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In the days before quarantine, when I looked at the Burgundy offerings on many restaurant wine lists or on the shelves of wine shops (to say nothing of auction offerings), I found myself disappointed. Over and over, the same names cropped up. To someone unfamiliar with the region, it might have appeared that Burgundy is populated by forty or so estates, all making wines that can run into the many hundreds and occasionally thousands of dollars. This is not to cast aspersion on those wineries - they are some of the greatest anywhere on the planet. But when we all spend time and money chasing the same names, the region becomes static, as though it were preserved in aspic like a piece of jambon persillé.
The fact is that Burgundy is as dynamic as it has ever been. There are dozens of growers from Chablis to Pouilly who are working relentlessly to improve the health of their vineyards and their cellar conditions and ultimately to make better wines that are true to the place from which they originate. These kinds of changes often take years to really be felt and seen. Today we are excited to focus on two outstanding domaines whose progress I've kept tabs on for some time, and in 2018 produced wines that are emblematic of this kind of perseverance.
I have been tasting the wines of Domaine Génot-Boulanger since they joined their current importer in 2014. Aude Delaby and her husband Guillaume Delavolée took over management of the domaine from her father in 2008. Since that time, she and Guillaume have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of both vineyard and cellar work, with a particular focus on the health of the soil on a microbial level. They achieved organic certification in 2018 and have also made some trials with biodynamics. The wines have always had a certain elegance, but there is an increasing clarity and sense of focus today. The terroir in each cuvée is more keenly felt. I was particularly struck by the '18 whites I tasted recently. They were fresh and elastic and betrayed no trace of the intense warmth of the vintage.
Domaine Jessiaume is a different version of this story. The estate dates to 1850 but a new chapter began in 2013 with the sale by the Jessiaume family to a Scotsman named David Murray. Mr. Murray has put a huge amount of energy into revitalizing the domaine. He immediately put the wheels in motion to move to organic viticulture (achieving certification in 2019), hired a talented young winemaker and invested to upgrade the facility and equipment. All this work has paid dividends. When I first moved to Burgundy in 2010 to study viticulture, I spent an afternoon tasting with some classmates at Jessiaume. While the wines were perfectly good, they all had a certain foursquare character and same-iness that spoke more of a house style than a sense of place. Where those wines felt staid, the 2018s on offer today feel exuberant. As one would expect from the vintage they are ripe and full of fruit, but nonetheless balanced and individual. Sam Ehrlich
This is very high-quality village Puligny! "Nosroyes" sits just below Premier Cru "Perrieres," and there is lots of limestone in the soil. The nose shows some of the same green apple notes as the Meursault but with an added element of white floral character, somewhere between lily and honeysuckle. In the mouth there is more apple, as well as Meyer lemon and a bare touch of wood spice and cool minerality. Again the overall impression here is one of understatement and finesse rather than power. Very good wine. Sam Ehrlich
It's always a pleasure to taste the wines of a grower steadily through the years, to chart their progress and observe the little adjustments that take wines from good to great. Guillaume and Aude at Génot-Boulanger have been on a steady upward trajectory for some time now but when I tasted this Pommard 1er Cru today, I had to stop and smile. "Clos Blanc" sits on the northern side of Pommard, adjacent to "Grand Epenots," and takes its name from soil colored white with limestone. The nose is deep with red and blue fruit and on the palate feels round, with beautiful savory spice notes. Pommard has long been considered rustic and burly, so the silkiness here is particularly striking and it feels both complex and eminently drinkable now. This will make a great addition to the holiday table for anyone looking for a special treat. Highly recommended. Sam Ehrlich
Firstly, let me say that the warm 2018 vintage will be a vintage to take advantage of the value that one still finds in Santenay. The village tends to ripen late and in cool vintages can produce very lean wines. Domaine Jessiaume owns more of this Premier Cru than any other estate and theirs should be considered a benchmark. The site takes its name from the gravel and stones in the soil and as one would expect, it produces structured and mineral wines. The 2018 shows the ripe dark red and black fruit that has characterized the vintage, with raspberry, cherry and a touch of blueberry, as well as savory spices and well-judged wood. But the finish narrows, with elegant mineral notes and good precision. The vines are on average fifty five years old and the quality of material here is on full display. Sam Ehrlich
"Clos du Cromin" is a pretty vineyard. It sits just north of the village of Meursault itself, climbing quite high on the slope and can produce very good wine. The Génot this year is extremely good for the level. In leaner years, their whites can be quite reductive but this was open for business, full of crisp white peach, green apple and a touch of toasted sesame on the nose. On the palate it opened up with more crunchy white fruit and minerality.This wine definitely has a floating quality and the limestone in the soil is very apparent. I recently listened to Dominique Lafon talk about how Meursault is misunderstood as being exceptionally rich and that it can and should feel elegant. This is certainly the case here. Sam Ehrlich
I do a lot of moaning about the lack of well-priced Bourgogne wines around. I was very pleased to be offered both the entry-level red and white from Jessiaume. This Bourgogne Chardonnay is unabashedly representative of 2018. But while on day one it was full of citrus and juicy white fruit, after a night in the fridge that richness and the wine's structure were much more in sync. It was leaner, fresher and very tasty, with a good mineral spine. Give it a decant, then come back and stock up. Sam Ehrlich
This is the Pinot reflection of the Bourgogne Blanc. This had lots of plump red fruit and spice upon opening but on day two all the elements were resolved. It had not lost any freshness and had actually gained length and complexity. I was both pleased and surprised. The supply on this is quite limited and will likely not last past the month of December. Sam Ehrlich
"Les Brouillards," is found on the north side of Volnay closer to Pommard and the soils are rich with iron and clay. The result in 2018 is excellent. The aromatics are soaring, with red and black berries and a compelling violet note that I really love. In the mouth there is more of those dark fruit notes, with touches of kirsch, toasted spices and an appealingly salty mineral finish. There is ample grip and structure that leads me to think that this will age well for some time but it is very pretty and you won't be wracked with guilt if you happen to open one soon. It's a pleasure to find Volnay of this quality and at this price these days. Sam Ehrlich