Hello friends. I feel like folks generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to travel. There is the camp that needs to get their money’s worth and wants to see as much of the place they’ve traveled to as possible. And there’s the camp that chooses a smaller subset of places to see but spends more time there. Neither is objectively better. Some prefer breadth; others depth.
I count myself in the depth camp. Was it a little crazy to stay for three nights in the small mountain hamlet of Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée? Perhaps. Was it also a little magical? Yes it was. I mean, we went to the only legit restaurant in town all three nights. On the first night when we ordered our kir royales (sparkling wine mixed with crème de cassis) to start, the waitress smiled. On the second night when we ordered kir royales, she responded “comme h’abitude.” And on night three, the glasses were already being poured as we were walking to our table. I love that. The way time slows down exploring a new place. The intimacy of it. The sense of magic afoot.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve been thinking about Burgundy. I recently sat the last of my six WSET Diploma exams (on June 10, but I won’t know results until Labor Day, so don’t ask!), and the studying for that exam involved a lot of Burgundy. It’s a singular region, among the most compelling in this whole great world of wine. And it’s also devilishly confusing.
But the wines. Oh the wines. They’re so good, so nakedly expressive of their homes, that they compel us to accept the confusion, and the high prices, and to try to experience them anyway. But how? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself with Full Pull. And I think the answer is: choose partners wisely, and go deep.
Now we’ve already partnered a number of times with Domaine Drouhin, whose deep roots in the PacNW make them a natural fit. But I’ve been interested for some time in finding smaller winery partners to help us unlock Burgundy for our list members. And that’s where William Woodruff comes in.
William owns and runs Chloe Imports, an absolute gem of a wine importing company based in North Seattle. He turned a banking job in Siena in the late-‘90s (where he was dealing with foodstuffs, including wine) into a wine import company when he moved to Seattle in 1997. It began with William importing one family’s wines from Tuscany, and in eighteen years in business, William has grown to represent that same family in Tuscany, two families in Piedmont, one grower Champagne (more on that in August), four families in the Rhone, and… wait for it… three families in Burgundy.
Perfect. Because William is direct-importing these Burgundian wines right into Seattle, the pricing is outstanding. And better yet, after having spent a few hours chatting and tasting with William, I can tell you that he is an outstanding resource who can provide all sorts of fascinating stories behind these wines that are otherwise difficult to suss out in Burgundy.
Today we’re going to begin with one of the Burgundian families imported by William (picture of the family here). Here is his brief introduction to Domaine du Prieure: Since 1921, at the entrance of the sleepy village of Savigny les Beaune resides this lovely estate. A family affair, Jean-Michel, Yvonne, and their son, Stephen carefully guide nature from parcel-to-cellar and capture her essence in bottles. Domaine du Prieure wines express each individual parcel and are approachable young, yet age beautifully.
We’ll offer three wines today: two Pinot Noirs and one bubbly. And then in a crazy twist, we’ll also offer Prieure’s Crème de Cassis. The twist is crazy because I already had this offer written, including the story about the kir royals, and then at the last minute, our import partner – totally ignorant to the contents of this offer – said, unprompted: Prieure also make a Crème de Cassis; would you be interested? So that one felt preordained. Go forth and make a real-deal kir royale all summer long.
But before we get to kir royales, let’s explore a perfect example of why having an excellent local importer is important. So this has the fairly generic Hautes-Cotes de Beaune label. This map is helpful for general Burgundy orientation. Running from north to south, you have the two high-prestige areas (Cotes de Nuits, Cotes de Beaune) and then the three value areas (Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, Beaujolais). We’re in the Cotes de Beaune, known for both outstanding whites (the Chardonnays of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Meursault especially) and beautiful reds (the Pinot Noirs of Volnay and Pommard especially).
Hautes Cotes-de-Beaune, as you can see from this map, covers a lot of ground, and many wines with this label are a blend of numerous different sites (some good, some not so good). This particular HCdB, however, comes from a single block of a single vineyard, called Les Champons, at the highest elevation deep in the village of Savigny les Beaune. This parcel faces southwest, and is bordered on three sides by a Pine forest. It was planted in 1981. So, why can’t the label use “Les Champons?” Essentially because another vineyard in Burgundy already called dibs. There is another site called “Champans” in the Cotes de Beaune, and it just so happens to be a 1er Cru vineyard in Volnay. Oops.
