NOTE: This is also on K&L's wine blog.
As you all know, this isn't my official department, but I have taken a side role as the Burgundy assistant here in the Redwood City store due to my insatiable thirst for it. I figured our buyer Keith could use the help as he's usually answering phones and I'd pick up some pointers along the way. It's exciting to learn about, so I figured I'd share some of those lessons here on the blog for those interesting in learning a bit more as well.
As I mentioned before in the Comp Lit post, there's a finite amount of wine in Burgundy (about 62,000 acres) and the best wines are never brands, but rather vineyards. Due to Napoleonic inheritance laws, the best vineyards can be split between more than 100 different owners--many of whom sell their small lot (sometimes no more than a few vines) to negociants who blend them to make larger batches. For example, if they can get twenty different Gevrey-Chambertin producers to sell them grapes they can dump all the wine into one cuvee and still call it "Gevrey-Chambertin." That way they can sell 400 cases of one wine, rather than twenty different versions of it with different labels. However, much like with whisky today, there's a growing desire among consumers to taste the wine directly from the grower, rather than as part of a greater blend.
Finding small producers with whom we can work directly is our bread and butter here at K&L. Our wine model was the basis for what David and I set out to do in the whiskey department. Finding them in Burgundy, however, with demand already high and supply so very low, isn't easy. Most wines are spoken for long in advance and most producers already have contracts with a larger importer. Keith, however, has managed to find some outstanding growers from whom we can purchase directly and offer outstanding value to our customers. Two of them, Jacques Bavard and Chateau de la Charriere, were featured in today's staff tasting as we just received a huge shipment of new 2011 vintage wines. There was a ton of great wine in that bar this morning. If you're like me--interested in Burgundy, but not quite ready to start investing in $100 bottles you can't drink for ten years--then you might want to check some of these out. 2011 is looking to be one of the better vintages for the money, especially considering that the 2013 vintage--with its hail storms that destroyed a number of vineyards--will likely limit supplies for the future.
Your money always goes farther at K&L when you buy the direct-import stuff (because no one has ever heard of it). Before you start picking off the big guns, start with these more reasonably-priced selections to get more bang for your buck.
2011 Château de la Charrière Bourgogne Chardonnay Domaine Yves Girardin $14.99 - There's a lot of wine for your money in this bottle. It's earthier on the entry, but slowly eases into a rich and mineral-laden palate that finishes cleanly and with finesse. It's much more than a simple drinker. It's a hint of what makes white Burgundy what it is.
2011 Château de la Charrière Savigny-les-Beaune Blanc "Vermots Dessus" Domaine Yves Girardin $23.99 - I'm always a big fan of this wine every vintage. It's so light on its feet and fresh on the finish, but without sacrificing flavor or complexity. There's not nearly as much richness or texture as most fuller-bodied Burgundian whites, but there's a fresh fruit and floral note on the finish, possibly added by the small percentage of pinot blanc in the mix. Lovely stuff.
2011 Château de la Charrière Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Yves Girardin $15.99 - The pinot noir fruit for this wine comes from the village of Marange, which is south of the Cote de Nuits, near Santaney. It's important because it's where the so-called "Golden Slope" comes to an end--meaning the chalky limestone in the soil (part of what makes great Burgundy wines what they are) turns more brown. It's not so much a lesser wine growing area as it is just unknown. That's why you only have to pay $15.99 for this little gem. It's juicy and full of dark berries on the nose with a bit of structure and an earthiness on the palate. I love it for the price.
If you're Google-searching Yves Girardin, don't get him confused with his brother Vincent who is a big negociant in the region. Yves is a grower who and the wines are domaine-bottled.
2011 Château de la Charrière Pommard "Cuvee Tradition" Domaine Yves Girardin $34.99 - This is a combination of wines from four different sites around Pommard, from whom Girardin was able to source fruit. The nose is pure cherry with a meaty and savory note on the palate, along with dark fruit. It's mineral on the finish, almost with a hint of graphite. It's good now. It will be great in a few years and, compared to the $60 price tags we usually see for Pommard, it's a steal.
2011 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne Blanc $21.99 - A complete and utter steal. This is seamless wine. This wine should serve as the definition of what that means. It means it starts with fresh acidity, transitions flawlessly into rich texture and soft fruit, and then morphs into mineral and saline notes on the finish without a hitch. Top notch Chardonnay that left most of the staff buzzing.
2011 Jacques Bavard Monthelie Rouge $29.99 - This is always one of the staff's favorite wines and it's easy to see why. Just a gorgeous nose of fresh cranberry, a vibrant acidity on the mid-palate, and a fresh, fruity finish. Monthelie is a small village that lies between the better-known communes of Volnay and Auxey-Duresses in the Cote de Beaune. There are fifteen premier cru sites in Monthelie, but I've never tasted a wine from them as pretty as this Bavard.
Bavard is an interesting producer because he doesn't own most of the land from which he makes his wine, but he doesn't sharecrop either. Instead, he buys rows or specific plots from vineyards and then manages those sections to his own specific standards. In Burgundy this is called sur piece. It gives Bavard estate-like control without control of the estate. If he wants to pick earlier or later he's not reliant on the decisions of the grower.
2011 Jacques Bavard Meursault $41.99 - Meursault seems to get more expensive every vintage, as Burgundy fans are flocking to its richer mouthfeel and pronounced character. I'm not always a fan of that extra richness, but I found Bavard's version quite striking. It's clean on the entry with fresh fruit flavors and zippy acidity before moving later into richer, nutty flavors of toasted almond and mineral accents. I would be hard pressed to keep my hands off of this one, even though I know it will taste better in a few years. Great wine.
We have many more wines from Charriere and Bavard, so check out the website. These were just some of my personal favorites.