Burgundy vs USA tasting

Published: 14-09-2016


Last Tuesday evening saw the return of our themed tutored tastings with a round up of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from both, Burgundy and the USA.  The wines of Burgundy are becoming harder and harder to purchase for consumers, with worldwide demand often outstripping production quantities, especially for the top domaines.  As this situation continues to get more difficult with each vintage many people are looking for quality alternatives.  The wines from the USA have seen a major revolution over the past 5-10 years, especially with many cool-climate regions becoming more popular and understood by winemakers and consumers alike.  The quality and styles of Pinots and Chardonnays being produced has changed dramatically.

As always, it was an intimate and friendly event with 16 guests filling up our tasting room in the offices.  Some familiar faces and also some newcomers attended the evening with everyone getting involved in the conversations during the night.

Although the title of the tasting might suggest otherwise, the aim of the evening wasn’t to ascertain which region produces better Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, rather it was to explore the unique qualities that each region expresses. 

Luke kicked the evening off with a brief overview of the villages of Burgundy and compared and contrasted them to the sub-regions of California and Oregon.  As Luke discussed the intracies of Burgundy and the vineyards of Santa Barbara County, guests sipped and analysed the first flight of Chardonnays.

The 2014 White Hill Chardonnay, Liquid Farm  (£36.50 per bt) from Santa Rita Hills showed a complex array of ripe citrus fruit flavours, with sherbet and lemon tart notes, mixed in with an underlying aroma of saline minerality and honeysuckle.  The palate presented in a very similar fashion, filling out the front and mid-palate while finishing very focussed, marked by the cool-climate zippy acidity and that ever present saline mineral flavour.  2014 was a warmer vintage in Santa Rita Hills, giving fuller, richer flavours to the wines, but that has been balanced beautifully by the cold breezes sweeping through the vineyards, which are located only 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. 

In contrast, the 2013 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru ChampGains, Caroline Morey(£60.00 per bt) was closed and reductive to start off with.  It certainly needed some time being swirled in the glass for the wine to truly express itself.  Champ Gain is located mid-slope in the centre of the appellation and generally produces richer, more opulent styles of wines.  This was not the case for Caroline’s wines.  2013 is a classic white Burgundy vintage that produced well-focused, mid-weight styles and very mineral driven wines with great finesse.  Added to this is the wine-making style of Caroline’s wines.  Caroline is the wife of the famous Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, who not only makes wines under his own label but also under the Caroline Morey label.  The wines are reductive, mineral lead and marked by acidity.  Proper, serious Burgundy. 

Perhaps it was an unfair match, Luke certainly professing his love for Caroline’s wines, but both wines showed exceptionally well and even though there was a preference for the Chassagne on the evening, the Liquid Farm certainly was punching above its weight and everyone agreed that they would be proud to have it as an addition to their cellar.  It was also noted by everyone on the evening that the Liquid Farm wine represented great value for money.  It also lead the way to knocking down the preconceptions that all New World wines are big, over the top, over-ripe and alcoholic wines.

Now that all the guests were experts on all things Burgundy and USA Chardonnay, they were presented with the second flight of Chardonnays blind and were asked to give their vote on which wine was Burgundy and which was from the US.


2014 Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay, Chanin Wines(£35.00 per bt) from Santa Barbara County showed seductive flavours of grapefruits, white flowers and hints of almonds.  On the palate, the wine displayed lovely ripe citrus fruits, a creamy texture and finished extremely refreshingly with a defined acidity and long finish.  Although only still very young, Gavin Chanin is leading the way for the new generation of winemakers in California.  He represents those that are producing wines with great fruit intensity; lower alcohol levels; higher acidity and more minerality.

2013 Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes, Domaine Ballot-Millot(£64.00 per bt) was extremely expressive in the glass.  Although to spot it blind as a Meursault would be quite difficult, perhaps more in style with Puligny, mainly due to the vintage and the style of winemaking.  Ballot-Millot is another producer that makes truly mineral driven wines.  Lemon zest and lime juice dominated the palate, with other flavours of freshly baked bread and a creamy texture that coated the mouth before you were presented with a tangy, fresh acid that cleansed the palate, leaving the guest wanting another sip.

Most of the guests picked the wines correctly, mainly due to the mineral nature of the Ballot-Millot wine.  Again, we were all in agreement that Gavin Chanin is making amazing wines and this is a truly exciting winemaker.

Moving onto the red wines, Luke discussed the differences between the villages of Burgundy, focussing on the Côtes de Nuits, and the general styles that each appellation produced.  He also covered the vintage conditions of 2013, a cooler vintage that produced wines of finesse, purity, higher acidity and silky tannins.

2013 Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, Red Car Winery (£55.00 per bt) truly shows what can be achieved with cool-climate Pinot Noir in the US.  Although the Red Car Winery is located in the Sonoma Coast, the Manchester Ridge Vineyard is located further north in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, which is even cooler.  Flavours of freshly picked strawberries and red cherried fruits filled the palated, with just subtle floral undertones.  The fruit was framed beautifully by the delicate silky tannins and finished of by the mouthwatering acidity.  This is classic Pinot Noir. 

The 2013 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru La Riotte, Domaine Taupenot-Merme (£68.00 per bt) also showed classic Pinot characteristics along the red-berried spectrum, true to Romain Taupenot’s style of winemaking and the cooler vintage influences. This was layered with flavours of ceps, leafy notes and earthy spices.  The structured tannins added length and complexity to Morey.

From this flight, there was a definite preference from the group towards the Morey-St-Denis with most people discussing the extra layer of complexity that the Burgundy was showing on the evening.  Both wines showed the purity and delicacy of the Pinot fruit superbly, it was more down to personal preference on what people were wanting from the glass.

The final flight was tasted blind in order to give the guests some unbiased views on the wines.  This was probably the hardest flight to distinguish between the two countries. 

The 2013 Louise Vineyard Pinot Noir, Cristom Vineyards (£54.00 per bt) always shows well at tastings and this evening was no exception.  The Louise Vineyard is located at the lowest elevation of all of Cristom’s vineyards and therefore the wines tend to be darker and denser in fruit flavours with greater tannin structure.  It was extremely complex, with Asian spices showing on the palate, along with touches of forest floor flavours. 

The final wine of the evening, 2013 Nuits-St-Georges ‘La Charmotte’, Mark Haisma (£40.00 per bt), was extremely polished and absolutely delicious.  The wines from Nuit-St-Georges can vary greatly depending on the location of the vineyards.  Vineyards towards the north of the appellation tend to take on the finesse of their neighbours from Vosne-Romanée, while in the centre of the village the wines can be chunkier, before moving to the southern end where the wines tend to be lighter, tannins can be harsh if not careful with the winemaking.  La Charmotte is located towards the northern end of Nuits-St-Georges and with Mark’s skilful winemaking style, this wine was extremely seductive and polished.  Black cherried fruits along with notes of pepper spices and just touches of wet earth and savoury flavours.  All this caressing the palate.  It was a delight to drink.

Overall, the entire range of wines showed amazingly with everyone having their own personal preferences for wine of the night.  All were in agreement though that the style of US Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs has changed dramatically over the past five years, certainly towards more of a European and restrained style.

By Luke Robertson 

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