On the Trail

A Tasting of Bond's 2013 Releases

Ryan Moses

Bond is one of the more elusive properties in Napa, but its name is attached to some of the region’s most profound cabernet sauvignon—and there was no shortage of profundity in the 2013 releases. Tapped as one of this generation’s great Napa vintages, if not their best-ever, the structure, concentration, and pure quality of the raw materials showed in spades with Bond’s site-specific bottlings.  If you have any interest in being notified when they are available at K&L, please e-mail me here and I can let you know when we’ve secured availability.

A study of the micro-climates of Napa, Bond’s five vineyard designate bottles all tell a different story.  Although I can’t imagine that many folks (even devoted collectors) often get the chance to taste them all side-by-side, I’m left wondering after this tasting if there is really a way to get a grasp of these wines without such a luxury.  Sure, on their own they’ll go toe-to-toe with the Napa elite without issue.  But the beauty, distinction, and character of these wines speak volumes when tasted one after another. They call them their "grand crus," and perhaps it is apt considering that there was a progression to the tasting that wasn’t top-to-bottom, but rather a lieu-dit-inspired exploration more akin to Burgundy. The wines, however, leave no doubt about where they’re from.

On the retail market, the Bond prices are realistic given their first-growth caliber class, but it's extraordinary all the same. The press is astronomical, as is standard when there are 100-pointers scattered in the mix. The beauty of these wines is that there seems to be a fit for every kind of wine lover. After tasting through the 2012s last year and the 2013s today there is one common thread: everyone has a favorite and they are passionate about what it is and specifically why. This excitement and conviction is rarely seen to such a degree with any other label and goes a long way to showing why Bond’s wines are so singular.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2013 Bond Melbury - First made in 1999, this red-fruit dominated Cabernet hails from a seven-acre hillside vineyard just north of Lake Hennessey. Aromatically it is perhaps the most striking of the 2013s, if not for its complexity then at least for its intensity. It was a perfect preamble to how serious the following wines were going to be. Very silky, it had a distinct savory note and is very tightly coiled. The finish is lined with baking spices, bitter chocolate, and bright fruit.  It is a wine that seems to be apt to age, although not as demanding as the Vecina for example. Enjoy 2022 to 2035+.

2013 Bond Quella - Melbury’s neighbor to the west, it is the youngest of Bond’s vineyard designates, making its debut in 2006. An elegance and grace dominate this wine. Although aromatically reticent at the moment, it is night and day contrasted against Melbury’s density. Bright blue and black fruit frame a soft wine that never lacks for extract or depth. It evolves beautifully with a bit of air (all wines were popped and poured an hour in advance) and keeps showing another dimension when going back to the glass. Gorgeous now, but one that will be fascinating to follow for years.  Drink 2020 to 2030.

2013 Bond St. Eden - From an eleven-acre parcel that had its debut in 2001. The nose here is lined with subtle but persistent notes of graphite and a pure floral note that is utterly fascinating.  It is easy to call this hedonistic, but that perhaps does not do justice to the overall focus, structure, and acidity that keep it lifted throughout a very long finish. Extremely impressive, this incredibly generous but never over-the-top bottling is a triumph in 2013 and one of the highlights of the tasting, although perhaps some of that is due to the immediate style. It’ll be a great one to follow over the next 10 to 20 years.

2013 Bond Vecina - Part of the inaugural 1999 release as well, Vecina is beyond stunning in 2013, even though it is perhaps the most dense and demanding wine of the set. Incredibly compact and tightly wound, it also clearly shows it has the stuffing to evolve into the stuff-of-legends for those who are patient. This replaces the notion of grand cru with that of a first growth and will age just as well as either.  But for all that, it is still explosive on the finish, layered with red and black fruit, and has superbly integrated tannins. This is a tasting experience that will stay with me for a long time.  Drink 2025 to 2060+. 

2013 Bond Pluribus - One of the most unique wines of the set, Pluribus feels like a bit of an outlier. Still, it captured the adoration of many at the tasting for just that. This is their Spring Mountain property that made its debut in 2003. Lined with bright red fruit, it is wild, cool, and elegant. It has a serious tannic structure that melts into the wine and gives it more of a focused, linear approach. If there’s a rendition here for the old-school Napa crowd, it is Pluribus without a doubt. Give this one a few years to settle out and follow over the following fifteen.

-Ryan Moses

Sunshine in Dizy

Gary Westby

I am very happy to report that the sun is out in Champagne. It has been a cold, rainy, hard winter here, and all of the producers have reported that the work in the vineyard has been a little delayed. They are happy that it was cold—the week of hard frost that they had in the dead of the season has cleaned up the pests from the vineyard and allowed the vines the dormancy that is prized in the region for recharging them for a good harvest. Today I went one village north of my base in Epernay to meet with Angelique and Damien Coutelas of Champagne AD Coutelas, and we tasted in their newly renovated cellars. The facility is beautiful, and the fifteen meter deep caves are as nice as they come. Damien explained to me that he prefers tasting in the cellar; he finds it easier to concentrate without the glare, noise and changeable humidity of the outside world. It was very peaceful there, and we tasted their whole range, first as assembled vin-clair and then as finished Champagne.

