BURGUNDY BARGAIN HUNTER: EPISODE 1

Named for the 300-year-old Southern Burgundy village in which it is located, Monthelie-Douhairet was run by the Douhairet family for many years.  In 1989, Madame Douhairet asked renowned winemaker André Porcheret to take charge and added his name to the domaine.  One of the great figures in Burgundy during the past half-century, André was the cellar manager at the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at the newly created Domaine Leroy from 1988–1993. He returned to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and since 1989, he has also been overseeing Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret’s 15 acres, mainly in the Côte de Beaune appellations of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Monthelie.

Located between Volnay and Auxey Duresses set back a bit from the main route through Burgundy, this is one of those spots that has a solid history but only hits the high notes in top vintages.  For a winemaker like Porchoret in a warm year like 2015, the sweet red fruits pulled all of the minerality and earth notes together within one elegant presentation.  The Monthelie Douhairet Porcheret Monthelie 1er Cru Les Duresses 2015 presents dusty cherries, a bit of mulberry, and some subtle stony minerality underneath.

What a vintage like 2015 does is provide the additional flesh and weight that this area usually is a little short on, which changes the whole dynamic of the wine.  And, with the less exalted reputation of the region overall, there is an upper limit to what vintners can charge,  making the price something of a bargain.  In truth this producer has been a go-to in warmer vintages here for several years now.   A fine effort.

HILLTOP STAR: Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee des Ambassades 2016

There is more than just a passing resemblance between the label on Paul Jambon’s lengthily titled Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Côte de Brouilly and one of our benchmark sources from the Cote de Brouilly, Domaine Thivin.  There is a whole lot of history as well as one of the more intriguing new (to us) discoveries in the world of Beaujolais.  Now none of the folks here are newcomers, nor are they another of the wave of vintners from the Cote d’Or that have taken a recent interest in these southern Burgundy vineyards.  This estate was acquired by the Jambon Chanrion family around the time of the American Civil War (1861).

The Thivin estate had already been around for quite a while, tracing its roots back to the 14th Century, and possibly the 12th.   Fast forward a little to shortly after the First World War when Pavillon de Chavannes’ history became intertwined with that of Château Thivin.  When Yvonne Chanrion married Claude Geoffray, he controlled Thivin, then a small estate, via inheritance. Yvonne brought with her one-third of her family’s highly regarded vineyards as an inheritance, and later she acquired her sister’s one-third as well.

Over the years, Yvonne and Claude added to Thivin’s holdings with other land purchases, but the couple never bore children. Yvonne outlived her husband.  Upon her death in 1987, the sisters’ original two-thirds inheritance reverted to Paul Jambon of the Jambon-Chanrion family, along with fifty percent of the land Yvonne and Claude had purchased subsequently over the course of their marriage.  Chavannes de Pavillon was now a new expanded entity.  The Art Deco wine label, created in the 1930s, was a product of Yvonne and Claude’s marriage. After Yvonne’s death and the restoration of the Chavannes’ vineyards, this label became joint property of both Thivin and Chavannes, and now it is used by both domains under their respective names.

Cool stuff, great story, but as you know we wouldn’t be telling it if there wasn’t some pretty serious wine as a part of the latest chapter.  Mont Brouilly is a unique spot, rising to a height of 1,587 feet all by its lonesome like  an old volcanic thumb sticking out of a plain.  The Romans cultivated vines on its flanks, and almost certainly vines to one degree or another have been raised on its steep sides ever since.  Paul Jambon grew up here and is now making some impressive wine in the ‘old way’.

Today Pavillon de Chavannes consists of 37 prime acres on Mont Brouilly and Paul and Betty Jambon make two cuvées from separate vineyards. The top wine is this one, Cuvee des Ambassades, which comes from 12 acres of Paul’s best parcels.  The name ‘cuvee Ambassades’ (ambassadors cuvee) is rather a literal one as this Cote de Brouilly is purchased by the Quai d’Orsay for use in French embassies around the world. It is the last wine to be bottled by the estate in a given vintage and it is the most age-worthy.

The Cote de Brouilly is all about the blue granite that is laced with volcanic porphyry, or crystallized mineral deposits.  The Cote de Brouilly appellation refers only to the higher, better-ripening parcels (the rest is simply labeled Brouilly) on the upper part of the hill.  Within those parameters, Paul’s holding are the highest and the steepest in this elevated appellation.  As we touched on earlier, this is a very old school Beaujolais stylistically in the best sense.

