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Touring And Tasting The South Of France

This is part one in a two-part series.

I have just returned from my annual January trip to France to visit some of my favorite producers. I began in Burgundy and traveled south through the Beaujolais and the Northern Rhone. I know it sounds like fun, and it was, but it also was work, making sure I paid close attention to the quality of the wines.

If there was a common thread throughout Burgundy, more specifically the Cote d’Or for the 2012 vintage, it was the lack of fruit. The reductions in yield were a result of inclement weather during the flowering period, as well as hail in some areas. All of the vinegrowers commented how this was a “difficult year.” In fact, Jean-Marc Roulot of Domaine Roulot, who made his 24th vintage in 2012, said this was his “most difficult year.” The growing year was peppered with rain and hail, causing mildew problems – again reducing the amount of healthy fruit.

The ultimate result was a very small crop (down 40-60 percent, in many cases) and a lack of homogeneity of quality across the domains.

The Hill of Corton, home to the Grand Crus of Corton and Charlemagne, from the village of Aloxe Corton Photo from Roberto Viernes

The Hill of Corton, home to the Grand Crus of Corton and Charlemagne, from the village of Aloxe Corton Photo from Roberto Viernes

The positive side of the low yields is that, if a producer was conscientious of the ripeness of the grapes, those they harvested had very good concentration. Thankfully, June, July and August were sunny and warm, but September brought a bit more rain. Harvest date, as always, was crucial to the quality of the wines.

The white wines of the Cote de Beaune at their best are quite juicy with ample ripeness. Interestingly, I cannot say the same about the freshness or acidity in general. The whites remind me a bit of the 2007 vintage, which was quite different in growing cycle and weather, but the 2012s are ripe, fun and delicious right out of the gate.

The reds of the Cote de Beaune actually are quite impressive. At their best, they have plenty going for them: very good ripeness, balance of acidity and great extract. Many wines benefited from the low yields. They have a nice freshness, which bodes well for age-ability. Although some villages, such as Gevrey and Nuits, were hail-struck during the vintage, I did not find that marking any of the wines I tasted.

As always, cream rises to the top, and here are some of my top picks:

Domaine Antoine Jobard and Domaine Roulot were both really on top of their game – they had to be in 2012. Jobard’s lineup of Premier Crus was beautifully expressive and deli cious. Follin-Arbelet’s Corton-Charlemagne was regal and gorgeous. Roulot’s Meursault Perrieres was perhaps the best white wine I tasted from barrel. In the Cote de Nuits, Domaine Lucien Boillot’s wines were outstanding. The entire stable was full of solid fruit, great structure and expression. His 2012 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cherbaudes was the best I can remember. Domaine Chevillon’s Nuits St Georges 1er Crus were in an impressive lineup, with Les Vaucrains being a true stunner.

I should mention here that I would recommend looking at many of the village wines and Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge from the top vintners in the Cote d’Or, because the yields were so small many producers declassified their wines into lesser Bourgogne Blanc/Rouge or Village appellation wine. Great examples of this would be Bruno Colin’s 2012 Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay, Domaine Lucien Boillot’s 2012 Pommard (actually declassified 1er Cru Les Combes) and Domaine Gachot-Monot’s Bourgogne Rouge “Chante de Muse” (actually declassified Chambolle-Musigny). These are some of the best values for the vintage.

As an aside, this was the warmest January I can remember (relatively speaking). Last year there was snow and frost in Burgundy. This year there was some rain, but it was nowhere near as cold. In fact, it felt a bit more like spring than winter.

Check back next week for my sneak peek at Beaujolais and the Northern Rhone Valley.