To distill the essence of Alsatian wine into a single, simplistic concept: ‘German varietals and French styles.’ Of course, nothing about wine is simple, and it’s a fact that Alsace produces some of the most complex wines of any region on earth. But the French/German connection is forged in history: These two European neighbors have struggled over possession of Alsace since 357 AD. This small slice of enological heaven is currently in France, on the west bank of the upper Rhine next to Germany and Switzerland, although it has switched hands four times since 1870 alone. So it’s no surprise that the cultural underpinnings of the region have one foot in France and the other in Germany, and that their food and wine traditions do the same. Culinary Alsace is an Alemannic and Frankish melting pot, with popular dishes including Baeckeoffe, Flammekueche, Choucroute, Cordon Bleu and Vol-au-vent.
The seven grapes legally allowed for wine production in Alsace are Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and—the only red wine produced in Alsace—Pinot Noir. Alsatian alchemy transforms these familiar stand-by varietals into rich, balanced, often ethereal incarnations—from intensely aromatic and crispy dry versions, to the mellow, sweet Vendange Tardive (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles, to the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace—a slightly sparkling wine produced with the traditional Champagne method of secondary fermentation inside the bottle.
So intense and beautiful are these wines that they frequently remind us of Cinderella: Varieties often plain and plebian while cleaning the hearth of other wine regions, but who don their full ball regalia in Alsace.
An Alsace cliché: ‘Walk 100 feet in any direction and you’ll find a totally different soil composition.’
The terroir of Alsace is, in fact, a mosaic of diversity; soils underlying the vineyards are a tapestry ranging from the schist and granite of the higher elevations (extending into the Vosges Mountains), to the limestone and chalk of the lower slopes, to the clay and gravel of the valley floors. However, it is the unique, reddish-colored sandstone of Alsace—known as Grès des Vosges—that may be most interesting. Vosges sandstone runs in a large, horizontal swath through the range just below the granite layer from which it is derived and atop a layer of coal. Grès des Vosges is hard, compact sandstone composed mainly of quartz and feldspar. Its pink-reddish color is due to the presence of decomposing iron (iron oxide, as also seen in red soils throughout the world) that occurred as a result of the slow cooling of large masses of magma as it hardened into granite.
Most of the wine-making villages in Alsace are built on four or five different formations in a juxtaposition of often-restrained parcels, providing a montage of uniquely abundant and diverse soils. These infinite variations are the very heart of the exceptional diversity found in the Vins d’Alsace.
As we’ve seen, geologic forces some 45 million years ago resulted in thousands of feet of downward drop of the broad rift valley through which the Rhine River now flows; the soils left by these tectonic machinations is a byzantine patchwork that can vary tremendously over a very short distance. These changes profoundly affect the suitability of each patch of ground for particular grape varieties.
Thus, Gewürztraminer is grown on the sandstone soils of the Kitterlé vineyard while profound Rieslings grown of the granitic soils of the Sommerberg, refined Sylvaners grown on the limestone of the Zotzenberg vineyard, and so on. So unique is each situation to each variety that, unlike most of France, the Alsace tradition is to label a wine with the grape variety rather than a geographic location, in bottles which, by law, are the distinctive tall, slender Flûte d’Alsace.
We are pleased to offer one bottle of each of the following seven wines for a package price of $234.
Named after the little stream which runs through the property, Domaine Weinbach was first planted with vines in the 9th century and established as a winery by Capuchin friars in 1612. After being sold as national property during the French Revolution, it was acquired by the Faller brothers in 1898, who then left it to their son and nephew, Théo Faller. Following his death in 1979, his wife Colette and daughters Catherine and Laurence continued the family’s passion for the great wines of Alsace until the untimely deaths of Colette and Laurence. Since 2016, Catherine has led the estate winery with her sons, Eddy and Théo.
Domaine Weinbach owns 65 acres of vineyards in the Kaysersberg valley in the Haut-Rhin of Alsace at between 600 and 1300 feet above sea level. Vines are grown organically with a view to quality rather than quantity and grapes. Unlike most producers in Alsace, who purchase from négociants, Weinbach vinifies only estate grown grapes, and their aging philosophy is best described as passive, carried out in huge old oak foudres, a technique they believe allows each climat and each terroir (along with the other unique characteristics of grape and vintage) to shimmer through and produce elegant and sophisticated wines.
Ferociously aromatic Muscat is a good poster child grape for the region, but it turns out to be two varieties, not one. Muscat à Petits Grains, also called Muscat d’Alsace, is the older of the two (and one of the oldest varietals anywhere); it is the ‘noble’ variety used in the Grand Cru vineyards to produce aromatic, bone-dry blockbusters. Muscat Ottonnel is of much more recent origin and is said to have its origin in Loire. Either way, in terms of acreage, they are the small kids on the block. In total, the two Muscats cover a mere 3% of Alsace’s total viticultural area.
Muscat is generally the first variety harvested, in part because it must be picked early to retain its fresh, grapey aromatics. Ironically, though, even the most strongly scented Muscat wines are much less pronounced on the palate. Villages such as Voegtlinshoffen and Geuberschwihr, protected from the western rains, are known for the purity of the Muscat wines, which in the best vintages reach spectacular heights.
2018 Domaine Weinbach, Alsace Muscat ($41)
Organically farmed grapes from the monopole Clos de Capucins grown on sandy silt peppered with gravel. The wine is brilliant yellow in color and redolent of citrus fruit, lavender, jasmine and a hint of eau-de-vie; on the palate, the flavors of yellow plums, pineapple, white pepper and bergamot lead to a crisply dry and acidic finish.
*click photo for more info
Pinot Blanc is often thought of as understudy to Chardonnay (especially in Burgundy, where it is still permitted in many Grand Cru vineyards), but it takes on the diva’s role in Alsace. It is the region’s favorite mutant, since it is a genetic anomaly that originated as Pinot Noir, but with a smaller concentration of color-producing anthocyanins. Alsace puts the grape to work in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines, although it is frequently overshadowed by more popular Alsatian gems made from Gewürztraminer and Riesling.
Pinot Blanc d’Alsace frequently displays toasted almond aromas with hints of pie spice; nutmeg especially. On the palate they show a range of creamy applesauce flavors, and may display some light mineral characteristics, although these are generally muted by the oak treatment that some Alsatian winemakers tend to favor.
2018 Domaine Weinbach, Alsace Pinot Blanc ($27)
Hand-picked, organically grown grapes from the Clos de Capucins climat (first planted in 1612—that is not a typo) and another plot in the Cuvée Laurence vineyard. And now for the odd news: This wine is 70% Auxerrois; a low acid, full-bodied variety most at home in Alsace where laws permit it to be used anonymously in wines labeled Pinot Blanc—to the extent that wines that are 100% Auxerrois may, in fact, be labeled Pinot Blanc without falling afoul of rules. In this wine, 30% is Pinot Blanc, and it shows intense, very ripe pear notes behind some butter and rum raisin balanced by lots of juicy acidity that resolves into a contrast of sweet honey and salty minerality.
*click photo for more info
With little space for argument, the statement can be made that Alsace produces some of the most terroir-reflective Rieslings on earth, echoing precisely the mix of granite, limestone, schist and sandstone on which they are grown. The wine is rarely oaked and only produced in off-dry versions labeled Vendange Tardive (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Nobles (from grapes affected by botrytis). In general, it is the most prolific grape among Alsatian vineyards, accounting for 22% of planted acreage average annual Riesling production is about 2.8 million cases by some 950 producers.
The wines are intensely linear, and have a distinctively complex acid structure and high concentration. Aromatic and expressive, they display intense aromas of citrus, peach, pear, white flowers and a steely minerality and are particularly well-suited to aging, where the fruit recedes and yields to aromas of beeswax, lanolin, butter, smoke, pine, honey, butterscotch, mushroom, lemon candy and especially, overtones of gasoline, which is more delectable than it sounds.
2019 Domaine Weinbach, Alsace Riesling ($35)
Built from organic and biodynamic grapes from the Kaysersberg valley where sandy silt soil lies atop well-drained granite pebbles; grapes from this terroir ripen early and produce wines with complex aromatics and a potent concentration. The wine is aged in large wooden vats which impart very little influence to the flavor, but serves to soften the acidic profile.
Mouth-coating and eye-opening, the wine shows concentrated dried apricot, ripe nectarine, lime zest, white flowers and a touch of petrol braced by crunchy minerality and verve on the nose.
*click photo for more info
In ways, Sylvaner is the Sauvignon Blanc of Alsace; read a classic description and you’ll see: “Sylvaner’s color is clear with green hints underlining its characteristic freshness; the palate is approachable and delicate, framed around vivid acidity; the nose is delicate and appealing. The bouquet is subtly fruit and floral: citrus fruits, white flowers, freshly-cut grass.”
It is a variety whose origins are said to be Transylvania—do with that what you will. As in Germany, where it is well suited to Franken, the variety was once much more widely planted in Alsace, particularly on the natural-productive flatter, lower vineyards of the Bas-Rhin. Today Sylvaner is planted on about one-tenth of Alsace’s vineyard space and rarely occupies the better sites—although there are a few exceptionally good, characterful bottlings. Sylvaner’s primary plus is that it can boast relatively high acidity while the more common Pinot Blanc and the related Auxerrois can be dangerously low in the same.
2019 Domaine Weinbach, Alsace Sylvaner ($27)
Prior to the 2017 vintage, Weinbach’s only Sylvaner was labelled ‘Réserve’, based in part on its origins–old vines from the monopole vineyard Clos des Capucins. Biodynamically certified and vinified on ambient yeast, the wine is aged in old oak casks for eight to 10 months.
The age of the vines is demonstrated in the rich concentrated palate; herbal aromas of freshly mown grass and parching alum are perfectly balanced by a juicy, citrus-driven character with mineral freshness at the finish.
*click photo for more info
If ever a grape variety can be thought of as an ‘acquired taste’, it’s Gewürztraminer, whose unctuous, oily, often musky scent is (at least) easy to recognize. It is a white wine, although the grapes themselves are pink and impart a slight tint to the juice, making it a wine identifiable not only by bouquet, but by color alone.
Gewürz performs best on the heavier, clay soils of Alsace’s Haut-Rhin department, and can quite easily attain the sort of ripeness needed for the sensational late-harvest bottlings labeled Vendange Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles. That said, the variety ripens so fast it needs to be planted somewhere relatively cool if it is to develop any discernible perfume but must be harvested while acid levels remain high enough to balance sugars.
Picked judiciously, Alsace Gewürztraminer ‘sec’ is pungent, dry and powerful enough to accompany rich food, and reaches heights of complexity here unmatched anywhere else in the world.
2018 Domaine Weinbach, Alsace Gewürztraminer ($34)
From the organic and biodynamic (as certified by Ecocert & Demeter) vineyards of Clos des Capucins composed of sandy silt soil on granite pebbles, the wine is rich, velvety, rose-scented and exotic, showing lychee, star fruit, passion fruit and mango while complimenting these lush tropical fruit notes are a host of other aromatics—orange peel, roses, honey and baking spices.
*click photo for more info
Another mutation within the Pinot family, Pinot Gris is a sibling of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, and perhaps among the most double-faced grapes on earth: It creates the light, crisp, often forgettable Pinot Grigios of northern Italy and (without undergoing any mutations whatsoever) becomes rich and unctuous in Alsace. Location, location, location… and restricted yields.
Most identifiable by ripe Bosch pear notes, in Alsace the grape also reveals a floral, flinty, smoky, spicy and honeyed profile, allowing winemakers revel in the possibilities.
“In the past, Grand Cru Alsace Pinot Gris was usually made in an off-dry or sweet style, but today, it is possible to make it in a dry style,” says Alsatian winemaker Samuel Tottoli. “For me, it is necessary to vinify it dry. Low yields from stony vineyards ensure the wine is concentrated, while prime sites with well-drained soils further promote ripening before too much sugar develops in the grapes.”