Traditional winemaking allows this concentrated wine to showcase pure, intense red-leaning-to-black fruits with hints of spice and plenty of the granite minerality for which this particular ‘rock’ is known.  There is plenty of gushing fruit here, almost like a 2015, but the fruit has a cooler profile, more lift to the fruit and brighter flavors.   A recent change in the cellar (circa the 2015 vintage) has been to rack this wine in stainless steel instead of old foudres which keeps the fruit all that much fresher.  The Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly Cuvee des Ambassades 2016 is classic Beaujolais that wants to be Burgundy, and it delivers on that promise.  Mouth-filling and delicious, you can drink it now or, like most of the top wines from the ‘Cote’, it will age as well.  Yet at $19.98 it definitely won’t break the bank.  It’s an exceptional find and a lot of wine for the d’argent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Serious’ Beaujolais from Joseph Drouhin

For even as long as we have been in the wine game, we can still get surprised.  Perhaps not as often, mind you, mind you, but it still happens. Last year we reported on the inaugural releases for the new Beaujolais project from Burgundy powerhouse Joseph Drouhin. Given the wines success in that that opening offer, we were anxious to see where the path lead, particularly given the fact that Drouhin’s next releases were from the amazing 2015 vintage.

Last go around with Drouhin, however, we ran across something we had never seen before, three site-designated Cru Beaujolais.  As always, we check the stuff out.  It’s our job, but we really didn’t know anything about these wines and had no expectations back then. There’s a pretty cool story to go along with these classy Beaujolais.

The Hospices de Belleville (a hospital) opened in 1773 to take care of the poor and the sick in the region.  The Hôtel-Dieu of Belleville benefited right from its construction from charitable donations from generous benefactors hoping for the salvation of their souls (kind of like the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy). Today, the hospital has retained ownership of the 14 hectares of vineyards across Fleurie, Brouilly, and Morgon.  As of the 2014 vintage, the Hospices has entrusted Maison Joseph Drouhin with the production and the marketing of their wines under their name “Hospices de Belleville.”

After last year’s fantastic opening salvo we were most excited to see what we got in a critically acclaimed vintage like 2015.  The 2014s as a group impressed, got good reviews, and generally hit all the right buttons.  We found the 2015s to be pretty remarkable as well, but not necessarily what we expected stylistically.  In a vintage that was generally about as subtle as a strumpet, the Drouhin versions came off more like great Burgundy with refined structure and perfectly measured fruit.

If you are looking for something gregarious to drink in the short-term, that is a somewhat different matter.   If instead you are looking for something that you can cellar and pull out down the road that emulates the structure and complexity of a fine Burgundy, and didn’t cost you a small fortune, this one plays that hand beautifully.

We first tasted this wine several months ago and our impression at the time was that this one had ‘all the right stuff.’  But our feeling was that, from the standpoint of marketing, this one was going to be much better with a little time in the bottle.  It is interesting to note that the reviews for this wine, from people who aren’t necessarily inclined to pass out big scores, spanned nearly a year (December, 2016, April, 2017, and December 2017) and were noticeably better at each juncture.

Once again the talents of the Drouhin team and this very special dirt combined to make something very special.  We chose to focus specifically this time on the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015.  Drouhin has done Belleville proud again here, and the Fleurie expresses the individual terroir of this Beaujolais Cru.  All the wines are crafted in a Burgundian style, using 500 liter barrels and only a small amount of carbonically macerated fruit.  The Fleurie comes from three separate parcels owned by the Hospices totaling 6.4 hectares.

There seems to be a rare accord among the critics with regard to the Drouhin wines in general, and the Joseph Drouhin Fleurie Hospices de Belleville 2015 in particular.  James Suckling was concise, “ This is very linear and refined with beautiful tannins and minerality. Medium-bodied, very pretty and focused. Tight and polished. Serious… 93 points”

From Alan Meadows, aka Burghound,”A similar if slightly more elegant nose that is a bit spicier if less earthy introduces notably finer middle weight flavors that possess a velvety texture before terminating in an impressively persistent finish. This is really very good and a wine that could be enjoyed young or aged for a few years to good effect…92 points ♥” (the ♥ is an extra ‘bonus’ tout from Burghound for wines with a special appeal).

