Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers. His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight! Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:
Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)
The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated. So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines. Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character. Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.
Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)
Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price. Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.
This cuvée is a blend from five separate Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months. Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish. Proper white Burgundy!
Well let me be the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t know Burgundy – though I’m trying! Given the sizeable tomes that are published seemingly every year, Burgundy is a complicated wine area that gets a lot of attention – it certainly takes up the most space in on my book shelves.
Though fairly simple in terms of grape varieties – as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make up the vast proportion of plantings – Burgundy is a complex wine region in terms of appellations – there were 83 at the last count*. In an attempt to simplify the story for the average wine drinker, Burgundy is often broken down into the main sub-regions – see Phil My Glass’s Beginners’ Guide to Burgundy article.
Some commentators focus on the most celebrated Burgundy wines – those from the Côte d’Or – and pass over Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Of course the elephant in the room is Beaujolais and its Gamay reds, which are part of Burgundy according to some criteria, but are usually considered distinct from the rest.
Here are some wines from less-celebrated appellations within Burgundy – mostly generously donated by Nomad Wine Importers apart from the Saint-Bris which was kindly brought direct from the vineyard by Tony & Liz of DNS Wineclub.
Most wine drinkers have, of course, heard of Chablis, but far less well known is the larger area within which Chablis is situated – the Basse-Bourgogne. There are some reds up here – Irancyis an AOC producing light, delicate Pinot Noir (try M&S’s Irancy as an example of the style) – but white grapes are the majority, and apart from a few rows of Sacythat means Chardonnayand Sauvignon!
In 1850 there were 40,000 hectares of vineyards compared with around 7,500 in 2015 – there’s lots more potential in the area!
Auxerreis the largest town in the Yonne, with Chablis very close. Grapes from the hills around Auxerre qualify for their own appellation, which still (helpfully) has Bourgogne at the beginning for easier recognition by more casual drinkers. As with Chablis, the wines are 100% Chardonnay.
Based in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Guilhem (son) and Jean-Hugues (father) Boisot are known as the “Popes of Saint-Bris” for their outstanding local wines. They are certified organic and biodynamic, believing that high quality wines are only possible with meticulous care in the vineyard.
This Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is flinty, smoky and fresh – it would stand up against pretty much any AOC Chablis I have tasted.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2014(12.0%, bought at winery)
After promotion up from VDQS status in 2003, this is the only Sauvignon (Blanc and Gris) based AOC / AOP within Burgundy, based around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance is the result of the marriage of Henry Sorin and Madeleine DeFrance, though the Sorin family have been making wine since 1577. Their Saint-Bris is 100% Sauvignon – I presume Sauvignon Blanc, though you never know. It is far more expressive than many French Sauvignons, showing notes of grass, nettles, elderflower, lychees and garden mint.
Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014(12.5%, RRP €20 from: Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Lilac Wines, Redmonds, Mortons and SIYPS)
Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligotéwas relegated to inferior sites (just like Barberain Piedmont and Sylvanerin Alsace), and became something of a bulk wine where yields were more important than quality. Acidity was so fierce in those wines that local crème de cassis was often added to tame it, and thus the kircocktail was invented.
The search for something new (even if old) and authenticity has reawakened interest in Aligoté – especially when they are simply superb wines such as this one from Domaine Goisot. Although Bourgogne Aligoté can be made all over Burgundy, Goisot’s vines are in the Yonne. It has floral aromas and spicy pear flavours, all delivered with refreshing – but not austere – acidity.
Côte d’Or – Côte de Beaune
A simple rule of thumb is that many of the best red Burgundies come from the Côte de Nuits and the best whites are often found in the Côte de Beaune. Together they make up the Côte d’Or and have all but one of Burgundy’s Grand Cru AOCs. But to the west of the posh addresses of Beaune and on the top of the the main Côte d’Or escarpment is the appellation Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune.
Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune La Justice 2014(12.5%, €21 at Redmonds, Donnybrook Fair and SIYPS)
The Billards (not Billiards!) are based in Rochepot close to Beaune and have 17 hectares spread over 12 different appellations, both red and white. This wine is from the lieu-dit (or named vineyard) La Justice and is both fermented and matured in oak barrels, though the latter is mainly older oak. It is very approachable and drinkable now but has the structure and texture to develop over the coming five to ten years.
The Beaujolais wine area was legally attached to the Burgundy wine area though a civil case in 1930, reinforced by the decree in 1937 which created the Burgundy AOC. While arguments for an against continue, I’ll just concentrate on the wine – in particular the rare whites. Chardonnayis the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon(de Bourgogne, the Muscadetgrape) and Pinot Gris also planted.
Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2015(13.0%, RRP €18 at Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Martin’s Off licence and SIYPS)
In the northern marches of Beaujolais there has always been some overlap with the most southerly villages of the Maconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy “proper”, but this is bona fide real-deal Beaujolais-Villages Blanc. Of course the -Villages part means that it is above standard Beaujolais but not made in one of the Crucommunes.
