Burgundy vs Oregon Showdown with Drouhin Wines (#Winophiles)

Today we have a showdown!  

One venerable grape, two bottles, both from the Drouhin family of wines. In one corner, a bottle from the original Maison Drouhin in Burgundy. In the other corner, a bottle from one of their newer projects in Oregon. We enjoyed both bottles with dinners over two nights.

The grape in question is of course Pinot Noir. I really don’t think Pinot needs too much of an introduction; it is one of the most popular grapes in the US and around the world. Then again, people have spent lifetimes studying it in minute detail. It is notoriously beguiling, and it captivates and frustrates growers and winemakers in equal measure. It has an almost poetic ability to transmit its terroir, but it is also finicky and picky about how and where it grows. It’s just as fussy about how it’s vinified. Put that all together and you have a grape that can be absolutely sublime and transcendent, or it can be absolutely terrible.

It is also an ancient grape. In fact, it and Savagnin (which we recently explored here) are the two oldest grapes of Western Europe. (The two actually probably share a parent-child relationship.) And as tends to be the case with ancient grapes, Pinot has had the time and tendency to shift, change, and propagate so it has many, many, many, many, many clones variations, as well as lots of offspring. (Fun fact, all of the colors of Pinot – Noir, Blanc, and Gris – actually share the same DNA, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Because the grape’s origins are so far in the past, they’re not entirely certain according to Wine Grapes. In a sense though, it almost doesn’t matter because it has long been THE red grape of Burgundy. For this reason, it – along with its white counterpart, Chardonnay – has probably been the most carefully studied grape variety in history. Catholic monks had the run of substantial vineyard land in Burgundy from about 587 AD, right up until 1791 when new laws under Napoleon’s rule broke them up. That’s over a thousand years, and during that time, the monks carefully cultivated the vines and kept meticulous records in order to understand just how and where these grapes grew best. Their studies gave rise to Burdundy’s Cru systems, which categorizes vineyard into tiers based on the terroir. From the top-down, their quality pyramid levels are Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, and regional wines.

The Burgundy tiers expressed as a production size comparison. Borrowed from Wine Folly.

In addition, to being popular and ancient, Pinot is also incredibly food-friendly. I’ve heard it described as “chef’s wine,” because it goes so easily with so many things. When you want a red and you don’t know what to pair, Pinot is probably a good bet. If you read this blog often, you’ve probably heard me say it before (and you’ll hear it again), but when it comes to food pairing, the most versatile red wines are light to medium-bodied, have light to medium tannins, and lots of acidity. Pinot checks all those boxes. It tends to show red fruit notes like cherry, raspberry,  and cranberry, which can be accompanied by a myriad of different herbs, earth, spice, and floral notes. Versions from Burgundy will typically show more of the earth and herbal notes, while California will tend to show riper fruit notes, often accompanied by a good dose of spice from wood aging. For me, Oregon tends to sit right in between the two. (We won’t be looking at an example from California today, but you can find one here.)


Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded in 1880, when Joseph Drouhin moved from his native Chablis to Beaune and purchased an established négociant business, along with the winery and cellars of the Collegiale Church, the cellars of the Dukes of Burgundy and the House of the Diénat. These historic buildings all continue to be at the heart of the domaine today.

The family has run the operation for four generations. They have always been forward-thinking, and each generation has helped to move the ball forward. Joseph’s son Maurice bought the family’s first vineyards so the company could start making wines from their own grapes, rather than just purchasing fruit. Each generation has added on and expanded the holdings so that they now have 80 hectares (197.5 acres) of vineyards in Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, and Chablis. For some village and regional wines, they also buy grapes from longtime partner growers. In total, they make wines from almost 90 different appellations, with more than two-thirds of their vineyards being classified as Premier and Grand Crus.

Robert Drouhin, Joseph’s grandson and Maurice’s nephew, continued to add on to the holidings in Burgundy, and was the one who made the rather bold decision for the time to buy the original 40 hectares in the Willamette Valley which led to the founding of Domaine Drouhin. They were the first Burgundians to move into Oregon, although other houses have since followed. They now have a 225-acre estate with 130 acres under vine. The have also added a new Oregon label called Roserock.

Robert son, Philippe, joined the business in1988 and made the move toward organic viticulture, and all of their estate vineyards in Burgundy were converted by the late 1990s, and certified by Ecocert in 2009. They’re now mostly farmed biodynamically. Domaine Drouhin vineyards in Oregon are certified sustainable by L.I.V.E., with the intention of also being organic and biodynamic in the near future. They also have two large blocks of rootstock planted on the estate, so they can grat onto rootstock that they’ve grown themselves, so they can maintain the highest level of quality control over our plant material.

