Wine Review: 2008 Maison Roche de Bellene Cote de Nuits-Villages

9 06 2011

I’m pretty sure this is the first Burgundy that’s made its way onto PnP; I don’t drink a lot of it because the cheaper stuff tends to taste that way and almost all of the good stuff tends to be out of my price range.  However, I’m trying to put a little more effort into discovering the wines of that region, because top quality Burgundies are some of the most alluring, complex, memorable wines in the world.  I got a chance to try some high-end white and red Burgundy at my WSET course a couple weekends ago (a Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet [white] and a Domaine Roy Marc Gevrey-Chambertin [red], if you’re curious) and started to understand what all the fuss is about, so tonight I dug up this wine, which comes from one of the few solid value producers in the area, to continue my Burgundy initiation.

The label may look simple, but don't be fooled...Burgundy will get you.

Before I get to the wine, though, some quick label tips.  Burgundy is a wine region in central-eastern France; on any Burgundy you will likely see the French name for the region, Bourgogne, somewhere on the bottle.  In my opinion, Burgundy labels are some of the most consumer-unfriendly in the world, because they only give you small pieces of information that mean nothing unless you’re familiar with the Burgundian appellation system, which is more complicated than most.  Here’s the easy part:  red Burgundies (other than Beaulojais, which is almost treated as an entirely separate region) are made from Pinot Noir, and white Burgundies are made from Chardonnay, so there’s never any guessing games about the grapes involved in the wine.  Now the harder part:  Burgundy uses a kind of nested appellation system to identify its wines, so within the broad regional appellation there’s a concentric circle of increasingly smaller, more localized appellations, the most specific of which cover only a single vineyard.  Generally speaking, the smaller and more localized the appellation on the bottle, the higher quality (and more expensive) the wine.

The broadest and biggest appellation of all is “Appellation Bourgogne Controllee”, or Bourgogne AC for short; if you see this on a label, it means that the grapes for that wine could come from anywhere (from one or multiple locations) in Burgundy.  The next level of appellation covers wines from a specific sub-region of Burgundy, like Cote de Nuits AC, Cote de Beaune AC, Macon AC, etc.; now instead of being able to come from anywhere in Burgundy, the grapes for the wine have to come from within the specific sub-region.  A narrower subset of these sub-regional appellations is a “Villages”-labelled wine like this Roche de Bellene Cote de Nuits-Villages; the “Villages” designation means that the grapes have to come from vineyards surrounding certain villages within the sub-region that are more renowned for quality, so a “Villages” wine will usually be of higher quality than a regional wine without the “Villages” classification.  The next level of specificity covers wines from just one specific high-quality village, like the Puligny-Montrachet AC and the Gevrey-Chambertin AC I had at the WSET.  In this case, Puligny-Montrachet and Gevrey-Chambertin are the names of the villages; they used to be called just “Puligny” and “Gevrey”, but they have attached the name of the most famous nearby vineyard (Montrachet and Chambertin) to their town moniker for PR purposes.  A wine from Puligny-Montrachet AC can come from one or more vineyards surrounding the village.  After this, the appellation system narrows to single-vineyard wines, which are split up into two designations:  Premier Cru and Grand Cru.  Premier Cru vineyards like the Clos Saint-Jacques vineyard near Gevrey-Chambertin have unique characteristics and produce top-quality wines, but aren’t quite as exceptional as the Grand Cru vineyards like the renowned Chambertin vineyard in the same region, which produce the best wines Burgundy has to offer, with prices to match.  The key thing to understand about the Burgundian system is that Chambertin (Grand Cru) is a single-vineyard appellation within the Gevrey-Chambertin (single village) appellation, which is within the Cote de Nuits (subregional) appellation, which is within the global Bourgogne (regional) appellation…it’s like those Russian wooden nesting dolls, but using land and for wine.  I won’t complicate matters even further at this point, but thanks to the inheritance scheme previously established by the Napoleonic Code, each single vineyard in Burgundy can have dozens of owners, each with different winemaking standards, so even wines coming from the very same dirt grown from the very same grapes can taste totally different and be of vastly divergent quality standards.  All of this makes my head hurt…give me a German wine label any day.

Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (The cork is meh, but I'm really quite happy with how this picture turned out!)

ANYWAY…with that 750-word intro, on to the wine.  As mentioned above, this is a “Cote de Nuits-Villages AC” wine, meaning that it comes from certain better villages in the Cote de Nuits (which is the subregion in Burgundy that is best known for top-quality Pinot Noir).  While this Burgundy is far from the best of the best, it’s also far from the worst in terms of quality, and at under $30 a bottle, it’s almost wallet-friendly.  The general problem with Burgundy is that you get a whole lot less for $30 a bottle there than in most other wine regions; for instance, I paid basically the same amount for this bottle as I did for the 2008 Schild Shiraz from Australia, which got 94 points in Wine Spectator and was named one of the top 10 wines of the year.  The Roche de Bellene was a pretty pale ruby-salmon colour, almost totally transparent, a colour profile that you really only see in red wines made from Pinot Noir.  It had fairly intense aromatics, mainly of strawberry and cherry but with touches of pepper and dust and with an unusual briny/chlorine-y note at the end of each sniff.  As compared to the nose, there was much less fruit and much more dirt on the palate; there was still some red fruit (mainly raspberry) present, but the more assertive flavours were wood, earth, spice and mint.  Like many Pinots from cooler regions, it had a light, almost ethereal body, sharp acid and low levels of fine tannins.  I was a little disappointed in the finish, which dissipated rather quickly — long finishes are something for which good Burgundy is known.

The Roche de Bellene was better with food than without and would be a versatile pairing match with a wide variety of meals, because it’s light enough to cross over into some traditional white pairing dishes but still acidic and intense enough to handle some of the common red pairing dishes as well.  It was also better served slightly chilled (even more than I normally recommend for reds); the flavours seemed to jell together better at a lower temperature.  This wine lacked the layers of complexity that I thought it might have, and it’s one of those wines that I won’t remember much at all in two weeks, but as a basic introduction to Burgundy at a reasonable price, it’s definitely not a bad choice.

85+ points

$25 to $30 CDN 

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