapes to be distilled into spirit but that does not quite reach the heights of the best Grande Champagne cognacs.

Interestingly more than fifty percent of the land in Grande Champagne is planted with vines, in Petite Champagne it is about thirty percent.  The Bon Bois region is very large – three hundred and seventy two thousand hectares.  In this vast region only twelve thousand hectares are planted to vines.  Why?  Obviously 007 – once again, knew precisely what he was talking about.

 

Don’t miss out on the 2014 Red Burgundy Vintage!

2014-burgundy

2014 was one of those rare vintages in Burgundy that was equally good for red and white wines.  Most of the hyperbole was directed to the fantastic quality of the white wines.  Indeed it is true that from Macon, through the Cote Chalonnaise and in the great growths of the Cote de Beaune – even all the way up to Chablis – the 2014 white Burgundies were hailed by everybody as the greatest vintage since 1992 and so on and on.  They are undeniably marvelous.

However – 2014 Reds are being overlooked and this is a sad state of affairs.  Because of the hoopla over 2015 red Burgundy, people are forgetting about one of the best red wine vintages we have seen in a long time. The 2014 red burgundies are a great “mirror” of the different vineyards they came from. Village wines taste like the exceptional village wine that they are,  the premier crus are a great step up and grand crus are obviously on another level, even at this young age. People often talk about “transparency” in a vintage and here is a great opportunity to see the Burgundy Cru classifications illustrated for you – right there in your wine glass.

 The growers know and I think that no one has expressed this with greater eloquence than the exceptional Cecile Tremblay:  “I really like the vintage as it’s ultra-pure, in fact unlike any of the recent vintages there is no one defining element of the 2014 vintage. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 you know instantly which one is which because of their specific characteristics. 2014 isn’t like that and as such you can really taste the underlying terroir.”

Becky Wasserman says that she had a real deja vu experience with the 2014 vintage – she thinks it is a reincarnation of 1966, one of the first vintages she was able to purchase on arriving in Burgundy. She had lunch with the Lafarge family in Volnay and told Michel Lafarge about her perception of 2014. He sent Frederic down to the cellar to get a bottle of 1966 Volnay Clos de Chateau des Ducs and they had it with the cheese.  She was right! Anthony Hanson said that it is as rare to have a vintage that can be drunk and with such delight as it is to have a vintage that will last for years and years.

Check out our selection here

The Twilight of Small Family Owned Domaines in Burgundy?

It’s a story that has been told again and again in France ever since Napoleon l.  The head of a successful family dies and the estate is divided equally between all of the children.  It used to be that the eldest son got everything, the second son joined the military, the third the priesthood, the daughters were married off.  If you were the fourth son, well – you might have to work for a local landowner tending his vineyards.

So to this day in Burgundy the vineyards are divided equally between the heirs.  Not everyone wants to be a country winegrower, the work is relentless, unforgiving and at the mercy of capricious weather.  What’s more, almost every successful family want their sons and daughters to have a solid education in something other than this maniacal alchemy of agriculture that is wine growing.

Sometimes the value of the land itself so outweighs the potential return that the family members insist that the vineyards be sold to the highest bidder and let someone else practice this ancient trade of growing grapes and making wine. So alliances are formed within the families and sharecropping deals are negotiated to keep the vineyards in the family while spreading out the risk.

In rare instances a winegrower has the financial wherewithal to buy out his brothers and sisters and keep the domaine intact.  Either that or a decades long loan agreement using the precious vineyard parcels as collateral. Many of the most famous domaines in Burgundy only exist intact through such elaborate financial agreements.  Is this the twilight of the small family owned domaines in Burgundy?  Will everything be bought up by luxury goods firms?  LVMH bought Clos des Lambrays and there was the recent sale of Bonneau du Martray to an American sports magnate.  Is this the future?

Sometimes families sell off most of their vineyards to a prosperous negociant.  Sometimes a little remains and a new generation comes along determined to re-establish the family domaine.  Maxime Cheurlin (grandson of Georges Noellat) and Charles Van Canneyt (grandson of Alain Hudelot-Noellat) are both members of a new generation of winegrowers determined to recreate and maybe surpass their predecessors.  Both are in Vosne Romanee – a tiny village where vineyard land rarely changes hands.  It is the most sought after land in the world and not just agricultural real estate.  It costs more per square foot than anything on the Champs-Elysee in Paris, the Ginza in Tokyo or Madison Avenue.

