Category Archives: France – Burgundy

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Meursault (Burgundy, France) 2018

($100):  This village Meursault, a blend of five plots from the northern end of the appellation, is vinified at the Domaine du Pavillon, just down the road in Pommard.  One taste shows the dramatic textural difference between this white from the Côte d’Or and the Les Champs-Michaux from the Côte Chalonnaise.  Creamy, as opposed to stone-y, this Meursault has good weight on the palate.  Fine acidity keeps it lively.
89 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine Adélie (Bichot), Mercurey (Burgundy, France) “Les Champs-Michaux” 2018

($55):  Albéric Bichot purchased this almost 20-acre estate in Mercurey in 2003, the year of his first daughter’s birth.  Hence the name of the domaine.  Mercurey is known for its red wines, but with more whites like this one, the reputation of its whites might well outdistance the reds.  Christophe Chauvel (who is in charge of viticulture for all the domaines owned by Bichot) explains that the soil at Les Champs-Michaux is better suited for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and believes that the clay in the soil imparts roundness to the wine.  Punching far above its weight, this exceptional village Mercurey is sensational.  Floral, with hints of ripe stone fruits, it has extraordinary elegance for a white Mercurey.  Delicious now.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($260):  Bichot owns about three acres in the Les Languettes lieu-dit, a sunny southeast facing part of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard.  From it, they have made a glorious wine in 2018, showing nuances of spiced pineapple offset by a crispy edginess.  Its stature is not in overall weight or power, rather in its layered complexity and elegance.  Very tight at this stage, it starts to show is stature with air.  A Grand Cru white that will need years to show itself.
94 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine Long-Depaquit (Bichot), Chablis Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) “Les Clos” 2018

($112):  With holdings totaling 150 acres of vines, almost half of which are located in Premier or Grand Cru vineyards, Bichot’s Long-Depaquit is one of the most notable estates in Chablis.  They own roughly ten percent of all Grand Cru acreage in Chablis, including the entirety of La Moutonne, an anomalous site of almost 6-acres spanning two Grand Cru vineyards, Vaudésir and Preuses.  In Les Clos alone, Long-Depaquit owns two parcels totaling almost 4 acres, which they blend together for this wine.  The full-bodied and mineral-y 2018 is forward and easy to appreciate now, but should develop beautifully over the next several years because of its impeccable balance.  The long and graceful finish makes it particularly attractive.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Pavillon (Bichot), Pommard (Burgundy, France) “Clos des Ursulines” 2018

($55):  Unlike Bordeaux, most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners, which explains why the consumer can see multiple bottlings of Pommard Epenots, for example.  By contrast, Clos des Ursulines, a nearly 10-acre vineyard located in the southeast part of the village, is owned entirely by the Domaine du Pavillon.  It’s what the Burgundians call a monopole.  The 2018 is muscular with remarkable suaveness for a wine from Pommard, which gives real elegance to its burly frame.  An excellent village wine — and bargain-priced for what it is.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Château Gris (Bichot), Nuits-Saint Georges 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($130):  The 1er cru vineyard, Château Gris, takes its name from the 19th century castle the Earl of Lupé-Cholet built on the site after phylloxera destroyed the vines.  Instead of the usual multi-colored tiles of Burgundian roofs, it had only slate tiles, giving arise to the nickname of Gris (grey).  This monopole, owned by Bichot since 1978, covers 8.5 acres and is planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but only the red wine from the site is classified as 1er cru.  The 2018 is positively stunning.  Far more elegant than you’d expect from Nuits-Saint Georges, it still conveys a touch of wildness for which the appellation is known.  Long and finesse-filled, it dances on the palate.  Chauvel believes that the terraced rows at different elevations in the vineyard allows for varying levels of ripeness of the grapes, imparting freshness to the wine.  That likely explains its bright finish, which amplifies the wine’s charms.
95 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine du Clos Frantin (Bichot), Echézeaux Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2018

($360):  Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin owns two and a third acres in the lieu-dit of Champs Traversin from which they make a consistently spectacular Echézeaux.  The 2018 is no exception.  It is explosive, yet not weighty.  It delivers a touch of spice along with a plethora of subtle fruit flavors.  Its understated power and suaveness are captivating.  It’s my definition of Burgundy — flavor without weight.
96 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Domaine de Rochegrès (Bichot), Domaine de Rochegrès (Bichot) (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2018

($28):  Bichot purchased this 12.5-acre estate in the heart of Moulin-a-Vent, arguably the top Beaujolais cru, in 2014.  The grapes come from three lieux-dits within Moulin-a-Vent, La Rochelle, Au Mont, and the young vines from Rochegrès itself.  It is ripe, spicy and suave, combining richness, minerality and bright acidity.  A triumph.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2020

Bichot is Back

If I needed any convincing—and I did not—that Bichot, the venerable Beaune-based Burgundy négoçiant, is back, it was after tasting a line-up of their 2018s.  That vintage was precarious for winegrowers because the weather provided the potential for both fabulous wines or over-ripe ones with high alcohol levels depending on harvest date, location of the vineyards, and viticulture practices.  Bichot avoided the potential pitfalls and hit the bullseye with both their reds and whites in 2018.

Matthieu Mangenot, formerly the estate manager at Bichot’s Chablis property, Domaine Long-Depaquit, and recently promoted to Assistant Technical Director to Alain Serveau, Bichot’s Technical Director, summed up the growing season succinctly, in four words: wet, drought, hot and sunny.  The winter was wet with twice as much water as usual, which turned out to be beneficial because it kept the vines from stress during the drought that occurred from April through September.  The summer was hot and sunny, with the thermometer breaking 100º some days in September.  The overall result was the potential for alcoholic wines with low acidity.  Mangenot echoed what I had heard from many other growers, namely, that the key to success was an early harvest.  Bichot started theirs about two weeks earlier than usual, at the end of August.  In the cellar, Bichot opted on shorter aging with less time in barrel to preserve the vibrant fruitiness of the wines.  Like many other growers to whom I spoke, they were anxious about the wines at harvest, but thrilled with how they turned out by the time of bottling.

Although I have tasted at Bichot many times over the years, I did not have the time to taste their wines during my annual trip to Burgundy in November, and due to COVID-19, the usual spring press tastings are not occurring.  That did not stop the Bichot team from showing me their 2018s.  They put together an inventive tasting by pouring small, two-ounce, samples of finished, ready-to-be bottled wines—not barrel samples—into small screw-top jars and then rapidly distributed them to tasters (and, indeed, right on schedule they appeared on my porch).  We could taste them simultaneously, via Zoom, with the Bichot team in France, who had assembled in the cellar of their famous Nuits-St.  Georges-based property, Domaine du Clos Frantin.  In addition to Mangenot, Christophe Chauvel, who is in charge of viticulture for all their domaines, and Albéric Bichot, who runs the family-owned business, guided us through the wines.

Before getting to the wines, some background about Albert Bichot is helpful.  Albert Bichot, the grandson of Bernard Bichot, who founded the company in Monthélie in 1831, expanded it and moved its headquarters to Beaune, where it remains, in 1912.  Since 1996, Albéric Bichot, representing the 6th generation of the family, has been running the company and has been responsible for its meteoric rise in joining the other top-tier Burgundy négoçiants.  Under his direction, Bichot has expanded, adding domaines to their portfolio and acquiring other négoçiants, such as Nuits St. Georges-based Lupé-Cholet.

The most critical change that Albéric instituted was a conversion from a “quantity” to a “quality” mentality.  A major part of that change occurred in the vineyard.  Enter Chauvel, a revered viticulturist.  (I’ve heard so much praise from many respected sources about Chauvel that I think “revered” is appropriate.)  Chauvel joined Bichot in 1999 after working for seven years with Pierre Morey, one of Burgundy’s top winemakers, who currently makes wine at his eponymous domaine and was winemaker at Domaine Leflaive for years.  Chauvel told me during a visit in 2008 that his toughest decision was when he and the Bichot team decided to decrease yields by 10 to 15 percent.  He noted it was far more important for the reds than the whites because Chardonnay can handle a higher yield better than Pinot Noir.  But the major hurdle was a mental one.  As a farmer, decreasing yields voluntarily—without a guarantee that the price will increase—is a big challenge and an even bigger risk.