2020 Domaine Weinbach, ‘Clos des Capucins’ Alsace Pinot Gris ($42)
Grapes grown on the classic terroir of Clos des Capucins ripen early and produce wines with complex aromatics and a potent concentration. This one shows notes of ripe yellow peach, pear, apricot, candied citrus peel, melon rind and orange blossoms carry with a hint of residual sugar (less than 5 grams per liter), making it an ideal partner for spicier preparations.
*click photo for more info
Although Alsace stands out from most wine regions in France by its diversity of single-varietal wines, it has always reserved an important part of its production for the development of blends, whether blends of wines or blends of grapes pressed and vinified together.
The term ‘Edelzwicker’ is commonly used to designate any blending of white AOP Alsace grape varieties, without specific requirements of percentage. The varieties can be vinified together or separately and a vintage year on labels is not obligatory. Initially called ‘Zwicker’ (blending), the prefix ‘Edel’ (meaning noble) was added to show how only noble grape varieties were chosen, and not any from large-scale producers.
‘Gentil’, a term equivalent to ‘noble’ in its oldest sense, is less famous. It is a blend of two or more AOP Alsace grape varieties and must contain a minimum of 50% of noble grape varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. Unlike ‘Gentil’, Edelzwicker does not look for an Interprofessional Charter to define its production conditions. Gentil can only be sold after being tasted and approved.
2020 Domaine Weinbach, ‘Les Vignes du Prêcheur’ Alsace ($28)
A medley of co-fermented beauties—40% Riesling, 30% Auxerrois, 20% Pinot Gris, 5% Muscat, 5% Sylvaner. A seducing floral nose with touches of peach and apricot leads to a rich, yet silken mouth-feel on the backbone of crisp and elegant acidity—the finish displays the odd salinity that is present in many Alsace wines despite its land-locked situation. 13,160 bottles produced.
*click photo for more info
“We’re not in favor of the change, especially for Riesling,” says Emanuelle Gallis of leading Alsace cooperative Cave de Turckheim. “But in the end, it’s not a catastrophe. It’s only one word—just another rule on top of all the others.”
That word is ‘sec’, meaning ‘dry’—a word which Alsace producers have been obliged to carry on the label of their dry wines since the 2016 vintage. This is the Association of Alsace Producers’ interpretation of a European Union law stipulating that one of four levels of sweetness should be carried on labels: sec, demi-sec, moelleux and doux; the AVA was concerned that consumers were turning away from Alsace wines because they were afraid of buying an off-dry or sweet wine when they wanted a dry one. “This has become particularly clear in Parisian brasseries,” says AVA president Jérôme Bauer, “where Alsace Rieslings are getting rarer.”
As a result of the new rule, dry Alsace wines must be labeled ‘sec’ if they have maximum four grams of residual sugar per liter—an INAO rule that had previously applied to all other French wine regions beside Alsace. Although it seems like a logical decision, it has not been embraced willingly by all producers, some of whom feel it is misguided, as the default style of Alsace whites is mineral dryness rather than sweetness.
The first half of 2018 was characterized by unusually high rainfall which allowed the soils to build important reserves for the upcoming summer months. Surprisingly, despite the heavy rains, flowering was not only successful but arrived earlier than normal. A warm, dry summer saw temperatures spike in July, making the few light rains that fell in August quite welcome. Although the grapes tended to ripen more quickly than normal, the harvest still occurred at a leisurely pace over two months. All the whites delivered impressively, particularly wines made from Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. However, Pinot Gris generally stole the show with beautifully rich, aromatic wines. Riesling was perhaps the trickiest, less suited to the warmer temperatures, but October’s warm days and cool nights helped the grapes to ripen while retaining their acidity, creating superlative Vendanges Tardives.
Overall, the 2019 vintage in Alsace was very good. Chilly spells during the spring were accompanied by the typical seasonal frosts in April. Temperatures began to warm up in May and hot weather in June and July eliminated both rot and mildew. Rain fell in August relieving the vines from drought and the good conditions continued for the September harvest. These conditions are ideal for offering grapes to develop concentration and depth without suffering drought-related stress.
The 2020 growing season began with an unusually warm spring, which saw both an early budburst and flowering. The summer quickly picked up steam, but little rain—extremely hot conditions made drought a serious issue in some vineyards, as the delicate nature of Alsace white grapes means they are particularly sensitive to heat stress. There was enough intermittent rainfall to prevent the grapes from becoming completely parched, although the high temperatures inevitably sped up the growing season prompting an early harvest. Picking began in early autumn during a heatwave, which meant pickers had to be careful grapes were brought in under suitably cool conditions. Overall, despite the problems with drought, the harvest produced grapes in good condition, with their essential aromatics and acidities preserved.
We can all agree that rosé is ideal for warm weather, and we can probably also agree that climate change is leading to a bit too much warm weather. And that does not necessary lead to more rosé, since the primary condition required to maintain the electrifying acidity in grapes is a temperature drop-off near harvest. Without that, rosé becomes flabby, for which the technical term is ‘plonk’.
Gilles Masson, the director of Le Centre du Rosé in Vidauban, France, expresses the problem like this: “With climate change, freshness, fruit, aromatics, and acidity will decrease, alcohol will increase, and the wines will become heftier. This has made some producers favor sites that are cooler year-round, including those that are higher in altitude or north-facing. But warming temperatures year-round are a threat.”
2021 proved to be a particularly challenging vintage for rosé producers in southern France, with a wet winter followed by an unseasonably hot spring, followed by an extensive frost in April, so we’ve taken on a challenge ourselves: To find those vignerons who successfully navigated the choppy waters and produced exemplary rosés despite the roadblocks. These packages represent three blockbuster rosé-producing regions that applied a host of new methods to combat climate change; experimenting with new sites and varieties and slightly altering house styles in order to keep their heads above the pink waters.
For French winemakers, warm winters are more of an issue than sweltering summer, although with increasingly regularity, they are happening in the same growing season. In 2021, the summer was not aggressively hot, but the preceding winter encouraged early bud break, much of which was subsequently lost to the frost of April 8. The smaller diurnal variation (with warmer night temperatures) during the summer of 2021 also impacted ripening and development. The cool summer helped preserve the acidity while dry conditions concentrated the juice; vignerons who were successful adapted to the constantly changing prospects, sorting heavily, while négociants frequently relied on those grape varieties less badly hit.
But the effects of climate change are hardly restricted to a single season. In recent years, each individual vintage has presented its own unique set of trials, an inevitable offshoot of rising temperatures in France, which on average have increased 1.5°C; predictions are that things will get worse. Of course, it’s not limited to France, but the delicacy of the vineyard ecosystem in Southern France is being battered by heat waves, drought and fires, there are also spring frosts, hail, and excessive rain with damage wrought by one or more in any given year. In November 2021, climatic extremes reduced overall French wine production by 27 % in 2021 (over 2020) and the vintage proved to be one of French wine’s most difficult years on record.
We are pleased to offer one bottle of each of the following ten wines for a package price of $264.
Now the good news: The world’s vineyards still churn out 600 million gallons of rosé a year and in France, the number one rosé producer is Provence.
Tucked into the southeastern corner of France, Provence covers 125 miles of coastland—no vineyard in the appellation is more than 25 miles from the Mediterranean. And, as suits the French Riviera, 3000 + hours of sunshine annually (paired with strong Mistral winds to keep things dry), allow vines to thrive in a hot, maritime climate without risk of fungal disease. Even so, as conditions become even hotter, a new way of thinking has begun to animate this deeply traditional region: Older varietals like Carignan, Barbaroux and Calitor being replaced by more commercially viable grapes like Grenache, Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon, although native standbys Mourvèdre, Tibouren and Vermentino continue to hold their ground.
There are pockets of well-received red and white wines throughout Provence, but the name of the game is pink; 82% of the Provençal output is rosé, nearly all crisply acidic and bone dry and in color, ranging from pale coral when made predominantly from Grenache to more deeply tinted Syrah-based wines. In fact, each shade has an official name based on a color chart developed by the Centre de Recherche and d’Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé: Peach, Melon, Mango, Pomelo, Mandarin and Redcurrant.
Roselyn Gavoty is the eighth generation of Gavoty to helm the family domain since her ancestor Philémon acquired it in 1806. With more than 120 picturesque acres of vine snaking along the Issole River in the northwestern sector of the Côtes de Provence, Gavoty runs a polycultural farm that the family has worked without synthetic chemicals for decades.
A champion of the saignée method of rosé production, which involves bleeding off a portion of red must, she considers texture to be the most important element in a great Côtes de Provence rosé. She’s also outspoken about the region’s descent into commercialism, with a sea of wine gulped down by hordes of what she calls ‘consommateurs mouton.’ In point of fact, however quaffable her rosé is, it has the thought-provoking depth to warrant sipping rather than gulping.
Domaine Gavoty ‘Clarendon’, Côtes-de-Provence Rosé 2021 ($37)
Besides making wine, Roselyn’s grandfather Bernard Gavoty was a well-known organist, musicologist, music critic, and talk show host, and we drink this wine in remembrance of him—he wrote under the nom de plume ‘Clarendon.’ The cuvée is made from the oldest Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan vines in the domain, which date back to the early 1960s. A complex and voluptuous nose of grapefruit, raspberry and white peach with a shivery crisp palate and a mouthwatering finish.
Domaine Gavoty ‘Grand Classique’, Côtes-de-Provence Rosé 2021 ($27)
90% Cinsault, 7% Grenache and 3% Carignan: The grapes are not pressed immediately but macerate for several hours first. The saignée and first-press juice are vinified separately, allowing Roselyn the flexibility to blend the more succulent saignée with the more angular and architectural pressed juice to achieve the precise textural qualities she seeks. The wine shows suave flavors of red cherries, red currant, yellow flowers, strawberry, melon and Bartlett pear with a nice minerality throughout.
In the Provençal dialect, ‘Mesclances’ refers to the confluence of rivers, and the estate, a mere two miles from the sea in the commune of La Crau, is situated between two streams, the Réal Martin and Gapeau, which originate in the limestone massif of the Sainte Baume. The property consists of 75 contiguous acres and is a picturesque ideal of Mediterranean culture and pretty rolling topography. And certainly, this geography determines appellation status: Wines from the estate’s plain are IGP Méditerranée while the foot of the slope yields AOP Côtes de Provence, and the steeper incline of the hill carries the rare Appellation Côtes-de-Provence ‘La Londe’. Only 20 estates count La Londe in their holdings.
Mesclances is owned by Arnaud de Villeneuve Bargemon, whose family has run the domain since the French revolution. In April 2018, Alexandre Le Corguillé joined the team as estate manager, and as is to be expected, most of the vineyard production is dedicated to rosé.
Château Les Mesclances ‘Faustine’, Côtes-de-Provence La Londe Rosé 2021 ($37)
81% Grenache, 13% Syrah and 6% Mourvèdre with the Syrah and Mourvèdre made via saignée. From the exceptional ‘La Londe’ sub-appellation, the wine is somewhat darker in hue—the Grenache received a full 15 hours of maceration. This wine is dense, packed with red berries and citrus with a peppery acidity to bring freshness to the finish.
Ten miles south of the ancient city of Arles, the Michel family tends the lovely Mas de Valériole, a hundred acre estate founded in the early 15th century and purchased by the Michel family in the late 1950s. Around 2000, brothers Jean-Paul and Patrick Michel turned their energies to improving the land through organic viticultural practices and refining their approach in the cellar.
Mas de Valériole’s vineyards cover eighty of the hundred acres, and are planted on a patchwork of soil types: sand, clay, limestone, and alluvial loam deposited by the Grand Rhône. The reliably steady wind blowing in from the Mediterranean mitigates the heat, facilitating their chemical-free approach to farming and ensuring balanced alcohol levels in the wines.
