Expressions of interest (Cote des Nuits, France – Day Two)

One of the true revelations of my journey has been to discover the four components of what makes a great wine which must all be present and in balance. The first is the vine (obviously), but more importantly the right variety for the place. The place is the second component; for lack of a better term the terroir or the environment, which includes the climate but not the weather. The weather is a part of the third component which is the vintage, and how the specifics of the entire year can influence the character. The final component is the influence that people have, which includes everything viticulturally, oenologically, philosophically, spiritually and financially. All four components have their own influence on the character of the wine and to be a great wine they must be all working together, however one or more of the four often stands out more than the others whether intentionally or not. The most common component to dominate is the human influence of winemaking and something I am beginning to realise is that this is true in every region, even here in Burgundy. Winemakers whether deliberately or not want to impart their signature on the wine through anything from skin contact, use of oak, fruit sorting, ripeness of fruit at harvest and even the type and amount of filtration. So even within a single vineyard you may have slightly (or very) different expressions of the other three components. My day consisted of three appointments, all north of the village of Nuits-St-George.
Water is an important resource for wine production

In the village of Morey-St-Denis under a light blanket of snow I met with Virginie Taupenot-Daniel whose family have been involved with wine since the mid-18th Century under the Taupenot-Merme name. The charm of the house in which she lives above the cellars is only exceeded by Virginie herself, and both perfectly express a wonderful balance between French class and elegance but a warmth and geniality that can only be found in a rural environment. Virginie and her brother run the estate and are the 7th generation to do so. Owning 30 hectares of vineyards may not sound like much but in the context of many European regions (particularly places like Burgundy and the Mosel), this is quite a lot. The 30 hectares of vineyards can be found in a number of appelations both in the Cote des Nuits and Cote de Beaune, with the domaine growing significantly through marriage three generations ago. They farm organically without the use of chemicals and more importantly allowing the vines to find their own natural harmony and protection and also give them some competition with grasses and cover crops between the vines. There are challenges involved with this, particularly in terms of logistics across the many different appelations, but also risks in an area prone to a lot of rain and the subsequent problems of rot and oidium. The quality show in the wines though.

The courtyard of Taupenot-Merme

Doing a bit of research I discovered that Taupenot-Merme are considered somewhat of an up-and-comer in Burgundy, which surprises me but also makes some sense. Between Virginie’s father Jean and brother Romain they have greatly improved the understanding of the terroir and the winemaking, particularly in terms of the expression of the variety in each individual parcel. Before tasting we had a look out the back d The red wines are all completely fermented in stainless steel tanks with more remontage (pumping-over) than pigeage (plunging/punch-downs), both very gentle to extract soft velvety tannins. Freshness balance and elegance are the goal, allowing the wines to be more pure and approachable in their youth but also deserving of some cellaring. I had the chance to taste a number of the cuvees from the 2011 vintage which are now back in tank after the maturation in barriques before they go into bottle. Once again it was great to see the nuances of each vineyard from the same vintage, albeit not from a favoured vintage of mine. I was totally seduced with everything at Taupenot-Merme, from the wines to the house, but mostly by Virginie who is the archetypal elegant yet approachable woman with a classic accent. Click here to read my tasting notes.

The Clos de Lambrays which Taupenot-Merme own about one barrels worth

My second appointment of the day was with a producer I was familiar with having stocked them but again never having tasted them. That was until I was working at Kesselstatt in the Mosel region, when I discovered that Domaine Bertagna is owned and run by Annegret Reh-Gartner’s sister Eva, and we were able to enjoy some back vintages from the cellar at the end-of-vintage dinner. I was first introduced to the wine by their wonderful importer in Australia who happen to be owned by the same family as the store I was working in, and thus trusted that the wine was worthy of stocking. Domaine Bertagna of course hasn’t always been owned by a German family, having been established back in the ’50s by Claude Bertagna. For whatever reason he sold the domaine to Eva and Annegret’s father back in 1982, and Eva took over the running back in 1988. The domaine owns just over 20 hectares of vineyards with all but one in the Cote des Nuits. Most of their holdings are in premier and grand cru plots and famously own the monopole of Clos de la Perriere in Vougeot, the village in which the winery is based. By all accounts Eva has spent much time and money in modernising and improving everything they do in the vineyards and winery, but they have had a few winemakers during their ownership, three changes in the last 13 years.

