And so the challenge was set: to uncover a fine red Premier Cru, from a master of their appellation, for less than £20 a bottle in bond. Tricky? Not at all. My adversary clearly hadn’t thought it through; this is child’s play. François Lumpp only created his domaine in Givry in 1991, but already he is at the forefront of
the appellation, creating wine of beautiful clarity and an easy, authentic charm.
He now has 9.5 hectares in and around the commune of Givry in the Côte Chalonnaise, and his wines offer stunning value for money. His Givry 1er Cru, A Vigne Rouge has beautifully pure red berry fruits and a pastoral, sweet earthiness; unmistakably Bourgogne. And it’s just £230 per 12 bottles in bond. And his Givry Blanc is unmissable too. Looking for value? Give Givry a try…
It may have borne witness to over 2,000 vintages, but Bourgogne never stands still. In fact, if you want to track down some hidden gems, take a look at some newer domaines.
Domaine de la Douaix was established by Belgian Gilles Moustie and his father in 2003 – their first vintage was 2006. Their 2015 Côte de Nuits Villages Vieilles Vignes comes from venerable vineyards; one is 85 years old, the other 95. Fresh, lively, deliciously toothsome but with a serious side, this is a lovely wine, and just £225 IB per 12 bottles. Even the greats were unknown once…
I overheard two overweight gentlemen conversing in hushed tones outside the art gallery. A stunning ballet dancer in disguise they said, something not to be missed. Naturally my curiosity was piqued. I slipped in behind them as the door was closing, and found the room full… of bottles of wine. But which one were they talking about? I didn’t have long. Should I taste the Puligny-Montrachet? The Saint-Aubin? Or perhaps the Chablis? No, none of those – I went straight to the Nuits-Saint-Georges.
It may be traditionally known for robust reds, but a tiny proportion of production is white. The power of the village shines through; not in bulky muscle, but as the athletic frame of the dancer. Domaine de l’Arlot’s La Gerbotte, the younger vine cuvée of their Premier Cru Clos de l’Arlot, has a subtle floral fragrance and a lean, taut profile. Rudolf Nureyev or Darcey Bussell? That’s for you to decide.
Which Village appellation from the Côte de Nuits makes all three colours: red, white and rosé? I traversed the streets of London from tasting to tasting trying to get to solve this fiendish case. The answer hits me at the Goedhuis tasting – Marsannay! The most northerly of all the Côte de Nuits appellations; perhaps not as well-known as its close neighbour Gevrey-Chambertin, but we know what that means – there’s likely to be good value wines to be uncovered. And I was right. The Méo-Camuzet Frères et Soeurs Marsannay 2015 is a lovely wine, packed full of the charm and generosity of the vintage. If there wasn’t a tube strike I might have found a white and a rosé too…
When is a red from the Côte de Nuits not a Pinot Noir? This riddle had been vexing me until I came across the answer, shaped, perhaps unsurprisingly, like a bottle of wine. A 2015 Coteaux Bourguignons to be precise, by Jean Grivot. Made from ancient parcels of Gamay from parcels in Vosne and Flagey, this has all the charm and drinkability of a fine Bourgogne, but with a different accent. And less than £15 a bottle in bond.
Two Jean-Marc Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet, side by side on the tasting table.
A tempting proposition that Watson understandably couldn’t pass up. He poured himself a sample of the first, a Premier Cru, Les Chenevottes. Pale gold, it flowed slowly into his glass, and he professed it most satisfactory; rich, toasty, with fine acidity and excellent balance.
Moving on to the second bottle, a Premier Cru Clos-Saint-Jean, he tilted it to his glass and the poor fellow nearly jumped out of his skin. A bright ruby red splashed all over Watson’s tasting booklet and the shirt of the journalist beside him. Some clues, though clear to see on the label, are so unexpected as to be invisible to the mind – at least to the mind of Watson.
This was a fine example of a Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, a rare but most delicious beast. I found it delightful. Watson wasn’t so keen.
