Burgundy: Past, Present, and Future

Burgundy: Past, Present, and Future

Now seems as good a time as any to reflect on the status of Burgundy, one of the world’s most influential wine regions. As Burgundy has captured the imagination of the wine-drinking public, prices have surged. Place-names such as Les Charmes, Les Amoureuses, and Aux Malconsorts offer a sense of Gallic mystique. Describing a wine as Burgundian has come to represent the highest compliment, suggesting elegance, finesse, and presence without weight. Wine syndicates mapping out their terroirs—including Germany’s VDP, the consejos for Priorat and Bierzo, and Austria’s ÖTW—have looked to Burgundy’s quality pyramid as the model of excellence. Burgundy’s recent economic success has led to advanced technologies and resources that help produce more precise wines than ever before. Meanwhile, many buyers are questioning whether they can continue to afford them.

But there are other changes afoot in Burgundy as well. For a clear snapshot of the region and its wines, I interviewed four experts: Neal Martin, a writer at Vinous and author; Bill Nanson, the founder of Burgundy Report and an author; Paul Wasserman, a codirector at Becky Wasserman Selections; and Jeremy Seysses, a co-owner and the winemaker at Domaine Dujac. Among other topics, we discussed trends in farming and winemaking, the natural wine movement in Burgundy, and the dangers of an increasingly turbulent climate. Our conversations also included some practical tips for blind tasting, perspectives on drinking windows, and a few anecdotes about memorable bottles.

Myles Trapp: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in Burgundy in the past few decades?

Neal Martin: I don’t want to say this, but it’s true: the impact of prices fundamentally changes Burgundy. If you want to change your viticulture, if you want to invest in concrete eggs . . . If you go back 25 years, most of the people didn’t have the money to do it even if they wanted to. When I first started in Burgundy, it was the wine for people who couldn’t afford Bordeaux. It was a sort of rustic place. It’s easy to say, “We’re going biodynamic or organic,” but that involves costs. [Greater profitability] makes it a lot more possible.

And because it’s Burgundy, ownership. What you are having is a lot of outside investment, but as sleeping investors. That way, you keep your image as the Burgundy paysan. There are lots of different scenarios: somebody buys someone outright and puts in their own winemaker and changes the whole strategy, and others are much more discreet.

A lot of people are saying now that the era of the grower-proprietor was just a brief period. You go back 100 years, and it was mostly merchants. In the ’30s, you had your pioneers, like Rousseau and d’Angerville and Gouges, who said, “No, we’re going to bottle this ourselves.” Then, speeding up, in the ’70s and ’80s, you had more and more winemakers taking control. And, say, in the last 10 years, you’re going back to outside investors coming in to own the land, and the winemaker is almost like the tenant farmer.

Bill Nanson: There are two answers to that question. First: the climate. [In] 2021, [there was] lots of frost. It was a cooler year, with some rot and lots of triage. Lots of people describe it as classic because it’s more on the acidity, but that misses the point. A generation ago, 10.5% potential alcohol was cause to rejoice. In 2021, almost nobody had lower than 11% potential; grands crus were 13%. [The vintage] has classical esprit but modern maturity.

Generally, the grapes are much cleaner, there’s less rot, less triage, less unripe grapes. In recent history, 10 to 30 years ago, Burgundy was a wine of triage; the quality of the glass depended on how much they threw away. The quality and cleanliness of the raw materials now are on a completely different level.

The next biggest change is the commercial success of Burgundy that has led to advances in knowledge and equipment. Almost every year since ’08, prices go up by 10%. But the money has allowed for excellent technological advances and training in how the wines are made now. The level of precision in winemaking has advanced by leaps and bounds.

Paul Wasserman: Burgundy is much more open than I thought it would be to natural wine and to adopting some principles from it. You have domaines that were very classic three to four years ago that are now vinifying without sulfur—adding it at the end and adding maybe half of what they used to. This puts the wines in totally quaffable zones but still protected.

There’s a great community of expats in Burgundy, young people that are so in love with Burgundy. There’s a new two-hectare thing popping up every five minutes. It’s modest stuff: Aligoté, Hautes-Côtes, Bourgogne, Maranges, Savigny. . . . They’re the ones pushing the envelope right now, both in farming and in winemaking.