Mas de Valériole ‘Grand Mar’, IGP Bouches-du-Rhône – Terre de Camargue Rosé 2021 ($23)
If you are not a grape nerd, you may never have heard of the varietal Caladoc, a cross between Grenache and Malbec created by Paul Truel in 1958 at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique. It is not allowed in any AOP, and ‘Grand Mar’ is nothing but Caladoc, accounting for the IGP designation, formerly Vin de Pays. It was fermented with indigenous yeasts—unusual for rosé—in stainless steel tanks. The wine shows vibrant notes of ripe strawberry and lime zest surrounded by ruby-red grapefruit and white peach aromas that blends with crackling acidity.
So dark in color are some of the Southern Rhône’s most celebrated rosés that they nearly defy the ‘blush’ concept. Of the vivid ruby tones found in Tavel, for example, Thomas Giubbi, co-president of the Syndicat Viticole de l’Appellation Tavel winemakers association, said, “We think of our wines as light red wines.”
But that isn’t fair to the category. In it very soul, rosé qualifies as neither red wine nor white wine. It may be (although rarely is; the practice is frowned upon) a blend of the two, but in nearly all cases, it is produced by crushing red-skinned, white-fleshed grapes and allowing a period of maceration lasting from a few hours to a couple days in which the juice is ‘dyed’ to a specific level; alternately, there is méthode saignée, which is essentially fermented free-run juice from red wine pressings.
To say ‘Tavel rosé’ is to repeat yourself since, by law, all wine from Tavel is rosé. Creeping along the right bank of the Rhône River in the Gard, the soils of Tavel are a potpourri of small stones (called galets roulés), fine sand and fractured limestone, and the hot, dry climate allows the grapes (predominantly Grenache, Syrah and Clairette) to achieve full phenolic ripeness. As a result, Tavel rosé tends to be richer and more deeply colored than the salmon-pink wines from other regions, with an associated complexity of flavor in the glass.
The estate (which has belonged to the Congregation of Missionary Fathers of the Holy Family since the 18th century) operates under the motto, ‘Auspice Clara Manissy Stella’, or, ‘beneath the protection of the bright star of Manissy.’ Since 2004, it has also operated under the auspices of Florian André, whose winemaking and cellar skills have upheld the Château’s reputation for Tête de Cuvée barrel-aged rosé.
Château de Manissy ‘Cuvée des Lys’, Tavel 2021 ($19)
is 60% Grenache, 30% Clairette, 10% Syrah from vines that average 45 years old grown in clay, river rock and fine-grained sand. It opens with aromas of white flowers and spring strawberries, filling out in a silky blend of watermelon and pomegranate; it is rich in minerality and garrigue (sage and oregano) and is intriguingly peppery on the finish.
Like nearby Châteauneuf-Du-Pape, Gigondas depends heavily on Grenache. Based on appellation laws, both the reds and the rosés must be made from up to 80% Grenache, with at least 15% comprised of Syrah and Mourvèdre. The grapes are grown at a higher elevation than Châteauneuf’s, often in terraced vineyards threaded with limestone under the looming Dentelles de Montmirail, with rocky, sandy, free-draining soils on the flatter, lower-lying land to the north and west.
Situated in the heart of Gigondas, Domaine du Gour de Chaulé was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils and is now run by his great-granddaughter Stéphanie Fumoso. Credit Bonfils’ daughter Rolande Beaume with reinventing the estate (formerly a grower that sold grapes to négociants) and kicking off the estate-bottled tradition; thank Rolande’s daughter Aline for expanding this practice exponentially.
The domain comprises 37 acres, 25 of which are within Gigondas with the remainder in the surrounding communes of Vacqueyras and Violes. Aline Bonfils believes strongly that Grenache is the heart and soul of Gigondas and she has transmitted this philosophy to her daughter, Stéphanie. As a result, 85% of the vineyards are planted to Grenache, with approximately 10% dedicated to Syrah and Mourvèdre and the balance planted to Cinsault. The vines are quite old; many were planted in 1956 and some of the domain’s 23 parcels were planted a century ago.
Domaine du Gour de Chaulé ‘Cuvée Amour de Rosé’, Gigondas Rosé 2021 ($37)
Luxurious and rich, the wine is made from the direct-press method, without malolactic, using 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 20 % Mourvèdre. The wine shows wild strawberries and summer compote with hints of white pepper and garrigue. Limited production, with only 1200 bottles released to the American market.
Spreading over 112 acres in Gigondas, Plan de Dieu and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Domaine Saint Damien is the brainchild of Joël Saurel and his son Romain who have lifted the estate—named for the patron saint of doctors—from humble roots to becoming one of the most reputable domains in Gigondas.
Domaine Saint Damien, Gigondas Rosé 2021 ($29)
80% Cinsault (planted in 1970) and 20% Syrah (planted in 2000) in the organically-farmed lieu-dit of La Moutte. This small production wine undergoes cold maceration for 6 hours followed by slow pneumatic pressing and fermentation in stainless steel tanks with occasional lees stirring. Delicately tinted, it shows rose petal, honeydew, lychee, pineapple and garrigue with a hint of pepper and crushed rock on the finish.
Côtes-du-Rhône is one of the largest single appellation regions in the world, covering millions of acres and producing millions of bottles of wine of varying degrees of quality. In Southern Rhône, it encompasses the majority of vineyards and includes hallowed names like Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The latter wines prefer to use their individual, highly specific ‘cru’ names, but the truth is, many generic Côtes du Rhônes may come from plots just outside official ‘Villages’ boundaries—some only across the road or a few vine rows away from top vineyards—and among them, you can find wines with nearly the same level of richness at a fraction of the cost.
Manarine was created by Gilles Gasq in 2001 after he learned his trade as an assistant to Paul Jeune, proprietor of Domaine Monpertuis in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the winery and majority of the vineyards are located within the commune of Travaillan northeast of Orange.
The domain covers 44 acres situated on what is known as the ‘Le Plan de Dieu’ (God’s work field) where the underlying soil contains a deep layer of hard limestone galets that facilitate drainage, retain heat and radiate it back during the cooler nights. The climate is typically Mediterranean: relatively hot and dry with scant rainfall that usually comes during late-August thunderstorms, providing the vines with the water necessary to finish the maturation process.
Domaine la Manarine, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé 2021 ($20)
50% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah spontaneously fermented in stainless steel, racked following fermentation and aged on fine lees until assemblage. Crisp notes of wild strawberry, black currant, tangerine with herbal undertones.
If more sommeliers became vignerons, the world might see more low-yield, unfiltered gems like those of Marc Besnardeau, who worked as a wine steward in Paris before following his dream into the vineyard. With wife Mireille Farjon, he took over the estate planted in 1929 by Mireille’s grandfather, well-situated between St. Cecile and Cairanne.
After selling initially to négociants, the couple began bottling at the estate in 1997. They replanted some fields with Syrah and Mourvèdre, bought new vineyards, and expanded their holdings to its current size, 116 acres spread across seven communes: Sainte Cécile les Vignes, Lagarde-Paréol, Suze la Rousse, Tulette, Cairanne, Rasteau and Travaillan.
Domaine Les Grands Bois ‘Les 3 Sœurs’, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé 2021 ($15)
grown on chalky clay and harvested from vines ranging in age from 15-60 years. Bold and undeniably fruity, the wine shows deeper savory notes of fresh earth, mushrooms, wildflowers and crushed stone.
Ventoux is a large wine region in the far southeast of the southern Rhône, 25 miles northeast of Avignon and bordering Provence. Covering 51 communes, the vines are planted on the western slopes of Mt. Ventoux, a sort of ‘stray’ Alp removed from the range and towering over the landscape for miles around.
Terroir and varietals are typical for Rhône, although noteworthy are the region’s Muscat produced for table grapes, which has its own AOP—Muscat du Ventoux.
Originally owned by Paul Jeune of Domaine Monpertuis, he opted to sell to Luc and Cendrine Guénard who worked under Jeune’s tutelage during the transition period. They now are proudly independent vignerons with a compulsion to further improve this jewel; their first efforts can be seen and tasted in the 2009 vintage.
Certified organic in 2013, the 70 acres of Valcombe are situated in the shadow of the mountain, reaching one thousand feet. Four red grape varieties (Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault) balance four white grape varieties (Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc); many vines over sixty years old, although parcels of Carignan and Grenache were planted in 1936. Soils are essentially limestone covered with the area’s famous galets, although deep in the subsoil, an unusual blue-inflected clay helps define the unique characteristics of Valcombe wines.
Château Valcombe ‘Epicure’, Ventoux Rosé 2021 ($20)
Harvested exclusively by hand with a strict sorting in the vineyard, the wine is 60% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 10% Carignan (and a touch of Clairette) from vines about 40 years old. The wine displays ripe strawberries, watermelon and pink grapefruit over a steel and mineral core. Bone dry and very refreshing.
…. Add one of each of the following Three Loire Rosé for a package price of $72.
Rosé de Loire adds yet another dimension to French blush; extending across the Anjou and Touraine AOPs, it covers about 2000 acres and is responsible for more than a million gallons of rosé every year. Its color lends itself to dramatic descriptors ranging from ‘flamingo pink with a hint of poppy’ to ‘gleaming raspberry pink with a glimmer of violet.’ These wines are generally dry, but there is a subset that is off-dry and another subset, Crémant, that sparkles. There is even a ‘Primeur’ (or ‘Nouveau’) style, a much fruitier wine that is almost entirely free of tannins—a result of being fermented using the Beaujolais method of carbonic maceration.
Like the red wines of Loire, the principle grapes used in the rosé are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau (Noir and Gris), Pineau d’Aunis, Gamay and/or Pinot Noir. Beyond color, Rosé de Loire is delightful elegance in a glass; Rosé d’Anjou in particular is noted for its terroir, stretching from Saumur in the east to Champtoceaux in the west, on the dividing line between the carboniferous soils of the Armorican Massif and the whiter, limestone-rich soils of the southern Paris Basin.
To many, red grapes in Sancerre sounds like an oxymoron, but connoisseurs know that a quarter of Sancerre’s vineyards are Pinot Noir. Like so many French wine regions that had the rug pulled out from beneath them during the phylloxera blight of mid-19th century, Sancerre found itself having to replant all its vineyards, which had—up to that time—been a red-wine producing zone; Pouilly-Fumé, just across the river, was the Sauvignon Blanc powerhouse. For a multitude of reasons, most of the estates replanted using that varietal, and as the white wines of Sancerre soon eclipsed those of her sister commune, there was not much incentive to look back. The reds became an afterthought, and Pinot Noir is not the sort of grape that suffers scorn easily. In the ‘90s, however, certain producers (notably Alphonse Mellot Jr.) began to experiment with lower and more selective yields, and since then, the quality has improved astronomically, and the rosés built entirely from Pinot Noir are an entirely new avenue for exploration.
If ever a cheerleader for low yields and hand-harvesting existed, it’s Pierre Morin. In every vintage, combining severe pruning and selection at harvest, he averages 40 hl/ha—in France, the legally allowed average is 52 hl/ha. It’s an obsession that pays off in a portfolio filled with textured, terroir-driven Sancerres.
Morin is a small, family-run domain in Bué, arguably the most prestigious village in the whole of Sancerre and one of only a few communes allowed to label their wines ‘Sancerre.’ Pierre took over from his father Gérard in 2004, and practices Lutte Raisonnée farming, never using herbicides or chemical fertilizers.
Domaine Pierre Morin, Sancerre Rosé 2021 ($29)
100% Pinot Noir pressed immediately upon harvest to produce a vibrant and finesse-driven wine with supple notes of sweet strawberry and rose pastille and a touch of bitter citrus pith. Medium-bodied, elegant and lively, with racy acidity and crunchy minerality.
