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No wine region in the world is as storied as French Burgundy. Arguably the birthplace of terroir, Burgundy is home to 100 AOCs (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée), or formal French appellations. More to the point, there are over 100 unique, distinctly recognized sites or vineyards that produce something special, something uniquely Burgundian and unique to that particular vineyard.
It’s a small region to begin with and has been subdivided over time by history and inheritance laws. The resulting patchwork of vineyards and owners has led to the importance of the négociant model in Burgundy. A négociant is able to buy grapes from all these myriad owners and create enough wine to actually bottle and sell. Because of the inheritance laws, individual owners may in some case own as little as two rows of grapes within a vineyard. The function of the négociant is to pool enough fruit from a particular vineyard or region to create and bottle wines from specific Burgundian regions such as the elegant Chambolle-Musigny or more specific vineyards such as the one of the legendary Grand Crus like Montrachet.
One such négociant, Maison Albert Bichot, has been producing wine in Burgundy since 1831. Albert Bichot is a large producer but went fairly unnoticed for many years, until 1996 when Alberic Bichot took the reigns of the family business and remade the family’s maison in an image of greatness. Changes to production methods and a greater focus on vineyard practices has Bichot producing some of the most exciting wines to come out of Burgundy in recent years. Albert Bichot is delivering both ethereal experiences in their Grand Crus, from some of the world’s most prized vineyards, and affordable bottlings under Chablis, Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin designations. The 2010 wines were a revelation for me, and among them were some of the best wines I’ve tasted in my life.
Burgundy is known for its Pinot Noir, but equally important to the region’s identity is the Chardonnay grown there. The truest form of Chardonnay comes from Burgundy where the fruit is showcased rather than hidden by oak. Whether it’s the crispness of the stainless-steel-fermented Chablis or the barrel-aged beauty of one the Grand Crus, Chardonnay from Burgundy displays varied expressions from bracing acidity to depth, roundness and minerality.
2010 CHABLIS GRAND CRU LES CLOS DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT
The use of new oak is nearly imperceptible on the wine’s aromatic profile but does appear in a rounded mouthfeel. This wine has aromas of beeswax and flower pollen, and a flavor profile that includes melon, pine nuts and hay. The oak fermentation has taken the edge off of the “tension” that Chablis is known for, but the acidity provides balance for a creamy mouth-filling wine that segues into a bracing acid-driven finish. $71
2010 CORTON-CHARLEMAGNE GRAND CRU DOMAINE DU PAVILLON
This wine expresses one the more legendary AOCs in the world in the 129-acre vineyard planted solely with Chardonnay. Legend has it that Charlemagne ordered all of the Pinot Noir vines pulled and replanted with the noble white varietal at his wife’s insistence, as Chardonnay did not stain his beard. If there is a white wine to make you believe in the magic of Burgundy and wine in general, this may be it. The white wines of Corton Charlemagne are best aged and can cellar as long as 20 years. The wine brings savory aromas and hints of coriander, honey and raw hazelnuts. The sensory experience continues with flavors of early-season nectarine, chalk and wet stone, alternating on the palate between a creamy roundedness, ample minerality and acidity. The intensity of flavors and complexity of texture make this wine an experience worth its lofty price tag. $158
Among the most expensive and sought after wines in the world are the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy. The new world Pinot Noir regions, including Oregon, New Zealand and California, can only aspire to the heights of Burgundy and its minerality, herbal and earthy aromatics and reputation. Pinot Noir takes on the complexity and character of the place it was grown more notably than any wine. The 2010 vintage was challenging to growers, as frost damaged some areas of Burgundy in the winter, and rain fell in August when ripening fruit would have really benefitted from dry and warm conditions. Yet, Burgundy largely pulled through, and if the 2010s from Bichot are any indicator, it’s an exciting vintage—not a classic like 2008, but the wines will likely have much more longevity than 2009.
2010 Vosne-Romanée Domaine du Clos Frantin
This is an exemplary elegant Pinot Noir, with aromatics of smoke, gunpowder and a hint of warmwood spices. Black currants, dried fig and dusty cherries mark the flavor profile of the wine. This medium-bodied Pinot Noir opens up a round richness and balance marked with the fine and signature acidity of Burgundy. $76
2010 ECHEZEAUX GRAND CRU DOMAINE DU CLOS FRANTIN
In a word, stunning. This Pinot Noir from one of Burgundy’s legendary vineyards unfolds an earthen goddess before us, boasting aromatics of forest floor, dusty berries and clove. The wine is lithe and feminine, not heavy handed in the flavors that present themselves. Black cherry and plum flavors lead to a finish of spices reminiscent of mace and cinnamon, leaving an impression of richness and depth of experience that can only come from a Burgundy Grand Cru. $192
THE NON-JAY-Z WINE OPTIONS
2010 CHABLIS PREMIER CRU LES VAILLONS DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT
The wines of Chablis are known for their “tension” or powerful acidity that nearly creates a buzz on the palate. Unique acidity and loads of peach skin and apricot notes bring a zestiness that come across even in the wine’s aromas. The Les Vaillons delivers the heights of acidity and minerality, with flavors of lemon zest, wet stones and lots of zing in the finish given the acidity. Fresh fruit and exuberance from Chablis. $36
2010 BEAUNE ROUGE, A BLEND FROM THE LARGER COTE DU BEAUNE AOC
The Beaune from Albert Bichot delivers a fantastic Burgundian Pinot Noir experience without the high price tag. Elegance and freshness come across through the classically Burgundian aromatics, floral hints mixed with earth. The wine delivers minerality and acidity to compliment fresh fruit flavors of berry, plum and dried cherries. An extended mineraldriven finish makes this a Burgundian bargain. $32