Like the other well-regarded négoçiants, Bichot is an important grower, owning six individual domaines, comprising about 250 acres of vines, from Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south.  Unlike other négoçiants who own vineyards, and therefore are growers as well, the Bichot properties, Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis, Domaine du Clos Frantin and Château-Gris, both in Nuits St. Georges, Domaine du Pavillon in Pommard, Domaine Adélie in Mercurey, and Domaine de Rochegrès in Moulin-a-Vent, each have their own winery and dedicated team, all, of course, under the supervision of Chauvel and Serveau.  The advantage of this organization, according to Albéric, is that the grapes have only a short distance to travel from vineyard to winery and there is a certain amount of friendly—one hopes—competition among the domaines each year.

Bichot’s total annual production is about two million bottles, with 25 percent of that total sourced from their six domaines.  The remainder comes from their négoçiant business, which is, as Albéric describes it, non-traditional.  He explains that they buy grapes or must, not wines, from growers who control roughly 1,000 acres throughout Burgundy.

The Wines

Domaine Long-Depaquit, Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2018 ($112):  With holdings totalling 150 acres of vines, almost half of which are located in Premier or Grand Cru vineyards, Long-Depaquit is one of the most notable estates in Chablis.  They own roughly ten percent of all Grand Cru acreage in Chablis, including the entirety of La Moutonne, an anomalous site of almost 6-acres spanning two Grand Cru vineyards, Vaudésir and Preuses.  In Les Clos alone, Long-Depaquit owns two parcels totaling almost 4 acres, which they blend together for this wine.  The full-bodied and mineral-y 2018 is forward and easy to appreciate now, but should develop beautifully over the next several years because of its impeccable balance.  The long and graceful finish makes it particularly attractive.  93

Domaine Adélie, Mercurey “Les Champs-Michaux” 2018 ($55):  Albéric purchased this almost 20-acre estate in Mercurey in 2003, the year of his first daughter’s birth.  Hence the name of the domaine.  Mercurey is known for its red wines, but with more whites like this one, the reputation of its whites might well outdistance the reds.  Chauvel explains that the soil at Les Champs-Michaux is better suited for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and believes that the clay in the soil imparts roundness to the wine.  Punching far above its weight, this exceptional village Mercurey is sensational.  Floral, with hints of ripe stone fruits, it has extraordinary elegance for a white Mercurey.  Delicious now.  92

Domaine du Pavillon, Meursault 2018 ($100): This village Meursault, a blend of five plots from the northern end of the appellation, is vinified at the Domaine du Pavillon, just down the road in Pommard.  One taste shows the dramatic textural difference between this white from the Côte d’Or and the Les Champs-Michaux from the Côte Chalonnaise.  Creamy, as opposed to stone-y, this Meursault has good weight on the palate.  Fine acidity keeps it lively.  89

Domaine du Pavillon, Corton-Charlemagne 2018 ($260): Bichot owns about three acres in the Les Languettes lieu-dit, a sunny southeast facing part of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard.  From it, they have made a glorious wine in 2018, showing nuances of spiced pineapple offset by a crispy edginess.  Its stature is not in overall weight or power, rather in its layered complexity and elegance.  Very tight at this stage, it starts to show is stature with air.  A Grand Cru white that will need years to show itself.  94

Domaine de Rochegrès, Moulin-a-Vent 2018 ($28):  Bichot purchased this 12.5-acre estate in the heart of Moulin-a-Vent, arguably the top Beaujolais cru, in 2014.  The grapes come from three lieux-dits within Moulin-a-Vent, La Rochelle, Au Mont, and the young vines from Rochegrès itself.  It is ripe, spice-y and suave, combining richness, minerality and bright acidity.  A triumph.  93

Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard “Clos des Ursulines” 2018 ($55):  Unlike Bordeaux, most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners, which explains why the consumer can see multiple bottlings of Pommard Epenots, for example.  By contrast, Clos des Ursulines, a nearly 10-acre vineyard located in the southeast part of the village, is owned entirely by the Domaine du Pavillon.  It’s what the Burgundians call a monopole.  The 2018 is muscular with remarkable suaveness for a wine from Pommard, which gives real elegance to its burly frame.  An excellent village wine—and bargain-priced for what it is.  90

Château Gris, Nuits-St. Georges 1er Cru “Château Gris” 2018 ($130):  The 1er cru vineyard, Château Gris, takes its name from the 19th century castle the Earl of Lupé-Cholet built on the site after phylloxera destroyed the vines.  Instead of the usual multi-colored tiles of Burgundian roofs, it had only slate tiles, giving arise to the nickname of Gris (grey).  This monopole, owned by Bichot since 1978, covers 8.5 acres and is planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but only the red wine from the site is classified as 1er cru.  The 2018 is positively stunning.  Far more elegant than you’d expect from Nuits-St. Georges, it still conveys a touch of wildness for which the appellation is known.  Long and finesse-filled, it dances on the palate.  Chauvel believes that the terraced rows at different elevations in the vineyard allows for varying levels of ripeness of the grapes, imparting freshness to the wine.  That likely explains its bright finish, which amplifies the wine’s charms.  95

Domaine du Clos Frantin, Echézeaux 2018 ($360):  Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin owns two and a third acres in the lieu-dit of Champs Traversin from which they make a consistently spectacular Echézeaux.  The 2018 is no exception.  It is explosive, yet not weighty.  It delivers a touch of spice along with a plethora of subtle fruit flavors.  Its understated power and suaveness are captivating.  It’s my definition of Burgundy—flavor without weight.  96

A word about the prices.  They all reflect the 25 percent tariff imposed on most European wines under 14 percent alcohol by the U.S. government in retaliation for subsidies European governments give to Airbus.  The tariff money goes to the U.S.  government, not the Burgundy producers, although that’s no consolation to the consumer who ultimately pays what is, in reality, a new tax.

In summary, Bichot’s 2018 whites reflect their sites.  The Meursault is creamy, while, in contrast, the Mercurey is stone-y.  Those who criticize négoçiants by claiming a “house style” obliterates site specificity are just plain wrong, at least in this case.  The whites are charming and forward with surprisingly good acidity.  While most of them, the Corton-Charlemagne aside, lack the verve for long aging, like the 2010 or 2014 whites, they are beautifully proportioned and, most importantly, delicious.

The reds, like the whites, speak of their origins.  They are all wonderfully balanced, showing no signs of the over-ripeness that one might have expected given the growing conditions.  They are stylish, balanced, and should evolve beautifully over the decade with proper cellaring.  These wines convey the charm of Burgundy, no easy feat with such heat during the growing season.  Clearly, careful and thoughtful minds were at work here, all the better for us who will drink and admire these fine wines in the years to come.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or Bichot in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

J. de Villebois, Touraine AOP (Loire Valley, France) Sauvignon Blanc 2018

($16, Vineyard Brands):  The Loire Valley is home to a vast number of wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, the best known of which are those from Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé appellations.  But other appellations, such as the wider one, Tourraine, should not be forgotten, especially as prices of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé rise.  This one has a subtle herbal or grassy bite.  Its gentle profile makes it work as a stand-alone aperitif, but it has enough bite to cut through spicy shrimp scampi.
88 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2020

Jean-Marc Brocard, Chablis (Burgundy, France) “Vieilles Vignes de Sainte Claire” 2017

($35):  What a great village Chablis!  It demonstrates the importance of the producer and old vines.  With this wine, Jean-Marc Brocard, one of the region’s top growers, delivers more character and clarity than many producers’ premier cru.  Flinty and precise, it cuts a gorgeous profile. It’s a classic Chablis whose charms seem endless.  Its invigorating citrus-like minerality keeps it fresh and demands another sip.
92 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) “Couvent des Jacobins” 2016

($18, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Jadot is justly proud of their “simple” Bourgogne Blanc.  The grapes — all Chardonnay — come from throughout Burgundy, allowing them to alter the blend as the vintage demands.  With a slightly warmer vintage, they can include grapes from cooler continue to keep the wine fresh.  This flexibility explains the extraordinary consistency of this Bourgogne Blanc.  The 2016 combines a hint a creaminess with a pleasant citrus tang.  Not a powerful New World-style Chardonnay, this Bourgogne Blanc is a good introduction to the charms of white Burgundy.  Ready to drink now, it’s another wine to stock up on for a potential quarantine.
89 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2020

Burgundy’s 2018 Vintage: The Importance of Harvest Date

During the annual press conference in November, 2018 at which various Burgundy luminaries discussed the recent vintage, Françoise Labet, President of the organization that represents Burgundy wine, proclaimed that the recently completed vintage was, “Close to 1947,” which was a legendary year.  He voiced no concerns about finesse or elegance of the reds, and was pleased with the quality, quantity and consistency of the harvest.  He noted that it was the second full crop in a row, a welcome relief after five years of reduced yields due to frost and hail.

