Inside Burgundy: a minefield of riches

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Jasper Morris MW stands against a natural backdrop in Burgundy
Photo credit: Jason Lowe

Marking the release of the second edition of Inside Burgundy, we caught up with Jasper Morris MW to uncover how much Burgundy has changed during his working life. 

Since its first publication in 2010, Inside Burgundy has been considered a landmark book on the wines of Burgundy. For author Jasper Morris MW, it grew out of a passion which was sparked almost four decades ago, in the early years of his wine career.   

“My interest in Burgundy goes back to the early 1980s, when I was an importer of French wines and started my own company, Morris & Verdin,” he recounts. The company was bought by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 2003, becoming Fields, Morris & Verdin (FMV).  

“Originally, we imported wines from throughout France, and I had no particular feeling for one region more than another. But even within the first year, I found Burgundy to be the special place.”  

Right place, right time 

A huge influence, Jasper says, was meeting the late Becky Wasserman, an American wine broker who had been based in Burgundy since 1968, until her death in August 2021. “I dedicated the book to her,” he tells me, a month before the news of her passing. “She’s an extraordinary person who has done so much – whether it’s for importers, producers or critics – to get everybody to understand what Burgundy is about.”  

“When I started out, I could find good wines in every other region. Bordeaux was already very well covered by companies such as Berry Bros. & Rudd, but Burgundy wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.”  

It was fortuitous timing. “It coincided with the start of the movement towards domaine-bottled Burgundy,” Jasper explains. “It was a period when more and more individual domaines started looking to sell in international markets, so I happened to be in the right place at the right time.” 

The golden age of Burgundy  

The Burgundy of the early ’80s was a very different place to the Burgundy of today. “It was a place of great potential, but one that nobody was very excited by,” he reflects ruefully.  

“‘Minefield’ was the cliché word that was constantly being used for Burgundy. It was erratic in the sense that you didn’t know what you were getting: you couldn’t just buy a bottle with the name of a famous vineyard or good producer and feel confident you were getting a decent wine.”  

Throughout the decade, winemakers began to strive for higher quality wines, although it took some time to make changes to the vineyards and long-held techniques. But by the time the ’90s came around, it seemed Burgundy had risen.  

“It was a very good decade for Burgundy,” he says. “Of course, the early days of global warming were beneficial for Burgundy because it meant that grapes were able to ripen more frequently. But now, we’ve had more extreme weather conditions, like everywhere else in the world, which has become problematic for the producers.” 

Jasper estimates the “golden age of Burgundy” as roughly the 30-year period between 1985 – “a lovely vintage” – and 2015.  

“It wasn’t really until the early years of this century that the world market cottoned on, and it suddenly became very easy to sell Burgundy. Then it became too easy to sell Burgundy. Prices have gone up in the secondary market because everybody wants to have it.”  

A constant evolution  

The second edition of Inside Burgundy takes a closer look at the region’s less-expensive appellations, given that prices for the most famous names have “really shot off the scale”.  

“With global warming, the side villages have probably started to make better wine anyway,” he concedes. “There’ll be more information on villages like St Romain and Auxey-Duresses in the Côte de Beaune, and the whole area of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.  

“The Mâconnais is a very exciting area,” he continues. “It’s always frustrated me that a restaurant might have 15 different examples of Chablis, but just one Pouilly-Fuissé. There are lots of different characters in the villages that make up Mâcon Villages – a lot of innovative people down there doing interesting things.” 

The area around Chablis – referred to as the Grand Auxerrois, outside the city of Auxerre – is another key area of interest. “You get a lot of interesting red, white and rosé wines here that are making more sense than previously.”   

Jasper cites the arrival of a younger and more dynamic generation of winemakers as the driver behind these changes. 

“Back in the day, everybody spoke of a new young generation: my friends and people my age who were born in the late ’50s,” he reflects. “But since then, there was no real feeling of an overall change until the people born at the end of the ’80s started coming up.  

“Suddenly, there’s a feeling of a new vision again. You get people trying to do adventurous things in viticulture. That drive has continued with the people who followed 10 years after that crowd.  

“It’s really exciting to see what they’re doing – the optimism and commitment to hard work,” he enthuses. “I was almost expecting that people might be complacent, assuming that the wine is going to be good simply because it’s Burgundy. But I still see that drive and energy to make things better and better.” 

