Category Archives: Wine Studies

Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy — Boillot edition

Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild, released on Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under pd-author
An oft repeated truism in the world of Burgundy is that you should buy based on the producer rather than the vineyard or classification. But this solid piece of advice becomes difficult to follow when you run into multiple bottles made by producers with similar names.

In many cases, these estates are related by blood or marriage which creates a tangled web for a Burgundy lover to untangle.

As part of my own studies, I’m going to try to untangle some of these webs–one common surname at a time. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions for additions or corrections in the comments.

My tools on this journey, besides the internet, will be:

Remington Norman and Charles Taylor’s The Great Domaines of Burgundy
Clive Coates’ The Wines of Burgundy
Matt Kramer’s Making Sense of Burgundy
Bill Nanson’s The Finest Wines of Burgundy

We will start off with the Boillot family.

The Boillot family’s history of winemaking in Burgundy dates back to 1855 with the fifth generation of Boillots now running their eponymous estates. At several of these estates (like Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot and Domaine Henri Boillot) the sixth generation is working in the family business and preparing to take over.

In 1955, a conflict between Lucien Boillot and his father Henri lead to Lucien leaving his father’s estate, Domaine Henri Boillot, and starting his own winery. Henri’s other son, Jean, eventually took over Domaine Henri Boillot and renamed it Domaine Jean Boillot. Jean also married Colette Sauzet, daughter of the fame Puligny-Montrachet producer Etienne Sauzet.


Lucien had two sons, Louis and Pierre, with Louis starting his own estate in 2002 and Pierre inheriting control of Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils.

Jean also had two sons, Jean-Marc and Henri, as well as a daughter, Jeanine, who married Gérard Boudot and now manages Domaine Sauzet. Jean-Marc started his own eponymous winery in 1989 while Henri started a négociant firm (Maison Henri Boillot) before eventually assuming what was left of Domaine Jean Boillot. To avoid confusion with his brother’s estate, he merged the holdings into his own domaine and changed the name back to Domaine Henri Boillot.

The Current Boillot Estates

Domaine Louis Boillot (Chambolle-Musigny) founded in 2002 when the estate of Lucien Boillot et Fils was split between Louis and his brother, Pierre. Louis is married to Ghislaine Barthod who runs her namesake estate in Chambolle-Musigny.
Prime holdings: Gevrey-Chambertain 1er Champonnet (0.19 ha) and Volnay 1er Les Caillerets (0.18 ha)

Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils (Gevrey Chambertain) currently ran by Pierre.
Prime holdings: Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Perrières (0.23 ha) and Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets (0.18 ha)

Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot (Pommard) founded in 1989. Prior to starting his own estate, Jean-Marc worked as a winemaker for Olivier Leflaive.
Prime holdings: Puligny-Montrachet 1er Les Champ Ganet (0.13 ha) and Les Combettes (0.47 ha)

Domaine Henri Boillot (Volnay) founded as a négociant firm in 1984. In 2005, Henri bought out his siblings shares of his father’s estate (Domaine Jean Boillot) and merged the holdings into his own domaine.
Prime holdings: Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru (0.34 ha), Volnay 1er Les Fermiets (2.4 ha) and monopole of Puligny-Montrachet 1er Clos de la Mouchère (3.99 ha) within Les Perrières

A Spice of Brett

Photo by Susan Slater. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0
Recently I watched a webinar from The Wine Scholar Guild by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser about wine faults. One of the topics covered was Brettanomyces.

Gaiser noted how the presence of Brett in wine is fairly controversial with some wine industry folks having zero tolerance, considering any occurrence of it as a fault in the wine. Others are more forgiving, taking the view that a little bit of Brett can add complexity.

I am in that later group. I actually like a little bit of Brett in wine. I think of it as a spice that can add a dash of character and intriguing aroma notes. But my tolerance is usually only for that dash. It’s like ordering Thai food where you specify the level of chili pepper spice. With chili spice, I’m a wimpish zero stars but my wife loves her dishes 5 stars. With Brett, I like wines in what I call the 1 star range. Give me just enough savory meatiness to make my mouth water and I’m hooked.