The big news from Coutelas is that they have now taken on a negociant license so they can buy some grapes from members of their own family. They have a cousin with vines in the grand cru of Cramant and the 1er cru of Cuis on the top of the Cotes de Blancs, and when he offered them his grapes, they couldn’t turn him down. We started off by tasting the vin clair from their first harvest from these grapes, and the wine had the richness that I love from all the Coutelas production, but also the laser-straight focus of pure belemnita chalk soil. I can’t wait to open it for all of you in another four or five years once it is finished! 

The other stand out from the 2016 base vin-clair was the 2007-2016 solera method Louis Victor, which we tasted beside the current release that contains 2007-2012 with three years of sur-lie ageing. I believe strongly that the Louis Victor that we have on the shelf right now is the best value in the Krug-like, vinous, yet full of finesse style. This bottle confirmed that with depth, nut-bread flavor,  and plenty of lively refreshment. As for the vin-clair, I think we will have a real monument in another four years to enjoy. I feel truly fortunate to have been able to buy the first edition of the Victor for the K&L Champagne club, and while I know my allocation will only shrink over time, at least it will shrink from a large number!

-Gary Westby

Working Hard on the Edge of Champagne

Gary Westby

Charly-sur-Marne is the last village of any size on the western edge of Champagne, and very close to the end of the AOC itself (the appellation that controls the Champagne name). Today I visited with Eric de Brissis, who some of you know from his many years of coming to our Champagne tent events, as well as Ignace and Sophie Baron. This brother and sister team are tireless workers, with Sophie taking care of the vineyards and Ignace the wine production. When I arrived at the winery, I had a hard time getting Ignace down off of the fork lift for a picture—they had been disgorging bottles and he was putting away the boxed up and palletized Champagne. When the big boss is driving the fork lift, I know that the connection to the real work is strong. This is not an absentee owner giving the occasional order from Paris!

Sophie was busy meeting with her vineyard team, and took some time out to talk to me about the 2016 harvest. While other growers that I have met have lost as much as 90% of the crop to a combination of spring frost and summer mildew, they were luckier with the weather in Charly-sur-Marne and had both good quantity and quality. The northern wine regions of France have felt climate change very strongly. Sophie also explained she is happy that 2017 is going smoothly so far. Her team is done with pruning and can now work on tying the vines.

I tasted with Eric, and was struck by the “Esprit” part of their range, as well as the outstanding value of their Grande Reserve. The Grande Reserve is K&L’s most accessible Champagne, and despite the shockingly-low price, it's a very high quality product. The legal limit for Champagne ageing is at least fifteen months on the lees, but the Grande Reserve is aged for three years and has a generous 30% of reserves added. It is made from a combination of estate fruit and other parcels that are purchased on the vine and picked by the Baron Fuente team. It has a great combination of toasty warmth and citiric refreshment, and is a must try for any fan of Champagne. The Esprit Blanc de Blancs is made from the very last vineyard in the farthest west part of Champagne—the Chantemanche in Saacy-sur-Marne. This site is one of the very few so far west that they are actually in the Paris district, Ile-de-France. The current release is based on 2009 with 5% barrel fermented reserves from 2008. It is a very creamy style of Blanc de Blancs, with an excellent Chablis like earth character and a bright finish to contrast the richness of the mid-palate. 

Not many Americans make it out to this part of Champagne, but I encourage anyone reading to make the trip. This is the place that many Parisians come to buy their Champagne and it's very convenient for anyone staying in that beautiful city to get to. Drop me a line at garywestby@klwines.com if you would like to see it for yourself. I will put you in touch with the team at Baron Fuente!

-Gary Westby

Vineyards and Old Bottles in Epernay

Gary Westby

(Our Champagne buyer Gary Westby is currently traveling through the region)

There is not a lot of down time on a K&L buying trip, so when I touched down in France I went straight from the airport to my first appointment at Charles Ellner in Epernay. I was tired and jet-lagged when I walked in, but energized by a great vineyard visit and lifted by some excellent Champagne by the time I left. I met with Frederic Ellner first, who manages the vineyards, and we traveled up to the Meltins, a plot that was planted to pinot noir in 2000 on a northeast-facing slope inside the Epernay city limits. There, Pierre Ellner, the fifth generation of the family, was at work pruning and tying the vines. The whole of Champagne is a little late in pruning this year as the winter was so cold and so wet that they could not get into the vineyard to do the work. It is inspiring to me to see a young member of a family like this doing the real work in the vineyard, and that personal attention comes through in the high quality of their finished Champagne.

