Having arrived in Dijon on Sunday afternoon via the Eurostar the evening was spent planning the week: tastings and visits, charging cameras, laptops and phones. Alison (C&B Buyer) has been many times before but as it was my first visit I was less sure what to expect.
En route to Gilles Jourdan in Corgoloin we drove down the Route des Grand Cru taking in the various communes as we went. I found this invaluable as a way of getting my bearings and trying to make the maps in my head make more real sense. If you are after pomp and ceremony
Gilles Jourdan is not the man for you (The U2 ring tone was a surprise!) but if good burgundy at a good price from a smaller commune is, then he’s a producer to get to know. Gilles was first introduced to C&B by Clive Coates MW and it has been a great little partnership since. The cellar is small the holdings not grand, by Burgundy standards, but the results are elegant and superb. There are a few wines in the range but the main ones have become real team favourites; Bourgogne Rouge, a Cotes de Nuits Villages and then two single vineyard wines (also Cotes de Nuits) – La Montagne and La Robignotte. The 2008’s were really good with great contrasts between the wines. We also re-tasted the 2007’s which Gilles is very proud of. The last wine tasted was a bottle of La Robignotte 2000, really showing what Gilles can do. A good visit to a grower I have bought from myself.
From Corgoloin we went back up the RN 74 to our friend Olivier Leriche at Domaine de L’Arlot in Nuits St Georges (NSG), Olivier had been over to London recently and it was good to seem him again. We tasted the wines in the cellar as is the usual drill in Burgundy especially when tasting straight from the barrel. The NSG Clos du Chapeau got things going and right through that to the Petit Arlot (young vines of Clos de Arlot), Les Petit Plets (young vines of Clos de Forets St Georges) and onto the Clos de Arlot and Clos de Forets St Georges themselves the wines gradually got better and better. There is a really elegant style here with balance the key…very good wines. Olivier was kind enough to show us the Vosnee Romanee Suchots and the Romanee St Vivant as well, both of which showed the Domain at their very best. Having “done” the 2008’s we discussed the older vintages and as L’Arlot keep a little back (we’ll offer some soon) we chose to try a couple of wines from a trickier vintage, 2004, Les Petit Plets and Clos des Forets St Georges where both developing well with great red fruits and a touch of decadence. As a contrast next on the agenda was a Clos des Forets St Georges 2003 – hedonistic and my tasting note starts Rich, Rich Rich. From there we decamped to Olivier’s living quarters for a “light” four course lunch with his charming wife Florence – lunch was accompanied by the 2008 whites we hadn’t yet tasted, NSG La Gerbotte and Clos de Arlot, both were stunning and in many ways the La Gerbotte stood out (great salad of walnut, leaves, light walnut oil, cheese and apple worked really well). The lunch was brief but there was just time to try another tricky vintage in the form of Clos de Arlot 1998 which was elegant, harmonious and sensibly “under” extracted……an estate making good wines and in very good hands.
Down the road to Thierry Matrot in Meursault……already running a little late - a feeling we got used to!! Thierry started by saying how difficult a year it had been – not quite the positive marketing we’d hoped for….but actually what he was saying was very true…the harvest looked like it was going to be very awkward but then as September arrived so did the sun and three glorious weeks made for perfectly ripe grapes. Thierry has a lovely area in the cellar in which to taste - Thierry’s range of wines is expansive from Bourgogne Blanc (fresh and ready to go, in screw cap) to Meursault Charmes, the tasting note for which starts “YUM!”. If ever someone deserved to have some Grand Cru vineyards it is Thierry. I thought the white highlights were St Aubin (such an under-rated appellation), St Romain (had a few good ones during the week, value to be had), Meursault Charmes and Puligny Les Combettes. There is real refinement here and never an over oaking of the lemon fruits. Having said that there is one “Technical” wine (Thierry’s phrase) that has a real oaked richness and is called Puligny Quintessence, 50% Chalameux 50% Garennes and 50% new oak…something lost in translation possibly but the point is there. The reds were good too, particularly the Volnay Santenots and Blagny 1er Cru Sous les Bois. Thierry’s wife Pascale (the Domaine is Thierry and Pascale Matrot) was also about and I look forward to seeing them in January in London.
Back in the car and up the road this time, not doing so well on the Carbon footprint, past Gilles Jourdan and Arlot to Gevrey Chambertin to see Domaine de Varoilles – we were met by the ever Charming Swiss owner Gilbert Hammel, I think Varoilles is a really good Domaine that is much lesser known than it should be. The wines have a more opulent rich and hedonistic feel than many of the Domaines we follow, later in the week - Day 4 – we tasted the 2001’s and 2002’s with great results, this was about the 2008’s. The wine showed well and Gilbert gave us something of a master class in oak barrels by showing us samples from the many different types of barrels, some with differing lengths of seasoning and others with more of less toasting. The differences at this stage can be quite marked but later when the blending has been done harmony can be achieved. All the wines except the Charmes Chambertin are Gevrey Chambertin; Clos de Meix des Ouches (a Monopole) and 1er Cru Champonnet were both structured and rich with good tannin but there was a real step up to the 1er Cru Monopoles of La Romanee and Clos de Varoilles itself with the Grand Cru Charmes Chambertin doing as you would expect, by the time we’d finished tasting it was dark but there was still one visit to do and dinner to follow.
I was starting to get a bit of first day palate fatigue but arrival at Francois Labet’s Chateau de La Tour situated in the Clos Vougeot vineyard seemed to perk me up. Francois views that differ from some on winemaking and has two separate “hats” – one Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot and the other Domaine Pierre & Francois Labet based mostly around Beaune. Francois has been organic since 1992 and this year started to encourage the growth of natural grasses between the vines to compete with the vines. He also sees 2008 as like 1996 and said there was a very long fermentation for the whites. There is no green harvest (taking bunches of the vines to help others ripen) and no de-stemming (grapes and stalks go into the vats). Francois’ whites where lovely and opulent. We then moved onto the reds and saw a really good concentration and a tight structure..these aren’t even “born” yet after all. There was a new wine though, a Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes from 3 different locations. The Clos de Vougeot itself was impressive with big fruit but also real balance and charm. The Clos Vougeot Vielles Vignes even more so…we then had a small taste of the 2009 Clos Vougeot which was little more than impressive grape juice at this stage – it has been through fermentation but not Malolactic..and so off to dinner back up the road in Dijon at Francois lovely house. Whilst on the topic of Dijon it is so weird that the city all but ignores its closeness to some of the most prized vineyards in the world…more interested in Mustard and Museums!
Dinner was a real treat with Francois his lovely wife Miriam and daughter Lorraine, we were very well looked after….we started with Meursault Tillets 2006 – Taut lean and just as I like it served with Chestnut soup and truffle shavings…delicious. Clos de Vougeot V V 1990 - Touch of age on the rim but otherwise good colour to the core, eucalyptus and licorice with a lovely fruit sweetness, masculine and in great spirit will last and last. Served with awesome truffle mash (there’s probably a phrase for it but that’s what it was) and the most tender Lamb….stunning. Then as the cheese was readied Francois inleashed a bottle of Clos de Vougeot V V 1959 – most encouragingly there was a really similarity of character with the 1990. The wine was alive and well, served blind I do not think I would have said it was older than 1970…thank you Francois. Dinner was rounded of with Lorraine's chocolate pudding and some Vin Jaune. A wonderful evening and a great way to end the first day in Burgundy!!