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What’s the big deal about Burgundy?

On the 5 and 14 April 2019 temperatures in Burgundy plummeted, in some places to -4C. Growers and winemakers rushed to try and ward off frosts by lighting straw bales and candles, leading to some truly remarkable photos that circulated in daily papers and wine journals alike; with helicopters even called into action to try and disperse frost pockets. Late spring frosts damage vulnerable buds just as they burst for the start of the growing season, leading to dramatically reduced production and an inevitable rise in pricing for the wine that gets made. Back home in the UK, I had my fingers firmly crossed for a week (no mean feat when there are bottles of wine to open) for an uplift in temperature and as little damage to vines as possible.

All very exciting of course, but what has this got to do with Bel & the Dragon? For most restaurants, the weather forecast in one small corner of the wine-making world would be of minimal importance. There’s plenty more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being made elsewhere in the world, after all.  

For us, however, the connection to Burgundy runs deep. For almost ten years now we’ve proudly offered our own line of Bel & the Dragon White and Red Burgundies, produced for us by Olivier Leflaive.

Olivier is not a man who does own-label bottling. After 12 years at the legendary estate of Domaine Leflaive, he left to build his own business from scratch, and rightly so is fiercely proud of his business and the wines that bear his name. The idea of putting another name on the label of one of his wines, therefore, took some convincing. To this day we remain the only business that has managed to achieve it.  A perfect storm of factors came together to make this but happen, but we like to think primarily it’s down to the similarities in our businesses – a commitment to quality and an emphasis on what Olivier describes as ‘elegance and finesse rather than power and muscle’ – in this case, in his wines, making for utterly refreshing Pinot Noir – and Chardonnay to convert even the most ardent Chardonnay-avoider.

Thus when the growers of Burgundy are in trouble, we’re not just concerned from a wine perspective but also for the people who we’ve worked alongside for a great number of years. Over those years our own-label range has grown to include magnums of both White and Red, as well as half bottles of White, but the commitment to offering it year after year remains undiminished by frost or hail, sunburn or wildfire. And because we’re so proud of these wines, we do our best to absorb any vintage price variation to keep them accessible to all and by the glass on our wine lists.

Away from our own label, the wines of Burgundy generally – and in particular the whites – play a major role in our offer. Our list is home to a range of styles and appellations, from the cool north of Chablis down through the Cote de Beaune and into the ripe heart of the Maconnais. There is, in all honesty, quite a few. It can be simultaneously daunting and exciting to survey the list, both as a guest and when working on the floor. But they’re all delicious in their own way, with no two alike. Other grapes make wonderful whites also, of course, but there is just something special about White Burgundy that is best captured in the words of a wise if unknown philosopher – “she can keep the chalet and the Rolls, I want the Montrachet”. We don’t (sadly) have a chalet or a Rolls, but we still understand where he’s coming from.

Four of our particular favourites are listed below – in the name of accessibility, we usually have at least one of the below available by the glass from our Coravin at any time.

Happy sipping.

HC

  • Bel & the Dragon White Burgundy, Olivier Leflaive

Made from grapes sourced from the prestigious villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. Elegant, fresh and with a touch of light vanilla cream from partial oak fermentation. Year after year this outshines wines with a grander title attached to it. We’re big fans, clearly.

  • Macon-Villages ‘Les Sardines’, Domaine Robert-Denogent

The Maconnais is a reliable source of great value, easy drinking whites – but it’s also capable of surprising with some top notch examples also, but at more approachable prices. This is impressively complex, packed full of ripe red apple flavours with a subtle layer of toast and the complete antithesis to expectations summoned by the Macon name. The label isn’t bad either – the work of Morgon-based artist Denis Pesnot.

  • Chablis 1er Cru ‘Beauroy’, Laurent Tribut

Often thought of as lean and mineral but lacking a bit of richness, Chablis can be so much more – especially at 1er Cru and above. This example, made in tiny quantities by a true family operation demonstrates this – ripe and floral, rich in texture but with a steely mineral backbone that demands another a glass. It’s also organically produced – what’s not to like?

Churt/Cookham/Odiham only

  • Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Les Folatieres’, Domaine Jean Pascal

In 1879, the village of Puligny was granted permission to append the title of it’s greatest vineyard onto it’s name – and thus Puligny-Montrachet was born. An early example of a stunning piece of wine marketing, the wines have nevertheless stood up to the moniker over the years. The ‘Les Folatieres’ vineyard is one of the finest in the region, and this example from the small family domaine of Jean Pascal is supremely elegant and rich without ever straying into being over the top thanks to careful use of oak and a long, fresh, flinty finish.

Posted 5th August 2019 by Harry Christie

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