Finally, from last December, Vinous’ Josh Raynolds offered, “Vivid ruby. Very fresh and expressive on the nose, offering intense cherry and red berry liqueur qualities and a smoky mineral overtone. Shows very good freshness and thrust on the palate; vivacious raspberry and bitter cherry flavors become sweeter on the back half. Displays excellent clarity and delineation and closes long and sweet, featuring lingering red fruit character and harmonious tannins…92 points.”

The testimony is voluminous, the promise of this nascent project clear, and the potential of this particular bottling for both the glass and the cellar clearly evident.

 

 

 

 

 

Great, well-priced, go-to Beaujolais…we got that

As a store that has been heavy into the Beaujolais game for more than a quarter century, it is interesting to note how much more interest the genre gets now than it did a couple decades ago.  The thing it that most of that attention is devoted to the ‘cru’ level wines and folks like Liger Belair and Desjourneys who are trying to shake the traditional foundations of Beaujolais.

If you are looking for the classic, juicy, versatile example of Beaujolais, there are plenty of them out there, particularly from special vintages like 2015 and 2016.  Unfortunately they are usually the entry level wine of some producer’s hierarchy and, because they are usually overshadowed by those ‘upper cuvees’, are less likely to get the kind of reviews that will inspire buyers.

Market mechanics are a big part of the equation to be sure.  But one of the producers that has been a part of our lineup by virtue of a consistent juiciness and engaging personality to their wines is Domaine de Colette.  These guys make that fruit driven, in-your face style that will make friends and influence people…in other words classic Beaujolais.  The 2016 shows pure, ripe Gamay with very specific flavors that sit atop beautifully measured tension that gives this wine an uncommon energy along with a pleasing core of fruit.

The comments from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds on the Domaine de Colette Beaujolais Villages Coteaux de Colette 2016 are very positive, “Vivid red. Spicy, mineral-accented red berry and floral scents, along with a hint of white pepper. Juicy and focused on the palate, offering tangy red currant and strawberry flavors and a touch of allspice. Unfolds slowly, picking up a subtle floral pastille quality on the gently tannic, focused finish.’   But perhaps on a more mundane level, if you are looking for a well made, fruit driven, really pleasing Beaujolais, Colette has been a good source for us for a long time and this is a particularly good example.  Great price for the performance!

Paul Aufranc: Beaujolais in its own World

This marks the third vintage we have carried from Pascal Aufranc, one of the most distinctive Beaujolais producers we have run across.  It all started with four acres of vines in the now emerging village of Chenas (the estate is now up to 10 ha.).  The old vines for this cuvee sit at the top of a granite hill called En Remont topped with sand at a little over 1000 feet elevation.

Besides the extreme vine age (yes, they were planted in 1939) and unique exposure (south and south-west on the hill-top), these particular vines have a rather different story.  They are surrounded by forest and, therefore, are removed from being influenced by any of the other farming concerns around them.  So these  old vines pretty much exist in a world of their own.  That does much to explain why the vintages we have sold are so distinct from each other.  Each year the vines develop in harmony with that year’s weather and not much else gets in the way. As such they seem really reflect the unique nuances of each vintage.

The results we have tasted from Aufranc have been spectacular for a variety of reasons, certainly not the least of which are the really old vines sitting in a place unlike any other.  Each effort has been a poster child for the best of what the particular vintage has to offer.  The 2014 was cool, elegant and pretty, the 2015 more packed with accessible, flashy fruit though in a way that panders to hedonists that might be considered atypical (however delicious) to Beaujolais purists.

The Pascal Aufranc Chenas Vignes de 1939 2016 displays the best elements of what might be called classic Beaujolais.  There is plenty of fruit, but the fruit has verve and a cooler edge.  Lovely notes of expressive dark cherry and plum act as the central theme to a purely rendered Chenas that also demonstrates smoke, mineral, fresh herbs and exotic spice.  Plenty of fruit here, but there’s a lifted, more polished, more aristocratic bent to the flavors.

There’s plenty to like here for the hedonists still, though it’s less overtly sweet and fleshy.  As for the traditionalist, we can’t imagine a more complete rendition of the genre than this although, sadly, this one’s focus and concentration has as much to do with the small vintage crop as anything.  Grab some while you can.

