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.


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.


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.















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.




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.



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.








Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015

One thing about the great vintages of Burgundy these days is that the level of commerce rarely is in line with the level of excitement.  The juicy 2015 vintage is a prime example of how it works, and perhaps something of a trifecta of things that can go wrong.  First, while very successful, the crop was small.  Second, because the crop was small and demand was high, the prices on some wines got to the point of silly.  Even with that, if you were a high-end collector and were willing to pay the substantial ‘ticket price’, you still might not get many opportunities to snag many cherries because the unattractive ‘bundles’ of various producers wines, and the risk associated with selling every level of those bundles kept a lot of usual purveyors from offering the wines at all.

If you are looking to buy some legendary label at the current, astronomical market price, the going is tougher than ever. If you are looking for good wine to drink, that is doable. Incumbent in great, ripe vintages is the success from top to bottom, and the possibility of finding some pretty fine juice at whatever price range you are willing to pay. To that end, let us recommend the Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015.

This is a terroir filled example of this famed village with the additional benefit of a ripe fleshy vintage. There are Burgundies that need to be contemplated because they are not forthcoming with their statement. Here that juicy cherry-leaning-to-black currant fruit unfolds and engages pretty quickly. Classic spice for Gevrey, with savory flecks of earth and mineral, this is an ambassador for the genre. If you are a fan of Burgundy that doesn’t seek status of a famous label, only deliciousness, this is a fine choice. If you want to show someone what Burgundy is about who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience, this juicy 2015 will serve you well. For us, Regis Bouvier has been a regular source of truly likable, reasonably priced, honest Burgundy for a few years now.

The bulk of his holdings lie in Marsannay, a natural place to look for value in a warm vintage. But this .55 hectare parcel of 45 year-old-vines gave him some plump, ripe, fine juice in this vintage from a more ‘prestige’ address. This is the kind of Burgundy that makes friends, with the early drinkability that the 2009s had, but plenty structure underneath if you want to give it a few years. Folks in Oregon and California make comparisons to Burgundy, and there are a number of good Pinot Noirs that carry price tags a lot higher than this one. Our point is that, if you want something that tastes like really good Burgundy, how about actual Burgundy? Options like this where the typicité, profile, the accessibility and the sensible pricing all happen together aren’t easy to find even in the best of times. Here’s a tasty one…$49.98

THE BURGUNDY PARADOX (Steve’s Burgundy rant)

‘You are SO going to want these’
-Stephan Tanzer on the 2015 red Burgundies

It’s that time again, the bane of all wine merchants…a great vintage in Burgundy.

Why is that a problem? Why would an outstanding vintage in one of one of the world’s most revered wine areas be an issue at all? Wouldn’t that just make for more exciting wines for us to sell? Well, on the surface, yes it would be, if you only consider the positive sales aspect of having more good things to offer. The problem is the nature of Burgundy itself. From the production side, other than a few large negociants, the majority of the landscape is small producers making limited bits of variety of different wines based on small holdings in the region. Production of each individual wine is limited because the holdings are small. All-too-often these various little wines are offered as a ‘package’ (the operative word is parcel) in not particularly advantageous (from a sales perspective) assortments. For that reason, they are rather difficult to market profitably (or succeed in breaking even for that matter).

So why does anybody do it? Sadly, if you ask most long time wine folks what their most memorable vinous experience was, there would be a disproportionate large percentage who would count Burgundy experiences as their most treasured memories. As those who have been around wine for a long time will also tell you, Burgundy is the cruelest of mistresses. It can provide ethereal moments. But you can spend a lot of time and money trying to recreate the experience again, usually being disappointed most of the time because the wine is in a funny place developmentally or simply doesn’t live up to lofty expectations. That is simply taking it from the ‘drinking’ perspective.