I was talking to Jean-Marc Roulot about this. He says it’s really good for Burgundy. It’s good to have this young generation who can afford to play. They don’t have €6 million sales every year to maintain. They don’t have a clientele of collectors. And they grew up partially on natural wine. But there’s a part of Burgundy that is going to become strictly a luxury product.

Jeremy Seysses: One dimension is the climatic changes. We’ve been moving toward earlier bud burst, earlier flowering, earlier picking with higher sugars and lower acidities. This doesn’t necessarily materialize into higher alcohols and lower acids in the wine. Burgundy hasn’t had quite the extent of alcohol inflation that you see in a number of other regions, because there was essentially a chaptalization buffer that existed. And there were a lot of vintages that were heavily chaptalized in the ’70s and ’80s. People were trying to make the best wines possible, but you sometimes had high crops because you had accumulation of fertilizer—you had protection against botrytis that worked, and then you wouldn’t lose crop to mildew. So you had these large crops and cold conditions that made it difficult [for grapes] to ripen. In the ’80s, a lot of people started green harvesting and being more rigorous on the yields than they had been, and that, combined with some global warming, made the sugars go up.

But there’s an agronomic recommendation to use a lot of potassium in vineyards, which meant that even though we had the acid, we precipitated a lot of that acid during the ferments. Now we start with less acidity, but that acidity is much more stable in the wine. So in a way, the wines aren’t much lower acid than they used to be. I think we’ve now used our chaptalization buffer, and we’re starting to see wines go up in alcohol in Burgundy. What’s crazy is that I look back at some of the chemistry in a vintage like ’93—if you harvested at that kind of potential alcohol these days, it would taste super green and the tannins wouldn’t feel ripe. But you taste a ’93 and the tannins feel ripe, the wine feels ripe. The physiology is not the same. We’re dealing with very different grapes; we’re making different wines. It goes to show the wines of an era are not necessarily replicable.

MT: What have the biggest changes to winemaking been?

NM: When I started, Henri Jayer was the god. The ethos was destemming, and Dujac was your outlier, using a large proportion of stems. In the last 15 years, it’s become de rigueur to use stems. It adds a sense of unpredictability, because when you use stems, you never quite know how it’s going to affect the wine. The big names like DRC and Leroy, sometimes you can hardly tell the stems are there. But they can be 100%.

I think there are changes in the winery in terms of the vessels: more foudres, wine globes, amphorae. But I’ve tasted a lot of amazing wines made in good old barrels. I was talking to one winemaker who has gone over to using clay amphora, and I was pressing him a bit: “What’s the reason for doing it?” In the end, it came down to “Because it’s trendy.”

I’m a little bit wary [of natural wine]. I don’t like wines to be defined by a decision about whether to use sulfur or not. Even if you read the original Chauvet texts, it isn’t dogmatic. It’s more advocating for using less sulfur, or not quite so much. It’s not black and white. It’s a sliding scale. When you take it to the extreme, then it becomes a pressure from somms, or your natural wine bar in Paris is knocking at your door. You can dress it up as an ethical decision, but it’s just as much a financial decision. For me, I judge the wines how they are—what’s in the glass. And then you start asking the question “How did you get there?”

BN: Guy Accad was a consultant [in the 1980s and 1990s] who liked to extract more, use more fresh new oak, use more sulfur to extract more. Then, the kids of the people who made wine in the ’90s were pulling back from new oak. Then, there’s a generation that likes a bit more barrel, but they don’t want you to taste the barrel. They were moving forward with more whole clusters from the ’90s into the first half of the 2000s. Today, people are starting to use more inert containers, like amphorae, concrete eggs, or larger-volume foudres.

Burgundy is not so much characterized by critics who have changed the style of wines—it’s been generational changes over the years.

PW: There are so many balls rolling in different directions. Some people are extracting less. Some people are picking earlier. Some people refuse to pick early, because they only pick very ripe fruit. I discovered natural wine a little over a decade ago. At first, I hated it and then, eventually, I didn’t. I’ve definitely gone slightly to the dark side. There are a bunch of natural Burgundy producers, and there’s certainly a trend in not using sulfur during vinification.