The confluence of the Loire and Vienne rivers is a demarcation where the influence of the Atlantic sweeps through the two valleys. Vineyards are generally oriented on east to west slopes with sunny southern exposures, creating a microclimate ideal for Cabernet Franc. As a result, the medieval town of Chinon—and the appellation that takes its name—is known for rich reds and vibrant pink wines made from that variety. Beyond the climate, Chinon boasts unique soil; tuffeau jaune is a fragile sedimentary rock made of sand and highly porous marine fossils, meaning that it absorbs water rapidly and disseminates it slowly, ideal for grape cultivation.
Château de la Bonnelière ‘M Plouzeau – Rive Gauche’, Chinon Rosé 2021 ($16)
‘Rive Gauche’ translates literally as ‘Left Bank’, and here, of course, refers not to the Seine in Paris but to the Vienne in Loire. Marc Plouzeau’s vinification philosophy emphasizes fruit rather than tannins—ideal for the production of rosé. Likewise, the estate’s Argilo-Calcalre soil, with sun-reflecting flint on the surface and plenty of limestone underneath (Plouzeau refers to his terroir as ‘privileged’) produces wines of great complexity. His 2021 is a sensationally complex rosé from Cabernet Franc showing notes of limestone, tart cranberry, red currants, raspberry, pomegranate and pink grapefruit.
Anjou sprawls across 128 communes, mostly south of the towns of Angers in the west and Saumur in the east. Monasteries played the largest role in developing Anjou’s wine trade, as each enclave had its own walled vineyard, but it was French royalty who secured the region’s reputation, beginning nearly a thousand years ago when Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II of England. Anjou’s terroir is a matter of black and white: it’s divided into two subsoils as different as day and night. First, Anjou Noir, composed of blackish, dark, schist-based soil along the south-eastern edge of the Massif Armoricain, then, Anjou Blanc, lighter-colored soils made up of the altered chalk at the south-western extremity of the Paris Basin.
The Soucherie château itself is an architectural gem, an 18th century castle with an outstanding view of the Layon valley. 20 minutes south of Angers in the heart of the Loire and surrounded by the villages of Rochefort-sur-Loire, Beaulieu-sur-Layon and Saint Lambert du Lattay, the 70 acres of south-facing vineyards are planted on limestone, clay and schist.
Owner Roger Beguinot is assisted by the Maître de Chai, Thibaud Boudignon, who sings the praises of organic ‘agriculture integrée’, practiced through the domain’s single-vineyard sites, including the 70-year-old vines in Chaume: “All the work of the vineyards is done manually,” he says, “from stripping to budding, from tying to harvesting. For our sweet wines, the grapes are picked selectively, only 100% botrytis and chaptalized. Our white wines are vinified and aged in oak barrels where nothing is left to chance—the origin of the wood (Allier, Tronçais forest, Nièvre, etc.), and the expertise of the cooper is chosen in accordance with the type of wine and the nature of the soil.”
Château Soucherie ‘L’Astrée’, Rosé de Loire 2021 ($27)
A dry, mineral-driven rosé built from 70% Grolleau and 30% Gamay worth experiencing for the blend alone. Rose-petal pink with cherry and raspberry-red reflections, the wine is precise, with clean acidity, ultra-bright and complex
The simple statement that rosé does not benefit from (or improve with) aging is exactly that: Simple. It presupposes either that rosé is a non-serious summertime quaff or that even when made by serious winemakers, the goal is to produce fast, fresh and fruity wines with tannins not meant for the cellar, but for the dinner table, like the rosés d’assiette of Provence. That both statements can be true does not negate a third: Many full-bodied pink wines become more interesting with time in a bottle.
And that’s because no wine ‘improves’ with age—‘better’ is a subjective opinion based on personal preferences. Wine changes with age, and whether you appreciate those changes, or seek them out, is a matter of taste. Since all rosé is built from red grapes, most of them (especially in France) age-worthy blockbusters like Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Pinot Noir, et al. This means that these wines already have the DNA to produce the same tertiary flavors that they would develop if vinified red. Licorice, dried flowers and the deeply ingrained minerality that is the signet of the complex limestone and clay soils of France are all flavors that deepen and mature in wines made from the varieties that build rosé.
All wine not intended for immediate consumption should be stored correctly, at a constant temperature and with as little movement as possible. This holds true for white wine, red wine, and by extension, rosé.
Nestled among the foothills of Les Alpilles, amid landscapes made famous by Van Gogh, Domaine Hauvette served as a backdrop for Dominique Hauvette’s re-birth. Formerly a Savoie lawyer, she opted to leave the rat race, seek out more sunshine, indulge her passion for raising horses and the study of oenology. Thirty-some years later, Dominique now has 42 acres of vines and a low-tech and decisively non-interventionist stance which has earned her an international reputation for making benchmark natural wines.
She describes her situation and terroir like this: “Domaine Hauvette is two islands of vineyards within a 1.5 miles radius around the cellar; all the vineyards are on the northern side of the Alpilles, a white bright limestone mount culminating at 1,600 ft. Facing north, the microclimate is a little cooler, and strangely a little less affected by the Mistral that bumps over the Alpilles to blow stronger on the southern side. The terroir is mostly lacustrine limestone from the Cretaceous, full of fossils. Some veins of red clay run through certain plots. One specificity of the area is the ‘Terres Blanches’ also called ‘Tuffeau,’ which have nothing in common with either the Sancerre’s Kimmeridgian marls nor the Touraine Tuffeau. Here, it refers to compressed veins of this Cretaceous limestone so hard and impenetrable that it looks like cement. The first time I saw, I thought somebody had poured cement and covered it back with top soil! It requires a special tool to crack apart the layers when planting, but when I saw what it could produce, it became my favorite vineyard.”
Domaine Hauvette ‘Petra’, Les Baux de Provence 2017 MAGNUM (1.5 Liter) ($85)
70% Cinsault, 15% Syrah and 15% Grenache, with malolactic completed in concrete eggs. Pale copper with flecks of salmon in color, the nose shows discreet sandalwood and orange zest with a brimming palate of apple, pink grapefruit and white pepper.
Theatrical large-format bottles such as this magnum are generally meant to allow a long and luxuriant aging process, and as such, are used mostly for red wines. This may seem counterintuitive for a rosé, mostly intended for early drinking while the acidity remains fresh and the fruit, forward. But the mere fact that it slows down aging means that the wine keeps fresher longer, and a small amount of air contact develops flavor, aroma, and color. In ‘Petra’, secondary flavors have already developed from malolactic fermentation on the lees; matured judiciously, the fruit will remain while tertiary flavors (the hallmark of the grapes used herein) should appear—savory notes of coffee, spiced almonds and candied fruit.
Plus, experimentation is fun, and even serious rosé is meant to be fun.
Dad jokes are awful; Dad wines are awesome. Now, this aphorism is not carved in stone like the Caves Patriarche of Beaune but it’s one that holds true more often than not.
As evidence, and to honor Father’s Day, we have assembled a wonderful cross-section of Burgundy gems to suit the holiday—wine pairs that will take your significant pater on a journey of contrast through the liquid geography of Burgundy’s Golden Slopes, the Côte d’Or. Each pairing shows how wines from nearby appellations can be strikingly dissimilar or delightfully akin, a wine phenomenon that results from the interactive ecosystem of individual vineyards, collectively known as ‘terroir’.
And by the way, Dads: A skeleton walks into a wine bar and says, “I’ll have glass of Gevrey-Chambertin… and a mop.”
Terroir, above all, is a concept—that a wine’s taste and aroma reflect its place of origin. This reflection may be subtle or overt, but there’s plenty of science behind it. Terroir includes specific soil types, topography, microclimate, landscape characteristics and biodiversity—all features that interact with a winemaker’s choice of viticultural and enological techniques.
Every square foot of earth that supports a vine has its own unique terroir, and wine appreciation is founded on the principal that not all terroirs are created equal. Thus, the hyper-division of vineyards sites, from the most broad to the narrowest—some named climats are only a few rows in size, but produce wine markedly different than their neighbors. In Burgundy, this obsession with small, precisely delimited parcels is probably more defined than anywhere else on earth, and we will always seek out the best of those wines and share as much information about the vineyards as we can unearth… Dad pun intended.
Terroir matters, and nowhere more blatantly than in Burgundy’s classification system, which has four distinct levels, Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages and Régionale, divided up into 84 separate appellations.
Grand Cru, the top of the pyramid, represent less than 1% of the region’s total production. All of the white Grand Crus are today found in the Côte de Beaune, while all of the red Grand Crus (with the exception of the Corton family) are found in the Côte de Nuits. To be consistently exceptional requires exceptional strictures; beside being the favored sites geographically, Grand Cru wines are made with a specified grape variety from a regulated patch of land, from vines of at least 3 years of age and below a certain maximum yield per unit area of land.
Premier Cru wines account for another 5% of Burgundy’s total production, and as such, is only a slightly larger drop in the bucket. There are a few that may outperform Grand Cru wines, but they are priced accordingly. The majority of Premier Crus are from named vineyards, and the climat name will appear on the label. For example, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières assures you that this wine comes from the Folatières vineyard in the village of Puligny-Montrachet.
Village level wine is a broad and encompassing swath of terroir recognition, but it is undeniably describable: Savigny is meaty, Volnay is elegant, Vosne-Romanée is spicy, Meursault is nutty. Wines at this level have a slightly higher allowed yield per hectare, but the varietal requirements are the same. This is a slot where Burgundy’s best bargains fit; any vineyard site, Grand Cru or Premier Cru can go into a bottle labeled only after a village. Although it might sound counter-intuitive for a domain to do this, it isn’t. Wineries declassify Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines frequently, and for a variety of reasons.
Régionale wines represent the bulk of wine produced in Burgundy; they are generic, have much more relaxed standards for yields and grape types. They may be labeled Bourgogne Rouge, Bourgogne Blanc, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Chardonnay or Bourgogne Aligoté—even Bourgogne Passtoutgrains, which is Gamay mixed with a lower percentage of Pinot Noir.
A mnemonic device for remembering which shade of wine is best represented by the two subdivisions of the Côte d’Or, the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuit: Bones are white, and the greatest of the Chardonnay-based white Burgundy (Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet, et al) are from Beaune. Night is dark, and the greatest Pinot Noir-based reds (Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, Chambertin, et al) come from the ‘Night Slopes’—the Côte de Nuit.
Of course, the two regions make wines of either color. The Côte de Beaune is the southern half of the Côte d’Or escarpment, hilly country where, like the bowls of porridge in Goldilocks, the topsoils near the tops of the elevation are too sparse to support vines and, in the valleys, too fertile to produce top quality wine. The Goldilocks Zone (the mid-slopes) are where the Grand and Premier Cru vineyards are found, primarily at elevations between 720 and 980 feet. Drainage is good, and when vines are properly located to maximize sun exposure, the greatest Burgundies thrive and produce, year after year. The lesser, often forgettable Burgundies (generic Bourgogne) comes from the flatlands beneath the slopes; the fact that these wines are also made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is indication of why terroir matters. Likewise, the narrow band of regional appellation vineyards at the top of the slopes produce light wines labeled Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.
A word on ‘lès’: lès is less… distance. From the old French word for ‘near’, you can read ‘Savigny-lès-Beaune’ as meaning that the commune of Savigny is near Beaune, and—being just on the other side of the main road—Chorey is also near Beaune. Both appellations are on the far periphery of Burgundy, and often fly their wine flag under the radar.
Part of the reason for Savigny’s relative obscurity is history; until recently, red and white grapes were often vinified together, and the legal allotment of white grape (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris) is still 15%. The fact that Savigny red wine is today nearly always pure Pinot Noir makes it a bargain—reputations linger and the wines are, among the less knowledgeable, still considered second tier. And with 1.8 million bottles of wine produced annually, there is plenty to go around.
