Twenty years ago Burgundy was in the doldrums. A combination of over-fertilisation in the vineyards, the introduction of clones which gave quantity rather than quality, a series of indifferent vintages and a lack of profitability, led to charges of Burgundy being both not very good and over-priced. Customers began walking away – to the Rhône, to Australia, to California.

Twenty years ago Burgundy was in the doldrums. A combination of over-fertilisation in the vineyards, the introduction of clones which gave quantity rather than quality, a series of indifferent vintages and a lack of profitability, led to charges of Burgundy being both not very good and over-priced. Customers began walking away – to the Rhône, to Australia, to California.

As luck would have it, this was just the time when a new generation began to take over at a number of well-regarded domaines: Dominique Lafon at the Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Etienne Grivot at Domaine Jean Grivot and Christophe Roumier at Domaine Georges Roumier. The three men were contemporaries at school and remain great friends; together with others they formed an unofficial tasting group. Unlike their parents they visited each other’s cellars, compared and criticised each other’s wines, tasted other examples from within and without Burgundy and visited vineyards abroad.

A new mood soon began to take over; helped by better luck with the weather (only one bad year – 1984 – out of the last 19, and 10 of these were at least very good). More exacting standards were self imposed. More and more domaines began to estate-bottle in quantity, and quality improved. Instead of being rare, the Grivots, Roumiers and Lafons soon found they had competition from new names. They welcomed it. As did we, the consumers.

Burgundy continues to evolve. For 15 years it has been one of the most exciting wine areas to visit. Every year I spend at least six weeks there and every year I encounter new names, new quality estates. Here is a selection of the most recent to emerge.
Vincent Dancer,

CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET

Vincent Dancer lives in a restored house on the road that lies between Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay. His parents’ vines used to be tended by an uncle, Philippe Ballot of Meursault. Vincent Dancer made his first vintage in 1996 and has been gradually taking over his patrimony and building up the quantity of wine he sells in bottle. Most of what he produces is white wine, and his preference is for pure, racy, mineral wines, which will last in bottle. There is Meursault, including premier cru Les Perrières; Chassagne-Montrachet, including premier cru La Romanée; and two casks of Chevalier-Montrachet. He sold one cask to the merchants in 2000: the cask he kept was delicious.
Stockists: J&B, R&W

JEAN-YVES BIZOT, VOSNE-ROMANEE

Jean-Yves Bizot’s father and grandfather were both doctors, and the microscopic estate – 2.5ha (hectares) – was leased out to others. The tall, handsome, bespectacled Jean-Yves took over in 1993. The recipe is for very low yields, total de-stemming, very low chaptalisation, minimum sulphur, cool vinification and 40% new oak. Despite the small quantities, he produces four different Vosne-Romanées. The last premier cru is from a plot in Echézeaux. Jean-Yves doesn’t want to blend this with wine he makes from a superior patch of vines in this grand cru, so he downgrades it. The wines are cool, understated and ever more classy. Like many red Burgundies they can seem misleadingly slight, but they put on weight in bottle.
Stockists: CTW, MNT

DAVID DUBAND, CHAVANNES

Chavannes is a village in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits. David Duband’s father was a member of the Cave Coopérative des Hautes Côtes. On his retirement in 1995 David was able to extricate himself and set up on his own. The 14ha domaine includes four different Nuits-Saint-Georges premiers crus and half a hectare of Échezeaux acquired in 1998.

Although the vines are not that old – most of the Nuits having been planted around 1984/1985 – the wines are very promising. David Duband uses quite a lot of new wood but does not over-extract. Intervention is minimal and the wines are very stylish.
Stockists: Adn, BBR, Gdh, JHa, See

ARNAUD ENTE, MEURSAULT

Arnaud Ente, who only looks about 20, although he must be approaching 30, took over from his father-in-law, Philippe Thevenot, in 1994. His four hectares include some very old vines in the lieu-dit L’Ormeau; usually bottled as plain Meursault, rather younger Meursault Goutte d’Or, Volnay Santenots (planted in 1991) and Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts. Harvests are low, the wines kept on their fine lees for as long as possible and the results ripe, precisely balanced and not over-oaked.

A brother, Benoît, makes wine in a cramped cellar in Puligny-Montrachet. I have only seen his 1999s, which were unexciting. His importer, Jasper Morris, has confidence in him, however. And I have confidence in Mr Morris’ confidence.
Stockists: M&V

VINCENT and FRANCOIS JOUARD, CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET

Vincent and François Jouard inherited their estate in 1990 from their late father, Pierre, who had sold everything off in bulk. Slowly but surely Vincent (responsible in the vineyards) and François (in the cellar) have kept more and more, especially from the older vines – quite a lot date from the 1930s and 1940s – for bottling themselves. It’s all a question of cash flow. Quality has also risen. Look out for the premiers crus from Clos de la Maltroie, Morgeot, and, perhaps the best, Clos de la Truffière from the Chaumées. In all there are 10 or so, of which the Jouards retain around four. There is also a little Bâtard-Montrachet. Crisp yet concentrated wines with flavours of peach and honeysuckle, well supported by good acidity.
Stockists: GCW, M&V

VIRGILE LIGNIER-MICHELOT, MOREY-SAINT-DENIS

Now in his thirties, Virgile Lignier took over responsibility for his family domaine in 1992 and has gradually increased the domaine-bottled percentage of the family 8ha estate. The average age of the vines is in many cases comparatively low. Perhaps as a consequence, Virgile Lignier’s style is for wines that are supple and intensely fruity rather than firm and tannic, even in 1999. But they are fragrant and elegant. There are, among others, three Morey-Saint-Denis premiers crus, of which the best is the Faconnières, village Morey, from En la Rue de Vergy – an application has been made to have this vineyard, above Clos de Tart, upgraded to first growth – and some Clos de la Roche, planted in 1990.
Stockists: C&C

ANNICK PARENT, MONTHELIE

Annick Parent, daughter of Jean (both names can appear on labels) is a cousin of the Parents of Pommard. For years she worked as a child physiotherapist in Paris. This she still does, but part time, enabling her to carry on in Monthélie now that her father has retired. It is unusual – I don’t know why – for domaines in Burgundy to make equally good reds and whites, as occurs here. The better of the two whites is the Monthélie, Château Gaillard, because the vines are older than those in the Clos Gauthey. There are four red Monthélies including Les Champs Fulliot (which continues on from Volnay, Clos des Chênes), plus Volnays in L’Ormeau and Fremiets, and, in addition, a Pommard Rugiens. Lovely wines: really pure and elegant.
Stockists: HHC

PASCAL ROBLET-MONNOT, VOLNAY

The Roblet-Monnots live in Volnay, but their cellar is in Bligny, a few kilometres into the plain. The 6ha estate has been enlarged recently by the addition of Pommard, Arvelets and Corton, acquired from the now-defunct Château de Bligny. As well as these there are five premier cru Volnays, the best of which is Taillepieds, though only in small quantities. Less and less is being sold off in bulk, as finances permit. Pascal, who took over in 1994, is a perfectionist. Yields are reduced to the barest minimum, the cellars are cool and damp and the wines are full, concentrated and classy – built to last.
Stockist: DDi

Clive Coates MW is an author and publisher of monthly newsletter The Vine.

Written by CLIVE COATES MW