The rest of Robert’s four children also now take part in managing the business. While Philippe manages the vineyards, Frédéric is the general manager, Véronique oversees the winemaking, and Laurent runs the business in the United States.

The Wines

I was sent the Domaine Drouhin Laurène Pinot Noir 2017 as a media sample for participation in this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend blogger event. I was really excited to try a wine from their Oregon property as I’d not had the chance before. However, I also wanted to be able to have it alongside one of their wines from Burgundy, so I also purchased a bottle of the Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2017 at my local Whole Foods.

I know I called this a showdown at the start of this post, but to be honest, this wasn’t a fair fight; the contenders are from two different weight classes. Chorey-les-Beaune is a village level wine and retails for about $30. Oregon doesn’t have a cru system like Burgundy, however, the Laurène is the estate’s flagship wines and retails for $75. We definitely weren’t comparing apples to apples here. However, the Chorey-les-Beaune was both what I could afford and what was available, so I grabbed it to serve as my Burgundy model.

While this was not a fair duel, I think each wine represented it's side well. Drouhin is known for making elegant wines with complexity that showcase their terroir, and I think each of these did that. In addition, the first night we opened the wines, I really didn’t give them the chance to breathe as I should have. Nonetheless, both wines tasted quite good right after opening, which impressed me, since I often feel Pinot needs a little time to open up. Both did also improve with a little air.

Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2017

Alcohol: 13%     Average Price: $31 (That’s about what I paid.)

Geeky Details

Taken from the tech sheet. Find many additional details there, as they provide very detailed information.

Site: very close to Beaune, as the name indicates. This is a small appellation around the tiny village of Chorey, at the foot of the hill of Corton.
History & tradition: The vineyard of Chorey-les-Beaune was founded in 1237 by Edouard de Froment, the Duke of Burgundy’s-nephew. The wine is often sold under the more common appellation of Côte-de-Beaune Villages. Joseph Drouhin owns vineyards in Chorey (pronounced "Sho-Ray").
Soil: clay and limestone.
Average age of the vines: 53 years.
Farming: Biological cultivation since 1990; biodynamic cultivation a few years later. Grapes are
harvested by hand.
Winemaking:  Free run juice is separated from pressed juice. Indigenous yeast fermentation. Maceration and vinification take 2 to 3 weeks. Joseph Drouhin seeks total control of the process of extraction; extraction gives colour and substance to a wine but should never be detrimental to its finesse and typical character. "Pigeage" (punching down of the cap during fermentation): once a day until half of fermentation is done; one pumping over (remontage) per day till the end of the fermentation.
Aging: 12 to 15 months in French oak barrels (10% in new oak).

Tasting Notes

Cranberry, cherry, and mixed herbs greeted me on the nose. These notes continued on the palate and were joined by orange skin and orange pekoe black tea, more mixed herbs, stones, and light hints of white pepper. The fruit notes were bright and crunchy upfront, then became silky. The wine was medium- to medium-bodied, with fine, light tannins, and lots of acidity. This is a very nice selection at the price point.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Laurène Pinot Noir 2017

This wine was provided as a media sample. All opinions are my own and no other compensation was received.

Alcohol: 13.9%    Price: $75 (Sample)

Geeky Details

Taken from the tech sheet, with additional details here.

Farming: Certified sustainable by L.I.V.E.
Winemaking: Named after Véronique Boss-Drouhin’s elder daughter, Laurène is their flagship wine. 2017 marked the 30th Anniversary in Oregon, and the 26th release of this wine. It is produced entirely from Pinot Noir grown on the family’s estate in the Dundee Hills. The fruit is handpicked into small totes, destemmed at their four-level gravity-flow winery, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and then placed into French Oak barrels (20% new). Once the vintage is safely in the cellar, Véronique begins the process of selecting barrels that have extra complexity, length, and depth — barrels that will work together as Laurène.
Vintage Notes: A cool, wet spring slowed the arrival of bud break, but warming temperatures made for a very productive summer. By late August, moderate weather set in, allowing fruit maturation to slow. By the middle of September, temperatures were perfect. Over the course of nearly three weeks, we were able to harvest parcel by parcel, each at the optimal level of ripeness. In the end, 2017 gave us beautifully balanced fruit with delightful flavors and lovely length.

Tasting Notes

This wine showed riper fruit notes with more spice on the nose, showing aromas of pomegranates, cranberry, and orange skin. These continued on the palate and were joined by black cherries and a smattering of blackberries. Christmas spices, particularly clove, along with earth, stones, black tea, and black pepper added complexity to the palate, and a little mushroom joined in on the finish. This wine was more structured, showing a little fuller body,  more tannin in comparison to the Burg example, and still has plenty of acidity. The texture was rounder and felt a little plusher. The flavors also unfolded in layers.