After the vineyard visit, we went back to the winery and I sat with Willem Schiks (who some of you may have met last year at our Champagne tent event tastings) and Jean Pierre Ellner and tasted through the range. The Ellner family is very patient with their wines and the base years for the non-vintage current releases are from 2011 at the latest, while the Premier Cru that we have in stock being is based on 2006—more than ten years old! They never do malolactic fermentation, and that extra acidity gives the wines the chance to develop the complexity that only time will bring, but without sacrificing that snap and freshness. I particularly loved the Grande Reserve, a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir from all estate-grown fruit. This non-vintage cuvée is based on 2009 with over a third from older reserves, and has that great balance of power and freshness that really excites me in Champagne. The green apple flavors of a blocked malo bottling were balanced by great brioche flavors—it it had it all and should be well under $40 when it gets here.

Although I had another appointment, Jean-Pierre tempted me into staying longer with a great old vintage from the cellar. I have been lucky enough to taste a lot of the Champagne from the 1976 vintage, but his was one of the best. The color still had a touch of green, and the wine had better acidity and liveliness than any other that I have had from this hot and early harvest. It was loaded with complex, smoky, coffee aromas, a rich, full, nearly caramel like flavor, but no residual sugar was detectable on the long, swelling, mineral driven finish. That is a bottle I won’t forget!

-Gary Westby

On the Trail with Jeanne-Marie de Champs

David Driscoll

On our recent trip to Burgundy we met with a number of brokers, negotiants, exporters, and regional experts with whom we work on the ground in France to help us navigate some of the ins and outs of appointments and direct ordering. Many of these folks act as portfolio managers for the small properties in Burgundy who don't have the means or the ability to market their wines directly to retailers like us. Without a doubt there was one such person this past week who I enjoyed tasting with above all others: Jeanne-Marie de Champs. Whereas Burgundy suppliers can sometimes border on pedantic, Jeanne-Marie exudes nothing more than a quiet confidence. She is old school Français. She likes to let the wine do the talking, and in the case of her outstanding selections, the wines say more than enough. Having spent the last three and a half decades working in Burgundy, there are few who know it as well as she does. It's through Jeanne-Marie and her company Domaine et Saveurs that we began working with a number of customer favorites like Domaine Bart, Domaine Parent, and Paul Pernot—easily three of the most popular Burgundy labels we carry that we likely would not have discovered without her help. I enjoyed both her company and her subtle charm as we tasted through a number of different cellars. She's a rather intimidating and imposing force at first, but underneath all that I get the impression she's winking at you with a sly smirk. 

I caught up with Jeanne-Marie earlier this week for a little discussion about Burgundy and the wine trade. Our conversation is below:

David: How did you start working in the Burgundy wine business?

Jeanne-Marie: By marriage. My husband Henry was working in wine business and, first coming to Burgundy in 1980, I learned about wine in Paris (from Steve Spurier) and eventually here when I was receiving guests. I created a marketing company with a “friend” who eventually left with the money and I had to close the business. During this time I worked in my husband's company and helped develop the US market. I was also meeting a lot of growers who took the time to show me the vineyards, taste with me in their cellars, and show me older vintages to get a better reference. I was lucky. But In my family, we are farmers also—wheat, corn, Charolais cows, and oak trees. I was able to understand their concerns (despite the fact their vineyards had been planted for 60 to 100 years). Experience counts for a lot. Not only with tasting, but also in understanding the influence of the weather and how it coordinates with the wines.

David: I feel like you have a very firm grasp on Burgundy's many intricacies, yet you're very gentle in how you educate, which I particularly appreciated. How did you first approach Burgundy when learning about it?  

Jeanne-Marie: Meeting growers and negociants, visiting, learning, reading history and maps, much of the time on the spot. Climats (vineyards) and terroirs are like a big family: there's a lot of kids, but they're all different and each of them is uniquely influenced by the touch of the winemaker. Bourgogne wines are mono grape. There are no blends of varietals; it's usually just chardonnay, or pinot noir, or gamay. You have no compensation of flavors between grapes; it has to be the singular expression of the quality of the varietals in relation with the work done in vineyards, along with mother nature, the vinification, and the elevage (the maturation). It's impossible to standardize that process.

David: How do you generally approach explaining the concepts of Burgundy to others? What do you think are the most important things to know starting out?  

Jeanne-Marie: Bourgogne is a magic spot on earth where mother nature gave a special combination of attributes: the terroirs (sub soil/soil), the various slopes, the limestone and clay, and the weather. Our ancestors—being farmers—discovered it over time and being smart they slowly adapted the vines to it. Production evolved from there. They also discovered that some places, certain vineyards and terroirs, had a specific influence on quality, taste, the skins of the grapes, and how they matured. When I read old books or references, I find it fascinating to discover how much they already knew back them. We cannot forget that Burgundy is a region full of paths with many saints and monks having once travelled through the area. They were educated people who came back with new views and experiences from Italy, Spain, Greece, and Germany. They ultimately influenced that development.

