More adventures in randomly choosing bottles off the shelf at K&L
Few sections at K&L are more confusing (and more intimidating) than the Burgundy shelf. I mean, we're only talking about two grapes here: pinot noir and chardonnay! Even still, you're telling me that it's difficult to decipher between the wines and the producers when you've narrowed it down to a couple of varietals? That's what I'm telling you.
Whereas Bordeaux is about brands, Burgundy is about land. You might see thirty producers making wine from the same vineyard site because each of them lays claim to a plot within the designation. How do you know whose wine is better? Whose is drinkable now? Whose is old school? Whose is new school? You taste, that's how. However, who has the disposable income to continuously purchase $30-$60 bottles of red wine, purely to find out if they want to buy a few more? I'm asking a lot of questions here, so let's get to the answers.
Knowing your importers can be a huge help when choosing a French or Italian wine blindly, especially Burgundy. People like Neal Rosenthal and Kermit Lynch have become importing celebrities by filling their portfolios with wines of a particular style and origin, so knowing a handful of names and their general philosophy can really make a difference. Lynch opened his landmark Berkeley wine shop in 1972 and wrote a book called Adventures on the Wine Route. He began drawing attention to small farmers and more rustic producers who make traditional wines that express the purity of their varietal. We at K&L do our best to follow in the footsteps of guys like Kermit by traveling to Europe and beyond, in search of interesting new wine and spirits. Therefore, when I see his logo adorning the back label of a Burgundy bottle, I have a bit more confidence that I'm going to end up liking what's inside of it. Lynch has locked down some of the best winemakers in the business and we're happy to sell them at K&L.
One of these producers is Domaine A. & P. de Villaine owned by Aubert de Villaine, heir to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. That's right, the DRC (as in the most expensive pinot noir wines known to mankind). Despite his inheritance, Aubert decided he was more interested in studying law in New York. However, after spending some time abroad and meeting his American wife, he finally came back home to follow the family tradition, but in his own less auspicious way. Settling in the village of Bouzeron, Villaine stayed out of the Burgundy limelight, prefering to practice his craft outside the focus of interational attention. Rather than using fruit from the famed Côte de Nuits or Beaune provinces, he focused on the lesser-appreciated Côte Chalonaise region. With appellations like Rully and Mercurey, the Chalonaise was known for making drinkable table wine, rather than serious, age-worthy contenders. However, Villaine was bent on bringing his organic and biodynamic methodology into the these vineyards and making the best wine the Chalonaise has ever seen.
I only learned the above information after randomly grabbing the 2010 Domaine A&P de Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonaise Rouge "La Fortune" $35.99 off the rack and doing a litle research. I knew absolutely nothing about this bottle before that instant. I saw a fairly expensive red from the Chalonaise, which peaked my curiosity the same way a $10 Hershey's bar at the supermarket would. $35 for Chalonaise rouge? What the ____ is this? Then, flipping the bottle over, I spied the Kermit Lynch logo and figured I would do some investigating. If Lynch was willing to put his name on the bottle, then there must be something of merit inside of it.
Grabbing a roasted chicken with potatoes from our local BBQ spot, I sped home to open my prized specimen. I love red Burgundy and I'm always on the hunt for something new and exciting. If this turned out to be good, I might be laying a few down for later. Without any decanting the wine's aromas were immediately enchanting and exactly in the style I had hoped for. Bright, fresh red berry notes with just a hint of that earthy Bourgogne thing emanating from the bottleneck. La Fortune is a single vineyard planted with 20-25 year old vines and Villaine does some whole cluster fermentation from the hand-harvested grapes. The wine spends 10-12 months in barrel which really makes a difference, I feel. The fleshiness of the red fruit is keenly balanced by the richness of the wood. While not overly present, the extra weight prevents the tartness of the acidity from overpowering the fruit. Overall, the wine is textbook, young red Burgundy, hitting all the right highs with none of the lows.
While it's possible to find wines of this quality for less than $35, you can't get them all year long. Any Bourgogne that tastes this good and costs in the $20-$25 neighborhood usually blows out of K&L in less than a week (either via staff recommendations or the staff itself!). It's a bit of a splurge for the quality, but you're definitely not overpaying with the La Fortune. I haven't tasted any of his other wines, but Villaine seems to have some skill as a vigneron. Based on the La Fortune and what I've been able to gather from the Kermit Lynch pamphlet, the entire portfolio is something to celebrate.
So if you're perusing the Burgundy aisle and you're completely overwhelmed and confused, look for the name Villaine, or at least the Kermit Lynch logo on the back label. It's a good way to branch out without taking a complete risk. You might pay a little extra, but you're paying for security of quality. At least, in my experience that's the case.