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Red Burgundy is inextricably linked to the grape that once grew wild in its forests, later tamed and propagated by Cistercian monks in the middle ages: the legendary and noble Pinot Noir. However, on the far northern tip of Burgundy, in the pastoral hills around Vézelay, there remain a few scattered acres of another red grape, curiously referred to as “César” by the locals. Legend has it that this grape was first introduced to this particular area when Caesar himself marched his soldiers there to face down and conquer the Gauls once and for all at the battle of Alésia. After a long siege and brutal battles, Caesar went home triumphant, with the Gallic leader Vercingetorix in a cage as his prize. He left behind not only fields of the red grape we call César today, but also a local populace with newly learned skills of vine-growing and winemaking. While the legend may seem tall, recent DNA testing has shown that this far-away-from-home grape is a cousin to Barbera from Piedmont in Italy. Only a few small pockets of it remain in northern Burgundy, where it is blended with Pinot Noir. Fortunately for us, La Cadette is one of those lucky few who give us a chance to sip this wonderfully rustic and brambly blend with hints of ancient history and intrigue. After not being able to produce this bottling for two vintages due to lower-than-normal yields, Valentin Montanet has delivered an exquisite 2018. The Ermitage parcel in Vézelay, co-planted with both César and Pinot Noir, offers an unexpected marriage that works surprisingly well. The César adds an element of dense, dark fruit and tannic structure, while the fresh, bright, and lively Pinot Noir provides fluidity and high-toned aromatics. The result is a beautiful Cadette rouge with a bit more structure and plenty of pleasure.
When Jean and Catherine Montanet planted their first vineyards in 1987, the fruit was destined for vinification in their very own cave coopérative, which saw its first vintage bottled in 1990. As general manager of the business, Jean quickly found his feet as a capable vigneron.
Unable to fully express themselves as vignerons at the coop and determined to continue working organically, the Montanets finally split off and founded their own label, Domaine de la Cadette, taking their vineyards with them. Their son Valentin joined them in 2010 and now manages the domaine, espousing his parents' philosophy of organic farming and natural vinification to craft refreshing, mineral-driven whites and reds.
In eastern central France, 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 southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections, both composed of limestone and clay soils: the Côte de Nuits in the northern sector, and the Côte de Beaune in the south. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
Chablis is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end, down past Chalon-sur-Saône and encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north, followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils.
When buying red Burgundy, I think we should remember:
1. Big wines do not age better than light wine. 2. A so-called great vintage at the outset does not guarantee a great vintage for the duration. 3. A so-called off vintage at the outset does not mean the wines do not have a brilliant future ahead of them. 4. Red Burgundy should not taste like Guigal Côte-Rôtie, even if most wine writers wish it would. 5. Don’t follow leaders; watch yer parking meters.
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