A Light, Complex Red Burgundy

2008 Nadine et Remi Marcillet Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Rouge
Burgundy – Cotes de Beaune, France

Pinot Noir from Burgundy

I often sit and stare at the Burgundy section in my store, praying for more customers who appreciate these wines to come in.  Selling Burgundy in the mountains of North Carolina requires a lot of patience and discipline, and I shall not give up!  Similarly, understanding and enjoying these wines requires the patience of a saint and an adventurous palate.  These are wines that are subtle, feminine, understated and complex, and in today’s wine world where bigger is often perceived as better, they often go unsold and unconsumed.  Thus, I feel the need to write about them in an attempt to change this unfortunate situation.

 To understand Burgundy, one first has to develop a general understanding of terroir, the compilation of the vineyard’s soil, slope, orientation, nuance of climate, etc……in layman’s terms, it is a wine’s sense of place.  This concept really comes into play in Burgundy, as the region’s soils and weather patterns are in no way homogeneous.  In fact, wines produced in the same village from the same grape can taste remarkably different, but for today let’s just settle on the notion that good Burgundy is not about the grape, but about the place.  The next thing to understand is that Burgundy is the coolest and most northern region famous for growing red grapes, and Pinot Noir achieves its greatest elegance when grown here. 

Husband and wife Nadine and Remi Marcillet set up their domaine over 20 years ago in the village of Fussey in central Burgundy, and their wines are imported by Savio Soares.  They own small parcels of vineyards in the both the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune and Hautes-Cotes de Nuits, as well as some prime vineyard space in Savigny-les Beaune. Their methods are very traditional including strict adherence to organic farming, hand harvesting, use of native yeasts and long, slow and cool fermentations.  This particular wine comes from the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, and the vineyards are in the hills just west of the village of Savigny-les Beaune.  Vines average 25 to 30 years of age, and the soil here is a mix of clay and limestone.  I recently enjoyed a bottle of this with a simple herb roasted chicken and roasted root vegetables, and I found the pairing to be just about perfect.

The wine was a pale, ruby color and the nose was pretty simple at first.  There was lots of cherry, a bit of earth and some leafy aromas coming out of the glass, and the palate was dominated by tangy cherry and cranberry notes.  If that’s all she had to offer, I would have been disappointed, but remember I said that these wines require patience so I poured another glass and let it sit while the chicken finished cooking.  After about 30 minutes and as my chicken was resting, I went back in for another sniff and taste, and the wine had magically transformed into something much more engaging and complex.  The red fruits were now more intense and perfumed, and now there was an almost black tea-like note to the nose with complex spices in the background.  I sipped the wine, and although light in texture, this was intense in flavor with tangy Bing cherry, redcurrant, Earl Grey tea and brown spice notes.  I was happy and madeeven happier once I served the meal and enjoyed another taste of the wine with the roasted chicken and root vegetables.  The brightness of the wine didn’t overwhelm the mellow flavors of the chicken, and the earthy, spicy notes worked wonderfully well with the sweet potatoes and squash.  It was a simple, yet delicious meal made magnificent by a humble, yet great bottle of wine. 

Bigger isn’t always better folks!  I love a thick, cowboy cut ribeye, but I also love a piece of fresh fish simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, and I would guess that many of you are the same.  Yet, when it comes to wine, why do so many associate lightness with weakness?  Like music, wine doesn’t have to be loud to be good.  I love Led Zeppelin, much like I sometimes enjoy a big, in-your-face bottle of Zinfandel, Shiraz or Malbec; however, as I get older, I find myself listening to more jazz and classical music…….accompanied by a glass of Red Burgundy.  Turn down the music, pour a glass of Burgundy, be patient and enjoy. 