Burgundy’s human side  

What fascinates Jasper most about Burgundy, I ask?  

“It’s the human side – the fact that everyone is sort of related to one another,” he chuckles, “some villages more than others. You’ve got a handful of different family names, which are sometimes grouped together as double-barrelled names.  

“If a boy marries a girl, and the girl has good vineyards, they tend to continue with both names. It does, to some extent, influence the style of wine made – you get to know which families have influenced a particular producer. For the first edition, we did think of subtitling it “The sex life of Burgundy”, but wiser heads prevailed,” he says with a wry smile.  

Beneath the complex family politics of Burgundy, is there a strong sense of community that unites the region’s winemakers?  

“Actually, that’s something that has changed over the years I’ve been here,” he acknowledges. “These days, people are working together, rather than being rivals. They spend more time in each other’s cellars, tasting together and thinking about it together – but happily, they don’t then go off and make the same kind of wine. Burgundy is too naturally independent for that.”  

The second edition of Inside Burgundy will be released on 15th September in our stores and online. Register your interest here.

Category: Burgundy Wine

The pleasure of oaked Chardonnay

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A line-up of oaked Chardonnays: Kumeu River, our Own Selection White Burgundy and Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills.

Sebastian Balcombe from our Fine Wine Buying team explains why oaked Chardonnay is often overlooked – and why it deserves our full attention.

Strawberries and cream, buttered crumpets, brioche buns: here in the UK (much to dentist’s despair) we have a love affair with indulgent foods – and why not?

But were you to suggest drinking a wine that is equally as indulgent as some of the foods listed above – an oaked Chardonnay for instance – you risk becoming a social pariah. Such an unpopular opinion is it, that you may as well have requested pineapple on your pizza or admitted to using tomato ketchup as a pasta sauce. 

Why, though, do we revile oaked Chardonnay? After all, the exceptionally versatile Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape variety on the planet. If you have ever enjoyed a glass of Champagne, a crisp Chablis or a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet, then it might be that Chardonnay is exactly what your taste buds want. 

The pursuit of hedonism

More often than not, we spurn richness in our wines and instead favour pure, linear and lean wines that highlight the terroir of the vineyard. While these make for exceptional wines, what I crave is pure unadulterated hedonism in my glass: I want my taste buds to be overwhelmed with buttery complexity, overcome by ripe tropical fruits, enveloped by cream. It’s not all overindulgence though: a well-made wine will be balanced; there will be acidity that leaves your mouth watering, with fresh flavours of jasmine and honeysuckle to cut through the lushness. 

Today, our palates may crave terroir-driven wines with freshness and salinity – but historically, oaked Chardonnays were in pole position as some of the most sought-after wines for any oenophile’s cellar. The pinnacle of this style is traditionally found in Burgundy, specifically the wines of Meursault and Montrachet. However, these wines aren’t budget-friendly – you could easily spend a small fortune on a bottle of Burgundy. In the 1980s and ’90s, as New World wines became increasingly popular in the UK, winemakers from these countries (notably Australia) realised that they could replicate this Burgundian richness in their own wines and offer it to savvy drinkers for a fraction of the price.

Instead of using new French oak barrels – which are expensive and need replacing every few years – winemakers sought creative alternatives. They would soak oak staves and scatter oak chips in the wine to mimic the effects of oak barrel ageing. 

To an extent, it worked: it seemed like we couldn’t get enough of these wines. But wine made this way can lack finesse, at risk of being clumsy and flabby – which is hardly a glowing endorsement for something you want to drink. Eventually, enough was enough: the wines had become overly oaked and overwhelming on the palate. As a nation, we broke up with this style of Chardonnay and jumped into a serious relationship with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 

That’s not to say that this style, when done properly, is not worth considering; hopefully, by this point, you’re thirsting for a delectable glass of buttery Chardonnay. 

Three bottles to try

2020 Own Selection White Burgundy

If you’re intrigued by this style, our very own White Burgundy is an excellent wine to test the waters with. It’s softly enticing on the palate, with ripe stone-fruits and toasted hazelnuts, but has a nervy minerality that adds freshness and lightness. It’s increasingly tricky to find good-value white Burgundy full stop, let alone with substance, but this ticks the box.

