I would never turn down an invitation to taste des Grands Crus de Bourgogne. I would not hesitate to partake in a free for all of Premiers Crus. If the call came to experience the village heart and the regional soul of Burgundy’s Appellation wines, I would run, not walk to the show.
So, that’s what I did. At the gracious invitation of The Siren Group and Sopexa Canada Ltée I attended the One Bourgogne Wine event at Hôtel Le Germain, along with François Labet, Burgundy viticulture pioneer and chairman of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) and Communication Commission. Mr. Labet expounded on terroir; from climats to lieux-dits. Burgundy is a geographical and geological landscape of Jurassic age and proportion. Its heritage is ancestral and has been shaped by twenty centuries of activity. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) acts as its guarantor of quality, of terroir, production methods and what typifies the most famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir anywhere on the planet.
The Bourgogne event was presented and moderated by Master Sommelier and WineAlign principal critic John Szabo. At the heart of the presentation was the regional diversity that defines real and affordable Burgundy. Mr. Szabo’s chosen wines delved deeper into the soul of the village and regional appellations beyond the Côte de Nuits and the most iconic parts of the Côte de Beaune. Textbook examples from Chablis to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais were chosen to offer a true representation of the immensity that is the region.
The lunch that followed by way of Hôtel Le Germain’s Victor Restaurant was a reconnect for me and the cuisine of Chef David Chrystian. I first encountered chef’s raw and rooted flavours when he assuaged the Garlands at Café Societa on College Street. I remember with fond confusion his earthly layering foiled by the sterile mall, futuristic canvas of the Colonnade (Patriot). After Chef Anthony Rose left the Drake it was dead to me so mistakenly missed Chrystian’s lauded stint. Thanks to the Siren Group for luring me to Victor to reconnect with Chef David Chrystian once again.
Here are notes on the 15 wines poured and discussed at One moment, one Bourgogne wine.
Canonical Chablis by the hands of independents. Family farmed and fruit fastidiously judged in timely picking and traditional vinification methods. Produced in allegiance to regional typicity, its nose is pierced by limestone’s necessary metallic tang. Apple tart yet ripe and balanced by plumbic weight. Proper, enjoy it all summer long, Chablis. @ProfileWineGrp
La Chablisienne alone represents nearly 25 per cent of the region’s plantings. The orchard’s juicy fruit brings expression to this Chablis though it’s more savoury than many and it’s document is read in an angular accent. That and patina transposing into aroma, like the smell of a wet, platinum pipe breaching the fruit’s ability to flesh out. Lubricant at the pipe’s elbow and a moment of quince, even melon, offer weight. This is very good but lacks heft and only shows fossilized mineral on the back palate. Good length but a bit carbonic and needs more flesh and bone to elevate its stratus. Tasted twice, October 2013 and April 2014 @purechablis
Jadot’s Bourgogne Blanc is so essential it calls itself Chardonnay. From a vintage in which weather wreaked some havoc and fruit maturity was anything but consistent, the Jadot enterprise found a continued way to get it right, no small feat considering the quantity of triage required for a wine of such quantity. This entry-level white made full use of the warm summer heat, picking was clearly done in advance of the October chill and sorting found the right mix. It’s buttery, nut-browned and figuratively bubbly. The thick and rich texture is key to romancing the fruit into a riper realm than it likely really is. Commendable success from Jadot. @ljadot
Simple, pleasant, solid and effective Chardonnay. A true and literal portrayal of the Bourgogne goût de terroir. Warm, gently expressed fruit along with requisite mineral, chalk and lime. Made of a quick resolve to satisfy, quench and move on. An open door to true Chardonnay with nothing shocking, striking or problematic. @JDrouhin
Domaine Jaeger Defaix Rully 1er Cru, Mont-Palais 2011, Burgundy, France (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)
From the holdings of Chablis specialist Bernard Defaix, the domain’s variegated clay/chalk vineyards are located in the south of Côte de Beaune. The Mont-Palais vineyard comes from the Niepce family, winegrowers since the 16th century. Now managed by Hélène Jaeger-Defaix, this Rully is utterly unique to Chardonnay. There is a steely, patina Chablis quality to it, but also a concentration in magnetic aroma, whirling in an unstoppable centrifuge, not yet ready to spill those aromas forth. Screams both southern and cool climate, new world Chardonnay, in forward ways like South Africa and like Niagara on the Lake. Not to mention a silty, white salinity. Roger Wilco that. “There’s a light, what light. There’s a light, white light.” @liffordnicole
From 45-70 year old vines, from clay and limestone (Marls). Really, really smart, succulent and mathematical Chardonnay. A stony example who’s tangent space is complexified by a vector of gritty, spiked leaden aromas, like lime, ginger and lemon zest but also by a second vector of herbiage, as in torn, sweet basil leaf. Length stretched by a scalar multiplication, engaging another consideration. Would such a fine example not benefit, at least in theory, from a Premier Cru classification? Surely the winemaker and the vintner would abide.
