2011 Roche de Bellene 'Vieilles Vignes' Pinot Noir
Burgundy is the home to some of the most famous vineyards and wines in the world and has been for quite some time. Archeological evidence of vineyards and winemaking dates back to the Romans and the Celts likely cultivated grapes in the area before that. Thanks to a long lineage of monks committed to producing high quality wine in God's name, the next two thousand years saw the region develop and solidify its reputation as the producer of the world's finest pinot noir and chardonnay.
This long history of cultivation created an intimate knowledge and understanding of each plot of land and helped popularize the French term terroir, which has no English equivalent, but translates roughly to "sense of place". No single wine region can claim ownership of the idea of terroir, but Burgundy's dedication to site-specificity and "climats"is unparalleled around the world (sorry Bordeaux!).
While the 2010 vintage was widely regarded as excellent, many of the subsequent vintages - 2011, 2013, 2014 - were wrought with problems, the most predominant of which was decreased harvest volumes. Burgundy has never been cheap but it's become increasingly difficult to find good bottles (or any bottle for that matter) under $30. So, when I saw this for $18 at Vin Chicago, I snatched it up.
This is the entry-level pinot noir for Maison Roche de Bellene and is sourced from certified organic vineyards and vineyards practicing lutte raisonee (a form of sustainable agriculture practiced in France). The vines range from 56-88 years in age and the wine is fermented with native yeast and aged in French oak for 15 months.
This benefits from air, so I recommend putting it in a decanter to let it breathe a bit. The wine develops in the glass into an elegant, earthy pinot noir that is a great introduction to Burgundian pinot noir. There is a certain purity to the wine but also an earthy funk on the nose as well as fresh red berries. On the palate, the wine is well-balanced with a bright tartness and a long and full, lingering finish. The complexity isn't going to blow you away but it has a humble charm and is a great accompaniment to a long, slow evening. This bottle begs to be enjoyed with food.
My friends often ask me how to choose a good bottle of wine. A well-intentioned question but without an easy answer, to say the least. There aren't any fool-proof methods for choosing a good bottle of wine. I try to figure out what they like and recommend a particular region, producer, or style that seems like a good fit. But unless they are particularly curious, that usually falls flat and they revert back to $3 bottles from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. But if I had to choose a single thing to look out for on a typical grocery store shelf, it's the details. If the back label on the bottle includes a lot of details, such as vine age, winemaking details, and harvest date, someone clearly thought they were worthwhile and it's likely that a similar amount of attention was devoted to making the wine. Are you guaranteed to enjoy it? No, and there are plenty of incredible wines that don't include a single detail on the back label, but it's a good place to start.