Buy now

2018 Kumeu River, Ray’s Road Chardonnay

A step up from this would be the 2018 Ray’s Road from Chardonnay icons Kumeu River – arguably the greatest producers of Chardonnay in the Southern Hemisphere. This is properly made Chardonnay with aromas of golden apples, biscotti and lemon peel. It has an excellent weight, with an utterly moreish finish: before you know it, it has you asking for a second glass. 

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2017 Brewer-Clifton, Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay

For a lesson in indulgence, it would be remiss of us not to try an American wine. The 2017 Brewer Clifton Sta Rita Hills has it all. If you want hedonistic pleasure from your wine, this is the bottle you should take home. It’s generous on the palate, with lashings of sun-soaked tropical fruit, a delicate nuttiness and wafts of baked brioche. All these flavours come through on the palate, but there is plenty of refreshing acidity which keeps you grounded as your taste buds are delighted.

Buy now

Category: Burgundy Wine,California

La Place de Bordeaux (and beyond)

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The négociants of Bordeaux have got selling wine globally down to a fine art. So it’s little wonder that so many prestigious wines from outside Bordeaux are now sold this way. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the upcoming September release of top wines from California, Tuscany, Chile and beyond.

“La Place de Bordeaux is the best distribution system in the world,” says Max Lalondrelle, our Bordeaux Buyer. “Not just for wine, but for pretty much anything. Where else can a producer release their product at 10am and sell their entire production to their customers around the world in just a few hours?” 

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that La Place de Bordeaux has caught the attention of fine-wine producers from outside the region, too. The En Primeur campaign in spring remains the key event in the Bordelais calendar. But the release every September of a growing number of icon wines from around the world is attracting more and more attention.

Beyond Bordeaux

Almaviva, the joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Chile’s Concha y Toro, was the first to join, in 1996. Since then, more and more of the world’s most illustrious fine wines – Opus One, Masseto and Vin de Constance, among others – have followed suit.

One of the most in-demand wines comes from the Rhône Valley. The Perrin family portfolio includes Château de Beaucastel in Châteaneuf-du-Pape; that estate’s icon wine, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, is sold exclusively through La Place in September.

“Our volumes are very, very limited,” explains Andrew Bayley of Famille Perrin UK. “So, by using this route to market, we can reach a wider audience and, in theory, guarantee a broader, more equal spread of customers. September, following the end of the Bordeaux campaign and a summer break, is the most obvious window in which to offer ‘other’ wines.”

Some prominent names come from closer to home. A small number of Bordeaux châteaux also offer library releases this way.

La Place de Bordeaux  

La Place is not a physical “place” at all. It’s a complex network involving hundreds – arguably thousands, depending on your definition – of companies, in Bordeaux and internationally.  

In Bordeaux, there are the châteaux, who make the wine. Then there are the courtiers (wine brokers), who liaise between the châteaux and the next layer in the chain, the négociants (wine merchants). The négociants buy from the châteaux, paying the courtiers a two percent commission for their troubles. They then sell the wine to their customers around the world: wine importers, distributors, hotel groups, airlines, supermarkets and more. 

“The system is tried and tested,” says Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Director. “Look at it the same way that you buy your Bordeaux classified growths. It’s buying your Opus One the same way you buy your Lynch-Bages and your Super Seconds. If this is a wine you want in your cellar, this is the time to buy it.” 

These wines are highly sought after on the secondary market. Buying them in a year, or a decade, may only be possible through auction or similar means. “With La Place, you get access to some of the world’s most sought-after wines at their release price,” says Sebastian Balcombe from our Wine Buying team. “You can rest assured that provenance is guaranteed, as it has the blessing of the winery.”

Ones to watch 

There are now more than 50 international wines released through La Place each September. We asked our own Barbara Drew MW which names to look out for. 

Dalla Valle Vineyards, Maya, Napa Valley, California, USA

“I have always had a soft spot for anything with a hefty dose of Cabernet Franc, and this wine shows off this gorgeous grape to its best. A beautiful harmony played alongside Cabernet Sauvignon’s sonorous chords, the Cabernet Franc gives a lushness here, and a delicacy and grace too. It’s simply delicious.”