JS: My friend Luca Currado makes the point that we’re an industry that talks about tradition a lot, but it’s also an industry that’s way more susceptible to fashions than it’s willing to admit. Even the people who are doing the cutting edge of current fashion or nonintervention and talking about tradition are not making wine like the Georgians made wine 5,000 years ago. They’re doing a very modern take, because the era has a distrust of chemicals—quite justifiably. People will always shed their work in the most favorable light, because they have a product to sell. But I feel like sometimes there’s a lack of intellectual honesty in the whole thing.

The fashion in the ’90s was very much toward extraction. The fashion was also toward very toasty oak. It’s a different aesthetic. It was the era of the winemaker more than it was the era of the viticulturist.

[Today] everyone’s taking a more subtle approach. Part of the reason everyone was able to take a step back and become more subtle and more granular in their [focus on] the nuance of the wine is that Burgundy met economic success at last. And now, with prices being stratospheric, you can declassify or eliminate a wine, or you can take the risk of making a tiny crop, because you’re doing a radical change in the vineyard. In a way, it became a positive feedback loop where people were making more money, so they could keep making better wines. And as they made better wines, their reputation went up, and so the prices went up.

MT: What have the biggest changes to viticulture been?

NM: Theres a lot more emphasis on the viticulture now. There’s a rise of coming away from using chemicals and herbicides and the extent to which you want to do that. Do you do like Lalou Bize-Leroy or Anne-Claude Leflaive and go the biodynamic route? Or are you going more with organic or lutte raisonnée? Certainly, I think biodynamics has been a big change.

One of the big changes is harvest dates. That’s gotten much earlier. There have been questions—do you pick early to get the freshness, or do you pick too early [and miss] the requisite hang time to get complexity in your wines?

If the temperatures are going up, you can increase canopy cover. You can de-leaf less. Maybe raise the trellis from the ground a little bit, especially if you’ve got a lot of white, reflective detritus in the vineyard. But at the end of the day, if you have a series of heat waves in the summer, there’s only so much you can do. You’re going to get very ripe fruit, you’re going to get sugar accumulation, you’re going to get more-alcoholic wines. Having said that, in vintages like ’22, you’ve got a degree less alcohol [compared with] ’19 and ’20. So, at the same time, one of the changes in vineyards is happening at the microbiological level of the vine. We don’t fully understand how that’s happening.

I can remember tasting 2003 and thinking, These are so jammy. Recent vintages have been in a similar vein, but you’re getting much more freshness and lower pHs. It’s raising a lot of questions, but in a good way.

BN: So many people have moved from conventional viticulture to organic to biodynamic to horse plowing. [Others] say neither [organic nor biodynamic] works—that its best to take a permaculture approach. If you win €150 per bottle, you can afford to experiment, but not with everything. Theres a certain expectation that your wines are going to be [consistent].

PW: The first big change is leaving a lot more grass or cover crops in the vineyards, and basically limiting tilling. Somebody said to me that a certified organic vineyard that tills to death will have deader soils than a nearly organic vineyard that does not till as much. But not tilling in Burgundy is controversial, because the density of most vineyards is much higher than in most places. . . . If you have mulch or rolled grass in your vineyards, apparently it keeps the soils in the shade, so potentially more moist. But at the same time, the grass is sucking up more of the moisture. People are extremely divided on that, but let’s just say that the new "enlightened" farming is tilling from March up to July, and not tilling at all outside of that.

There are many things happening: grass management, not tilling, attempting to replace sulfur with whey or skim milk, attempting to minimize copper with agroforestry. Bruno Clair plans to plant a row of trees every 15 or 20 rows to change the monoculture. There is, of course, canopy management, with a lot of people experimenting with no hedging, and therefore with higher trellising. There are two opposing theories on this: one group says that it shades the next row, which helps keep the moisture in. Other people say, “Well, ripeness happens through photosynthesis, so if we leave too many leaves, things are going to get riper.” There is also lightening the machinery, hedging by hand, or not hedging to avoid compacting soil.

Some producers are experimenting with rolling or braiding instead of hedging. A lot of the growers we work with are trying it, and they make comparative cuvées. There’s a huge difference taste-wise. There’s more density and, at the same time, more freedom in wines that are not hedged.