In March I had the great opportunity to attend the “Trilogie en Cotes de Nuits” tasting at the Chateau du Clos Vougeot.  This is a bi-annual tasting that features the wines of three villages.  This year it was Vougeot, Morey-Saint-Denis and Chambolle Musigny.   Seventy-six properties presented their wines from Maison Ambroise to Domaine Cecile Tremblay.  I stopped at table after table where the latest graduates of the Lycée Viticole in Beaune had taken over and their mark on the wines was stunning – Antoine Amiot-Servelle at Amiot-Servelle, Mathilde Grivot at Domaine Grivot, Charles Lachaux at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Amelie Berthaut at Domaines Berthaut-Gerbet.  These irrepressible new growers have fresh ideas and boundless enthusiasm.

Almost fifteen years ago David Croix, Benjamin Leroux and Cecile Tremblay were the new class graduating from Lycée Viticole.   They have since all put their mark on Burgundy.  David Croix has Domaine des Croix in Beaune and has joined Jean-Marc Roulot in Meursault.  Benjamin Leroux learned from Pascal Marchand at Comte Armand – now both Benjamin and Pascal have their own “micro- negociants” and produce a great variety of red and white wines from throughout the Cote D’Or.  Cecile Tremblay’s family has been buying vineyards for generations and leasing them out on sharecropping contracts.  As these contracts expire she is regaining control of more vineyards, her domaine keeps growing and she now owns vines in four villages including top Premier Cru and three Grand Cru sites.

Handsome and dapper twenty-nine year old Armand Heitz is in a similar situation to Cecile Tremblay, his family owns vineyards that had been leased out, mostly to Joseph Drouhin.  The vines are in top condition.  Armand attended the Lycée Viticole, then spent three years in Switzerland studying enology, chemistry and economics.  His first vintage was 2013.  He already owns a remarkable portfolio of vineyards – Pommard 1er Cru “Clos des Poutures” (Monopole), Pommard 1er Cru Pezerolles,   Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens-Hauts, Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds, Meursault en la Barre, Meursault 1er Cru “Les Gruyaches”,  Meursault 1er Cru “Perrieres”,  Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru “La Maltroye”, Chevalier-Montrachet and a remarkable Bourgogne Blanc “Les Durots” just below the Meursault vineyard of the same name.  It tastes like Meursault.  He also has a negociant license and will make more wine from purchased grapes. His aunt is going to allow him access to the vineyards she has regained control of – Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru “Tete de Clos”, Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Chenevottes”, Meursault Villages.

Armand Heitz - photo credit T. Edwards Wines

Armand Heitz – photo credit T. Edwards Wines

This is a brand new domaine based in Chassagne Montrachet – Armand Heitz is a name to watch.  He was in the same class at the Lycée Viticole with his good friends Nicolas Faure, Amelie Berthaut, Aurelien Gerbais of Champagne and Aurelien Bailly of Bailly-Reverdy of Sancerre.  Along with the aforementioned Maxime Cheurlin, Charles Van Canneyt, Mathilde Grivot and others – this new generation will  renew and invigorate Burgundy a wine growing.

A Short History of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Once upon a time in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, there was a castle that the pope lived in. In the 14th century a castle was built on the hill over the village. This was during the Avignon Papacy when the Pope(s) lived in Avignon rather than Rome. Why? Because French King Philip IV finagled the election of a Frenchman, Clement V to the papacy.

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This new pope was not too popular in Rome and moved to Avignon. The castle (now in ruins) was built for his successor Pope John XXII. The next seven Popes in Avignon did not live in the castle. Over the objections of the French cardinals, Pope Gregory XI had just moved the papacy back to Rome but died shortly after his return. After the Great Schism of the Catholic church in 1378 the antipope Clement VII moved back to the castle for his own protection. This was the beginning of a four decade period when there were two Popes – one in Rome and one in Avignon, which was very confusing for many Catholics – especially in France and Italy! Although Avignon belonged to the papacy – it was in France, and the influence of the King of France, that supplanted the pope’s influence. In the eyes of many the Avignon papacy was blamed for all kinds of misfortune and bad luck – the War of Religion, the Black Death, crop failures and subsequent mass starvation, devil worship, etc…

At the time of the French Revolution, remains of the castle were sold off to multiple buyers and most of the stone was used for building in the village. Only the tower of the Donjon was preserved.  During the Second World War the Donjon was used as an observation post by the occupying German army.  When the Germans were in retreat they tried to destroy the Donjon with dynamite and almost succeeded, though part of the south tower exists to this day.

avignonpapalpalace

95% of the wine produced in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is red.  It can include 13 different grape varieties but is mostly grenache.  I enjoy this wine, especially when it has about 10 – 20 years of bottle age.  They are not “hip” wines; they are high in alcohol and low in acid, and I think they are undeniably delicious wines to enjoy.  We have a great collection of mature, ready to drink and enjoy wines currently in stock. These are decadent and hedonistic wines, maybe just as decadent and hedonistic as the antipope!

