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Top Six Domaines of Burgundy

Those who are daunted by the seemingly unsolvable puzzle of Burgundy tend to miss the point. The Byzantine complexity and dynamism of the region requires a lot of education and, as a consequence, many bottles of Burgundy. Master of Wine Ned Goodwin highlights his Top Six Domaines of Burgundy.
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Burgundy is unequivocally a bastion of the world’s greatest wines. By this, I refer to liquids that become life-altering experiences, evoking sensorial imagery so captivating that the wines appear phantasmagoric. Until, of course, you gaze into your glass and comprehend that the conduit for this otherworldly Alice Through the Looking Glass-type experience is the wine in it. But Burgundy is not any wine.

The Cistercian monks understood good real estate. ‘Location, Location, Location’ they chanted, an incantation that carved a hierarchy of prized vineyards, Premier and Grand Crus the most propitiously sited. Each, a reflection of liturgical hegemony, regional patrimony and limestone. Of course, this is simply put. Each climat boasts fluctuating nuances, from gradient, aspect and different topsoils: deeper, shallower; dense, or friable. These factors all parlay different details unto any given wine. Gevrey, denser and more ferrous than the balletic and refined Chambolle, for example. Yet generalisations such as these risk becoming trite, for once we venture here we need to examine vineyards and plots within, the forensic detail of which is as stimulating as it is overwhelming. At least for the sake of this piece!

 

‘ ...a region responsible for the most expensive, avariciously collected wines known to mankind. ’

 

After all, Burgundy is more fluid and capricious than its bourgeois Bordeaux rival; more scant and urbane than the fashionable Rhône; more established than the Piedmont, no matter how fast it may be rising. Yet it is also a region responsible for the most expensive, avariciously collected wines known to mankind. The United States and Japan, home to many of the world’s great collectors, serve as the region’s top two markets. Hong Kong, too. Mainland China is growing, while squeezing pricing further. Australia? A infinitesimal satellite, receiving tiny allocations.

 

Burgundy is unequivocally a bastion of the world’s greatest wines

Burgundy is unequivocally a bastion of the world’s greatest wines

 

So how to nominate the region’s ‘best’ six domaines for red wines?

I’ll simply draw on my personal experiences as sommelier, working with one of Manhattan’s most vaunted wine lists, fuelled by arguably the world’s greatest ever collector; together with my role buying for one of Japan’s largest restaurant groups. Moreover, these roles saw me visit the region on many occasions. Yet, it is impossible! Which is why I have taken the liberty to nominate a few more, while opting to leave Domaine de la Romanée-Conti out because of the unicorn status of its wines, as majestic as they can be. After all, they are virtually unattainable and for those that can find and afford them, they are often resold on the secondary market. Of course, wine is only worth what anyone is willing to pay for it and pricing is seldom a reflection of the policies of any given domaine, but of the voracious demand for the wines worldwide.

 

‘ ...the point of great red Burgundy is to articulate a nuanced expression of Pinot Noir that is inimitable. ’

 

Note, too, that for me at least, the point of great red Burgundy is to articulate a nuanced expression of Pinot Noir that is inimitable. While there are many producers making riper, burlier and oakier wines that may appeal to many domestic drinkers on these shores, this is not what it is about. Fine red Burgundy boasts savoury tannins and bright acidity, the confluence of which services a skeletal lattice of such refinement, that just enough fruit-rather than too much-hangs from its bones. This quality is the signature of all of the wines below, each producer the doyen or doyenne, as the case may be of their respective appellation. In the case of Chambolle, my favourite appellation, several producers are listed. Yet if Ghislaine Barthod owned a parcel of Grand Cru or two, she may be my pick of the bunch!

 

1. Jean-Frederic Mugnier

 

Frédéric Mugnier took over the family’s Château de Chambolle-Musigny in 1985, prior to which the vineyards were contracted to Faiveley and Bruno Clair. He reclaimed the Clos de la Maréchale Nuits-St-Georges site in 2004, stamping his authority and decree to take the familial holdings to their apogee. There have been no herbicides used since 1991 and no pesticides since 1997.

