Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey will be back at work now from his only real break of the year from his barrels of matchless white burgundy and carefully tended vines. He tries to get away from his base in Chassagne-Montrachet with the family for at least one week in the summer, ‘but it’s not really a holiday because I’m always checking the météo, and the pickers send emails all the time. I try to get a week’s skiing in February with the boys but then I’m starting to think about bottling and pruning. For the head, Christmas is good.’
He must be doing something right because over the years when tasting his wines I have followed him from his kitchen to a shared upper room in the village to some extremely snazzy modern premises (pictured here) just off the main road next to Michel Niellon shared with his winemaker wife Caroline Morey. He admits the building is a bit too big at the moment, but when you are a négociant like him, you are not necessarily limited by the vineyards you currently own.
An increasing number of Burgundy’s more ambitious wine producers are setting up their own small négociant, or merchant, businesses based on bought-in fruit rather than limiting themselves to the land their parents happened to own. The boondocks of Beaune around the rail station are home to a growing cluster of smaller wine houses. Even Jean-Marc Roulot, whose holdings in Meursault are already enviable, is launching his own eponymous négociant label.
This is because of the new scourge of Burgundy. Not the nasty little fruit fly that turned too many grapes to vinegar in the 2014 growing season, but inflation driven by worldwide demand. It has had such an effect on vineyard land that virtually the only people who can even dream of acquiring anything as smart as premier cru vines, let alone grand cru land, are fabulously wealthy outsiders such as Bernard Arnault, who bought the whole of Clos des Lambrays in Morey-St-Denis, or François Pinault, who snapped up what is now Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and is still on the prowl. Even the Asian gambling entrepreneur who paid €8 million for the Château de Gevrey (Chambertin) and only enough vineyard to fill about 20 barrels had to make do with very little other than simple village land.
Younger winemakers without vast reserves of capital know they can expand only by buying in grapes, for which demand is keener than ever. All of this has had a decidedly inflationary effect on the price of burgundy on wine lists, fuelled by a combination of disaffection for bordeaux, extremely limited supply and dramatically increased worldwide demand. Even Frédéric Engerer, Pinault’s chief wine man, confesses he can no longer afford to drink burgundies above village level in a restaurant.
Every autumn I go to Burgundy to taste the vintage that will be offered in a frenzy of tastings in London in the second week of January, concentrating on those producers whose wines tend to be too sought-after to be shown as cask samples shipped over to the hurly burly of the London tastings. Next week about 20 UK merchants will be showing off various samples of 2014 burgundies in the first three days alone. It will be a challenge of teeth and timetabling blended with a sort of Pelmanism since many wines are shown by more than one importer, but it provides such an unparalleled snapshot of the vintage that even France’s top wine writers have been known to cross the Channel for it.
Next week from this surprisingly charming vintage, the reds usefully early maturing, I will be looking out specifically for the (distinctly relative) bargains, but now is the time, if you can afford them, to pounce on the very finest wines. I thought therefore it might be useful if I pointed out some of the over-performers to emerge from the hundreds of wines I tasted.
Arguably no one needs me to point out just how exceptional are the wines of Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin and Roumier in Chambolle-Musigny. Along with the fabulously expensive wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy of Vosne-Romanée, these domaines are the reliable gold standards of the Côte de Nuits, the northern half of the Côte d’Or devoted largely to red wines.
One other Côte de Nuits domaine that really stood out was Comte Liger-Belair, also in Vosne-Romanée. Since recuperating the family vineyards from négociant Bouchard Père et Fils, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair has been determined to position his wines among the greats and with every visit I feel increasingly moved to doff my cap to him.
There is a thrilling mix of richness and precision here – just as so many producers seem to be seeking additional finesse. Even Bernard Dugat-Py, whose wines have long been notable for their flamboyant health, seems to be making wines with just a little more finesse nowadays. And négociant Olivier Bernstein, whom I have followed from premises underneath a tacky garage to a truly splendid three-storey property in the historic quarter of Beaune, freely admits to a change of direction from when he started out and needed to be ‘un peu showy’.
One producer I have not been following long enough to know whether there has been a change of direction but who has impressed me with the purity of his wines (by which I do not mean weakness) is Perrot-Minot in Morey-St-Denis, across the street from Taupenot-Merme, a domaine with an enviable spread of land and, in Romain Taupenot, a determination to make better wine every year. At the bottom of the village, Dujac has been a firm favourite for years but the 2014s seemed to have an extra edge of dynamism, while in smart new premises across the road Cécile Tremblay goes from strength to strength, producing wines almost as flamboyant as Bernstein’s but with what I cannot help but describe as a feminine touch. What with Ponsot looking down on the village above a cellar full of glamour and Clos des Lambrays presumably about to benefit from considerable investment (a new winemaker has been drafted in from Cloudy Bay in New Zealand), Morey is an increasingly hot spot of burgundy quality.
But the white winemakers are the real stars of 2014 and among them Arnaud Ente of Meursault shone particularly brightly during my visits. Jean-Marc Roulot always does, and his friend Dominique Lafon up the road is noticeably fine-tuning his enviable number of barrels. See the list below.
OUTSTANDING 2014 WHITES
These were some of finest 2014 whites I tasted in Burgundy in November. Note that many of them are below premier cru level. Some of these producers made even greater wines but such wines are likely to be offered at much higher prices than those listed, alphabetically by producer, below.
Dom de Bellene, Les Charmes Dessus 2014 Santenay
David Butterfield, Les Folatières Premier Cru 2014 Puligny-Montrachet
Dom François Carillon, Les Perrières Premier Cru 2014 Puligny-Montrachet
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey 2014 – any premier cru St-Aubin or Chassagne-Montrachet
Dom Arnaud Ente, La Sève du Clos 2014 Meursault
Dom Comtes Lafon, Porusots Premier Cru 2014 Meursault
Dom Leflaive Grand Cru 2014 Chevalier-Montrachet
Maison Roche de Bellene, Les Folatières Premier Cru 2014 Puligny-Montrachet
Dom Roulot, Tillets and Tessons 2014 Meursault
See our tasting notes to be published from today and over the next two weeks. Stockists will eventually be on wine-searcher.com.