Sure there are folks who would like wines with more “Brett-stars” and, of course, there are folks who are decidedly on the “zero-star Brett” side of the spectrum. But I’ll disagree with the zero-star Brett folks who think any instances of it is a sign of a flawed wine. It’s like thinking anyone who orders a difference spice level at a Thai restaurant is ordering bad food.

Yes, it’s different. Yes, it may not be your style. But that doesn’t necessarily means it’s faulted. Now, I say necessarily faulted because I think the winemaker’s intent needs to be considered. There are certainly cases where there could be no intention to have any Brett develop in a wine but it occurred via faulty barrels or bad hygiene or, perhaps, emerged to a degree far beyond what was expected. Those are wines that could rightly be described as faulted but I’ll acquiesce that some souls may still find charm in those wines.

Though I should clarify here that when folks talk about Brett in wine, there are different types of aromas and flavors that fall under that catchall term–some of which are more apt to be described as positive notes than others.

Three types of Brett-related compounds

Photo by Oldsoft. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Typically the more gooey the cheese, the more likely it is to have some funk.

A few things to keep in mind. One, not all of these compounds occur in every wine that has Brett. Two, everyone’s sensory threshold is unique and driven by genetics. What’s given below are the average sensory thresholds for the various compounds. Three, aroma descriptors are subjective. What is one person’s band-aid could be another person’s wet leather or iodine.

Isovaleric acid (sensory threshold >1000 µg/L or 1 ppm) Sweaty socks and rancid cheese. For many people (even those who tolerate a few stars of Brett) these aromas often fall into “wine fault” territory. However, there are pretty funky cheeses out there that some people would describe as “rancid” while others find them gorgeous. Different strokes for different folks. Heck, there are even folks who have fetishes for sweaty socks (which I’m not going to link to). While a wine with these aromas may have too many Brett stars for me (and probably most people), I can’t discount that there are going to be tasters that are fascinated with these wines.

4-ethyl phenol (4EP) (sensory threshold >140 µg/L) Barnyard and band-aids. For many people, these are the typical “tell-tale” signs of Brett and it is not surprising that these sensory notes are the most easily detectable among the Brett-related compounds. They’re probably also the most divisive. While I don’t find the smell of horses and pigs in the barn very appealing (That’s getting into “2 star Brett” territory for me), I can’t begrudge someone who like a little bit of odeur de cheval in their wine. Hey, if that rocks your boat then you go Glen Coco!

The wines of Washington cult producer Cayuse can be very divisive among wine lovers. For some they’re “too bretty”, for others they are savory, bacon-y goodness.


4-ethyl guaiacol (4EG) (sensory threshold of >600 µg/L) Bacon, smoke, mushroom, cloves. This is the bastion where I defend my spice analogy of Brett. A lot of people don’t realize that many of these savory aroma and flavors in wine are actually derived from the unsavory origins of the much-maligned Brettanomyces.

In fact, you can argue (and many wine folks do) that typical “terroir characteristics” of great Old World wines like Northern Rhone Syrahs, Ribera del Duero and old school Barolo and Bordeaux, are really just the earmarks of Brettanomyces. This is why, for me, Brett isn’t a bad word but rather a tool that a winemaker can use to add more layers to a wine.

Sure, there are things that can make a wine “too Bretty” for me. Bad hygiene in the winery and tainted barrels can pile on the Brett stars and take a wine far out of my pleasure zone. I’ll also confess that I’m not a fan of sour beers where Brettanomyces often plays a big role (though the “sour” part mostly comes from Lactobacillus and Pediococcus).

But variety is the spice of life and sometimes a little Brett can go a long way towards making a wine more interesting. I’ll drink to that.

Killer Clos Vougeot Map

Burgundy geeks!

For full map go to http://thevinofiles.typepad.com/the_vino_files/files/clos_de_vougeot.jpg

Just a tiny segment of the map showing most of “Cuvée du Pape” area around the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot

You have to check out this high quality (and downloadable) map of the Grand Cru Clos Vougeot over at The Vino Files.

