Sometimes I’ll be cruising along in a blind tasting of red Burgundies and a wine will throw me a curve ball. Aromatically, it is fresh and distinctive, with floral and spice notes (sandalwood comes to mind most often) along with the fruit. Its texture is typically softer, without lacking structure or concentration. These characteristics are a result of using the stems, or whole clusters, during fermentation.
Fermenting with whole clusters isn’t easy. In the beginning, you can’t punch down because the solid mass is too hard and you can’t pump over because there’s no juice. The stems leach out color, acidity and alcohol. And if extraction isn’t gentle, green, bitter aromas and flavors occur. But those who retain the stems swear by the gentle oxidative process and the draining properties when the wine is ready for pressing. The producers also like the aromatic complexity and the freshness the wines retain as they evolve.
Several domaines I visited on this trip use this technique, and one experimented with it for the first time in 2005. Today, I want to share my experience at two of them: Domaine Dujac (and its négociant range Dujac Fils & Père) in the Côte de Nuits and Domaine Chandon de Briailles in the Côte de Beaune.
Everything was in bottle at Dujac, where Jeremy Seysses was clearly pleased with the results. “In 2005, we had beautiful fruit and an easy extraction, everything you need to make really good wine,” he says. Of the three négociant village wines, I prefer the Morey-St.-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny. The Morey is aromatic, very floral, with a lovely silky black cherry flavor. The Chambolle is seductive, offering violet notes along with blackberry and long on the finish.
There is also a juicy, refined Vosne-Romanée Beaux Monts, packed with spice, red cherry and blackcurrant flavors. This is under the négociant label because it is from both domaine and purchased fruit.
The Romanée-St.-Vivant reveals a hint of blackcurrant leaf, coffee and blackberry aromas. It’s intense and concentrated, yet ethereal at the same time, with terrific harmony and length. However, I slightly preferred the Chambertin, with its scented blackcurrant and black cherry aromas, focused fruit and regal stature. It ends with a long mineral aftertaste.
Of the domaine wines, the Chambolle-Musigny Les Gruenchers shows plenty of rose, sandalwood and black currant notes woven into a silky texture. The Vosne-Romanée Les Malconsorts is more leafy and herbaceous in aroma for the moment, yet full of brooding black cherry and plum tones supported by firm tannins. The finish is very long and finely textured.
A reticent Charmes Chambertin exhibits richness and a cherry note backed by hefty tannins. The Echézeaux is all coffee, spice and black cherry, turning meatier in the mouth, finishing with chocolate and cocoa powder accents.
The Clos de la Roche displays Asian spices and a combination of black cherry, juicy fruit and a firm structure, then picks up mineral on the complex finish. The Clos St.-Denis is simply gorgeous, with sappy black cherry, coffee and spice flavors, lush texture and expansive finish. A powerful, muscular red, the Bonnes Mares is compact right now, but deep and concentrated, with a long mineral finish.
At Chandon de Briailles, Claude de Nicolay-Drouhin and her team had bottled three of the four whites. Two reds were being fined using egg whites so we skipped those. The remaining wines were approximate blends prepared from cask.
I like the Pernand-Vergelesses Ile des Vergelesses for its spicy, red fruit aromas and peppery, mineral-tinged flavors. The wine comes from 15- to 60-year-old vines, so the fermentation is done with 80 percent whole clusters because the quality of the stems from the youngest vines is lower than those from the older vines.
Tasting the three Corton reds is an exercise in terroir. The Maréchaudes is round and inviting, with sweet, fresh cherry notes on the midpalate and fine, soft tannins. An altogether precocious wine from deeper clay soils lower on the east-facing slope. Directly above it lies Les Bressandes. The wine from this site shows lovely aromas of fraises de bois (wild strawberries) and is very juicy, with more density and structure, but also elegance, building to a long finish.
Above the southern half of Les Bressandes is Clos du Roi. The soils are thinner here, and the site is more exposed to the wind. The vines are 60 years old, and a large part of the crop suffers from millerandage, a condition at flowering where some berries are small and seedless with thicker skins, and are thus more flavorful. The wine is less showy and more powerful, with more aggressive tannins. The flavors range from black cherry to mineral and spice. This needs time.
“I think the whole bunches really add freshness,” de Nicolay-Drouhin explains. “They give a natural aeration during the fermentation.”
The Corton Blanc, from parcels in Bressandes, Chaumes and Renardes is all lemon, pear and butter with a creamy texture. The Corton-Charlemagne, still in barrel, is tight and steely, with intense apple and mineral flavors that build to a lengthy finish.