Value Burgundy Battle: The NEW Cellar Direct

20 10 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Cellar Direct Does Burgundy.

Conscientious readers may remember this post from over a year ago where I introduced Cellar Direct, an Alberta-based online national wine club featuring subscription-based access to a specially-curated selection of non-interventionist natural wines.  Thirteen and a half months later, Cellar Direct is still doing its thing, but under a revamped and significantly more flexible business model.  Now, instead of paying a fixed amount per month for semi-recurring shipments of pre-selected wines, you simply keep an eye out for regular wine offers (generally to be unveiled weekly on Saturdays) and then place an online order for as few or as many bottles as you want, which are shipped to you shortly afterward in temperature-controlled trucks to keep your wines in cellar-like comfort during transport.  This simpler, less demanding offer-based approach is a boon to buyers in the tighter economic times in which we currently find ourselves in this province, and Cellar Direct’s streamlined e-commerce interface allows them to keep prices reasonable even while offering highly researched, quality-focused wines from traditional producers that truly pop and that you won’t see at your neighbourhood wine store.  If any of that piques your interest, you can sign up for the club’s offer newsletters and find out more info at cellardirect.ca.

Cellar Direct’s first online offering under its new and improved structure was the excellent  Senorio de P. Pecina Rioja Crianza that I have already gleefully tried.  The next offer is due out this Saturday and tackles what is often considered (including by me) to be the biggest oxymoron in the world of wine:  value Burgundy.  Wines from Burgundy can make the toughest weep and turn the deepest skeptics into lifelong followers of the vine; unfortunately, they can also empty your wallet with shocking efficiency and leave you feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.  It can be exceedingly difficult, especially at lower price points (which for Burgundy can mean anything under $50ish), to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle, and finding anything $30 or less that properly showcases the region can be a massive challenge, especially when you’re not sure where to look.  Cellar Direct’s upcoming offer this week, as well as a further offer coming in mid-November, try to be your map and compass to this frustrating yet enchanting region of legend.  Let’s see how they do, starting with a bottle due to hit your inbox in a few days…

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2013 Marcel Giraumon Bourgogne Chitry (Offer Date: Oct. 22)

This is a bottle of solid red Burgundy for $20.  The preceding sentence is almost an impossibility, but there it is.  Normally wines sourced from the broader and more general region of Bourgogne (Burgundy), signifying appellation-grade wines that can come from anywhere in the area, do not have any further designation on them, but certain select zones within Burgundy that do not have their own appellation status are permitted to append their name to the Bourgogne designation in recognition of their quality and distinctiveness.  Chitry is one such zone, surrounding and named for the ancient village of the same moniker in north-central France.

Chitry is such a hidden gem that when you Google it, most of the results show up in French.  It is located so far north in Burgundy that it’s outside of the famed Cote d’Or strip entirely (where the bulk of quality red Burgundy comes from) and instead found just west of Chablis (home of lean, steely Chardonnay), in the lesser-known appellation of Auxerrois.  That’s 160km north of the Cote d’Or’s northern tip in Dijon, halfway to the Loire Valley’s Sancerre!  Chablis is known entirely for white wines, but a scant 26 (!!) of the 60 total (!!) hectares of Chitry are devoted to red or rose wines based on Pinot Noir.  The Giraudon family has been here for generations, farming using traditional practices, without herbicides or pesticides, and hand-harvesting grapes for stainless steel fermentation and aging.

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This is easily the most northerly bottle of red Burgundy I’ve ever tasted, but it’s not unusual to look to the ignored extremities of a region to hunt for value.  It is a gorgeous, nearly transparent ruby in the glass and bursting with sweet cherry Nibs and hints of darker fruit, restrained by more Old World aromas of dried leaves, violets, sour cranberry and topsoil.  Punchy, tangy, forward and rustic on the palate, the Chitry throws out surprising levels of structure for an entry-level Bourgogne, playing chiselled acidity and powdery tannins off each other to beef up an otherwise delicate frame.  Tart red fruit, peppery spice, India rubber and an umami tang add up to a drinking experience that’s part pretty, part earthy and part animalistic.  Even better with food!

88 points

$20 to $25 CDN

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Cork Ratings: 1/10 & 2.5/10 (Shiner corks never get love; gotta try harder, Burgundy.)

2012 Olivier Guyot Bourgogne Pinot Noir (Offer Date: Nov. 19)

The words “Pinot Noir” don’t normally appear in the name of a bottle of red Burgundy, even though that’s the grape inside the bottle; as with most Old World regions, the label uses the appellation name as opposed to the grape name to identify the wine.  However, in this case, Olivier Guyot has (kindly, for the modern North American consumer) slapped “Pinot Noir” right on his front label, so I don’t feel bad for doing the same above.  Cellar Direct’s next Burgundy offering tracks further south than the nordic Chitry, but not by much:  we’re back in the main part of the Cote d’Or, but at the extreme northern tip, in Marsannay-La-Cote, just south of Dijon and adjacent to the famed appellation of Gevrey-Chambertin.  As such, the price trends slightly higher as well, but only to $26, still well within affordable range for most wine buyers.

This producer is about as natural as they come.  Fully organic and biodynamic, Guyot plows all its vineyards by horse (as evidenced by the surprisingly accurate label pencil sketch), hand-picks all its grapes and then turns them into wine as non-interventionally as possible:  using only indigenous yeasts native to the vineyard and cellar, moving the wine through winemaking stages only through gravity, avoiding racking, fining and filtering and using little to no sulphur dioxide during maturation and bottling to protect against oxidation.  This is old-school through and through, giving up some winemaking control in exchange for trying to reflect the purest possible essence of the grapes and the land in the wine.

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The 2012 Guyot is slightly darker and more brooding than its Bourgogne compatriot above, possibly due to the extra year of age on it but more likely because of the southern shift in subregion.  It sticks with Burgundy’s cherry fruit aromatic base, this time laced with watermelon and granite, half inviting and half austere, taking on a slightly yeasty tang after some time in the glass.  Lacquered yet piercing and agile on the tongue, this Pinot first come across as polished but gets more wild as you go, supplementing a pervasive rockiness with raspberry, plantain, citrus and gum-coating tannin.  Right out of the bottle I was taken by its freshness and liveliness, but scattered hints of fermentation-based notes limit its lustre somewhat.  Fans of natural wines will be in their element with this one.

86+ points

$25 to $30 CDN

Stay tuned to PnP, as there will be another set of imminent Cellar Direct offerings reviewed shortly, this time from my favourite wine country of them all…

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