Between tastings, Watson and I dined in a restaurant off Piccadilly. A gentleman on the table opposite noticed our stack of tasting booklets and mentioned he’d been very taken by a wine himself that very day. Just as he was about to share its name, he started to choke on a chicken bone. Watson sprung to his feet and vigorously slapped him on the back, but it was no use. The poor man grabbed me and whispered “Close to paradise…” in my ear as his last breath left him. How right he was.
Later that day at the ABS tasting we came across the wines of Domaine Capuano Ferreri et Fils. Tasting their beautifully pure, fresh and structured Mercurey Premier Cru Clos du Paradis it suddenly struck me what our deceased dining companion was talking about – it all made perfect sense. Typical wine trade – working right to the bitter end.
After tasting a particularly elegant white wine at the ABS tasting, I remarked to the winemaker what a fine Chardonnay he had produced. “Ceci n’est pas un Chardonnay,” he replied. How surreal, I thought; how could this be? It was light, with some fennel and lime blossom aromas, fresh and crisp as a mountain stream. Could it be that the winemaker had been captured and replaced by an imposter, one that could only be identified by his lack of wine knowledge?
“Then what is it, sir?” I asked, poised to pounce like a cat. “C’est un Aligoté,” he replied – the Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 to be precise. Turns out it makes up 6% of plantings, against Chardonnay’s 48%. Traditionally, it’s Aligoté that’s mixed with crème de cassis to make a Kir, but it would be a shame to mix this one with anything.
Back at Baker Street, I was relaxing with a pipe when the phone rang. It was James Mortimer, thoroughly spooked after a visit to the Charles Taylor tasting. He wasn’t making much sense, but spoke about the teeth of enormous dog. Now I realise he’s a bit sensitive after the whole Baskerville affair, so I agreed to go along and investigate. Naturally I thought I’d taste a few wines when I was there and found myself at the table of Domaine Gerard Thomas et Filles, tasting their range of Saint-Aubin, and particularly fine they were too, particularly the Premier Cru.
I asked the winemaker which it was. I should have guessed – it was Saint Aubin Premier Cru, Les Murgers des Dents de Chien, named after the huge, sharp triangular stones that litter the vineyard. The wine was light, floral, fresh with an agreeable citric bite. Bite! Ha! Sorry Mortimer…
With thousands of wines on show during Bourgogne Week, no individual can taste them all – not even Tim Atkin. So I took to Twitter to ask my not inconsiderable number of followers if they could recommend any Premier Cru Chablis. As you can imagine I put up with a lot of trolling, but one reply stuck out – it was from @cumberbatch, whoever that is, with a cryptic message “You’ll find what you seek in the Valley of Laurent.”
I trawled through old papers on the naming of Chablis Premier Crus, and there it was – Premier Cru Vaulorent, probably meaning Valley of Laurent, a previous owner, since lost in the mists of time. I tasted the new bottling by Domaine Billaud-Simon and my goodness he was right; fragrant orange blossom on the nose, firm and piercing on the palate. The maps show that it abuts Chablis Grand Cru Preuses… could this be the secret to its quality? Either way, I’ll be buying a case.
Beaune – home to 42 Premier Crus and some of the biggest negociant houses of Bourgogne. Let me share a secret with you: combine the two and you’ll often uncover something special. Maison Louis Jadot is one of the biggest negociants in the region, controlling 225 hectares, 119 of which are in the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune.
It has owned the Clos des Ursules, a small walled vineyard within the Premier Cru Vignes Franches, since 1826. Before them, it was owned by the Convent of Saint Ursula in Beaune – hence the name. It’s often a smart buy, but the 2015 is particularly special. Already expressive, pure, charming and open, it’s concentrated but delicate, assertive but gentle. Don’t forget that in Bourgogne big can be beautiful.
A sprawling, unbroken Grand Cru vineyard of fifty-one hectares enclosed within 500-year-old walls. No wonder the Clos de Vougeot is an icon of Côte de Nuits, creating some of its most sought-after reds. But did you know about its sister Clos directly over the road, producing nothing but whites? Also founded around 1100AD by the monks of nearby Cîteaux, the Vougeot Premier Cru, Le Clos Blanc is sometimes overlooked; greatness masked by greatness.
