Much of our wine comes from small-scale producers you likely never heard of – but not all of it. The Domaine de l’Arlot is one of Burgundy’s great names, and their wines appear in the finest restaurants and cellars around the world. Our allocation from them is always small, but their wines are always excellent.
The year is 1895. The United States number 44, and the president is Grover Cleveland. J Edgar Hoover and Babe Ruth are born, and inventor George Selden receives a patent for the automobile. Across the ocean in France (then a six-day crossing by boat), a vineyard of grenache is planted just outside Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Some of the best values in Burgundy are from towns just off the beaten path. Last week we wrote about St-Aubin, a hidden gem up the valley that stretches west between Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. This week we’re focusing on another valley about 5 miles to the north, which features the town of Auxey-Duresses.
We’re finally getting a dose of real winter here in New England. With cascades of wind and snow hitting the coast this week, we’re opening bottles from a bit further south, in an attempt to channel a bit of that clear Provençal sun.
Chassagne-Montrachet is the southernmost of Burgundy’s three great chardonnay sources, after Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. If Meursault is known for richness and concentration, and Puligny for precision and elegance, then Chassagne combines the best values of the other two. Classic Chassagne is soft and lush, with with delicate acidity and an effortless, mouthfilling richness.
Some wines are meant for occasions — wines you’ve picked out specially, on which you’ve spent a bit extra, and for which you’re waiting until the perfect moment. With Burgundy representing half of our portfolio, we have no shortage of these back-of-the-cellar bottles.
Americans don’t drink enough sparkling wine. By restricting its use to special occasions, we ignore its many other capabilities: a classy way to welcome guests, a gentle start to a meal, or a versatile pairing with an enormous range of foods. The French are more apt to treat sparkling wine as just that -- a wine that sparkles, to be enjoyed like any other.
“How do you find your winemakers?” is probably the most common question we’re asked. The best answer is that we trust the locals whenever we can. Sometimes this means recommendations from vignerons we already work with; sometimes it is customers with vineyard connections. But our favorite source is often the local wine list.
Burgundy is best known for its wines of refinement and elegance. The delicate, often ethereal Pinot Noirs from towns like Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny are unlike any others in the world, and rightly receive the majority of Burgundy’s press. But there’s a whole other world of red Burgundy to the South of the Côte d’Or.
Nicolas Maillet is our new source for chardonnay from southern Burgundy. His wines are classic examples of white Maconnais -- cool, round chardonnay with excellent balance and little or no oak. If the Côte d’Or is home to Burgundies of pedigree and refinement, then the Maconnais is home to Burgundies full of vibrancy and joy.
On most maps, Santenay is the last town in Burgundy’s famous Côte d’Or. Forever second fiddle to its famous neighbor Chassagne-Montrachet to the north, Santenay nonetheless produces excellent wines. With neither the staying power nor the tannic structure of wines from Chassagne, they are often far easier to enjoy young.
St-Aubin is the insider’s white Burgundy. While writers spill most of the ink on the great wines from Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, savvy drinkers know of the treasure that lies three minutes to the west, in a valley between the two famous towns. The wines from the tiny, hidden village of St-Aubin may lack the aging power and depth of Chassagnes and Pulignys, but they remain what Rajat Parr calls “some of the best-value Chardonnay in the world.”
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson visited Burgundy, recording his favorite wines in a journal: Chambertin, Romanée(-Conti), Clos Vougeot, and Montrachet. Jefferson wasn’t the first or the last to recognize the greatness of Montrachet, and today most consider it the finest white wine vineyard in the world.
Like many in Burgundy, the Domaine Roger Belland isn’t flashy. There’s just a small sign next to the door on the street, and you have to enter the cellar before seeing any of their many winemaking awards. But the Bellands have made wine since 1839, and Master of Wine Clive Coates calls them “among the best sources in Santenay.”
Some things take some getting used to before you can enjoy them. Coffee may be one of the world’s most popular drinks, but is bitter and astringent to children taking a first sip. At first, many wine drinkers dislike the petrol notes in old German Riesling, or the barnyard in old red Burgundy. But many eventually spend years seeking out those elusive characteristics.