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Burgundies retain a special place among French wines

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
wine for column 4/24/13
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
wine for column 4/24/13

In the world of red wine, no region surpasses Burgundy for presenting both tremendous challenges and opportunities for sheer pleasure.

Hundreds of vineyards and producers confront the consumer along with pronounced variations from vintage to vintage. Yet, when a dedicated, master grower works with pure, ripe pinot noir fruit from a well-placed vineyard, thrilling wines can result.

Over the past 30 years, British wine writer Clive Coates, master of wine, has forged an unmatched record in fostering consumers' understanding of red Burgundies. His independently published The Vine magazine, from 1984 through 2005, offered original, insightful producer profiles and thoughtful, reliable vintages assessments.

Coates' acclaimed “C ôte D'Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy” (1997) was followed by a sequel, “C ôte D'Or: The Wines of Burgundy” (2008). All the work resulted from Coates “spending many years at the coal-face” in Burgundy visiting producers “to listen a lot, to say little and to learn much.”

Semi-retired, the engaging, silver-haired Coates lives with his dogs in southern Burgundy, but he still makes an annual spring trip to the United States stretching over several weeks. His recent Pittsburgh stop provided insights into the highly regarded 2010 vintage.

Coates first noted the great renaissance in the overall quality of red Burgundies since the early 1980s. “Everything has become more perfectionist,” he observed.

In 1987, only the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti sorted harvested grapes by hand at the winery prior to fermentation. Today, most conscientious Burgundy producers follow the practice to ensure using only fully ripened, undamaged fruit.

In the vineyards, growers now generally spray chemicals sparingly rather than by rote. Healthier, more vital soils and vines have resulted to produce grapes with more depth of flavor and complexity.

For Coates, the overall complexity, elegance and length of finish of the young wines of each Burgundy vintage provide the pole star of quality, rather than sheer power and tannins. On this basis, he rates the 2010 wines highly.

“The 2010 vintage, across the board, may well turn out to be far better than 2009, which was an abundant year with rich, juicy wines,” Coates said. “But the 2010s are more austere now and will take to show. Lock them up in the cellar and throw away the key until at least 2022.”

Buying wines from quality producers makes a big difference, according to Coates. He recommends Michel Gros of Vosne-Romanée as a “master wine maker and perfectionist.” He also proclaims himself a “big fan” of Anne Gros, another Vosne-Romanée denizen.

“She hasn't made a major misstep since she started,” Coates noted.

Great producers' top wines in highly regarded vintages do not come cheaply, as Coates acknowledges. Michel Gros' 2010 Vosne-Romanée “Clos-de-Réas” premier Cru sells for $128.79 in Pennsylvania, and Anne Gros' 2010 Clos-de-Vougeot fetches nearly $300 nationally. Such wines realistically cannot be enjoyed for everyday drinking.

Instead, Coates advises drinking good producers' more modest wines such as Michel Gros' excellent Hautes C ôtes de Nuits. Competent producers in lesser-known appellations, such as Month élie, Auxey-Duresses, Santenay and Givry, can provide outstanding values.

And while waiting for the 2010 wines to mature, Coates advises focusing on easier drinking vintages such as 2007 and 2008. Good Burgundy producers tending old vines make intriguing wines with personality even in challenging years.

Try the following:

The 2007 Domaine Michel Sarrazin et Fils Mercurey “La Perrière,” France (Luxury 16828; $29.99; available at the Waterworks store only) comes from brothers Guy and Jean-Yves Sarrazin in the C ôte Chalonnaise region. They minimize chemical treatments while taking an intensive “hands on” approach to the vines. They use casks from well-respected Burgundy barrel maker, La Tonnellerie François Frères, to impart complex, understated oak traits as the wine ages prior to bottling.

This modest, yet tasty, wine's ruddy ruby color offers ripe red fruit, dried roses and earthy aromas. Sweet red fruit with refreshing acidity balances with soft tannins through a lingering finish. Recommended.

The 2008 Louis Jadot Vosne-Romanée, France (Luxury 12681; $36.99) offers a peek at fine red Burgundy from a terrific terroir. Red- and black-fruit aromas with spicy hints open to raspberry flavors with earthy notes. Fresh acidity and fine tannins frame the pleasant finish. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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