The problem is, when you ‘hit’ one, all of the past travails are forgotten. All those disappointments fade from view and you are lost in the moment. Thus the process starts again. It is almost narcotic in how those experiences can haunt you, and we understand how someone can get swept up in the pursuit of Burgundy because the good times are so good. It drives rational people to consider things they would not otherwise. There are those who will tell you can get some of the greatest Burgundies in existence for $300-400 dollars a bottle even now with world wide demand at an all-time high, whereas top vintages of Bordeaux (Lafite, Petrus, La Pin) cost a lot more.

Point taken, but we’d rebut that you won’t likely get the actual wine for those prices as quantities are small, demand is well beyond supply, and there is usually a requirement to perform something else to secure those gems. The actual importer will only dribble out the ‘cherries’ to their very top customers, usually as a reward for exceptional past support, and even then there is usually a hitch. You can find things on the open market in Europe, but usually bundled in such a way with other wines from a producer’s portfolio (either lesser wines from the same vintage or remnants of past vintages) that even with the most creative math don’t make business sense.

So is this a new problem? Not at all. It is merely a worse manifestation of something that has existed for a very long time, exacerbated by that increasing world-wide demand for Burgundy and the physical limitations of the region. You cannot make Burgundy bigger. If you did, it wouldn’t be the same. Therefore a greater pool of folks clamoring for a piece of a fixed production asset only drives the price up and the creativity of those who broker these wines increasing the cost of making that mistake.

The whole growing demand for a limited production wine is not the end of the problem either. The typical affirmed Burgundy buyer is the most finicky in all of the wine world. He usually has the money to buy the best, and the temerity to expect restrained pricing as he moves in on the crème-de-la-crème. On the other side, most Burgundy producers expect their importers to buy everything they are offered, every year, regardless of proportions. As an estate’s popularity rises, so do their prices because the estate can always seem to find another buyer somewhere in the world. The ‘parcel’, as we called it previously, is typically a mix of a fair bit of the entry level (Bourgogne) and ‘Village’ wine, a few crumbs of the tippy-top Grand Cru cuvees, with a disproportionate chunk more-than-you-would-ever-buy-on-your-own Premier Cru bottlings at or near prices that the Grand Crus were just a few years ago.

In the olden times, Burgundy was sold the same way, in parcels. However, back then, the pricing was conducive to selling the different prestige levels to different tiers of the marketplace. The prices were moderate enough that buyers for the ‘entry’ and ‘village level’ wine that you could market the wine to people as an alternative to domestic Pinot Noir. You would have to wait a bit on the Premier Crus until their time had come, but they still went head-to-head with top Caifornia bottlings price-wise so their would eventually be an opportunity. Their top-notch Grand Crus eventually found a buyers. But as prices escalated on Burgundy overall, the prices went up on the higher end things to where even the most affluent Burgundy fans had to think about it, if in fact they could even find the wine for sale.

At that point, most collectors were still ‘ in’ for the top 2-3% at the higher prices for the top tier. But they had no interest in anything else. One could develop interest in moderately priced Bourgogne and ‘village’ level juice in a great vintage vis-à-vis Pinot alternatives. But with the rising prices overall, it was the ‘middle’ that killed the market, or at least the sanity of playing at all. In a world where lieu dits (village vineyards marketed under the vineyard name…typically a cut above the ‘standard’ bottlings) are now in the $50-60 range and Premier Crus from top guys had three figure prices, value was out the window. The pricees left them out of the reach of most buyers, and, since they were not the top, of considerable less interest to those elite buyers who could pay the freight.

At the low end, there were folks that were interested in the value Burgundy section provided the prices weren’t scary high. You could find buyers that were interested in Bourgognes and village ‘Vosne Romanee, though they have been a much tougher sell for those that have escalated price-wise. Usually Bourgognes that were in or near the price of domestic Pinot value versions ($15-30) still found buyers as long as the tabs didn’t stray too far away from the price ‘comfort zone’.

