Professional readers might note that, as I write up my experiences tasting around Burgundy, I tend to tread uncharacteristically gingerly when dealing with the wines themselves. This is because I haven't tasted enough. I've never bought Burgundy professionally, nor have I had much opportunity to taste the region's wines very deeply or broadly. Wine criticism, like any criticism, is the act of placing subjective reactions within a context of more-or-less objective information, and it's what I feel to be a lack of the latter that keeps me a bit British and even-handed and unjudgmental about the wines I tasted on this trip.*
For instance, at Domaine Denis Bachelet, the 3.8ha cult Gevrey-Chambertin estate whose Charmes-Chambertin is among the most sought-after and revered bottles of the appellation, what perspective could I possibly bring to the wines, having never tasted them before? They're masterful, magisterial, and no, we could not, at that time, purchase any.**
I was happy just to be there. Even if I could do little more than mutely confirm the greatness of Denis Bachelet's zen-like production.
In retrospect, I would have made more of an effort to engage with the wines, and the winemaker, had J and I not been cataclysmically hungover from the previous night's carousing at Bar du Square in Beaune. Standing there with unsteady balance, woolen mouths, and audible stomachs at the door of Domaine Denis Bachelet was like a Dante-esque punishment for anyone who has ever enjoyed Burgundy.
Our shame was magnified by the sheer Spartan focus of Bachelet's operation. His welcome was brief - who are you? where are you from? - and it didn't take much longer than the length of our responses for M. Bachelet to explain the scope of his domaine. We were standing in the room where he prepared shipments. In the next room, in barrels, was his entire 2011 harvest. Below, in barrels the cellar, sat his entire 2010 harvest. Stockkeeping must be a breeze, was my reaction.
Denis Bachelet's vines have been in his family for several generations, but from what I understand he's the first to work them in the contemporary era, having taken over the estate at age eighteen and made his first vintage in 1981. Bachelet's son now plans to follow him into the wine business. Upon learning that both J and I spent time in the wine scene in California, Bachelet père informed us that Bachelet fils is presently in the Golden State, interning with famed makers of industrial jug wine Gallo, apparently in some kind of cosmic joke intended to make him appreciate his heritage.
As we tasted in the cellar, J asked Bachelet how vinification goes chez lui, to which the winemaker pithily responded, "Banalement" ('boringly'), preferring instead to credit his vines for his wines' renown. The domaine is comprised entirely of old vines, some, like the Charmes, more than a century old. Bachelet notes that very different clones were used back when these vineyards were planted. For the record, though: fermentation is natural, and his wines undergo 6-8 days of cold maceration, before aging 16-18 months in 30-50% new oak. In terms of viticulture, he practices what I expect is a strict but non-invasive variant of lutte raisonée.
Of the 2010's we tasted, it will surprise no one if I announce that the legendary Charmes-Chambertin was the most memorable: already perfumed, with incisive graphite / berry accord on the palate. But everything was beautiful, the wines perceptibly suffused with the same intensity of purpose that - if I may here permit myself access to that old wine-writing trope - typifies Denis Bachelet himself. More interesting than my own ill-informed alcohol-fogged impressions of Bachelet's wine, perhaps, is his own brief commentary, some of which I wrote down before we ambled on to our next appointment:
On 2010 vintage: 'Less media pressure'...'A lot of flesh, with a purity of fruit, and a little spike of acidity'... '[Acidity is] one of the legs of the stool.'... '
On tasting in Burgundy: 'Fall is the best time'...'The great wines of Burgundy are like oysters, they are best in months with an 'R'... 'They are super-fragile.'
Nothing revelatory here - but, along with the memories of what I tasted that day, it provides that much more perspective, should I have the good fortune to taste these wines from barrel again.
(The other day J brought over a bottle of Bachelet's 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin, affording us the opportunity to taste the wine in less formal / less knackered circumstances. Oak was no longer very apparent, fruit was sustained and clear, but the wine maintained a strict, almost severe personality, a whip made of tobacco and licorice. Timeless, gnomic, verging on pleasurable - something like a Luke Roberts song.)
Domaine Denis Bachelet
25 rue du Clos
21220 Saint Philibert
Tel: 03 80 51 89 09.
* Funnily enough, I suspect this timidity is at times indistinguishable from the tone of reserve and politesse adopted by most professional wine writers, whose longstanding industry connections seemingly prevent them from displaying any teeth or writing anything worth reading.
** Some months after this particular tasting / intense once-over, J was delighted to hear that M. Bachelet had decided to sell him some wine. Not a lot of wine, but one takes what one can get (and one is overjoyed).
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Bar du Square, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Ma Cuisine, Beaune
N.D.P. in Burgundy: Domaine Bertrand Machard de Gramont, Curtil-Vergy
A nice profile of Domaine Denis Bachelet by my friend Paul Wasserman @ LeSerbet
Some 2011 notes on Domaine Denis Bachelet's 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin by Jane Skilton, MW @ TheMottledOyster
A 2008 tasting of the '04 and '05 Bachelet Côte de Nuits Villages @ BigRedDiary
A 2010 tasting of the '05 Bachelet Côte de Nuits Villages @ WineRambler