David: What do you look for in a good red or white Burgundy? What are the characteristics you most enjoy?

Jeanne-Marie: I like balance—a natural equilibrium of the vintage and the terroir, the acidity, the fruit, and its purity. I like respect for the vintage and I don't like high levels of alcohol except for when it happens naturally. The color is not an issue for me.

David: How do you think the business will evolve over the next decade? Do you see younger people continuing to learn about Burgundy and enjoy its complexities?

Jeanne-Marie: On one side, the wine business—as many other industries—has evolved with a concentration of companies, some of them giant, looking for larger volume, which will in turn create standardized wines to answer that demand. The power of these brands along with social media and the internet, and the images they project (ego, part of a social class, etc) supplies an immediate pleasure. On other side, I believe in the younger generation, which has started to become concerned about sustainability both for them and their kids, and who want to be educated on everything, including organic wines and wines in general. Today they have access to wines from all over the world and many retailers like you help to educate them, give them a chance to taste, and then to discover more. They have to taste and discover enough to form their own opinion and find the definition of their own tastes and pleasures. Of course, with the price points where they are for the top wines, I just hope Burgundy will not lose a large part of this generation. We have some nice standard Bourgogne appellations, but I want them to discover the climats and mother nature, along with her influence of weather conditions, rain, sun, and maturity.

David: Burgundy is a small place. There's not always enough wine to go around unfortunately. That's why I'm so excited to work with you. You're bringing us fantastic, terroir-driven wines that are both delicious and often affordable.

Jeanne-Marie: We are a small region in the world of wine, with small vineyards, which in relation to the rest of the wine world are tiny. Some regions are consistent from year to year, but each vintage of Burgundy brings new aspects to consider including acidity and potential of aging. Sometimes I am sad that some of our wines are not being consumed, but instead are an investment that can appreciate and become more valuable. 

David: Do you think the complexities of understanding Burgundy with its many terroirs act as a barrier to new consumers? How do you think we should talk about Burgundy to newcomers who may be intimidated by all that there is to know?

Jeanne-Marie: It is not a barrier, but rather a complexity that gives you only more challenges and increased moments of happiness. We will not convince everyone out there. People don’t need to know everything there is to know, but just to understand slowly why this wine is like this and not like that, and ultimately derive pleasure by drinking with food and friends. Some will eventually go further than others.          

-David Driscoll

The Reality of Burgundy's 2016 Vintage

David Driscoll

While we had nothing but spectacular weather last week in Burgundy, there was a little trepidation by many of the growers about the early Spring. A warm March can lead to early bud break on the vines before the chill of winter has left for good, which can cause havoc in the vineyards down the line. An example? The 2016 vintage. From Chablis all the way down to Beaujolais, growers were plagued by severe frost or extreme hail, or in some cases a whole lot of both. We talked with producers every single day who lost anywhere between 40% and 80% of their entire crop, either because the buds were frozen and destroyed by the cold, or the grapes were battered and busted open by hail stones the size of golf balls. Winemakers eliminated some expressions entirely from their portfolios. They blended parcels together and declassified certain vineyards from their significantly higher status. The weather didn't completely wipe out the vintage in Burgundy, but it tried to.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. The grapes that didn't get decimated by frost or hail hung on to produce quite lovely wines. In a number of cases, the lower yields produced concentrated and flavorful grapes that resulted in top quality cuvées, but just very small amounts. We tasted vibrant whites and seductive reds still in tank and in barrel as we moved from cellar to cellar through the Côte d'Or. There will still be a number of great wines from the 2016 vintage; that won't be an issue. The issue is going to be tracking down enough bottles to sustain you until the 2017s are released. Of course, there's a solution to that dilemma: buy as much 2014 and 2015 as you can afford and stock up. That's what I'm planning to do later today. The 2014 whites will stay fresh in your cellar for the next few years, while the village-level reds should soften up soon. The 2015s you can drink now or hold. There's plenty of wine for all of us right now. We just need to budget and ration our supplies.

You've got a head start. Make sure you use it!