Some suggestions from our collection:

Mayard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Clos du Calvaire”, 2013 – $34.99
Clos du Mont Olivet, Chateauneuf du Pape “Petit Mont”, 2014 – $34.99
Clos du Mont Olivet, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2014 – $34.99
Domaine Bois de Boursan,Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2013  – $39.99
Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2013 – $41.99
Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Boisrenard”, 1998 – $64.99
Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel), Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee Centenaire”, 2000  – $89.99
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de mon Aieul”, 2003 – $89.99
Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reservee, 1998 – $94.99 
Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes”, 2003 – $109.99
Bois De Boursan Dom, Chateauneuf Du Pape Cuvee des Felix  2010 – $129.99
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes”, 2000 – $149.99
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Reserve des Deux Freres”, 2001 – $169.99
Le Clos du Caillou, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Reserve le Clos du Caillou”, 2000 – $189.99
Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel), Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee Centenaire”, 1998 – $189.99
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 2001 – $219.99
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve, 2009  – $219.99
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 1.5L, 2000 $229.99
Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1.5L, 2011 – $249.99
Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2006 – $379
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 1.5L, 2001 – $489.99

Nicolas Faure – Legend in the Making

Handsome Nicolas Faure may be a member of the high tech wired-in digital generation but he is a farming purist of the old school.  Nicolas was born in Bordeaux in 1987.  His great-grandfather was a grower in Cotes de Blaye, so was his grandfather.  His father worked at a cooperage and then moved to close to Nancy and opened a wine shop.  Nicolas was exposed to wine at a very young age and started tasting with his father at 14.  He liked the smell of red wine but not the taste, white wine was much easier to understand.

When he started at university he thought he would like to teach athletics and studied for a sports education degree from 2002 – 2003.  He kept thinking about a career in wine and decided he wanted to enroll in the Lycée Viticole in Beaune. At this school he met young winemakers from across France like Aurelien Bailly of Bailly-Reverdy in Sancerre and the Champagne born Aurelien Gerbais and Maxime Cheurlin.  There were many more influential young winemakers from Burgundy in his class – including his future fiancee, Amelie Berthaut.

Nicolas set out to learn as much as he could about winemaking.  In 2007 he did an internship and worked for Agnes Paquet in Auxey Duresses – she taught him how to work in the vineyard, about the rhythm of the seasons and the vigor of the vine plant. He worked for two months pruning with Benjamin Leroux at Comtes Armand in Pommard and six months at Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Then he went abroad to New Zealand to work at the organic, dry farmed Fromm Winery where the owner/oenologist was passionate about wine and taught Nicolas a lot about winemaking.  Then back to France to the Cave Cooperative in Languedoc-Roussillon and in Saint Emilion at Chateau Valandraud.  At every stop he learned more and more – including a lot about styles of wines that he did not want to make.

Then he had the opportunity to work for 12 months for the great Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage.  Working by hand in the steep granite vineyards of Hermitage is really hard physical labor.  He had the fantastic opportunity to do a lot of winemaking at Chave along with some extremely challenging vineyard work on the slope.  Chave taught him about a completely different approach than what is practiced in Burgundy both in the vines and in the cellar.  When he got back to Burgundy he saw the work differently. Jean-Louis Chave is the best, their wines are better than all of their neighbors.  Jean-Louis had shown him another path to excellence.

Returning to Burgundy again he worked for Domaine de la Romanee Conti, this time for for five years, mostly driving a tractor.  Contrary to romantic notion, only part of DRC is plowed by their famous horses.   He then went to work for Frederic Roch at Domaine Prieure-Roch where he works to this day.  Nicolas is always learning about the individual styles of these varying producers but doesn’t want to copy any of them.

