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2008 California Wine Experience: Burgundy Tasting

A lineup of eight remarkable Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs takes the audience on a trip through the Côte d'Or

Mitch Frank
Posted: October 21, 2008

After sampling from nearly 200 outstanding West Coast wines the night before, many Wine Experience attendees may have been briefly tempted to hit the snooze bar and sleep in Friday morning. But the first seminar of the weekend was a tasting of premier and grand cru Burgundies, and Pierre-Henry Gagey, president of Maison Louis Jadot, put things in perspective.

"There is no better way to start the weekend than with the Burgundian spirit," he said. "You will need strength this weekend. These wines will give you strength."

With moderator Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator's tasting director and Burgundy expert, Gagey and three colleagues from the region took attendees on a tour of the Côte d'Or. For Sanderson, it was a chance to spread the gospel of a region that has captivated him since he had the chance to taste a 25-year-old Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 1966 in one of his first jobs in the wine business.

Sanderson is the first to admit that Burgundy can be intimidating to the novice wine lover, with its 500 appellations and mix of small producers and large négociants (which buy grapes and/or wines from other growers). He hoped the wines poured at the seminar would provide enough of a taste to inspire the audience to learn more.

First up were four Chardonnays from the 2006 vintage in the Côte de Beaune, the southerly part of the Côte d'Or. Erwan Faiveley presented the J. Faiveley Meursault Charmes 2006 (90 points, $138, 11 cases imported), a small parcel from which his domaine has bought finished wine but just recently secured a contract to make the wine. The 2006 was the first vintage aged in Faiveley's cellars, and, according to Sanderson, showed the limestone soil of Charmes with its lively minerality and citrus notes.

Next was the Jadot Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Garenne Duc de Magenta (92, $80, 300 cases made), a lush, ripe 2006 with big flavors but an elegant structure. Jadot harvests the grapes from 4 acres of Clos de la Garenne, whose vines are rooted in a vein of limestone. The small vineyard is a perfect example of why some might find Burgundy a tangle. "Don't confuse Clos de la Garenne with La Garenne," said Gagey. "I know—Burgundy is confusing."

Claude de Nicolay-Drouhin of Chandon de Briailles presented the first of her two wines from within the village of Aloxe-Corton next. The Corton Blanc 2006 (92, $130, 250 cases made), a grand cru, was quiet but brooding, with plenty of power underneath. It will take several years to open up. Stéphane Follin-Arbelet, general manager of Bouchard Père et Fils, followed that with a Chevalier-Montrachet 2006 (96, $299, 70 cases imported). Bouchard, which dates back to 1731 and owns more premier and grand cru vineyards than any other négociant, owns one-third of this grand cru vineyard, including portions of all four of its limestone terraces.

From left: Stéphane Follin-Arbelet, Bouchard Père & Fils; senior editor Bruce Sanderson; Claude de Nicolay-Drouhin, Chandon de Briailles; Pierre-Henry Gagey, Louis Jadot; Erwan Faiveley, J. Faiveley.  
With the crowd's palates awake, Sanderson led the panel into Pinot Noir. Bouchard's Beaune Grèves Vigne de l'Enfant Jésus 2005 (93, $115), from a small premier cru vineyard on the hillside just outside the Côte de Beaune's major city, showed how complex red Burgundy can be. The wine showed a focused structure, with rich and nuanced flavors. Chandon de Briailles' Corton Les Bressandes 2005 (93, $100, 578 cases made), on the other hand, from just a few miles north, was more feminine, with rich mocha and sandalwood notes.

Moving northward, to the Côte de Nuits, Faiveley spoke about his premier cru Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers 2005 (92, $99, 268 cases imported), explaining that at this age, the wine is still quite tight, but one can sense the power and a striking "wet match" flavor typical of good wines from the site. Sanderson called it "graphite and smoke."

Gagey finished up the tasting with Jadot's grand cru Clos Vougeot 2005 (94, $122, 130 cases imported). Up front, it showed incredible softness and elegance, but closed down halfway. Gagey said it was a wine that would just start to show its potential in a decade. "Buy a case and put it in your cellar. You will not be disappointed," he said.

Sadly, with only 130 cases imported into the United States, not many of us will have the opportunity. Just one more reason to get up early and grab a seat at the Wine Experience.

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