John’s Dispatches from Burgundy

A new generation is shaking up Burgundy. Mathilde Grivot, Amelie Berthaut, Charles Lachaux, Charles Van Canneyt have all reinvigorated their family domaines. Then, there are a handful of new producers like Nicolas Faure, Armand Heitz of Heitz-Lochardet and Maxime Cheurlin of Domaine Georges Noellat. It’s hard to believe that another incredibly talented class from the Lycee Viticole de Beaune are now seasoned veterans with many vintages behind them.

This trip I arrived early Friday March 9th on Swiss International to Geneva.  On the same flight was Maxime Cheurlin of Domaine Georges Noellat. He offered me a ride to Beaune – lucky me. Max’s Swiss importer met us at the the airport and drove us through Geneva on a bright Friday morning, around the lakeshore, past the Jet d’Eau and into the hills to a beautiful house in a gated community about 500 meters from the French border. Some very famous and wealthy French people move to Switzerland for tax reasons, this house used to belong to a movie star, the next door neighbor was a former formula one champion.

We had breakfast – just the kind of breakfast you want after a long flight, rich steaming espresso, bread and butter followed by a bottle of 2001 Michel Bouzereau Meursault 1er Cru Charmes and some 24 month old Parma ham. Then, the 36 month old pata negra.  The wine was served blind – we didn’t come close to guessing what it was. I think we might have guessed that it was a white rhone wine, it didn’t seem to have a lot of acidity.

Then it was time to leave for France.  It’s 230 km to Beaune, takes about 2 1/2 hours on the autoroute over the Alps and through Savoie as you descend through the foothills, go straight to Macon, make a right turn and the next stop is the Cote D’Or.  It’s a stunning drive – when it’s not fogged in.  That morning was lovely, clear skies and sunny.  As you go down the Alps there is a particularly exhilarating stretch of elevated highway that passes through soaring limestone cliffs and millions of pine trees, in the valleys below alpine villages with their distinct architecture.  Lots of high pastures full of contented cows.  You can almost taste the Comte. We continued down the foothills, then low rolling hills leading to Macon.  We drove through fields of cereal grains north to Beaune.

Such fantastic roads and beautiful weather would inspire many to drive fast, as many people were that morning. They all passed us.  We stayed in the slow lane. Max is a very cautious driver, he mentioned to me that if he got one more point on his licence it would be revoked until January 1st 2019.  The French authorities are very strict about speeding tickets and if you lose your license it is very difficult to get it back. He has to get through the 2018 vintage.

After a quick stop for gasoline (and an espresso), the remaining drive went by quickly. Maxime dropped me  at my hotel in Beaune and drove to his home/cellars on the Rue des Chaumes in Vosne Romanée.  His backyard is the premier cru vineyard — he actually has a small patch of lawn that would be Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes”, if it were planted with vines.

I saw all of the young growers mentioned above at one or more tastings for the Grand Jours de Bourgogne. There were invitation-only tastings at exporters: some were very fancy, some were after the work day at a winery with other winegrowers invited to present their wines. It was a very busy week for everybody – this was all in addition to their normal duties. Tuesday March 13th was the DIVA tasting at the Chateau de Santenay in the morning (44 wineries) and a buffet lunch. In the afternoon there was an event with 46 Corton growers, then from 5 to 8 it was the “off-grid” tasting at Philippe Pacalet’s cellars at Beaune – 14 producers including Jean-Yves Bizot, Claire Naudin, Mathieu Lapierre, Chanterêves, etc. Everyday was full of tastings morning noon and night – a day in the Cote Chalonnaise, a day in Chablis, and then there was a tasting at the Clos de Vougeot with almost every grower from Vosne-Romanée present.

The following week I got to visit many growers at their wineries including Amélie Berthaut, Nicolas Faure and Maxime Cheurlin.  Here are my notes:

Domaine Berthaut
Amélie Berthaut has a brand new cellar, and she really needed the space. At the old cellar in Fixin there was hardly enough room. Now she has taken over almost all of the vineyards from both her mother’s and father’s sides of the family, she now has just over 13 hectares. Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée, Échezeaux and Clos Vougeot. Lots of work for her vineyard manager and soon-to-be husband Nicolas Faure.  His domaine is only one hectare but he has to do all of that work after his day job.

