To best present the effects of terroir on wine, Drouhin selected two flights, one white one red, of the 2006 vintage. Same grapes, same vintage ~ different regions, different vineyards. In addition, among the whites all four wines were either Premier Cru or Grand Cru.
Wine classifications such as Premier Cru and Grand Cru are critically important and very tightly controlled in Burgundy, dating back to the Cistercians, among some of the largest landowners in Burgundy in the Middle Ages, who were able to differentiate soil differences and types and identify those areas that would produce the most distinct wines. (Source: Wikipedia). This focus on terroir remains, and as a result Burgundy is known as one of the most, if not the most, terroir conscious wine regions in the world.
Burgundy’s wine classifications are strictly defined by AOC laws and are assigned based on the quality of the soil not the house producing the wine. Grand Cru, the highest classification, is the rarest with only 33 vineyards or 2% of the region being classified as Grand Cru. Recognized as the best vineyards in the region, the wines produced from these vineyards are generally intended for cellaring a minimum of 5-7 years. Premier Cru, which total 12% of the region’s vineyards, are considered to be high quality vineyards, but not as high quality as the Grand Cru, and are also intended for cellaring, although for a minimum of 3-5 years. Grand Cru wines will be produced from grapes from a single Grand Cru vineyard; Premier Cru, on the other hand, may be produced from grapes from several Premier Cru vineyards.
Below the Premier Cru are the Village and Region appellations. Village wines are produced from lesser quality vineyards organized around one of the region’s 42 villages. The influence of terroir remains important at this level as well, with distinct characteristics present in the wines differentiating and helping to define the boundaries of the villages. Again it is the soil which defines the appellation and not all towns in Burgundy are recognized as villages for wine classification purposes. Finally the Regional appellation are wines that are allowed to be produced form vineyards across the entire region, or regions larger than the individual villages. For a more thorough discussion of Burgundian wine classifications, see Wikipedia or The Wine Doctor.
Having soaked up this quite fascinating background, the next step was to experience the terroir in the wines themselves.
2006 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru From the Chablis region of Burgundy, the northenmost of Burgundy’s five regions. The soil in this region is generally flinty and chalky with strong minerals. The Les Clos Grand Cru is one of seven Grand Cru vineyards on the hill overlooking the town of Chablis.
Aged in old oak only, the 2006 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru is pale golden yellow in color. The nose is pretty and floral with light notes of honeysuckle and a hint of lemon which gives it freshness. In the mouth the wine is delicate with some light grassy notes and a finish that opens up with notes of lemon. The finish has the brightness of the citrus without the tangy bitterness. One of the seminar participants described the wine as “having weight without being heavy,” a description that was well received by Laurent Drouhin, the seminar host. It’s a perfect description – the wine has presence, lingering on the palate, but doesn’t overwhelm the mouth. Food pairing suggestions included seafood and goat cheese. Cellaring is recommended for a minimum of 5-6 years, although the wine should keep for 15-20. The wine is currently retailing for $70-$75 a bottle.
2006 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Folatières Premier Cru From the Côte de Beaune region of Burgundy, the southern region of the Côte d’Or. The soil of Puligny-Montrachet has a lot of limestone which contributes strong minerality to the wines. The Folatières is the most famous of the Premier Cru vineyards in the region.
Aged in oak with 25% being new oak, the 2006 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Folatières Premier Cru is a lovely bright goldeny-yellow color. The nose is very dry with discreet notes of honey and an “alcohol sting.” In the mouth, the wine has strong mineral notes, although it’s not as flinty as the Chablis Les Clos. There’s also a slight creaminess to the Folatières, but it’s not the kind of creaminess one finds from the more heavily oaked California Chardonnays. It’s more of a softness – very subtle notes of honey that hover just under the minerality and earthiness of the wine. The wine retails for about $100 a bottle, although a recent internet search turned up many places which list a sale price of $80/bottle.
2006 Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche Premier Cru. Also from the Côte de Beaune region, this vineyard is part of the estate of the Marquis de Laguiche, one of the oldest and most aristocratic families in France. In 1947 the family approached Maurice Drouhin, son of Drouhin founder Joseph Drouhin and asked him if Maison Joseph Drouhin would be interested in taking over management of the Marquis de Laguiche vineyards. The two struck a handshake deal which continues through today.
Aged in oak, with 25% being new oak, the wine is light gold in color with a soft, delicate nose. Described by Laurent Drouhin as “one of the ultimate expressions of what they can do in Burgundy,” the wine is very silky and light, earthy with a light chalkiness, and has soft notes of apricot and a very light citrus/acid finish. The finish has some tannic texture which gives the wine a bit more body to the finish. Very well balanced, it’s a subtler and rounder wine than either of the previous two. A beautiful wine. This wine currently retails for $100 a bottle.
2006 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Premier Cru The last of the four whites also hails from the Côte de Beaune, although north of both the Puligny-Montrachet and the Chassagne-Montrachet regions. The soil here is stony with limestone, clay and silica. The word “mouches” means flies, so named for the honey bees (“flies”) once housed in beehives in the vineyards. The Beaune Clos des Mouches was one of the first vineyards acquired by Maurice Drouhin, son of Maison founder, Joseph Drouhin, in the 1920s. Today half the vineyard is planted with Chardonnay, the other half Pinot Noir.
The wine was my favorite of the four, edging out even the Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru. The color is a pale yellow as opposed to the more golden yellow of the previous three wines. The nose is soft, rich and delicious with notes of damp soil, grass and a hint of almonds. In the mouth the wine is velvety – subtle notes of honey give the wine a hint of soft sweetness, delicate and very lightly creamy with notes of nutmeg. The wine finishes with a nice balance of acid that develops into soft citrus notes at the back of the mouth. Retail prices for this wine seem to range widely; I found prices from $60 – $100 on a recent internet search with the majority in the $75-$85 range.