When we picked up our hire car in Paris Orly, it had Italian number plates. Was this a sign? Was 2014 Burgundy to be temperamental, or would it ooze with charm? There was only one way to find out.
We started in Chablis early on Monday with Vincent Dampt, who related that despite a “really awful” summer, the first fortnight of September effectively saved the 2014 harvest. Vincent’s 2014s are highly classical, compared to the more exotic 2013s.
We hotfooted it down the Autoroute du Soleil to Gevrey-Chambertin and Domaine des Varoilles. The affable Gilbert Hammel spoke rather wearily of their fifth successive year of low yields. Their 1er Cru Monopole Clos des Varoilles was the pick for me.
Domaine Trapet has a magic in the air, inspired by Jean-Louis Trapet himself, messianic biodynamicist and Caterham 7 owner. Latricières and Le Chambertin in particular just soared out of their reductive noses, all crushed parma violets and filigree tannins.
Tuesday morning saw us down south in Meursault, bleary eyed in the mist at Domaine Matrot, where Thierry Matrot related yet another big hailstorm. You can feel the battle for ripeness in Thierry’s 2014 reds, whilst the whites have lovely racy acidity. Thierry likened the vintage to 2001 and 2004, although with higher ripeness levels than the latter.
Still in Meursault, now basked in brilliant autumn sunshine, and to Domaine Javillier. This domaine tends to pick early, giving a crunchiness and vitality to the wines which although it may not work for all seems very much in tune with the Javillier vines. Les Tillets was “lemon tart in a glass” (a very good thing), Tête de Murger showing an impressive density of primary fruit (a “battleship”).
Domaine Jacques Prieur, the latest addition to the C&B portfolio, is hugely impressive, both in the breadth of holdings and the ambitions of owner Edouard Labruyère and winemaker Nadine Gublin. There is an exuberant tropicality to the whites which can appear quite full-on, but settles after an initial period in bottle, revealing tension and minerality. The reds are corporeal and more succulent than austere. But just when you think you have got the measure of the house style, a frisson of electric charge such as on the 2014 Musigny makes the hairs stand up on your neck.
They nearly didn’t let us into Château de la Tour due to our Italian licence plate, but once we had established our credentials we were met by the charming François Labet. The Clos de Vougeots were the most approachable I have tasted, with beautifully lush red fruit. We also tasted François’ own wines, Domaine Pierre Labet. François’ trademark whole bunch fermentation has suited well the 2014 ripeness and body, adding to the reds a nice sappy tension. Never a man to mince his words, François declared 2014 “definitely a more Côte de Nuits vintage than Côte de Beaune”.
I love the ephemeral nature of Volnay’s wines and that this is a hallowed enclave of Pinot Noir in Chardonnay country. The last few years have seen wave after wave of hail. Domaine Lafarge lost 55% of their crop in a crippling hailstorm on 28 June 2014. My notes are peppered with “spherical”, “pure”, “perfume-infused” and “filigree”. At Domaine Marquis d’Angerville the wines and proprietor alike exude grace and breeding. Where Lafarge has an immediacy of bright red fruit which conveys you directly to the soil, d’Angerville soars and glides its way into your soul. These wines define weightlessness, filling the mouth with perfume yet with no apparent density. They are exotic too, with spices and tea leaves.
An electrifying tasting at Domaine Leflaive with Antoine Lepetit and Eric Rémy. Although I find more excitement in the bristling tension and nerviness of the poor limestone soils of, for example, Chevalier-Montrachet, there was something decadent and magnificent about the more clay-based 2014 Bâtard-Montrachet.
We raced up the autoroute to Nuits-Saint-Georges and Domaine de l’Arlot to taste the inaugural vintage of Géraldine Godot. This was the most joyous tasting of young Domaine de l’Arlot that I can remember. The hallmark fine rocky minerality is there, but the juicy acidity and the strawberries and cream were a new discovery.
Early Thursday saw us in Puligny with François Carillon. So early in fact that François’ children had still not left for school. Acidity in François’ 2014s – and this is true elsewhere – is a notch below the (very high-acid) 2013s, which translates into an ampler, more succulent style, defined more by fruit than acidity. Beautiful wines.
Domaine Gilles Jourdan is off the beaten track in Corgoloin. This is what small independent vignerons should be about. Gilles’ Côte de Nuits monopole, La Robignotte, is supple, with juicy acidity and fine adroit perfumed tannins.
At the northern end of the Côte Chalonnaise, in the village of Bouzeron, lies Domaine A&P de Villaine, owned by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine and run by Aubert’s nephew Pierre de Benoist. Bouzeron is the only Aligote-only appellation in Burgundy. I very much liked the slightly grippy green apple skin of Pierre’s 2014 Aligote, which has a twist of salinity on the finish.
Domaine Labruyère in Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais) was our final stop. Moulin-à-Vent is the only Beaujolais cru that ‘belongs’ to Burgundy, and although a beaurocratic distinction, it feels like a ‘northward-looking’ cru. Terroir is king, with Champ de Cour being one of the greatest terroirs of the region. Serious Gamay is a new frontier – I urge you to try these wines.
And so with a snapshot or two of the windmill, we motored on to Lyon airport, where we bid arrivederci to our hire car. The flight was delayed but we were beyond caring by that stage, and the departure lounge lager had the momentary advantage of not being young tannic wine.