On the Trail

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