I went along to the Wine Board of Ireland fine wine tasting on Friday evening. Hosted by Nigel Donnan, the wines he opened were all Pinot Noirs from the Côte d’Or in Burgundy. Eight wines were opened, and most of them way, way above my price range.
The skeptic in me wanted to confirm to myself that there was no way these “fine wines” where that much better than wine for €15-20. I was wrong. Most of them were the best wines I’ve ever tasted.
But it wasn’t just about tasting the wine, there was a whole lot of learning going on too, a bit of history, geography and geology.
About the Côte d’Or
The Côte d’Or is part of the Burgundy region and starts just below Dijon. Apart from the type of grapes grown, Burgundy differs from Bordeaux in another way. In Bordeaux, it’s all about the name on the label. Lynch-Bages, Petrus, Mouton-Rothchild etc. So, where Bordeaux is all about the Chateau, Burgundy is all about the where.
The Côte d’Or has two main regions, the Côte de Nuits to the north and the Côte de Beaune to the south.
The Côte d’Or slopes to the east and the soils range from clay in the north (with depths of between 6 inches and 6 feet) to limestone in the south
The image above was taken from Google Earth. If you have it installed, you can download the Google Earth file (KML format). It’s a great way to get a sense of topography or geography of the place, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
All these factors, as well as the weather affect the quality of the wine. This is the beginning of what is described as terroir, something I’ll leave until another day.
How Burgundy is classified
In terms of hierarchy, Burgundy wine is classified according to region i.e. Burgundy (Bourgogne), then by district, Côte d’Or then onto village, e.g Gevry-Chambertin and further up to a particular vineyard.
Premier Cru & Grand Cru
Premier Cru means first growth and comes from grapes in some of the best plots in a particular village. Grand Cru is better still and there are only 30 “Grand Cru” plots in the whole of the Côte d’Or, 8 of which are in one village in the north, Gevry-Chambertin in the Côte de Nuits.
Poor Côte de Beaune in the south of the Côte d’Or only has one Grand Cru. Many red grape vineyards in the Côte de Beaune have been pulled up in order to plant Chardonnay, which is better suited to the limestone soils there.
Grand Cru doesn’t necessarily mean good wine
I had previously thought of Grand Cru as a sign of quality, but it’s really a measure of the potential of the land the grapes are grown on.
Many vineyards in Burgundy are split into subplots or allotments and have multiple owners, some only owning a small row so it’s very hard to pick a wine based purely on village or even vineyard, you sometimes need to know the exact producer.
By reputation the top three villages in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or are:
The Côte d’Or wines I tasted
The eight wines from were:
- Gevrey-Chambertain “Vielles Vignes” Domaine Bachelet 1999
- Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Domaine Gagnard-Delagrange 2002
- Volnay Premier Cru ‘Clos des Chenes’ Domaine Michel Lafarge 2000
- Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru ‘Les Beaux Monts’ Nicolas Potel 2002
- Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Domain Dujac 2003
- Corton-Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru Domaine Faiveley 1996
- Bonnes Mares Grand Cru Louis Jadot 2000
- Chambertin-Clos de Beze Grand Cru Louis Jadot 2001
Gevrey-Chambertain “Vielles Vignes” Domaine Bachelet 1999
This is “domaine” wine, meaning wine made from the guy who owns the vineyard. Other makers may not own land or grow grapes, they just buy ‘em, juice ‘em and bottle ‘em. It’s from Gevry-Chambertin in the north of Côte de Nuits.
“Vielles Vignes” means old vines. Generally, better wine is made from older vines. The thing about vielles vignes is that there’s no definition as to how old those vines have to be. Quite bizarre in a country where everything else about wine is so heavily regulated.
How did it go down?
- It looks kind of brown or tawny, which is what generally happens to red wine when it gets older.
- Smells like gravel/earth with some cherry & vanilla thrown in. Very pungent or aromatic.
- Tasted quite nice, but quite acidic
Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Domaine Gagnard-Delagrange 2002
This one is from the village of Chassagne-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune. It’s not from a single vineyard though.
How did it taste?
- Redder than the first one, simply because it’s younger.
- It also smells lighter (this is generally the case with Côte de Beaune reds compared t0 the Côte de Nuits in the north).
- In the gob, it’s quite dry and earthy: like chewing on slate dust
This one retails at around €28 from Burgundy Direct in Deansgrange.