Chorey-lès-Beaune has a slightly different problem; rich neighbors. Immediately to the east, the appellation abuts Aloxe-Corton, and for many years, Chorey wines were labeled under the more prestigious Aloxe name, but in 1970, they were granted their own appellation; the terroir, limestone-marl alluvium over stony subsoil, warranted its own slice of fame. Almost exclusively planted to Pinot Noir, the vineyards of Chorey have deeper beds of alluvial, calcium-rich gravel near Aloxe, while toward Savigny are beds of clay with pebbly limestone.
Eight years of wine school may make you think of a professional student, but Vincent Ledy took all that accumulated scholastics and applied it to one of the smallest domains in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Scarcely five acres in total, he produces six labels for a total of 8,500 bottles.
“My first vintage was 2007”, he says. “All I had was a red Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. In 2008, I increased the size of the domain a little bit when I found a very small plot for Bourgogne rouge, less than a quarter acre just opposite of Clos de Vougeot on the other side of the Beaune-Dijon road. The soil is deep clay that is reflected in the character of the wine; blackcurrant is the dominating flavor, the same every vintage. Compared with the Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits it is very different. The Hautes-Côtes is more about cherry flavors. The maximum yield for the regional appellations is 58 hl/ha, but the yield for my Bourgogne rouge is 50 hl/ha.”
Savigny-lès-Beaune – Domaine Vincent Ledy ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2018 Savigny-lès-Beaune ($53)
Between the Hill of Corton and Beaune, the vineyards of Savigny open up on gradients that are initially gentle, but increase with the altitude. The lower slopes consist of alluvia from the Rhoin and higher up, the unique terroir of Corton takes over. Where Pernand-Vergelesses ends, exposure is southerly and the soils are gravelly with a scattering of oolitic ironstone. Lower down, the red-brown limestone becomes clay-dominated and pebbly. This produces red wines with full-fleshed notes of blackcurrant, Morello cherry and raspberry and discreet tannins.
From the Village-level lieux-dits Connardises and Aux Liards, the wine shows vivid ruby colors with garnet red tints. Violet, sweet pepper and hints of toast on the nose, followed by a silken palate and red fruit notes including cloudberry and ripe cherry.
Chorey-lès-Beaune – Domaine Vincent Ledy, 2018 Chorey-lès-Beaune ‘Les Beaumonts’ ($49)
With a scant 328 acres under vine, there are no Grand or Premier Cru climats within the boundaries despite being joined-at-the-hip to Aloxe-Corton. That’s primarily due to elevation, since Chorey occupies the lower slopes of the hill. The vineyards grow mainly Pinot Noir grapes but Chardonnay is taking an increasing share of total production. The profile of the reds is dominated by dark berry notes along with hints of licorice and underbrush; with age it evolves richer strawberry preserves and gingerbread with animal and leathery overtones.
‘Les Beaumont’ is considered one of the best climats within Chorey-lès-Beaune, located in the westernmost section near Savigny. The wine shows floral-tinged flavors of cherries, slightly stewed plum braced by cloves and sweet spice.
Changes in the boundaries of Burgundy vineyards are very rare, but in 2007—egged on by the Syndicat Viticole de Volnay—the AOP authorities approved the consolidation of five Volnay Premier Cru vineyards. Fewer Premier Crus are easier for consumers to understand and remember, but it also assists growers who farm some of Volnay’s lesser-known areas.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring village of Monthélie, 16.6 acres were added to existing Premier Crus: elevated to Premier Cru status were the lieux-dits Les Clous, Le Clou des Chênes, Les Barbières and Le Clos des Toisières. The surface of Premier Cru Les Riottes was increased by 2 acres, bringing it to 10 acres total.
Volnay and Monthélie are sandwiched between Pommard and Meursault, but the wines—generally red—are closer in style to the former, although the few white wines produced in Monthélie are a close cousin to Meursault.
The Monthélie family created this domain 300 years ago—as its original vaulted cellars bear witness—and has been run by members of the Monthélie and Douhairet families ever since.
Today it is under the auspices of Vincent and Cataldina Lippo, who work in several appellations beside Volnay. Of their methodology, Vincent says, “We attach great importance to the development of healthier and more sustainable viticulture. We have always used new solutions and knowledge to develop our farming practices. So, we move forward in a thoughtful and meticulous way to better know and better anticipate. Our voluntarist policy in favor of the environment is guided by choices from the latest scientific knowledge, which are intended to be simultaneously evolutionary, economically viable and open to progress.”
Volnay – Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret, 2018 Volnay Premier Cru En Champans ($108)
Volnay, which earned its controlled status in 1937, is perched on the hill of Chaignot and occupies a narrow, steeply sloping site. The hill itself is oriented slightly differently than the general run of the countryside; the vines face south-east rather than east. The terroir is composed of oolitic limestone with a superficial similarity to the reddish igneous rock of the Morvan district, pink in color with pale green inclusions and overlain by banks of schist.
The Pinot Noir-based wines of Volnay are typically elegant and aromatic with scents of violet, gooseberry and cherry; with age, a characteristic spiciness emerges with notes of game and cooked prune.
This sumptuous Volnay comes from the Champans vineyard, located in the heart of the Volnay with east and south-east exposures; it is entirely surrounded by other Premier Cru climats. The soil in Champans is rocky, made of hard and tight limestone with a red thin top soil; the upper part of the slope has more friable marl while the bottom sits on sediments. The average age of the vines in the domain’s parcel is around 40 years. The wine displays violet aromas, rich red stone fruit with elegantly integrated acidity and transparent, refined tannins.
Monthélie – Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret, 2018 Monthélie Premier Cru Le Meix Bataille ($60)
Monthélie looks out across the first hills of the Côte de Beaune in a situation Burgundian scholar Pierre Poupon describes as, “Prettily nestled into the curve of the hillside like the head of Saint John against the shoulder of Jesus.” So committed to wine-growing is the commune that a local proverb goes, “a Monthélie chicken will die of hunger at harvest time.”
The vineyards of Monthélie lie on pebbly terroir made of Bathonien limestone overlain by red clay and marl. Some of the vines are grown on the Volnay side, and some on the Auxey-Duresses side are planted in Argovien limestone. Exposures and exposures are easterly or westerly, depending on the run of the country, with altitudes ranging from 800 – 1000 feet.
The Le Meix Bataille climat sits on the Volnay border next to Clos des Chênes, where deep red soils gives the wine a dark bramble fruit profile: blackberry and black raspberry. There is nice density to the palate, but precise definition; the finish is long, juicy and fresh.
The Pommard appellation covers only red wine, and as such, its renown is based on the lusciously ripe, deeply intense richness that Pinot Noir seems only able to achieve in Burgundy. With primarily mid-slope vineyards, Pommard boasts 28 Premier Crus which run almost uninterrupted from the commune boundaries of Beaune in the north to Volnay in the south. In fact, the only break in this belt of prized mid-slope vineyards is provided by the streets and houses of Pommard village itself.
Volnay is a small, early ripening and sunny appellation, and in the average quality of its wine is among the highest in the Côte d’Or; there are only seven hundred acres of vines and almost 115 of them are classed as Premier Cru.
Pommard and Volnay are less than a mile apart yet their wines are markedly different. Even more striking is the fact that the most-southerly vineyards of Pommard are separated from the most-northerly vineyards of Volnay by no more than an imaginary line: the commune boundary that divides the two parishes. Over the centuries, the wines of Pommard and Volnay have alternately shared popularity according to the fashions of the age. When powerful, full-bodied wines are in favor (as in the current global market), Pommard enjoys the limelight. But when silkier, smoother wines are in demand, Volnay takes center stage.
In the latter part of the 20th century, a new generation of winemakers in Burgundy determined to improve the overall quality of wine, often by breaking away from the family domain. Jean-Marc Boillot was one of them. In 1984, after vinifying 13 vintages for his grandfather Henri Boillot, he walked out in protest, and promptly became the winemaker for Olivier Leflaive. Over the next four years he produced wines from 5-acres of vineyards and bottled under his own label, and these wines so impressed Boillot’s grandfather that he bequeathed him half his vineyards. Today Boillot runs his domain from his grandfather’s house and cellars in the village of Pommard. Jean-Marc’s maternal grandfather was the late Etienne Sauzet, from whom he also inherited exceptional vineyards.
Pommard – Domaine J.M. Boillot, 2017 Pommard Premier Cru Jarollières ($115)
A mosaic of parcels and enclosed plots surround a substantial, charming village which takes its name from the ancient goddess of the garden, Pomona, divinity of the garden. Côte de Beaune is renowned for its great white wines; Pommard is the exception to prove the rule with tannic, robust wines made exclusively from Pinot Noir. On the lower ground the soil is ancient alluvium, while on-slope, the clay-limestone soils are well drained thanks to the inclusion of rock debris. Higher still are Jurassic marls, brown calcic soils, and brown limestone soils. And in places, the soil is reddened by the presence of iron. In the mouth, wines from Pommard are quite intense with firm and powerful tannins.
Jarollières is three, east-facing acres bordered by a stone wall upslope. Soils are limestone, with a large percentage of clay; one-third of the vines were planted in 1925; the rest in 1960s, 1970s and 1990. Visually, this wine shows a deep red color, to the nose, the bouquet gives off aromas of blueberry and gooseberry, evolving towards hints of chocolate and leather.
Volnay – Domaine J.M. Boillot, 2017 Volnay Premier Cru Carelle sous la Chapelle ($115)
Like Pommard, Volnay produces only red wines, which are highly perfumed, well-structured and elegant. The white wines made in the Volnay area are sold under the Meursault appellation name, and it should be noted that red Volnay-Santenots wines are actually from Meursault. The most highly regarded sites in Volnay are steeply-sloped, very calcareous with well-drained, light brown soil and sit at the highest end of parcels while toward the bottom, the terroir is more clay-driven with earth that vacillates between brown and red.
Volnay has traditionally been thought of as the most feminine of Burgundies, although certain terroirs produce more vigorous and muscular versions. Its aromas are of violet, gooseberry, cherry, and with age develop into spices, game and cooked prune. It has an immediate appeal which, added to a slight natural precocity, means it can be fully open while still relatively young.
‘Carelle sous La Chapelle’ is named for it shape; carré means square, although the climat is oblong. The soil has a perfect percentage of brown clay, marl and soft limestone, planted at the same elevation as Volnay‘s famous ‘En Champans’ and ‘Taillepieds’. The average vine age is 60 years old, and the wine is extremely perfumed with beautifully ripe raspberry, cherry and strawberry liqueur with the bite of rhubarb freshness above supple, ripe tannin.
The hill of Corton rises in majesty above the quaint village of Aloxe, lording over the only Grand Cru for Pinot Noir in the entire Côte de Beaune. Its Grand Crus reds are described simply as Corton or Corton hyphenated with other names. These vineyards cover the southeast face of the hill of Corton where soils are rich in red chalk, clay and marl. Dense and austere when young, the best Corton Pinot Noir will peak in complexity and flavor after about a decade, offering some of the best rewards in cellaring among Côte de Beaune reds.
The lauded whites of the village are made within Corton-Charlemagne, a cooler, narrow band of vineyards at the top of the hill that descends west towards the village of Pernand-Vergelesses. Here, the thin and white stony soils produce Chardonnay of exceptional character, power and finesse.
The estate (originally called Comte Liger-Belair) was created in 1720 in Nuits-Saint-Georges, and soon became one of the most important wine growing and trading houses in Burgundy. After many years and successive generations had met with varying degrees of success, Thibault Liger-Belair took over in 2001, and found the 20-acre estate in need of some attention. His immediate switch to organic farming was a matter of necessity as much as responsible stewardship: “The vineyards were in a bad condition, with compacted soils. I couldn’t do anything else other than organics,” he says, and in 2004, he discovered biodynamics: “I saw a change in my vineyard, which went from grey soils to brown/red and then sometimes to black.”