But bully for us, because generic label means generic-label pricing, and this is red Burg that over-delivers for its modest tag. The soil of the vineyard is brown marl and ancient seashells. It looks like this. Cool! The grapes are handpicked, entirely destemmed, then cold soaked for 2 days. The majority (90%) is done in concrete; the remainder in new oak. Ten months total, then bottled young for youthful freshness and vigor. This clocks in at 12.5% listed alc and is a beautiful example of red Burg. The color is pale ruby, the nose full of cherry, pomegranate, tilled earth, and spice. In the mouth, this is bright and vibrant, beautifully austere with its fruit, much more interested in earthen/mineral tones than obvious fruit. Juicy, mouthwatering, and above all transparent, this is an easy gateway drug into the glories of Burgundy.
Again William was able to provide a compelling backstory for this wine. Moutier-Amet is a lovely (pic) sloped climat (vineyard) just behind the Prieure estate. It lies directly across the street from 1er Cru Le Narbanton. The site was named for the monk who lived at the Prieurè Monastary in the 6th century, and there are records of this site growing grapes as early as 1100 AD. Yikes.
The soil is clay and brown marls, and the current vines are 42 years old. Moutier-Amet is extremely rare to see on a label. The reason: only three families own the vineyard (rare with Burgundy’s crazy inheritance laws), and the other two sell the fruit to Bouchard (that should tell you something). The grapes are again handpicked, entirely destemmed, then cold soaked for 3 days. The majority (90%) is this time done in neutral wood; the remainder in new oak, again for ten months. Listed alc is 13%.
The nose is sultry, alluring: smoke and cherries, woodsy undergrowth and peppery spice. Complex and compelling. And oh my, the texture: silky, supple, bordering on creamy; this almost goes down too easily, lest you miss all the complexity of flavor. Those flavors again combine red fruits with savory/smoky/woodsy notes. What crepuscular charm! What a delight to see such a vineyard-expressive red Burg at moderate pricing (again, we can thank William and his modest margins for this particular tag).
Ingredient #1 for a kir royale (of course it is also outstanding on its own if you don’t want to adulterate it with cassis). This is 70% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 5% Aligote, grown on soils of brown marl, white marl and shattered limestone (vineyard pic here). It is based on the 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintages, so we’re talking about bubbly with some serious age (again, something you’d never know from the bottle; again, the benefit of a knowledgeable importer on the ground). The nose combines white peach fruit, smoky toasted brioche, roasted hazelnut, and chalky mineral. So appetizing. In the mouth, this has a fine mousse and a wonderful palate-staining character. Like the best Cremants from Burgundy, this drinks like baby Champagne, at a fraction of the cost.
And ingredient #2 for a kir royale. This is far afield from the usual wines we offer, so I’ll let the folks at Prieure explain the process: Made from macerated, real blackcurrants (a woody shrub grown for its piquant berries) rather than flavorings and, the addition of the name Dijon means that the currants (“cassis”) used were grown only in the commune of Dijon. These currants are picked quickly at their peak ripeness and are immediately immersed in alcohol where they macerate for 3 months. Sugar is then added to balance out the tart flavor of the currants – it also makes the liqueur syrupy. Production is completely natural from start to finish; no fruit juice additives, colorings or flavorings of any kind are permitted. More than 13 pounds of fruit are used to produce each bottle.
You don’t really want me to write a tasting note, do you? I mean, as you can imagine, it smells and tastes mostly like… wait for it… blackcurrants. Crème de cassis is often used as a descriptor for Cabernet Sauvignon aromas, so if you like the smell of Cab, you’ll probably like the smell of this. In addition to fruit, there is a pungent, earthy, woodsy note that is appealing as well. A little sip of this after dinner, either on its own, or with a nice cheese (Delice de Bourgogne if you want to keep it all in the Burg family), can be heavenly.
First come first served up to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines (and cassis) should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.