Simply mentioning the word Burgundy is enough to raise the blood pressure of most serious wine lovers. In eastern central France, two hours west of Switzerland, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The saying that “All roads lead to Burgundy” makes geographic sense and also logically refers to the path most often followed by those who commit their life to the pleasures of fine wine. Since Burgundy has more documented subplots and appellations than any other wine region on earth, the rewards are endless for those who do their homework. What follows is a guide to Burgundy’s various subregions, a bit of history, and a few words on its current state of affairs.
The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” This thirty-five-mile-long, gentle slope composed of limestone and clay is probably the most valuable piece of wine real estate in the world. The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections: the Côte de Nuits between Corgoloin and Dijon is the northern sector, named after the principal village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the Côte de Beaune runs south from Ladoix-Serrigny to Maranges and is (of course) named after the Burgundian capital of Beaune. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
While the Côte d’Or is the most famous part of Burgundy, three other major areas complete its scope. Chablis, roughly eighty-three miles northwest of Beaune along the route to Paris, is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. (The same soil type is found in the Aube area of southern Champagne and farther west in Sancerre.) Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian. The wines of the Montanet family are our proud representatives of this wonderful part of Burgundy. This northern area of Burgundy that includes Chablis and Vézelay, among other appellations, is also known as the Yonne, after its main river.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end (just south of Chassagne-Montrachet) down past Chalon-sur-Saône, from which this area takes its name. The Chalonnaise encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north—known for the Aligoté grape—followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny. Mercurey and Givry are the Pinot Noir strongholds, whereas Rully and Montagny are largely planted to Chardonnay.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise near Tournus begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The next village moving south is Saint-Amour-Belleville, the northernmost village of the Beaujolais. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils. There is serious excitement and value to be found here.
A brief note on the Beaujolais: while the region of Burgundy encompasses the northern part of the Beaujolais around La Chapelle de Guinchay (including the cru of Saint-Amour and parts of the crus of Moulin-à-Vent and Chénas), the majority of the Beaujolais—with its predominantly granite soils where the Gamay grape reigns king—is in Rhône and is excluded from this overview.
The proud region of Burgundy, whose rich history stretches back to the fifth century ad, is currently being buffeted by the forces of change. Two pressures are particularly significant. The first is climate change, which is delivering volatile weather in the form of early bud break followed by ravaging spring frosts and then by violent hailstorms in June and July. This meteorological upset is happening with a consistency that the vignerons and their forebears have never known, and it has devastated their vineyards and put them in severe financial difficulty. Mother Nature’s vagaries have led to the second major disruption: outside investment.
The stalwart Burgundian families who have been the stewards of their land for centuries and have passed along their savoir faire from generation to generation are in danger of losing the ground beneath their feet. Land prices are skyrocketing, tax and inheritance laws are penalizing, and the cost of the real estate in the overwhelming majority of cases cannot be recuperated in the price of their wine. The current model is not sustainable for this great Burgundian lineage of vignerons. The only thing we as merchants can do to combat these powerful forces is to support our independent growers by paying them a price for their wine that allows them to hold onto their land, cede it to their children, and endure the storms that seem to come every year now. (And we all should do our part to combat climate change.) Believe me, the cost of running a small domaine in Burgundy with sustainable viticulture is incredibly high, and these growers are not living high on the hog.
The Savarys are a family of no-nonsense vignerons—they take nothing for granted and understand that mastery of their craft comes through hard work in the vines and cellar all year round, no matter what challenges nature may throw their way. This 2015 exemplifies the reason we have imported their Chablis for more than twenty-five years: a pure product of terroir and vintage, it is a direct translation of one year’s worth of sunshine, rain, wind, heat, and cold viewed through a limestone lens. These winemakers brilliantly capture the essence of ripe Chardonnay from stony soils.
