Much has been written about the 2015 vintage in Burgundy, one of the best in a generation. But the vintage also brought impressive wines from elsewhere in France. In particular, the syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhône had a banner year in 2015. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson in a recent article proclaimed them “the best in 55 years.”
The wine regions of France are enormous and diverse. The wide range of styles, grapes, and and traditions produces a staggering variety of wines. That offers enough diversity to keep us busy for years, and in some regions we feel as though we have barely scratched the surface.
When we shape our portfolio, we look for wines that “punch above their weight.” These are wines that exceed expectations based on the price tag and the name on the label — bottles that, if tasted blind, you’d put in a higher class. One of our favorites in this category has long been a premier cru white Santenay from Roger Belland.
There’s been no shortage of hype surrounding the 2015 Red Burgundies. Even our favorite reviewers, who we follow in part because of their restraint, have been effusive. “One of the half-dozen top vintages for red Burgundy of the past generation,” writes Steven Tanzer of Vinous; “a genuinely great vintage,” opines Allen Meadows (Burghound). And indeed, our initial tastings from barrel and early bottles have confirmed this enthusiasm.
One of the most intoxicating aromas in cooking comes from the Maillard reaction. It’s the flavor most often associated with browned meat, though it’s also found in bread crusts, chocolate, coffee beans, and dark beer. First identified by Louis Camille Maillard, the reaction is similar to caramelization, but produces earthier, more complex flavors.
Most of the red Burgundy we import comes from the Côte d’Or. Stretching thirty miles from Dijon to Santenay, the Côte d’Or is home to nearly all of Burgundy’s famous vineyards. But continue south past Santenay and there’s a whole other world of Burgundy to discover -- one with quieter names, simpler wines, and far more reasonable prices.
The Northern Rhône is a long, narrow winegrowing region on the banks of the Rhône river. Perched along astonishingly steep hillsides just south of Lyon, the region grows only two grapes -- viognier for whites, and syrah for reds. Both grapes reach their nothernmost ripening limit here, and the wines they produce represent the highest form of each varietal.
The hillside of Montrachet produces the world’s finest dry white wine. In production for nearly two thousand years, the vineyard straddles the border between the neighboring towns of Puligny and Chassagne. Each produces wine of a different character, and though their terroirs meet in the famous plot, there are noticeable differences in the extraordinary wines that both villages make.
We first met Pascal Bardoux less than two years ago, but he is already a favorite among our readers. His small-batch Champagnes are distinctive, delicious, complex, and comparative bargains. With much of the mass-market Champagne distributed in the US between $75 and $100 a bottle, Bardoux’s $45 small-batch Brut Traditionnel is twice the wine at half the price.
“If gold were a flavor,” Matt Kramer once wrote, “it would taste like Meursault.” Though it has no Grand Cru vineyards, Meursault’s wines are among the most sought after in the world. The name recalls white Burgundies of decadence, opulence, and style.
For the careful shopper, the Languedoc can be an abundant resource. Long deserving its reputation for mediocrity, the region has only recently become a source of value. There’s still plenty of bad wine made in the vast region, but if you make good choices, $13 will take you farther here than just about anywhere else.
Michel Gros is perhaps the most recognizable producer in our portfolio. His wines are all elegant and precise, often showing smoky or toasty qualities, and always silky and beautiful. A few years ago Clive Coates MW listed Michel Gros in the top 17 domaines in all of Burgundy — a list that included Romanée-Conti, Leroy, and Comtes Lafon — and highlighted the “nobility and elegance” of his wines.