David 24 November 2016
It amazes me that in Australia you can now pay in excess of $70 for Bourgogne Rouge, an entry level Pinot Noir at the bottom of Burgundy’s red hierarchy, theoretically coming from anywhere within the region.
Earlier this year I offered a wine from Domaine Chanson which I consider one of the best value Bourgogne Rouges to be found. And at less than half the cost of similar wines, it sold out in a flash. The good news is the next vintage has finally arrived and I reckon it’s looking even better than the 2013.
Domaine Chanson Père et Fils is one of Beaune’s oldest ‘houses’, originally founded as a négociant business by Simon Verry in 1750. Négociant is a French term for “wine merchants who buy in grapes, must, or wine, blend different lots of wine within an appellation, and bottle the result under their own label,”Oxford Companion to Wine.
Monsieur Verry’s wines sold well. Voltaire became a customer in 1777, as did King Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Elisabeth in 1788 and Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland (brother of the Emperor) in 1806. In 1850, after several years of managing the business, the Chanson family took over. They already owned vineyards in Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses (appellations within Burgundy) and under their guidance the business continued to expand and prosper. Most importantly they continued to acquire excellent vineyard sites during the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century.
Despite Chanson’s impressive portfolio of vineyards, by the 1980s the quality of their wines had diminished. With its reputation waning, the business was in need of new management and new money. Recognising the potential, the languishing domaine caught the eye of champagne icon Bollinger, who acquired it in 1999 and invested heavily to restore it.
Bollinger installed two Burgundian heavyweights;
Gilles de Courcel to run the business, and the highly respected Jean-Pierre Confuron to make wine. True to the interconnectedness of Burgundy, Confuron makes wines at Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot in Vosne-Romanée with his brother Yves, who also supervises Gilles de Courcel’s family domaine in Pommard. Jean-Pierre’s grandmother was first cousin to legendary winemaker, Henri Jayer.
The new team made considerable improvements. From 2000 they stopped using fertilisers and herbicides in the vineyards and from 2009 the domaine’s vineyards were run on organic principles (although not certified). The winery, built on the outskirts of Beaune in 1974, was heavily modernised between 2008 and 2010.
Significant vineyard purchases were made in 2006, increasing holdings from 36 to 45 hectares and Chanson is now one of the largest owners of Beaune Premier Cru vineyards.
The vineyards provide about 25% of Chanson’s needs, which is a pretty standard arrangement, however as Gilles de Courcell notes in The Drink Business, Jan 2015: “We’ve decided that with every single wine from our domaine we should have control over the vinification, so we’ve stopped buying finished wine from our growers… Chanson used to be an old, traditional négociant, but we wanted the word négociant to disappear from our vocabulary.”
Buying only grapes and not finished wine from growers is a big deal and not common practice for a négociant in Burgundy. It indicates the extent to which Chanson is pursuing quality. Chanson also works closely with those growers from whom they purchase grapes.
Chanson’s barrels of wine, as well as company headquarters, are housed in a unique building known as ‘La Bastion’. This imposing 4 storey stone colossus, with its 8 metre thick walls, is one of a series of defensive towers built in the 15th and 16th century to protect the town of Beaune. Chanson’s ‘Bastile de l’Oratoire’ is named after the adjoining chapel and is one of a remaining 5.
Bollinger’s hard work at Chanson has payed off. Clive Coates MW;“The land holdings are impressive, and since 2001 the quality has lived up to the potential.” At the same time as improving quality, a tight rein has been kept on prices. This is a concerted effort to rebuild Chanson’s reputation by offering outstanding value. A great strategy - but unfortunately one that can’t last forever.
While there was hail for the third year in a row in some areas, damage was limited and the overall assessment by the experts of the 2014Burgundy vintage is superb for whites and very good for reds.“Overall we appear to be set for a fine vintage for red Burgundy with delicious, fruit-forward wines suited to medium-term drinking, and a truly beautiful vintage for white wines, the most consistent for decades,” Burgundy expert Jasper Morris MW.
