Jean-Jacques Girard's family has been making wine in the Savigny-les Beaune valley for 500 years, so it's not surprising to find that his regional appellation Bourgogne Rouge drinks like a little Savigny. Blackcurrant freshness, a touch of earth subsoil, a supple, easy structure and bull's-eye line on through the whole from the attack to the finish.
Jean-Jacque Girard's website says that his family was growing grapes in Savigny-les Beaune back in 1529. That, as the French say, is 'formidable', and would make the domain one of the oldest in Burgundy. But really what matters to us today is what happened to the domain in the past generation. In the late 90s, the original and venerable Domaine Girard-Vollot was split between Georges Girard's two sons Jean-Jacques and Phillipe. The original domain was about 38 acres. And since the split, Jean-Jacques has built his holdings back to over 40 acres, making it one of the most impressive domains in Savigny.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
REGIONAL APPELLATION OF BURGUNDY
Generally considered the generic Burgundy wine, appellation Bourgogne, both red and white, can also be thought of as the model of what Burgundy wine should be. It is produced in almost all of the winemaking communes throughout Burgundy, and from the same grape varieties as the more specific appellations. This means that simple Bourgogne has the potential to express terroir and vintage. But because it can be produced by blending wines sourced from across the region, the quality and specificity of this appellation can be questionable. On the other hand, many Bourgogne are produced within a single commune and some even from a single vineyard. So as with all Burgundy wine, you need to know its pedigree and who made it.
The appellation Bourgogne is restricted to wines grown within the defined limits of the appellation:
Yonne 54 communes
Côte d’Or 91 communes
Saône et Loire 154 communes
Pinot Noir is a native Burgundian grape and, with the exception of a bit of César still to be found in the Yonne, is the principle variety in Bourgogne Rouge. Red wines in Burgundy are often described as deeply colored, but this is not necessarily the case. Though the skins of pinot noir are black, the juice is colorless. And so whatever color the wine itself has comes from contact with the skins during the pre-fermentation maceration. So naturally, each vintage will produce a different color wine. In general though, ruby and crimson are the tones most associated with Burgundy. Fruit notes are often strawberry, black fruits and cherry. And then with age we start to notice wilder aromas and flavors, undergrowth, mushrooms, animal.
In many cases the regional appellation Bourgogne Pinot Noir is grown near and sometimes adjacent to more prestigious crus. But the mystery of Burgundy is that wines separated by dozens of meters can be so different one from the other. Appellation Bourgogne vineyards tend to be located along the foot of the vineyard slopes on limestone soils mixed with some clays and marls. The soils are usually heavy but can be stony, rocky even, and quick-draining.
Red – Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Bourgogne Rouge tends not to be elaborately made. So its simplicity is valuable in food pairing. Delicate and refined, it can go with delicate dishes that are naturally aromatic, salads and simmered meat stews. But it also makes them ideal for those who prefer red wine to white when pairing with fish dishes. And of course, the classic red wine cheese combinations work perfectly.