Thu 30 Jun 2011
There are lots of “Côtes” and “Beaunes” here as we navigate six regional and village Burgundy wines from the venerable house of Joseph Drouhin, founded in 1880. I’ve written oft before about the complex categories that comprise the scheme of Burgundy — a surprisingly small area in eastern-central France — so I won’t do that again here. Let’s just say that the products we’re looking at today occupy the tier below Grand Cru (at the top) and Premier Cru (next down, though several Premier Cru vineyards could stand to be promoted), wines that derive from mainly small, fragmented vineyards so hallowed that they practically win Nobel Peace Prizes with every vintage. What we have today, however, reflects the wide base of the Burgundy pyramid, primarily from vineyards that do not occupy the prime Grand Cru and premier Cru acreage in the middle of the hillsides — a côte is a hill or slope — but the broader areas below the slopes or back on the hilltops or around the sides. Many village or regional wines represent good value, though that term becomes more relative as prices go up, and also make a good stab at embodying the particular patch of land whence they come or at least don’t defy or deny their origin and the nature of their grapes, which are, of course, chardonnay and pinot noir.
As is the case with the other large grower/negociant houses in Burgundy, such as Louis Jadot, Louis Latour and Faiveley, the firm of Joseph Drouhin produces many wines from its own vineyards — 182.5 acres throughout the region, including Chablis — and then purchases grapes from growers under long-term contracts for the rest of the wines, mainly the less prestigious ones, which, however, still involve a process of meticulous winemaking. Drouhin has “modernized” its front label script and art somewhat, which I think is unfortunate, because the package now looks less individual and more generic; I miss that red stripe across the bottom, but one one asked me, did they? The company also instituted a bottle that’s lighter by 10 percent, casting a lighter carbon footprint in shipping, and launched, with the 2009 vintage, QR codes on the back labels of most of their wines.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. Samples for review.
The Joseph Drouhin Montagny 2009 is neither a profound nor a glamorous expression of the chardonnay grape, but it displays the sort of lovely intensity and authenticity that make for a satisfying and pleasurable experience. Montagny is the southernmost of the four communes of the Côte Chalonnaise, which lies just south of the Côte de Beaune, separated by the river Dheune. Drouhin buys grapes for this wine from trusted growers under long-term contracts. The wine ages 6 to 8 months in oak, 20 percent new barrels. Every element is in place in this charming chardonnay: acidity is clean and blade-like; the texture is an appealing silky combination of crispness balanced by moderate lushness; scents of apples, quince and hazelnuts segue into flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pears and lemons; and a burgeoning limestone quality offers scintillating and slightly earthy ballast. 305 cases imported. Highly appropriate for restaurant wine lists and by-the-glass programs. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.
Grapes for the Côte de Nuits-Villages appellation come from vineyards in five villages: Brouchon and Fixin in the north part of the Côte de Nuits — Fixin is also entitled to its own appellation — and Comblanchien, Corgoloin and Premeaux-Prissey in the south. Again, Drouhin buys grapes for the Joseph Drouhin Côte de Nuits-Villages 2009 from growers under long-term contracts. The wine ages from 12 to 15 months in oak, with fewer than 10 percent of the barrels being new. The color is medium ruby with a faint plum cast. Aromas of raspberries, mulberries and dried cherries unfold to reveal hints of briers and brambles, dried baking spice and potpourri; in the mouth, vibrant acidity courses through a lithe and sinewy texture that encompasses flavors of black and red cherries with an intriguing and earthy touch spiced rhubarb, all of this couched in fairly dense, dusty tannins. Drink through 2015 or ’16; a year or two will soften the tannins and make the wine more pliable, though it should be fine now with a game bird or roast beef. 575 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21.50.
Where vineyards for Côte de Nuits-Villages wines are found in five villages, grapes for Côte de Beaune-Villages may derive from or be blended from up to 15 villages — but not Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard or Volnay. Again, Drouhin purchases grapes for these wines but strictly limits the number of sources. Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune-Villages 2009 ages 12 to 15 months in oak, 10 percent new barrels. The color is slightly darker ruby than the previous wine and displays a tinge of magenta at the rim. A bouquet of red raspberry and dried red cherries with touches of mulberry and plum is framed by an earthy character manifested in underbrush and briers and a bit of dusty graphite. The wine is firm with dry, slightly austere tannins yet directly appealing because of the vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. It fills out and fleshes out a bit more than the Côte de Nuits-Villages, though it retains some reticence in its nature. Number of cases imported not available. 13 percent alcohol. Best from 2012 through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $23.50.
Chorey-lès-Beaune lies just north of Beaune the town and Beaune the appellation; in fact, the name means “Chorey near Beaune.” (Pronounced shory-lay-bone.) Drouhin owns about three acres of vines in this small, red-wine-only appellation but supplements that amount by purchasing fruit from other growers. The Joseph Drouhin Chorey-lès-Beaune 2009 is slightly less firm and dense than the Côte de Beaune-Villages described above, which is to say that I found it a bit more subtle and supple, though its typical complement of red raspberry, red cherry and plum scents and flavors are highlighted by a macerated and roasted quality that rendered this wine singular among its cousins. Still, it’s quite dry, a little foresty and brambly in the depths, and the finish brings in a note of austerity. 2,000 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
There is a town called Santenay, just south of Chassange-Montrachet, but, unusually for Burgundy, the vineyard appellation of Santenay is broken into four very irregularly shaped areas, two of which are not that close to the town. One frequently reads that the saying in Burgundy is “The last sip of Santenay is better than the first,” and the Joseph Drouhin Santenay 2009 proves the wisdom of the old saw. I found the wine to be the hardest of this group of five pinot noirs, and though I toyed with it for an hour, that is coming back to it several times, it never resolved itself with a clear sense of definition. I did like the balance between swingeing acidity and attractive fullness of body, but essentially the wine lacked character in the middle. Perhaps it needs time, say until 2013 or ’14, to find itself. 265 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $27.50.
The difference between the appellations of Côte de Beaune-Villages and Côte de Beaune is that the latter does not revolve around particular, scattered villages but is a vineyard area (not all contiguous) west of the city and higher in the hills than the Premier Cru vineyards of the Beaune appellation. Drouhin owns nine acres of organically-cultivated vines in Côte de Beaune from which it draws for the Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune 2009. The wine ages 10 to 12 months in barrels. This is an immediately attractive, warm and spicy pinot noir that teems with notes of black cherry, dried red currants, cranberry and rhubarb, cola and dried flowers; no, it’s not Californian, but it certainly could serve as a model. From top to bottom, this wine offers more detail and dimension than its peers, both in its complex network of spicy, mineral-drenched black and red fruit flavors and in the layering of acidity, oak and dry, fairly stalwart, foresty tannins. The Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune 2009 could profit from being undisturbed until 2013 and then should drink very well through 2017 or ’18. About 400 cases imported. The printed material I received called this wine “relatively simple” — and let’s hope that it’s not too “simple” for the price — but I think that description sells it short. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $33.50.