Great wine has been made in Burgundy for almost a thousand years. Cistercian monks planted Pinot Noir grapes on the region`s limestone slopes. Over the centuries they refined the red wines they produced to breathtaking heights of elegance, intensity, complexity and character. (White Burgundy, made from Chardonnay, was the weak sister until about six decades ago.)
Red Burgundies are not at all like the famous French reds from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley. For starters, Burgs are a lot lighter and paler in colour and weight than their Cab- or Syrah-based counterparts. On the nose and palate they marry translucence and intensity like no other wine. Lovely strawberry, cherry and red and black berry fruit steals the show with support from potentially enchanting earthy mineral, sandalwood, wood violet and sweet spice aromas and flavours. The mouthfeel is delicate and silky with fresh acidity and very fine tannins. At their best, red Burgundies are enchanting.
The bad news about Burgundy is that its wines fell into decline in the mid-1980s. Vineyards were replanted with high-yielding easily harvested clones of Pinot Noir that lacked aroma, flavour and texture. The excessive use of potassium-based fertilizers led to lower acidity in the fruit, reducing the freshness and vibrancy of the wines. Lower quality and high prices precipitated a decline in sales which has only recently been reversed.
Domaine Chanson was established in 1750. The venerable firm has large vineyard holdings of its own but by the 1990s the house was resting on its laurels rather on its wines. Bollinger, of Champagne fame, bought the company for its vineyards and brought in Burgundian heavyweights Gilles de Courcel and Jean-Pierre Coufran to study the vineyards and improve the quality of vine-growing and winemaking there.
Chanson’s Reserve du Bastion is a good inexpensive introduction to red Burgundy, and a perfect light summer red you can serve slightly chilled. It’s a characterful age worthy bottling priced at a very fair $21.95. The wine is a 75/25 blend of Côtes de Beune/Côtes de Nuits, elegantly fruity and mineral in character. Agents Hanna and Sons presented a vertical tasting of Reserve du Bastion covering the ’12, ’11, ’10, ’09 and ’08 vintages. Here are my notes on the five vintages. (The 2011 is in the stores now but should be replaced by the 2012 by August or September.)
Chanson Reserve du Bastion 2012: (Score 90.) Medium violet-tinged ruby with a watery edge offers intense aromas of cherries and red berries with focused minerality. In the mouth it’s fresh with very fine tannins. It’s deeply but elegantly fruited with a long fruit and tannin finish. This vintage is widely regarded as the best so far for the new Chanson.
Chanson Reserve du Bastion 2011: (Score 89.) Medium pale ruby with a watery edge, this wine is less intense than the ’12 but still offers ripe rich cherry berry and soft mineral notes. The tannins are fine and grippy with fresh acidity. The slightly lean fruit is elegantly presented with mineral grace notes through a long slightly bitter finish.
Chanson Reserve du Bastion 2010: (Score 90-.) A deep medium pale ruby wine with a watery edge, this bottling shows cherry and other fruit with some depth and ripeness. There’s a beetroot note and earthy minerality. It’s fresh and satiny with buttoned-down tasty red fruit and a long rich finish.
Chanson Reserve du Bastion 2009: (Score 89+.) From a dark serious vintage, this wine is a deep medium dark colour with that trademark watery edge. It’s plush and sweetly ripe with mixed berry fruit. On the palate fresh acidity and firm fine ripe tannins carry the ripe elegant fruit through a long finish. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with yumminess.
Chanson Reserve du Bastion 2008: (Score 89+) Garnet coloured with a watery edge, this wine has warm aromas of dried cherry-berry fruit and dried flower petals. It’s fresh with sweetly mature fruit and fine persistence. It’s of a certain age and won’t last another year at most.