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Discovery in the Cote de Nuits
By Robert Whitley
Apr 24, 2012
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BEAUNE, France — Once upon a time, a hefty selection of Burgundy was a staple of virtually every fine wine shop in America. Burgundy was the benchmark for any wine made from pinot noir or chardonnay, so much so that winemakers from the New World hardly ever missed an opportunity to characterize their style of chardonnay or pinot as "Burgundian."

Of course, few of them were, for Burgundy's aromas and flavors, the structure and textures of its wines, are driven as much by the unique soils and climate of the region as they are by the hand of the winemaker.

Red Burgundies are generally firmer when young and significantly more tannic than New World pinots, while white Burgundies tend to be less fleshy and exhibit less fruit and more minerality than the chardonnays of the New World.

At some point, perhaps a decade or two ago, the "Burgundian" style, or profile, became less attractive to wine consumers drawn to the ripe, fleshy, creamy pinots and chardonnays that came into fashion in California and Oregon in the 1990s.

As the pendulum swings back the other way and more and more enthusiasts seem to be searching for wines that exhibit structure, finesse and minerality, particularly pinots of that ilk, now seems like an appropriate time to take a peek at some of the producers in Burgundy who are making the wines that customers want, and at a very high level.

My observations are drawn from tastings last week during Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, a week-long spin through the vineyards and cellars of Burgundy for members of the professional wine trade and wine media.

The Grands Jours is conducted every two years. The wines presented this year were primarily from the 2009 and 2010 vintages, both of which were very good, although very different. The growing season of 2009 was warmer and produced softer, rounder wines that will be ready to drink earlier. The 2010 vintage was cooler and produced more classically structured wines that will age beautifully.

In one of a random series of columns on Burgundy that I will offer over the next couple of months, today's Wine Talk focuses on the red wines of the Cote de Nuits. I have further sharpened the focus by concentrating on producers I either didn't know or hadn't tasted often, or in some time. My tastings in the Cote de Nuits were all about discovery.

The following were the producers who caught my eye:

Domaine Bart, Marsanny-La-Cote — The wines of Domaine Bart are neither grand nor expensive (you can find most everything this domaine produces for less than $40 a bottle), but they are some of the most satisfying from this less heralded part of Burgundy. The 2010 Marsanny rouge Les Finottes and 2010 Marsanny rouge Clos du Roy both scored will in my evaluation at 90-plus points each. Both wines are richly layered and exhibit the firm structure of the vintage.

Chanson Pere et Fils, Beaune — Vastly improved in recent vintages, the Chanson wines all exhibited firm structure along with extraordinary depth and complexity. These are sophisticated red Burgundies that cry out for additional age in the cellar. Chanson presented one of the better Marsannays I tasted, a 90-point wine from the 2009 vintage, but the two show-stoppers were the 2009 Chambertin Clos de Beze at 97 points and the 2009 Charmes-Chambertin at 95 points. Both wines are layered, powerful and spicy. If you haven't had a Chanson lately, you might be surprised.

Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, Chambolle-Musigny — Those who write off Bourgogne as the generic quaffing wine of Burgundy would be well advised to sample a bottle of the 2010 Bourgogne rouge from G. Barthod. This is a rich, firmly structured red from one of the top producers in Chambolle-Musigny. The village Chambolle from 2010 is another eye-catching wine, showing aromas of violets and black and red raspberry fruit. Then there is the stunning Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras (94 points), a firmly structured, layered, masculine wine that exhibits the classic depth and elegance of the best reds from the Cote de Nuits.

Domaine Michel Magnien, Morey-Saint-Denis — These are the domain wines that are made by the son, Frederic, who also produces exquisite wines under the negociant label Frederic Magnien. Michel, a longtime grower in the Cote de Nuits, inherited a number of plots in premier cru and grand cru vineyards in the 1990s, and turned to producing wines from his own domain. Frederic is celebrated as one of the brilliant young winemakers of the new generation of vignerons in Burgundy. Wines that impressed were the 2010 Chambolle-Musigny Les Fremieres (92 points), 2010 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers (94) and the 2010 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Chaffots (94).

Domaine Anne Gros, Vosne-Romanee — The brilliance of the wines of Anne Gros is well known among connoisseurs of Burgundy, but I don't have the opportunity to taste them with any frequency. The village wine exhibited, the 2010 Vosne-Romanee (91), was one of the finest village wines I've ever tasted from the Cote de Nuits. But that said, the three grand cru wines presented — Clos de Vougeot, Echezaux and Richebourg, all from the 2010 vintage — are as good as red Burgundy gets and blew away the village wine with ratings between 94 and 96 points.

Domaine Michel Gros, Vosne-Romanee — This is a producer with which I had no prior experience, so I was pleasantly surprised by the exceptional quality across the board. The 2010 Vosne-Romanee was yet another exceptional village wine at 90 points, and I rated the Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru Clos des Reas and the Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru AuxBrulees each 95 points. These are sophisticated, cellar-worthy Burgundies that are well worth the time and effort to seek out.

Domaine Philippe Rossignol, Gevrey-Chambertin — No longer imported into the U.S., Rossignol was one of the finest producers I encountered over the week of Grands Jours tastings. Although well known to devotees of importer Kermit Lynch, Rossignol and Lynch recently ended the partnership. I doubt very much that these wines will be absent from the U.S. market for long. The 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Corbeaux (94 points) was a showstopper, with a gorgeous nose, exquisite balance and silky tannins, while the 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Estournelles St.-Jacques exhibited more minerality and firmer structure, with an attractive spicy nuance.

Domaine Tortochot, Gevrey-Chambertin — The domain of Chantal and Michel Tortochot offers a house style that runs through all of the wines save the grand cru Mazis-Chambertin. The wines are feminine, delicate and sophisticated, the personification of Burgundian elegance. The standouts were the aforementioned 2010 Mazis-Chambertin (95 points), 2010 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (93) and 2010 Gerey-Chambertin 1er Cru Champeaux.