We tasted in Amelie’s very cool modern poured concrete cuverie + barrel cellar in Fixin. Very nice, no more bumping your head and lots of room for her increased production. She is quite pleased with it.

Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits from on top of Vosne-Romanée, called Concoeur. Very rocky, shallow soils on top of limestone, It is very cold and windy and pruning is hard work. Bright sour cherry – strawberry fruit, sprightly, full of energy, saline, mineral, lip smacking acidity on the finish.  Wine that makes you salivate, wine that makes you hungry, wine to drink now. Very good. Incidentally, this is adjacent to the parcel the Gerbet family rents to Michel Digioia

Fixin AC — very deep topsoil, lots of clay, old vines, 40 years old. Sweet, good rich dark fruit, earthy, lots of mineral, good long finish. Another wine to drink young. Delicious.

Fixin “Les Crais” — a mix of old and young vines vinified separately and blended. Very bright and lively, dark fruits, minerals, earthy, medium-bodied, good powerful finish.

Fixin “En Combe Roy” — Amélie says this is her baby.  Her baby Premier cru. 60 year old vines with very small berries, from a selection massale from Fixin “Clos Napoleon”.

Gevrey Chambertin — bright, pomegranate like fruit, a beautiful tartness and lots of depth, a very layered wine.  Much going on here, will age beautifully, long finish.

Vosne-Romanée — Powerful, tangy, tannic & rich. Very good length, medium bodied, very complex. A lovely Vosne-Romanée from vines in Aux Reas and la Riviere.

Fixin 1er Cru “Les Arvelets” — from a very large parcel of almost 1 hectare. Great fruit and power.  Very tangy with lots of sap. Layers of complexity. Very long finish.  Really illustrates how fine Fixin can be. This will age beautifully if you can keep from drinking it.

Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Cazetiers” — dark cherry fruit, powerful, rich, fine, racy and elegant. Good long finish.

Vosne-Romanée “Les Petits Monts” — she has 1/2 of a hectare of 80 year old vines. “Planted before my grandfather”. It is so steep they have to plow with a winch. She says it’s a very quiet vineyard, maybe because there are no tractors? This has lovely sweet, dark fruit and layers and layers of complexity, very long finish.  It’s one of those wines I hope I can try again.

Clos Vougeot — from the bottom of the Clos but very old vines and good plant material. Nice perfume, good body and weight, complex, earthy, good long finish. Definitely Grand Cru. This is a very good example of this most mysterious grand cru which is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes disappointing. I think that the very best Clos Vougeot combines the perfume of Musigny with the power and spice of Grands Échezeaux.

Domaine Nicolas Faure 

In the minuscule hamlet of Meuilley is the home of Domaine Nicolas Faure – now a full 1 hectare of greatness.  I am very proud to sell his wines and am delighted when someone comes in and notices the distinct label and picks it up. The last fellow was Danish, the one before was French.  Every so often it is a sommelier or server who has heard the message.  Sales of the Nuits-Saint-Georges are limited to two bottles per customer.

These are wines of remarkable purity and persistence of flavor, they are farmed carefully and hand harvested, usually fermented in whole clusters and vinified with minimal sulphur.  He wants to do everything himself and on his own terms, his domaine has grown to 1 hectare and he thinks that is big enough.  I tasted on Monday March 19th.

2017 Aligoté “La Corvee de Bully”.  This wine comes from 100+ year old vines in Pernand-Vergelesses not far from Corton-Charlemagne.  Fresh, bright, white flowers + citrus, saline, good fruit, good balance very mineral.

2017 Coteaux Bourguignons “Mes Gamays” — really stinky and reduced.  Not approachable today.

2017 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Herbues”  — from the Vosne side of NSG below “Aux Saint Jacques” and bordering Vosne Romanee “Aux Raviolles”.  Also reduced but tasteable.  Beneath the stink there is a lot of pure fine big fruit. Something to look forward to next year.

2017 Aloxe-Corton — this is from two vineyard sites at the base of the hill of Corton, Les Paulands and Les Caillettes.  Really pretty with great cherry fruit, a great surprise. Lovely wine.

