Bourgogne Village, terroir with an affordable price tag
By Alain Echalier - Photographs courtesy of the estates, posted on 21 August 2023
It is sometimes tempting to think that Burgundy is all about its revered giants, and nothing else. Its Chambertins, Montrachets and Cortons, all those ruinously expensive labels that are not only reserved for an elite audience, but also totally impossible to lay your hands on. Or at best, its Meursault and Gevrey Chambertin Premiers Crus, that are barely more affordable. But no, the ‘Village’ appellation level provides the perfect solution for those who want to drink very good wines, without breaking the bank. And if you’re prepared to spend some time searching – they are only produced on a boutique scale – some of them even have extremely affordable price tags. We dive deep into some classic offerings for enlightened enthusiasts, and a genuine treasure trove for the geeky browsers.
A rainbow over the mountain near Domaine Garaudet.
In Burgundy, wines are named after the location where their grapes are grown. The more extensive the area, the broader the typicity of the wines. The smaller the area, the more the style is precise and unique, which often makes these the most sought-after wines.
Understanding Burgundy’s ‘pyramid’
Usually, appellations are classified using a pyramid system. At the bottom is the entire wine region, the Bourgogne appellation, which is thus the regional level. At the top are the Grands Crus, the most expensive labels. Generally speaking, they are named after the relevant vineyard block, such as Clos de Vougeot. Lastly, in the middle, are the Village appellations. This is the most common geographic scale and matches the way farms used to work, based on the radius covered by man and horse. Some appellations have been used for a long time and are prestigious, such as Volnay and Nuits-Saint-Georges. Others, which were subsumed into an intermediary level between regional and village, have ‘won their independence’ after research to establish their individual typicity – Ladoix is a case in point.
Different types of ‘Village’
Within the village appellation, two types of winemaking strategies can be used. Either wines made from grapes grown in several of the village’s vineyards are blended, in which case the wine is simply named after the village, as with Chablis. These are occasionally referred to as ‘round wines’. Or the grapes come from a single vineyard – in Burgundy these are known as ‘climats’ – and the name of the vineyard block can be stated, after that of the village. Chablis Milly is one such example.
A diminutive number of ‘climats’ are known to be superior in quality to others, but do not reach the level of perfection attained by the Grands Crus. They can produce Premier Cru appellation wines. These particular ‘climats’ are always named after the village but the focus on the label is on the character of the 1st growth. For example, Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet. But they are not the topic of this article.
A final noteworthy point is that the descriptor ‘Grand Vin de Bourgogne’ applies to all wines from Burgundy, including the village level. It is therefore not a component of the appellation pyramid but rather an indication that the wine belongs to the region.
The Darles in their vineyards in front of Irancy.
Irancy: Domaine Eric Darles and its distinctive wines
In northern Burgundy, West of Chablis – the renowned home of white wines – is the magnificent mediaeval village of Irancy where only red wines are grown over 190 hectares. The clay-limestone soils here are slightly redder. This is the location for the estate that Eric Darles took over in 1995 after inheriting it from his father, and where he farms with his wife Christine. The Darles family has been producing Irancy wines for many generations and the present-day estate has 12 hectares under vine.
Irancy accounts for two-thirds of its wines. Darles stresses that one of the unique features of the wine is that it can contain 5 to 10% of the César variety, in mixed plantings alongside Pinot noir. These vigorous vines are challenging to work with and produce very tannic, darkly-coloured grapes which Darles enjoys in his wines. It lends them even more distinctive typicity, and he likes the extra bottle age the grapes provide. Ideally, his Irancy should be savoured after around a decade. In fact, he does keep back some bottles so that older vintages can be sold. And despite the success of his wines, he does still market some vintages like 2019. Although its typicity explains why its price tag is higher than for a regional Burgundy – which sells for around €8 – Irancy is still a very affordable wine at around €13 a bottle.
Despite its fairly northerly location, the village is affected by climate change. Darles has noticed that his wines are becoming more concentrated and powerful, even though they continue to comply with the basic criteria. On the palate, the 2020 vintage is therefore more reminiscent of black than red fruit. The Darles also sell single vineyard Irancy, however, which displays notes of raspberries and spices with fine tannins.
The Darles’ winery.
Domaine Aegerter: all of Burgundy
Located in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the estate owns 15 hectares under vine out of a total sourcing area of 50 hectares from which the wines are made and matured. The trading business is based on grape supply contracts. Paul Aegerter, the owner and winegrower now helms the family company on his own. As his range covers all of Burgundy, his insight into the ‘village’ level is particularly relevant. Right off the bat, he stresses that ‘village’ wines run the gamut in terms of pricing, ranging from around 15 euros for a Mâcon Village to €90-100 for a Meursault or a Puligny-Montrachet.
