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Burgundy: Some Major Minors

Steen Öhman Steen Öhman
Burgundy is mostly about great demand and little supply, with wines from the top estates becoming increasingly expensive and impossible to find. But there is a set of smaller negociants that is producing high-quality wine, often in quite reasonable quantity at more moderate prices.

The big negociants in Beaune - Maison Joseph Drouhin, Bouchard Père et Fils, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Albert Bichot - are at the top of the supply side. But there is a further set of smaller negociants that is producing high-quality wine, often in quite reasonable quantity at sometimes more moderate prices.

These houses are frequently a hybrid of production, with some wines from grapes bought as a negociant, and others from their own vineyards. They often bottle the wines with two different - and confusingly subtle - labels: negoce and domaine bottlings.

There are some very interesting producers in this segment, and while they too can be quite rare, they are often more available than the precious wines from Domaine Coche-Dury or Domaine Cathiard. 

Here are a few of the minor majors to whet your appetite.

Domaine de Bellene - Nicholas Potel's creation

Domaine de Bellene is the brainchild of Nicholas Potel, son of the legendary Gerard Potel of Domaine Pousse d’Or in Volnay. Nicholas Potel is quite a big name in Burgundy, and he is known for constantly challenging the received wisdom in Burgundian winemaking.

Potel’s story began in Volnay, where his family ran and owned Domaine de la Pousse d’Or. In his youth, he worked with some of the great local winemakers to prepare himself to take over the family estate. Sadly, his father Gerard died in 1997 and the estate was sold before Nicolas could follow in his footsteps.

He subsequently started a negociant business and, after several twists and turns, has ended up with his current setup: a negociant business (Maison de Bellene) within a Domaine de Bellene framework, creating an overarching entity to explore and implement his ideas about viticulture. This structure, with bought grapes (“Maison”) and own grapes (“Domaine”), is widespread in Burgundy, and it is important to keep an eye on your bottles when navigating the Burgundy market to know which type of wine you're getting.

The rule of thumb is that domaine wines are often the better, most defined, precise cuvées, with ownership giving the producer full control of the viticulture.

Domaine de Bellene has a fine portfolio in both reds and whites, and has a strong line-up in lesser appellations.

(Comblanchien is a commune just to the south of Nuits-Saint-Georges in the Côte-d'Or.) 

The white Domaine de Bellene Côte de Nuits-Villages Monts de Boncourts 2017 is from Nicolas Potel's own vineyards in the Comblanchien area. This wine has gorgeous mineral notes of crushed stones, and delightful balance with fine concentration. It is an expressive, mineral wine that really shows well for youthful drinking. It can definitely keep, but mainly will provide fine, enjoyable drinking when young. The 2017s are delightful wines.

The Canadian connection – Tawse and Marchand

Domaine Tawse and the Marchand-Tawse negociant house are relatively new entities, coming onto the scene around 2004.

This producer is both a negociant, making wines from acquired grapes, and a domaine that own vineyards and produces wines from its terroirs. In the beginning, the domaine part of the estate was relatively small, but after Moray Tawse bought the Maume estate in Gevrey-Chambertin the domaine part has increased significantly. 

The organization is an association of two Canadians: Moray Tawse, with a background in finance; and Pascal Marchand, who has had a long, prominent carrier in Burgundy, notably as winemaker at the legendary Domaine du Comte Armand in Pommard. 

The Marchand-Tawse portfolio is very large and features a number of exciting wines which are all attractive and enjoyable, although some with stronger terroir expression than others. 

The Marchand-Tawse Vosne-Romanée Champs Perdrix 2017 is a step up from the Bellene wine - a delightful glass. From the steep hill above La Tâche comes a floral and vivid wine, with 30% whole-cluster vinification and 30% new oak giving an expressive, forward, floral nose. On the palate, it is lively and enjoyable rather than dense and intense. A lovely hedonistic treat in the 2017 vintage.

The Faiveley treasure

Faiveley is a large family domaine and négociant business now managed by Erwan Faiveley, who is putting huge amounts of effort and money into transforming the old, more traditional négociant house into a new, more contemporary setup.

(Photo: Erwan Faiveley) 

He is having great success, as most of the portfolio is now from owned vineyards. The estate also includes top-class reds from lesser appellations like Mercurey; check out the red Mercureys from Faiveley as well as the top-end reds which range from the Côte de Nuits to the grands crus of the Côte de Beaune.

The estate's home is still in Nuits-Saint-Georges, but its portfolio covers most appellations at a high and stylistically consistent level. The reds of Faiveley are very well known, from a stronghold in Gevrey-Chambertin whose crown is Lavaux Saint-Jacques.

I would like, however, to focus on one of the top whites: the Domaine Faiveley Corton-Charlemagne from the Ladoix (eastern) side of Corton. This is a magnificent expression of the Corton hill with a fine, saline, mineral note which helps expand and reveal the fruit via its ample backbone. There are delightful citrus notes – detailed and quite energetic. On the palate, excellent intensity. In warm years like 2015 and 2018 Corton-Charlemagne can be a fine treat. But also here the 2017 is a sensation.

Domaine de Bellene Côte de Nuits-Villages, Monts de Boncourts 2017

From Nicolas Potel's own vineyards in the Comblanchien area, this white wine has gorgeous mineral notes of crushed stones, and delightful balance with fine concentration. It is an expressive, mineral wine that really shows well for youthful drinking. It can be definitely kept for long, but mainly will provide fine, enjoyable drinking when young.

Marchand-Tawse Vosne-Romanée, Champs Perdrix 2017 

From the steep hill above La Tâche comes a floral and vivid wine, with 30% whole-cluster vinification and 30% new oak giving an expressive, forward, floral nose. On the palate, it is lively and enjoyable rather than dense and intense. A lovely hedonistic treat in the 2017 vintage.

Domaine Faiveley Corton-Charlemagne 2017

This is a magnificent expression of the Corton hill with a fine, saline, mineral note which helps expand and reveal the fruit via its ample backbone. There are delightful citrus notes – detailed and quite energetic. On the palate, excellent intensity. In warm years like 2015 and 2018 Corton-Charlemagne can be a fine treat. But also here the 2017 is a sensation.

 

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