2016 Coteaux Bourguignons “Mes Gamays” — very concentrated and dense, floral, red fruits – a very good Gamay Noir a jus blanc – a noble grape!

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Herbues”  — this is much more reasonable and giving than the 2017.  Nice crunchy red fruit and a real snap of mineral tanginess, this is a beautiful 2016 that can age nicely if you can hide some away but all of Faure’s wines drink well young, it is very hard not to open and drink them.

2016 Aloxe-Corton — red fruit, complexity, big but light on it’s feet, very nice, very agreeable, user-friendly.  I think I heard the words “airien” and “energie terrible”.  Bravo.

This village level Aloxe-Corton wine is from the most modest climats at the very base of the hill. Les Paulands is one of those vineyards that has village and 1er Cru Aloxe-Corton and Grand Cru.  Bressandes is above and Marechaudes is to the west. It is so damn good it is a testament to Nicolas’ skills as a grower, winemaker and eleveur. One can only imagine the heights he could reach if he had access to some premier cru or grand cru vineyards.  He has farmed many Grand Cru vineyards at Romanee-Conti and Prieure-Roch. He learned how to farm very steep slopes while working for Jean-Louis Chave and it will be interesting to see what he will do with his steep hillside plantings up in the terraces of Nuits Saint Georges. I can hardly wait.

Domaine Georges Noellat with Maxime Cheurlin (Seul proprietaire)

Max Cheurlin is focussed on expanding his holdings.  Like many small producers he also has a micro-negociant, the label reads “Maxime Cheurlin Noellat”.  He bought some Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Feusselottes, some Gevrey Chambertin “Champ”, some Beaune 1ers, a parcel of Meursault, some more Gevrey AC and 1er and he is looking for more.  He wants to make Bourgogne Rouge.  Now that is exciting for me. He loves his work.  He loves wine, he loves food, he loves his dog Lafite. He has boundless energy, his first vintage was 2010, he was twenty years old. I told him that I had some 2012 NSG 1er “Aux Boudots” in the shop and his eyes got wide and he asked me if I would sell them to him.  I asked why and he said he thought that was one of the first really good wines he had made and that he didn’t have any left, he had either sold or drank them all.  I only had 3 bottles left at that point and we both agreed it seemed silly to send them back to France. A passion for wine, indeed.

2016 Hautes Cotes de Nuits — very pretty, fresh and fine – red fruits with nice mineral snap, bracing acidity.  Max’s HCN vines are in Vergy, which is way up above the border of Nuit-Saint-Georges and Vosne Romanee. I like the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits more and more for two reasons;

1. I can afford wine from producers that I usually can’t.

2. These days the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits ripens and the wines are downright user friendly when they used to be mean and acidic.

2016 Beaune 1er Cru “Tuvillans” — from a parcel he splits with Pascal Marchand.  Nice floral aromas, red fruits, good mouthweight – very concentrated because of the 2016 very reduced yields.  This will drink well young.

2016 Gevrey Chambertin “Aux Echezeaux” — nice bouquet, good weight in the mouth. Nice, rich ripe red fruit, good mouth weight, mineral, complex. Long finish. Really delivers for a a village level Gevrey. Again, very concentrated.

2016 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru “Aux Boudots” — very Vosne, very fine. Spice box on the nose. Ripe tannins. Lots of depth, complexity, power – this has everything. He has over a hectare of Boudots and he has a really good touch with this.

2016 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru “Cras” — blackberries and black cherries and plums and five spice powder. Rich and pure and super fine, very Vosne. Super powerful and complex with ripe tannins that seem to melt in the fruit. A remarkable wine.

2016 Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Petits Monts” — a little reduction but not so much that you can’t taste what is underneath.  Black fruits, supple tannin, concentration. I wrote “very Vosne” which is funny because it is Vosne. Such a beautiful mineral, medium bodied but powerful. Super long finish. Elegant.

2016 Vosne Romanée 1er Cru “Beaux Monts” — very fine pure and rich. Mineral, spice, dark fruits, very very long finish. Another super wine

2016 Grands Echezeaux — wow: big and rich and “airien”, a big powerful wine that is light on its feet like a big cat, it has grace and subtlety.

2015 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru “Aux Cras”  — this was pretty, super ripe and forward and tangy.  Very refreshing after the barrel samples.

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