After working at all of these different places he has some things that he believes in strongly like never use any herbicide ever.  He is not convinced about no sulphur wines but seems to agree with low sulphur, a little bit at the harvest and just after malolactic fermentation.  He would like to see concrete scientific proof of the principles of biodynamism.  He questions the contrary practice of some strident organic or biodynamic domaines who then use 100% new oak barrels.  He has a refrigerated milk tank that he uses to cool the grapes down and then covers them with CO2 inducing a semi-carbonic fermentation.  He is finding his own individual path to greatness.

This is a very tough, athletic young man about to turn 30 years old. He has been planting vines on the steeply terraced Nuits Saint Georges vineyard “Coteaux du Bois” at the top of the slope.  It is so named because it has been reclaimed from the woods that overgrew the ancient vineyard land.  He was cutting a bent over sapling and it snapped back at him, breaking his nose.  Another time he slipped with the chainsaw and ended up with 17 stitches just below his left knee.  He hopes to have his first harvest from this parcel of Nuits Saint Georges in 2020.  Let’s hope he will remain in one piece.

He works all day, five days a week for other people and for himself at his own domain on nights and weekends.   He wants his domain to stay at the size that it is – one hectare split over 7 climats.   In 2011 he bought his little parcel of Nuits Saint Georges “Les Herbues”.  He owns a parcel of ancient Aligote vines in Pernand Vergelesses not far from Corton Charlemagne.  He owns some Haut Cotes de Beaune that is planted to 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Gouges. (albino pinot noir)  He has parcels in 2 lieu-dits in Aloxe-Corton, Caillets and Valoziere.  Some Coteaux Bourguignons near Nuits Saint Georges is planted to 100% gamay noir a jus blanc, a truly noble grape. He wants to do all of the work himself on his vineyard – the farming, the winemaking – I think he will ask his friends to help with the harvest.  He says that when you have very good balance in the vineyard that a plant with proper pruning in good health that you can achieve perfect ripeness and then you can do do whole cluster fermentation.

The next chapter for Nicolas Faure?   He is to become the vineyard manager for his fiancee Amelie Berthaut of Fixin and Vosne Romanee.   She will be the winemaker and cellar master.  There will be a lot of time spent on the tractor driving between parcels.  Nicolas’ tractor is from 1966 – 21 years older than he is – and it goes 17 kph.  Amelie’s tractor goes 25 kph. I don’t know how old her tractor is.  Considering that 4 new barrels cost him 1500 euros and how long it would take him to get to the top of Nuits Saint Georges from Fixin at 17 kph – perhaps someday a new tractor will be on order for Domaine Faure.  Or maybe a nice used one.

Raise a glass to Hugh Johnson

Flatiron Wines is delighted to announce that the legendary Hugh Johnson will be signing copies of the 40th Anniversary edition of his world-famous Pocket Wine Book at Flatiron Wines NY next Friday, October 14th from 4 to 7 PM.  To celebrate, we will be pouring four splendid English sparkling wines:

Digby Fine English Reserve Brut 2010
Hush Heath Balfour Rose 2011
Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rose 2013
Bolney Estate Blanc de Blanc 2010

Please join us and raise a glass to Hugh!  Who doesn’t want fine sparkling wine on a Friday afternoon?

2014 Chablis from Jean-Claude Bessin

BessinThe big town of Chablis has a population of about 2,500 people. North of Chablis proper is the tiny hamlet of La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne with a population of 100. Jean-Claude Bessin’s house is found there. It is an immaculately preserved little jewel built of local white limestone. Not surprisingly – as he was trained as an architect – everything is very ship-shape.

So are his cellars, nothing is out of place. Some wineries look like a bomb went off, they are studies in chaos, whereas Bessin’s cellar is calm and tranquil. Hoses are coiled, the floors are clean, the barrels in rows just so, like you are onboard a yacht. Jean-Claude married a Tremblay and was given the opportunity to take over his father-in-law’s vineyards in Chablis. His first vintage was 1992.

Jean-Claude is a charming and friendly middle-aged Chablisien winegrower – wiry and fit from working in the rock strewn vineyards. The demanding terroir of Chablis sculpts both the wines and its inhabitants! Very cold in winter, hot in summer, there is an intensity to the place – and to the wines, which taste like liquid rocks.

Jean-Claude farms about 30 acres. Vine age is kept old by replanting only when necessary. Bessin’s wines have real density and put on more weight as they age while retaining their remarkable, distinctive saline and mineral flavors. Most see no new oak; the most is 10%.