JS: A number of products were banned. I would have loved for it to have been a voluntary thing on the part of everyone in the Côte d’Or, but a number of polluting herbicides were banned. If you came to Burgundy in the winter during the ’80s through probably the late ’90s, everything would have been brown if there was no snow. Now, the whole Côte is green, because there is grass growing between every row, at least in winter.

Organic costs more than nonorganic in terms of farming practices. It takes more tractor passes. It certainly takes more reactivity, which usually takes additional tractors and more staff. I think there’s a much bigger proportion of wines that are produced organically in Burgundy now. People are aware that if they want to make high quality, they have to work hard in the vineyards. Even the youngest domaines starting up are fully aware: the thing they’re going to spend most of their time on is growing grapes, not making wine. Especially as we’re moving toward low-intervention wines.

We’re starting to see more and more tressage [braiding], échalas, higher rows so that there’s more shade in the vineyard. I’ve got a few colleagues doing no till, which was truly violent in 2020 in terms of yield impact and growth in the vineyards. We are gradually moving to no till, but we are definitely taking our time. The stress on the vineyard is real if you end up in a drought year.

MT: How has climate change impacted Burgundy? Have you noticed any changes in style or terroir expression over the past few vintages?

PW: Global warming and drought are stressing the vines. The leaves are falling earlier. If the leaves fall before harvest, the grapes stop ripening. I don’t know that it’s catastrophic yet. There seems to be enough acidity in some of the riper vintages. Certainly ’20 has acidity, and ’19 had it. You have ’18, basically, which is lacking, and ’19 for the moment, but I’m assuming it will reappear. So there’s the challenges to the plants.

And then there’s the challenges to the winemaking, because with higher pHs and less nitrogen, you’re struggling to have easy fermentations. We have zero-zero wines from Burgundy now. It starts to be problematic when you have pHs of four with no-sulfur winemaking. You’re really playing with fire. The big risks are Brettanomyces, acetate, and stuck fermentations.

I’m more worried about the plants surviving and how it’s going to affect winemaking than a few vintages that [don’t taste classic].

JS: Early bud burst, early flowering, early harvest, rising sugars, and diminishing acid levels: that’s the general warming effect that we’ve had. And then there’s the extremes of climate that you see with climate change. Every now and then, you have a polar vortex that comes through and risks wiping you out. That happened on a smaller scale in 2016 and a bigger scale in 2021. There were some near misses in ’17 and ’18 for frost. You end up with every month being the hottest month of July, the coldest month of May, the wettest month of this, the driest month of that. Records are getting beaten left and right as things spin out. And, of course, when you have a lot of heat, there’s just a lot of energy in the atmosphere, so it makes taller cumulonimbus clouds. It makes for more violent hailstorms when they happen. It makes for a more violent climate rather than something that was much more temperate.

My favorite style of Pinot is when it’s just ripe enough. [These wines are] more transparent, they make aromatics that are more complex. If the idea is to highlight specificity of site, specificity of grape, then you want to be a bit less ripe. It’s not just a matter of picking early. There’s only so much you can do to mitigate without pulling out vines. Maybe we move to later-ripening rootstocks. Maybe we move toward increased agroforestry, with more shadow coming from trees and so on. There’s going to be the need for some serious agronomic research, investment, and trials to find a new viticulture for a new era.

You still recognize Clos Saint-Denis over the decades. You still recognize Clos de la Roche. But you don’t confuse 2022 with a young version of wine from the ’90s. It’s riper, it’s juicier. I think grands crus are extraordinary in the sense that even the ’03s—which were a glimpse into what awaits us, plenty of shriveled fruit and high alcohol and the rest—you look at them 20 years later in bottle and they’ve trended toward more “Burgundian” and showing more of their personality. The strength of a really good vineyard is that it dominates the characteristics of the vintage over time.

MT: Do you have any tips for blind tasting Burgundy? Can you reliably tell apart the Côte de Beaune from the Côte de Nuits?

NM: It’s always a tricky one. I think with Côte de Nuits, you tend to have a little more sweetness, maybe, and a little more floral character on the nose. Especially when you go to, say, Vosne-Romanée. If you see wine as shapes, let’s call them squares and circles, I see Pommard and Morey-Saint-Denis as more square and Chambolle-Musigny, Volnay, and Vosne as more circular. The latter are maybe more sensual, more rounded. Pommard and Morey maybe have more austerity. There’s an argument that those appellations will benefit more from global warming than Chambolle-Musigny, which tends to be a little bit more voluptuous. Global warming could push it over the edge more easily.

