The stars must have been aligned and a flower day in the biodynamic calendar as our bottle of Maison Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Rouges 2008 blossomed in the glass moreover sublime with our Peking duck over lunch at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck, surely the best duck to be had in all Singapore.And is if the spirits were coercing me, a notebook that had gone missing for several months and the cause of much anguish, as it contained a detailed account of my visit to the Drouhin Caves in Beaune, miraculously reappears.
With all this sheng ch’i – good energy – one felt a compelling inspiration and timeliness in writing on Maison Joseph Drouhin. Indeed they are the touchstone example of the dynamics of change in Burgundy; a fourth generation family business that understands their roots yet embraces the contemporary world with an unrelenting impetus on quality and championing biodynamic practices in both Burgundy and Oregon, USA; certainly no one could accuse them of not being open-minded or having a global outlook.
Having met Frédéric Drouhin many times my enthusiasm for Burgundy and Maison Drouhin is always rejuvenated with his forthright approach to the world of wine and an incredible grasp of every facet of the global market place. He is resolute in how his family plays a very important role in ensuring the consumer comprehends the dynamic of this amazing Maison and Domaine that he helms and how their wines reflect their ‘sense of place’ yet with a bilateral empathy and genuine enthusiasm for the progression of all good wine and the evolution of wine consumption, particularly in Asia.
And I adore Véronique Drouhin, one of my favourite vignerons and a thoroughly charming, gentle and warm person, always gregarious with a sharp sense of humour and genuinely altruistic. She is the oenologist and responsible for perpetuating the style of the wines, characteristically elegant and poised with defined purity and finesse; markedly restrained and yet I would avoid the assumption ‘feminine’ as her wines do not lack for power and resonate terroir and authenticity moreover are known for their longevity.
Philippe Drouhin is in charge of the vineyards in Burgundy and in Oregon and when you see the commitment and enthusiasm for organics and biodynamic principals being applied on such a large scale and as thoroughly as Maison Joseph Drouhin encompasses, you can almost visualize all of Burgundy will one day be as it was centuries ago and farmed completely naturally.
Maison Joseph Drouhin is certainly an extraordinary entity with a history going back to 1880 when the then 22 year-old Joseph Drouhin moved from Chablis to settle in Beaune and start his own wine company.
His son Maurice built on these foundations, most importantly by buying vineyards in Clos des Mouche and Clos Vougeot and subsequently Robert Drouhin growing the vineyard holdings to a present day 73 hectares (182 acres) in Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Chablis making it one of the largest estates in Burgundy.
More than two-thirds of their vineyards are classified as Premiers Crus and Grands Crus and with around 90 different wines made from pinot noir and chardonnay; they offer a fascinating kaleidoscope of Burgundy terroir.
Nothwithstanding the truism that all good wine is made in the vineyard, one cannot help get caught up in the romance of history and the intoxicating atmosphere of their 13th Century Cellars in the heart of Beaune.
We visited the Drouhin headquarters in August this year, our guided tour through the labyrinth of cellars with export director, Christophe Thomas, a giant of man both in physique and heart, was utterly fascinating.
Having met Thomas recently when he travelled through Singapore on his ceaseless global rounds, I couldn’t help wonder that this ex-rugby player should have been brought out of retirement for the World Cup and it might have been a different outcome with him in the scrum.
Speaking of rugby, I recall a little gentleman’s wager on the final, Frédéric; something along the lines of a very good magnum!
We started off our tour in “The Cuverie” with its enormous wooden press dating back to 1570 in use until the French Revolution and still in good working order today used on special occasions to press grapes from the Beaune Clos des Mouches vineyard with two cuvées of white and red Clos des Mouches made in 1980 for the centennial of Maison Joseph Drouhin, then in 2000 for the millennium and again in 2005 for their 125th anniversary.
Feeling like Hobbit’s as we disappeared down a narrow spiral staircase, our six-foot-seven guide leading the way, stooped over and looking like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame as he navigated his way through this underground village spanning 2.5 acres of exceedingly low-ceilinged maze of vaults and tunnels.
One is overwhelmed by this catacomb relic and the sensation of being on such hallowed ground; to be standing on the foundations of what was a 4th Century Roman fortification and marvel at the thousands of years of evolution that took place in this very spot.
