Varietalism and terroir in Burgundy
Most of Burgundy's wines come from just two grapes - Chardonnay for whites and Pinot Noir for reds - and they could not be more different in their fortunes. For whilst Chardonnay has found a home just about everywhere that wine is made, success with Pinot Noir has proven more elusive and very few places can claim to have any real success with it.
When oaked, Chardonnay generally produces reliable wines with easy-drinking tropical fruit and layers of rich, buttery toffee, whilst Pinot's hedonistic mix of red-berry fruit, truffley forest floor and soft texture is much harder to achieve (and to find) consistently. Moreover, whilst a bottle of Chardonnay is often amongst the cheapest on the supermarket shelf, any Pinot at under a tenner is something of a bargain - even better if it's halfway decent.
Finally, in the fashion stakes, Chardonnay is taking a turn out in the cold after a backlash against oaky whites in the last few years whilst Pinot has become the sensitive, sensual hero of the day for reds - especially since the film Sideways. Not all that long ago and in the face of the New World's technically well-made, fruit-driven wines, Burgundy reportedly had a reputation for pig-headedness, arrogance and a belief in the value and superiority of terroir above all things. Oz Clarke quotes one winemaker in his Webster's Wine Guide for 1999 as saying "I do not make Pinot Noir, I make Volnay !"
Fast-forward just over a decade and what do you know - Burgundy's producers have quietly taken steps to modernise and clean up their techniques, started including the varietal on the label and terroir is back in fashion again, especially at the upper end where there will always be a market for the limited quantities that Burgundy produces. This ability quietly to take the best that the rest of the world has to offer without throwing out the baby of heritage along with the bathwater of poor practice is something I particularly admire about the French and their attitude to wine-making; give me Old-World wines with New-World marketing over the opposite any time !
No-one could ever accuse Florence or Thierry Poulleau of Domaine Poulleau of arrogance or old-fashioned terroir-ism; their philosophy is to take the best from their heritage, but also to focus on the quality of the grapes through a mixture of both traditional and modern techniques, and they are also quite charming. Domaine Poulleau is a member of the Association de Vignerons Patrimoine des Terroirs, an ethical group of independent winegrowers share the same values and the same love of the vine, grapes and wines whose aim is to highlight the terroir of their wines.
This 2009 Volnay from vines 20 - 40 years old has a rich nose of cherries, vanilla and woodsiness with mushrooms, forest floor, some spice and a palate of ripe, juicy berries with hints of pencil shavings and a tannic buzz which turns grippy on the finish with some air. It's rich, ripe, mouthfilling, long and complex yet still relatively light; compared to the other wine from this producer (reviewed here), this one feels richer and fuller, more rounded, riper and with more fruit. We drank it with some more game - a stew of pheasant and rabbit - but I can't help feeling it would match best with more simple roast meat, such as game, beef or lamb.