Wine Travels in France: 2012 Staff Trip (4: Côte de Beaune)
I really like portable kaleidoscopes. As a kid, with one eye fixed to the end of a tube, I would watch in fascination as each turn, no matter how small, created a completely new pattern of color. Burgundy, for me, holds the same attractions; just when you think you’ve got it figured out, a tiny discovery (a certain bottling, a shift in vinification, a bend in the road) changes your entire perspective. It’s a welcome reminder that truth is not an absolute value or a measure of authenticity, but instead a form under constant renewal, as real and kinetic as a fountain’s jet of water.
Frémiets and En Champans are both Volnay Premier Crus (of 10+ acres and 27+ acres), and on the first full day of our Burgundy tour, tasting wines from these sites (and the short, magnificent 2010 vintage!) felt like another turn of the ‘scope.
Based on simple geography (Pommard sits in an alluvial valley, while Volnay is perched on an exposed hillcrest), we’re taught that Pommard, generally speaking, tastes beefy and intense, with densely woven tannin, and that neighboring Volnay, generally speaking, is lighter and more ethereal, with more acid and minerality.
The smaller Frémiets cru borders Pommard to the north (extending, in fact, into a 12+ acre Premier Cru on the Pommard side known as ‘Les Fremiers’), while the larger En Champans cru sits in the very heart of the Volnay appellation, just underneath Taillepieds. One would expect, then, that the Frémiets would be dense, and the Champans ‘ethereal’, but tasting with Jean-Pierre Charlot at his estate in Volnay showed otherwise: I noted that the former was “fine, lean and bright”, while the latter showed “tons of plenitude – giant flavors, big, rich tannin.” He confirmed that Champans, with its slightly higher elevation and stonier soil, always gives more power, while the sloping lower end of Frémiets ripens earlier, and tends toward a softer, simpler expression.
It’s good to check your expectations at the door, and even better to do so on Day One…
… especially before a visit to Michel Lafarge in Volnay on Day Two, whose 2010 Aligoté (a simple, crisp, ‘apertif’ white, generally speaking) I found to be “one of the densest, richest, most complex and heady Aligotés I’ve ever had.” He explained how his Aligoté comes from 70-year old vines, and late-ripening, late-harvest fruit – in 2010, he harvested Pinot Noir on 8 September, and Aligoté on 22 September.
Now in his 80s, Michel is one of the legendary figures of Volnay, and its former mayor. Once a facility of medieval dukes, his cellar dates to the 14th century. His family began to bottle in 1934, and to export in 1945. They never bought into the chemical craze of the ’60s and 70′s, and in 1996 began to practice biodynamics, achieving conversion in 2000. Michel isn’t in the spotlight these days – his son Frédéric manages most of the day-to-day operations – so it was a delight to see him at the winery door and spend time with him in the cellar.
After the Aligoté, we tasted his Meursault (“superb sense of nougat and grapefruit, with depth and ‘snap’”), the new-ish Beaune ‘Les Aigrots’ Premier Cru (“herbal and perfumed, carrying superb acid and smoke”), Volnay (“a compression of cherry fruits on the palate that marries beautifully with the initial fragrance”), Volnay ‘Selection’ (“a touch more tannin, notes of mocha and coffee combine with the red fruit”), Beaune ‘Greve’ (“more direct on the nose – the minerality is more profound, yet the palate is rounder, richer, and almost sweet”), Volnay ‘Clos de Chêne’ Premier Cru (“hallmark vineyard; nearly metallic cut; savage and gamey, with flavorful tannin”), all from 2010, and the Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs from 2009 (“bold! texturally dense, with a complicated weave and smokiness”).
After a long lunch in Pommard, we enjoyed a beautiful bike ride into Nantoux in the Hautes Cotes for a warm visit with Joelle Montchovet, and then a grueling ride up to St.-Romain for an amazing appointment with Laure Cossard of Chassorney. (Along with Lafarge, these are biodynamic producers, making Day Two our ‘Bio-Day’.)
Day Three saw us in Meursault in the morning with François Mikulski, back in Beaune for a tasting with Benjamin Leroux, and a late afternoon view of what a larger negociant is like at Maison Champy, with the Cote de Nuits ahead…
- jeremy quinn