Frédéric’s philosophy compares much contemporary Burgundy to the great pianist, Glenn Gould: ‘too much piano playing’ (in his earlier work). Grapes are sorted in the vineyard and in the winery on a vibrating table. All is de-stemmed. A brief cold-soak is followed by natural fermentation in vat, circa 18 days. The top wines see 18 months in wood, nothing new, sans fining or filtration. Seldom deep in colour, the suite epitomises refinement of the highest degree. If I could drink any wine from a genie, it would be Mugnier’s Musigny. As the second largest holder of the cru, his expression is an apotheosis of ethereal, diaphanous detail.

 

The gates of Clos de Marechale

The gates of Clos de Marechale

 

2. Ghislaine Barthod

 

As a student in Paris and later, a sommelier in New York, I was weaned on these wines (and, for that matter, on those of Simon Bize). This is a range that encapsulates all that I have laid out above as a presage to the constitution of great Burgundy as opposed to mere Pinot Noir. The strengths here are the outstanding holdings and deft craftsmanship, akin to Mugnier albeit with more new oak (up to 30%) and a combination of mostly punch-downs with occasional pump-overs depending on the year. There are nine premier crus in total, each bound to a striking liquid fidelity in the glass. The Bourgogne Rouge, too, is sumptuous.

 

3. Armand Rousseau

 

Indisputably at the very top of the regional totem. At the forefront of domaine bottling in the 1930s, Armand’s son Charles (responsible for the great wines of the 80s and 90s) was succeeded by grandson, Eric. They have always ploughed and avoided herbicides, although yields are even more abstemious today. All is de-stemmed and cold-soaked for 18-20 days sans temperature control. Pump-overs and punch-downs are used. The top wines, but for the Clos St. Jacques (60-100%), see 100% new oak. The Chambertin here is the finest of all, although Eric prefers the subtleties of the Chambertin Clos de Bèze. The Clos St. Jacques is a Grand Cru in all but name.

 

For the love of Pinot Noir

For the love of Pinot Noir

 

4. Domaine du Comte Liger Bélair

 

An estate with among the most glorious histories in Burgundy. It once owned La Tâche, la Romanée and a litany of top premiers crus in Vosne in addition to a good portion of Chambertin. Internecine rivalries saw holdings diminished until 2000 when Louis-Michel Liger-Bélair decided to recoup the family domaine, acquiring la Romanée as a monopole following a lengthy dispute with Bouchard, finally resolved in 2006. All is farmed biodynamically, ploughed by horse and picked very quickly at optimal ripeness, sorted on a table de trie with the same expediency and cooled below 15C for a week of cold soak. 15% of whole-bunches have been retained in recent years, with pump-overs the norm rather than punch-downs. They are settled on lees and raised in all new François Frères oak. Despite their salubrious textures and exotic perfumes, the motif is one of fine-boned finesse and astounding transparency.

 

5. Jean Grivot

 

Subsequent to emerging from the aegis of Guy Accad, a controversial oenologist championing depth of colour and structure (akin to the Michel Rolland of the 80s), Etienne Grivot began to show a deft hand marked by a suite of outstanding wines during the troublesome 1994 vintage. Subsequently, yields have been reduced and leaf-plucking done away with, all conducive to slower, more attenuated ripening. There is no plunging, with pump-overs a gentler approach to extracting structure. The Clos de Vougeot at this address complements the Echézeaux, arguably the finest iteration of any: precise, taut and all about an airy lattice of structure.

 

6. Domaine George Roumier

 

Founded in 1924, Georges Roumier began domaine-bottling in 1945, among the first in Burgundy. He was succeeded by son Jean-Marie and in turn, by grandson Christophe who is in charge today. Unlike Mugnier’s iterations of Chambolle, Roumier’s wines are exuberantly fruity in their youth while having the structural carapace to age well. After sorting in the vineyard and on a vibrating table, the grapes are largely de-stemmed, fermented naturally, punched down twice a day and aged (15-25% new wood). Jasper Morris MW suggests that there is a greater precision to the wines in recent years, although they are at the opposite end of the structural spectrum to the more reticent Mugnier and Barthod.

For many these pro Burgundy tend to miss the point. The Byzantine complexity and dynamism of the region requires a lot of education and, as a consequence, many bottles of Burgundy. Master of Wine Ned Goodwin highlights his Top Six Domaines of Burgundy. Shop our Burgundy portfolio now.

 

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