The Aegerters have a fairly unique distribution model for Burgundy as exports account for only 20% of sales, compared with 50% for the French market and a balance of 30% to airline companies. The French also tend to buy more Chablis, Mâcon, Chorey and Maranges, whereas export markets import Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne Romanée and Puligny-Montrachet. Aegerter then goes on to point out that all of these wines are increasingly rare, particularly the latest vintages which yielded small volumes. Although new appellations such as Vézeley have been established, they are few and far between. Broadly speaking, the appellations are cast in stone. Finding new vineyards to lease is virtually impossible, particularly for the famous villages where over the past few years some extremely wealthy buyers have invested.
Increasingly, the wines therefore have to be sold on a limited allocation basis so that everyone gets a look in. Although prices have risen, they have remained reasonable and have not compensated for falling volumes. Aegerter therefore has greater faith in the development of the regional appellations of Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Beaune, where the terroir is conducive to producing wines that can improve, some of them single vineyard offerings. This is where quality Burgundy can increasingly be found, for under €30.
At Domaine Aegerter, the boss tastes the wines.
Domaine Pansiot: a host of appellations
This family estate is located in Corgoloin, in southern Côte de Nuits. It now boasts 21 hectares and was taken over by Emilie Pansiot in 2004. She produces village appellations such as Meursault which she sells for around €29 a bottle, but also markets lesser-known appellations including Chorey-Lès-Beaune, for nearly half the price. The red is fruity, appetising and easy-drinking when young because Pansiot enjoys fruit-forward wines – and she makes and markets the wines. When she has time, she can also be found in the vineyards. She produces a white Chorey-Lès-Beaune too, which is slightly minerally, matured in casks for two to three months and offers up some of the oiliness of Meursault, but to a lesser degree.
Her Beaune appellation red wine, the ‘Clos des Mariages’ – a single vineyard which, as its name suggests, is surrounded by a wall – is quite soft because the sandy soils do not retain water. In fact, it is always the first vineyard to be harvested.
Emilie Pansiot in her winery.
The Côtes de Nuits are the core of the estate’s range. The wines are either a blend of vineyards – a Côtes de Nuits-Villages – or single vineyards. ‘Les Chantemerles’ is the estate’s original red wine label. A single vineyard approach is totally coherent because the vineyards extend over soils with different geological formations, lending the wine its balance.
Domaine Pansiot exports only a minute proportion of its wines – a mere 1%. Pansiot sells via trading companies, wine merchants and increasingly to private customers. For those who enjoy visiting wineries, there is always someone at the estate to welcome visitors by appointment on Saturdays.
Les Chantemerles at Domaine Pansiot.
Domaine Garaudet: traditionally-styled Monthélie
Florent Garaudet has been the winegrower here since 2020 and is the family’s fifth-generation representative. The present-day winery located in Monthélie has 11.5 hectares under vine. Sixty percent of the vineyards are planted to Pinot noir, in the village of Monthélie, with a balance primarily of Chardonnay in Meursault and Puligny. His father still lends him a hand and there is one employee but more staff is needed!
Monthélie, points out Garaudet, has 160 hectares under vine and is the smallest appellation in the Côte-de-Beaune, sandwiched between Meursault and Volnay. In fact, prior to 1937, the wines – most of them red – were sold under the Volnay or Pommard appellations, which explains why Monthélie is not better known. Hence, it combines “the finesse of Volnay and the powerfulness of Pommard”, says Garaudet.
The village of Monthélie.
He makes his wines in “the Burgundy style”, in other words, designed to be laid down. They are neither fined nor filtered. The wine is fruity with great balance and should be drunk within the first eight years or so. In fact, often he markets at least three different vintages. It is worthwhile having some stocks of red wine for greater variety, he explains. Despite this, the Americans often want the latest vintage, he smiles. A bottle will set you back around €30 to €35. His white wines, conversely, embrace prestigious appellations and fly off the shelves. Seventy percent of his wines are shipped abroad and Garaudet prefers to deal with a different importer for each country, primarily the USA, Japan and China, but also the UK, Brazil and Singapore.
Florent Garaudet and her daughter Méline.
Domaine Bourgogne-Devaux: a Pommard like no other
The aptly-named Bourgogne family are in fact two winegrowing brothers with a difference. Their estate, located in Meloisey, has 4.1 hectares under vine and both brothers have two jobs. Luc, 38, is also a banker, whilst his brother Fabrice, 41, is a winegrower at the Hospices de Beaune. Sometimes their father lends a hand, and they sell 30,000 bottles, hence their small winery.
