At their best the wines of Burgundy are without peer, but the region produces such a relatively small amount of wine with high world demand that they can be very expensive indeed and even then can frequently disappoint. When they are good though they really let you know it.
It is interesting that the wines of Burgundy do get to you over time. I well remember that twenty odd years ago their beguiling beauty passed me by. Not any more.
As good as many others are, no where on earth uses Chardonnay to make such exquisitely poised and balanced white wines with tension between the richness and freshness. The red wines of Burgundy though are more tricky to get your head around. I think this is because they defy the wine norms of our time. We are used to big wines, full-bodied wines are widely favoured over other styles, yet Pinot Noir grown in the coolish climate of Burgundy simply does not produce truly full-bodied wines. They are generally lighter and more savoury than most other famous types of red wines and I think they really do need food to show at their best.
I have been fortunate to visit Burgundy a good few times over the years and am slowly acquiring a good working knowledge of the place and its wines. In addition I have been involved with Louis Jadot, one of the great producers of Burgundy on and off for some 25 years. In a region which is usually a patchwork of very small vineyards and producers it is very hard to get an overview of the place from this array of tiny farmer-winemakers. So a producer like Louis Jadot who is the largest landowner in the Côte d’Or really serves a useful purpose in providing a wide range of Burgundy wines.
There are other famous districts of Burgundy, Chablis, Mercurey and Pouilly-Fuissé amongst them, but it is really the Côte d’Or that sets the tone and provides much of the region’s fame. It is home to some of the most famous and sought after wines in the world including Meursault, Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-St-Georges.
At first glance the Côte d’Or would appear to be so small that the wines it makes must surely all be pretty similar – after all it is sometimes less than half a kilometre wide. However, this is the place that really demonstrates the French concept of ‘terroir‘. The soils and conditions really matter here and make for the differences between the wines, although nuances might be a better word than differences as they are slight. The limestone ridge or escarpment that is the Côte d’Or consists of layers of different limestones, some more porous than others, as well as marls made up of clay, sand and gravel.
That makes sit sound as though it is all uniform, but it really isn’t. The limestones have weathered and decomposed at different speeds and are pierced by small rivers and dry valleys making for great variation as to which limestones dominate different parts. The topsoil also varies, as some are flinty and some a more chalky scree and the collapsing of the limestone ridge leaves different types and depths of topsoil.
Another variable is aspect, there are fissures, gaps, ravines and valleys in the limestone which change the direction a little, so some vineyards face more directly south than others – these will generally produce bigger wines as the grapes get more sun and so have more sugar which produces more alcohol and extract in the finished wine.
The other day I was asked to put on a fine red Burgundy tasting in The Criterion Restaurant in London’s Piccadilly. I had never been there before and what a place it is. Founded in 1874 hard by the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus the restaurant is a sumptuous confection of such exuberance that to my uneducated eye seems a heady combination fin de Siècle and art nouveau styles. The shiny gold mosaic tiles made me feel I was inside a Klimt painting and the general ambience made it seem possible that Oscar and Bosie would walk through the door at any moment.
In such wonderful surroundings I really wanted to put on a tasting that would show the breadth of Burgundy – not easy with just nine wines – and I wanted also to show some mature examples, so it made sense to turn to my friends at Louis Jadot and they really came up trumps. Together we produced a line up that really shone and did justice to the venue as well as showing the different classifications and a variety of vintages, some of them highly praised and others that were considered more challenging.
We climbed well up into the heights of Burgundy in this tasting, but it wasn’t all about showing off, our first wine was Jadot’s standard house Bourgogne and as usual it did not disappoint:
2009 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir
A blend of Pinot fruit from the Côte d’Or, Mercurey, Fixin and even from as far North as Irancy, near Chablis. The quality of the vintage really shone here with lovely fruit balanced by cleanly ripe tannins and a touch of complexity from oak ageing making this a lovely drink and a perfect aperitif while I waxed lyrical about Burgundy and the house of Jadot. It tasted much better than its humble appellation would lead you to expect and seemed to meet with wide approval.
£11.99 a bottle in the UK from Wine Rack.
