The twilight seems to stretch on forever in these latter evenings of summer.
They are best spent with family on a back porch, trading songs and instruments, sing-a-longs punctuated by the pop of a cork or the schlizt of a bottle cap.
There’s a beer in France called 1664 (for the year the brewery opened). They sell it in small bottles, maybe half, or at most two thirds, the size of a regular American beer bottle. In our youth, we’d buy des seizes (as we called them) in crates of 30 bottles. By midnight or so, they’d be gone.
More on that in a moment. But first… 4 ideas for your next wine tasting party.
What We Drank This Summer (Continued)
As our tastes changed, we switched to wine on those summer evenings, carrying over our glasses from dinner.
We typically drink reds, even in the dog days. Malbec when we have access to our cellar in Argentina and the US. Bordeaux when in Europe (Burgundian pinots we typically reserve for fall).
But this summer was hot in Europe. Ireland was briefly as hot as Florida. France was hotter still.
Seeking refuge from the heat, we had no choice but to switch to white.
But what to drink?
We had been impressed by the Iron Horse, a white in the cool weather Burgundian style, from our recent West Coast collection. However, our personal stock of that had long since been depleted and being in France we had no easy (or, rather, inexpensive) way to get more.
So we went for Burgundy itself.
Burgundy lies to the north of the Rhône Valley. Follow the Rhône River up out of the valley to around Lyon where it splits with the river Saône and veers west. Wish the Rhône adieu and follow the Saône northward and you hit Beaujolais along its banks. We think of Beaujolais as being its own thing. In terms of winemaking, that’s true. Nonetheless, it is technically the southernmost tip of Burgundy. As you trace the banks of the Saône northward, you pass some familiar sub-regions and terroirs – Mâcon, Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent (which Partnership members may remember for the Domaine Anita Coeur de Vigneronne in our French Collection from 2019).
About two thirds of the way north to Dijon, the Saône, too, veers westward, leaving two smaller rivers to continue the march north into the sub-region known as the Côte D’Or. Aptly named, the Côte D’Or is where we find Burgundy’s gold – the cool weather pinots and chardonnays that you see in bottles marked with Beaune, Nuits, Montrachet, and more.
Writer-importer Kermit Lynch wrote in the 70s:
“For the great growths of Burgundy one goes to the gentle slopes of the Côte d’Or, a long, thin strip of vineyard that cannot supply the world with enough of its inimitable, incomparable nectar.”
“Inimitable” and “incomparable” – indeed the Côte d’Or is often imitated (in California especially), but seldom matched. It’s not that wines from there are better, necessarily. Who could scientifically prove such a claim? They simply are themselves. That must be why extreme altitude malbec lovers like us enjoy that region so much. You cannot replicate the juice of the Calchaquí vine, growing in its little oasis, every budbreak a triumph against the fickle elements at 9,000 feet, anywhere else. Likewise, the essence of northern Burgundy – mysterious, fluky – dissipates once you leave its borders... like one of those deep sea creatures that cannot be brought to the surface alive.
The shorter of the Rhône’s two offshoots, the Meuzin, cuts through the Côte d’Or, wrapping around the lower half, the beloved Côte de Beaune.
Savigny-lès-Beaune (don’t ask why that accent is there, we haven’t the foggiest) and Puligny-Montrachet are names you may be familiar with from Côte de Beaune. The latter is home to four of Burgundy’s “Grand Cru” climats (its top 33 vineyards), including Le Montrachet, the only white wine climat belonging to (arguably) France’s most famous estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Savigny has only Premier Cru vineyards (the second best category), but producers like Louis Jadot are still highly prized.
For our part, we wouldn’t recommend leaving the Côte d’Or without sampling a wine from Saint-Romain. With no Grand or Premier Crus, and not even located on the Côte d’Or’s limestone cliffs, but in a valley nearby, Saint-Romain is not a name you’ll hear often mentioned.
But taste a bottle of white 2017 from Róisín Curley (total production: 900 bottles), and you’ll want to pry the label off the bottle so you remember. (But of course labels never come off as easily as we’d like.)
Ordinarily, we’d pause here to tell you more about the winemaker and her terroir. However, we have no information to share other than that she’s the tiniest of micro-producers (3,000 bottles total apparently) and she’s Irish. How that translates to the absolutely stunning white we tasted the other night (bottle number 246), we couldn’t say. The nose on that thing... it was like a summer’s night after a little rain – fresh, lively, damp and quiet all at once. We won’t question it. If you come across a bottle of white with the words Saint-Romain and Róisín (pronounced ROH-SHEEN) Curley on the bottle do yourself a favor – you probably won’t come across another one.
A revelation in the Côte de Beaune’s Saint-Romain appellation
Breaking away from the Rhône at about the same place as the Meuzin, the river Ouche describes a wider arc than the latter, reaching up farther north all the way to Dijon and looping down to envelop the northern half (and then some) of the Côte d’Or, a region known as the Côte de Nuits.
The Wines of Côte de Nuits
The romantic in us has always liked that name, which creates, dare we admit it, a rather shallow predisposition to the like the wines, too.
Turns out that there’s a lot in this particular name, though. Côte de Nuits is, after all, the home of Romanée-Conti’s famous pinot noir climats, located in the Vosne-Romanée appellation. A good chunk of Burgundy’s Grand Cru climats reside in the latter appellation; the only appellation with more is Gevrey-Chambertin, also in Côte de Nuits.
Côte de Nuits is known for pinot noir, period. Our guess is that most Burgundy fans would tell you they don’t make whites there at all.
They do, however. And why not? If the weather’s right for cool weather pinot, it should darn well be right for decent chardonnay. (Though when land is as expensive as we imagine any associated with Romanée-Conti must be, we’ll forgive the locals for focusing on reds, which almost always command a higher premium than whites.)
Aside from the ultra-expensive Romanée-Conti, a considerably less expensive, but excellent, producer is Ambroise. You’ve probably come across their wines in a fine wine shop. While they’re smaller batch and, as of recently, 100% handmade and organic, Ambroise wines aren’t terribly difficult to find. Along with a white Aligoté in the style of Chablis, they make a Côte de Nuits white that we’ve enjoyed on several occasions. These aren’t wispy or razor sharp whites, mind you. They carry that same depth that the pinot noirs from the region do.
Beyond the Côte de Nuits, there remains one last region of Burgundy, the famous Chablis.
Chablis looks like a place that should produce white wine – its chalky limestone soil, often chilled and wet, gives the impression of a frothy northern sea frozen mid storm. A cold place for a cold white wine. Chablis has an icier quality than the whites from Nuits or Beaune. The French describe it as tasting like flint and gunpowder. It is the antithesis of the overly buttery and oaky chardonnays that many Americans have sitting on their kitchen counters.
Like the rest of Burgundy, Chablis is a wine unique to its region. Ask for an alternative and you might get redirected to a Greek assyrtiko, a grüner veltliner, or the odd Aussie. Our suggestion would be not to try. You can enjoy those wines, and many others, on their own merits. But trying for a Chablis substitution isn’t worth the trouble (our official recommendation would be to simply pick up a white from Nuits or Beaune, or chance it with a Californian trying to pull off something in the ballpark).
We’ve enjoyed many Chablis this summer. Look for the names Brocard and Chanson. We can’t imagine you’ll go wrong with either. (Though if you do, drop a warning in our mailbox.)
Until next week,
The Wine Explorer