In addition to recommending our lunch spot in Puligny-Montrachet, Marie from our B&B gave us a little tip when visiting some of these small villages along the Cote d’Ore. She said most of the towns, especially the larger ones, have “Caveau Municipals,” which she explained are tasting rooms that pour and sell most of the wines from the surrounding appellation as well as others from the region available to taste and buy.
SIDE NOTE: Just because a winemaker is in Chassagne-Montrachet doesn’t mean they’re only making wine with grapes from Chassagne-Montrachet. In fact, a lot of the wine houses source grapes from all over Burgundy, so the caveau municipals are actually pouring wines from the winemakers in their respective villages, but who use grapes from throughout all of Burgundy. Additionally, they will have an inventory of the wines made by winemakers in other towns but use the grapes from vineyards in their respective villages or elsewhere. It’s also commonly accepted that the price of wine at one caveau municipal is going to be the same as you’d find from another. If word got out that one caveau was selling a notable bottle at a discount, everyone would buy out their stock and it would unnerve the delicate balance of Burgundy.
She recommended we lunch in Puligny-Montrachet and after a quick bite, look for their “Caveau Municipal” and sample some of the wines that we wouldn’t have a chance to try otherwise, because a lot of the wine houses in Puligny-Montrachet aren’t open to the public—especially on Sundays.
Having just toured Puligny-Montrachet, we decided to check out the Caveau Municipal de Chassagne-Montrachet in the town next door. The highest concentration of white Burgundy grand crus are in these two towns and we wanted to spend a little bit of time in each.
Caveau Municipal de Chassagne-Montrachet
The caveau municipals are essentially wine shops that specialize in tastings and also shipping wine. We used the side entrance next to the parking lot, and sat down at the counter. It’s essentially a wine cellar, or cave, and for a fee could select either the white or the red tasting, which allowed us to select four wines from the selection they have open. We decided to do both white and a red tastings.
We started with four whites. Since we didn’t know our asses from our elbows about which cotes we liked the most or what domaines we thought produced good wine we let her choose. As we tasted each wine, she showed us the village and appellation (if applicable) on a map so we could get a sense for the different terroirs. She then poured us a two chardonnays (because if it’s white and from Burgundy….it’s 99.9% of time a chardonnay) one that was a premiere cru and one that was just an appellation from the same village and adjacent to the plot where the premiere cru is from. We ended up liking the appellation wine better.
What this helped illustrate is the main issue with the Burgundy wine classification system. Just because a wine is made with some grapes from a premiere cru or grand cru vineyard, doesn’t mean it’s better.
Winemakers have a role in how the wine ends up as well since they’ve got their hands in the entire process of pressing the grapes, fermentation, etc. The amount of sun, heat and rain throughout the growing season will impact the levels of sugar in the wine and the grower is the one who decides whether to prune more or less and when they should harvest. Even the age of the barrels and the decision to use young, old or neutral French oak has a role in the final product. So from vintage to vintage, domaine to domaine, house to house, the wine changes.
The only thing that stays the same throughout Burgundy is the premium a wine producer can charge for a wine, regardless of how it tastes, because it’s labeled as premiere cru or grand cru. Once a vineyard is labeled as premiere cru or grand cru the vineyard owner is set for life and they can rack up the price of their grapes ten-fold. What ends up coming out of the bottle when you finally get to enjoy it in a restaurant is the factor of so many variables. Yes, it’s true that vineyards with the grand cru and premiere cru certification typically embody the ideal conditions for grapes (elevated on the hill for drainage in the soil, more sun, less morning fog that settles along the valley base, etc.); but that can only mean so much to the final product.
What we learned from the many wine industry professionals we’ve talked to is that the measure of a good wine is how much you—and nobody else—like it. Buy wine you like, and not what is most expensive!
After you’ve enjoyed—and purchased—some delicious wine, walk behind the Caveau Municipal towards the vineyards on the hill. There’s an old stone staircase in the back that takes you up to an arched entrance to the vineyards for some breathtaking views.
How to Pronounce Montrachet
Here’s a fun fact: the village with the highest concentration of grand cru vineyards in the entire Côte de Beaune is Puligny-Montrachet, which has four vineyards all concentrated on the northwestern edge of the town.
You’ve probably heard about “Montrachet” wines before since they’re oftentimes referenced in movies and wine journals and such.
I was trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about when I asked some locals about the “Mont-ra-shay” wines and learned that the T’s are silent. It’s pronounced “mon-ra-shay.” Whoops! If you pronounce it right, maybe they’ll take you a little more seriously than me.