When you’re blind tasting, it depends what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to nail what that wine is, or are you trying to assess the quality between different bottles? If you say that pure identification is the most important thing, that’s looking at it the wrong way round. For a start, you’re assuming that every bottle is identical. And I’m sorry, but open a case of exactly the same wine and you’re going to find slight deviations. When the wines are young, what you’re tasting is more the decisions made by the winemaker. When you go into the secondary aromas and flavors, that’s when I think you get more of the distinction between appellations or vineyards.

BN: Given the different types of winemaking and the different types of élevage, I think it could be more described as a parlor game. In general, you would say the wines of the Côte de Beaune tend to have a slightly redder fruit and easier structure, Côte de Nuits darker and maybe a bit more structural. Each vintage is different. As soon as you start playing with multiple vintages, you are lost.

For many years, the easiest thing to find, always, was the vintage. Coming back to the climate, because generally everything has at least 13%, everything is properly ripe, it’s become very, very difficult to pick the vintage in the last five to seven years. Since ’13, ’14, they all have a really high degree of ripeness. You have no chance of picking the right vintage.

PW: The way I see it, the two Côtes have a different room they take up in your mouth, and that is true for each village as well. Let’s call it an envelope. There are very small envelopes and large envelopes. For example, classically, Volnay is smaller than Pommard. I’m talking about purely geometrical volume. The first thing that guides me to eliminating a bunch of villages is that overall volume.

The second thing is the tannic structure. I think tannins are incredibly expressive. I think they often transcend the vintage, especially if people are extracting a little. Beaune north on the bottom of the slope [and] Savigny on the bottom of the slope have less defined tannin. You’re on meters and meters of a mattress shore of clay and sand, but with gravel, what my friend Brenna Quigley would call unconsolidated rocks. It does not produce a linear, mineral feel. You have to hit the bedrock in the slopes for that to happen.

Chambolle has a very light volume in the mouth, and it’s darker fruited to me than the Côte de Beaune. You may mistake the volume for the Côte de Beaune (Volnay, for example), but the fruit is definitely darker. There’s overall more volume in the Côte de Nuits than the Côte de Beaune.

The same types of rocks appear in many villages in the Côte de Nuits. Why is there such a difference in Chambolle versus Morey, or Chambolle versus Vosne? It’s not geology, it’s not necessarily climate—[though] I’m sure microclimate plays an incredible role. It has to be flora, fauna, and things we have no clue about that maybe we’ll be talking about in 10 to 20 years.

JS: I find Côte de Beaune chalkier in general. It’s less of the tannin, but it’s a textural thing, which reminds me of the chalkiness you would find in Champagne. There’s a different mineral edge to it. Chassagne red has that real mineral, chalky limestone quality to it. I suppose there’s a slight cranberry quality to it. Cranberry is almost metallic; that acidity has a zing to it that edges toward metallic. Imagine if you toned that back a little bit from metallic to stone, that’s where I’m at.

I find more spice in the Côte de Nuits. And the villages are quite different in their levels of spiciness. I tend to think village by village. I have my broad categories of fruit, spice, floral, stone. For me, Gevrey is like fruit and stone, and if I had to pick a fruit, it would be cherry. I always feel that there’s a kind of coolness that I associate with Gevrey temperature-wise. Morey is a spicy village for me. I put it with the fruit and spice, with the exception of Clos Saint-Denis, which has a serious floral tone as well. The spice is more pantry spice, like cinnamon, nutmeg, musk. For me, Chambolle is floral and red fruit, like raspberries. Vougeot I have a harder time defining. When you get toward Vosne, you’re more in that oriental spice, and then you move toward Nuits-Saint-Georges, where you’re back toward stone and you’ve got some fruit. And you move toward an austerity, not a tannic austerity but flavor-wise. Things are cooler, and I sometimes get cracked pepper.

MT: What is the ideal drinking window for white versus red Burgundy?

