The Burgundy Feature

There are few wine regions in the world that carry the historical reputation of Burgundy. This glorious collection of vineyards is located in Eastern France and when you visit there, it is like stepping back in time. I drove into region after spending 4 days tasting Champagne in Reims.

The city of Beaune is the center of Burgundy and the largest city in the region with only a little over 22,000 residents. Beaune offers a lot of historic charm, an excellent collection of restaurants, open-air markets, artist’s studious, shops, and of course wine takes center stage there.

In fact, there seems to be a wine shop or tasting room every fifty feet or so in Beaune. Locals mingle with buyers from around the world sipping and evaluating wines before making their buying decisions. Purchasing wine in the region is more like a cultural experience than a shopping trip.

Burgundy has always produced some of the most prestigious and sought after wines in the world. That, combined with the fact that many of their top wines are made in very limited quantities has led to demand far exceeding supply. Recently, demand from China and other Asian countries has made the supply event tighter, especially for the famed Gran Cru or Premier Cru wines.

Burgundy, like most major French regions, has a classification system that identifies and awards higher status to the best vineyards in the regions. Only those grapes that pass the strict government test can be use the Grand Cru or Premier Cru designation on the labels.

The region also has strict laws about how vineyards can be passed down through the generations. They must be divided evenly among every child of the inheriting generation. This has led to many of the regions greatest vineyards being owned by a group of dozens of descendants, with each individual owning perhaps a few rows of vines each.

All of this probably sounds incredibly complicated and confusing. There is some great simplicity in the majestic region too. For example, most Burgundian wines are either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, with a little bit of Gammay grown in certain parts of the region.

Navigating Burgundy by car is simple and fun, as you take the “Grand Crus Highway” heading north or south from Beaune and find yourself in the vineyards within minutes. Many people chose to bicycle the region or park their cars and hike.

I had several incredible tasting experiences during my four days in Burgundy. The one that stood out clearly was the day I spent at Domaine Joseph Drouhin. They are one of the oldest and most recognizable names in Burgundy and are still family owned by the sixth generation of Drouhins, who play active roles in the business.

Joseph Drouhin has an impressive modern tasting room and visitor center in the heart of Beaune’s city center. I was fortunate enough to be granted a private tour of their caves, which wind for several Kilometers under the city. My host was Jean-Pierre Cropsal, who’s forty years of working in the region provided a wealth of knowledge.

I had the chance to taste 17 wines with Cropsal, including several Grand and Premier Crus. Joseph Drouhin wines are pretty widely available in the United States and our Valley, which is not true of many of Burgundy’s top producers. Here’s look at four favorites from this epic tasting:

2013 Joseph Drouhin Domaine Vaudon Chablis
An elegant wine. Brilliant in color with hints of green. Aromas of citurs (lemon) and salty sensations. The palate is vigorous and lively in a softer context. Lots of finesse and balance lead to a lovely finish.

2012 Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran
Golden in color with greenish reflections. Aromas are reminiscent of white flowers and pear. On the palate a refreshing balance of tropical fruits and ripe white peach. A pleasant roundness coats the palate through the finish.

2012 Joseph Drouhin Santenay

Deep ruby red color and an intense, fruit driven nose of blackberry, blueberry and cranberry. The flavors are long and persistent on the palate, with pomegranate joining the aforementioned berries.

2012 Jospeh Drouhin Vosne-Romanee’

Supremely elegant and beautiful! Incredibly diverse aromas of cherry, nutmeg, leather and truffle. Perfectly balance between tannin and acidity on the palate with a flshy, sturdy body,  harmonious integration and a powerfully long finish.

I really enjoyed my time in Burgundy and highly recommend any local wine lovers include Beaune on any upcoming travel itinerary. It was possible to chronicle the four days in the column, but you can log on to the Drinks Blog on to read more about Burgundy over the next couple of months.