Category Archives: France – Burgundy

Domaine du Château de Messey, Mâcon Cruzille (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) Clos des Avoueries 2017

($39, Seaview Imports):  The Mâconnais is becoming to “go-to” place for affordable white Burgundy.  The region has three tiers, which, in ascending order of prestige, are Macon, Macon-Villages, and, at the top, Macon with the name of a village, such as Cruzille, appended to it.  The area has seen an influx of top Burgundy producers and the quality of the white wines has sky rocketed, especially those coming from the 27 villages allowed to attach their name.  This is an area to know for straight forward Chardonnay-based white wines, such as this one, that remain under-valued.  This single-vineyard bottling from the Domaine du Château de Messey is both creamy and stoney.  Paradoxically, it both subtle and penetrating with a hint of smokiness in the finish.  Not an opulent New World-style of Chardonnay, this one is cutting, invigorating and refined.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine Antonin Guyon, Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy, France) “La Justice” 2017

($85, Taub Family Selections):  Domaine Antonin Guyon is a name you can trust.  They make incredibly consistent wines from Grand Cru to their village wines, such as this one, that lies on the wrong side of the road.  La Justice is one of the rare vineyards that lies on the eastern side of the RN974, the main north-south road in Burgundy, to be awarded a village designation instead of just a regional appellation.  Its breeding is immediately apparent with its finesse and persistence.  Not a boisterous wine, it conveys a delicate savory character and a long, explosive finish.  It’s one of the 2017s that’s approachable — really charming — now.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine Antonin Guyon, Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France) “Les Cras” 2017

($95, Taub Family Selections):  Similar to many vineyards in Burgundy, Les Cras isn’t contained within a single appellation.  Part of this vineyard is classified as Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru, while another part is only entitled to a village Chambolle-Musigny appellation.  The portion of Les Cras that carries the village appellation lies above the better situated — middle of the slope — portion that is classified as 1er Cru.  This wine, which carries the village appellation, is more refined and riveting than many producers’ 1er Cru bottlings because Domaine Antonin Guyon is such a talented producer.  Chambolle-Musigny, similar to Gevrey-Chambertin, has a great reputation, which explains why the prices for even village wines are high.  Guyon’s is a delightful expression of Chambolle-Musigny, displaying a velvety texture surrounding a core of bright mineral-infused fruitiness.  It’s full of charm and grace.  It’s another 2017 that perfect for current drinking.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, Saint-Aubin (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  Saint-Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru Saint-Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village Saint-Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) 2017

($27):  Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2018

($40, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits (Burgundy, France) “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018

($30):  The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many.  It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

In Praise of Regional and Village Burgundy…or, Where to Find Value

Simple economics explains why the wine from Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as the French would now like us to call it, has become expensive.  Really expensive.  French wine regulations limit what can be planted where (a.k.a. the supply) and demand has increased as new markets around the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia, to name just three, discover Burgundy’s allure.  But, in the last year, thanks to the 25 percent Trump tariff, prices for us here in the U.S. are now truly outrageous. (That tariff translates to more like a 35 or 40 percent increase to the consumer by the time the wine traverses the distribution channel and those businesses tack on their margins.)  Zachy’s, a major New York retailer, just announced a “special” price for Jadot’s 2018 Jadot Bonnes-Mares–$512 including local sales tax. Granted, Louis Jadot is a top Burgundy producer in general, and of Bonnes-Mares, a Grand Cru, in particular, and 2018 was an excellent vintage for reds.  But still, over 500 bucks a bottle! Or You could snag a bottle of Domaine Michel Lafarge’s 2017 Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of that village’s top Premier Crus from a stellar producer, for a mere $241 (including tax) at MacArthur Beverages, a leading wine shop in Washington, D.C.

My advice is to forget about Grand and Premier Cru Burgundy until you win the lottery.  (After seeing those prices, that advice will be easy to take.)  For too long, too many consumers have focused only on those exalted wines that come from the crème de la crème vineyard sites, which is another reason why prices for Burgundy are in the stratosphere.  But annual production from Grand Cru vineyards averages only one percent of total Burgundy production.  Throw in the wine from all Premier Cru vineyards, and together they still only account for about 11 percent of Burgundy wines.  So, where are the other 89 percent of Burgundies?  They are at the regional and village level.

Regulations require, with rare exceptions, regional and village wines to be made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, similar to Grand and Premier Cru wines. They transmit the same amazing site-specificity, a major allure of Burgundy, that their more expensive stablemates deliver:  Wines made by the same winemaker using the same techniques from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  A marvel of nature!

The 44 village appellations comprise about 36 percent of all Burgundies, while the seven regional appellations comprise more than half (53 percent) of all Burgundy, according to data provided by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB – Bourgogne Wine Board).  Wines that are labeled with the village name typically come from grapes grown in vineyards in that village that are not classified as Premier or Grand Cru, although on many occasions producers will “declassify” some Premier Cru wine into their village label.  Sometimes village wines will carry a vineyard name on the label, such as Gevrey-Chambertin “Justice,” but the appellation remains Gevrey-Chambertin.  Regional wines also may be labeled with a vineyard or fantasy name.  With both village and regional wines, the presence of a vineyard name on the label does not guarantee a higher quality.

The single most important piece of information on the label is the producer’s name, not the classification:  Producer, producer, producer.

Here are a dozen examples of regional or village wines, six reds and six whites, under $40 a bottle that I recommend enthusiastically.  Many of these wines have limited distribution, so if you can’t find these specifically, ask your local wine merchant for similar ones:

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey 2015 ($26, 91 points):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.

Domaine Bart, Marsannay “Les Finottes” 2018 ($30, 91): Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I’d be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 2017 ($37, 91): One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay “Clos de Malte” 2018 ($40, 91): Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018 ($30, 90): The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many. It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge 2017 ($27, 90): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it, too would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Parent, Monthélie Blanc 2017 ($48, 94): Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineral-y and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or 2017 ($30, 92): With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Gueules de Loup 2017 ($35, 92): Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully 2018 ($27, 92): Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, for this article I could have included their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess. It punches far above its weight class.

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, St. Aubin 2017 ($30, 91): St. Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru St. Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village St. Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 ($27, 91): Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.

Not all village wines are inexpensive, nor are they always ready to drink right out of the gate.  Recent releases of a village Chambolle-Musigny from Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, one of the village’s very top producers, run about $100 per bottle.  Her still-youthful 2005 village Chambolle-Musigny, drunk at 15 years of age, was plush and mineral-y, the quintessential expression of that appellation.

However, all of the wines recommended above are delightful to drink now.  But don’t underestimate the ability of modest village or even regional wines to develop with bottle age.  Twenty years ago, I served a bottle of Louis Latour’s 1985 Bourgogne Rouge without revealing its appellation to a group of wine aficionados.  Most thought it came from a Premier Cru vineyard.  Similarly, when I was at Maison Jadot some years ago, they served a 10-year-old white St. Aubin that was glorious.  So, if you buy a case of any of the above wines, put a bottle or two aside to drink in a few years.

Remember: producer, producer, producer.

*         *         *

November 4, 2020

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

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2018

($27):  Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, I could include their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess.  It punches far above its weight class.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Parent, Monthélie Blanc (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($48):  Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineraly and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.
94 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre (Burgundy, France) Gueules de Loup 2017

($35):  Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2015

($26, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Bart, Marsannay (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) “Les Finottes” 2018

($30):  Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I would be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy, France) 2017

($27): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($37):   One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

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