BERTHAUT-GERBET: A REFRESHING NEW FACE

We had a recent rant about how predictable Burgundy is in the wine press.  Same producers, same vineyards in the same relative order…a nice, defined hierarchy.  Even though we know that going in,  we press on anyway.  One of the things that is new and different in Burgundy is youth.  There are a lot of old-guard producers that have been doing things the same way for decades passing the baton to the next generation.  Sometimes youthful exuberance can create new problems, other times it can be the path to enlightenment by bringing fresh ideas to the domaine.

In this particular case, there was a smooth transition from Denis Berthaud, sixth generation to operate this now 13 hectare domaine founded in the late XVIIIth Century, to his daughter Amelie at the ripe old age of 25.  Denis is married to Marie Andree Gerbet whose family estate is located in Vosne Romanee.  Amelie also works the properties inherited from her mother’s family, hence the name Berthaud-Gerbet.

The change was immediate and continuing as Amelie demonstrated great touch, refining the sometimes rustic, old school tannins of the previous ‘regime’, while still preserving the sense of place.  She started with the difficult 2013 vintage, but the 2015 vintage gave this graduate of the University of Bordeaux a chance to really show her stuff.  There’s the classic ripeness of the vintage, pure red and some black fruit expression to the wines, but all within the context of fresh acidity and lift.  The concentration to the fruit in all of the wines, the clean lines, and notes of spice, speak to a youthful vision of the new Burgundy where technology meets tradition.

In earlier writings, Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin spoke to what Amelie had to face taking over the reins as a young woman.  Getting the respect of the older workers and getting them to do what she wanted was a task in itself.  But the end result was that the quality of the Berthaut label, long known as a source for old school, ‘value’ Burgundy, was suddenly raising eyebrows.  Martin credits her with revitalizing the image of Fixin (where the family has the most vineyard land) in the eyes of wine buyers.  It was in these well crafted, sleek ‘lesser’ appellations that we got excited.

The Berthaut-Gerbet Bourgogne Rouge Hautes Cotes de Nuits 2015 got our attention immediately by virtue of its insistent fruit, purity, and very fresh flavors.  Cherry, mulberry, a little spice and damp earth, all the things you expect from good Burgundy.  Undeniable elegance, this is from the higher elevations (haut cotes) and came from a 1.6 hectare plot of 45 year old vines.  The juice in the bottle definitely reaches to a higher level than the appellation might lead you to believe, and thus under $30 price tag for something that tastes like ‘real Burgundy’ was darned appealing.

Amelie’s Berthaut-Gerbet Fixin Les Clos 2015 generated the same comments from us that we later read in reviews…’when was the last time you had a Fixin like this’?  Indeed her kinder, gentler take addresses the very issue that had plagued so many examples from this village in recent years.  According to the domaine, this 1 heactare site sits high on the hill at nearly the same level as the Premier Crus, and the vines here, which range from 10-80 years old play like a more pedigreed site.  The funny thing is that, with several different reviews on the doamine that included the requisite Grand Crus and Premier Crus, this and the Hautes Cotes were not even mentioned.  That’s Burgundy for you.

While those showed great bang for the buck and were the bulk of our buy, we grabbed a little of the Berthaut-Gerbet Fixin En Combe Roy 2015 from 70-year-old vines near the 1er Cru Les Arvelets with a touch more gras and earth and a beautifully proportioned, spice driven Berthaut-Gerbet Vosne Romanee 2015.  To make our point about how Burgundy reviews work, do these words “A deft touch of wood sits atop the super-spicy and fresh black pinot fruit, cinnamon and violet-tinged aromas.  There is really lovely richness to the unusually concentrated and muscular flavors that also possess a caressing, even velvety mouth feel while delivering fine depth on the lingering finale where the only reproach to be made is a hint of warmth” sound like this kind of score (88-91)?  We think not.  An important and emerging but still under-the- radar domaine.

THE 2015 VINTAGE IN BURGUNDY REVISITED

This is partly a reminder.   We and others have gone on at length about 2015, particularly with respect to the flattering reds, one of the juiciest and most engaging vintages we can recall.  For Burgundy veterans, think back to the expressive, fleshy 2009s, but lighter on their feet like the 2002s, with a nice verve to the acidity that calls 2005 to mind.  It will surely be considered in the pantheon of great vintages.

