Having just returned from France (again) having climbed the rather silly distance of more than 9,000 metres on a bicycle through the Alps, it seems almost a relief to return to writing about wine. This write up is of the trip from Chablis to Beaune.
The first of many new facts to dawn upon me is that Beaune is a not insubstantial distance from Chablis – almost 135 kilometres in fact. Indeed, with this sort of distance, which is substantial even by Australian standards for a wine region, one might reasonably question whether they are really part of the same region at all. This is particularly so if you reflect that the vines north of Villefranche-sur-Saone, namely prime Beaujolais territory, are closer to Beaune than Chablis. Yet, the Beaujolais region is left out of some books on Burgundy, and Chablis is included. This outcome would appear perhaps surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, correlated to the fortunes of these respective subregions.
The first stop on route to Beaune involved wending through the gently undulating hills south of Chablis towards the Caves de Bailly Lapierre on the river Yonne, via the small towns of Saint-Bris-Le-Vineux (sauvignon blanc and therefore an oddity in Burgundy) and Irancy (pinot noir, with up to 10% césar) and south of the regional centre of Auxerre.
The Caves de Bailly Lapierre is a substantial producer of Crémant de Bourgogne. The first thing to note here is that the Caves are entirely situated within a rather enormous cave rising above the river Yonne. By enormous, I mean a cave which has a car park and cellar door inside, a fully functioning winery, endless rows of wines neatly racked, and during the second world war I understand was used to store aircraft. So, enormous, hectares in size in fact. For good order, I should point out that the Cave, is well, a cave. It’s cold, the air is heavy and dank, and it is best not to look at the topography of the walls and roof too closely. Happily, however, the Caves de Bailly Lapierre produce excellent Crémant de Bourgogne, the winery inside is very modern and well equipped and, as I shall get to, some of the aged Crémants were glorious.
Here is a potted summary of the wines tasted. As will quickly be evident, who knew there were so many Crémant de Bourgogne styles, let alone from one producer? My other primary take away point was the resemblance of the better Crémants de Bourgogne to some grower Champagne styles. This is a rather advantageous conclusion to have drawn, since the former are mostly substantially cheaper than the latter.
An asterisk indicates a highlight in the line-up.
Brut de Charvis Vin Mousseux de Qualité Brut
Vin Mousseux wines are not necessarily made using the traditional method, and so are broadly a step down from a Crémant. Though this wine in fact is made using the traditional method, so that information is not immediately useful. This release has aromatics of lemon and a bit of rind. A simple frothy mousse on the palate. A
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Reserve Brut
Aromatics of lemon, soda, a touch of biscuit and a bruised character, apparently from the aligoté. Fresh acid and a slightly coarse bead. A-G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Chardonnay Brut
Sweeter white peach aromatics, powder and brioche. The palate has high acid and flavours similar to aromatics. G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Noir et Blanc Brut
Aromatics of toast, lemon and florals. Palate with high acid and a touch of strawberry from the pinot noir. G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Pinot Noir Brut
More obvious strawberry and raspberry aromatics. Similar flavours on the palate, framed by high acidity. A-G
*Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Ravizotte Extra Brut
Aromatics of vegemite, yeast and nectar. My first descriptor was met with a blank, slightly concerned expression from the French winemaker. Dry, firm acid and lemon characters on the palate. G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé Brut
Made from pinot noir and gamay. Aromatics of earth, mixed red berries and strawberry. Palate that is dry, with high acid and quite balanced. G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Baigoule Extra Dry
I wrote that this has around 15 grams per litre of residual sugar. Strawberry, yeasty nose. A palate that is dry, balanced and has medium length. The sugar seemed to balance the acidity out well. G
Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne Baigoule Egarade Brut 2012
Organic. Yeast, hint of strawberries, nectar. Balanced, but seems closed. G
2008 is said to be a good Crémant de Bourgogne vintage.
Bailly Lapierre Vive-la-Joie Rosé Brut 2008
A blend of gamay, pinot noir and chardonnay. Quite earthy aromatics, vegemite and stone. Similar palate. G
*Bailly Lapierre Vive-la-Joie Brut 2008
Aromatics of yeast, biscuit and lemon. The palate has lemon, high acid, yeast and is pretty good. G-VG
Bailly Lapierre Vive-la-Joie Brut 2007
Grapefruit and soda aromatics. Palate reminds of nectar and biscuit. A-G
And then for the surprise. It turns out that not only does Crémant de Bourgogne largely resemble some grower Champagnes, but it also can age stupendously, no doubt aided by the Cave’s textbook maturation conditions being, well, a cave.
*Paul Delane Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Reserve 1993
Sure, looking at the bottle, it looks like something you might have found by the side of the road. The wine inside though is superb. Aromatics of honey, toast, brioche and some complexity. A finish that is long and reminds of brioche. VG
*Reserve de la Montgolfiere Crémant de Bourgogne 1988
And sure, this bottle looks more like the truck has already taken it away with the recycling. Again, that would be a terrible mistake. The Crémant has aromatics of lemon, florals and honey. And considerable elegance. The palate has toast, medium to long length, soda and lemon. Still remarkably fresh at 27 years of age. VG
|Some perfectly stored back vintages in the Caves.|
Mouth somewhat seared by all this (good) acidity, we moved onto the next destination, Beaune itself.
Beaune has some glitter. I had not expected this. Clean, almost polished streets, well-to-do wine shops seemingly every 50 metres, smart restaurants and a general feeling of prosperity, coupled with many tourists. The impression – I have not researched its demographics – is that of a wealthy town, and perhaps a reflection of the market success of pinot noir and the region in the last 20 or so years. The pricing in the many wine shops – some regarded as tourist traps – rather sadly appeared quite reasonable by Australian standards.
|Sunrise in central Beaune.|
Many further pre-conceptions of the region also proved slightly out. The famous east facing hill of the Cote d’Or, is much gentler and less obvious than I had imagined. The famed mid slope of the hill, with the best sun exposure, is more like what I would have perceived as the almost bottom of the slope. The top of the hill could be described as being a rather unchallenging stroll away. The picture immediately below probably communicates this better than I am able.
|Gentle slope? Unremarkable? We are standing directly in front of probably the most famous vineyard in the world, namely that of La Romanée-Conti.|
|A more familiar sight. La Romanée-Conti in Vosne-Romanée.|
|Double click and zoom in: pinot noir flowering at Romanée-Saint-Vivant.|
The distances between the towns are small, but not so small that commuting on foot would suffice; a car or bike is recommended. And roads and the autoroute are never far away in the valley. Finally the towns themselves – a roll call of famous names such as Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and Vosne-Romanée among others – are rather uniformly manicured and beautiful.
|Meursault. Or nearby. Either way, a typical Burgundian style roof.|
In my next instalment, I will post tastings of a phalanx of wines mostly from the Côte de Beaune from La Cave des Hautes-Côtes (Nuiton Beaunoy), Domain Roger Belland and Domaine Maillard.