A Monopole owned by Domaine de la Vougeraie, the wine can be as bold and majestic as its neighbour.
If you were at the Flint Wines tasting I probably owe you an apology. You may have been disturbed by my rather forceful entry to the premises, without as much as a name badge, along with some members of the local constabulary. Watson, you see, had called me in a fluster saying that I must come immediately – a dead man, and a case I would want to investigate.
The ‘dead man’, it transpired was the Chablis Premier Cru, l’Homme Mort of Domaine des Hâtes: taut and steely with no excess fat and rapier-like acidity. Did I investigate the case? I did, it had 12 bottles in and thankfully it fitted neatly in the boot of my car. Thanks Watson.
When is a wine neither domaine nor negoce? When it’s both. Cyprien Arlaud runs Domaine Arlaud and also manages some other vineyards that he doesn’t own, but whose fruit he buys. Half the fruit for this Bourgogne rouge comes from the domaine, the other half from the vineyards he controls. All of it is farmed biodynamically.
And the name Oka? All the Domaine Arlaud Premiers and Grands Crus wines have been ploughed by horse since 2003. Oka is one of their strongest horses. As for the wine, it’s soft, rich, generous and juicy – not to mention excellent value.
Deep in the Crypt of Saint Martin in the Fields Church near Trafalgar Square, the New Generation McKinley tasting was in full swing; a studious silence interspersed with the occasional slurping noise. Suddenly a shot rang out, the bullet whizzing past my head. Watson’s army training swung into action before he knew it and he launched himself forward. I was expecting a tussle, but to my surprise he thrust forward his tasting glass, which was filled with a splash of fine sparkling wine.
Somehow I’d forgotten about Crémant de Bourgogne, despite it making up 10% of the region’s production. Relieved, I joined him for a glass of Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs NV, from Les Domaines du Mâconnais a brisk but toasty glass of fizz with notes of brioche, lemon rind and toasted hazelnuts. I knew Watson liked bubbles but he really ought to contain himself.
It was the end of a long day of tastings – goodness knows how many 2015 Bourgognes had passed our lips. So Watson and I paid a visit to the local hostelry for a refreshing glass of wine. “Barman, two glasses of wine, a refreshing, fruity red for me and a fresh, floral white for my companion,” I asked. “Ladoix?” he proposed. “Whatever it is, it sounds lovely, yes please” I shrugged and he poured me a glass of Ladoix Vieilles Vignes 2015 from Domaine Edmond Cornu et Fils.
Turns out it’s a little-known appellation at the foot of the hill of Corton, the northernmost appellation in the Côte de Beaune. But even after the hard day’s tasting, this energetic wine still refreshed us. The barman explained that in old French ‘Ladoix’ refers to an underground source of fresh water that springs up nearby. Turns out Ladoix is a source of refreshing reds and whites to boot.
“Price TBC”. Three letters that strike fear into the heart of the Bourgogne lover. Their customary use is to veil the prices of the most rarefied wines. But not in this case – quite the opposite. Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise is a smart hunting ground for value, particularly when it comes to whites.
One of its greatest exponents is Vincent Dureuil-Janthial. His 2015 Rully Blanc has rich pear and honey aromas, is broad on the palate, then ends with crystalline freshness. The coolness of his deep cellars lead to slow fermentations, so he releases his wines a little later than most. But you can expect them, like many Rully Blancs, to be a steal.
Vergisson, Igé, Verzé, Milly-Larmartine… what was the common theme? Over and over again, the word ‘value’ popped up in my notes. I plotted them on a map and it became clear – the best terroirs of Mâcon! This wine has long been a stalwart of British wine merchants, but the 26 named villages, that make up some of the best terroir, are rather more obscure. Not for long I suspect – get ahead of the curve.
It was a totally classic Côte de Nuits-Villages, distinctly savoury, firmly structured, with a powerful, assertive profile. A stylish Pinot Noir that couldn’t be from anywhere but Bourgogne. Call it the detective’s intuition, call it gut feel – call it what you will – but there was something about her strong Australian accent that led me to believe she may not be a born and bred in Bourgogne.