Still, his overarching philosophy is that each vineyard needs something different: “I don’t like 100% of anything: new barrels, whole clusters, etc. My job is to decide which grapes we have and then decide a viticulture and winemaking approach.”
In 2018, he made wine from 23 different appellations and purchased grapes from a ten more, where he had worked the vines himself. “We don’t purchase grapes where we don’t do the work,” he maintains.
Aloxe-Corton – Thibault Liger-Belair, 2016 Corton ‘Les Renardes’ Grand Cru $283
Les Renardes is a lieu-dit within the commune of Aloxe-Corton and a part of the Corton Grand Cru appellation for red wines from Pinot Noir. A section at the top of the property may also produce Chardonnay for the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru appellation. The vineyard is walled, 35 acres located at the northeast end of the commune, high on the eastern slopes of the Montagne de Corton hill, just below the Le Corton. The terroir is characterized by pebbly, marlstone soils rich in iron oolite. These reputedly impart the rich, gamey character for which Corton Renardes wines are known.
Considered one of the best Cortons of the 2016 vintage, the wine is 40% whole bunch. Rich dense and sensual style of Corton, lacking the rugged foxy notes which some attribute to Renardes; instead, it is full ripe rounded, graceful. Blessed with plenty of oak, it integrates it well while the whole bunches leave a drier sensation at the back of the palate which will settle in as the wine opens up.
Aloxe-Corton – Thibault Liger-Belair, 2016 Corton ‘Clos du Roi’ Grand Cru $283
The ‘walled vineyard of the King’ is one of the most highly regarded climats in Corton; it is 26 acres in the very center of the southeast-facing side of the Corton hill, characterized by pebbly, potassium-rich marlstone soils with a reddish tinge from the iron seam on the mid-slope—an area of the hill generally viewed as better-suited to Pinot Noir than Chardonnay, which is more commonly planted on the western side. The classic Clos du Roi is rich and relatively tannic, quite austere in its youth but able to develop well with age. Flavors include violets, forest berries, leather and earthy notes.
Unlike Les Renardes, Liger-Belair’s Clos du Roi contains no whole bunches, and production was limited to two barrels, or roughly 300 bottles. The wine has a cool nose with notes of rose petals, red and dark berries that also flashes hints of freshly turned earth. There is outstanding richness and drive to the palate, which shows blueberry, blackcurrant pastille, orange zest with licorice and mint through the powerful and broad-shouldered finish.
Named after its principal town, Nuits-St-Georges, the Côtes de Nuits produces the greatest red wines of Burgundy. As in its counterpart, the Côte de Beaune, not all the wines are created equal; the best are from a narrow, mid-slope band of limestone and from vineyards facing south-east to maximize exposure to the sun. This precise mix of soil and sunshine allows Pinot Noir to showcase an extraordinary range of textures and flavors.
Côte de Nuits is subdivided into eight designated village; Chambolle-Musigny, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Marsannay (which also has a separate designation for rosé), Morey-Saint-Denis, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Vougeot. The area includes 24 superlative vineyard sites clustered around six communes and designated Grand Cru and over a hundred Premier Cru sites. In addition, there are two district appellations: Côte de Nuits-Villages, which are wonderfully elegant and affordable reds that are ready to drink upon release, and Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits, which consists of some 20 villages in the hills west of the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits that produce wines with this appellation.
Along with Vosne-Romanée, the communes of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin round out ‘the Big Three’ of Burgundy reds. Much has been written to compare the last two, perhaps best summarized by Nadine Gublin of Domaine Jacques Prieur: “Chambertin has a colder climate and tends to have more structure than Musigny; Musigny is more forward and elegant; it has a body that is very silky and satiny, while Chambertin has greater finesse, but needs more time to reveal itself—it is more serious and discreet.”
There is a marked difference in size, too: Chambolle-Musigny is relatively small, covering five hundred acres, of which 180 are Premier Cru—the appellation has 24. There are also two Grand Cru climats, Bonnes-Mares, which links its vineyards to those of Morey-Saint-Denis, and Musigny which overlooks the Clos de Vougeot. The prestigious Premier Cru site Les Amoureuses, however, is doubtless on their level.
Gevrey-Chambertin is the northernmost among the Big Three. With around 1,500 vineyard acres, it counts nine out of the 24 Côte de Nuits Grand Cru vineyards within its confines. Gevrey-Chambertin wines are recognized as rich, concentrated and masculine as opposed to the southernmost of the three, the more feminine Chambolle-Musigny.
With fewer than ten acres under vine, the tiny domain of Philippe Jouan does not produce at volumes that move the needle on most output charts (five cuvées), but the quality is frequently over the top. Situated in the village of Morey-Saint-Denis the estate is run by Phillipe Jouan, the fifth generation of his family to make Pinot Noir here. Harvests are typically de-stemmed, with 10 to 15% whole-bunch fermentation in cooler vintages; the musts tend to undergo short macerations of 12 to 14 days and are then pressed off with a 100-year-old wooden press bought by Philippe’s great-grandfather. The wines typically see 25 to 40% new oak, the majority from François Frères.
Chambolle-Musigny – Philippe Jouan ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2017 Chambolle-Musigny ($81)
The vines of Musigny face east at ‘magic’ altitudes between 820 and one thousand feet, where there is only a shallow covering of soil overlying the parent rock; fissures in the hard Jurassic limestone allow the roots to seek nourishment deep within the sub-soil, while boulders and gravels in the valley bottom ensure good drainage. The wines are bright ruby upon release and darken over time with no loss of intensity. Its bouquet is easily recognizable; violets, raspberry, strawberry and with age, tends towards spiced ripe fruits and prune and towards truffle, underbrush and animal pelt notes.
After several years of reduced harvests due to frost damage, winemakers in Chambolle-Musigny are apt to describe the wonderful 2017 vintage in a single word: ‘Triumphant.’ Jouan’s Village-level Musigny is a wine of transparency, precision and delicacy with luscious red cherry, nutty oak and fresh earth. Delicate, elegant tannins lead into a long, floral finish.
Gevrey-Chambertin – Philippe Jouan ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Aux Echezeaux’ ($81)
The storybook terroirs of Gevrey-Chambertin include nine Grand Cru vineyard plots on the upper reaches of the appellation while the Premier Crus are located on the mid-slopes, south of the Chambertin village. Below are the appellation Villages vines, on brown calcic or limey soils. The vines reap the benefit of marls covered with screes and red silt washed down from the plateau. These stony mixtures confer elegance and delicacy on the wine while the clay marls, which contain rich deposits of fossil shell-fish, add body and firmness. Exposures vary from east to south-east, producing wines that exemplify everything a red Burgundy should be; bright ruby in youth, turning to deep carmine or dark cerise with age while strawberry, mulberry, violet, mignonette and rose petal make a bouquet of spontaneous aromas. More maturity brings out anise, leather and fur, with gamey notes and hints of underbrush.
Aux Echézeaux is a climat filled 80-year-old vines directly adjacent to Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin. It produces a rich, stylish Gevrey with mingled black cherries, plums and subtle earthy nuances studded with notes of spice. Still a young wine, this needs ample breathing time, and will benefit immensely with a couple more years of age.
Where Gevrey-Chambertin is huge and almighty, its neighbor to the south, Morey-Saint-Denis, is small and mighty. Boasting 4 Grand Cru (5 if you count Bonnes Mares, of which 8.6 acres lie within MSD) and 20 Premier Cru vineyards, Morey-Saint-Denis is Pinot Noir country through and through. Although a few pockets of Chardonnay exist at the highest elevations, more than 95% of the vines are Pinot; soils are ideal: thin brown clay topsoils with a subsoil of limestone that runs across the whole region. Not only that but the entire appellation is located on the perfect east-south-east facing slopes which catch all the gentle rays of the morning sun and drains away any rainfall, forcing the grapes to dig deep into the limestone for moisture and nutrients. As such, it is one of the very few appellations where there is more land rated ‘Grand Cru’ than Premier Cru or Village—of the total 275 acres, 27% are classified as Village, 35% Premier Cru while a whopping 100 acres (38%) are classified Grand Cru.
Like Gevrey-Chambertin, the wines of Morey-Saint-Denis are firm and opulent, often referred to as masculine; a power struggle between body and fruit that in ideal vintages resolves itself as balance.
Florence and Simon Heresztyn-Mazzini hail from different winemaking regions—Florence from Burgundy and Simon from Champagne. After ten years of working Heresztyn-owned vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, the couple decided to start their own venture on 14 acres spread across the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny. 2012 was their first vintage. Florence maintains, “We are closely attached to the Côte de Nuits and its unique terroirs and work relentless to bring out the region’s best qualities. Simon and I make it a point of personal pride to respect the region’s soils and natural environment.
Gevrey-Chambertin – Domaine Heresztyn Mazzini, 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Champonnets ($118)
As previously mentioned, Gevrey-Chambertin is the largest commune in the Côte de Nuits, producing to highly-concentrated and full-bodied wines. Premier and Grand Cru wines are unmatched elsewhere in sheer power, with dark-fruit flavors, firm tannins and all the complexities of earthiness, smoke and spice that Pinot Noir can display in such rare terroirs.
Champonnets is an 8-acre climat just south of Gevrey-Chambertin, on the northern edge of the Grand Cru hillside. Unusually, it sits on a northeast-facing slope on the edge of the Combe de Lavaux, a valley that runs perpendicular to the famous Cote d’Or escarpment. Muscular, dense and powerful, the wine bursts with cherry, black currant, violet and graphite flavors shrouded in smoky oak.
Morey-Saint-Denis – Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini, 2014 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Les Millandes ($118)
Morey Saint-Denis forms a bridge between the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin and those of Chambolle-Musigny. The top estates have soils rich in limestone and clay dating from the Middle Jurassic: white Bathonien Oolite is found up-slope and fossiliferous Bajocien limestone below. The best of the east-facing vineyards are in the Goldilocks Zone, around 800 feet. The wine tends to produce a bouquet of both black and red berries, and sub-notes include violet, and cherry liqueur. When older it often evokes wildwood scents of game, leather and truffle.
At ten acres, Les Millandes is one of the largest Premier Cru climats in central Morey-Saint-Denis, located just north of the town itself, among a strip of Premier Cru climats that lie at the base of the Côte d’Or below the Grand Cru hillside. The wine is easily referred to as ‘noble’, with a nose of great complexity, including scents of coffee, cherry, raspberry and blueberry and displaying an elegant palate with tannins by now well-integrated.
Originally simply called Nuits, Nuits-Saint-Georges expanded its name in 1892, adding its most renowned vineyard to its name. The wines are known for being bigger, bolder, fruitier, and more tannic than the elegant, floral, spicy and highly nuanced wines of nearby Vosne-Romanée. The town sits at the base of a valley formed by the river Meuzin; to the north of the town, the vineyards are more than a thousand feet in elevation, with soils full of pebbles as well as limestone and a little clay. Despite a rich history, Nuits-St-Georges has no Grand Cru vineyards. Instead, the best vineyards are classed as Premier Cru, reportedly because of the modesty of the appellation’s leading winemaker, Henri Gouges when it was created in 1936. It doesn’t really matter since the renown and quality of Nuits-St-Georges speak for themselves.
Next door Vosne-Romanée is a small commune with a brobdingnagian reputation shored up by a raft of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. The commune’s area is grouped together with Flagey-Echézeaux, and while the villages are entirely separate, their finest vineyards are clustered together immediately north of Vosne-Romanée and take that latter title. Although the entire surface area of Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru vineyards is only 67 acres, Flagey-Echézeaux (with the Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux sites) has more Grand Cru surface area than either Premier Cru or Villages level combined.