I literally squealed when I came across this map while watching this interesting and well put together Youtube video essay on Clos de Vougeot by Antonio Ferrel.

While usually one of the most affordable and accessible Grand Crus, Clos Vougeot is saddled with the reputation of being highly variable due to its vast size (125 acres) and multiple bottlings being produced by 80+ growers. The tried and true advice to buy Burgundy based on producer, rather than necessarily terroir, is always the best approach. The video I linked to above by Antonio Ferrel names some top Clos Vougeot producers.

But what’s exciting about this map is that we can apply some historical context behind the terroir that the great producers of Clos Vougeot have. No one knew this land better than the Cistercian monks who planted and farmed the vineyard for almost 700 years. Carefully observing the vines and the wine produced from them, they subdivided the large Clos into essentially 3 bands or climats.

As Decanter noted in a 2011 article about the Grand Cru:

The top of the Clos (bordering the grand cru Grand-Echézeaux) is the best land – pebbly, oolitic limestone. The exceptional terroir was identified by the monks, who used it for their top wine: the Cuvée du Papes. Halfway down the slope, the soil is a mix of limestone and clay; the monks used this for their mid-level Cuvée du Roi. Further down still, the soil becomes more alluvial and drains less well – the plots left for the monks’ basic Cuvée des Moines.

By Christophe.Finot - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, from Wikimedia commons

One of the entrances to the walled Grand Cru of Clos Vougeot


This top Cuvée du Pape area includes the vineyards surrounding Château du Clos de Vougeot in what is essentially the top right hand corner of the map linked above.

Here we find such famous names as the Gros family, Meo-Camuzet and Hudelot-Noëllat. Seeing the favorable location of their terroir on the map makes it is no wonder why these producers regularly produce some of the most highly regarded examples of Clos Vougeot.

Studying the map, you find more recognizable names even in the less heralded Cuvée des Moines band of climats going downslope towards the RN74 auto-route. Seeing such esteemed names like Domaine Jacques Prieur, Domaine Jean Grivot and Louis Jadot reiterates the truism that great producers will still make quality wine even with less favorable terroir.

So have fun geeking out and exploring the terroir of the Clos Vougeot Grand Cru!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that The Vino File site is still active (and the tip jar link on the site seems to have been removed). However, I still want to tip my hat to them for providing this fantastic resource for Burgundy wine lovers.

Practice makes Super Human

The CBS station in Las Vegas posted a report about scientists studying Vegas somms as part of Alzheimer’s research. They interviewed the wine director of Mandalay Bay, Harley Carbery, and threw this effusive praise his way:

Harley Carbery has developed an almost super human sense of smell over the years.

Let's be honest though, the flying Wine Angels are the real Super Humans

Let’s be honest though, the flying Wine Angels are the real Super Humans

Now I have no doubt that Carbery is a sommelier with an excellent palate and sense of smell. My wife and I have stayed at Mandalay Bay a couple times and we’ve loved the wine and spirits selections at their casino bars and restaurants. Aureole, in particular, is a must visit for any food and wine lover. But Carbery is not “almost super human”. He’s a professional who has put in the time and effort to be very good at his job.

He’s like the nurse who has spent hours practicing on dummies (and willing friends & family members–sometimes one and the same) at finding the vein to draw blood or set up an IV painlessly. The chef who has cracked many, many eggs in their career and can flip an omelet with pitch perfect perfection every time. The software engineer who can look at lines and lines of code and spot almost in an instance where the bug is. The concert pianist who has devoted thousands of hours of practice time towards letting the beauty of Chopin glide seemingly effortlessly from their fingers. Harley Carbery is like Yadier Molina, who has practically perfected the art of managing pitchers and catching by never settling and always striving to get better.

Not sure how much practice Yadi's tattoo artist had before doing that neck tat

Not sure how much practice Yadi’s tattoo artist had before doing that neck tat

Yes, there is certainly an element of natural-born talent but even the greatest athletes and musicians in the world will tell you that is only a small fraction of what made them great. But let’s also be frank here, smelling and analyzing wine is not playing Chopin nor is it trying to do a full back twisting salto on the balance beam. (You go Simone!) It’s a skill, yes, but it’s a skill that is built up more through practice than through the fortunate blessings of innate talent. Also, if we want to get into the nitty gritty, most women have a leg up on some one like Harley Carbery through genetics that tend to favor women’s sense of smell over men.