This was followed by a pair of wines from a really difficult vintage, 2008 had all the problems you could imagine, a bit like 2012, with coulure, mildew and hail all taking a toll. However an iffy vintage always seems to give Jadot a chance to show exactly what they can do:
2008 Côte de Nuits-Villages Le Vaucrain
Domaine Louis Jadot
A.C. Côte de Nuits-Villages
I have always found this wine fascinating as it comes from the village of Comblanchien, just to the south of Premeaux-Prissey and Nuits-St-Georges, which is where they quarry the local pink building stone. This village has no commune appellation of its own, so the wine has to bear a very humble A.C.. However it is from a climat or lieu-dit – single vineyard or named place – called Le Vaucrain, presumably named for the same thing as the 1er Cru Nuits-St-Georges Les Vaucrains which is only a little way up the road. Rather wonderfully if you are feeling athletic and hop over the north wall of Le Vaucrain you land in the famous Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale.
Tasting it the breeding showed I think, there were earthy and deep cherry aromas leading to a richly flavoured, but quite light palate of wild cherry with a smoky savoury edge. There was a firmness here that gave a nod to the Nuits style with a gently chalky tannin finish. All in all an elegant and lovely wine.
2008 Santenay Clos de Malte
Domaine Louis Jadot
Another wine that captivates me, from the southernmost commune of the Côte de Beaune this time, but it is not typical of the area. For a start there is a casino and a spa in Santenay, which must make it the liveliest place in the otherwise pretty sleepy Côte d’Or, and as if that isn’t enough there is a retired railwayman’s home too. Also much of the soil is heavier than normal round here and more akin to that in the Côte de Nuits.
The Clos de Malte is a 7 hectare walled vineyard that was actually planted by the great-grandfather of Pierre-Henry Gagey who is the current head of Louis Jadot – Burgundy is a very small place.
The nose was more lifted and seductive here with a real will-o-the wisp of wild raspberry about it, but there were deep earthy notes too. The palate was medium-bodied, but rounded and rich with smoky and meaty characters and a persistent seam of rich fruit and I swear I could taste the clay in the soil. This struck me as a terrific Burgundy for under £20 a bottle – possibly the bargain of the night, it certainly gave me pleasure.
2003 Volnay 1er Cru Clos de la Barre Monopole
A.C. Volnay 1er Cru
If anyone asks me I always reckon that Volnay is my favourite Côtes de Beaune commune and this did not let me down, despite being from one of the oddest vintages on record. I was in the area in the early Autumn of 2003 and I well remember the glum faces and complete bewilderment of some of the growers. It had been so hot they had needed to harvest in late August! To be honest I generally try and avoid 2003s, certainly most of the French whites I have tasted from that year lack acidity, but the amazing Dom Perignon made me think again and I am glad I did.
Clos de la Barre is a tiny vineyard just outside the centre of Volnay, which uniquely for the Côte is up on the slopes rather than on the flatland below. It isn’t owned by Jadot, but they manage, vinify and market the wines on behalf of the Charraux family, which is why Domaine Louis Jadot does not appear on the label.
The wine was wonderfully fragrant showing a deep raspberry note together with a smoky quality and underlying earthy minerality. The palate was more viscous and textured than any of the earlier wines, there were tannins still, but they were silky and almost sinewy. It clearly had more body than what had come before it and was showing no sign of age at all, this still has a long life ahead of it if you can resist.
2000 Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Ursules
Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot
A.C. Beaune 1er Cru
Perhaps this vineyard says more about Jadot than any other as this was the first one Louis Henry Jadot purchased back in 1826 and they have cherished it ever since. It is a monopole vineyard (meaning they own it all) belonging to the Jadot family – hence Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot on the label. Once upon a time it was a part of Beaune Les Vignes Franches, but the nuns of the Saint-Ursule convent walled it off making it a separate clos. Such is the fame of this vineyard that it was often labelled as a Grand Cru until the 1970s
It always seems to me that this is the weightiest of the Beaune 1 er Cru wines – certainly that I have tasted. It still shows some of that fragrant, earthy, savoury fragility, but has more weight and power than the others and this reinforced that view. There was a touch of spice to the rich dried fruit nose, red fruit and a little prune too. The palate was smooth, silky even with a deeply savoury gamey character together with classic aged Pinot dried fruit sweetness that seemed quite fig-like to me. All this followed through to the finish which still showed some chalky tannins, I would love to drink this with a shed load of charcuterie.