It’s not an ostentatious wine but clearly shows its quality. It was kind of like someone you meet at a party that isn’t flashy, but easily engages you in conversation, captivates you with their charm, and suddenly you find that quite a bit of time has gone by, but you’ve been engrossed that you didn't notice at all. I feel like I particularly saw this in Greg’s reaction to the wine over the two nights. He could tell it was a high-quality wine right away (I didn’t initially tell him the price), but maybe stopped at that at first. However, then I noticed that this was the wine he kept reaching for more often. Then by the end of the evening on both nights, I’d heard several comments indicating how much he’d actually enjoyed it and damning his expensive tastes. The wine showed beautifully now, but could certainly age for a few more years.

The Pairings

We had these two wines over the course of two evenings. On the first, the night we had the wines as a part of a cheese night which included:

  • Époisses - a very soft, funky washed-rind, cow’s milk cheese that comes from Burgundy.
  • Sleeping Beauty from Cascadia Creamery - a cow’s-milk cheese with a firm, but smooth and buttery texter, with a light kick of sharpness at the finish. The wine is aged 75 to 100 days. (This arrived as part of a gift just in time for this cheese night. Thanks Dave and Julia!)
  • Duck terrine
  • Prosciutto

The Chorey-les-Beaune brought out a little bit of the funk in the Époisses but worked solidly well. It was really nice with the Sleeping Beauty, and the wine’s brightness shined nicely in that pairing.

The DDO was excellent with the Époisses and showed a silky quality in the pairing that softened the cheese’s funk. It was also an easy match with the Sleeping Beauty, and the pairing brought out a nice spice note.

Both wines paired easily with the Prosciutto and were excellent with the duck terrine. However, the DDO melded with the terrine in a particularly beautiful way. Greg compared the effect to how a berry sauce works with a terrine by adding a sweet contrast.

On the second night, we had the wines with pork chops topped with mushroom sauce. Greg had made the sauce a few nights before, and it seemed like it would be perfect with the wines. (His version was similar to the sauce in this recipe.) I prepared the pork chops fairly simply (although I sprinkled a little mushroom powder, along with salt and pepper on top) and topped them with the sauce. I added hasselback potatoes and a salad and called it a day.

Both wines paired beautifully with the pork chops. Each basically held its style in the match, or even heightened that style. The Chorey-les-Beaune showed brighter fruits with more herbs and white pepper. The DDO showed its structure and gained depth in the match.

All in all, both wines were very good examples of their region. The Chorey-les-Beaune was the simpler wine of the two, but also the better deal. The Domaine Drouhin Oregon Laurène was undoubtedly the more complex wine, showing elegant structure and depth of flavor. If you’re looking for a splurge to treat yourself a bit, or are looking for a great holiday gift for a wine lover, this is a great option.

For posts and recipes related to Pinot Noir, check out these links:

The rest of the French Winophiles Blogging Group is exploring wines from Oregon with  ties to Burgundy. L.M. Archer is hosting and helped arrange for some of us to receive samples – thanks! You can read her invitation: here.If you happen to see this early enough, feel free to join our conversation on Twitter by following the hashtag #Winophiles, as well as #DomaineDrouhinOregon #RésonanceWines for our sponsors.

Be sure to check out the rest of the group's posts:
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  1. I think it was a great idea how you and some of the others compared the wines from both old and new world. Good reading.

  2. I love this showdown post, Nicole. Nice job. And that pork chop with mushroom sauce looks AMAZING!

    1. Thanks so much Camilla! And that mushroom sauce really made the dish -- all thanks to Greg on that one!

  3. You and I both had firsts- tasting Drouhin Oregon property PN. I'm such a sucker for mushrooms and Pinot Noir! Happy holidays to you and your family.

    1. It was a good first! And yes, they're just so magical together!

  4. Enjoyed the Pinot Noir showdown! Now I'm super-pumped to get back to the Willamette Valley for a visit to DDO.

  5. Congratulations!!! This is a wonderful article!!!! I am great fan of yours.

  6. Terrific primer on Pinot Noir the grape, and excellent pairings. We're fans of washed rind cheeses with Pinot N. in general but particularly partial to Époisses.

  7. What a fantastically thorough and utterly engaging piece! You made these wineries and wines come to life on the page (screen). I so enjoyed this piece.

  8. Awesome to compare the two! And we love mushrooms with Pinot Noir too. Need to find that cheese!

    1. The cheese was delicious, and yeah, mushrooms and Pinot are such good friends!


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