You have got your passport haven’t you Mark?
With those seven words horror passed through the car as we realized the long drive to Burgundy was going to get even longer. Still, the way I figured it, everyone is allowed to forget their passport once in their life, if you do it for a second time, you’re an idiot. I have forgotten it once, and pray I have learned my lesson.
Sure enough, by the time we settled down in our room in Beaune at midnight we were pretty beat but also excited about the packed itinerary we had for the next week, seeing some of the most exciting producers in the Rhone Valley and Burgundy in a week long sourcing trip
Monday morning. Washed and groomed, I poked my head out of the hotel window to a crisp Burgundy morning with a wonderful blue sky. As coffee (and a cup of tea that Mark was so disgusted by he didn’t even touch it) further eased us (well, me anyway) into the day, we set off on the short drive to Puligny Montrachet to a visit with Olivier Leflaive, one of the biggest personalities in the village.
With lots of changes in the UK market this year, our ‘intentions’ were immediatletly questioned by Olivier before heading to a tasting with Franck Grux the winemaker.
Grux sharpened his teeth working for Guy Roulot in Meursault before joining Olivier in 1988. He went on to describe some of the hallmarks of the 2008 vintage. Low yields, uneven ripening but good balance and ripeness. We tasted through the Bourgogne Rouge, the village, premier and grand cru’s and found some impeccable wines with purity and freshness, for me perhaps almost too correct and lacking a bit of personality. Saying that, the power of some of the top wines made me think that these should last very well and the visit really reinforced the reliability of Oliver as a top source of beautiful, straight-down-the-line, quality Burgundy.
Making our excuses to leave the lovely meal at his restaurant we had been invited to we headed to Chavy-Chouet in Meursault.
What a contrast. From the polished oak boardroom and modern winery of Olivier Leflaive, we turned up to what looked like a slightly down-at-heel village farm, complete with dogs and assorted farming equipment. I wandered around, trying to find someone to talk to. Only managing a low level conversation with a wheezing English Bulldog (with most of the conversation coming from me) we couldn’t work out what was going on. Where was everyone? The doors were all open but no-one seemed to be in. After a couple of phone-calls, the young Romaric Chavy turned up. Dressed in a shell-suit, his hands were dirty from coming straight from the vineyards. No urbane ambassador here, just a hard-working man doing what turned out to be amazing things with his vineyards. The history of Domaine Chavy-Chouet is a mixed one. A large proportion of the wine was sold in the past to local negociants and it was only with Romaric that complete Domaine bottling came, a few years ago.
Romaric is a young guy, but one with broad horizons. After working at Radford Dale in South Africa he joined the Viticultural Institute in Beaune and got to work early in his father’s Domaine. Clearly there is still significant work to be done here, yet the buzz we heard in the UK was fully justified in the wines. Romaric is blessed with some great vineyards and he does them justice. The style is not one for long ageing, rather it is one of minerality, pure fruit, and, above all, great balance. What’s more, these wines are all remarkably fair priced. This is a domaine that we left in a state of some excitement about. It just felt right.
Speaking of feeling right, it was about now that my famous aversion to rich French food was kicking in, and I made my first stop to the chemist to get some milk of magnesia. I didn’t feel right.
Stomach fortified, we enjoyed a rather lovely lunch in Meursault and a moment of Ministry of Defense style madness, where I left the highly sensitive Roberson ‘Dossier’ of appointments in the restaurant.
Dossier recovered, we GPS’d our way to Santenay to an appointment with Lucien Muzard in Santenay, a producer who looks set to be considered the finest producer in the village.
Claude resembles Mel Gibson, with something of a strapping physicality, while bespectacled Hervé has an erudite air. They complement each other well, and they consider themselves a part of a distinguished tradition of wine-making that has existed in this proud village for centuries (the Muzard family traces its lineage in Santenay back to 1645). Their wines emphasize fruit and terroir, with new oak playing no more than a supporting role. Typical for Santenay, roughly 95% of Claude and Hervé’s production is in red wine
Now Santenay, I must confess, always feel leaves me a little cold. I know that it’s easy to call a wine ‘rustic’ and to ignore its charms, because, lets face it, not every village has the exposure of Vosne or Chambolle, but it’s just not one of my favourites. Saying that, the wines we tried were great, and the whole operation exuded class on every level. The premier crus were wines of real excellence and really transcended the appellation.
From Muzard, we went on to Domaine Bouzereau-Gruere, now run by Marie-Anne and Marie-Laure, Hubert’s two daughters. Having trained wit Jacques Carrillon, one of Puligny’s greatest growers, Marie-Anne is more than qualified to make top white Burgundy, while her sister, Marie-Laure, has taken the commercial reins. Going down to the cellars, we tasted through the whole range of 2008’s. We liked the wines, they had good definition, good fruit. Perhaps a little nondescript for me, if I’m being harsh. But built so well, with great acidity and length. It’s difficult, because commercialism comes into the equation, but we felt that these wines would be difficult to work with.
After tasting what must have been around 40 wines, we had a quick bite at La Vieux Vigneron in Rue Magdelaine, where Mark had snails, and I had pig’s trotter, which unsurprisingly was a bad move as it didn’t agree with me and my haughty stomach at all.
A couple of Heinekens later, we were ready to turn in, as we had another packed day of tastings tomorrow and another early start.
Day two to follow….