Tasting the 2018 vintage a year later, the standing of the wines seems notably different.  A final verdict can’t yet be stated, since most of the wines are still in barrel.  However, an assessment at this point is in order, as the wines are now being offered for sale as “futures.”  After tasting wines from throughout Burgundy at négociant houses, such as Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Louis Jadot, as well as many small growers, I found that some of the wines, especially the reds, are truly spectacular, but the consistency is variable.  Unlike 2010 or 2015, 2018 is not a “point and shoot” vintage for the reds, though there will be some outstanding and memorable wines.

To address the growing season concisely, suffice it to say that 2018 was hot and dry. Twice as much rain as normal during the previous winter provided adequate ground water, which saved the crop from what otherwise might have been desiccating summer weather, according to Frédéric Weber, winemaker at Bouchard Père et Fils.  Though not as blistering as 2003, the heat meant that sugars rose rapidly and sometimes unpredictably just prior to harvest.  Waiting even a day to harvest resulted in over-ripe grapes in many instances.  Every grower with whom I spoke emphasized that the timing of the harvest was the most critical element in making balanced wines in 2018.  But there is no one date after which grapes were too ripe. The optimal timing of harvest is distinct for each vineyard and to each plot within a vineyard.

Following Labet at the podium last November 18, Ludivine Griveau, the winemaker of the Hospices de Beaune, emphasized the importance of harvest date.  She explained that it was the first time in her nearly two decades of winemaking that she had to “wrack my brain to decide the harvest date.  One plot was ripe but, 100 meters away, the grapes were not quite ready.  It was a very complicated puzzle.  We had the pieces, but [it was] hard to put [them] together.”  In the end, she was satisfied that they succeeded in harvesting ripe grapes—not overripe ones¬—but it took 13 days instead of the usual eight days to complete the harvest of their 117 plots.

Overall, the reds are more exciting than the whites.  That said, the whites will provide great pleasure for early consumption, especially those from the Mâconnais, while some from more exalted sites in the Côte d’Or are truly stunning at this stage and will likely benefit from significant bottle age.  Barrel samples of Corton-Charlemagne from Bouchard Père et Fils, Drouhin, Jadot and Latour, for example, were all superb, leading me to believe that that appellation did exceptionally well in 2018.  Similarly, barrel samples of Drouhin’s Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche, Bouchard’s Chevalier-Montrachet, Jadot’s Chevalier-Montrachet “Les Demoiselles” and Alex Gambal’s were all exceptionally energetic, supporting the idea that the best sites produce great wines even under difficult circumstances.

(As an aside, I should note that I do not review individual wines tasted as barrel samples; see http://winereviewonline.com/Michael_Apstein_Against_Barrel_Tastings.cfm)

Before harvest, growers were anxious about the quality of the whites, fearing the warmth of the vintage would produce flabby, low-acid wines. That turned out to be an unjustified fear.  Though lacking the energy of the 2014 or even the 2017 whites, the whites from 2018 that I tasted at Maison Bouchard Père et Fils, Maison Joseph Drouhin and Maison Louis Jadot were, across the board, charming—with surprisingly good acidity.  In general, wines from the better sites, premier and grand cru vineyards, held their acidity much better.  Though a tank sample of 2018 Bourgogne Blanc from Michel Bouzereau, a top grower in Meursault, that was just days away from bottling was riveting and could easily be mistaken for a village wine (92 pts, NYA; 2017 is $33).  In the same vein, Drouhin’s 2018 white Rully (already bottled) was stone-y, ripe and fresh and should be a good buy (91 pts, NYA; 2017 is $27).  The vast majority of village and regional whites are forward in flavor profile and should be excellent for immediate consumption as soon as they hit retailers’ shelves.

Consumers should keep an eye out for the 2018 Bourgogne Aligoté because the grape’s natural acidity buttressed the ripeness of the vintage.  For example, a soon-to-be-bottled tank sample of Bourgogne Aligoté from Domaine Lafouge, an outstanding grower in Auxey-Duresses who does not receive the recognition he deserves, was spice-y and concentrated, yet vibrant.  (91 pts, NYA; 2017 is $18.)

Consumers should also look for the whites from Pernot Belicard, a small grower based in Puligny-Montrachet.  Emphasizing the importance of harvest date, Philippe Pernot told me that, in addition to the usual analysis, he tasted the grapes at least every two days before harvest to help him decide when to pick.  It paid off.  Tank samples of his 2018 whites, just days away from bottling, captured the ripeness of the vintage without losing acidity.

Frédéric Barnier, the winemaker at Louis Jadot, described in his usual thoughtful way the dilemma unique to Pinot Noir of when to harvest.  He believes that climate change has disrupted the usual simultaneous ripening of the sugar and ripening of the tannins, the so-called physiologic ripeness.  The window between sugar and physiologic ripening has changed.  Now, grapes with sugar levels that would give a potential alcohol of 13 percent still have unripe green skins.  He emphasized that the trick is to find the right balance, which changes depending on the yield and the ratio of juice to skin.  Too early a harvest in 2018 gave wines with lower alcohol, better acidity, but greener tannins.  Too late a harvest gives alcoholic, heavy wines though with plusher tannins.  The potential problem with the reds of 2018 in his view is that the wines could be over-ripe, which obscures their sense of place.  “The biggest risk in 2018 was to lose the identity of each wine.”

Though Maison Jadot is a négociant, they also are a grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards, which made the timing of the harvest difficult. Barnier explained that there was “no magic.  You needed to taste the grapes to be sure the skins were not green.”  Similar to the harvest at the Hospices de Beaune, Jadot’s picking was spread over an unusually long period.  Barnier is confident that they got it right.  He exclaims with a broad smile, “we have not made beasts.”  After tasting Jadot’s lineup, I agree.

Barnier explains that once a decade, the wines of the Côte de Beaune are more exciting than those from the Côte de Nuits… and that 2018 was such a year.  His enthusiasm was apparent:  “In 2018, the Côte de Beaune is really great, even better than the Côte de Nuits.  Compared to the usual year the Côte de Beaune is great, especially in under-rated appellations.”  An earlier harvest resulted in better balanced wines overall, in Barnier’s opinion.

Barnier emphasized what everyone to whom I spoke told me:  The trick for the reds in 2018 was to capture their finesse and not try to enhance their inherent richness and power with more extraction or oak aging.  After tasting a lineup of more than 30 of Jadot’s reds, it’s clear they hit a home run in 2018.  Without exception, Jadot’s 2018 reds have concentration, elegance and freshness.  And, indeed, looking back at my notes, I have more three-star wines (my top category) from the Côte de Beaune than from the Côte de Nuits, though there were plenty of outstanding ones from there as well.

Like the reds from Jadot, those from Bouchard Père et Fils were consistently outstanding, showing restraint, balance and what I consider the quintessential quality of Burgundy—flavor without weight.  Frédéric Weber attributed their unqualified success to the date of harvest and their attention to detail during the winemaking.  He explained, “We let things go gently.  We didn’t need a big extraction because colors came out immediately.  We needed to limit the extraction because the raw material had lots of power.”

Drouhin’s emblematic lacey, finesse-filled style suits this vintage very nicely.  I urge consumers to look for the lesser (and more affordable) appellations from Bouchard Père et Fils, Drouhin, and Jadot when the 2018s hit the market.

Domaine Bart in Marsannay is another grower, like Lafouge, whose wines fail to get the accolades they deserve.  The Domaine expanded in the mid 1980s, when the venerable Domaine Clair Daü broke apart because of family squabbles.  Bruno Clair wound up with half the estate.  Louis Jadot smartly purchased half of the remaining half.  The remaining quarter was added to Domaine Bart, where Pierre Bart, who runs the estate with his uncle, Martin Bart, are descended from another part of the Clair family. Though Bart owns parcels in Bonnes Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze, the estate is best known for its exemplary wines from Marsannay.  The Barts made eight lieux-dits in 2018, all of which were sublime and reflected their sites.  Pierre ascribed the suave texture and freshness of these wines to their caution against extracting too much during fermentation.  The Bart Marsannays usually represent fantastic value.  I strongly suspect that the ‘18s will as well.

