A profile of Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy

A report by Bill Nanson on this house, plus selected 2000 and 2001 vintage wines.

xThis company can trace its roots back to a wine business formed in 1756, but was actually purchased by the Drouhin family in 1880. In 1918 vineyards were purchased in both Beaune and the ‘Grand Cru’ of Clos de Vougeot.

In the late 1950’s the company really started to expand in the Côte de Nuits, purchasing a number of vineyard sites in Musigny, Griotte Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Bonnes Mares, Grands Echézeaux etc., etc. The late 1960’s brought new expansion into Chablis. The 1980’s provided the unexpected leap into America with Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Today over 65 Burgundian hectares are owned and cultivated for the ‘Domaine’ wines (i.e. produced from their own vines). Chablis accounts for 38 of these hectares and the rest lies in the Côte d’Or. Approximately 20% of the Côte d’Or wines sold by Maison Drouhin come from their own vineyards. The 36 hectares planted in the Willamette Valley, Oregon are (not surprisingly) planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

So what can you expect from a wine from Drouhin? The stated aim of the company is to “strive for wines of breed, finesse and elegance while preserving the authentic individuality of each appellation” – many commentators describe the wines as soft or easily accessible, not blockbuster style but with very pure fruit. I have to say that my cellar was completely without wines from this estate, not by design, but because I rarely see anything other than the occasional village level bottling in my usual purchase locations. It seems that the top wines disappear into cellars very soon after release.

xI was very lucky to have Véronique Boss-Drouhin as my guide when I visited in December 2002. First we toured the cellars which honeycomb Beaune below street level. Although mainly 13th century, in one part you can see the original foundation stones of a 9th century church and in another a wall built by the Romans. Approximately 4-500 barrels of wine are stored here, the rest are stored in the winery just south of Beaune on the Route de Pommard. This is where we did our tasting. Outside the winery there are pallet-loads of oak slowly ‘seasoning’ and waiting for the day they will be used.

N.B. The wines were tasted at cellar temperature (~15°C) so not surprisingly many of the reds showed reticent aromatics. Also due to cellar lighting it was not possible to say exactly the colour, only how dense the colour was.

Not a completely consistent theme in the bottled wines below, both the bourgogne rouge and the Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru are very drinkable today, whereas the Côte de Beaune and Clos des Mouches beg time in the cellar. All, however, showed a super purity of fruit. After tasting these bottles we moved through a selection of both 2001 and 2002 Grand Crus from barrel. We started with a 2001 Bonnes-Mares and frankly I didn’t think it could get better than this – I was wrong! Chambolle-Musigny Amoureuses (well I think it should be a Grand Cru!), Grands-Echézeaux, Griottes-Chambertin, Romanée-Saint-Vivant and Musigny, both 2001 and 2002 were absolutely gorgeous. Luckily it was lunchtime by now, as there were at least another 100 barrels we could test!Finally, here was a very consistent theme; deep red colour (not purple), beautifully intense and pure fruit, and very aromatic. What these wines didn’t have was ‘heavy’ tannin. In all cases medium-plus very fine tannins. Perhaps this is why Drouhin’s wines are sometimes referred to as ‘restaurant wines’; they are approachable and indeed very enjoyable even at this stage. Véronique said that their aim was to balance extract with finesse, for my personal style preference, it seems that they have been very successful in 2001 & 2002.

2000 Joseph Drouhin, Laforêt Bourgogne Rouge
Medium cherry red colour. The nose has well developed cherry and strawberry notes. Good acidity coupled with medium intesity fruit and medium tannins. This is a soft and friendly wine that you can certainly enjoy today.

2000 Joseph Drouhin (Domaine), Côte de Beaune
This wine is an assembly of many Beaune vineyards, a high proportion being 1er Cru. A little darker than the ‘Laforet’. The nose is reserved, shaded more towards black than red fruits. Good acidity here with more prominent tannins but the fruit is well matched. A long finish with an hint of black olive. This is serious in style and a big step up from the Bourgogne Rouge. Good, but should be left for 2-3 years. Outstanding value at around €15.

2000 Joseph Drouhin (Domaine), Beaune 1er Clos des Mouches
In this case the ‘mouches’ are bees, not flies! This, the best known of Drouhin’s vineyards was purchased about 1918. Today it is run on a biodynamic basis. The colour is similar to the Côte de Beaune. Again, reserved on the nose, a little toasty perhaps – though Drouhin don’t char their barrels. Very good acidity and much finer tannins than the last wine. The black cherry fruit is intense, lasting well in the finish. A very good wine, again will benefit from some time in the cellar.

2000 Joseph Drouhin, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru
This wine is a mixture of 5 Crus; Hauts-Doix, Borniques, Noirots, Plantes and Combottes. Deep cherry in colour. Again the nose is reserved, no toast this time, but higher toned with faint fruit preserve. Really interesting on the palate, lots going on here – a mixture of red and black fruits, though shaded towards red. Lovely length with very fine tannins. A very good wine that you could certainly enjoy today.

This was a group of whites that I really enjoyed. Due to either no or very subtle oaking, lovely pure flavours across the bottles. Véronique mentioned that they use no oak for the Chablis as otherwise it would become “just another good chardonnay which could come from anywhere”. Afterwards we tasted wines from 2002 in barrel ranging from a lovely 1er Cru Rully and a gorgeous figgy and honeylike Meursault to Corton-Charlemagne and even Montrachet itself. A real treat and some of these had a surprisingly tannic palate.

2001 Joseph Drouhin (Domaine), Chablis Domaine de Vaudon
An assemblage of parcels from the right bank of the Serein River, between the Montée de Tonnerre and Mont de Milieu. Bright, pale gold colour. A pure sweet nose with a trace of melon and lemon. A lovely ‘zing’ of acidity, mineral and very long. This would make a perfect aperitif, or perhaps as Véronique suggests with oysters! Very good.

2001 Joseph Drouhin, Saint-Véran
Again no oak for this wine. The colour is a little paler. A rounder, less intense nose but somehow fruitier than the Chablis. The palate is fuller but less intense and fruity than the Chablis, nice acidity. This would be a good wine to match with food.

2001 Joseph Drouhin, Meursault
Yellowy-gold colour. The nose is subdued, showing some ‘bready’ notes. Palate is fuller, thicker and indeed richer than the Saint Véran. Good acidity with lovely fruit. Nicely long too. A very good wine.