The village of Monthélie sits on the Côte de Beaune between Auxey-Duresses to the west and Volnay, a bigger name with a much bigger reputation, to the east. Down the hill and across the D973 is Meursault, a village acclaimed and famous for its buttery whites with a definite oak influence. Production in Monthélie, is around 95% red (Pinot Noir) and the best are sometimes referred to as “lesser Volnays”. The lower purchase price is correspondingly more interesting.
The Printemps de Monthélie wine tasting event happens over two days every Easter weekend. We arrived yesterday morning as the sun was bursting through and had a most entertaining and revealing trip round several caves. Everyone in the village had thrown themselves into the event and the atmosphere was relaxed and congenial. At the Salle des Fêtes, a very reasonable menu with the usual local fayre had been laid on including escargots, boeuf bourguignon and jambon persillé. The reason behind this, as vigneron Paul Garaudet told us, was to emphasise the fact that the village’s wines are for drinking with food and that “a meal with water is no good”. The tasting wines from all the caves were on sale here to try with lunch and we learned from Paul that the rare white Monthélie is best served with grilled fish and the bigger, finer Meursault and Puligny Montrachet whites would take you into fish with creamy sauce territory.
In his cellar, the first that we visited, Paul also explained that there is no point in putting out red wines that aren’t ready for drinking at such tastings for “particuliers” (the public) so, unlike many of his fellow winemakers who were showing their 2009 and 2010 reds, he had three 2007s which were more approachable. Having said that, at Domaine Sébastien Deschamps, we enjoyed the 2008 Monthélie 1er Cru Champs Fulliot. This “climat”, one of fifteen Premier Crus vineyards in Monthélie, is on the Volnay side of the village and can produce some of the better and more sought-after wines. It seemed heavier and had more depth of fruit than those we tasted from climats on the Auxey Duresses side of the village. We will lay the wine down in the cellar here for a few years together with the delicious 2009 Domaine Doreau from the same climat. Red Burgundy comes into its own after four to five years and ten years or more is the optimum drinking time, depending on the vintage.
At Domaine Sébastien Deschamps there was a pop-up bakery. Three chaps from further north near Dijon had turned up to bake brioche, pain au comté, pain au lard and gougères in the domaine’s old bread oven. We were delighted to be invited in to chat to the breadmakers and look at the oven. A fascinating few minutes ensued and the children were completely taken in by it all, so we came back an hour later when the pain au lard had been cooked and spent nearly as much on bread as on wine! The freshly baked, still warm bread had our mouths watering in the car on the way home and yesterday’s picnic, at a favourite spot by the Canal de Bourgogne, was therefore one to remember.
Other domaines well worth a visit in Monthélie include Denis Boussey whose Bourgogne Blanc 2010 and minerally Monthélie Blanc 2010 we rated highly and Domaine de Suremain, in the grounds of the Château de Monthélie, where the 2001 red Monthélie was superb, confirming the fact that laying down our 2008s and 2009s really is the sensible thing to do. My husband voiced his concern that our cellar might be too humid but Madame at the Château de Monthélie reassured him by saying that humidity may be bad for the labels but is ideal for the wine.
So if you’re in Burgundy and keen to try the big names, think for a moment about places like Monthélie, Saint Aubin and Saint Romain. Go off the beaten track and you are sure to find passionate winemakers offering well-priced and distinctive wines.