Though generalizations are difficult, especially in Burgundy, here are my 2018 vintage take-aways at this stage of their evolution:

1) Though this is a big crop, the second in a row, prices will not fall because of world-wide demand.

2) The heat helped wines, both red and white, in areas where ripeness is sometimes a problem.

3) The whites from the Mâconnais and the regional or village wines from the Côte d’Or have an attractive fleshiness, which will make them a delight to drink upon release.

4) Many of the reds will be spectacular, but I would urge you to wait and taste them from the bottle before taking a plunge because a lot can happen between now and then, both in evolution of the wines and in politics—the tariffs.

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Email me your thoughts about Burgundy at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 1, 2020

Domaine Louis Latour, Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) En Caradeux 2017

($45, Louis Latour, USA):  Maison Louis Latour, on of Burgundy’s top producers, made a spectacular array of white wines in 2017.  This Premier Cru from Pernand-Vergelesses is just one example.  Latour owns a portion of the vineyard, En Caradeux, which sits in an ideal position in the middle of the slope, facing east, which means it’s a Domaine or Estate wine.  Across the valley is the hill of Corton.  The wine, 100 percent Chardonnay, delivers an alluring minerality, not the overt fruitiness seen in some New World examples.  There’s a riveting acidity that holds your interest throughout a meal.  Time in the glass reveals more of its charms so this is a wine to savor.  Though this would be a perfect wine for turkey this week, my experience tells me that it will develop even more complexity over the next five years.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2019

Mixed Vintage News from Burgundy

BEAUNE, Burgundy, November 19, 2019:  First the good news.  The 2018 vintage produced large quantities of high-quality wines, both red and white.  It’s unusual to see good yields of high-quality wines in Burgundy, but that’s what happened in 2018.  Unlike the 2015 vintage, which I characterized as a “point and shot” vintage for the reds because the quality was so consistently high that you practically couldn’t miss picking a fine wine, there is considerable variability among the 2018s that I’ve tasted.  No surprise there because, after all, this is Burgundy.  Look for more detailed reporting in future after the wines are bottled.

The just completed 2019 vintage looks to be of high quality as well, though yields were down by 50%.  Indeed, at the just completed 159th Hospices de Beaune auction, known locally as Le Vente des Vins, prices were up by about 20% overall.  Enthusiasm for the vintage was high at this early stage among critics.  In the 50 wines shown in the pre-auction tasting, I found an incredible consistency and raciness that balanced their richness.

The bad news is the mixed economic picture.  Both Gilles de Larouzière (the head of the organization that represents the major négociants in Burgundy) and Louis Fabrice Latour (the President of the BIVB, the professional organization that represents all of Burgundy) explained that the current economic picture was mixed.  On the positive side, both the volume and value of exports of Burgundy so far in 2019 reached record numbers.  On the other hand, there is considerable economic uncertainty for producers stemming from multiple sources:  Unrest in Hong Kong that perturbs that important market; continuing confusion about Brexit and possible peril for the British market, and protests by the the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) throughout France that have hurt the supermarket business (where much of regional Burgundy is sold) while also discouraging sales to restaurants and bars as customers avoid areas hit by violence.

For us Americans, the 25% tariff on French wine under 14% alcohol by volume will likely chill the otherwise hot Burgundy market.  Though the tariff is 25%, the final increase to the consumer will likely be more as those in the distribution chain take their mark ups on prices that now include the 25% tariff.  Gilles de Larouzière, CEO of Bouchard Pere et Fils, says they cannot afford to reduce their prices to offset the tariffs, because their margins are already very thin.  Louis Fabrice Latour, who also heads that eponymous producer, thinks shipping in bulk to avoid tariffs is a terrible idea because the wine could be adversely affected in transport or even adulterated before bottling, and risks losing the Burgundian identity.  That said, the prospect of tariffs did not impede U.S. buyers at the auction.  Jeanne-Marie de Champs, one the very best brokers in the regions, noted that she had a similar number of American clients for whom she was bidding this year as last.
Posted by Michael Apstein at 8:57 AM

William Fevre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) 2018

($25, Maison Marques et Domaines): Saint-Bris, formerly known as Sauvignon de Saint Bris before it was elevated to appellation d’origine controllée (AOC) status, is curious and unique in Burgundy.  Located in the far north, near Chablis and covering a mere 200 acres, it requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  A quick look at the map might explain why.  It is barely 80 miles from Sancerre, home to Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Producers insist that the same Kimmeridgian limestone of the nearby Chablis area imparts a lovely mineral component to the wine.  That is certainly apparent is this one from William Fevre, one of Chablis’ top producers.   They have crafted a stunning example of Saint-Bris.  Tightly wound, it delivers its cutting stony character after sitting in the glass for 15 minutes.  A subtle bite of Sauvignon Blanc reminds you of the grape, but the overall impression is one of minerals, not grassiness.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

Maison Louis Latour, Côteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir “Les Pierres Dorées” 2017

($26, Louis Latour, USA):  Côteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation, replacing Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, an appellation I’ve never seen in the U.S., perhaps because a “grand ordinary” wine is hard to sell.  Grapes for this appellation can come from anywhere in Burgundy, from Beaujolais in the south to Irancy in the north.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are the two chief grapes allowed for red or rosé, though less-well known ones, such as César, are also allowed.  From a practical point of view, it allows Beaujolais producers to now label their wines as Côteaux Bourguignons to take advantage of the cachet of Bourgogne.  To what extent they will do it remains to be seen.  In any case, Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s star producers, is using the appellation for their new project, planting Pinot Noir in Beaujolais.  Latour has been making Valmoissine — a stylish Pinot Noir-based wine outside of Burgundy in the south of France — for decades.  Now, they show it can be done in southern Beaujolais, the part known as Pierres Dorées, named for the golden color of the limestone rocks.  The soil there is closer in composition to that found in the Côte d’Or as opposed to the granite that is common in the cru of Beaujolais.  Earthy nuances complement juicy flavors in this mid-weight wine. The barest hint of tannic bitterness in the finish is a welcome component.  It’s a perfect choice for a simple take-out or oven-roasted chicken.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

William Fevre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) 2018

($25, Maison Marques et Domaines): Saint-Bris, formerly known as Sauvignon de Saint Bris before it was elevated to appellation d’origine controllée (AOC) status, is curious and unique in Burgundy.  Located in the far north, near Chablis and covering a mere 200 acres, it requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  A quick look at the map might explain why.  It is barely 80 miles from Sancerre, home to Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Producers insist that the same Kimmeridgian limestone of the nearby Chablis area imparts a lovely mineral component to the wine.  That is certainly apparent is this one from William Fevre, one of Chablis’ top producers.   They have crafted a stunning example of Saint-Bris.  Tightly wound, it delivers its cutting stony character after sitting in the glass for 15 minutes.  A subtle bite of Sauvignon Blanc reminds you of the grape, but the overall impression is one of minerals, not grassiness.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Maison Louis Latour, Côteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir “Les Pierres Dorées” 2017

($26, Louis Latour, USA):  Côteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation, replacing Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, an appellation I’ve never seen in the U.S., perhaps because a “grand ordinary” wine is hard to sell.  Grapes for this appellation can come from anywhere in Burgundy, from Beaujolais in the south to Irancy in the north.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are the two chief grapes allowed for red or rosé, though less-well known ones, such as César, are also allowed.  From a practical point of view, it allows Beaujolais producers to now label their wines as Côteaux Bourguignons to take advantage of the cachet of Bourgogne.  To what extent they will do it remains to be seen.  In any case, Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s star producers, is using the appellation for their new project, planting Pinot Noir in Beaujolais.  Latour has been making Valmoissine — a stylish Pinot Noir-based wine outside of Burgundy in the south of France — for decades.  Now, they show it can be done in southern Beaujolais, the part known as Pierres Dorées, named for the golden color of the limestone rocks.  The soil there is closer in composition to that found in the Côte d’Or as opposed to the granite that is common in the cru of Beaujolais.  Earthy nuances complement juicy flavors in this mid-weight wine. The barest hint of tannic bitterness in the finish is a welcome component.  It’s a perfect choice for a simple take-out or oven-roasted chicken.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, Bourgogne Aligoté (Burgundy, France) 2017