Why Can’t All Burgundy Be Like This

2004 Catherine et Dominique Derain Mercurey
“La Plante Chassey”
 I should begin this piece by stating that I am a wine retailer in Asheville, North Carolina and yes, I do stock this wine.  I am also a wine lover, and this blog is about sharing my love of wine and food.  Part of the piece is objective with information on the producer, where their vineyards are, age of vines, etc. and part is subjective with notes on what I smell and taste in the wine and why I think it is so good.  Take it for what it’s worth, but at the end of the day, I love writing and I especially love writing about good wine and food.
Dominique Derain
Dominique Derain is a former barrel maker who caught the winemaking bug back in the early 1980’s.  He began studying winemaking in Beaune in the mid 1980’s and there he met his wife Catherine.  After graduating, the couple purchased 5.5 hectares of vines in St. Aubin and began making wine, releasing their first wine in 1989.  Slowly, the two have added additional holdings including a small plot of vines in the village of Mercurey, in the Cote Chalonnaise just south of Rully.  The La Plante Chassey parcel is about 2 acres of 45 to 80 year old Pinot Noir, with a tiny amount of the ancient Burgundian varietal Pinot Beurrot, and the Derains currently make about 300 cases a year from it.
Pinot Noir just before harvest in Mercurey
Mercurey is often regarded as one of the top spots to find value in Red Burgundy, but quality is all over the map.  The Derains meet all of my standards – certified biodynamic, very low yields, hand harvesting and sorting, native/indigenous yeast fermentations, no filtering and very low levels of sulfur.  It is a true vin naturel, but there is nothing unhygienic or funky about this wine in the least.  I first enjoyed it with my wine drinking buddy John over a meal at The Admiral pretty soon after Table Wine opened.  The wine was absolutely stunning right out of the bottle and we actually shared some with the folks at the table next to us, who promptly asked what the hell it was and where they could get it.  At the time, I didn’t have room for the wine, and I pretty much forgot about until John re-presented it to me recently in the store.  Let’s just say it’s gotten even better.
Hail and oidium were a major problem for producers in 2004, but meticulous sorting and quality control amongst better producers resulted in some stunning, concentrated and structured wines, and this is one of them.  The wine is great right out of the bottle, but trust me, it changes and develops into something even better with about an hour of air.  It is one of those Red Burgundies that beguiles the senses and is somewhat beyond description.  There is a silky nature to this wine giving it a supple mouth feel and a detailed range of raspberry and cherry fruit with a touch of pomegranate. It has lovely spice notes and touch of lavender on the nose.
The importer for the wine is Jenny and Francois Selections, one of the foremost, progressive importers of natural wines from around the world.  Their wines are mainstays on restaurant wine lists throughout New York, where the company is based, and I think that their approach to selecting wines and producers is one that many Ashevilleans will find attractive.  I have a small amount of the wine available for purchase (remember, only 300 cases were made), and I think it would make a great accompaniment to a simple roasted pork loin or a seared duck breast.

Geeking Out On Marcillac

The Wines of Philippe Teulier – Domaine du Cros Marcillacs

bottle of Marcillac Fer Servadou

Wine adventurers, please take note, as these wines are unlike anything you’ve ever tried.  Marcillac is located in the western part of Auvergne, nestled in the mountain range known as the Massif Central.  Like many of France’s vineyards, those of Marcillac were planted by monks beginning in the 10th century.  Centuries later, it was the bourgeoisie from the nearby city of Rodez who took interest in and expanded the vineyards.  Unfortunately, the region experienced the devastation of phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and the economic problems of the early 20th century led to the great abandonment of the vineyards and an overall depopulation of the region.  Many moved to Paris to find work in restaurants and over time they opened their own bistros and began to bring the wines of Marcillac to the big city. 