-David Driscoll

Burgundy's Fantastic 2015 Vintage

David Driscoll

Now that we've gotten all the Burgundian introductions and explications out of the way, let's talk about why we here in the Côte d'Or this week: the upcoming 2015 reds. There hasn't been a vintage as warm and forgiving in Burgundy since 2009, where the pinot noir shows this much lush fruit and utter charm. 2010 was a solid year, but the reds had structure and over the course of our time here we've found a number of wines are a bit closed at the moment. 2011 was tough. 2012 had its bright spots. 2013 was another rough harvest. 2014 was classic and textbook. However, as we all know, in order to capture the attention of the mass market, you have to have ripeness. For Burgundian pinot noir, a wine that can often overwhelm American drinkers with its course earthiness and high acidity, the wines must be approachable immediately and showcase a somewhat silky sensibility. Lucky for those us who enjoy the wines and are looking to bring newcomers into the category, 2015 offers exactly that. Not only do the 2015s have ripeness, they have an incredible freshness to bolster all that fruit. They're vibrant and electric, often filled with bright cherries and plenty of spice. While the 2009s had ripeness, they lacked acidity. The wines were quick out of the gate, but they don't have the stuffing for the long haul. 2015, however, is looking like a vintage that can be consumed in both the short and long term.

As if that wasn't enough good news, the real surprise for us on this trip has been the whites. I think all three of us assumed the warmer weather may have stripped the whites of their crispness and minerality, but I'm happy to report that the 2015 chardonnays are fantastic. Much like the reds, they have both fullness of fruit and plenty of fresh acidity on the finish. With no other portfolio is this dichotomy more apparent than with the wines of Paul Pernot, who was up early to greet us with an absolutely spellbinding collection of elegant and refined selections. We were joined by my new best friend Jeanne-Marie de Champs, an experienced agent of Burgundy who helped guide us through our appointments. Jeanne-Marie is an absolute character; she's from another era in France. Tasting with her and Mr. Pernot was like eating with Julia Child and Paul Bocuse, each recounting stories about vineyards in the region and the memories that form their associations with each one. The reds were like velvet on the palate, but they were never flabby. The whites were just as elegant and graceful. His Puligny whites were the stars of the show with ample weight from the fruit, but balanced earth and mineral undertones. "We made sure to pick earlier," Pernot mentioned, adding that those who didn't keep a close eye on their chardonnay risked losing that freshness. His Volnay sang with fleshy tannins, crunchy cranberries, and long finish of baking spices and earth. I can see myself buying cases and cases of these wines when I get back. We've already sold through a number of what we've received in, which worries me. At this point, however, I'm more worried about my financial ability to afford the incredible wines I've been tasting. 

If $70-$150 bottles of Burgundy are out of your price range, don't worry. There's going to be plenty of delicious 2015 reds coming in at less than thirty bucks. One of our most popular and value-oriented producers is Domaine Bart, a family operation in Marsannay that has been a go-to for me since my early days at K&L. The wines are good in practically any vintage, so I was really excited to get a taste of the fifteens. Marsannay is at the very top of the Côte d'Or, to the point that it's almost like a suburb of Dijon (which you can see in the distance if you look closely). True to form, the reds from Bart were everything we hoped they would be: loaded with raspberries and brambly fruit, but again with a zesty acidity and firmness from the tannins on the finish. In no way does 2015 lack power or structure in the face of all that ripeness. Many of the reds we tasted this week were as meaty and bold as they were fruity. I was imagining the Bart wines would be rather pretty and soft, as is typically their style, but they had gusto and grip. It was enthralling. 

Where you're really going to see the quality of 2015 as a red vintage is in the big guns: the grand cru vineyards like Chamberlain, Clos St. Denis, and Clos Vougeot. We tasted numerous expressions from various producers and the quality of the wines was consistent across the board. We had a particularly inspiring sit down with Laurent Ponsot who poured us some of the best pinot noirs I've ever tasted in my life. I was practically speechless after a glass of 2015 Clos St. Denis (usually around $600 a bottle) that melted over my tongue and slowly seeped into my taste buds. Ponsot has holdings in the grand cru site with 110 year old vines that produce small yields of concentrated fruit. Whereas the 2014 grand cru expressions we tasted were rather tannic and closed, the fifteens showed tremendous fruit even in their youth. It was pretty incredible.

And then it was off to Paris. Our week in Burgundy is done. We're getting ready to board a plane shortly back to California, but we're pretty inspired by what we've tasted. We had one final meal at La Fontaine de Mars, and then we called it a night. I think 2015 will be an exciting development for experienced drinkers and a gateway vintage for newcomers who want to get involved with a heralded and approachable vintage. We'll have more to say as the year goes along, but it's looking good so far.