($33):  Based in Puligny-Montrachet, Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, a family-owned and run domaine, is one of Burgundy’s stars for white wines.  No question, their Bâtard-and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet are stunning, albeit at triple digit prices.  They put the same care that goes into those Grand Crus into their Bourgogne Aligoté.  Aligoté is the second permitted white grape in Burgundy and is planted in about 4,500 acres throughout the Côte d’Or and in the Chablis area (compared to 37,500 acres for Chardonnay).  Aligoté can make thin and sharp wines and was, and still is, used to make a Kir, an aperitif made with a touch of cassis syrup poured into a glass of Aligoté. Pernot’s rendition, however, has remarkable depth and purity that would be wasted in a Kir.  Instead, embrace this energetic wine with its citrus-tinged acidity the next time you need to cut through spicy Asian fare, steamed clams or other bivalves.  My friend, John Hayes, refers to it as a “dust-buster.”
90 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Simonnet-Febvre, Irancy (Burgundy, France) 2015

($20):  Irancy, a small red wine appellation in northern Burgundy, near Chablis, is a name to remember.  Its northern locale has meant lean and angular wines in the past because Pinot Noir was tough to ripen.  But climate change in general and the wonderfully warm 2015 vintage means it’s time to take another look at this under-the-radar area.  Simonnet-Febvre, a top Chablis producer, fashioned a balanced Irancy in 2015, focusing on the mineral side of Pinot Noir as opposed to its fruity aspect.  A pleasant touch of bitter cherry-like flavor appears in the finish.  Don’t expect opulence in this wine, but its firm edge makes it a lovely match for marinated grilled chicken.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) 2015

($40):  Comte Lafon, one of Burgundy’s most talented and best producers, is known especially for his white wines from Meursault, which usually sell for triple digits upon release.  Here’s a chance to get an insight into his talents with this one from Saint-Véran, appellation bordering Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais part of Burgundy.  Opulent, reflecting both Lafon’s style and the vintage, it has enough acidity to keep you coming back throughout the meal.  Fortunately, unlike his Meursault, this beauty is for the table, not the cellar.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) 2016

($44, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Ferret has always been one of the top names in Pouilly-Fuissé, being one of the first to move from bulk to bottled wine after World War II to ensure quality.  Since being acquired by Beaune-based Maison Louis Jadot in 2008, Ferret’s wines have reached new heights, no doubt, in part due to Audrey Braccini, their exceptionally talented winemaker.  (Ferret has had female winemakers since 1840.)  Though Ferret bottles several vineyard-specific Pouilly-Fuissé, this one is a blend from their vineyards throughout the appellation.  The 2016 conveys the delightful combination of charming fruitiness supported by a stone-like mineral quality.  Enlivening acidity, especially in the finish, keeps it fresh throughout a meal.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Update from Burgundy: Hot, But Not 2003…At Least Not Yet

Record-breaking temperatures hit France and elsewhere in Europe recently with Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, recording temperatures of over 100 degrees.  While those kinds of temperatures are common in California wine country, they are rare in Burgundy and immediately raise the question:  How the vines and grapes faring?

Burgundy has seen warm vintages recently; 2015 and 2009 spring to mind.  Both of those years produced sensational reds and very good, but perhaps early-drinking whites.  Still, the temperatures in those years were not close to what Burgundy experienced this June.  The heat in June reminded people to whom I spoke about the canicule (dog days of summer, or heat wave) that occurred in August of 2003.

The persistently high temperatures during the day–and even more importantly at night–in 2003 altered the character of the wines.  High nocturnal temperatures draw down malic acid levels in the grapes, resulting in lower-than-usual acidity, which, in turn, especially for the whites, translated into flabby wines.  Compounding the problem in 2003 was that the heat came toward the end of the growing season, when it was dry, accelerating ripening.  Sugar levels in the grapes jumped unexpectedly and caught vintners off guard while they were away on their traditional August vacation.  As a result, many grapes stayed on the vines too long and the many of the resulting wines tasted cooked or over-ripe.

Such outcomes were not uniformly the case, thankfully.  Showing how hard it is to predict how wines will develop, two 2003 red Burgundies that I tasted in 2016, both from Jadot–their Beaune Clos des Ursules and the Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques–I drank in 2016 were superb, fresh and still youthful.  There are exceptions to almost everything in the world of wine, but still…extreme heat certainly imperils the potential quality of fine wine.

The heat of 2019 is not that of 2003.  At least not yet.  Frédéric Barnier, Maison Louis Jadot’s very smart and talented winemaker, told me that he envisioned no damage so far, explaining that canicule is not a problem if the vines have water and leaves, which they do now because of lots of rain during the spring.  Indeed, he thought the extra heat helped, because the vines were behind schedule because of this year’s cool, rainy spring, and the heat allowed them to catch up.  However, he notes that more heat later in the growing season could be a big problem because now the ground is “dry, very dry.”  He felt bad for the growers who, unluckily, had performed rognage (leaf removal to expose the newly formed grapes to more sunshine and to help dry the bunches) just before the heatwave hit.

Megan McClune, the Managing Director at Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay, agreed that the dryness could be a problem because there has been little rain–and none is forecast for the next several weeks.

It’s impossible to assess a vintage until the grapes are in the winery and the wine has been made.  Even then, as those two 2003s from Jadot showed, early assessments of the wines can be faulty.  But at this point, Burgundy is on guard….

Posted by Michael Apstein on July 10 at 12:48 PM

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint Julien, Médoc (Burgundy, France) “Croix de Beaucaillou” 2011

($50):  In 1995, as part of his upgrading of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Jean-Eugène Borie introduced a “second” wine, Croix de Beaucaillou, which since 2005 has been a separate wine made from a separate vineyard that lies half-way between Lalande-Borie and Ducru-Beaucaillou itself.  Croix is still technically a second wine because some of the lesser lots from Ducru find their way into Croix, but Bruno Borie, the current managing director at Ducru, emphasizes that 90 percent of Croix comes from its own discrete vineyard. With a seductive glossy texture, the 2011, an excellent vintage, is showing beautifully now.  Complexity shows as it sits in the glass as layers of savory nuances emerge.  Supple tannins add to its refinement.  With release prices of Ducru hovering at $200 a bottle, the 2011 Croix is a bargain.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 2, 2019

Lucien Muzard et Fils, Santenay Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) Maladière Vieilles Vignes 2017

($42, Polaner Selections):  The 2017 red Burgundies fall into two categories: forward and charming ready-to-drink wines and more structured ones suitable for the cellar.  This Santenay falls into the first category.  I attribute its amazing gracefulness, especially for Santenay, to the old vines in the hands of a talented producer.  It combines fresh red fruit-like flavors and savory notes and ends with a delightful freshness.  Finesse-filled, it still conveys the charming, slightly rustic profile of Santenay.  Frankly, given the prices of Burgundy these days, it’s a great buy.
93 Michael Apstein May 14, 2019

Nicholas Maillet, Mâcon-Verzé (Burgundy, France) “Le Chemin Blanc” 2017

($42, Polaner Selections):  Though the 2017 vintage in Burgundy was stylistically inconsistent for reds, the white Burgundies were generally better and more consistent.   And that’s true for the white wines from the Mâconnais.  Fortunately, and luckily for consumers, Maillet recently has started bottling their wines instead of selling them to the local co-op.  According to Polaner’s website, Maillet works organically and biodynamically with natural yeast.  The grapes come from 85-year old vines.  Though priced above most wines from the Mâconnais, its quality is well above most wines from that area as well.  It shows the heights to which wines from the Mâconnais can rise.  Raised entirely in stainless steel, it has depth and complexity usually associated with barrel-aged wines.  The lack of oak aging allows the fruit and especially, the minerality, to shine — and it does.  The citrus acidity in the finish amplifies the wines stoniness and enhances its allure.
93 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Ballot Millot, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2017

($31, Polaner Selections):  Ballot Millot, a small grower based in Meursault, makes a consistently good line-up of Burgundy, both red and white.  With the prices of Burgundy going through the roof, consumers need to look to Burgundies with less prestigious labels, such as Bourgogne Blanc instead of Meursault.  One of the nice things about buying regional wines, such as this one, from a grower is that it is virtually certain that the grapes come from areas near their estate.  So, although Bourgogne Blanc legally might come from anywhere in Burgundy, including the Mâconnais, it is highly likely that this one comes entirely from the Côte de Beaune.  It certainly tastes that way, with fine minerality and finesse.  Crispness balances its intensity.
90 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Domaine Parent, Pommard (Burgundy, France) La Croix Blanche 2012