Domaine Bertagna caveau

I met with Gisela Boulley who is another displaced German originally coming from Bayern but having lived in Burgundy for over 20 years. I’m not sure why but she seemed to not be expecting me even though I had made the appointment through the importer in Australia, but it didn’t really matter. She spoke to me in a mixture of French, German and English all of which she spoke well but I didn’t (at least for the first two). Also joining us for the tasting was the winemaker whose name I didn’t quite catch, as we tasted through some wines in bottle from 2010 and 2009. The first wine was the 2010 Bourgogne that apparently has not been received well by the importer in Australia, and I can see why as it was pretty reductive, particularly for a wine of this quality. The remaining wines were all fine technically but they gave me the impression of chasing a style rather than expressing the terroir. I will admit that I don’t have enough experience in Burgundy and therefore can’t say what the specifics of each terroir are, but in my opinion the wines are a little over extracted and oaky, looking for intense dark fruit, full tannins and sweetness on the back palate. For the style I think certain vintages work well with it, as in the case of the 2009 and the 2011 wines we later tasted from barrel, but for the 2010 wines they lacked finesse and structure. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Barrels in the cellars of Domaine Bertagna

After a baguette and flan in Nuits-St-George I headed up into the hills of Chambolle-Musigny for my final appointment at Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue which like my final host on the previous day only work in one appellation. They are in fact one of the largest owners of grand cru vineyards in the Chambolle-Musigny village and thus are the envy of their neighbours near and far. Chambolle is a village set back from the main highway along the Cote d’Or and is therefore not particularly popular with the tourists, retaining more of a working village charm. The vineyards of Chambolle-Musigny are small compared to some of those surrounding them but the wines coming from here are some of the most sought after in Burgundy. The Vogue family have been here since the 15th Century making them one of the oldest in region if not France. This owes a lot to the fact that the family are connected to the Burgundian duchy, as back then (as I have already mentioned) most of the vineyards were wither owned by the church or the nobility. Although not noble themselves through marriage they were very well connected, even after accession to the kingdom of France, revolutions, Empires and the many vicissitudes over the last 100 years I have mentioned many time before. Amazing to think that the same family have owned and run this estate across 20 generations.

Recently the Vogue cellars were expanded slightly using mining equipment to cut through the limestone

I met with Jean-Luc Pepin who has managed the sales and communication for the domaine for the last 24 years having previously worked for the illustrious (but much larger) Domaine Drouhin in Beaune, someone else I visited in 2010. Occasionally I am hosted by someone who is so gifted with communication skills it is astonishing, as Jean-Luc was one of the most knowledgeable (about everything from history and culture to wine and cuisine), interesting and engaging I have encountered. Jean-Luc is one of those rare people who is genuinely interested in what others think and have experienced, respecting that you can always learn something from others and is also the best way to ensure that the information you are giving has been understood. Jean-Luc showed me the wonderful cellars and over a tasting of 2011 barrel samples I was introduced to the phenomenal pedigree, commitment to quality, and elegant yet rich style that Vogue have. One of the more controversial things they do is to declassify the younger pinot noir vines in grand cru vineyards to premier cru, and their chardonnay vines all the way down to Bourgogne Blanc (as there is nothing between the two). I think this shows amazing respect and uncompromising attitude to deliver only the best rather than cynically trying to chase higher prices. I left the domaine quite heady not only from the wines but also from the knowledge oozing out of my ears. Click here to read my tasting notes.

A barrel of Comte Georges de Vogue

Click here to see more photos from my second day in the Cote des Nuits.

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