The Most Valuable Vineyard in the World
Tucked behind the Côte de Nuits Village of Vosne-Romanée is a small vineyard – for purists a vinous Mecca – that is judged by many as the pinnacle of red wine quality in Burgundy – and possible the greatest red wine per se in the world. At just under 2 hectares (4.6 acres) Romanée Conti Grand Cru is not the smallest single vineyard in Burgundy, but it is the most famous, the most sort after and – no surprise – the most expensive wine to buy in the world. It is hailed as the greatest example of Pinot Noir in Burgundy, and anywhere else in the world. And with just around 6,000 bottles produced each year the demand and pricing has become exponential.
Sold exclusively on allocation, it is sadly these days only collected – and possibly enjoyed – by the very wealthy and/or investors. In a good vintage a typical bottle will cost you more than £10,000. So, although this will not be appearing on the Wine Trust list very shortly we can still explore the final section of a tour around Burgundy by looking at the red wines – and propose some very good examples which are available at Wine Trust.
Apart from Beaujolais in the far south of Burgundy, virtually all red Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape. This fickle variety has found a home in the region and can transform into a quite magical expression of both the diverse soils and the grape itself – exemplified at is finest in the sub region of the Côte d’Or – the Côte de Nuits.
Typically, fine red Burgundy (and Pinot Noir in general) has the following characteristics. It is often paler than the “bigger” reds which are made from Cabernets and Syrah/Shiraz due to having lighter colour pigments in the skin of the grape. It has a clean and refreshing acid edge and rarely more than a medium weight of tannins – much less than the aforementioned grapes. Flavours and aromas are mainly red fruits – including cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. It can also be quite floral (eg violets). With time in bottle it develops amazing nuances and bouquet of mushroom and undergrowth (like the smell when you walk in a wood). Above all, fine examples are complex, silky, more-ish and concentrated. And because of its relative delicacy (for a red wine) the oak levels are often very measured and, in the background – more so than many other reds. It is a wine style that should appeal to those who do not like their reds too heavy, chewy, and tannic. And the final bonus is many examples are instantly accessible and enjoyable to drink young (as well as having the ability to age) so you do not have to wait years and years before you can breach them.
As mentioned in the White Burgundy blog Chablis is a white only area, so you hit the prestigious Côte de Nuits (named after the main market town in the area Nuits St Georges) almost immediately south of Dijon, with outlying and increasingly well made wines in the communes of Marsannay and Fixin. Virtually the whole of the Côte de Nuits is dedicated to red wine making (there is the odd, isolated parcel of Chardonnay). The first of the great individual Villages is the relatively large Gevrey-Chambertin – home to the revered Grand Cru vineyard – Le Chambertin – and the start of the “Route des Grand Crus”
Along these roads not only do you enjoy the understated grandeur of the Burgundy region, but you fully appreciate just how unspoilt – even rural – it (thankfully) remains. A great way to do this is by bike and have stopping points and some overnight stays along the way – you do not have to be solely focused on the wine to make this a highly enjoyable holiday/experience.
One of the characteristics of these great villages is how they annex the name of the most famous vineyard to the village title – in a show of pride and heritage, hence:
- Gevrey (Chambertin, the Grand Cru vineyard)
- Morey (St Denis, Grand Cru)
- Chambolle (Musigny, Grand Cru)
- Vosne (Romanée, Grand Cru)
- Nuits (St. Georges, Premier Cru) etc.
- As Puligny and Chassagne (Montrachet, Grand Cru) in the White Burgundy blog
And the other interesting aspect is that although they are collectively part of the Côte de Nuits, each Village has its own identity as to the general style of the wine made year after year. Chambolles are often described as being silky, perfumed and refined; Vosnes fuller bodied, intense, and mineral; Cortons more tannic, juicy, and earthy etc.
As you travel through these fabulously unspoilt areas there are great landmarks such as the 12th Century Chateau du Clos Vougeot – first formed as an Abbey by Cistercian monks. As you pass the famous Cortron hill and head into Beaune, please do find time to visit the historic Hospice (founded in the 15th century) – a true gem of a building, with remarkable history and atmosphere. Here today this building is also the centre for the annual wine auction which always takes place on the the third Sunday in November amid a three-day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy called Les Trois Glorieuses.