And finally, we have the grand cru from the Lavantureux family of Lignorelles. Denser and deeper than the two wines above, it boasts an additional dimension on the palate, perhaps due to the partial barrel fermentation, which allows distinct layers of flavor and texture to develop. At its core lies a firm, but not impenetrable jolt of acidity that keeps the suggestions of fragrant white flowers, crispy apple and pear, and oyster shell in sharp focus. Don’t forget to lay down a few bottles for your future self.
Valentin refers to this wine as “typique” Vézelay. Translating that word as “typical” doesn’t quite do typique justice. Essentially, the concept refers to a wine that, based on the history and legacy of a region’s terroir and winemaking, shows the best that style has to offer. Perhaps “classic” is what we’d say in English. The Galerne is typique because it is a blend of many parcels from all across the Vézelay appellation. If you visit Valentin, he’ll give you a tour of the hillside town of Vézelay and the abbey that marks the high point of the hill. From there you can see the expanse of Vézelay, and he’ll point out his different parcels—each one unique, from east to west, with varying elevations and exposures. The result is a fine and balanced Chardonnay, expressing the right amount of fruit, crisp acidity, and limestone minerality to remind you precisely where this wine is from.
This red Burgundy hails from the far north of the Côte de Nuits, from steep hillsides above the southern part of the city of Dijon. Development along Dijon’s southern flank has actually begun to encroach upon its historical vineyard sites. These sites are highly regarded and in the right hands can reach premier cru–level quality. I still have one bottle of Régis’s stunning 2005 en Montre Cul. I hope to be even more patient with this 2015.
Don’t get lost in the hype of the 2015 vintage and miss all that the 2014 vintage has to offer—particularly from hands as talented as Bertrand and Denis Chevillon in Nuits-Saint-Georges. The Chevillons are known for a few things: a style of Nuits with finesse that prevails over structure, a total commitment to the appellation with holdings in most of its best crus, convincing consistency from year to year, and incredible aging potential. There are not a lot of “no-brainer” purchases in Burgundy, but this is definitely one of them.
From a great site in the prime saddle of mid-slope land between Gevrey and Morey, Boillot’s Corbeaux is a quintessential Gevrey-Chambertin experience, decidedly old school. Thanks to his partial full-cluster fermentations in open-top cuves and his use of old barrels for aging, nothing ever gets in the way of the expression of each of his terroirs. Les Corbeaux 2013 shows smooth, silky fruit, solid structure, and tannins that are all finesse. This graceful, harmonious wine will give much pleasure young and old.
We went long on the 2011 vintage, the bicentennial year for this domaine that continues to inspire all of us here at KLWM. Now we can offer it with some proper bottle age. Blagny is Meursault’s highest-altitude appellation and benefits from a unique microclimate. Kermit discovered Blagny at François Jobard’s place in the 1970s and has always had a weak spot for it: you’ll understand why when you taste this bottle. Soaring aromatics and a deeply stony depth are two things you can expect. A long life in your cellar is another.
Lumpp is a specialist in the terroirs of Givry, located in the southern end of the Châlonnaise, and takes immense pride in proving to his neighbors farther north that Givry is capable of producing great white wine. From his highest-altitude white vineyard, this Chardonnay shows its origins faithfully with a bright, chalky personality full of energy and thirst-quenching savor.
Knowing that the Mâcon has a reputation as a more “casual” winemaking region than its northern counterpart in Burgundy, you might assume that the wines are somehow lesser or more simple than the storied whites of Chablis or the Côte de Beaune, but you would be doing yourself a disservice. This Saint-Véran is a serious wine—seriously delicious! More-than-fifty-year-old vines running through limestone and clay produce a wine that offers a creamy and luscious mouthfeel intertwined with a dry, stony minerality. Its aromas of sweet mandarin, lime leaf, and a hint of spice suggest a refreshing adult Creamsicle—perfect with summer sunshine and picnic fare or even a more elegant meal. While Les Pommards may be ignored by hard-line Meursault or Chassagne drinkers, you can do no better than to stock your cellar with this undervalued yet exceptionally worthy and genuinely charming jewel.
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