In October I led a masterclass in Burgundy for Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, a five-day excursion to taste across the appellations and in the cellars of benchmark producers.
The first visit was to Faiveley in Nuits-St-Georges, run by seventh-generation Erwan Faiveley. The tasting focused on its own domaines’ 2007s – an early vintage that will make good drinking over the next decade. Burgundian to the core after years at Bouchard Père et Fils, MD Bernard Hervet philosophically pronounced over the superb Echézeaux that ‘everything in Pinot Noir lies in the balance between the solids and liquids’.
That evening at Chanson Père et Fils in Beaune, Gilles de Courcel showed us his Beaune premiers crus. The style here is elegance over power and no philosophy was needed; the wines spoke for themselves, my picks being Champimonts, Bressandes and its neighbour, the monopole Clos des Fèves.
From then on it was non-stop. At 9am we arrived at Marquis d’Angerville, a 13.5-hectare estate that has eight Volnay premiers crus. Guillaume d’Angerville, who has taken over following the death of his father, Jacques, who had made 55 vintages, said he was looking for ‘chiselled wines’, supremely evident in his Caillerets and monopole Clos des Ducs.
Then on to Meursault, where Dominique Lafon described his Meursault Clos de la Barre 2006 (‘picked early to retain the acidity’), Perrières 2005 (‘small crop, very concentrated’), Genevrières 2004 (‘Meursault’s most elegant wine’) and Charmes 2000 (‘at seven to 10 years old, that’s when I like my Meursaults’).
The third stop of the morning was Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet, where we tasted 2007s, from ‘simple’ Bourgogne, through the Village wines, then Clavoillon, Folatières and Pucelles, ending with Batard- and Chevalier-Montrachet. Hard to imagine better wines for length, purity and sense of place. After lunch and a walk in the Montrachet vineyards, Caroline l’Estimé of Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard in Chassagne-Montrachet described her 2006s as ‘easy to understand, pleasurable and elegant’, taking us through six premiers crus, ending with a magnum of Batard-Montrachet 1994.
Dinner that evening was at Bouchard Père et Fils, which rose magnificently to my request for Corton and Pommard with a 2006 and 2003 from each of Corton-Charlemagne and Pommard’s Pezerolles, and Rugiens 2001, Le Corton 1999 and a magnum of Le Corton 1976.
The following morning saw us at Louis Jadot to taste 2008 premiers and grands crus from its vineyards, a late, small harvest saved by a luminous September – wines worth waiting for, but certain to be outshone by the 2009s.
Then to the Côte de Nuits, where Jean-Claude Boisset’s Domaine de la Vougeraie showed us four red Vougeot 2007s, including a Gamay from 50-year-old vines and two rare white 2006s, the Clos Blanc de Vougeot having 10% Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc planted alongside the Chardonnay on pure limestone soil. In Chambolle-Musigny, Christophe Roumier compared his firm, low-yielding 2008s across Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St-Denis and Bonnes Mares to his ‘velvety, delicate and subtle’ 2007s.
Roumier, one of the original young turks two decades ago, now has enough experience to let the wines ‘take charge’, giving them long maceration after fermentation, rarely racking once in barrel and bottling unfined and unfiltered. A quick tasting at Morey-St-Denis’s great grand cru Clos de Tart, then back to Beaune for dinner in Joseph Drouhin’s 13th-century cellars.
The next day we were again in the Côte de Nuits, at Domaine Dujac, where Jacques Seysses proved that ‘Pinot Noir should be silky and sensual’ with a vertical of Clos de la Roche, ending with 1976. On the verge of retirement, his sons are now in charge – Jeremy (vineyards) and Alec (administration), while Jeremy’s wife Diana is the winemaker – but all wine decisions are made jointly at monthly blind tastings.
And if any proof were needed that Domaine Armand Rousseau is the benchmark in Gevrey-Chambertin, it was confirmed with a barrel tasting of his nine 2008 appellations. As a contrast, Etienne Grivot, whose grandfather Jean had begun domaine-bottling in the 1930s with d’Angerville, Rousseau and Henri Gouges, showed us his Richebourgs – ‘I work for harmony between energy and sensuality’ – from 2007 to 1997.
Later, Aubert de Villaine took us into the Romanée-Conti vineyard for an exposure of its history. ‘If the winemaker makes the wine,’ he began, ‘it is the soil that makes a Romanée-Conti. The winemaker must be like the Pinot Noir itself – a translator of the terroir.’ This was confirmed by Alex Gambal, a négociant-éleveur in Beaune since 1997: ‘The grapes are the notes, as in Mozart or Beethoven, but their interpretation by a high school band and the Berlin Philharmonic are very different. There are still too many high school bands in Burgundy.’
Maybe so, but not on this trip.
Written by Steven Spurrier