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Four Valuable Lessons about Burgundy


I love the wines of Alexandrine Roy (daughter of Marc Roy, who gives her domaine its name) mostly because they taste so good, but also because they teach us some valuable lessons about Burgundy.

2012 Domaine Marc RoyLesson 1: Producer, Producer, Producer.

Alexandrine owns only village level vines in Gevrey Chambertin. There is no Clos de Beze or even premier cru vineyards in her property. Yet her wines are definitely worth seeking out. And this is mostly because of the excellence of the domaine as a producer. It is not that she has a magic recipe that she employs in her wine-making. She would probably describe her approach in the winery in much the same way as you would hear from any number of good Burgundians: 100% destemming, minimal intervention, conservative use of oak, a "light touch". It is not this recipe that makes her a great wine-maker. Instead, it is her intuition: the little decisions that she constantly has to make during the whole process, and that will vary each year based on the character of the grapes, the timing of the harvest, the temperature outside, and many other little things that most of us never think of. It's when you add up all these little decisions and get a great result that you call it great wine-making.

Lesson 2: It's all about farming.

Yes, great wine is made in the vineyard. Those little intuitive decisions that Alexandrine makes every year in the winery are important, but nothing like the importance of what she does in her vineyards. And in the vineyard, Alexandrine is, well, obsessive. She has only four hectares -- tiny even by Burgundian standards -- and is a one-woman team, doing everything herself. This means getting to know each and every vine in her holdings and then harvesting them herself by hand. It is a lot of work, but it means that she brings into her winery the very best possible grapes that her vines can produce, and nothing is more important to the quality of wine.

Lesson 3: Vine age matters.

As vines age, they become less productive. The berries that are made tend to be small and highly concentrated. Also, the roots grow deeper. Some believe that this enhances the ability of the vines to transmit characters of the terroir into the berries. Others focus on the ability of deeper roots to better manage water. Whatever the science, in tasting the wines it is clear: old vines are very very important when it comes to quality Burgundy production. With older vines, you get more mid-palate density and finer tannins tannins on the finish. As the wines age, they seem more capable of developing layers of nuance. Drink a young vines Cuvee side by side with an old vines Cuvee from the same terroir, with the same wine-making, and the difference will be clear. In Burgundy, when vines get really old, they seem to me to start producing grapes that are up one level, so that wines from really old village wines will drink like premier crus, and so on.

Well, Roy is blessed with some very old vines indeed. Her "entry-level" wine -- the Gevrey VV, comes from 50-70 year-old vines. Her new plot in the lieu-dit of Justice has 70-year old vines. One special thing about old vines: they more commonly produce "shot berries" (what the French call millerandage) -- berries within a bunch that never achieve full size. These berries are blessed with unusually good concentration. At harvest, Alexandrine visits all her vines and hand harvests only the shot berries. She then bottles the wine it makes as a separate cuvee, "Cuvee Alexandrine". It makes what is simply the most extraordinary village Gevrey Chambertin you will find.

Lesson 4: Not everybody knows these lessons. Take advantage.

People are obsessed with names. They want wines that say Grand Cru or Premier Cru on the labels. They want famous producers. The smart shopper will look beyond the names and consider the lessons above. They will look at details like vine age and attention to detail in the vineyards. If they do, they will come across the wines of Marc Roy, and discover some of the best values coming from Gevrey Chambertin.

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