Manuel’s Wine Travels – Burgundy and Champagne Part 1

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Editors Note – The following entry was submitted by Wally’s Burgundy and Champagne buyer, Manuel Bronson, who is currently abroad in France. 

photo4I am headed off to France to see how the current vintages of Burgundy and Champagne are doing. First, a stop in Paris to see friends and enjoy some of the cities best cuisine. On Friday night I meet our import director/Bordeaux buyer Geoff Pattison, who is heading home from a week of previewing the 2013 vintage. Per Geoff’s suggestion, we decide to try L’ami Jean, a “nouveau” bistro with gastronomic twists. The chef’s tasting menu is classic yet playful. The poached fish in mushroom broth is perfectly cooked and subtle. The sweetbreads with morels are some of the best I’ve ever had. We select a 2010 Arbois Pupillin from Renardiere as our opening wine; a bright, balanced white from the Jura. We follow with a 2010 Antonin Guyon Chambolle Musigny, which rewards us with bright red fruit, balance and great acidity…. another fantastic wine for the flavorful, impeccably-prepared food.

On Saturday I wake up to another glorious sorting day in Paris. We are headed to lunch to see our old friend Eric Beaumard, the wine director at the George V, located in the Four Seasons. We are treated to a phenomenal 6 course lunch paired with wines. The George V has really stepped up its game in the last few years. photo1Geoff and I have little doubt it is getting very close to reaching its lofty Michelin goals. After a leisurely stroll though Paris and a small repose, we head to the incoming L’ami Louis for to enjoy some incredible classic French bistro dishes for dinner. Stepping into L’ami Louis is a step into the past. Although difficult to secure reservations, it is well worth the effort.

On Sunday morning Geoff headed home while I was off to Burgundy. It has been two years since my last visit, and ten years since I worked at Domaine de La Romanee Conti.  I am always excited to see old friends and visit new people when I  am in Burgundy. This trip I have decided to focus on specific villages to gauge how the 2012 has developed in bottle and the 2013 in barrel.

As many people know Burgundy has gone through a few difficult vintages of late. For the most part quantities have steadily been declining since 2009, thus, with a worldwide appetite for Burgundies on the rise,  it has become a paradoxical situation: demand is far exceeding supply.The good news is, there seems to be a new generation of grower/producers that are emerging, making very intriguing wines.

For this trip, I have decided to stay at Le Montrachet hotel in Puligny-Montrachet.  This wonderful hotel – with a great restaurant – is owned by Jean-Pierre Faraut, who is a great friend of Wally’s.  I highly recommend those planning a visit to Burgundy to book a room at Le Montrachet!

Day one will focus on the villages of Chambolle, Gevrey and Marsannay. I have set up appointments to visit both classic producers as well as some “up and comers.”

My first tasting is at Domaine Duroche in Gevrey Chambertin. In recent vintages I have heard the wines of this domaine have steadily improved to the point where they have become one of the most talked about producers in the area. I was met by Pierre Duroche, Managing Director of the domaine. Pierre has implemented his vision for the winery since 2005. I must say, after tasting the wines, the hype is true. I was taken aback by the purity and preciseness of the wines. We taste the full range from the winery – from its Bourgogne to its Gevrey 1er cru and finally Duroche’s grand cru, Clos de Beze, Latricieres Chambertin and Charmes- Chambertin. The 2013s in barrel are going through malolactic fermentation (as are most wines in Burgundy), and therefore are difficult to taste, yet the underlying core of pure fruit, soft tannins and structure is highly evident. Duroche is not to be missed,  I am very confident that consumers will be very happy with Côte d’Or 2012 and 2013.

After Duroche, I travel to one of my favorite producers in Burgundy, Domaine Armand Rousseau. As I walk into these half-full hollowed cellars it is obvious the yields in the last few years are significantly  down.  And, since the global appetite for Rousseau’s wines has skyrocketed, it’s easy to see why the prices for his wines over the last few vintages has followed suit.  Rousseau to me is the perfect example of a producer who is great year in and out. It is producers like him that affirm my belief to choose producer over vintage. The 2012 and 2013 are fantastic top to bottom. The 2012s are oddly approachable for a young vintage, yet the examples I tasted still maintain fantastic structure and aging potential. It will be great to follow these wines over many years!

Following the epic tasting at Rousseau, I head down the road to our good friend Jean-Marie Fourrier. In recent years Fourrier has become a producer whose demand has risen considerably. So much so, that JM decided to start a negociant branch just to satisfy demand. If you are lucky to find any of these wines outside of auctions, they are not to be missed.

After Fourrier I head to lunch with hyper charismatic Jacques Marchand of Domaine Marchand Grillot. I am treated to a fantastic repast prepared by Jacques himself.  We enjoy white asparagus, a rabbit terrine, and a selection of local cheeses accompanied by the 2012 wines. These are a set of fantastic Burgundies, especially from Grillot’s 100-year-old vineyard in Gevrey. In a word, the wines are awesome!

Continuing my day I head to Comte Vogue in Chambolle Musigny. Out of all the wines I have tasted, these seem to be the most reserved and difficult to assess.  Yet I sense intuitively that the underlying potential for development of these revered wines is beyond doubt.  I am certain these wines will evolve into modern days classics.
Upon finishing Vogue I head north to the town of Marsannay to visit Domaine Sylvan Pataille. I truly believe that Pataille and Bruno Clair will elevate certain appellations to premier cru level based on recent results. Both the reds and the whites are electric and still fairly priced. Definitely a winery to keep your eye on!

photo5After a long day of tasting I’m ready for a nice dinner. I am graciously invited to Domaine Bouchard with Luc  Bouchard. Walking through the old cellars under the medieval castle in Beaune is a walk into history. Bouchard has probably the deepest personal cellar in all of Burgundy, with wines going back to the 1850s. For dinner, Luc opens a few very special wines: a 2009 Chavalier Montracher and a 1961 Corton Grand Crus. Both wines are fantastic, but the 1961 steals the show, and shines the brightest.

That concludes Day 1. Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Burgundy and Champagne!

Manuel Bronson