The point of this is not to bring some one like Harley Carbery down to human level, but rather to point you towards the path that you could take to be “almost super human” yourself. The quote near the bottom of the article from Dr. Sarah Banks of Cleveland Clinic Center for Brain Health, sums up this path really well.

“… sort of stopping to smell the roses a little bit, to enjoy life to think about your sensory experiences,”

No, not that Brett.

No, not that Brett.

Don’t just smell the roses. Smell everything. Smell the spices in your spice cabinet. Smell the different plants in your neighborhood as you take a walk. Smell the linens at Bed, Bath & Beyond–ideally when the employees aren’t looking. Don’t make it weird. Smell the room when you first walk in. Even the bathroom. (Hola Brett!) Just smell and spend a few brief seconds thinking about what you are smelling. (Emphasis on brief sometimes more than others)

But don’t over think it. Trying to “correctly” identify what you’re smelling is not necessarily the point and when we take this exercise over to the world of wine, this becomes the biggest pratfall for a lot of people. Yes, there may be a tasting note or other people around you waxing poetically about anise, nutmeg, cassis, thyme and Nicaragua Maduro wrapped tobacco and you’re not getting any of that. That’s FINE! Just focus on you and what you are getting. If all you’re getting in the wine is Red Vines black licorice, blackberries and Swisher Sweets, then your redneck description of 2005 Lynch Bages is just as on target as the wino next to you.

And by your redneck description of 2005 Chateau Lynch Bages, I mean my redneck description of 2005 Chateau Lynch Bages. I'm projecting here.

And by your redneck description of 2005 Chateau Lynch Bages, I mean my redneck description of 2005 Chateau Lynch Bages. I’m projecting here.

One of the best exercises that I ever did in my wine training was during a Sensory Evaluation class at the Northwest Wine Academy taught by the simply fabulous Regina Daigneault. Using an aroma infusion method that she learned from the equally fabulous Dr. Ann Noble of UC-Davis, inventor of the Wine Aroma Wheel–which is 7 shades of awesome BTW, Reg put in front of us several glasses of a neutral white wine that had one dominant aroma infused in it. She told the class, right off the bat, don’t try to immediately identify it. Just think about it because our entire perception of aromas are tied to particular memories of when we encountered that smell. If you can tap into that memory, you’ll be able to more easily recognize that smell.

However, sometimes our memories are like witnesses on Law & Order–we often add our unique spin to them. But since we are just drinking wine and not trying to solve a murder with Fred Thompson breathing down our backs, that’s perfectly fine. For instance, during that exercise one of the glasses of wine made me think of pot and hippies. It had this mix of herbal, medicinal and floral notes that made me think of incense and hemp products. Turns out that the aroma in that particular glass was cardamon. For whatever reason, that connection in my brain interprets the aroma of cardamon in wine with my memories of “pot and hippies” (Hey, I live in Seattle!). Now, I’ve got that aroma note down solid and can easily pick it out of wine. If I’m swirling a glass and it makes me think I’m in Eugene, Oregon or at a Rasta shop then boom I know I’ve got cardamon.

Some people hear Morgan Freeman's voice as the voice of God. I often hear this man's voice when I'm smelling wine

Some people hear Morgan Freeman’s voice as the voice of God. I often hear this man’s voice when I’m smelling wine “Look Amber! It’s cardamon!”
And now you will too.

Truly the more off the wall the memory and connection you make, the better it is for you to retain it. So spaz out and smell the world. You don’t have to aspire to reach the level of someone like Harley Carbery who is at one of the pinnacles of his profession. But there is still benefit for all of us in practicing towards becoming an “almost Super Human” smeller. Not only will you get a lot more out of your wine drinking, as recent studies have shown your vino homework may also help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Happy smelling!