Until the past quarter century or so, French winemaking was all about tradition. Winemakers did things certain ways because they had been done that way for hundreds of years and no one really complained.
The rise in quality and popularity of New World wines, particularly from America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina, forced many French wineries to reassess their methods. They looked to producing wines that appealed to an expanding global palate at the same time the wine market in France itself was contracting.
Many wineries in vaunted traditional wine regions like the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux started producing wines that were fruitier and drinkable when young. The French wine region that has really stayed the course is Burgundy, where traditional grape-farming and winemaking methods are still the order of the day.
One of the challenges with maintaining traditions is cost. Because of the painstaking way Burgundy wines – both the white and red versions – are produced, along with the intricacies of landownership, Burgundy is comparatively expensive to other kinds of wine.
One old Burgundy winery that has been around for more than 150 years, Maison Louis Jadot, has brought modern efficiencies to traditional winemaking methods in order to produce wines that are true to Burgundy’s unique terroir, but also offer an excellent value-for-money proposition.
Just one example in its ultra modern winery in Beaune is a circular fermentation room, where grapes can be put into the oak fermentation casks from a trough that swivels around the room on a rail above, making the process less time consuming and less labor intensive.
Several of the wines from Louis Jadot – and its sister wineries – were offered at a wine dinner at Cracked Conch on Dec. 6, when guests were able to see for themselves the great value offered by the wines.
On hand for the dinner was sommelier Antoine Collet, the southeast France portfolio manager for the U.S.-based distributor Kobrand. He acknowledged that Burgundy wines are sometimes difficult for people not familiar with them to understand.
“The don’t put the names of the variety on the labels; they put the names of the villages or vineyards. Basically, what I tell people is that [the] longer the name, the high[er] the price point.
One key to understanding Burgundy wines is that for the most part, all the white wines are made from the Chardonnay grape and all the red wines are made from the finicky Pinot Noir grape.
Louis Jadot is one of the largest producers in Burgundy, mainly because it is one of the larger landowners in Burgundy, with about 670 acres cultivated throughout the region. Jadot owns a lot of vineyards – some since 1826 – but it also acts as a négociant, meaning it has long-term agreements to control vineyards or parts of vineyards in Burgundy.
All of the grapes used in Jadot wines are treated the same way.
“Everything from Louis Jadot is hand-picked,” said Collet. “None of our wines lack anything in terms of quality, labor or standards. We want to do everything the correct way.”
Although several of Louis Jadot’s wines are Premier Cru or Grand Cru wines from some of the region’s top vineyards, it also makes wines using village or regional grapes that are less expensive, but still well-crafted.
The “Steel” Chardonnay, for instance, is made in more of a Chablis style. It is unoaked – meaning it is fermented in stainless steel tanks and never aged in oak barrels – keeping it fresh and clean on the palate. It’s an excellent food wine – especially with seafood – but can be enjoyed on its own. It is hard to find in retail stores, however, because it is mostly allocated to restaurants. Insider tip: Bottles are available for sale at West Indies Wine Company in Camana Bay.
“This is a wine that is more modern and easier to understand,” said Collet.
Just because the grapes used to make Steel are from the less expensive “regional” vineyards – as opposed to single Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards – the fact that the wine is produced with the same exacting standards as the best Louis Jadot wines means it is still very good and offers great value for a Burgundy Chardonnay.
Meursault is one of the most well known wines in Burgundy, coming from a village in the Côte de Beaune. It is known particularly for its white wines, which tend to be powerful and rich and have a buttery texture. It paired wonderfully with the pan-seared striped bass, truffle potato and leek gratin and black trumpet mushrooms in a butter sauce.
“It’s one of the most masculine wines from Burgundy,” said Collet.
The other wine served under the Maison Louis Jadot label was the 2012 “Anniversary” Premier Cru Pinot Noir. Because of the quality and reasonable price point, Collet said, the Cayman Islands is one of the few places he has been to recently where some bottles are still available in retail stores.
“This for me is a true reflection of terroir,” he said. “This bottle of wine will age 20 to 30 years.”
The wine comes from a blend of grapes from several Premier Cru vineyards from Beaune, and even though it does not bear the name of any particular vineyard, it is a rich and elegant wine that would go well with many foods.
At the wine dinner, it was paired nicely with roasted squab breast and leg confit, an ingredient Cracked Conch Chef Gilbert Cavallaro said is seldom available in Cayman.
The other two wines served over the course of the meal were from wineries owned by Louis Jadot, including Domaine Ferret’s Pouilly Fuisse Chardonnay and Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent Gamay from Beaujolais.
Domaine Ferret, which was established in 1840, produces one of the better Pouilly Fuisse wines, a Chardonnay that is a little fruitier and less complex that northern Burgundy white wines, making it a friendly and very versatile wine.
The Chateau des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent, which was served with a decadent chocolate mille-feuille dessert, is much different than most wines from Beaujolais, even though it’s made with the same grape – Gamay.
As a Cru Beaujolais, it is denser and earthier than other wines from the region and could improve with age for at least a decade or so.