Volnay Premier Cru ‘Clos des Chenes’ Domaine Michel Lafarge 2000
This one is perfumy and complex, at least in reputation. It’s from Volnay, just south of Beaune, so it’s a Côte de Beaune.
How was it?
- Looks like it’s splitting from red to brown at the edge of the glass
- Couldn’t get much of a smell from this (the lingo is closed)
- Very smooth in the mouth with a taste that lasts and lasts (a long finish)
This was bought in 2002 for €50. The 2005 is meant to be pretty good and will cost around €75 or €80 from Burgundy Direct in Deansgrange. Yikes.
Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru ‘Les Beaux Monts’ Nicolas Potel 2002
Nicolas Potel is a big producer and makes about 30 different wines. 2002 was meant to be a good year, so how did it taste?
- It definitely looked brownish.
- The smell was dominated by spiciness.
- A common theme by now it had an earthy taste, with a spiciness thrown in too.
This is retailing now for about €55 (ouch) and, according to Nigel, will peak around 2012.
Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Domain Dujac 2003
This is where it gets interesting. Because the Clos de la Roche is a Grand Cru, there’s no village on the label, just the vineyard. It’s actually near the village of Morey St. Denis.
It was made in 2003 which was very warm.
How did the Clos de la Roche go down?
- To look at, a very deep, dark ruby colour
- Smelled a bit of coffee or chocolate
- Tasted very big and fruity, very tannic, very different to all the others so far. All in all, great flavours, but not at all smooth.
Consensus in the room that it was too young to drink, perhaps wait around 10 years. And for the privilege? €130.
Corton-Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru Domaine Faiveley 1996
This is the only Grand Cru in Côte de Beaune and as it’s a Grand Cru, the village isn’t on the label. It’s from a vineyard close to Aloxe-Corton (half way between Nuits St.Georges and Beaune).
So, how was it?
- A very brown colour (at 11 years old, not surprising) with a good bit of sediment left (because it’s non-filtré, non-filtered meaning it was hand-bottled).
- Smelled very Chistmasey, cinnamon and raisins
- Very earthy, probably more than the others due to all the sediment hanging around. Tasted it long after swallowing.
All in all, a really, really, really great wine. It’s available in Berry Brothers, though not this particular year, for around €90.
Bonnes Mares Grand Cru Louis Jadot 2000
This one’s from Chambolle-Musigny up in the Côte de Nuits. There are only two Grand Crus in Chambolle-Musigny. At this stage, I’d swallowed 6 wines before this one, so it was hard to distinguish it from the others. More conscientious students in the room had been spitting all night (what a waste!) so may have been in a better position to judge this one.
- This was slightly leaning towards brown
- Quite a big-ass meaty smell matched when in the gob. Someone mentioned leather, but as I stated above, I wasn’t in a position to agree nor disagree.
Chambertin-Clos de Beze Grand Cru Louis Jadot 2001
This is from one of eight Grand Crus in Gevry-Chambertin. Apparently this was a favourite of Napoleon’s and is considered in the top four Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or.
Another interesting fact at this point is that many villages in the Côte d’Or changed their names a good while back. They became double-barrelled, adding the names of the best vineyard to the village name. Examples of this are:
- Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin after the Chambertin vineyard
- Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny after the Musigny vineyard
2001 has a reputation for being more concentrated and more balanced than 2000. Though I can’t vouch for that, I’ll judge it on it’s own merits.
- Looks like a dark, ruby, young wine.
- Couldn’t smell too much.
- It tasted quite big at the start but then mellowed out and had a great long finish.
Apparently it’s still young and needs a few more years. At €110, it means it’s another one well beyond my budget.
Conclusions from the Côte d’Or tasting
- Burgundy is complicated, if you’re spending a few quid on wine, know what you’re buying
- Grand Cru doesn’t necessarily mean good, though it probably does mean expensive
- This tasting taught me the difference between good wines and great wines, these were pretty much all great.
- Have I now got a taste for exceedingly expensive wines against which I’ll may measure everything else I drink?
For €65, I got to taste some amazing wines and I learned a lot. Easily the best money I’ve spent (in wine terms). The Wine Board have another two tastings coming up, next week is Champagne and the week after, wines from Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy. If you get a chance, I’d highly recommend them.