Exploring Pinot Noir in Burgundy’s Northern Reaches
As Pinot Noir from Burgundy becomes ever more expensive, I’ve been keen to learn more about some of the region’s more budget friendly Pinot Noirs. That search led to me the Yonne, Burgundy’s northernmost département.
From this area, there is an array of Pinot Noir-based appellations. Only one is a village appellation: Irancy. The others are regional appellations belonging to the Grands Auxerrois area: Bourgogne Chitry, Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse and Bourgogne Épineuil. Of course, there’s also good old Bourgogne Rouge.
These reds are lighter than those further south, save the sturdier wines from the bowl-shaped terroir of Irancy. Irancy’s unique – and visually stunning – terroir produces the best reds of the Yonne. Top examples age well, too, and often even need a few years to soften their sometimes scrappy, youthful edges. Luckily, many producers do the aging for you, releasing their wines several years later than their confrères.
Mind you, it may not be easy to track down many of these wines. Visitors from Paris (only two hours away) scoop up an impressive percentage of the production. Benoît Cantin, one of Irancy’s leading producers, estimates he exports only five to ten percent. Christoffe Ferrari of Domaine Saint-Germain sells 40% of his wine at the cellar door and estimates the appellation sells 80% of its wines direct! Three hundred and twenty hectares are classified with about 220 in production. Compare that to Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée, each at around 150 hectares in production, and this feat sounds even more extraordinary!
Here are my scores for 93 wines tasted in the region in July 2016, accompanied by 20 notes on some of my favorites (not exclusively the highest scoring). All wines are listed in alphabetical order.
Domaine Benoît Cantin 2013 Irancy Cuvée Emeline
This is made from a selection of barrels from La Grande Côte. Here Benoît ages the wine 18 months and is looking for more tannin and more new oak influence. There’s often more color, too. The nose is gorgeous with sumptuously ripe blueberries and raspberries. The dense but highly finessed tannins pull the flavors into a solid finish. I love the wine’s tremendous energy.
Domaine Benoît Cantin 2013 Irancy Palotte
This wine has an enormous nose packed with blackberries and crunchy, sweet-tart red fruits. Crackling with acidity, this could use some time to settle down. The plethora of exotic flavors is impressive and leads with oodles of baking spices followed by grilled meats and forest floor.
Domaine Clotilde Davenne 2015 Irancy Paradis
This wine really is a “paradise” (“Paradis”) for Irancy – one composed of crunchy black fruits. It has an exuberant amount of perfume with immense concentration. There is a definite “funk” to the wine and loads of color…surely there is César in this? The youthful tannins paired with fresh acidity give the palate a slightly rigid feel right now. It could use a bit of time to mellow in bottle.
Domaine Colinot 2015 Irancy Côte du Moutière
This is a pleasantly fruit-driven combination of Pinot Noir with about 8% César. The blackberry and bramble fruits dominate the wine’s noticeable tinge of rusticity, making it slightly more approachable now than its sibling cuvée, the Très Vieilles Vignes. The full body is firm and yet pleasantly juicy. Still, it also could use some time to settle down in bottle.
Domaine Colinot 2015 Irancy Très Vieilles Vignes
This wine hails from 80-year-old vines. The legal maximum of 10% César is included, contributing to the über-dark core, firm structure and funky flavors. It’s all encased in a generous serving of delightfully ripe black currants and black plums. The Yonne is the only region in France where César is permitted, and producers tend to love or hate it. Stéphanie Colinot seems to know how to focus it to a positive effect.
Domaine Jean-Louis & Jean-Christophe Bersan 2015 Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre
Situated in the heart of the sweet village of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, this father-and-son team makes pure, chiseled wines full of lovely vinosity. This one is full of red currants and dried cranberries laced with licorice. It has an invigorating, knife’s edge balance of mineral firmness balanced by copious quantities of fruit. It’s only medium on the finish and a wine for the mid- rather than long-term, but it is absolutely delectable.
Domaine Jean-Louis & Jean-Christophe Bersan 2015 Irancy Cuvée Louis Bersan
This wine has a hedonistic core of fruit. The first aromas of blackberries and cassis flex and expand into exotic Chinese five-spice and lavender on the charasmatic palate. Incredibly young, the solid fruit concentration and long finish shows this wine has plenty of beneficial development in bottle ahead.
