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Panache! My favourite Burgundies

In July 2010, the great Burgundy connoisseur Allen Meadows (also known as Burghound) published his excellent book "The Pearl of the Côte" about the wines of Vosne-Romanée. His encyclopedic knowledge of these vineyards and wines is awe-inspiring. His tasting experience inspires equal awe and just the slightest bit of envy - imagine a three-day tasting of La Romanée-Conti all the way back to 1870... Why wasn't I invited - it is unforgivable! For Burgundy enthusiasts this book (available from only) is a must-read.


When talking about the (somewhat obscure) Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Rouges du Dessus he writes about the 2000 Jean Grivot rendition (page 88): "Though not a great wine, it is certainly one with breed, style and a certain panache that few vineyards outside Vosne, Chambolle and Volnay can consistently deliver."

This statement got me thinking about this post. Panache: that is what I am looking for in Burgundy - or any wine really. Literally, the word refers to a plume of feathers worn on a hat or a helmet, in history in particular to the white plume of feathers worn on his helmet by King Henry IV of France. He is famous for his war cry: "Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc!" More generally, the word refers to a dashing confidence of style, with connotations of flamboyance and even reckless courage. Yes, I will gladly admit to it: I like my wine to be dashing and stylish, I consider flamboyance a virtue (in wine anyway) and in this context a touch of recklessness is also thoroughly appreciated. So where do we find these "X-factor" wines in Burgundy?

For the reds, Allan Meadows' quote already provides the answer: in Vosne, Chambolle and Volnay. Does this dismiss all other Burgundies? Surely not the imperiousness of Chambertin? Most definitely not. It is magnificent. So are the best Grands Crus of Morey. The sturdiness and power of the best wines of Nuits and Pommard also commands respect (rather than love?). But for true flair, finesse and flamboyance, you will usually have to look to the wines from the three villages mentioned above.


But a closer look is worthwhile - even necessary. In Burgundy, the difference between different "climats" within the same commune can be considerable. The finest Premiers Crus in Volnay, yielding the most feminine wine, are those located nearest to the border with Meursault - Clos des Chênes, Taillepieds, Caillerets and Champans. And then there's Volnay Santenots which is actually in Meursault. The Volnay Premiers Crus nearer to Pommard like Les Fremiets predictably have less finesse. Domaine Michel Lafarge and the Marquis d'Angerville probably enjoy the highest reputation, but Domaine Joseph Voillot is a personal favourite of mine in this commune; Jean-Pierre Charlot produces wines that have, as Robert Parker puts it (Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide No 7, page 443): "the brightness, transparency and cut of a Riesling in the medium of a Pinot Noir." Just my kind of wine! They can take time though; his top 1999's are still in their shell.

In Chambolle, Bonnes Mares and the Premiers Crus close to it are perhaps rather more Morey in character than Chambolle - for silk and lace Le Musigny and the Premiers Crus to its north and east (Les Amoureuses, Les Charmes, Les Feusselottes and Les Châtelots) are your pick. According to Clive Coates ( The wines of Burgundy, page 121-122) the wines from La Combe d'Orveau, directly adjacent to both Le Musigny and Échézeaux, are more Echézeaux than Musigny in character, but I won't hold it against them! There are many great and rightly famous producers in situ (e.g. de Vogüe, Mugnier, Roumier, Barthod). A favourite wine of mine in this commune is Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron's classy and delicious Premier Cru, a blend of Les Feusselottes and Les Châtelots. 

And in Vosne-Romanée? Contrary to Abbé Courtepée's famous maxim there ARE ordinary wines in Vosne but much less so than, say, 20 years ago. For reliable sources of village wines, please refer to the list in Allen Meadow's monography (page 100-101). The Grands Crus of Vosne are well outside most people's financial reach. La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche command stratospheric prices and La Romanée is also well on its way to reclaiming its rightful place on the financial ladder (the 2008 currently sells for approximately € 700 a bottle and 2005 is double that - if you can find a bottle). Richebourg from top producers also requires considerable financial sacrifice, as does Romanée Saint-Vivant. La Grande Rue tends to be slightly less unaffordable, as is Grands-Echézeaux. Echézeaux is the least reputed of the Grands Crus. In part, this has to do with its size (almost 37 ha - enormous by Burgundian standards) and concomitant unreliability. This is reflected in its pricing but not always in its quality; you should be able to pay for a great bottle from a top-notch producer (Grivot, Jayer-Gilles with a € 100 note and get some change.


The best Premiers Crus can offer the true Vosne experience for less money still, but wines that are as rich, sensual and exotic as these, are never going to be cheap. Les Suchots, Les Beaumonts and Les Brûlées are deservedly well-known. The Clos des Réas, a 2.12 ha monopoly of the Domaine Michel Gros is a personal favourite; it is elegant and fragrant and sort of sensibly priced (€ 50 - € 60 for a recent vintage). Les Malconsorts lies directly south of La Tâche, adjacent to Les Boudots in Nuits - the latter more Vosne than Nuits in style. Both can be a (relative) bargain.

Then on to the whites and for me that means: on to Puligny. I don't mind Chassagne (usually slightly more rustic) or Meursault (generally speaking more ample and approachable but with less backbone), but for me Puligny is the sweet spot for white Burgundy: the white pearl of the Côte! Here I am looking for steel and silk, flowers and lemons, minerals and honey, weight and lightness of touch, all combined in a wine with the energy of a coiled spring. As the Grands Crus put serious stress on one's bank balance (although less so than in Vosne), I tend to focus on the best Premiers Crus. Le Cailleret and Les Pucelles are directly north of Le Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet respectively and their wines are as stylish and elegant as you would expect. Both "climats" can deliver Grand Cru quality. Les Folatières produces a more masculine and meaty wine, with plenty of weight, minerality and grip. Les Combettes on the border with Meursault is a bit like a cross between the two communes; steel, honey and hazelnut all packed into one. To compare and contrast a Combettes with a top-notch Meursault Les Perrières is a joy. Leflaive and Carillon have stellar reputations in Puligny and they are well-deserved. Domaine Paul Pernot is not as well-known as either of these two, but its wines can rival theirs in quality - although fortunately not in price!


Reading all this, you might think that I am picky and you would be right. But it is not about being pedantic. In Burgundy you really have to focus to keep things manageable. The number of relevant wines in Burgundy is about 10 times that in Bordeaux. If you don't want to flood your cellar with wine and swamp yourself with information, you have to choose a theme. I did, and for me it's: Panache. Whatever theme you choose (if you do), please remember one thing: don't be impressed by lofty vineyard names; as everywhere else it's the producer that counts more than anything else!

Xavier Auerbach


Posted 14-11-2010

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