In fact, Corton marks the general area where the Côte de Nuits finishes, and the Côte de Beaune starts. As mentioned in the last blog, the Côte de Beaune is arguably more famous for the great white wines of Burgundy, but the northern end though is very much still about high quality reds. Corton is the only Grand Cru red area of the Côte de Beaune, but this should not be taken to dismiss the quality and intensity of top Côte de Beaune reds. Between the areas (north to south) of Corton, Beaune, Pommard and Volnay reds of remarkably high quality indeed are produced. Whilst they may not quite have the sheer purity of top Côte de Nuits, the red fruit intensity and sheer power of flavours can be remarkable. And again, you get noticeable differences between the communes such as the robust briary red fruit notes of a good Beaune to the silky, polished herbal fruit notes of a fine Volnay.
Such is the quality in the northern area that three individual vineyards in Pommard and Volnay are being considered for elevation to Grand Cru status right now.
And as mentioned before top examples age very well and develop interesting tertiary notes with time in bottle. With that in mind please find two examples below. Both Domaine wines – by that from vineyards owned, run, and harvested by the producer – these are classic artisan examples – one Côte de Beaune and one Côte de Nuits. The Clos des Mouches is broadly regarded as the finest Premier Cru in Beaune and the Clos de la Justice Gevrey Chambertin is a rare example of a Monopole in Burgundy. This is unusual as post the French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic inheritance laws saw the vast majority of vineyards fragmented into multiple ownership due to the enforced repatriation of land to all family members without preference. The term Clos also historically indicated a walled vineyard in Burgundy, though that is not always the case today.
Both these wines are fully mature and demand food – classically game, lamb, or chicken in the region, though they would also work well with a rich ratatouille if you are vegetarian.
Head on further south and you reach the Chalonnaise area (as mentioned with white Burgundy). As with the whites, this area probably delivers the best value for money reds too – and three areas lead with examples – Givry, Mercurey and Rully. The reds in this area do not have the richness or concentration of a top Côte de Nuits or Beaune, but equally have great vitality, freshness and deliciously expansive red berry fruits flavours and aroma – and they are accessible from the moment they go into bottle. As mentioned in the first blog do try the excellent Mercurey from Château de Santenay – which is captures the very essence of this region and the Pinot Noir grape.
Last, and definitely not least, we reach Beaujolais at the southern end of the Burgundy appellation. Almost exclusively a red wine area (there is a little Chardonnay for white Beaujolais) the main difference is that the grape authorised in this region is Gamay, not Pinot Noir. Gamay, as a grape, naturally has some of the lowest tannin levels (in its skin) of any grape on the planet, which combined with a naturally exuberant cherry and red fruit profile makes for a supple, juicy and easy drinking style.
Beaujolais is at its lightest in the general and Villages appellations, but there are 10 “Crus” or top defined sub regions where the very best wines are made.
Each Cru has its own character, but probably the “prettiest” and most accessible is Fleurie. With jaunty, ripe cherry fruit and a bouquet of violets it has immediate appeal and a juicy even savoury edge. Do try the excellent Manoir du Carra example from the fine 2018 vintage.
These Crus also have to capacity to work with lighter foods – such as mixed plates of charcuterie or vegetable crudités. Cool them down too in the warmer weather.
Serving Red Burgundy
Unless a top Grand Cru from a ripe vintage, most red Burgundy is very accessible when young. In addition, in warmer weather, it does work well cooled down – maybe 20 minutes in the fridge (not an ice bucket). Most red Burgundy does not need decanting and even older bottles form only a little sediment (versus say red Bordeaux). For special bottles and occasions, I do like using the glass shape below – it really does tease out the best in aromas from the wine. They also work well with fine white Burgundy, so you get your money’s worth.
Keeping Red Burgundy
As said, most red Burgundy is accessible young, but will happily keep and evolve for 3 to 5 years in most cases. Better wines can develop for up to 10 years and the very top examples for decades! But you do need to like the style as they evolve more towards mushroom, gamey and “forest floor” notes.
Red Burgundy and Food
Well let’s start with a couple of local rustic dishes which are perfect – Coq au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon – where both were traditionally marinated the chicken and beef overnight in Burgundy wine as part of the dish. Other meats they do well with include duck, game in general and lamb.
For vegan and vegetarians, the star dish (for me) is a classic mushroom (the wilder and more intense the better) risotto. If not a mushroom fan, then any adaptation of the classic ratatouille will also work.
In Burgundy they also like to serve with cheese – I am less keen on this due the acid level in the red which conflicts – not compliments – with the cheese; but each to their own.
Above all, please do try and, I hope, fall in love with both white and red Burgundy – there are wines and styles which I am sure you will find rewarding – and when we are let out to play again do visit this fabulously unspoilt region.
NA FGWS 2020 06