Enter into the equation Domaine du Cros, owned and operated by Philippe Teulier, and now considered one of the top estates in the region.  Du Cros was part of the rebuilding and resurgence of Marcillac, and they own some of the oldest vines in the region.  Oh yeah, the vines, the grape…….what the hell is Marcillac?  Well, Marcillac is obviously the region and Fer Servadou is the grape.  Confused?  I understand, but stay with me here guys.  Fer Servadou is a relatively prolific grape throughout Southwestern France that wine expert Jancis Robinson describes as “full-bodied with dark ruby colors and concentrated fruit flavors of rhubarb, cassis and smoky herbs.”  The name Fer is French for iron and refers to the very hard and “iron like” wood of the vine’s above ground canopy.  It also just so happens that there is a lot of iron in the soil in Marcillac.  On to the wines, as Domaine du Cros makes two.

Fer Servadou
Domaine du Cros Marcillac
The estate’s “regular” wine………trust me, there’s nothing regular about this wine at all………….is simply labelled Marcillac.  The wine does possess one of the most beautiful, old school labels I’ve ever seen, but trust me folks, this is wild, unconventional wine at its finest.  Teulier farms organically, ferments with indigenous yeasts and bottles without filtering.  The nose is dominated by roasted herbs, iron minerality, pepper, meat juices and subtle red fruits.  It reminds me a bit of a Loire Valley Cab Franc or even a Mencia with its lively character.  I think it would be good with grilled meats, stews or braises, but I actually love drinking it just by itself.
old vine fer servadou
Du Cros Marcillac Vieilles Vignes consumed my McDuff
Philippe also makes a small amount of wine from his oldest parcel of vines that were planted back in the early 1930’s.  The wine is fermented in a combination of old oak barrels and chestnut, and it has a track record for aging very gracefully.  As great blogger David McDuff said, a 2002 vintage bottle of this exact wine that he consumed last August “reminded me, in beautiful terms, of why I go to the trouble of cellaring wine.”  In its youth, this wine is a bit raw and edgy to put it politely, with lots of peppery, minerally, bloody (from the iron soils) and herbal notes, but at about year 5, more of the fruit comes to the surface.  I personally haven’t had the opportunity to taste this wine with any age on it, but I’ll take Mr. McDuff’s word for it.  “Still vibrant in color, its aromas have developed, since its more prickly, peppery youth, to something that is more closely evocative of an old school Médoc wine with some bottle age under its belt.  There’s something about this old Marcillac, though, that’s much more enjoyable – and joyous – to drink than equally old Bordeaux. Maybe it’s that component of blood and iron, expressions of both terroir and the aptly named Fer Servadou so inimitable to good Marcillac. While there’s great bottle development here, there’s also plenty of fruit – blackberry and cassis, in particular – and a vitality of structure that suggests the wine could easily go another couple of years without losing stride.”  Thanks David for providing the excellent commentary.
When all is said and done, there are so many great wines available on the market today.  Some are definitley more fruit driven than those of Monsieur Teulier, but few possess the soul and character of these two.  I would be remiss to not thank Mr. Ed Addiss of Wine Traditions, a Virginia based importer who loves to “fly his freak flag” when it comes to selecting the wines for his portfolio.  Thank God there are brave souls like him supporting small family estates like this one who, much like Slow Foods proponents, strive to preserve the regional identity of their artisan agricultural products. 

Natural Chardonnay Insanity

2008 Domaine D’Octavin Chardonnay “Pamina”
Jura, France

I must admit that I’m not a huge Chardonnay fan, with a few exceptions including good White Burgundy and higher end California Chardonnay from the likes of Kistler and a few others.  This wine, however, nearly dropped me to my knees when I tasted it with the boys from Sour Grapes, an Asheville based distributor of wines from small family estates.  I had to do some more research and here’s what I found.

Winemakers Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand create their biodynamic wines in the Arbois vineyards, a tiny plot in the super interesting French region of Jura. The region is famous for the vin jaune, a sherry-like concoction made with Savagnin grapes matured in barrels for several years under a naturally occurring film of yeast, during which time it develops rich, nutty flavors and the deep yellow color.  The Pamina is not a vin jaune, but instead is made and fermented traditionally.