NM: I’ve worked for Wine Advocate and Vinous, and we have to have drinking windows. I’m not a big fan of drinking windows, because at the end of the day, I get real pleasure from drinking white Burgundy young. Maybe it’s wrong to do it, but I enjoy it. I think the real problem is that too much red Burgundy is being drunk way too young. When I was in Beaune in October-November, I could buy ’21 grands crus off restaurant lists. Some winemakers said [it’s] because the somms want to show the new trendy winemaker on the list, but it’s often the case that their first vintage was only three vintages ago, so you’ve got no choice. We’re sort of losing that idea of allowing Burgundy to age and to get those secondary nuances.

If you’re looking at a serious grand cru, I want to give it 12 to 15 years, and then we’ll start having a look. That period of ’99, ’01, ’02, that’s quite interesting at the moment. And things like ’07 for a more approachable, lighter style, whereas ’10s—and ’05s for that matter—are still quite backward.

BN: Historically, direct from bottling for up to two to four years, you could always drink the wines, we would say, on their fruit. The fruit was still open and a little bit fleshy, gave you a bit of cushioning from the acidity. But then they would shrink and get more structure from the acidity. You would stop drinking from 5 to 15 years. They would say in a good vintage, you should wait 20 years to drink the wines. In a bad year, you need to wait 20 years.

The last vintage that really tightened in bottle was 2012. The 2013s to an extent, the ’14s to an extent. We could call those a little bit classical-style vintages. But ’15 through ’20, they have never closed. They have so much flesh, density, so much ripe fruit. Even if they did half close, you probably didn’t notice. Those wines can benefit from aeration—white or red—to dislodge some of the carbon dioxide, or particularly if they have some reduction.

I stopped buying cork-finished white wines for my cellar with the 2013 vintage. I am still throwing away wines from ’09, ’10, ’11, and ’12, and recently a ’17 magnum, because they are completely oxidized. I can’t justify that—even as part of my passion. But for wines that I drink in the first three years from vintage, I'll accept them sealed with anything.

PW: First of all, I think the classic wines that were made in the ’90s maybe through the early 2000s, for the most part, have never bloomed into swans. They were too extracted; they were too dense. People were reacting, maybe rightfully so, to the thin wines that preceded them in the ’70s and ’80s.

I’m one of those people that likes my wine very young but also really old. What’s in the middle doesn’t impress me as much as either the vibrancy, the zing of very young wine or the mind-boggling complexity of very old wine. Those are generalities; some wines are beautiful at 20 years old.

For white Burgundy, I think it goes back to the problem that it’s not aged enough. I’d rather drink it crunchy and full of energy than in that middle passage. I also like it when it starts to break and the real funk comes out, and that takes more time than 10, 20 years—when it really becomes tertiary. We’ve had some stunning stuff, including stuff that looked brown when you poured it. The fill level is down past the shoulder. You pour it, and if there’s enough energy and vibrancy coming from the acidity, with a twist going toward Madeira, the old whites actually get lighter in the glass. They go from brown to amber and really put on a show. The last one I had was a ’62 Meursault Santenots from de Lavoreille.

JS: I would say, if I had all the time in the world, and I was young and had access to a great cellar or a great bank account, for red premier cru and grand cru from good growers, 20 years is a nice rule of thumb. You really get the consistency of experience when you reach that age. They’re beautiful, mature wines. And I do like mature Burgundy, because I feel like it has additional layers compared to younger Burgundy.

For whites, we’re emerging for the most part from the period of premox. I swapped some bottles with some colleagues around 2000, 2001, and I’d say that out of the case I exchanged, I probably threw out most of them, which was heartbreaking. I’m definitely taking a chance on some of the colleagues whose work and process I trust, and whose track record I think is vastly improved in the past 10 years. I’d love to have some mature white Burgundy to drink in 15 years. Aged well, I think white Burgundy over 20 years old is just incredible. I love it.

As a winemaker, if I start making wine for drinking now, I don’t know how to do that without losing something special. I think some of the specialness comes with aging and the ability to age. So I’m trying to make white Burgundy, to the best of my ability, that’s capable of aging. And same with the reds. I’d love for them to be equally friendly and joyful when they’re young, but sometimes they shut down. I consider that part of the course. Maybe only a fraction will make it to 20, 30, 40 years old. But I like to think that I’m working for those people as much as I’m working for those who are going to drink it before that.

MT: Is there any mind-bending tasting experience that stands out vividly in your memory?