We have also (and often) discussed the difficulty in finding value in Burgundy a number of times over the years.  High demand, small production, not to mention the ups and downs of marginal viticulture in general, have an upward effect on the price tag.  Even at the lower end, prices aren’t necessarily all that low.  It’s not impossible to find a deal.  It’s just really hard.  The best results usually come in concert with the blessing of Mother Nature because Pinot is a delicate grape that needs all the help it can get, a little extra sun raising the level of all vineyards great and small.

Untimely rain, thin skins, under-ripeness, too much heat, not enough heat, there are many things that can cause Pinot to underperform.  But the reason that some appellations consistently sell for much higher prices than others is history, plain and simple.  Chambertin has hefty price tags because it consistently performs at a high level.  The places that don’t carry big tickets do not by virtue of the fact that they don’t perform at the highest level consistently.  Maybe that lack of consistent success is due to exposure, or perhaps the fact that, year-in and year-out ripeness levels might not be as high as other locations.  But it is because they are on the more marginal side of ‘marginal viticulture’ that they sell for less.

However, when the sun shines, those areas perform at their very best.  But, because of history, the vignerons can’t charge substantially more money when they are successful because of the ‘hierarchy’.  When that happens, it is the consistent recipe for a deal, and that’s how to play Burgundy in 2015 unless you own oil wells or invented an app.  Places like Marsannay, Savigny-Les-Beaune, and Mercurey had sensational seasons in 2015 and we have spent a good amount of time going through the less famous locales to find the honest gems.  That we did, though we had to, as they say, ‘kiss a lot of frogs’ and work through some disappointments to get it done.  Hey, that’s Burgundy.

The hardest part isn’t the work, though.  The hardest part is bucking the system.  When we first referred to the ‘hierarchy’ in that last paragraph.  That is a very specific phenomenon in our view.  While there is an ‘official’ classification to Burgundy that determines Grand Crus and Premier Crus from ‘village level’ vineyards, there is also an unspoken but immutable pecking order to the vineyards as reported by the press.  It’s hard to explain even to Burgundy ‘hardcores’, many of whom accept the hierarchy as law.  But if you read enough stuff, you realize that a most of the ‘conclusions’ are forgone and/or political.

By ‘foregone’, we mean that there is a certain ‘weight’ assigned to certain climats and producers.  The most brilliant Maranges ever made has an upper limit to its scoring potential because it’s Maranges.  Most of the time it will dwell in the upper 80s score-wise, perhaps creep into the low 90s on occasion, almost always in cases where that domaine doesn’t have significant upper cuvees in their lineup.  But that’s it.  If it is tasted in the same cellar next to a wine from a better appellation, the odds of it besting that wine isn’t ‘zero’.  It’s just nearly zero.

Sure there are always exceptions, just not many of them.  When a reviewer tastes at a Burgundy domaine, he is presented the wines in the ‘order of importance’ of the bottlings…Bourgognes et. al, villages wines, Premier Crus and Grand Crus. Reviewers will taste them relative to their pecking order, and the reviews stick to that script a preponderance of the time.  Is that the most logical result?  Probably, but our point is that it almost never varies to the contrary.

On top of that, the 100-point scale that everybody uses these days has an upper limit…100.   A wine cannot score greater than 100, so everything is scaled back from whatever the top effort is.  If the best wine in the cellar, using the numbers analogy, scores a 94, the next best has to be less.  By the time you get 2-3 wines down the ladder, you are in a place where most consumers are lukewarm about most things, particularly something that has a $50-60 price tag.  Those potentially delicious ‘little wines,’ in these hierarchy lineups, have a remote chance of getting a review that will motivate buyers even though the quality warrants it.

We refer to this as the ‘theory of relativity’, as in reviewers tend not to always be able to figure out where one group of wines fits in to the broader array of all wines.  The best and most extreme illustration is Romaine Conti.  Always presented ‘in order’ (and remember nothing can be scored above 100), by the time you get ‘down’ to the Echezeaux, you are at 91-92 point scores, the same as a modestly-priced Rioja or Argentine Malbec.  Silly.  Take that Echezeaux and put it in a different lineup, and it crushes.  So what is the takeaway from this small and very slanted sampling?  Nothing clear.