2014 is a remarkable vintage for white Burgundy from Macon, through the Cote Chalonnaise and Cote D’Or, all the way up to Chablis. I really think you should buy all of the 2014 White Burgundy while you can and cellar most of it – starting with Bessin.

Cheers, John Truax

Chablis AC – $22.99 – The Chablis AC was planted in 1950-1974-1996 & 2001. This can be drunk now. This is a great vintage to stock up on $20 Chablis.

Chablis AC VV – $27.99 – The Chablis Vieille Vignes is sourced from vineyards planted in 1950 & 1974. You can start drinking now but it will be better with a couple years or so of bottle age.

Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume “La Piece au Comte” $39.99 – Vines planted in the heart of Fourchaume back in 1934. Bessin’s signature wine and a Flatiron favorite. Burghound “Sweet Spot”.

Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur” $59.99 – Jean-Claude claims not to know how old the vines in his 2 hectares of Grand Cru Valmur really are. I found one source that stated his Kimmeridgian clay and limestone vineyard was planted in 1947 – 1962 – 1974 – 1995 & 2000. Only fruit from the oldest vines make it into his bottling of Valmur. If you can – try to keep this for 5 years – or decant. This may be the least expensive Burghound “Don’t Miss!” that you can find from this incredible vintage.

Place and order through items links above or email us at orders@flatiron-wines.com

House Wine: Sancerre Rosé Edition

Back in the early 1980s I ran a wine bar in DC called Suzanne’s. There was the first time I had Sancerre Rosé, and I was immediately struck by how grassy, crisp, and mineral it tasted. So refreshing! Still pretty new to wine, I wondered what grape it was made of…. and was very surprised when I learned that it was 100% Pinot Noir! We had a Valentine’s Day dinner and served Sancerre Rosé with Coulibiac of salmon. It was a big hit!

Sancerre is now virtually synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, but it used to be mostly a red-wine town? It’s true: the Pinot Noir from this special spot of Kimmeridgian soils used to be famous. However, after the American soil louse, phylloxera, hitched a ride over the ocean and ravaged Europe’s vineyards in the 19th century, the Sancerrois favored Sauvignon over Pinot when replanting. Sauvignon took to the grafting onto American rootstock more successfully and is a more prolific producer, so farmers reeling from the phylloxera crisis concentrated their efforts on growing Sauvignon rather than Pinot.

But many growers in Sancerre still have small plots of Pinot vines, and they make some distinctively mineral reds and rosés from them. The rosés in particular show off the mix of limestone, flint, and chalk in the ground. There’s an explosive, fireworks quality to the sharp-edged stoniness and high-toned red fruit qualities of these complex wines that is profoundly delicious. And in a vintage like 2015, with fruit front and center, these are wines that are sure to please everyone, whether you’re at a picnic or a wine night.

Today we feature a list of our favorites all of which can generally be found on the regular in the refrigerators of our own homes.

Cheers, Beaver & Susannah

Dauny Sancerre Rosé Pynoz 2015 $20.99
When you go to Vignobles Dauny there is a big sign on the front of thsancerreroseSMe building proudly proclaiming: “Vignobles Dauny – Culture Biologique.” They have been organic growers since 1964—over 50 years and since long before it was a trend. But it stretches back much further than that: the family has been growing in Sancerre since 1683, always working in traditional methods that nourish their sites and terroir. It light, bright, and crisp with bracing acidity. It is really a perfect summer wine and it is a bargain Sancerre rosé with real breeding.

Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre Rosé 2015 $29.99
The Vacheron cousins also work biodynamically in the village of Sancerre itself. The threads of chalk and flint in the ground here give a special complexity to their rosé. In France, these guys are considered absolute Pinot-masters. We think once you’ve tried this wine you’ll agree.

Gérard Boulay, Sancerre Rosé “Chavignol” 2015 $27.99
From 35- to 40-year-old vines on the steep slopes of Chavignol, Boulay’s vivid rosé is fermented with indigenous yeasts in tank. Considering that only 200 cases are made each year, we are thrilled to have snagged a substantial portion of the production.

Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rosé 2015 $28.99
Ifcrochet rose you’re new to Crochet, this is a great place to start tasting why we’re all fans. This is a
wine that exists in a very important dimension, somewhere below the seriousness of a Rosé from Cotat or Vacheron (although, like those wines, it will be even more mineral and savory in a year, if you can save any) but decidedly more elegant and complex than virtually any other Sancerre Rosé on the market.