1. Domaine Chanson Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2014
Despite the generic Bourgogne rating, the fruit for this wine is far from it. It’s sourced from select estate-owned vineyards, from both the Côte de Beaune (southern part of the Côte d’Or) and Côte de Nuits (northern part of the Côte d’Or). I’m told a lot of the fruit comes from Santenay (south of Beaune), including ‘Village’ and ‘Premier Cru’ vineyards. All Pinot Noir at Chanson, including the Bourgogne Rouge, is 100% whole bunch fermented and is matured in 25% new oak.
In my experience Bourgogne Rouge is often lean, weedy, acidic and overpriced. But the fact that Chanson includes the varietal name Pinot Noir on the label is a clue that theirs is made in a different style. It’s much more generous.
The wine is a clear garnet and more generous than the previous vintage. Juicy raspberry and cranberry notes meld with sweet tobacco and a hint of black pepper on the finish. It’s deliciously dry, mid-weight, elegant and has a fine tannin structure, with plenty of firm acidity to give it line and length.
“Bright red colour. Intense aromas of ripe cherries mixed with liquorice and spice. Complex, generous and well crafted. Crunchy texture and well integrated tannins. Long and refreshing aftertaste.” Winemaker’s notes.
Franck Moreau, one of only two Master Sommeliers in Australia and Group Sommelier for the Merivale empire, has included it on the lists of several restaurants across the group. You’ll find it at the trés French Felix at $75 a bottle.
I can offer it for $32 a bottle. Click here to order.
2. Domaine Chanson Viré-Clessé 2014
And as 2014 was such a good year for whites…
South of Beaune you move into Chardonnay territory and an area known as The Mâconnais, which according to Jasper Morris MW (award winning Burgundy expert) “recently… arguably the most dynamic part of Burgundy.”
The Mâconnais was traditionally a “reliable source of fresh, crisp, inexpensive whites,” Eric Asimov, New York Times wine critic. And while it remains so, some of the more prestigious and progressive domaines of Burgundy have recently started producing their own Mâconnais wines - offering higher quality at reasonable Mâconnais prices.
Within The Mâconnais lie several appellations, most notably Mâcon and the highly regarded Pouilly-Fuissé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fumé, which is Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire). Just north of Pouilly-Fuissé lie the towns of Viré and Clessé, whose vineyards were historically part of the Mâcon-Villages appellation. The south facing slopes here are known to produce some of the best whites in the Mâconnais - in fact in an unusual move, the area was upgraded and given its own single appellation known as Viré-Clessé in 1998. The good news for astute drinkers is that while Viré-Clessé is on par with Pouilly Fuissé, its prices are not.
Chanson has worked closely with the same group of growers in Viré-Clessé for many years, the long-standing relationship allows them to tightly control grape selection, a factor clearly reflected in the quality of this wine. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak. It does see time on lees (the dead yeast cells hat sink to the bottom of the tank) looking to give a little extra texture and flavour.
The wine is clear, bright and light gold, and offers elegant lime and floral notes on the nose and palate. It walks a nice line between crisp lime and delicate florals like citrus blossom and lavender. This offers more weight and complexity than I expected in an unoaked wine. Totally dry and unlike Australian Chardonnay, it’s finish features these florals and zingy citrus notes rather than ripe fruit on the finish. Unfolding flavours secured with fresh acidity give good length to each delicious mouthful.
“Pale gold colour. Floral fragrances mixed with refreshing aromas of citrus fruit (grapefruit) mixed with fresh honey enhanced by a hint of minerality. Well-structured and tense. Well-integrated acidity and beautiful minerality. Energetic aftertaste.” Winemaker’s notes.
Village level quality at an attractive Bourgogne price tag... one of the best white wines of the region. You won’t find it around town.