Also, from one year to the next, reviewers are either clueless or afraid.  Let’s take the 2013 vintage in Burgundy versus the 2015.  While the vintages were substantially different qualitatively, the majority of the scores on the individual wines were within a couple of points between the vintages, hardly a reasonable representation of the difference between those two vintages.  Also, we don’t recall anyone coming out on the 2013s and saying that these wines weren’t worth the prices and don’t buy them.  With 2012 still on shelves, and the very good 2014s and flashy 2015s coming down the road, did anyone say not to spend your hard-earned dollars on the 2013s.

That would have been honest advice from these reviewers who represent themselves as working for you, the consumer.  But we don’t remember seeing anything of the sort in print.  We can point to Robert Parker’s brutal honesty with respect to the 1983 red Burgundies a long time ago.  He said the reds were overly tannic and had issues with rot.   Was he right?  Doesn’t matter, he was simply giving his honest opinion to the folks that pay him to give them his opinion.  The Burgundians didn’t like it very much and, if memory serves, there weren’t many subsequent reviews on Burgundy from Parker.

Are we saying reviewers go easy on the Burgundy producers so they get to come back (and you can infer the same for a lot of top addresses in other areas as well)?  Are we suggesting that Burgundy gets treated with ‘kid gloves’ by the press for fear of reprisal?    You can read the pages and pages of predictable reviews and judge for yourself.  The same wines finish at the top, the general rankings of the individual wines relative to each other within a portfolio are virtually unvaried year-to-year.  Sure there will be the occasional ‘up and comer’, but the inter-relationship between producers and vineyards is virtually unchanged from house to house and year to year.

Maybe we are jealous.  Would we like to get paid to hang out in Burgundy and tell people to buy Dujac and Roumier? Heck yeah! But we have a hard time wondering why anyone would do that.  That leaves us, the poor schmuck merchants who are trying give consumers some viable, reasonably priced and enjoyable options thanks to the quirk of fate of an exceptional vintage in a prestige (and typically expensive, sometimes laughably so) region, in a tough place.

There are a lot of delicious wines in Burgundy that won’t break the bank.  But the ‘system’ does not lend itself to promoting them in a meaningful way.   Human nature being what it is, we certainly can’t expect people to easily shell out say $50-60 for something ( say a village Vosne Romanee) that the ‘system’ allowed no more than 90-91 points within the ‘hierarchy’.   Better to spend it on an Oregon Pinot that got a ‘94’, though that score came in a completely different category and mix.

We’re going to continue to do our best because it’s the right thing to do.  We love finding that delicious Bourgogne or Marsannay for a song.    They are out there, particularly in vintages like 2015.  Just don’t expect there to be lofty reviews because of the way Burgundy is handled by the media. The hierarchy of vineyard and producer, the top-heavy score bias, and the ‘old boy’ review network, make us feel like salmon swimming against the very predictable current in the sense of creating sales.  You  will get sweeping (though calculated) comments regarding a vintage overall.  But when you actually dig into the individual reviews, the information is predictable and not particularly enlightening.

Still, we have found things that we are truly exciting from this vintage because they are compelling, engaging bottles of Pinot Noir to drink (or hold) from the place where Pinot was born.  That is ultimately the point.  Given all of the things we have mentioned, you can clearly understand that there are a lot easier things for us to sell than Burgundy.   But finding a $20-30 Monthelie that you can pull out in a few years that puts a smile on your face is a labor of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOT JUST ANY OLD BEAUNE

Ah, Burgundy.  No appellation is more frustrating or confusing, yet the joy of finding the ‘good one’ always seems to provide the impetus to continue the hunt.  Finding a deal is a bonus. The 2015 vintage has been a fun exercise because the vintage’s engaging ripeness definitely allows for a higher success rate.  Of course the trick, from our point of view, is to find the juicy little numbers that don’t have triple (or quadruple) digit prices.

Sometimes the quest is easy; sometimes there are riddles to be solved as there was with this sleeper from Joseph Drouhin.  We have been pleased with Drouhin’s 2015 red Burgundy efforts at a number of levels.  But when we first came across this one, it was a bit of a curiosity.  Labeled Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2015 but bearing a fancier label (with a resemblance to Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches label…sans mouches of course), it was priced $10 higher than their more plainly labeled Cote de Beaune Villages.

