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25. BUYING TRIP TO FRANCE Part 3 Burgundy

Mme. Villiers makes exquisite Bourgogne Vézelay. She is rigorous both in the vineyard and in the winery: she strives to grow the ripest, healthiest fruit she can, and then uses minimum intervention in the making of the wine, rarely chaptalising.

She is based just outside Vézelay, in the hamlet of Précy-le-Moult. We arrive at 9 am, and taste her 2009 wine. She makes two whites: Le Clos, from vineyards on the hill of Vézelay – these are old vines, and the wine is matured in large 600 litre barrels known as demi-muids – and La Chevalière, from younger vines grown around the village of Tharoiseau, a few kilometres away from Vézelay, and matured entirely in tank. The grape is Chardonnay, as for Chablis, and the style is similar to Chablis, but slightly riper, fuller. Her 2009s are delicious, with the two wines contrasting very vividly with each other: Le Clos rounder, richer, bigger, with more length; La Chevalière is quite closed at this tasting, softer, though more mineral at the same time – it will open up and blossom later in the year, in fact, after the bottle has been uncorked for half an hour or so, it is already beginning to open up. She describes the weather conditions in 2009 as “a dream” – if she could dream of the perfect growing season, 2009 would be it.

Our next appointment is at 3 pm in Gevrey-Chambertin, to the south of Dijon. This is with Alain Voegeli, who only makes one wine. He has two plots of vineyard, well-placed close to the village of Gevrey-Chambertin. He tells us that he had a very short crop in 2010 – a third of his usual yield: there had been a frost in December 2009, minus 20°, which killed a lot of vines, and then the flowering had been difficult, with bad weather, so very little fruit set. We go down into his cellar, and here is the proof – rows of empty racks which usually hold barrels of wine. We taste his 2009, which is looking good: excellent colour, assertive flavour, with an alluring black pepper dimension. We also taste his 2010 from barrel, which seems lighter, but with nice black cherry aromas, very  pretty.

At 4 o’clock we are up in the hills outside Nuits Saint Georges, keeping our appointment at the Domaine Thevenot-Le Brun in Marey-les-Fussey. This is quite a large estate for a Burgundy grower, with over 25 hectares. They also grow blackcurrants to make Crème de Cassis, which is the blackcurrantiest Cassis I know. Their reds are pale in colour, often with flavours of blackcurrant (!), more usually associated with Cabernet Sauvignon than Pinot Noir, and a hairy, wet fur component to the flavour as well – very appealing. Their proudest possession is the Clos du Vignon vineyard, which they own in its entirety: it is a perfectly exposed, south-facing piece of hillside facing their cellars. They grow both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here. And they make over a dozen different wines; consequently, tasting at the domaine is always quite an undertaking. This time we taste 13 wines. I decide on ordering three: Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Clos du Vignon” 2008 White (a terrific vintage for white burgundy), which is matured in 60% new oak, and displays vanilla and spice flavours from this maturation, but also impressive underlying fruit, and very good length; Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Les Renardes” 2008 – this wine was a great success in this vintage – it is just delicious, with an appetising blackcurrant smell, expansive in the mouth, smoky, forceful, with supporting tannic structure, and once again very good length; and Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Clos du Vignon” 2009 Red – lovely both on the nose and in the mouth, with jolly, bouncy fruit; mouthfilling, fresh, brisk, exciting.

We check into our hotel, which is a conveniently short walk from the centre of Beaune, near the railway station, which will be useful, because we will be taking the train to the St. Vincent Tournante over the weekend. Saint Vincent is the patron saint of vine-growers, and each year at the end of January in Burgundy a designated village hosts the festival. This year Corgoloin is doing it. This is the home of my favourite vigneron, Damien Gachot, and he is the Président, so we will be going to the Banquet on Saturday night as well. I am fond of this hotel – it’s comfortable, quiet and reasonably priced, run by an amiable couple, with a garden that looks as if it’s just landed from outer space: not many plants, and patches of different-coloured gravel, and globe-shaped plastic lights sprouting out of the ground.

The next morning, Thursday, we go to taste with Philippe Gavignet in Nuits Saint Georges. Gavignet around Nuits Saint Georges is a bit like Williams in Wales – there are lots of them. And a number of them make wine. I have been buying from Monsieur Gavignet for 15 years now, and he makes delicious wine. Clive Coates, an authority on Burgundy (he actually lives there now), says that Philippe makes the best wine of all the Gavignets. He is very excited about his 2009s, claiming that they are even better than his 2005s. They are certainly lovely wines, appealingly easy to drink already – in particular, his Nuits Saint Georges is gloriously fruity, with delightful liquorice flavours.

After this we drop in on Damien Gachot to collect some samples for my London tasting in March. He is not there, which we expected, because he is busy organising the Saint Vincent. His house is full of his in-laws, so we say hello and good-bye.

Next week – more Burgundy!