In summary, you could find buyers for the top tier as long as you didn’t charge too much.  You’d have a tough time selling those entry level wines at fair prices from bigger named domaines.  And there was n0 one to buy those Premier Crus, which often made up 30% of the dollar value of a parcel, except at a sometimes substantial loss though you could simply think of them as ornaments. Does that make any sense from a business perspective in a great vintage? Of course not, and that is without even considering having to buy other, less economically feasible vintages previously (and having them as ornaments, too) to establish your place in the pecking order. Even then, some Swiss guy could drive to the domaine with cash and likely get a portion of ‘your’ prime allocation cellar door (see also Napa Valley). Are we conflicted? Burgundy does that because, in the end, when it is right, it is magic.  Otherwise no one would bother.

A $30 Bourgogne from a top producer in a great vintage? Just think of it as top flight Pinot and it is competitive. A $200-300 Grand Cru? Hey, if you have the funds, they are the best of the best. But who buys the ‘middle’? The guy buying at the top wants the ‘top’. The prices of the middle are 2-3 times (or more) greater than the entry level stuff, and beyond the financial reach of most folks. So those expensive Premier Crus have no market these days, and will essentially collect dust long after the others are gone.

We are pretty creative, but the Burgundians are in the driver’s seat in a vintage like 2015. Someone will buy these wines somewhere at whatever price the market will bear, but at that point it is far beyond what makes sense as a ‘business proposition’. We have seen a number of stores and distributors get crushed from within by the Burgundy mistress. We feel particularly sorry for them. Like we said, they have to play the game or get kicked out of the queue in a vintage like this, no matter how bad the proportion is within the offer. Even worse, they would have to have bought the prior two vintages, one that was kind of crummy (2013) and one that was quite good but no one cared (2014) because the ‘good’ vintage was on the horizon. So two vintages that weren’t going to sell to anyone for the right to buy a third that was only 40-60% viable? Do the math. Even the government can’t make that make sense, yet people still do it.

Is it sour grapes (no pun intended) on our parts? Nope, just reality. This is the most difficult region for consumers (and most of the wine trade) to understand, and easily the most difficult financially from a return-on-investment (or even rational?) perspective. We have spent a number of seasons on the sidelines over the years, simply not buying anything of note because the cost is too much. We do it with our eyes open with the understanding that it might hurt our chance to get the kind of crummy, overpriced ‘bundles’ that will be the ‘main course’ of the high demand vintage that 2015 promises to be. Hey, if we don’t buy 20 cases of wine we will probably have to sell at cost or below to move through to get three bottle of some kitchy Grand Cru that we could never charge enough for, the upside is that we have a much better chance of being here when the next ‘vintage of the century’ comes along.

So if you want to know where the waiting list for the 2015 Roumier Musigny is, it’s right next to the unicorn registry.
We have tasted enough of the 2015s to tell you that these wines are epic. They bring back memories of our favorite vintages of all time like 1985 and 1990 in that they have great stuffing, sufficient structure, and are at the same time oh so sexy. These are the kinds of wine that can make smart people do dumb things (we could make the appropriate comparison to romance but we won’t).

For our part, we’re going to fight to get everything we can, but don’t feel like we have to sell our souls. In a juicy vintage like 2015, where areas that don’t usually get as warm had unparalleled success, a few new faces will appear on the scene, and a few new importers will try their hand at selling Burgundy, we will (and already have) found some delicious things to sell without mortgaging the farm. We have tasted great vintages of Romanee Conti, for which we are thankful. But we have also seen an angel or two in a Marsannay from a right vintage at the perfect point in its development. For us, Burgundy is our desert island wine. There are a number of pain-averse ways to approach the subject in 2015 if the goal is simply to find great wine to drink. We wish it was easier. But that’s Burgundy.



It’s probably reasonable for us to go easy on the prologue here.  After all, we (and everybody else it seems) has generated a ton of prose about just how good the 2015s in Beaujolais are, how top flight producers are reaching back to 1947 for a reasonable comparison, and how Beaujolais is still one of the most underpriced regions in the wine world.  Based on those strong ‘bullet points’ those of you that ‘get’ Beaujolais and/or appreciate a great value will take a good look at this one.