-David Driscoll

The True Pays de Bourgogne

David Driscoll

While for most serious drinkers the real magic lies completely within the Côte d'Or—that golden slope of heaven that runs from Marsannay to Santenay—there are indeed other winemaking appellations in Burgundy outside its scope. The majesty may not be as matched, but what these Burgundian satellites lack in complexity they more than make up for with charm, rusticity, and—perhaps most important—in price. We started our morning by heading south of Beaune and towards a region I've come to know well over the years (in terms of general consumption). Because I'd seen pictures in a number of wine books and marketing brochures, I knew we had entered the Mâcon-Villages region when I saw the Rock of Solutré off in the distance beyond the dizzying chardonnay vineyards. The many small wine appellations that make up this region—Charnay and Solutré, for example—as well as the more-renowned St. Veran and Pouilly-Fuissé sections produce some of the cleanest, freshest, and most value-oriented white wines in the world. We were starting off with an appointment at Domaine Renaud, a producer whose wines I've been pounding on my patio since the day I started working at K&L. When chardonnay tastes that crisp and that delicious for less than fifteen bucks, I tend to increase the volume in which I enjoy it. 

Next door to the village of Poussy-Solutré is the town of Fuissé, where another of our fantastic chardonnay producers is located: Château Vitallis. We've been working directly with Maxim Dutron and his family for the last few vintages, focusing on some of the richer Pouilly-Fuissé expressions that are pricier (in the $20-$30 range), but have both incredible richness and acidity in complete balance to justify that hike. We tasted through the fleshy and riper 2015 vintage and toured some of the vineyard sites, one of which is directly next to the château and surrounded by a centuries-old stone wall. The town itself is as quaint and romantic as it gets in France. Just walking through the tiny side streets and older courtyards makes me want to start popping bottles!

Leaving the Mâcon just before lunch, we continued on into Beaujolais; a region that's been on the rise for the last decade in terms of both quality and recognition. The appellation and its relationship to the rest of Burgundy shares a large similarity with the way the general drinking public often thinks about tequila and mezcal. Much like a large number of tourists to Mexico remember a vomit-inducing night of drinking cheap mezcal with a worm in the bottle, many wine drinkers associate Beaujolais with the sickening recollection of their first experience with cheap, carbonic, and overtly-fruity Beaujolais Nouveau: the locally-made Hi-C fruit punch version of gamay wine. Because most Americans are generally unaware that the region offers any other options, they tend to ignore it completely. But much like Oaxacan mezcal is having a small renaissance with its bevy of small rustic producers, hand-distilling artisanal batches of flavorful agave spirits, Beaujolais is beginning a similar ascent into the hearts of drinkers who value quality, ethics, and purity of terroir over the commercialization and gentrification of the larger Burgundian domaines. Our first stop was at Château Javernand, one of our newer relationships whose wines debuted at K&L just last year. After a huge show of support from our savvy customers, we were back to buy more of the recent vintages.

While the Côte d'Or sells its finest bottles for thousands of dollars while playing the role of the petit paysan, in Beaujolais it's a much more down-to-earth and real experience. The property owners are usually the winemakers themselves and their vineyards are often neighbored by cows, goats, and various gardens or orchards that contribute to the artisansal culture of the region. Where as Beaujolais whites are made with chardonnay like in the rest of Burgundy, the reds are mostly made with the gamay grape rather than pinot noir. When produced carbonically (the process wherein fermentation begins inside the grape), it can produce the juiciest and fruitiest wine in the world. But when harvested with integrity and care, and produced like any other great wine in the world, the result is a far more rustic, complex, and age-worthy expression that rivals any other red wine in its price point. Imagine the concentrated red berry flavors of a great pinot noir or grenache, accented by fine notes of earth and terroir, with chewy and somewhat firm tannins, and wild notes of black pepper and meaty sauvage on the finish. That's what Cru Beaujolais can offer you for under twenty dollars a bottle, if you know where to look. 

Pierre Prost and Arthur Fourneau were there to meet us at Javernand and take us through their grandfather's château, still adorned with much of its original furniture from when it was first purchased in 1917. We're currently expecting another shipment of the much-anticipated 2015 wines, but we were there today to taste the subsequent 2016 vintage; a harvest that was utterly-decimated in some regions by hail the size of golf balls. In the case of Javernand, the output was less than 25% of normal, a stunning blow for these small guys! While the yields were low, the quality is high due to better concentration of the fruit that remained. Their wines were loaded with dark, brooding fruit and loads of earthy spices. Plus, you couldn't beat the weather here today. We had lunch out on the patio with scalloped potatoes and stewed veal, plus a local goat cheese afterward that about made me weep. Beaujolais from one of the many "cru" villages like Chirouble, Saint Amour, Morgon, and Brouilly, is one of the best food wines in the business. They can age just like Burgundian pinot noirs as well. We washed down the cheese plate with a few older Javernand editions from 2005, 2006, and 2009. They were as fresh as daisies. 

From there, we moved to Régnie and the vineyards of Jean-Michel Dupré, a man whose wines about floored me upon their arrival last year (we still have some of the ten dollar holler here). Talk about seductive! The concentration and pureness of his wines was matched only by the blueness of his eyes. When you've got 100 year old vines crawling out of the earth like creepy hands out of a horror movie, you can achieve such levels of quality. Old vines make for rich and deeply-flavorful expressions. 