($70):   Though not the current release, consumers need to be aware of this wine since it is still available.  Domaine Parent, clearly one of the top growers in Pommard, opts to bottle this village wine separately because Anne Parent, who runs the domaine with her sister, Catherine, believes it is distinctive.  No argument here.  I’ve always loved Parent’s La Croix Blanche because it is a premier cru masquerading as a village wine.  What’s amazing about the 2012 is how approachable it is now.  Wines from Pommard have a reputation for being burly and tough when young.  Well, at 7 years of age, the tannins of this one has become silky and its fragrance and finesse has emerged.  Muscular, yet elegant, it’s a delight to drink now, with a steak. And given the current stratospheric prices of Burgundy, it’s a bargain.
92 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) La Piece Sous le Bois 2016

($60):  The vineyards of Blagny, a hamlet located high on the slope in Puligny-Montrachet, spread over both that village and the village of Meursault.  So, it’s not surprising that the wines from Meursault-Blagny have a mineral-like resemblance to those from Puligny.  Crisp and racy, this wine, from La Piece Sous le Bois (“the site below the woods”), combines the richness of Meursault with the elegance and precision of Puligny.  Its persistent finish makes it all the more enjoyable to drink.
93 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Domaine Joblot, Givry Premier Cru (Burgundy, France) “L’Empreinte” 2017

($47, Polaner Selections):   With the sky-high prices of wines from the Côte d’Or, consumers who love the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based wines from Burgundy must look elsewhere within that region.  Givry, in the Côte Chalonnaise, is a good place to start, especially with the wines from Domaine Joblot, one of the top producers in the appellation.  L’Empreinte is a blend of their best barrels from a variety of premier cru vineyards.  It delivers the stony underpinning for which the wines of Givry are known as well as a welcome concentration and depth.  Refined and powerful, it shows that the charms of Burgundy exist outside the Côte d’Or.
91 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Trapet Père et Fils, Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (Burgundy, France) “A Minima” 2017

($28, Polaner Selections):  Trapet Père et Fils, one of the great growers based in Gevery-Chambertin, makes outstanding wines from that village and neighboring villages, such as Marsannay.  They also make this under-the-radar wine with an eye-catching nearly blank label with tiny letters. Unlike the vast majority of red wines from Burgundy, which are made entirely from Pinot Noir, Passetoutgrains is made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay.  It’s a juicy spicy thoroughly engaging wine.  Though not a cerebral Burgundy that make you stop and think, it’s a perfect choice for take-out rotisserie chicken.
89 Michael Apstein May 7, 2019

Benjamin Leroux, Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2016

($35, Vineyard Roads):

  This is a fabulous value.  Benjamin Leroux, the former winemaker at Comte Armand, the famed Pommard property, established his own estate in 2007.  Now, like many small estates, has both his own grapes and buys some from growers he’s known over the years.  This Bourgogne Blanc, comes mostly from his vineyard sites near Meursault supplemented by a little fruit from neighbors’ vineyards.  It’s real white Burgundy, with a focus on mineral aspect as opposed to the fruitiness of Chardonnay.  There’s a case of it in my cellar.  How’s that for a recommendation.  

92 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2019

Benjamin Leroux, Auxey-Duresse (Burgundy, France) 2016

($45, Vineyard Roads):   Auxey-Duresses, a village slightly off Burgundy’s the beaten track, offers great values precisely for that reason.  This white Burgundy punches far above its lowly village appellation, delivering bright and cutting minerality along with a hint of creaminess.  Another bargain for what it is and another case in my cellar.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2019

Domaine Bouzereau-Gruère, Chassagne-Montrachet (Burgundy, France) Blanchot Dessous 2016

($48, AP Imports): This wine exemplifies the confusion surrounding Burgundy.  The vineyard, Blanchot, is divided into two parts, Blanchot Dessus (dessus means “upper”) and Blanchot Dessous (dessous means lower).  Blanchot Dessus is a classified as a Premier Cru, while the lower part, is just a village wine.  (Both parts of the vineyard abut Grand Cru vineyards.)  Though “just” a village wine, in hands of Domaine Bouzereau-Gruère, it tastes like a Premier Cru.  Happily, for the consumer, it’s priced as a village wine.  Creamy and stony with lively acidity that keeps it fresh — and you coming back for more — it’s a wine that Burgundy lovers should snap up.  
92 Michael ApsteinFeb 12, 2019

Domaine Bryczek, Morey Saint Denis (Burgundy, France) Clos Salon 2016

 ($50, AP Imports): The 2016 vintage in Burgundy was plagued by calamitous weather causing significantly reduced yields in many locales and more than normal variability in quality throughout the region.  Some producers wound up making small amounts excellent wine, while others wound up with wines that were out of balance.  Domaine Bryczek, located in Morey St. Denis, is in the former category.  His Clos Salon, a village wine, tastes like many producers’ Premier Crus.  A glossy texture enhances the combination of dark cherry fruitiness combined with a lovely earthiness.  Showing particularly well now, I have no doubt it will develop more complexity with five to ten years in the cellar.  It sings and is a great bargain for Burgundy.   
91 Michael ApsteinFeb 12, 2019

The Mother of All Wine Auctions

All hospitals have a Director.  But only one–Les Hospices de Beaune–has a Director of Winemaking.  (As a physician, I am especially interested in seeing that organizational chart.)  The hospital needs a director of winemaking because it owns vineyards–over 150 acres of them, 85 percent of which are classified as Premier and Grand Cru, making it one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy.  It, or rather Ludivine Griveau, the current winemaker and the first woman to hold that position, makes wine from these vineyards every year.  She supervises the 23 vignerons (wine growers) each of whom is responsible for about 6.5-acres of vines. This year she made, and the Hospices sold at auction, 50 different wines (cuvées), 33 reds and 17 whites.  

The auction is unlike any other wine auction, charity or otherwise.  There are no old vintages, no giant bottles, no cases for sale.  And unlike other charity auctions, there are no gourmet dinners with famous chefs, no winemaker dinners, no spectacular vacation retreats on the block.  At the Hospices de Beaune auction, wine from the current vintage, barely three months after harvest, is sold exclusively by the traditional Burgundian wine measure, une pièce, a 228-liter barrel, so it’s not even ready to be bottled, let alone consumed.  In addition to what will eventually be 300 bottles or 25 cases of wine, the winning bidder also gets the barrel.

Although the French government, through its medical system, covers the operating expenses of the Beaune hospital, all capital improvements, such as the just-complete ambulatory center, come from money raised at what the Burgundians themselves call simply “La vente des vins” (the sale of wine).  Most everybody else calls it Les Hospices de Beaune.  (The official name is La Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune.)  By whatever name it’s called, it remains the most important event on the Burgundy wine calendar.  

Thousands of visitors transform the usually sleepy town of Beaune into an overflowing in-the-streets weekend party whose penultimate event is the auction, which takes place on the third Sunday in November.  The final event of the weekend, held on Monday, is the Paulée de Meursault, sometimes referred to as the longest lunch in the world, where more than 1,000 Burgundy enthusiasts–including prominent producers–bring bottles of Burgundy to share generously and liberally with tablemates.

At the recently completed 158th annual auction, a total of 828 barrels (631 of red and 197 of white) were sold during the 7-hour event, raising $16.2 million, an all-time record.  Prices, unsurprisingly since it is Burgundy, were up compared to 2017 and 2016, 19 and 29 percent, respectively, and foretell retail prices when the 2018 wines final arrive on our shores in two years’ time.

The Hospices de Beaune, founded by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, in 1443, has acquired its vineyards over the centuries, staring with its first bequest in 1457 by Guillemette Levenier.  Donors continue to add parcels.  In 2010, William Friedberg, formerly a Boston-based wine importer, donated just over 1.5-acres of a vineyard located in the village of Santenay in honor of his recently deceased wife, Christine.  That wine, like all the wines auctioned at the Hospices de Beaune, is sold as, and will be labeled with, both the appellation and name of the honoree, such as Beaune 1er Cru, Cuvée Nicolas Rolin or Santenay, Cuvée Christine Friedberg.

In the past, the only people allowed to bid at the auction were the important Burgundy wine producers or négociants, such as Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, or Maison Louis Latour.  After acquiring the newly made wine, they would perform the élevage (literally, raising the wine) by completing the winemaking and offering it for sale via the usual commercial channels.  In 2005, to expand the reach of the auction, the Hospices de Beaune partnered with Christie’s, the prestigious London-based auction house.  Christie’s encourages ordinary consumers to bid by introducing Christie’s Live™, on-line real-time bidding by anyone via a computer, and now, a smartphone, anywhere in the world.  They also reduced the size of each lot to a single barrel to make it easier for consumers to buy.  