Masseto, Tuscany, Italy

“Despite its power, depth and complexity, Masseto also balances elegance and subtlety. And I am always reminded of violets and irises whenever I taste it. This is often mentioned in the same breath as the greats of Pomerol, which is absolutely a fair comparison.”

Almaviva, Maipo Valley, Chile 

“As you head out of Santiago the land starts to rise, gently at first, and then dramatically, until you are swiftly in a barren landscape – more likely to encounter vicuna than vineyards. This is where the grapes for Almaviva come from. The cool winds whistling down from 6,000 metres up in the Andes help to keep alcohols in check and the acidity fresh and bright.” 

Bodega Catena Zapata, Nicolás, Mendoza, Argentina 

“With a stunning setting in the vineyards of Mendoza, Bodega Catena Zapata sets the bar in Argentina for fine wines. The overriding memory of my visit here, apart from the gorgeous wines, was how bright it was. Even wearing sunglasses, my eyes were watering from the intensity of the sunlight, and it wasn’t mid-morning. The effect on the vines is noticeable, with a ripeness of tannins, and an intensity and purity of flavour that is breath-taking.”

We will be offering a selection of these wines as they are released. Browse all new releases here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,California,New World,Old World

In conversation with Château Tronquoy-Lalande

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The view from the vineyard of Château Tronquoy-Lalande, who make our Own Selection St Estèphe for us.
Photo credit: Château Tronquoy-Lalande

Ch. Tronquoy-Lalande have made our new Own Selection St Estèphe for us. We speak to Lorraine Watrin, the château’s Sales Director, about the estate’s terroir and philosophy.  

Located in the heart of the St Estèphe appellation, Château Tronquoy-Lalande traces its history back to 1745, making it one of the oldest properties in the region. Since 2006, the château has been in the hands of Martin and Olivier Bouygues of nearby Château Montrose, regarded as the first growth of St Estèphe. 

Marking the release of our new Own Selection St Estèphe, we caught up with Lorraine Watrin to talk terroir, sustainability and the growing reputation of the St Estèphe appellation.  

Can you tell us about the terroir at Château Tronquoy-Lalande? 

The property is 30 hectares, and it’s situated on a little hill near the village of St Estèphe. The terroir here is very specific because it’s a mix of gravel and clay. Although the Médoc is quite flat, Tronquoy-Lalande sits atop a little hill at 23 metres’ altitude, which is great for drainage and gives us good ventilation.  

Because of the soil, we’re able to plant different grape varieties. Here, we plant 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. This combination produces a very pleasant wine – very gourmand – due to the high proportion of Merlot, something quite unique to us in the Médoc.  

How important is sustainability to you?  

This year, we’ve signed up for organic certification. We started taking steps in this direction in 2006. In 2015, we began to implement an organic approach in some plots – we didn’t do the whole vineyard at the same time. For us, it was important to take things step by step. Since 2015, we’ve increased the scope every year. But organic viticulture is only one side of our sustainability programme.  

Another aspect that’s very important to us is biodiversity in the vineyard. We’re actively planting trees around the vineyard to attract bees and insects. There’s a little forest in the middle of the vineyard, where we’ve put up birdhouses. It all helps create more biodiversity.  

The difference now, compared to a few years ago, is that we’re communicating more about sustainability. We’ve been totally organic since 2019, but we’ve only just signed up for the certification this year.  

How has St Estèphe changed since you’ve been working there?  

I think the reputation of the region is getting better – more modern, perhaps. St Estèphe isn’t the most well-known appellation of the Médoc; there are fewer classified growths here than in Pauillac, for example, but there’s a lot of goodwill and plenty of discussions happening between the châteaux.  

Previously, St Estèphe had a reputation for full-bodied wines with too much tannin, and you had to wait too long before it was ready for drinking. But I think that’s changed: now, we go for finer vinification and finer selection. It’s not only us, but all the vignerons in the appellation.  

How would you enjoy this wine? Are there any food pairings you recommend?  

It’s excellent as an apéritif, and pairs very well with good red meats. It would also go well with some chicken. The key here is not to pair it with dishes that are too powerful, as this is quite a light and fruit-forward wine. It’s a great sharing wine, one you can just open and enjoy with friends. 

You can buy our Own Selection St Estèphe here. 

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Own Selection wine