2005 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers
Domaine Louis Jadot
A.C. Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru
A wonderful wine that I can neither spell nor pronounce – I seem to always put an extraneous e at the end before the final s and to pronounce it that way too, hey ho, what matters is the wine.
As a thoroughly effete metrosexual man I hesitate to use the word ‘masculine‘ about wines, I think it is a lazy cliché (not that I always dislike those by the way, there is often much truth in a cliché), but the French are very keen on labelling wines as masculine or feminine and in this case it really did feel masculine.
The colour was deep and vivid while the nose was rich, dark and brooding and the palate was full-bodied (for Pinot) and concentrated with rich red-black fruit caressing and coating the mouth, spicy oak and tannins made their presence felt making the long finish quite chewy. I wrote ‘oh my, what pleasure‘. The tannins were clearly still very much alive, but there was such a concentration of fruit wrapped around them that they certainly did not dominate. This will age for a good ten years or more, but please don’t turn your nose up on it now!
2006 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
A.C. Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
If the Gevrey-Chambertin was clearly masculine then I am tempted to think that this fabulous wine, which is grown barely more than a kilometre away, is not yet decided on its sexuality and is perhaps going through a phase of youthful experimentation. Everything about this promised much, the colour was deep, the aromas were vibrant and lifted with rich fruit, some smoky, spicy oak and just a little of those gamey, savoury notes. The palate was fleshy giving a rich medium to full-bodied mouthfeel. The tannins were silky, but still gave a little bite. It can certainly use time, but was lovely already showing great finesse and elegant concentration. If I was not aware that Charmes means thatch and was a reference to the places’s ancient grain crop, then I would swear it must mean charm!
1999 Corton-Pougets Grand Cru
Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot
A.C. Corton-Pougets Grand Cru
I was so pleased that we had three wines from the last century as mature Burgundy is a rare treat – for me anyway. The first Grand Cru I ever tasted came from this vineyard, the difficult 1983 vintage at that, but it was from magnum and I loved it. The wines of Corton can vary greatly, but this vineyard site has belonged to the Jadot family since 1914 and faces due south which gives its wines incredible concentration and, on this showing, staying power.
The colour was the first one with a real touch of tawny to it, but it was hard to tell with all that gold! The aromas were more definitely of leather, earth and truffles and the palate too was dominated by truffles and savoury earthy flavours, but still with that inherent dried red fruit sweetness of Pinot lurking in the background to add charm to the complexity. It also had that slightly sweaty and animal character, which sounds horrible, but isn’t – trust me. This was the wine of the night for a good number of our happy band.
1991 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
Domaine Louis Jadot
A.C. Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
This of course is one of the most famous Burgundy Crus of all, but its fame does not guarantee a great wine, neither does the eye watering price tag. Clos de Vougeot is a beautiful and iconic place and unusually for Burgundy it is a vineyard as we all imagine them, large and enclosed with a Château on it. The problem is the size, it sprawls over some 125 acres and covers quite a few variations in aspect and soils, so many people believe that only the higher portions are truly of Grand Cru quality, which luckily is where you will find the bulk of Jadot’s 5 acre parcel.
This was a deeply, deeply impressive wine and carried its years very well indeed. The colour was amazingly red while the nose delivered wild raspberries and fresh mushrooms as well as a deeper earthy note. The palate was beautifully integrated and complex with a harmonious and supple texture and a lovely leavening of spice. What’s more it had good acidity and there was still a touch of tannic grip giving a little structure. For me this was the wine of the night as it was still so fresh considering its age, it’s older than my grown up son for heavens sake.
Of course there are many other producers who make terrific red Burgundy and over the years I have been involved with Louis Jadot, so I appreciate their style, but these really were all good wines that showed a sureness of touch and consistency through the various quality levels, sites and vintages. I think that was very impressive and it should be reassuring to anyone seeking to buy Burgundy but who would rather do without the feeling that they might be gambling their money away.
For UK stockists contact Louis Jadot’s agent: Hatch Mansfield Agencies.
For US stockists contact Louis Jadot’s agent: Kobrand.