Jean-Michel's tasting room was buried down in the earth in an old cave dugout beneath his winery. We tasted through some of his cru expressions like the 2016 Régnie, Morgon, and the incredible "1935," made from a plot in Morgon with vines planted during that very year. I can't say enough about how delicious his wines are. They're loaded with penetrating red fruits, violets, and fresh acidity that leaves your mouth watering and begging for more. I'm very excited to get another shipment from Dupré. These wines were a big hit at our Beaujolais dinner in San Francisco this past January. Looks like Alex and I will have to host another one of those parties!

I can't say enough wonderful things about the Mâcon and Beaujolais. It's a hilly, fertile, and picturesque countryside filled to the brim with small farmers, sweeping vineyards, and a number of reasonably-priced table wines that truly nurture the stomach and the soul. I'm very pleased we were able to make a day of it there. As my old colleague Keith Wollenburg would often say: "I think it's time we revisit the wines of the Mâcon."

-David Driscoll

The Route des Grands Crus

David Driscoll

We're living in a new age of wine appreciation. Gone are the days when Burgundy was a sleepy little farming region, populated purely by simple, country folk who humbly tended to their vines just to make an honest living. Here instead are wine lists like the one pictured above; a snapshot of our dinner in Beaune last night. Those prices on the right are in Euros and represent the per bottle cost of each selection. This bewildering sight is where Burgundy has arrived to over the last few decades; often times a cult status that sets the bar for outrageous when it comes to pricing. Needless to say we didn't opt for any of the bottles on this page. I did, however, throw down three hundred bucks for a bottle of 2010 premier cru Vosne Romanée from Meo-Camuzet. You work hard, you play hard, right? Playing hard in Burgundy these days requires a serious cash flow, unfortunately, which is why we got back on the more reasonable and straighter narrow this morning.

morecotdor2 (1 of 1).jpg

This morning's appointments began at Domaine d'Eugénie, a small producer in Vosne Romanée with a number of top level vineyard holdings, including the tiny "Clos Eugenie" located inside the walls of the property. See that brown area on the hill in the background, beyond the wall in the distance? That's "La Tache" vineyard. Go back up to the above menu and have a look at what those bottles will run you. Eugénie is just down the slope from that holy piece of Burgundian land, which represents a quality more our speed as Burgundy drinkers. We like good stuff, but we typically look for the bottle that's almost as good for a fraction of the price. 

morecotdor3 (1 of 1).jpg

While a bottle of DRC La Tache will run you thousands of dollars, a bottle of Eugénie grand cru "Grand Echezeux" will run you a little less than three hundred bucks. With only a few barrels made each year of the vineyard expression, it's a rare breed of luxury. Shopping for grand cru Burgundy isn't all that different from rummaging through Scotland in search of rare whisky barrels. The wine goes into the cask the same way the Scotch does, and in the end there are only a few of each type in the cellar. We tasted the 2015 "Grand Echezeux" at Eugénie that was simply incredible with loads of exotic spice, aromatic fruits, and pretty palate of freshly-cut violets and deep, dark, concentrated berries. 

While prices have gone through the roof over the last few decades and a class of nouveau riche has penetrated the market, some things haven't progressed as quickly in the region. We were still treated to old school wines and old school meals here and there thanks to Clyde's old relationships in the area. How about a lovely loaf of pâté en crôute for an appetizer? 

Driving down the illustrious Route des Grands Crus is a total game changer because it's like having a two-dimensional, color-coded map manifested for you with real life colors and topography. I've looked at the map of the Côte d'Or in our tasting bar for almost ten years at this point, but cruising along the main road and being able to see each plot in its true form is an altering experience. It's the difference between book smarts and street smarts in Burgundy. Basically, until you've ridden down this street and seen the plots first hand, I don't think you can really grasp what's going on here. Photos and vineyard maps don't begin to do it justice. 

Not only do you get a sense of the layout driving down the Route, you also get a sense of the modern Burgundy existence. Tractors routinely block the way for drivers, while vineyard managers are out trimming the excess wood and burning the leftovers. The smell of smoke was constantly in the air, reminding us at each stop just what it takes to maintain and lead the Burgundy lifestyle. We tasted a lot of great wines today, and an equal number of terrible ones. It really is a crap shoot at times unless you know exactly where to look. Ultimately, they all use the same names.