Gérard Gelin took over the domaine from his father in 1976, and now runs it as a joint venture with his son Gilles. They have 36 ha in total of which over 20 is in Beaujolais-Villages.
This wine is 100% Chardonnay from young vines, with some lees ageing to add character and texture. It’s quite floral on the nose then mainly citrus on the palate.
Now it’s the turn for white wines to shine – here are ten of the best still dry whites which shone in 2016:
10. Feudo Luparello Sicilia Grillo – Viognier 2015
A novel blend of indigenous Sicilian and international grapes, this wine is more than the sum of its parts. Local Grillo is fresh and textured, more dry than fruity, whereas Viognier adds a voluptuous touch. This is how blended wines should work!
See herefor the full review (and the Nero d’Avola – Syrah blend!)
9. Nugan Estate Riverina Dreamer’s Chardonnay
A “supermarket wine” made from “unfashionable” Chardonnay in a region known for its bulk wines, on paper this wine should be pap – but it works, in fact it works a treat! In Ireland (at least) the main parameter for wine consumers in supermarkets in price, especially if a promotional offer is involved. Given the high rates of duty and tax squeezing the cost side of the equation it’s not easy to find everyday wines that are actually enjoyable (though plenty are drinkable).
Nugan Estate’s “Personality” Single Vineyard series ticks all the boxes for me, and this was narrowly my favourite of the lot. See herefor my review of the full range.
Although the label might look like an impressionist’s take on Health & Efficiency, the wine inside is fantastic – great with seafood, but gentle and fruity enough to be enjoyed on its own. If only all Albariños were this good!
The “other” white grape of Burgundy (ignoring the small amounts of Pinots Blanc and Gris) which is definitely a second class citizen, and is so poor on its own that the Kir cocktail was invented to find a palatable use for it – or so the received wisdom goes.
There’s some element of truth in this, but Aligoté is usually grown on less-favoured sites and with a focus on yields rather than flavour, so it takes a brave producer to break out of this cycle and give the grape the attention it deserves. The Goisot family are such a producer, based in the Sauvignon Blanc outpost of Saint-Bris. This Aligoté is unlike any other I have tasted – it actually has colour unlike most which are like pale water, and an intensity of white flower and spicy pear flavours which reveal the age of the vines.
6. Gaia Wild Ferment Santorini Assyrtiko 2013
When I put together a “wild” wine tasting for DNS Wine Club last year, there were a few obvious candidates that couldn’t possibly be missed from the line-up – this being one of them. I had recommended it several times in the past so I was hoping it would live up to its reputation – especially tasted blind – and it certainly did! Overall this was the favourite wine of the tasting, showing the funky flavours of wild yeast fermentation but still plenty of lovely citrus fruit and crisp acidity.
5. Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
A common complaint levelled at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and Marlborough in particular – is that “they all taste the same”. There is some truth in this – the aromatics are generally recognisable before the first glass has even been poured and they are never short of acidity – but if you taste different examples side by side then there are clear differences. The alternative styles of SB are another thing, of course, with wild yeast barrel fermentation and oak ageing used to make a different type of wine (see this article for more information).
4. Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
This isn’t a wine for everybody, but it’s a wine everybody should try at least once. Based mainly on Listan Blanco grapes from ten plots in Tenerife’s Valle de La Orotava, it’s so different that at first it’s hard to describe using everyday wine terms – it’s not fruity or buttery – perhaps nutty and waxy? Sounds strange, but it’s an interesting and very enjoyable wine.
3. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling 2014
Domaine Zinck’s Portrait Series wines are fine examples of regular AOC Alsace wines and show the town of Eguisheim in a good light. Take the step up to the Grand Cru Eichberg Riesling, however, and you move into different territory; not just in terms of the elevation of the vines, but a much more intense catalogue of aromas and flavours. Even a young example such as this 2014 is delightful, but with the capacity to age for a decade or two and continue developing.
2. Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011
Narrowly pipping its countryman, Sipp-Mack’s Grand Cru Riesling is from another exalted site: the Rosacker vineyard near Hunawihr, in between Ribeauvillé (where Trimbach is based) and Riquewihr (home to Hugel). It has both primary fruit and mineral notes, and performs fantastically at the table.
For such a stunning wine it is relatively inexpensive at around €30 retail. See herefor the full review.
1. Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2014
When I have favourite wines that I taste regularly over the years, I try not to repeat myself too much in my Top 10 review articles. Given that I am lucky enough to taste several thousand wines over the course of an average year, it’s not such a difficult line to take…apart from M3!! The 2014 is still very young, but it’s a delight to drink now. Adelaide Hills is now possibly second to Tasmania for trendy cooler climate Aussie wines, but for me it’s still number one.