The first thing to understand about the wine is that it is completely natural, meaning that all farming is done without the use of any chemical pesticides, fungicides or other poisons.  Equally important though, the wine is made without the addition of any flavor, color, aromatic or textural enhancers……….it’s basically good grapes and natural yeast bottled with minute amounts of sulfites.  It should definitely be consumed close to room temperature, because that’s where things get super interesting.  The nose of this wine reminds me so much of Corton-Charlemagne with a melange of liquid mineral, butterscotch, hazelnut and leesy richness.  It almost smells like it could be sweet or late harvest, but when it hits the palate, it’s amazingly fresh and precise with a 45+ second finish.  In a nutshell, if you love White Burgundy, but don’t love spending oodles of money, this is the wine for you.

Great Organic Champagne

Great Champagnes For Toasting 2011


Here are my top picks for sparkling wines and Champagnes for toasting this New Year’s Eve.  100% “Grower Champagnes”, meaning these folks own their vineyards and monitor quality from vine to bottle.  Yeah, you could easily run down to your big box store and snag a bottle of one of the big name brands made with grapes purchased from one of these growers, but why not just cut to the chase and drink something different, unique and delicious straight from the source?  Take a look.

R. Dumont et Fils Champagne “Brut Tradition”
Honest, delicious and round Champagne from two brothers farming 22 hectares in Aube.  80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, this is round with a soft mousse and flavors and aromas of roasted nut, bright citrus and floral nuances.
José Michel Champagne Brut “Pinot Meunier”
José Michel is known as the “Guru of Pinot Meunier”.  This grape is regarded by the larger Champagne houses as nothing more than a blending grape that contributes fruity characteristics.  However, one of the larger houses I’m especially fond of, Krug, uses a high proportion of the grape in many of their wines.  José discovered long ago that if planted in the right spots with lower yields, this grape was capable of making world class Champagne.  His wines now enjoy a cult following, and this one is highly perfumed and exotic with a fine mousse and aromas and flavors of spiced apple, delicate red berries and mineral.
Voirin-Jumel Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru

This wine took my breath away when I tasted it in November.  100% Chardonnay from Cramant, one of the best spots in Champagne for Chardonnay………and Grand Cru for less than $50.  This is pretty big and rich with a wonderful balance between toasty/leesy/minerality and focused acidity. 
2002 José Michel Champagne Brut “Special Club”

No, you don’t have to be in a special club to drink this, but José Michel is a member of the Club de Viticulteurs, a group of independent Champagne producers who have come together to promote the high quality of their work.  The group chose José’s Vintage 2002 Brut as one of their representatives to the world of what true grower Champagne is all about.  It’s a blend of 50/50 Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from a vineyard first planted in 1929.  The wine is fermented entirely in oak and then moved to bottle and disgorged according to demand.  It would make a wonderful bottle for this New Year’s Eve or for one 10-20 years down the road.

Jacques Lassaigne Blanc de Blancs “Le Cotet”

Mark my words, Jacques Lassaigne will be the next highly sought after, cult Champagne producer.  This is his single vineyard, old vine Chardonnay based Champagne, and it is truly something special.  Unlike the bigger producers who look at the making of their wines as an industrial process (machine harvesting, quick fermentations, lots of manipulation), this is an entirely organic and natural wine, bottled without the addition of any sulfur.  Grapes are harvested super-ripe, kind of like Jacques Selosse, and the wine undergoes full malolactic before being placed in new and used oak barrels to “rest” for two years.  The wine is then held in bottle for another 1 to 5 years before disgorgement.  In a nutshell, this is the real deal folks, the ultimate “insider” Champagne that I would happily put in a blind tasting against any of the “Tete de Cuvees” from the larger houses.  Oh yeah, it costs about half the price of any of these!

There are many others that I could write about, but these are my personal favorites.  May your New Year’s Eve be fun, festive and safe and I hope you take my advice to try something different this year.  You won’t regret it!  Pre-Cheers to 2011……..it’s gonna’ be a great year!