NM: I had such a lot in the time I was just there. I had the Montrachet from Ramonet 2010 which was really, really, really good. There was an 83 Puligny village from Sauzet that was really good. It was really fresh; it had really held up well. The 1952 Echézeaux from Lamarche. I dont think anything beats a wine thats evolved and turned into something very special.

BN: I have one every vintage. In 2018—it seems a little bit ridiculous to use the example, but 2018 was a difficult vintage. A lot of people made black wines, volatile wines, Bretty wines. I have never tasted so great wines as I tasted at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

In ’19, I had the same experience with William Fèvre in Chablis. Last year, a domaine in Beaujolais, of all places, Château des Bachelards in Fleurie. And then in my last tour, I was really surprised, back to Vosne-Romanée for the 2021 vintage: Grivot. I’ve got Grivot in my cellar from the ’90s, and I’ve heard so often, “Oh, this year Grivot is so good—things have changed!” But no, it’s always the same old Grivot—extracted, big wines, almost brutal. But this year, wow, the ’21s!

There’s been a lot of hype around Charles Lachaux. His prices are ridiculous. I did last year buy a village Vosne-Romanée in a restaurant. It was a ridiculous price, €370 for village. But what a wine. A wine of finesse, perfume, elegance. And what I can tell you is the ’21s at Grivot I can only describe as being in the style of Charles Lachaux without the whole clusters.

PW: Fred Mugnier’s Musigny 2001 remains an extraordinary bottle of wine, very delicate. It’s like a bonsai. When it first came out, it was like a universe on a pinhead. It was so coiled up, but not tight. It was very small and intricate and beautiful.

My personal palate right now leads toward incredibly well-farmed and well-made, sometimes naturally made, wines, but also made just to the side of natural. Still protected. Olivier Lamy is a great example. Every tasting I have there is just amazing, and the wine doesn’t lack sulfur enough to age.

But I’ll admit the white that I’m obsessed with right now is a wine made by Guillaume Bott, half of the couple who own Chanterêves, under the classic label of Domaine Simon Bize. It’s the ’20 Perrières Blanc, and I’m obsessed with it. It has zero sulfur, but it doesn’t taste like it. It’s anchored by minerality and pH.

The most incredible old white I’ve had was 1864 Montrachet from Bouchard. I think my notes say turpentine. But it was so graceful and beautiful. It probably caused my favorite tasting note that I ever wrote. I was mesmerized. [It] was probably recorked a few times over its life, but not enough to make it a different wine. Extraordinary.

JS: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be invited to this dinner [by a] client who’s become a friend. He invites a few of us: Jean-Marie Fourrier, Christophe Roumier, Benjamin Leroux, Jean-Marc Roulot, Etienne de Montille, more recently d’Angerville [and] Pierre Duroché. He calls it the grandfather dinner, because the idea is to serve us wines that could have been made, or have been made, by grandfathers of the people present at the table. It’s really cool to see wines from vineyards that we’re making now that were made during World War II, that were made with much less technology. And they’re recognizable when the bottle’s good. You taste old DRC, and it’s very recognizably DRC and recognizably Romanée-Saint-Vivant or La Tâche. It’s very inspiring to think these people were toiling 80 years ago in some cases, and a few of [their wines] have lived on for us to admire their work many decades down the line. I always come out of that dinner very moved, very inspired, and motivated.

We’ve had some magical wines: old de Vogüé made by Christophe Roumier’s grandfather, some old Ponnelle wines that were made by his maternal grandfather. But I’ve got to say, old Clos Saint-Denis and old Clos de la Roche almost don’t exist in the market. I think they must have been bottled as other things for a large part. Négociants probably blended them into other things. And people may not have kept them, either, because they were less valuable. Musigny de Vogüé has been a known wine, a famous wine for a long time—less so for the wines of Morey. I got to try a 1921 Clos de la Roche from Lejay Lagoute, which is a house I didn’t even know made wine. They make cassis in Dijon. They definitely don’t even make wine anymore. This was by a long way the oldest Clos de la Roche I’ve ever had. It was a very good wine. It was not the best wine, but it was like, “Wow, here we are.” It throws you backward but at the same time makes you wonder if any of the wines you made will taste like that in the future.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Many thanks to Neal, Bill, Paul, and Jeremy for sharing their perspectives and insights!

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