I was right – Jane used to be a hairdresser in Australia, but retrained as a winemaker. After much travelling and making wine in France, Germany and New Zealand, she returned to Bourgogne in 2011 and started her own negociant label. In case you’re wondering, Jane Eyre is her real name. “Good to meet you, I’m Sherlock Holmes,” I replied. Quite what the dirty look was for, I suppose I’ll never know.
The only wine I’d ever had from London was Mycroft’s elderberry wine made from fruits picked on Hampstead Heath; a murky red of little distinction. So when I heard about a succulent, floral white made from Château London, I had to investigate immediately. I tracked it down at the Liberty Wines tasting.
Fortunately it turned out not to be from London, but from the Château London vineyard in Mâcon-Igé, and produced by a certain Jean-Claude Boisset. The vineyard’s original owner lived on rue Landon in Paris, and over time ‘Landon’ became ‘London’. I must admit I was a little relieved; the thought of Mycroft producing a Blanc de Noirs was too much to entertain, quite frankly.
Can a bottle of wine be haunted? Watson told me about a rumour of such a thing at the Howard Ripley tasting, a wine as white and weightless as a ghost, from a ruined castle… This is a mystery that takes the cool head of the detective to adequately address. Calmly I poured myself a taste. Some wines have such strong characters to be immediately identifiable and this was one such bottle.
White and weightless for sure, aerial, piercing and, dare I say… mineral. This was a Montagny – no doubt from the Premier Cru Le Vieux Château. Someone was clearly trying to scare me away from this superb wine from Domaine des Moirots, hardly surprising when it’s just £60 per 6 bottles in bond. Time to test a theory… “Sorry Watson, they’ve sold out,” I lied. He turned as white as a sheet. Case closed.
We were down to our last few dozen bottles of Bourgogne Rouge back at 221B Baker Street, so I asked Watson to pop to the Howard Ripley tasting and put in an order for some 2015s. I was a little surprised to see him take £153 out of the kitty for 6 bottles; after all, you can buy Bourgogne Rouge for less than half that price. When the invoice arrived in the post, I grabbed my magnifying glass and prepared to give him a roasting.
Then I saw the name of the producer – Domaine Robert Groffier. This explains everything: this will be no average Bourgogne Rouge. In fact, it’s a bargain. As so often in Bourgogne, the name of the producer is a big clue when it comes to quality.
If you had a house in the centre of a walled vineyard just a stone’s throw away from a Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru, what would you do? Personally, I’d knock it down and plant more vines – don’t pretend you weren’t thinking of that too.
Thankfully the owners of Domaine Faiveley are rather more urbane than I; they’re planning to install a studio space, gallery and resident artist, so you can visit and enjoy a bottle of their sumptuous Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos des Issarts within the Clos itself while perusing the art. If they’re looking for a resident violinist, I’ll be first in the queue…
After a few day’s tastings of 2015 Bourgognes, Watson is starting to get rather cocky about his wine knowledge. Sampling the deliciously taut and vibrant Chablis 1er Cru Les Beugnons 2015 from Domaine Sébastien Dampt at the Armit Wines tasting, he asked me what I thought was unusual about the wine. “That’s easy,” I said “this sub-climat of Premier Cru Vaillons is only vinified by one other producer.” “Yes,” he replied, “but what I had in mind is that it’s fermented in a big concrete egg.” I’d never heard anything so funny, I couldn’t help but laugh and do a little Chicken Tonight dance. Everyone knows they use 228l oak barrels in Bourgogne, the fool.
Monsieur Dampt stopped my little jig prematurely and explained that Watson was right – the concrete helps micro-oxygenate the wine but leaves no oak flavour. Well there’s egg on my face.
At the Justerini & Brooks tasting, I overheard two winemakers talking about Monopoles. “I know what you mean,” I chimed in “hopping from tasting to tasting around Central London can feel a bit like a board game during Bourgogne Week.” Watson explained they weren’t talking about Monopoly, but about Monopoles – vineyards or Climats that are owned entirely by one producer rather than being split between many.
These rare gems are often the jewels in the crown of a producer’s range. The Clos des Grands Charrons in Meursault is entirely owned by the Château de Meursault, and it’s an eminently classic example, combining richness and generosity with fine acids to produce a luxurious but highly drinkable wine. And you don’t need a hotel on Mayfair to buy a case.
