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Big is still beautiful when it comes to Burgundy

GENERALLY speaking, I find that the most exciting Burgundy wines are made by small, independent producers.

Louis Jadots state-of-the-art winery in Beaune, one of the bigger merchant houses for Burgundy wine

GENERALLY speaking, I find that the most exciting Burgundy wines are made by small, independent producers.

The best are able to lavish exceptional care on their vineyards and can devote great attention to detail in making and ageing their wine, which are, in the best sense, hand crafted.

But there are also a few big merchant houses that aim for and achieve the same high standards. Louis Jadot is one of them.

This is clear as soon as you walk into their fabulous winery, just outside Beaune. Since the year before last there have been separate cellars for the production of red and white wine.

The red cellar is especially impressive; a mini-cathedral of wine-making, with its ordered, concentric circles of traditional, oak, open top fermenters and their modern stainless steel alternatives. Everything is spotless, traceable and highly efficient.

I was shown round by the company’s general manager Dominique Mounier. He rattled off facts and figures faster than I could note them. I was lost as he listed the vineyards owned by Louis Jadot across Burgundy, but was then reprieved by a little map which lists them all – a roll call of the region’s finest sites. It’s all mightily impressive.

Dominique goes to some lengths to stress Jadot’s commitment to quality, no matter how long it takes to achieve it. He insists that the only reason they have been experimenting with organic and even biodynamic viticulture on 14 hectares, spread over a number of vineyards over the last few years, is to produce quality.

“We’re not interested in labelling the wine as organic,” he says, “we simply believe that biodynamic and organic systems can produce quality wine; but it’s a long-haul process.”

All the grapes are hand-harvested and only indigenous, ambient yeasts are used to ferment the wine. Again, nothing is hurried. “You only need to use selected yeasts if you’re in a hurry,” he told me. “And if you do so, you change the taste of the wine. That’s why so much Beaujolais Nouveau seems to taste like bananas – they’re in a hurry to get the fermentation over.”

For similar reasons, they are reluctant to stir up the fine lees that falls to the bottle of the casks of white wine. Some Burgundy growers swear by lees stirring to make their wine richer and creamier. “We don’t do it too much,” he insists, “lees-stirring is done when you want to have a quick effect. We’re not in a hurry.”

But Louis Jadot is certainly not a firm with an unbending commitment to traditional methods as I discovered when we got on to the subject of the vexed question of corks and screw caps (they use screw caps for some wines destined for the UK market).

“We’re positive about screw caps,” Dominique affirms, “but at the moment if we adopted them entirely, we think it would be detrimental to our image.”

Apparently it’s not just the French who enjoy the pop of a conventional cork. The Americans and Canadians agree, and even some consumers in those countries like Australia where screw tops are the norm in their own wine industry.

“But we’re pragmatic people,” Dominique stresses. If going over to screw caps could be shown to be the best possible way of long-term storage of even the top wines, he insists they would have no hesitation in using them.

“At the moment, although the signals are pretty good, nothing is proven about the effect of storing wine longer than three or four years under a screw cap.”

He worries that beyond this, the wines may be irreparably tainted by reductive aromas from chemicals formed when the wine has used up all the oxygen available in the bottle.

Not all the wine sold under the Louis Jadot label is from the company’s own vineyards. Roughly half of the wine from village and regional appellations are from grapes bought under contract with other growers or is even blended from young wine, bought each year. They are content to know that the winemakers who supply them will carry out their fermentations with care and ensure the young wine finds its way to Jadot’s own winery in Beaune after the harvest, so it may be aged and blended accorded to their own high standards.

The proof of this policy may be enjoyed in the entry level wines in their range, especially the fine Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 and Bourgogne Chardonnay 2009.

The Chardonnay is complex and even a little nutty, with clean, elegant, ripe, lemony fruit. The Pinot Noir is beautifully perfumed, with quite light, juicy redcurrant fruit – a true reflection of all that is good in the character of the harvest that year. The top wines will give you a great deal of pleasure (see my blog for more: www.helensavage.com), but these two are worthy ambassadors, not just for Louis Jadot but also for the wonderful region of Burgundy itself.

WINE OF THE WEEK

ERRAZURIZ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 £8.99 Waitrose, Majestic, Wine Rack and Nisa:

Full-on, aromatic dry white, all green pepper, tomato stalks and asparagus, with a juicy gooseberry, lemon and passion fruit flavour. Very good with a green Thai curry, or a warm goat's cheese salad.

Errazuriz, one of the most reliable producers in Chile, has released some exciting new wines. Their single vineyard Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£11.49 from Waitrose or Wine Rack) is saltier, subtler and more delicate than my wine of the week. It also has the kind of mouth-watering piercing acidity that would be superb with seafood.

The latest (2010) vintage of their Pinot Noir (£9.99 Majestic or Wine Rack) is a ripe, cherry red with hints of spice and liquorice. It has lots of fruit and quite a silky texture, but more of a tannic bite than most red Burgundy, the benchmark for Pinot Noir, but is great value for money.

'The Blend' 2007 (£19.50 from Waitrose) is a totally original and slightly mad mix of 45% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Carmenere and 5% Roussanne. It's explosively fruity, with all sorts of flavours jostling to come through. With juicy acidic and with very ripe tannins, it can't fail to make an impact.

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