Domaine Jean-Louis & Jean-Christophe Bersan 2014 Irancy Cuvée Louis Bersan
My final note on this wine simply said, “Happy!” The fruit is feistily fresh and forward. The generous finish displays a pungently briary note that is almost more reminiscent of Cabernet Franc than Pinot Noir. Dense, layered fruit at the core is accompanied by immense structure, particularly in the form of crunchy tannins. This noble wine is aged in the family’s historic caves, dating back to the sixth and seventh centuries.
Domaine de La Croix Montjoie 2015 Bourgogne Rosé
Vibrantly fresh with oodles of strawberries and whole white peppercorns, this wine shows an underlying yeasty tone on the mid-palate. Its delicate nature allows for sipping alone (preferably on a sunshine-filled terrace) or for pairing with subtle appetizers. This is the only vintage Sophie and Matthieu Woillez have made a rosé since they created this domaine in 2009.
Drink: Through 2017
Domaine Maltoff 2014 Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse Cuvée Classic
Vinous and sappy with mulberries and field strawberries, this is drinking beautifully now and is an excellent light red for warmer weather. On the attack, it first feels gently sculpted by powdery tannins then is honed more precisely by sassy acidity. If this weren’t enough, it’s just plain fun to hear “Coulanges-la-Vineuse” roll off the tongue – very French, indeed.
Domaine Marc Cameron 2014 Bourgogne Épineuil
Bursting with cherries and pomegranate arils, this wine has immensely fresh fruit flavors despite its generous ripeness. Bustling with acidity and hemmed in by fine tannins, the simultaneously sensuous and structured mouthfeel should give this bottle good lasting power.
Domaine Petit Jean 2015 Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre
This bottling is pale in color with an impressively fresh and energetic nose of peak-of-freshness blueberries. It shows pleasantly tight-knit concentration and zings with spiciness on the palate then into the medium-plus finish. There’s excellent liveliness here.
Domaine Renaud 2015 Irancy
This young wine boasts a huge nose of bright blueberry fruits and sweet and savory spices. Its rounded palate is packed with pure, juicy fruit and surrounded by suave tannins. Exuding freshness and approachability, this is highly gluggable. More, please!
Domaine Saint-Germain 2013 Irancy La Bergère
I never would have guessed that this wine sees 50% new oak, surely thanks to its voluptuous and copious amounts of blackberries and black cherries. The sexy, rounded tannins let the soaring acidity structure the wine. The finish is every so slightly smoky.
Domaine Saint-Germain 2014 Irancy Les Mazelots
Hailing from the northern end of Irancy, Les Mazelots faces south and southwest with a predominantly clay soil. So, it’s not surprising this deeply-colored expression is compact in firm and densely ripe black plums and black cherries. It could use some time in bottle to soften. Its lingering finish of exotic North African spices is truly delightful.
Domaine Thierry Richoux 2013 Irancy Veaupessiot
This wine is sheer delight. It is impressively fresh with a fragrant nose of exotic spices and fresh flowers. The tannins are mild but the palate feels fresh and perky thanks to invigorating acidity. Sweet oak spice filters through on the lingering, lifted finish. Veaupessiot is one of Irancy’s top vineyards, and Richoux takes it to an ethereal level. This cuvée ages tremendously well.
Domaine Thierry Richoux 1995 Irancy Veaupessiot
Tasted at 21 years old, this Veaupessiot was still fresh and lively in color and flavor. Only the tiniest threads of brown were beginning to weave into the pale cherry core. The nose exhibited sweet spices, rose petals, pink grapefruit zest and lingonberries. Everything about the wine is refined and elegant, including the silky tannins that guide the wine into a very long finish.
Domaine Verret 2015 Irancy
Though very pale in color, this wine’s sappy and fragrant perfume is far from timid. The palate offers black cherry, blackberry and sloe notes. With excellent purity and dazzling refreshment, you’ll polish this bottle off more quickly than you would expect.
Pascal Bouchard 2014 Bourgogne Réserve Saint-Pierre
This wine has a fragrant, fresh fruit nose with loads of crunchy red and black berries overlaid with toasty tones that suggest a kiss of oak. However, the wine is vinified and aged entirely in stainless steel. The mid-palate has a lightly plump feel thanks to its pleasantly ripe fruit. It’s a bit wound up in its youth and could use some time to settle down, though with decanting it drinks well now.
Simonnet-Febvre 2014 Bourgogne Épineuil
This wine has a pleasantly zingy nose of tart red berries and freshly-plucked roses. Delightfully pure, it has excellent – almost primal - energy encasing its dry tannins and vibrant acidity. With medium concentration and a pleasant finish, this is an overachiever in refreshment.