As we made our way through the different chambers, every shadow and crevice of the mould-covered limestone walls whispered intrigue of by gone times, in parts an eerie darkness with dimly lit vaults lined with cobwebbed recesses, the spookiness suddenly assuaged by stacked rows of dust covered bottles with vintage bin labels of antiquity that induce instant salivation and rush of vinous avariciousness – if only my cellar was stocked like this!
A feeling of augustness swept over us as we entered ‘The Cellars of the Kings of France and the Cave of the Parliament’ which belonged to the Dukes of Burgundy, above this cellar, the great hall of the Parliament, as the Dukes were at this time residing in Dijon, but their court of law was in Beaune.
Christophe’s narrative turned more animated with an air of patriotism as he pointed to a trap door, then concealed by a false wall that Maurice Drouhin had erected during the Nazi invasion; a secret passage that would save Maurice’s life as he was part of the French Resistance and betrayed to the Germans, escaping through the cellars taking refuge in the Hotel Dieu with the nuns concealing him for over 3 months.
Nowadays, this part of the cellar is home to the aging barrels of Marc de Bourgogne distilled from Beaune Clos des Mouches grapes, odoriferous in alcohol spirit and a Palaeolithic earthiness.
Our indoctrination to the Caves des Drouhin complete, Christophe proceeded to open some current vintages for a mini-tasting before heading for a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Loiseau des Vignes, a short walk from the cellars, in the rain mind but I could not think of a better place to be holed up on a cool, drizzly summer’s day in Beaune. http://www.bernard-loiseau.com/uk/index.php#beaune-loiseau-des-vignes.php
My notes on our tasting are below however, I have deviated somewhat from the original inspiration and impetus of the Clos des Mouches Rouges 2008, my dining companions agreeing the wine was superb both in its etherealness and complexity, and ultimately a perfect accompaniment to the sweet, gamey flavours of our duck and plum sauce pancakes.
2008 is a vintage that is perhaps underappreciated, that is in a ratings obsessed wine world, it is overshadowed by the vintage hype of 2009 however, in general terms, those who worked hard in the vineyard with this difficult vintage produced wines with particularly bright acidity and plenty of backbone and stuffing yet markedly refined with both purity of fruit and resonating terroir.
The Clos des Mouches vineyard is perhaps one of the most well-known climat in Côte de Beaune, taking its name from the “Mouches à Miel” – honey flies – with the Drouhin vineyards uniquely planted to equal quantities of chardonnay and pinot noir. Arguably the white Clos des Mouches garners more attention, possibly due to a strong reputation for their white wines but certainly not a reflection on the quality of the reds, as this wine demonstrates.
My note reads: “Captivating meaty, roasted pigeon aromas amongst a lifted and completely seductive perfume of wild berries, piquant cherry and that coveted nuance of violets, an undertone of brush and briary characters give way to a powerful steely, minerally gun smoke incense with youthful hints of mint freshness amongst spicy notes of clove and anise – gorgeous perfume really. The palate is steely edged, as one would expect of Beaune, slight framework, very perky, cool-edged bright fruit on the palate unleashing a torrent of sour red current and wild strawberry, and yet seemingly gentle and subtle at the same time racy, steely, minerally, crisp and crunchy in its fruit, very focused and poised lingering long on the palate with a distinct earthy savouriness; overall a taut wine that demands food and a degree of immersion”.
As much as I enjoyed this wine now, in reality we were drinking it way before its time and it would benefit greatly from time in the bottle, I would suggest about 5 years and then depending on how good your cellar is, will evolve over 40 years – certainly a good candidate for those looking for birth-year wines that will go the distance moreover an auspicious number ‘2008’ should bring much luck.
Of strategic relevance, this is a wine of exceptional price/quality, S$143 per bottle here in Singapore, (through Monopole www.monopole.com.sg) which in the realms of Burgundy or even comparative to the upper echelons of new world pinot noir producers, is indeed very fair value for a wine of such age-worthy qualities and pedigree. (The Hong Kong distributor, Connoisseur Wines www.connoisseur-wines.com.hk has magnums at HK$1300).
