Introducing Burgundy: Chorey-les-Beaune
In last Friday's brief discussion of Pouilly-Fuissé, I mentioned that the epicenter of great wine in Burgundy is the village of Beaune, center of the short, favored wine-producing hillside called the Côte d'Or.
Beaune is pronounced "Bone," giving rise to a long tradition of wine-geek jokes that culminate in the punchline, "give the dog a Beaune." It's a pretty, quaint little city perhaps best known for the picturesque Hôtel-Dieu of the Hospices de Beaune, a 550-year-old charity hospital that is the beneficiary of a noteworthy annual wine auction every November.
The Côte d'Or in its entirety is only about 50 kilometers (30 miles) long and generally no more than a couple of hundred yards from the top to the bottom if the hillside. It produces only about 10 percent of Burgundy's wine. But by most accounts it is Burgundy's best wine.
For today's tasting, second in an occasional series about Burgundy leading up to my May 24-30 tour of the region with French Wine Explorers, let's zero in on the Côte d'Or with a taste of a simple but attractive red wine from Chorey-les-Beaune.
For orientation, remember that the Côte d'Or is divided into two parts, with Beaune approximately at the center. The Côte de Nuits reaches northward about a dozen miles toward Dijon. The Côte de Beaune extends to the south less than 20 miles toward Santenay.
Like virtually all French wines, Burgundies are identified by the geographical place where their grapes are grown, and conventional wisdom holds that the more narrowly defined the real estate, the finer the wine. Thus, the greatest Burgundies are those grown in specific vineyards, particularly those vineyards identified, on the basis of long-term performance, as "Grand Cru," followed by "Premier Cru." A bit down the line follow wines from specific villages (like today's "Chorey-les-Beaune)" while those identified with broader regions ("Côte de Beaune") are usually less sought-after, with generic "Bourgogne" (Burgundy, not otherwise differentiated by geography) at the bottom of the pack.
While this hierarchy works well for status-seekers and as a matter of pure classification, bargain-seekers can approach the Burgundy shelf from the other end with sometimes pleasurable results. "Lesser" Burgundies may lack the cachet of their more pricey brethren, but by following the advice of writers, publications or merchants whom you trust, you can often find excellent Burgundies at affordable prices by "cherry picking" items that exceed expectations for their niche.
Chorey-les-Beaune is the Burgundy village closest to Beaune. A relatively small (400-acre) vineyard section, Chorey starts with quite a handicap in the race for respect: It's on flat land in a region where hillside exposure is considered essential; indeed, much of it is on the decidedly downscale eastern side of the highway, across the road from the favored slope. None of Chorey's vineyards have earned the Grand Cru designation or even Premier Cru, and most of its grapes are sold to negociants to be included in relatively anonymous wines labeled merely Côte de Beaune.
But this sets up a classic opportunity for wine-value seekers: By looking for the best products of less-sought-after regions, those unlikely candidates that consistently exceed expectations, we can beat the system by spotting wines that perform above their price.
And so it is with the wines of Domaine Jean-Luc Dubois, whose Chorey-les-Beaune I report today. Normally under $20 in the U.S., found on sale for under $10, it's a simple but balanced wine, showing a lot of Burgundy character for a price that makes it easy to enjoy.
As you can see, Burgundy isn't always simple. But I think you'll find that devoting a little effort to picturing the geography of the place helps put it into clearer perspective.
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Jean-Luc DuBois 2001 "Clos Margot" Chorey-les-Beaune ($9.50)
This wine is unfiltered and made from old vines ("vieilles vignes"). It shows a clear ruby color in the glass, not overly dark, with a distinct reddish-purple hue. There's spicy red-berry fruit in an appetizing aroma that segues smoothly into a ripe, fresh flavor of luscious fruit shaped by lemon-squirt acidity. Nicely balanced if not overly complex, fine with food. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. (Dec. 29, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A fine, traditional match with roast beef.
VALUE: Exceptional value at this 50-percent-off sale price; fairly priced at the regular $19.95.
WHEN TO DRINK: Intended for current enjoyment, but like any well-balanced Burgundy, will benefit from a few years aging at proper cellar temperature.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer has a page about Domaine Jean-Luc Dubois:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find a source for Clos Margot Chorey-les-Beaune on Wine-Searcher.com:
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Friday, Jan. 2, 2004