Christie’s involvement has clearly worked.  This year about 70 percent of the barrels went to traditional Beaune-based négociants, while the remained were snapped up by private buyers, with Asians accounting for 55 percent by value.  Private buyers from the U.S. accounted for only about 7 percent of the purchases, while Europeans accounted for the rest, according to Christie’s.

Although now open to the public, the auction still poses hurdles for the ordinary consumer.  Off-site bidders have no opportunity to taste the wines before the auction so are forced to bid solely on the reputation of the cuvée and the vintage.  The winning bidder must arrange for and pay a négociant to perform the élevage.  “Christie’s will be delighted to advise you if you are not already in contact with a local négociant,” according to the auction catalogue.  But it might be difficult to convince a négociant to raise a single barrel (those in the trade typically buy multiple barrels of the same wine), especially a wine they didn’t think enough of to bid on themselves.  After all, the name of the négociant still appears on the label along with the buyer.

The role of the négociant performing the élevage is critical.   Since the négociants buy the wine in barrel, which by tradition has always been made of new French oak, they must decide whether and when to transfer (rack) the wine into older oak barrels.  (Over the last several years, the Hospices has experimented by fermenting and selling several of the cuvées in one-year old oak barrels, but the practice remains selling the wine in new oak barrels).  Négociants must make other winemaking decisions to achieve the style of wine they want, including how long to age the wine in barrel, whether and how to control the malolactic transformation and whether to fine and filter the wine prior to bottling.  Indeed, the same wine, made by Ludivine Griveau, a barrel of which is sold to two different négociants, will taste entirely different once bottled, ultimately reflecting the style and talent of the négociant as well as the vintage.

Despite these hurdles, there are more and more individuals who want to see their name on the Hospices de Beaune label and will continue to drive up the prices.  Those interested in buying wines next year should contact Christie’s (bbueninck@christies.com) for details and instructions.

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Questions or comments? E-mail me your thoughts at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 2, 2019

Domaine Mee Godard, Morgon (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Grand Cras 2017

($32):  Realizing the diversity of soils within Morgon, the wine producers there divided that appellation into six fairly large (averaging about 450 acres) climats, one of which is Grand Cras.  This one, from Mee Godard, one of the rising stars in Morgon, comes from a single 1-acre plot of 20-year-old vines.  The darker soil in Grand Cras compared to that in Corcelette, another of the Morgon climats, tells the story.  A bigger and bolder wine, it has a paradoxical austerity and charm.  Less accessible with firmer tannins than her Morgon Corcelette at this stage, it has a lovely firmness without a trace of hardness.  Give it a few years in the cellar or open and decant it several hours before you serve it with a hearty stew this winter.  
93 Michael Apstein Dec 18, 2018

The 2017 Burgundies

Everyone was smiling during my visit to Burgundy last month.  The cellars were, after all, chock full of wine after two good-sized vintages.  At Maison Louis Jadot, the barrel cellars were filled to the brim.  For the first time ever, barrels were stacked three high in a cellar designed for just two tiers.  They even had rows of barrels–3 and 4 high–in the winery. The 2017 vintage was normal in volume, but is considered large by comparison to the five short vintages that preceded it.  The 2018 vintage was copious as well, which explains why the cellars are so full.  Frédéric Drouhin put it succinctly: “Burgundy is back.  We have wine.”  The 2018 vintage, just finishing its alcoholic fermentation, is already being hailed–somewhat prematurely in my view–as exceptional.  François Labet, President of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne), the organization that represents all Burgundy growers and producers, said–with barely contained enthusiasm–that “It’s shining in Burgundy just like our 2018 vintage, which is ideal . . . close to 1947.”   His enthusiasm was not isolated. Sales of the 2018 wines at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction set a record. 

Let’s start with the white wines from the 2017 vintage.  My assessment is based on recent tastings of hundreds of wines from growers and négociants from Chablis in the north to the Côte Chalonnaise in the south.  Many of the whites were already bottled or in tank awaiting bottling, whereas most of the reds were still in barrel.  As readers know, I do not review specific wines still in barrel because they still have a long way to go before they are finished.  Barrel samples do, however, give a good sense of the vintage in general. (see link below, which explains the drawbacks of barrel samples.)

The whites are consistent and excellent, delivering energy and a sense of place.  Not as tightly wound as the 2010s, the 2017s are more similar to the charming and thoroughly enjoyable 2014s. It’s hard to wrong with them, especially if you buy from producers whose wines you’ve liked in the past.  Just don’t expect the prices to come down because of the relatively large crop.  Producers are still trying to catch up from the short-falls of the previous five years.

But bargains still abound.  Look for well-priced examples from Maison Joseph Drouhin–their 2017 Mâcon-Lugny “Les Crays” (88, $16) and Saint-Véran (90, $18), both reviewed this week–as well as Paul Pernot’s lacy and flowery Bourgogne Blanc (91, $27).

Indeed, Pernot, one of the most consistent names in Puligny-Montrachet, made exceptional white wines in 2017 that are zesty, penetrating and powerful but retain Pernot’s hallmark of finesse. You could buy any of their wines from their Bourgogne Blanc up to their Bâtard-Montrachet, and be thrilled.  Of special note is their mineral-infused and lively village Puligny-Montrachet (94, $55), which gives more enjoyment and precision than many producers’ premier crus at a 40 percent lower price.

The 2017 Chablis from Drouhin’s Domaine Vaudon provide excellent value.  Véronique Drouhin raved about the “beautiful fruit at harvest.”  She explained that they left lots of lees (spent yeast) after pressing because the grapes were so clean.  She ascribes the brilliant acidity in the finished wines to very little conversion of malic to lactic acid during the malolactic fermentation.  A reduced crop in 2017 marred the otherwise excellent report from Chablis, the only region of Burgundy where crop size was smaller than usual because of two severe frosts on April 18 and 29.  Drouhin’s 2017 village Chablis from their own vineyards, bottled as Réserve de Vaudon, is flinty and long (91, $34).  It’s a stellar example of how invigorating village Chablis can be, in the right hands.  A step up are their citrus-tinged and mineral-y Chablis 1er Cru Sécher (93, not yet released, hereafter “NYR”) and their fuller, yet still flinty, 1er Cru Mont de Milieu (93, NYR).

I’ve always liked the wines from Domaine Lafouge, an under-the-radar producer based in Auxey-Duresses.  They vinified their 2017 whites in their recently completed winery in that village, which may explain why they are so stunning across the board.  Their whites from Auxey-Duresses and Meursault were impressive, all showing their clear origins and distinctiveness.  The Auxey-Duresses “Les Boutonnières,” a perfumed and snappy village wine, should be an especially attractive value (91, the 2017 is not yet priced, but the 2016 is about $36).  Lafouge’s 2017 village Meursault from the lieux-dits of Les Meix-Chavaux (94, NYR, the 2016 is $50) and Les Casse-Têtes (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60) are exciting, spicy and a delight to drink. 

Though Domaine Parent is known for their stellar red wines, they also produce note-worthy whites, especially their Monthélie Blanc, an unusual wine since 90 percent of the wine from that village is red.  I am a big fan of Parent’s Monthélie white, made from purchased grapes, and their 2017 confirms my enthusiasm.  Both creamy and zesty, this white Monthélie conveys both power and restraint (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60).  It’s quite an amazing village wine.

In the Côte Chalonnaise, Domaine Jobard consistently produces stunning, well-priced wines from Rully.  That streak continued in 2017 with her Rully “Montagne la Folie” (91, NYR, the 2015 is $22).  It’s clean and bright delivering the classic stony character of Rully enhanced with a hint of creaminess.  Claudie Jobard said that the key to making excellent wines in 2017 was to limit yield to avoid dilution.  Her wines showed that she did just that.

Michel Bouzereau, one of the very top producers in Meursault, made spectacular 2017s.  To emphasize the origin of the grapes, he opted to label his Bourgogne Blanc with the new appellation, Côte d’Or, indicating that all the wine came exclusively from that part of Burgundy.  In his case, he told me that the wine came from his 11 acres of vineyards, comprising almost one-third of his domaine, that lie just outside of the official confines of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  After tasting it, you’d never know it’s a “simple” Bourgogne Blanc because of its depth and riveting acidity that amplifies its considerable character (94, NYR, the 2016 is $34).  His village Meursault from Le Grand Charrons (94, NTR, the 2016 is $58) and Les Tessons (95, NYR, the 2016 is $67), with their spicy notes, also punch well above their weight class.