The name ‘Mongeard’ first makes an appearance in Burgundy in 1786, where records show a Mongeard working as vigneron for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Skip forward to 1945, when at the age of 16, Jean Mongeard (whose mother was from Famille Mugneret) made wine which he sold by the barrel to négociants. The entire 1945 crop was purchased by Baron le Roy, Marquis D’Angerville, and Henri Gouges, who suggested that the young Mongeard start bottling the wines himself.
In 1975, Jean’s son Vincent began working alongside his father and became responsible for viticulture and vinification of the domaine’s wines. He persuaded his father to return to the traditional method of filtering only in certain vintages. Upon his retirement in 1995, Vincent assumed complete leadership of the domain, which now covers more than 75 acres split among 35 appellations.
Vosne-Romanée – Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2019 Vosne-Romanée ($82)
“Bourgogne has produced nothing better than this little corner where all her charms come together,” wrote Gaston Roupnel, a celebrated historian of the French countryside. “Vosne-Romanée is the central pearl in Bourgogne’s necklace.” The vineyards lie either at the top of the slope or at its foot, on either side of the Grand Cru climats, and in some cases reach the same altitude. The soils are limestone mixed with clay-rich marls; soil depth varies from some a few inches to a few feet deep, while the exposures are easterly. The wines are fiery red and show bright red fruit over spices; strawberry, raspberry, bilberry, or blackcurrant are the most frequently used descriptors. These refined and well-blended aromas evolve with age into cherries-in-brandy, preserved fruits, leather and fur, and woodland scents.
Drawn from the lieux-dits Les Genévrières, Les Réas, Les Violettes and Les Vigneux, this wine is remarkably good for a Villages-level wine. A spicy nose combines notes of anise and sandalwood with those of plum, dark cherry and a subtle application of wood. The velvety palate possesses both excellent volume and density while exhibiting good power on a solidly tannic finish.
Nuits-Saint-Georges – Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2019 Nuits-Saint-Georges ‘Les Plateaux’ ($81)
Nuits-Saint-Georges is the second largest of the 26 commune titles in the Côte d’Or, slightly smaller than Beaune. There are around 800 acres of vineyards within its boundaries, producing almost exclusively red wine, which tend to be intense and deeply colored wine showing pronounced, complex fruit flavors, predominantly cherries, blackcurrants and violets and often with an earthy component of truffles and spices.
From the Villages-level lieu-dit Les Plateaux, the wine exhibits notes of raspberries, orange rind, forest floor and peonies framed by a deft touch of toasty new oak. Layered and concentrated, revealing the long-lived structure of classic Nuits-St-Georges.
Flagey-Echézeaux is a small village squeezed in between Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée. Flagey contains two famous Grand Crus; Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux, along with a few areas with lesser appellations. Unusually, all the Villages and Premier Cru wines are labelled as Vosne-Romanée. Lying alongside the Clos de Vougeot, Grands Echézeaux encompasses 25 acres; compared to Vougeot, Grands Echézeaux has a similarly sturdy style, but is more gamey, more rustic and not as elegantly earthy.
Vougeot – Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2017 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru ($239)
Founded around 1110 AD by the monks of nearby Cîteaux, the slopes at the upper end of the Clos abut the vineyards of Musigny and Grands Echézeaux. In the center, at about 830 feet of altitude, the soil is shallow and brown, with clay overlying broken limestone. The lower portion, around 790 feet, has a brown soil which is deeper and lies on a layer of marl, rich in clay and alluvium. The vineyard is divided among numerous owners, so no single description can be applied to all the wines, although common features are a very intense strawberry red color, a suave bouquet redolent of springtime roses and violets with blackberry and wild mint.
Background floral notes combine with ripe, more somber notes of espresso, bonfires and nutty new oak with a hint of menthol. The wine shows good density throughout, with powerful, tautly muscular flavors that manage to retain a silken mouthfeel before an explosive finish.
Flagey-Echézeaux – Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2017 Echézeaux Grand Cru ($259)
No appellation bears the name ‘Flagey-Echézeaux’ and the vineyards it encompasses are more than a mile from town. It is home to the famous Grand Cru vineyards Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux. Belonging geologically to the Jurassic era the Grands Echézeaux vineyards are fairly homogeneous with the upper part of the Clos de Vougeot. Soil is clay-limestone overlying Bajocien limestone. The Echézeaux climats have more diverse soils largely bajocien marls with a pebbly overlay. Altitudes vary from 750 feet to nearly a thousand, with a 13% gradient at mid-slope. The wines tend to be shaded towards the darker tones of magenta and purple with a bouquet redolent of animal, spice notes, underbrush, and prune, evolving with age towards musk, leather, fur and mushroom.
Blended from the domain’s various holdings and assembled in tank prior to bottling. The brooding but expressive nose reveals toasted oak, deep purple fruit and a spice-box of scents including hoisin and umami. With breathing space, the wine unfolds with considerable fruit, blackberry and ripe Damson, and a muscular finish filled with chewy tannins.
- - -
Posted on 2022.06.23 in Morey-Saint-Denis, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, Pommard, Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Chorey-lès-Beaune, Monthélie, Aloxe-Corton, Vougeot, France, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages  | Read more...
2022 marks the hundredth anniversary of the release of James Joyce’s modernist masterpiece ‘Ulysses’, and a few venerable souls who purchased a copy on the day it came out are still trying to wade through it. Not everyone agrees on the genius of the work—a florid, stream-of-consciousness ramble through Ireland’s capital city over the course of a single day (June 16, 1904) featuring Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and would-be-writer Stephen Daedalus—but everyone can appreciate the remarkable image painted of Dublin at the turn of the century; the people, the streets, the offices, the brothels and above all, Davy Byrne’s pub:
“Nice wine it is. Taste it better because I’m not thirsty…. Mild fire of wine kindled his veins. I wanted that badly…. Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is.”
June 16 is known as ‘Bloomsday’ and is commemorated by Joyce fans across the globe. At Elie’s, we prefer to take our own literary license and use the occasion to celebrate Bloom’s passion, ‘the winepress grapes of Burgundy’ with our own amble through Burgundy’s unparalleled countryside.
We will be pouring a variety of Burgundies on premise on Thursday, June 16 (noon to 7pm), and you are invited to join us in a literary and gustatory toast to James Joyce and Chablis, Burgundy’s green gold.
We are pleased to offer one bottle of each of the following eleven wines for an inclusive price of $344. Happy Bloomsday Day.
James Joyce appreciated France (he studied at the Sainte-Geneviève Library) and France appreciated him back—‘Ulysses’ was first published at Sylvia Beach’s Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company and printed in Dijon by Maurice Darantieres.
A hundred miles below the 6th Arrondissement (the location of the bookstore) and about the same north of Dijon, the valleys and wooded hilltops of Chablis begin, with vineyards festooning the slopes that run alongside the pretty River Serein—aptly translated to ‘the serene river.’ Spanning approximately 10,000 acres and encompassing 27 communes, there are 40 vineyards classified as Premier Crus and seven Grand Crus.
In terms of terroir fanaticism, Chablis is first among equals in France. The key divide in quality levels lies between vineyards planted on Kimmeridgian soils and those with Portlandian soils. Kimmeridgian is more highly regarded; it contains greater levels of mineral-rich clay, as well as the essential marine fossils which are responsible for its significant lime content. Kimmeridgian soils are the source of the trademark ‘goût de pierre à fusil’, or gunflint, which can be preserved in the best wines for decades.
The wines of Chablis, at whatever level (Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis) are Chardonnay and nothing but; all but the most heralded are vinified and aged without oak, giving them the greenish gold hue that exemplifies the appellation as well as the classic minerality of the nose.
Once you learn to drop the ‘s’, Chablis rolls across the tongue as easy a chilled mouthful of Vaudésir. Grand Auxerrois not so much—it’s a fair bet that plenty of Chablis lovers have never even heard of it. But there it is, hovering just below the lauded Chablisean radar, occupying territory so close to Chablis that near Les Beauregards it touches, and extends west toward Champagne. And just as variations in soils and subsoils across Champagne give the wines different personalities, the Grand Auxerrois’ patchwork of soil types give the wines a range of textures, mineral and fruit flavors. Like Chablis, The Grand Auxerrois is located on the famous patchwork of limestone that stretches from the White Cliffs of Dover, through Chablis, past Burgundy, and into the Loire Valley.
Like almost all wines in Burgundy, Grand Auxerrois wines can be labeled with the usual AOP Régionales—Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, Coteaux Bourguignons and Crémant de Bourgogne. Unlike Chablis, however, the production is not limited to Chardonnay. Saint-Bris is known for its Sauvignon Blanc while red Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre offers a classic Burgundian Pinot Noir profile with red berries, minerality and a palate that is similarly silky on the tongue. Rosé is also made, but little gets exported.
Having held VDQS status since 1974, Saint-Bris was established as an AOP in 2003. Since its wine is built around Sauvignon Blanc and/or Sauvignon Gris, it may sound like a Burgundian iconoclast, but a quick glance at a map shows that it is twice as far from Beaune as it is from Sancerre and has a similar terroir to much of the Loire Valley.
Saint-Bris soils are derived from various Jurassic limestones ranging from Portlandian to Kimmeridgian. Alluvial soils and fossiliferous Kimmeridgian limestone is found alongside the river and at the foot of marly slopes; the best situated plots are on the open hillsides facing north, so maturation takes place under conditions which favor the wine’s fruit-forward profile.
Clément Lavallée may have been born into a family of Chablis growers, but he had no interest in following those footsteps until he had made his own across the wine world. At the age of 15, he set out on a Bloomsday-worthy peregrination with educational stops in Domaine Verret in Saint-Bris and continued on to Domaine des Terres de Velle and Armand Heitz in the Côte de Nuits. After a detour in Beaujolais, the next stop was at Château Margaux, then Domaine Chapoutier, and concluding in Australia at Rutherglen, the culmination of a journey that led Clément to not only discover new winemaking techniques but also to discover himself. In 2018, he was ready to make his own mark, buying a few acres of land in Chablis and purchasing grapes from Saint-Bris and Côtes d’Auxerre. After his first vintage (2019), his father decided to give him a further eight acres of vineyards in Chablis, Cotes d’Auxerre, and Saint-Bris appellations.
Clément Lavallée ‘Les Copains d’Abord’, 2020 Saint-Bris ($35)
Harvested from a sustainable, 30-35-year-old, two acre lieu-dit : the vines are planted with a western exposure on loam-covered limestone where a large number of surface stones represent the degradation of the parent rock. After pneumatic pressing, must and gravity settling and gentle racking at low temperature, the wine goes through alcoholic and natural malolactic fermentation in neutral oak. The wine is then matured for 11 months on fine lees in 228 and 350 L oak barrels and bottled with light bentonite fining.
The wine shows striking aromas of gooseberry, pear, orange oil, mint and white flowers, with chalky grip and a penetrating, satiny and precise finish. (2032 bottles produced.)
An appellation that covers both red and white wines, the boundaries of Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre run along either side of the river Yonne and boast an ancient lineage thanks to the abbey of Saint-Germain and its proximity to Paris.
Part of Bourgogne’s ‘golden gate’, the vineyards lie on Jurassic limestones, both Kimmeridgian and Portlandian.
Clément Lavallée ‘Grand Roche’, 2020 Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Blanc ($36)
From a 31-year-old, two-acre plateau climat where Chardonnay vines are planted in deep but stony soils, Clément Lavallée produced a mere four barrels of this luscious wine. It shows citrus, Anjou pear, green apple and white flowers, elegantly fleshy and nicely concentrated. (1424 bottles produced.)