Bourgogne is well-known as a source of beautifully ethereal red wine, but there are plenty of powerful, robust reds if you know where to look. Gevrey-Chambertin is a reliable source of course, but for value, look a little further north to Fixin. Domaine Denis Mortet Fixin 2015 is muscular, powerful and ageworthy – and almost half the price of his cheapest Gevrey on offer.
Watson and I may share a flat, but our taste in wine doesn’t always align. I appreciate the classics; Watson however has developed a taste for Natural wine. I’ve always considered Bourgogne to be my domain, so I was surprised to see him opening a bottle of Saint-Véran, 2015 from Domaine de la Croix Senaillet in the Mâconnais. On closer inspection, I saw it wasn’t their classic bottling, but one produced without any added sulphur.
He offered me a glass. Soft, round and generous, with a different aromatic register to their classic cuvée; red apple rather than green, softer on the palate, with some intriguing notes of Indian spices. No better or worse; just different. Bourgogne may be a region of strong traditions, but winemakers aren’t afraid to experiment.
Possessing, as I do, a detective’s eye for detail, you might not be surprised to hear that I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi. So I was appalled (yet strangely satisfied) to find an error in the O.W.Loeb tasting booklet. I pointed it out to the winemaker with the aid of my magnifying glass. Wine 176 was Aloxe Corton Premier Cru, Clos des Marechaudes, Monopole, Domaine du Pavillon. Wine 177 was Corton Grand Cru ,Clos des Marechaudes, Monopole, Domaine du Pavillon. Surely a Clos Monopole can’t be both Premier and Grand Cru!
It turns out there was no error. A single 2 hectare walled vineyard, all owned by the same producer: the bottom 1.4 hectares designated Premier Cru, the top 0.6 hectares designated Grand Cru. The wines are made the same way, but the difference is stark: the Premier Cru is frisky yet gentle with a sappy finish; the Grand Cru is spicy, concentrated and ageworthy. A slightly steeper slope and a few more metres of altitude – but in Bourgogne it can make all the difference.
With 100 appellations across Bourgogne, naturally some will be better known than others. Some are famous for a characteristic style, whether it be perfume, power or richness. Certain appellations are renowned for offering good value; others for ageing potential. Some, however, undergo periods of obscurity. Saint-Romain in the Côte de Beaune is one of them – at least here in Britain. Perhaps it’s because it has no Premier Crus, or that at 98 hectares it’s relatively small.
Australian negociant Mark Haisma makes a particularly attractive one. A blend of two vineyards in 2015, it has a subtle, floral fragrance and a fresh, taut profile. It’s a style of white that’s gaining fans both inside Bourgogne and further afield. But with more and more fine examples like this cropping up, it won’t stay a secret for much longer.
When drinking a wine, we often think of the region, the site from which it came and the domaine; there is a reassuring permanence, a sense of timelessness to which we attached ourselves. So when we hear about the death of a winemaker, it can feel like a rupture. The permanence was illusory. The wine we enjoyed is no more; it can never be quite the same again. Stéphane Moreau-Naudet died suddenly during the 2016 harvest; thankfully the estate will continue under his wife Virginie. Terroir is the combination of the geological, the geographical, the climatic, but most importantly of all, the human.
Rather unimaginative of the winemakers to name their best plots after the villages they’re in, don’t you think Holmes?” You can’t blame Watson, it’s an understandable assumption. But, as I explained to him, it’s the other way around entirely.
Bourgogne is a region so tied to the grape that it has named its villages after its greatest vineyards. What was once the village of Gevrey, is now known as Gevrey-Chambertin, in honour of Grand Cru Le Chambertin. The village of Chambolle did a similar thing with Le Musigny. And no prizes for guessing that the 9 hectare vineyard of Montrachet has one end in the village of Puligny, one half in the village of Chassagne. “Explains a thing or two about the fantastic quality of this Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘Les Vergelesses’ from Domaine Vincent Rapet, doesn’t it Holmes?” It certainly does.