Many of our favourite wines
come from this region which is in the climatic margin for successful Pinot
Noir. However, the allure of Burgundy (and the exponential price rises of
top Bordeaux in recent en primeur campaigns) has increased demand for the
top names and, in tandem with this, prices have risen accordingly. We
tasked ourselves with sourcing affordable wines offering high quality. We
believe we have succeeded so far!
From north to south, we work with the following estates in Burgundy
(click on the estate name to be taken to a different page):
Burgundy conjures up images of
classic but expensive wines beyond reach. Indeed, some of the world’s
finest wines hail from the region and many less conscientious producers take
advantage of this by producing inferior wines at inflated prices. This makes
it essential either to follow recommendations of friends or reliable critics
or just to take the plunge.
The two main grapes in Burgundy are
Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites. Pinot Noir is a fragile
variety which is easily spoilt by excessive fining and filtration so it is
better to accept some sediment in even a fairly young wine rather than the loss
of fruit and body. The better producers are waking up to this and minimal
clarification is now practiced at the better estates. Chardonnay is the world's
favourite white wine variety and, as such, needs little introduction. However,
for all the efforts of so many New World producers as well as many in France,
Italy and Spain, the soils and climate of Burgundy are so well suited to this
variety that in the best years unrivalled Chardonnays are produced in Chablis,
the Côte de Beaune, the Chalonnaise and the Maconnaise.
Chablis is the most northern of Burgundy's wine-producing districts
(hence this photograph taken in the rain on an otherwise hot August day) consisting of around 7,500 acres of Chardonnay vines in the Yonne département,
over 60 miles north of Beaune. There are four levels within the appellation
which was created in 1938 - from the top:
Grand Cru (seven named vineyards) needing 10 years maturation;Premier Cru
(forty vineyards) which requires at least 5 years in the bottle;generic Chablis;Petit
Chablis is typically a steely dry white wine with pronounced mineral notes.
Use of oak has been controversial: most producers do not use oak, believing that
it masks the crisp character of the wine. For some it is entirely superfluous as
mature Chablis can taste as though it has benefited from oak maturation even
when it hasn't. However, some producers are now experimenting with oak with
Our preference is for the classic style - ie. unoaked (certainly they didn't
use oak in 867AD when the Chapter of St Martin first planted the vineyard by
permission of Charles the Bald).
1996 was an excellent vintage, producing classic Chablis with ripe,
concentrated flavours and firm acidity, requiring some bottle age to be at their
best. 2000 and 2002 are more recent vintages to look out for. 2003 was too hot
to produce anything really good but 2004 was back on track with some great
wines and 2005 one of the very best of recent vintages (as in most of France).
Perhaps the most complicated wine region to come to grips with, the Côte
d'Or is not, in fact, the "golden slope" but an abbreviation of Côte
d'Orient, so-called because the very best slopes are to the east. The northern
section, the Côte de Nuits, produces great red wines exclusively from Pinot
Noir. Heading south from Beaune, the Côte de Beaune produces elegant reds and
the finest Chardonnays. Further south is the Côte Chalonnaise, home to such
villages as Givry, Rully and Mercurey where some of the best value Pinots and
Chardonnays can be found.
At the top of the ladder are the Grands Crus (maximum yields of 35hl/ha
for reds and 40hl/ha for white wines), followed by the Premier Cru and
village wines (40hl/ha and 45hl/ha respectively). Given that vineyard plantings
are particularly dense at up to 10,000 vines per hectare (4,000 per acre) and
that most vineyards are harvested manually, there is considerable scope for
selection of only the best grapes.
The region has enjoyed a run of good to very good vintages throughout the
nineties (with the exception of 1994) culminating in the outstanding 1999s (more
recently, 2002 and 2005 are the vintages to look out for).
However, because there are so many small parcels of separately owned vineyards,
it is more important to know which producers to look out for (as
opposed to those who are merely trading on the Burgundy name) than looking at vintages.
Trial and error is a sure but expensive way to achieve this; recommendations
from friends, reliable wine merchants or critics can help point the less
experienced in the right direction.
We are thrilled to be working with
Joblot, widely regarded as the best estate in the Chalonnaise,
Jacques Girardin, recently taken over by the young Justin Girardin who
is taking his family's domaine in Santenay to a new level. More recently, Juliette Joblot introduced us to
Antoine Lienhardt, who is beginning to make a name
for himself from his base just outside Nuits St Georges.
||Whilst technically the southernmost region of Burgundy, the Beaujolais is in
many ways a different world. Whereas the principal grape for red wines further
north is Pinot Noir, the Beaujolais is the home of the Gamay grape. It is,
perhaps, best known for Beaujolais Nouveau, a very light wine which appears on
the shelves every November on the third Thursday (known as "Beaujolais
Day"). These first releases are simple, often one-dimensional, light wines
for immediate drinking and, unfortunately, many people have the impression that
all Beaujolais wines are in this mould. In fact, the region produces some
excellent wines in ten village appellations, known as the Crus, of which
Fleurie is, perhaps, the best known in the UK. With only a few
years’ bottle age, the quality of the Gamay fruit grown here can be
rich enough to trick connoisseurs into believing that they are
drinking mature Pinot Noir.
Photographs: the Chapel of the Madonna, Fleurie and the village
of Fleurie (the chapel is high on the hill in the distance)
|With the exception of 1992, the nineties witnessed a run of very good to
excellent vintages, and since the Millenium, almost every vintage has been
successful. Gamay does not seem to give too many headaches in the
growing stages at least.