They produce two Pommard appellation labels, including one called ‘Vignot’ grown on very stony soils in a vineyard facing due South, which reminds them more of a Volnay. The wines sell for around €35 a bottle. The appellation’s reputation is such that the wines are in high demand, particularly among Americans. The two brothers therefore strive to distribute their wines as best they can. Luc enjoys savouring the wines after 3 to 5 years bottle age, when they start to develop aromas of undergrowth and game.
They also produce a red Haute-Côte-de-Beaune – this is not a village but a sub-regional appellation. One of Domaine Bourgogne-Devaux’s characteristics is that some of the vineyards are located close to those for Pommard. Everything is therefore vinted as single-vineyard offerings, producing six different labels. In 2020, the quality was superb, claims Luc, with pronounced alcohol levels. In fact, it offers the best value for money. When the brothers present their entire range, consumers ultimately forget that it is a Haute-Côte-de-Beaune.
Bernard Léger Plumet (Chalet Pouilly) presents his wines in Germany.
Domaine du Chalet Pouilly: majestic St Véran
At the helm of this estate is a threesome – Bernard Léger-Plumet, a former doctor; his wife, a biologist; and their daughter based in New York. Founded in 1850, the winery is situated – the clue is in the name – in the hamlet of Pouilly. It has 9 hectares under vine and its village appellations are Pouilly Fuissé, St Véran and Mâcon Solutré-Pouilly.
“Pouilly-Fuissé is an appellation that dates back to 1936, well before St Véran (1976) and the wine sells for around €19”, explains Bernard Léger-Plumet. “It always has a little more body and is matured for between 9 and 19 months in wooden vessels with a capacity of 400, 500 or 600 litres”. They have tried stainless steel, but their customers always prefer wood though only as a complement – “you mustn’t be able smell or taste it”. The appellation’s reputation stems from several factors: vineyard sites that encapsulate a geological era, the Solutrean; a French President, François Mitterand, who liked to walk up Mount Solutré; and long-standing exports to the United States.
Eline, the American granddaughter, returns for harvesting at Chalet Pouilly.
The St Véran, which sells for around €14, is always fermented in stainless steel at the winery. This is a fine Burgundy wine with a very reasonable price tag and is often described as “the best value for money in Burgundy”. They even sell some in New Zealand! Lastly, the Mâcon Solutré-Pouilly, also made entirely in tanks, sells for €11.
“The quality of the wines across the region has come along in leaps and bounds”, stresses Léger-Plumet, who has taken part in many judging panels. Wineries have transitioned to bottling their wines and installed temperature-controlled tanks. But prices need to stay reasonable because otherwise New World wines from countries like Argentina could outpace them.
The famous Solutré rock.
Domaine Edmond Cornu: worshipping Ladoix
This family-run estate located in Ladoix boasts 16 hectares under vine. Pierre, 60, works with Edith, his wife, Emmanuel their cousin and Lucie their daughter, with retired winegrower Edmond always ready to lend a hand.
Ladoix is mostly red wine, explains Pierre Cornu. Sure enough, of the 100 hectares under vine, only 20 or so produce white wine. The village is situated just South of the start of the Côte de Nuits. In fact, the vineyards are divided into two parts – one on Corton hill, and one that is geologically part of the Côte de Nuits. The soils date from the Middle Jurassic and are therefore older and the wines recall large, fleshy black cherries. Conversely, in the Côte de Beaune part, the soils date from the Upper Jurassic and the Pinot noir is more reminiscent of red fruits and more floral.
An autumn sky over the entrance to Clos Diconne.
At the estate, everything is fermented as single vineyards – there are 14 tanks of red wine. After blending, the family markets two Ladoix labels and one Aloxe-Corton, along with a little Chorey-Lès-Beaune. Aloxe is better known than Ladoix which, forty years ago, was sold in bulk as Côte de Beaune Village, or Ladoix Côte de Beaune. However, thanks to the famous ‘terroiriste’ American importer Neal Rosenthal, the Cornus began to produce ‘Ladoix’. Since then, the village has been properly specified/identified and it has become their pride and joy. That’s because since 1870, when a fire destroyed their great-great-grandfather’s house in Chorey-Lès-Beaune and he moved to the village, Ladoix has been their home.
Lucie Cornu, Edith Cornu, Pierre Cornu and Emmanuel Boireau.
Wines for ‘honest drinkers’
The village level for Burgundy wines therefore resonates with ‘honest drinkers’ – a far cry from the snobbish drinkers who choose wines based on their label – yet at the same time offers genuine quality linked to the region’s myriad vineyard sites. We can only hope that in a globalised world, with a growing taste for wine developing among new consumer countries, this is how things will stay for many years to come, because it is the perfect epitome of Burgundy’s deep-rooted farming spirit.
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