It brought about questions on our part since the labeling didn’t necessarily sync with our impressions of the workings of the Burgundy hierarchy.  As one might have expected there was a perfectly Burgundian explanation.  Drouhin is a big house and produces a lot of negocient wine as well as bottlings from their own estate properties.  The ‘Villages’ with the regular label can come from any one of 16 different individual villages (Aloxe Corton, Volnay, etc) and isn’t necessarily all estate fruit.

The Cote de Beaune, according to the folks at Drouhin, “comes from the vines of the Joseph Drouhin estate (total vineyard area around 3 hectares – 7.5 acres) as well as from the younger vines of Clos des Mouches and other Premier Crus of Beaune that have been declassified (a Beaune wine can be declassified into Côte de Beaune).”  The story here is that there is much better (and more specific) stuff used in this one than the ‘villages’.  However you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at the label.

Fun folks, those Burgundians.  But once you get the ‘lay of the land’ and consider the possibilities is in a top vintage, things like this can become your own precious little secret.  Pour it out and you’ll really get a feel for where this one can go, and behold its deep ruby color.  The wine is a little reticent at first, with a touch cooler edge that most of the ultra tender 2015s, but Burgundy fans would consider the touch more lift and freshness a good thing.

As the nose opens, the breeding of the grapes here start to unfold.  There are dark cherries and currants, of course, but also a penetrating florality and high notes of mineral and clove in the nose.  As it sits in the glass few minutes, the Cote de Beaune unwinds to reveal spicy layers of fruit and plenty of flesh, nicely juxtaposed with clean acidity.  The highlights, or maybe it’s the power of suggestion, suggest this one flashes a bit of its ‘Mouches-y’ pedigree, but in any case there is no doubt that this one merits serious attention in this expensive vintage.

James Suckling had some nice words for this one as well, offering, “Very floral and fresh with crushed raspberries and flowers. Medium-to full-bodied, dense and silky. Beautiful and layered. Lovely texture. Drink now. ..92 Points!”  Still young and very lively, it is certainly a fine choice for current applications.  By all means, ‘drink now’ after giving this one a few minutes to stretch.   But we also think shows the definition and class to allow one to ponder putting away a few bottles for 5-10 years.  Either way, you win.

Also, and perhaps as important, there’s the value.  Clos des Mouches itself sells for over $100, this one costs about 66% less.  Good well priced Burgundy isn’t easy to find.  But it’s out there if you are willing to dig.

 

 

AVIRON BEAUJOLAIS-BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

Given the remarkable abundance of great wines that are out in the marketplace these days, finding the right ones at the right prices is a monumental and never-ending tasking.  At the point where we actually do find something that gets us excited, particularly the ones where all of the boxes (quality, style, typicite, and price) get checked, we commit without a blink.  At that point it’s out of our hands until the wine arrives.  Often it is merely a process of the purveyor putting it on a truck and sending it.   Sometimes it becomes a lot more complicated.  This was one of those times, though we will save the particulars for another piece on the sometimes curious ways in which the industry works.

You have likely heard us jabber on about the fantastic 2015 Beaujolais.  Several months ago we had the opportunity to taste what might be some of the best values of this sensational vintage.  We started working with Stephane Aviron’s wines back with the also highly revered 2009 vintage.  At the time he was working with Nicolas Potel under the heading ‘Potel-Aviron’.  Delicious Beaujolais, fresh and fruit driven, and at remarkable prices for what they delivered, those were among the many exciting new faces we discovered with that breakout vintage in Beaujolais.

Aviron and Potel parted ways but we continued to follow Stephane because the guy could definitely make wine, and made it in the lifted, engaging, can’t-put-the-glass-down style that would win friends for the genre.  Oh yeah, and he still sold the stuff for 199os type prices.  In other words just about the best of all possible scenarios.  Needless to say when we knew we were going to have the opportunity to taste his 2015s, there was definitely interest.

The fact that the wines were compelling was no surprise.  Some of the wines that were particularly successful wasn’t necessarily what we might have predicted.  Running through the lineup, among the most impressive offerings were the Julienas and Chenas, not the appellations that usually rise above.  We picked the Stephane Aviron Chenas Vieilles Vignes 2015 between them because this appellation rarely merits this kind of attention.  Don’t get us wrong.  Good Chenas is exciting, but it is also something of a rarity as the region doesn’t necessarily have too many superstar labels (though that might be changing thanks to folks like Thillardon).