First off, we know it gets a little confusing when it comes to names.  Aren’t there a lot of different properties containing the name ‘Tours’, which is simply French for ‘towers’?  You bet, but there are a heck of a lot of towers out in the French countryside, from little one man-lookouts to the more expected turret on a large fortified castle.  This is the only Brouilly we know of with that moniker, and it is also the first time we have brought in this small and, in this case, enormously successful effort.

The vineyards themselves consisted of an average of 45-year-old vines situated in a natural amphitheatre around the Château.  The vines are planted in sandy soils resulting from the
disintegration of the granite bedrock. In other words, nutrient poor, thin, acidic soils where are still projections of the underlying rock.  While this certainly wouldn’t be a happy place for most crops, the Gamay grape thrives here and these soils help keep the yields down.

We have been buying Beaujolais like maniacs of late because they have been everything they were reported to be…full flavored, round, packed with fruit and straight up delicious.  We took a hard look at this one because we had already put together a lineup that was formidable.  But when we tasted it, it was one of the most tawdry, shamelessly pandering examples we have had this year of any kind of red. When we heard the price, we would have been ashamed of ourselves if we didn’t buy it.

Sure there are bigger examples, more structured efforts, and certainly more famous names.  But on the hedonist scale, this was a huge scorer.  The black and red fruit component showed near perfect ripeness, it was lush and still light of its feet, and the texture was absolutely charming.  You will have a hard time finding something sexier for this kind of fare.

Josh Raynolds of Vinous took a shine to it as well, writing “Bright violet. Spicy and sharply focused on the nose, displaying vibrant red berry, cherry and spicecake aromas and a hint of blood orange. Taut, juicy and energetic in style, offering zesty raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that flesh out slowly and turn sweeter with air. Closes long and juicy, featuring resonating spiciness and a late jolt of smoky minerality. ”  Simply a lovely drink, and that is the point…$15.98



This is one of the most exciting new faces in Beaujolais that you probably haven’t heard of.  The brothers Thillardon, Paul-Henri and Charles, are emerging stars in the region that are hitting their stride at just the right time. They are the ‘poster boys’ for the ‘young and the restless’ natural wine movement in Beaujolais and champions of the forgotten Chenas ‘cru’. Since the domaine was founded way back in 2008, the brothers have accumulated several small parcels throughout Chenas through either leasing or outright purchase and made the decision to move toward the natural winemaking movement after meeting with Fleurie natural wine guru Jean-Louis Dutraive (Domaine de la Grand Cour). From there they have continued to work their way into the natural wine ‘brotherhood’ in Beaujolais.

Dutraive was eco-certified in 2009, and the Thillarons website (all in French) also bears the seal. According to a lengthy article we read in the appetizingly named blog ‘Notdrinkingpoison’ (See complete article), 2015 was the first year that Paul-Henri claimed he got to do everything he wanted from a winemaking perspective. He refrigerated the fermentation for the first time, inducing s long, cool, semi-carbonic process and vinified entirely whole cluster. His timing couldn’t have been better. We certainly can’t remember having something this compelling from Chenas recently. A certain amount of the credit goes to the vintage, but there is a growing buzz about Paul-Henri as well.

His mode is to bottle small parcels individually. One of the things the article pointed out was that a number of the parcels they work with aren’t as exposed, which served to preserve the freshness of the cuvees in the warm 2015 vintage. The first whiff of the Thillardon Chenas Vibrations 2015 makes a big impression. Spices, flowers, chalky minerality are all nicely proportioned within vibrant red fruits that jump out of the glass. It has the wild expressiveness that well-made natural wines exhibit, and there’s little or no sulfer. So we’d recommend this vinous joy-ride be taken sooner rather than later for its gregarious personality. The lads only make small cuvees of 500 cases or less from their various parcels, so there’s not a lot of this out there. Don’t miss it!..$29.98