Difficult to believe that I spent ten years shuttling daily from Dijon to Meursault and yet it is twenty three years since I last set foot in rather quaint and picturesque Savigny les Beaune. But I was out and about and yesterday tasted with François Carillon in Puligny Montrachet and then as a lucky afterthought with Chisa Bize, spiritual caretaker of Domaine Simon Bize.
It’s always good to be reminded of how much you have to learn, how much prejudice you have to shake off. I was, Grenache oblige, somewhat indoctrinated in Paris au près du Palais Royal against Pinot Noir. Since then I had a long flirtation with the same, before repudiating it once more…above all for commercial reasons.
Although I still reject the assumed superiority of Burgundy “afficcionados”, or rather connoisseurs as they prefer to be considered, in Burgundy Pinot Noir is a complicated grape. As you descend the Côte, from powerful, brooding Côte de Nuits, with the contradictory and ultra feminine pose of Chambolle, through the firmness of Nuits St Georges to the soft, flirtatious, but occasionally vacuous Ladoix and on to Beaune – undervalued, diverse and complicated. There are jewels and there are duds.
To the south are Pommard, Volnay and the white villages of Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne. In general terms, only Volnay ever really impresses in red; rich, seductive and ageworthy.
But more mysterious is the other branch of the Côte de Beaune, the streaky valley that leads off to the west to Savigny , Pernand Vergelesses and beyond, up into the wilder heights of the Côtes de Beaune.
Streaky seems pretty apposite, because of all Burgundy’s appellations the wines here appear the leanest, sometimes austere, even a little mean. But it’s here that I find so much to learn.
You need to cncentrate on the wines at Simon Bize; if after Carillon’s Pulignys the whites show a shorter length, they have an admirable chunkiness and rusticity that sets them apart. For the reds, this is not the unctuous, sickly sweet and spicy young fruit of the Côte de Nuits; here the wines have a briary character, all blackberry and damson. It’s greener and leaner, and the rather skeletal body that these wines develop is what demands understanding, perhaps even a little indulgence.
I cannot believe they are to everyone’s taste, but if you like your reds to show tension and minerality, these are for you. They are shy and retiring. For braggarts they have no interest.
And with regard to the domaine, you cannot but admire the attitude, fortitude and philosphy of Chisa. In 2013 she lost her husband in a car accident and then 80% of her fruit to hail. The first, of course, more serious, but the second could have been fatal to the domaine.
Today she relates that all of this suffering was a gift, a gift offering her an opportunity to run the domaine, and in the manner she sees fit. By her own account a very Japanese version of bio-dynamie. Whatever proof the future brings, she is one brave lady.