In the convoluted sphere of Burgundy, Maison Joseph Drouhin wines are accessible and widely distributed throughout the world. Here in Asia, you can be assured that their importing agents will have treated the wines with due care as they have long-standing relationships and the family members and their export director Christophe Thomas are constantly engaged in all markets.
I mention this as many wine consumers are weary of Burgundy, or intimidated by the multiplicity of intricacies however, the quality and authenticity of the Drouhin wines is very high, right across their range and a trustworthy source for exploring the appellations of Burgundy.
One should also seek out older vintages of Maison Joseph Drouhin wines as they do blossom with age, at any level, moreover invariably outlive wine critics predicted maturity dates.
Tastings notes from our visit to the Drouhin Caves:
Maison Drouhin Saint Veran 2009
Lifted perfume of orchard flower blossom and lemon zest, minerally with some lees-dried banana characters; soft and nicely textured palate with crisp-apple freshness, very drinkable with bright acidity and liveliness.
Maison Drouhin Chablis Les Clos 2008
Perfume of fresh cut apple, fennel, spicy anise notes, loaded with minerally, sea-salt, windy wintery day at the beach nuances, also a degree of richness and olive oil characters; powerful and racy palate, lots of concentrated apple and lemon, great length, persistent apple-lemon flavours with a bracing rush of acidity that lingers forever – needs at least 5 years bottle age.
Maison Drouhin Puligny Montrachet 2008
Very expressive bouquet, oily, mealy, roasted nuts, hints of crème brûlée yet with a strong citrus, minerally background; appears much more bracing on palate, quite taut, powerful, very tangy and excellent length with a little phenolic grip and the tail end – a lot of wine for village level.
Maison Drouhin Close des Mouches Blanc 2008
I think my head must still be in the tropics of Singapore as I am getting distinct floral nuances of frangipani, also yellow plum and golden delicious apple, blanched almond; noticeably crisp and taut palate, lemon tart, very concentrated crisp apple flavours, perhaps a little austere and lemony at present, a chalky minerality, raciness, and persistent length all indicate it needs more time to build complexity, but overall impressive quality and fineness.
Maison Drouhin Le Montrachet Grand Cru ‘Marquis de Laguiche’ Grand Cru 2007
Opulent bouquet, oily, nutty, wedding cake almond icing, cinnamon and anise spiciness, ripe pears, baked apple tarte tatin, – captivating perfume – powerful palate, viscous, creamy, spicy layers of peaches and cream, beautifully textured, caresses the mouth, building in power with formidable length and carry of flavour; wonderful wine with decades ahead of it – a real treat to try now though.
Maison Drouhin Chorey les Beaune 2007
Bright cherry with notes of tamarind paste, dusty with a degree of musk, earthiness and hints of spearmint, cold rocks-minerality, crunchy chewy light and crisp wine with a good tension, would suggest demands for though with its overall savoury profile and dusty tannins, and maybe a few more years in bottle.
Maison Drouhin Clos des Mouches Rouges 2008 – see main tasting note
Maison Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru 2007
Beguiling perfume of sweet and sour nuances – sour cherry, red currants, sour plum strawberry and cherry compote – dark timbers and flinty, smoky complexity, the sort of wine to sit back with and saviour the bouquet; tantalizingly tangy, initial gentle strawberry flavours flesh out to more intense red berry fruits, one gets the sense of brooding power, elegant yet coiled and needing more time, again impressive for village 1er cru level.
Maison Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin 2007
Very perfumed, lovely raspberry and bright cherry, nuances of gun metal, flint and smokiness, attractive earthiness, open and crunchy light palate, silky smooth, easily approachable now, thoroughly seductive Gevrey that would be a great introduction for those who have not had Burgundy, equally perfect for restaurant wine lists.
Maison Drouhin Clos des Vougeot 2007
Deep, rich bouquet of concentrated plum and blackberry, indeed exotic and very intense, builds with Indian spice-box and meaty-salami notes with briary, barky undertones; smooth and rich palate entry, layers of plum and red berry compote, nice spicy warmth and an increasing tension, noticeably concentrated and long, firm tannins and powerful acidity point to it still be very youthful and I would try to leave this a good 5 years and it will evolve over decades.