Tasting Burgundies

These 4 Drouhin burgundies show a common heritage

Tasting a sample of Joseph Drouhin burgundies with Roger Morris.

We wine writers should revise our terminology when we speak of such Burgundy houses as Drouhin, Jadot, and Latour as being "négociants." "Négociant" is a French term used widely in both Bordeaux and Burgundy for merchants who buy grapes or raw wines from many smaller, independent growers and turn them into finished wines, usually blended and usually with regional appellations on their labels. Done well, it is a commendable art, one that allows us to drink good wines at reasonable prices.

"Most of the Burgundy négociants often own many parcels in the best vineyards" But, unlike Bordeaux, where a négociant may own a small château or two, most of the Burgundy négociants often own many parcels in the best vineyards — the premier cru and grand cru — which they cultivate and make into their own wines. Of course, in Burgundy some independent growers trust the négociants to do a better job even in the vineyard than they could do by themselves, so their wines are in essence more propriétaire than négociant.

Which brings me to the term I think better applies when referring in general to Drouhin and its colleagues — propriétaires/négociants. I intend to use from now on. And it brings me to four wines, all from the propriétaire/négociant Joseph Drouhin, which were made from individual vineyards in the commune of Nuits-Saint-Georges from the difficult 2010 vintage.

To be truthful, the four are more alike than different, which shouldn’t be unusual for wines made from the same producer in one commune.

♦ 2010 Joseph Drouhin Nuits-Saint-Georges ($63). This is a commune wine — from no one vineyard — made from purchased pinot noir grapes whose growers use Drouhin standards of dense planting and no fertilizers or chemical sprays. It is typical of the commune in that the wines are more firm than flowery or fruity, although that will change in four or five years as the wine ages in the bottle. In fact, it has a tartness straight out of the bottle that mellows with airing — a good indication of how it will develop with time. The fruits are cherry and red raspberry, and they are followed by chalkiness and lightly felt tannins in the finish.

♦ 2010 Joseph Drouhin "Damodes" Ier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges ($102). Here, raw wine was purchased and "elevated" — that is, taken from a basic wine and polished into a finished one. I found the wine to be somewhat floral — a "pastel" fruit with mascarpone notes — on the nose. Generous cherry and cranberry fruit are followed by an enjoyable, somewhat-tangy finish.

♦ 2010 Joseph Drouhin "Procès" Ier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges ($105). This wine is owned by Laurent Drouhin, one of four siblings who run the family-owned company. The wine is the firmest of the four with excellent structure, and it also has more savory notes in aroma and taste.


♦ 2010 Joseph Drouhin "Cailles" Ier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges ($102). Of the four, this is the one that needs the most time — or, as we say, it is "less generous" at present. Also made from purchased wine that is elevated, it has the most-noticeable barrel flavors, which gives it a bit more present personality, and it is chalky and minerally. But its tightness argues for not opening the bottle for a few years, or at least to decant it for many hours if you, like this reviewer, must try it now.