What makes Burgundy so special?
When I was 22, I flew to Paris, hired a car with a broken Satnav and got very lost driving to Burgundy in the hot August sun. My hosts in Chablis were busy preparing for harvest, so I spent most of my time exploring the breadth of the Cote d’Or alone. Wandering through vineyards, eating too many eclairs, tasting amazing wines and falling head over heels for this unique French region. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Burgundy roughly stretches between Dijon and Lyon. It is defined by individual villages, growing predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although other grape varieties, including Aligote, Pinot Blanc and Gamay are also permitted. Each village has its own designated vineyard areas complete with scored quality levels (Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru), appellation laws, and distinctive styles.
As a good rule of thumb, villages in northern Burgundy (aside from Chablis) mostly produce wines from Pinot Noir, and those in the south from Chardonnay. However, there are exceptions. You can find some amazing Pinot Noirs grown in southerly Chassagne Montrachet, and the northerly village of Morey St Denis is home to a 100% Aligote Premier Cru (Clos des Monts Luisants). There is even an appellation near Chablis called Saint Bris, that grows Sauvignon Blanc. Just when you think you’ve got Burgundy figured out, it’s very good at throwing curve balls and opening a whole new world of wine to explore!
Domaine Pierre Guillemot
Domaine Pierre Guillemot are a big part of the history of Savigny-les-Beaunes, having produced wines in the village for eight generations. We visited at the end of June 2019, in the middle of a scorching heat wave. 36C without a cloud in the sky, it was a welcome reprieve to walk down the steps of their ancient cellar to taste wine in the cool and dark. All their wines are wonderful, but my personal favourite is a white Savigny-les-Beaunes produced from their Dessus Les Gollardes vineyard. This vineyard was planted over 50 years ago with 70% Pinot Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. Phillipe Guillemot (who now runs the winery with his brother Vincent) describes the wine as not a blend, but a co-habitation, celebrating the unique character of both grapes, whilst still working in harmony.
Phillipe then pulled a bottle from the back of the cellar, caked in dust and cobwebs (pictured above). He opens and pours. We all taste together blind. What vintage he asks? We put our heads together. The wine is so fresh, and the fruit is still forward. There are hints of honey to show development. We agree on a year between 2008 and 2010. The actual date? 1991. Our jaws hit the floor! We currently stock the 2017, and it is drinking beautifully, but don’t underestimate this Domaine, that wine has the legs to age for many many years to come too.
Domaine Chavy Chouet was the next stop in the day. Based in Meursault, the Domaine is run by Romaric Chavy, who took over from his father Hubert at just 22. One of his great winemaking influences is his godfather Francois Mikulski, which I feel translates well in his own style. Focusing more on a lean, pure fruit profile instead of masking the Chardonnay with rich oak (as has previously been the norm).
Romaric is a key player in shaping the modern style of Burgundy. Again, we move out of the sweltering sun and into the cellar, to taste his 2018’s from barrel. This is where Romaric’s unique style comes into its own, his focus on preserving acidity and fruit working perfectly with this richer, warm vintage. They’re damn good! People are often apprehensive about drinking young Burgundy, but if you are going to buy any 2018’s to drink (or age for that matter!), the wines of Chavy-Chouet are perfect.