The most eye-opening producer I visited this year was Pernot-Belicard.  The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, the winemaker who learned at the side of his grandfather, the famed Paul Pernot, one of the leading producers in Puligny-Montrachet.  When Philippe married, his wife brought family vineyards with her, the grapes from which had been sold to négociants previously.  Though the Pernot-Belicard domaine was founded less than a decade ago, the vineyards had been in the Belicard family for generations so there are plenty of old vines.  The 2017 wines from Pernot-Belicard are spectacular.  Those who love white Burgundy should buy as much of them as their wallets allow, including their extraordinary and well-priced Bourgogne Blanc (93, $22, likely the best wine for the money I tasted this trip), their old-vine village Puligny-Montrachet (94, $55), and their racy and stony Meursault-Perrières (96, NYR, the 2015 is $85).

Let’s look at the reds.  I tasted far fewer bottled reds than whites, and will leave specific recommendations to another time.  However, extensive barrel tastings and discussions with producers did give me a sense of what I will call a bi-polar vintage. Make no mistake, the 2017s reds are very good.  The problem for consumers is that there are two distinct styles of wines–charming and forward or denser and more structured–depending, in large measure, on yields.  Both styles are very good, but consumers will need to realize that some of the wines are seductively charming for drinking over the next several years while others will reward extended cellaring.

Anne Parent, a top producer in Pommard, bursts with enthusiasm described the 2017 reds, “The fruit is really amazing.”  The vintage produced good quantities of healthy grapes, requiring producers to discard few grapes before putting them into fermenting vats.  She notes that the wines are “charming;” they lack the structure of the 2015s, 2016s or 2018s, but will be very enjoyable soon after release.

I found many wines that fit that description, but I also found wines with density and structure, often within the same cellar.  At Maison Louis Jadot, for example, their Santenay Maladière, newly acquired with their purchase of Domaine Prieur-Brunet and their Pernand-Vergelesses Croix de la Pierre, were charming and forward.  I could easily envision enjoying them in a few years’ time.  In contrast, Jadot’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes and Les Fuées were dense and structured.  Similarly, their wines from Beaune showed good concentration and structure.  At Méo-Camuzet, their reds all had presence and power appropriate to the appellation.

Frédéric Barnier, Jadot’s talented winemaker, noted that many of their wines have taken on far more structure and density since they have completed what turned out to be a very early malolactic fermentation.  I wonder whether critics who tasted the wines earlier in the year, proclaiming them to be light, will be surprised by the weight they have put on recently.  

As always when speaking of Burgundy, it is dangerous to generalize.  That’s certainly the case with the 2017 vintage, especially the reds.  It’s what I’ll call a “wine writer’s” vintage because consumers will need advice, in contrast to selecting the 2015s reds when they could point with eyes closed and be happy with their selection.  So, stayed tuned.

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http://winereviewonline.com/Michael_Apstein_Against_Barrel_Tastings.cfm

E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or the 2017s in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

December 5, 2018

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) 2017

($18, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.):  The wines from Saint-Véran, a small appellation surrounding its more famous cousin, Pouilly-Fuissé, can offer exceptional value, especially when produced by someone like Drouhin.  Made entirely from Chardonnay, Drouhin’s Saint-Véran combines a lovely stoniness characteristic of the appellation and a hint of creamy seductiveness with the elegant and lacy Drouhin style.  A bright finish keeps you coming back.  A great bargain! 
90 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2018

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Mâcon-Lugny (Burgundy, France) Les Crays 2017

 ($16, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.):  Véronique Drouhin explained that they have always purchased grapes from a variety of growers who have holdings in Les Crays, but this is the first year they decided to put the name of that lieu-dit (vineyard) on the label.   I suspect the alluring hint of creaminess comes from Drouhin’s decision to ferment and age a small portion of the wine in 500-liters barrels.  Its appealing delicacy and verve is the hallmark Drouhin style.  Don’t miss this well-price white Burgundy.  
88 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2018

Domaine Mee Godard, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Michelons 2017

($27):  Godard just acquired a vineyard in Moulin-à-Vent, expanding her holdings to about 16 acres in total.  Au Michelon, located in the northern part of Moulin-à-Vent, has dark stones and dark sandy soil, according to Godard, which she says gives the wine a combination of power and elegance.  No doubt about its character.  The wine is more floral and suppler than her wines from Morgon with a suave tannic structure, imparting a velvet-like texture.  Long and graceful, the dark fruit and mineral aspect shine.  People who look down their noses at Beaujolais will get an education from Mee Godard’s wines. 
95 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2018

Domaine Mee Godard, Morgon (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Corcelette 2017

 ($29):  Mee Godard, a young woman originally from Korea, is one of the rising shining stars of Beaujolais.  Her wines are not to be missed because of their precision and distinctiveness, not to mention their sheer deliciousness.  Located in Morgan, she bottled three different wines in 2017 from various climats (vineyards) in that cru, Corcelette, Côte de Py and Grand Cras.  The one from Corcelette has a charming roundness that she says comes from the sandy soil. Although lighter than you’d imagine for a Morgon, it still has supporting tannins that lend necessary structure.  For me, it’s the “Fleurie” of Morgon.  Lovely now with coq au vin. 
93 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2018

Domaine Mee Godard, Morgon (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) Côte de Py 2017

($37):  The union of Morgon producers divided Morgon into six climats according to soil type about 50 years ago, according to Godard.  Now, more and more producers there — and in Moulin-à-Vent as well — are putting these sites on labels.  Consumers, be prepared to become familiar with names like Corcelette, Côte de Py, Grand Cras, Douby, Charmes, and Micouds on wines from Morgon. The soils and vineyards’ exposure differ from one climat to another, so it’s not a surprise that the wines are different. Take Godard’s Côte de Py, from Morgon’s most well-known climat.  This Morgan, though powerful, has considerable elegance and great length.  Its tannins are apparent, but supple and balanced by dark fruitiness and minerality.  Give it a few years in the cellar or drink it now with a robust lamb stew. 
94 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2018

Domaine Louis Latour, Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) En Caradeux 2016


($37, Louis Latour USA):  Latour’s En Caradeux, which always over delivers for the price, is true to form in 2016.  Pure and delicate, the wine is nonetheless rich and long.  It has the classic focus and harmony of Latour’s wines.  This exhilarating wine shows there are still well-priced Burgundies.  Delectable now, my experience with this wine tells me that the 2016 will evolve and drink well for the next five to ten years.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 27, 2018

Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) Preuses 2016

($55, Louis Latour USA):  Simonnet-Febvre’s 2016 Preuses is an exceptional wine at an exceptional price.   Full-bodied with exotic undertones, it nonetheless conveys the firm minerality of great Chablis.   Zesty, not shrill, the flavors jump from the glass and persist.   A seemingly endless finish just adds to the appeal of this energetic wine. This is a great buy!
95 Michael Apstein Nov 27, 2018

Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Fourchaume 2016

($35, Louis Latour USA):  The Fourchaume vineyard, which sits adjacent to the strip of Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis, is considered to be among the top 1er Cru vineyards.   This wine has the added richness and depth characteristic of Fourchaume without scarifying any verve or energy.   Incredibly long, the vibrant acidity amplifies the flavors and makes it hard to stop sipping.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 27, 2018

Maison Louis Jadot, Bouzeron (Burgundy, France) “Domaine Gagey” 2016


($29, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Bouzeron is the only white wine appellation in Burgundy that prohibits Chardonnay in favor of another grape, Bourgogne Aligoté, because the soil is particularly well-suited to it.  Although wines labeled Bourgogne Aligoté can been thin and harsh, the wines from Bouzeron generally are not.  Indeed, that appellation is a wonderful source for zesty mineral-driven wines.  This Jadot wine is bottled with the notation that it’s from the Domaine Gagey because the Gagey family (Pierre-Henri Gagey is currently President of Louis Jadot) purchased vineyards there several years ago.  Not particularly fruity, this wine focuses on stony, mineral qualities.  It has the hallmark Jadot breeding and balance.  Fresh and lively with good density, it conveys none of the screaming acidity sometimes associated with Aligoté.   It’s a bargain because the reputation of the appellation has not caught up to the quality of the wines.   That will change.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 27, 2018