-David Driscoll

Into the Côte d'Or

David Driscoll

Welcome to Burgundy's Côte d'Or: the most coveted, heralded, treasured, and expensive series of vineyards on the planet with an overwhelmingly-complex network of owners who have been passing down their plots for generations. What's particularly fascinating is exactly how these inheritances are divided. For those of you who are just getting your feet wet, it started back in 1804 when Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that all assets and property left from a parent must be divided equally among the children, including vineyards in Burgundy. That means a father who owned one hectare of vines and had four children must legally divide that holding into four parts; one parcel for each child. Imagine how that's worked out over the last two hundred years for these families! At this point there are brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins all in possession of a few vines here and a few more over there. Maybe two rows in this vineyard and another few rows in that one. In order to scale up and produce wine as a domaine these days ambitious winemakers have to buy out the rest of their relatives, which has become a nightmare for smaller producers who don't have that kind of cash just sitting around. That's why you'll often see a number of domaines with the same last name, but various first names like Anne Gros, Michel Gros, and Bernard Gros. It's also the reason you'll find Burgundy wine geeks out there who are so obsessed with the placement of these parcels that they've spent their entire lives mapping out who owns what, what lies where, and how where turns into greatness. 

But that's not to say families don't stick together. We spent the morning with the Parent sisters, Anne and Catherine, who have pooled their inherited plots and continued on under the same label. In Burgundy, the term "domaine" means the vines are owned by the producer and Domaine Parent has holdings in Pommard, Beaune, and Corton, as well as a number of chardonnay plots in Monthélie. We tasted through the 2014 and 2015 vintages while Anne poured and walked us through the wines. I found her utterly charming and appreciated her ability to explain each expression with clarity and without ever sounding professorial. Alex asked Anne if she was relieved by how much better both harvests were than the difficult 2013, to which she answered: "I think 2013 is a fine year, but you can't ask a Toyota to be a Porsche. At the same time, a Toyota can be very useful. Serious winemakers know how to make good wine in any vintage." I couldn't help but respond by asking her: "Are you a serious winemaker, Anne?" She smiled and filled my glass a little higher. 

One of the specifics each winemaker made sure to clarify for us at each appointment was the proportion of whole clusters used during fermentation versus berries that have been separated by hand. When you use whole clusters of grapes it means you're not destemming, which means you're adding little bitter pieces of wood to the wine that impact the final flavor. It's a useful strategy in terms of balancing tannic structure to fruit, but you have to be careful. Anne told us: "To use stems you have to be sure about their health and maturity or else you can end up with bitter or green flavors." Today many winemakers may do 20%, 50%, or even 100% whole cluster fermentation depending on the vintage and the vineyard. Add that to the dozen other details that can make or break a specific Burgundian rouge. New world pinot noir drinkers often have a tough time coming to terms with some of these earthier, courser, or grittier flavors of Burgundy that result from such practices. They usually prefer the lush fruit and supple ripeness of California or New Zealand pinots. As a result, producers of that forward and friendly style have been rewarded over the last decade with popularity and press, but when that subject came up Anne was quick to point out: "That's not the only vision of wine." 

If the Parent vision of great Burgundy extends beyond delicacy of fruit and into the complexities of terroir, then what constitutes greatness? There's no easy answer to that question, nor is it an easy task to find consensus from winemaker to winemaker. While the vineyard definitely has its say, the rest depends on the philosophy of the producer and the style of wine they want to present. With stems or without? For drinking now or later? Lush and pretty or bold and brawny? Knowing simply the vintage and the region won't help you in Burgundy. You have to dig deeper, both into the Burgundian earth and the complex fabric of stewards who watch over it. Anne mentioned to us that her Pommard vines were farmed organically, yet her neighbor in the same vineyard only a few meters away still chooses to spray his holding. You can have a wine from the same year, the same region, the same vineyard—heck, even the same plot—and the result still may be worlds apart. It's that incredible requisite of knowledge that makes Burgundy the ultimate challenge in the wine world. Yet, many would argue it also provides the ultimate reward. We tasted the 2015 Domaine Parent Grand Cru Corton "Les Renardes" that pretty much brought a tear to my eye. It was perfect in every way possible. It was utterly divine. That's when Anne said to me: "We know the true taste of pinot noir comes from Burgundy." She then patted me on the shoulder and went to find another bottle.

As we advanced deeper into Vosne Romanée I began to notice fortifications and divisions. Stone walls become more apparent, along with iron gates, forbidding doors, and prohibitive shutters. These parcels are no joke. As you move through the village and up onto the hill you see names like Richebourg and Romanée-Conti, perhaps the two most famous vineyards in the entire world, producing wines that sell for thousands of dollars a bottle. Many of these climats go back centuries if not over a millennium. It's imperative that they're guarded and protected. 

We tasted extensively at more than six different appointments as we began to get a sense of the 2015 vintage between different producers. On the whole the wines are riper than 2014 and in many cases we liked them more. Yet, as I've written before, blanket statements are dangerous—especially here. In a number of instances I thought the balance and the complexity of the 2014s were more compelling, but it's hard to argue with that soft and gentle fruit. We've got a few more days here to really feel things out from domaine to domaine. My impressions are only beginning to congeal into any sort of basic understanding.

-David Driscoll