The famous “Cras” climat on the windy and chalky plateau of Beauregard means “chalk” in the local dialect. Not surprisingly, the chalky mineral impart takes centre stage and the oak treatment fleshes the fruit out in the early stages of the wine’s life. This Pouilly Fuissé solicits attention, love and engagement. An example in clarity of débourbage, the strict sorting technique employed before pressing. Exuberant fruit acts as if it were of a higher caste, a higher Cru. This is a testament to treatment, to extreme minerality. This makes the expression. A very good vintage, ready to consider and expect it to keep on seducing to at least 2020.
The quality of Girardin’s Chassagne Montrachet is clear, the age and maturity of the vines explicitly noted. There is an increased sense of depth and density that clearly required attention and coaxing. The 14-month, scaled down (15 percent) new oak barrel concept pushes substance to the forefront and wood to the rear. This is rich without being fat, textured but not splintered. The stirred lees add layers to the essentia, accruing a woven tapestry of phenols, lunar-driven gravity and anaerobic activity. Tasted twice, January and April 2014 @HalpernWine
The thought here is catholic Burgundy, entry-level, old-school, from antiquity and for the people. Smells like and tastes like grand-père’s Bourgogne Rouge. Cherry fruity, dare I say, Gamay like and marked by tannin that doubles the astringency on the drying finish. Nothing scandalous and well-plundered.
Domaine Thénard Givry 1er Cru Cellier aux Moines 2008, Burgundy, France (Agent, $32.50, WineAlign)
The Thénard family has owned land in Givry since 1760 and this Cellier aux Moines vineyard dates to 1258, named by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Ferte. This is iconic 1er Cru for Givry, from relatively old vines (35-40 years) on a single plot, in mid-slope of southern exposure. Straight out notes of sinew, stem and savour. Esses all around. A vegetal and rustic infirmity comes across and travels through the wine as you work with it. Smells oddly like…hemp. Or perhaps it’s a more delectable weed than that, like rapini, or dandelion. The charred back-end scent reminds of a just extinguished joint. The flavours are dubious, maritime and of the antediluvian earth. For the brave Burgundy heart. Perhaps five to 10 years will soften its edges, peel away the foreign matter and allow a hidden fruit purity to shine.
If today is the day to splurge on red Burgundy but crossing to the dark side of the VINTAGES section is not going to happen, take comfort in this LCBO general (Signature) listing. Dictionary entry actually, but also something funky this way Beaunes. Produced from a whole whack (17 parcels) of Premier Cru, the animal is strong but decidedly feminine. Clear, precise, distinct perfume with each swirl and replayed with every sip. Like raspberries and the sweet smell of the trodden earth after the dew subsides. Could drink this for breakfast with organic bacon post morning stroll and before a dreamy nap.
Maison Roche De Bellene Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 2010, Burgundy, France (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)
So very primary, this Beaune, from the work of Nicholas Potel and winemaker Matt Chittick. Some of Les Grèves vines are nearly 110 years-old and there is clear wisdom beyond the edgy, masculine fruit. Those vines are selected for selection massale, a propagation technique that breeds perpetual health and consistency of style for present and future wines. A different sort of animal resides in this one, of musk, and mineral. Like the Beaune equivalent to traditional Brunello. Yet this Beaune from a very desirable vintage is nimble, moves with quick steps and cat-like reflexes. @RochedeBellene
The funk in this Pommard is unflappable, modish, flirting and so elevated in stained high-acid and tone. Incredibly tight and sour upon sour. A strenuous Pinot Noir to ponder and even harder to ignore. If the tasting were to last for hours into the afternoon I could imagine a resurgence but often the old adage is true. If it isn’t there to begin with, it will never be. Would like to look ahead and say “it’s not what it was before,” but this is either lacking fruit or it’s just so far away. The texture is plush, the mouthfeel aching, breaking hearts. Mineral, astringent long finish. Tough as nails. Tasted twice, November 2013 and April 2014
Aurélien Verdet Morey Saint Denis ‘En La Rue De Vergy’ 2010, Burgundy, France (353416, was $44.95, now $36.25, WineAlign) From a storied vineyard just above the very famous Clos Du Tart in the Côte de Nuits. This producer may not be a household name for its holdings in this Burgundy plot but step aside Bruno Clair, Lignier-Michelot and Pascal Marchand. Verdet can handle the terroir of Morey-St.-Denis. Was and still is an unexpected gem. Rich, textured, layered cran-raspberry and earthy flavours. Persistent though sweet and engaging tannins. From my earlier, September 2013 note. “Noses my kind of MSD aromatics. Soft vanilla, black cherry, smoke and obdurate limestone toughness. Coated in fine, tinny tannin and stretchy length, this represents big value for the appellation.” Last tasted April 2014
Daniel Rion & Fils Vieilles Vignes Nuits St Georges 2011, Burgundy, France (356600, $53.95, WineAlign) Classic and as representative as it gets for the appellation, this is firm, time-honoured Burgundy. The old vines, the earth beneath its tendrils and the medieval forest are all in the glass. Though terse and tense, this Pinot Noir will come around to fill glasses with humanistic pours 10 to 15 years down the road. That extended wait will be needed to integrate the earthiness into the formidable tannins so that the lurking red fruit can rise to the top. A fine example with a model, lengthy finish.
Good to go!