Made from pre-phylloxera vines that average over 100 years-old, from a 13.6 acre parcel that Stephan Aviron has been producing from since 1993. The soil is light and made up mostly of sand and small pebbles over a layer of clay and quartz which explains that brighter, more delicate and outgoing nature of the fruit in this engaging beverage.

While we think the Chenas is a crowd pleaser, we know the more serious Beaujolais types like to have something with a little more pedigree.  To that end, consider the Stephane Aviron Morgon Cote du Py Vieilles Vignes 2015Again the focus is on lip smacking fruit, as is the house style.  But there is more firmness, salinity, minerality, and maybe a little smoke by virtue of this respected hillside terroir.  His vineyard faces south on the slopes of this inactive volcano and the vines are a minimum of 40 years-of-age.  Like the Chenas, the well-under-$20 price is pretty enticing for a wine of this quality and this one might even benefit from some bottle age though it has that classic 2015 outgoing drinkability.

We tasted these wines way back in the early spring and they have just arrived (we have been getting deliveries of 2016s from a number of purveyors already).  Why did it take so long?  Let’s just say for some the ‘wheels of commerce’ turn more slowly.  But on the bright side, these are excellent performers at their modest fares and any opportunity to grab a few more of the flashy ’15s, especially at these kinds of prices, has to be considered a good thing.

 

VALUE BURGUNDY? MAURICE CHARLEUX SANTENAY 1ER CRU CLOS ROUSSEAU 2015

First a little basic wisdom.  We’ve explained in painful detail about how, in warm vintages, the best place to find good honest value in Burgundy is in the ‘second tier’ appellations.  The term second tier isn’t meant to be derogatory.  It is a simple fact that the hierarchy of Burgundy has been established over centuries based on performance.  Typically places like Marsannay, Santenay, Maranges and Givrey don’t perform at the same level as the heart of the Cotes d’Or.  But when things get a little warmer, as they did in 2015, the wines perform exponentially better and prices stay consistent with their normal place in the hierarchy.  That offers an opportunity for Burgundy buyers, and that has been a key element of our play on the juicy, but very much in-demand, and often expensive 2015 reds.

In vintages past, we have looked to purist sources like Maurice Charleux who work extensively with these ‘fringe’ areas.  A good bit of sunshine and things move to another level of quality.  That being said, we’ll get to the meat of it.  Santenay is one of those places that ‘outperformed’ in 2015 and we have had some positive experience with this house when the opportunity has presented itself.  This is definitely one of those times.

Domaine Maurice Charleux is located in Dezize-les-Maranges, about 4 kilometers southwest of Santenay. It was founded in 1894 by Ferdinand Charleux, who owned just a little over half a hectare (about 1.3 acres) of vines. By the time he died in 1924, he had expanded the property to 2 hectares A few years later, Ferdinand’s son, Joseph, began a 30-year span of growing the size of the property to 8 hectares. Maurice took over the domaine upon his father’s retirement in 1970 and began branding the wines under his name. Nearly 20 years later, his son Vincent began working with his father and, little by little, acquired more plots of vines.

When those warmer vintages come along, Maurice Charleux has been a particularly ‘fruitful’ source for pure, honest Burgundy at very attractive fares.  Today’s property encompasses about 10 acres, 85% of which is Pinot Noir in the appellations Santenay, Maranges and Bourgogne.  The soils typically have a lot of limestone and this .51 hectare plot consists of primarily 30-year-old vines.  The vineyard sits at the southern end of the appellation, and the wines see 15% new oak with the rest 2nd and 3rd use vessels. The Maurice Charleaux Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau 2015 is the best example we can recall since the 2009.

This is ripe, pure, ‘old-school’ Burgundy in the sense that there is a rather deep core of black cherry fruit with a touch of earth, a little minerality, and a pleasing little bit of rustic chewiness to the finishing tannins.  This is Burgundy that excels here as being a fine, engaging, unpretentious example of this hidden away village at the southern end of the Cote du Beaune.  It is a well-priced, expressive example of ‘real Burgundy’, something we don’t get to say all that often any more.

 

 

 

 

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