Edouard Lepesme is at the forefront of a young cadre of winemakers who are intent on returning the global profile of the Côtes d’Auxerre to the glory it formerly enjoyed. In 2011, he left a promising career in marketing to pursue winemaking. After studying with some of the great names in France and abroad, he purchased 33 acres from Andre Donat, whose father was a local legend in the area when, in the 1960s, he planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamay Noir. In the Vaux-Auxerre, Lepesme found the prized chalky limestone terroir of Chablis and set out to produce a high-quality wine that would elevate the name of his hometown using 100% organic viticulture. Lepesme maintains a very hands-off approach (other than manual harvesting) employing indigenous yeasts, low sulfur and no oak, resulting in very pure, expressive and high-tone wines.
Le Domaine d’Edouard ‘Les Collines de Vaux’, 2019 Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Blanc ($27)
This Chardonnay-based cuvée is a blend from three plots, one of them old vine. The one-year aging is mixed between wines vinified and aged in vats on fine lees, and others vinified and aged in 228 liter and 350 liter casks. This unique process of double-aging brings power, structure and complexity to the wine, but also helps to develop the aromatic richness of the cuvée. This subtle application of wood frames a ripe but elegant and well-layered nose of hazelnut, buttery brioche and citrus notes.
Le Domaine d’Edouard ‘Les Collines de Vaux’, 2019 Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Rouge ($29)
Says Edouard Lepesme: “The 2019 vintage is for us the most beautiful of recent years, it represents our terroir and what we want to offer our customers. Perfect balance between freshness, finesse, complexity and delicacy fruitiness of a Pinot Noir from northern Burgundy.”
Fragrant and luscious, ‘Les Collines de Vaux’ is a serious wine with the crunch and tang of Northern France, but displays a ripe cherry sweetness and a firm tannic backbone for balance.
When Chardonnay is grown in climates that are less than ideal, resulting flaws are often tempered by oak. If such wines are described as cedary, buttery, vanilla-like or toasty, and chances are, the taster is defining qualities derived from the barrels used to ferment or mature the wine, because these are not qualities of the grape itself. Mineral notes like chalk, slate, schist or even powdered silica are the domain of the fruit; they are Chardonnay flavors, most of derived from the soil in which the grape vine grows.
Chablis—Burgundy’s most northerly appellation—produces the world’s most bracing and refreshingly uncluttered incarnation of Chardonnay. In Chablis, traditions are born of an ego that is mostly justified, and winemakers insist that the expression of the fruit be pure. That is not to say that no Chablis sees oak; the best certainly do. It’s just that the whole approach to what barreling is supposed to accomplish in a glass is viewed differently in this rocky, chilly, outpost, less than a hundred miles from that other bastion of varietal purity, Sancerre.
Chablis is subdivided into four AOPs based on quality factors which nearly all come down to soil and slope and grape yields. The largest of these, simply called Chablis, covers about sixteen thousand acres; the smallest, designated Grand Cru, is only a couple hundred acres in size and is limited to seven vineyards. To Chardonnay fans, these are like the seven celestial Pleiades in Greek mythology; their name on a Chablis bottle is tantamount to magic and an expectation thereof. The Premier Cru designation can be affixed to any of seventy-nine vineyards on both sides of the River Serein; the best occupy the right bank near the Grand Crus; the rest are southwest of the city of Chablis.
It remains testimony to Chablis’ ‘amour-propre’ that the district is willing to count on breeding, not masking, to show off its wares.
Clément Lavallée, 2020 Chablis ($39)
Eschewing herbicides, Lavallée cultivates the soil with lightweight tractors and keeps chemical treatments to a minimum. Working with a variety of sites and cépages, his harvest lasts a full month. In the cellar, whites see a long pressing and Clément sells in bulk any juice he doesn’t think suitable for his label; élevage takes place in used wood on the lees, and the wines are never pumped-over.
This pungently mineral Chablis has fresh, bright aromas of citrus fruit and floral aromas elegantly enveloped in subtle, smoky mineral notes. Crisp on the palate with refreshing, vibrant white fruits complemented by a hint of butter and superb structure lasting through to a dry, mouthwatering finish.
Jean-Luc is the fourth generation of Fourrey to take charge of the wine-making, a position he earned upon completing his degree in enology at Lycée de Beaune. Domaine Fourrey et Fils is a family estate consisting of 54 acres in the heart of Chablis, primarily spread over the villages of Milly and Fleys with vines located on north and northeast facing slopes. Within the appellation, they produce all four levels—Petit-Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru (Côte de Lechet, Vaillons, Mont de Milieu, Beauroy and Les Fourneaux) and a Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir.
Domaine Fourrey, 2020 Chablis ($26)
From a 30-acre site where vines average 25 years old, the wine shows pure green-apple and toasted almond with an almost saline-like intensity; it’s a letter-perfect oyster wine, nicely nuanced with graphite, grapefruit and lemon.
The pedigree of the Moreau name dates to 1814 when barrel-maker Jean-Joseph Moreau founded a wine-merchant trading firm in Chablis. Although that original firm has changed hands several times, including a sale to Hiram Walker in 1985 and again to the Boissets of Nuits-Saint-Georges in 1998, the Moreau family never relinquished control of their vineyards. Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils began vinifying at the turn of the 21st century, and is now under the watchful care of Fabien Moreau: “Being the 6th generation of the family producing wines was and still is a challenge for me, trying to avoid the pressure you could have with this wine heritage. But with the quality of the vineyard that my family passed on, the basis of the expression of our wines is here, and our work is to honor our terroirs.”
Christian Moreau Père & Fils, 2019 Chablis ($41)
A versatile and affordable village Chablis that displays a taut, mineral-tinged sharpness alongside aromas white hawthorn flowers and a cut of citrus.
The Servin family has owned vines in Chablis since 1570. Somewhat more recently (1998), the estate has been managed by François Servin, a fervent believer in the ageing capacity of Chablis. His keen interest in old vintages has convinced him that malolactic fermentation and late bottling increases the ageing capacity of his wines. He is a proponent of oak, but never to add flavor—only to enhance the natural fruit by adding volume and length. Servin’s release from the prized Les Clos and Bougros vineyards are aged in barrels for several years; Les Preuses is a judicious blend of barrels and stainless-steel vats; and Blanchot, a more fragile and elegant wine, is fully vinified entirely in stainless steel. The aim is to bring out the real character of each plot.
Domaine Servin ‘Les Pargues’, 2019 Chablis ($28)
Les Pargues is a two-acre lieu-dit which has the same exposure as Vaillons and Montmains; the vines are approximately 50 years old and the wine is aged in older neutral barrels. The wine is elegantly textured with aromas evocative of stone fruits, citrus, fresh honey and white flowers. On the palate, these scents are echoed with a bright uplift of passion fruit, mint and lemon curd.
Wine Advocate’s William Kelley refers to Domaine Picq as “One of Chablis’s finest, a source of concentrated and incisive Chablis that are well worth seeking out.”
Based in the small village of Chichée, the multi-generational Domaine Gilbert Picq is today run by Gilbert’s children; Pascal tends the vines while Didier makes the wines and Marilyn works the office. Of the property, Didier explains that Chichée has long been used by négociants as a source of high-quality wine to go into their large Chablis blends. In the past its name rarely appeared or was discussed, which suited the large merchant’s needs. “When Chablis’ Grand and Premier Crus were demarcated, Chichée was largely overlooked,” he says. “On one hand, this is a shame, as the terroir is classic Chablis with a high proportion of Kimmeridgian clay in the soil and vineyards well angled to catch the sun. On the other hand, our relative anonymity is a boon to consumers since the quality-to-value ratio here is excellent. One can still buy wines from the regions finest domains for little more than the blends of the large négociants.”
Picq & Ses Fils ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2020 Chablis ($31)
From three plots of hillside vines that are all over 50 years old, vinification and aging takes place in stainless steel and fermentation relies exclusively on natural yeasts. Harvested at the end of August, the wine is more delineated and expressive on the nose than the domain’s Chablis Village—the palate is penetrating on the entry and may be seen as a quintessential old-school Chablis with light marine and bitter lemon notes and a smack of oyster shell on the finish.
Just as Grand (French for ‘big’) Cru represents the smallest of the four Chablis appellations, Petit (French for ‘small’) Chablis is nearly five times the size of the Chablis AOP, overlapping most of it and extending beyond it. These wines generally originate in lower-quality terroirs and the wines they produce are predictably lesser in quality.
Petit Chablis is usually the first to be harvested, and from grapes with less hang time comes wine that is simple, refreshing, acidic and bright on the palate. They show floral notes of hawthorn and acacia mingled with lemon-lime and grapefruit over a mineral base that is said to resemble the odor of a flintlock gun.
Folks who say ‘yes’ to the magic of Chablis will appreciate the things to which winemakers Jean-Loup Michel and his partner/nephew Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel say ‘no’: Oak, bâtonnage and added yeast. Since 1970, fermentation has taken place entirely in stainless steel to preserve the essence of the Chardonnay grape—Michel & Fils is perhaps the best known proponent of entirely oak-free wines, even in his three Grand Cru offerings. Bâtonnage—the stirring of the lees to make the wine fatter and richer—is atypical in Chablis, and at Michel & Fils, unheard of.
The Michel family has been a presence in Chablis since 1850. Situated in the heart of the village, the estate covers 60 acres that spread across over the very first slopes that were discovered by Cistercian monks in the 11th century and include three Grand Crus (Grenouilles, Les Clos, and Vaudésir), seven Premier Crus (Montmain, Forêts, Butteaux, Butteaux “Vieilles Vignes”, Vaillons, Séchets, Fourchaume and Montée de Tonnèrre).
The domain also produces village-level Chablis from twenty named communes and a Petit Chablis; offering wines from all four sub-appellations make Louis Michel a rarity among local producers.
Louis Michel & Fils, 2019 Petit Chablis ($27)
From right bank slopes where the soils are shallow and stony, though rich in organic matter. Rather than the Kimmeridgean soils that underlie Grand and Premier Cru climats, the limestone here is Portlandian, which is younger and fossil-free, producing wines with more citrus and less chalk. This wine comes from vines planted between 1991 and 1999 and has undergone spontaneous malolactic fermentation, leading to a pale yellow wine with greenish glints; it is lively with acid and shows apple peel, white flowers, grapefruit and peach.
Domain Ventoura maintains that it is first and foremost a family domain, but the bond of loyalty between the members is displayed equally in their bond with the land. What began in the 1950’s on Auguste Ventoura’s small cereal farm (with a single vine) has grown in scope and ambition through the input of each successive generation.
Claude, Auguste’s son, developed the farm into a 27-acre domain in the commune of Fontenay. The grapes had been sold to cooperatives for 25 years; Claude began to bottle them on premise. Now his son Thomas has taken a keen interest in the property and explains the philosophy which has transformed the tiny farm into a force with which Chablis reckons: “Whether it is a Petit-Chablis, Chablis or Chablis Premier Cru, to compose our wines we focus on ‘rocks and leaves.’ In order to respect what is essential to us, a detailed knowledge of those rocks and leaves is imperative. This knowledge comes from daily observations and presence on our plots through the seasons. It is, of course, the right time for a couple technical interventions that will take the development and the growth of the vine to the harvest. It is a special time to follow the health and needs of the vine stock and also the perfect occasion to get a glimpse at what they will translate into.”
Domaine Ventoura, 2020 Petit Chablis ($25)
Chardonnay from Portlandian limestone; vines were planted in 1989 to 2010 in two sites for a total of 25 acres. The wine undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation, leading to a pale yellow hue with greenish glints; it is lively with acid and shows apple peel, white flowers, grapefruit and peach.
A note …
In the Roaring Twenties, such literary eroticism had its price: ‘Ulysses’ was banned in the United States from 1922 (the year it was published) to 1933, a period of time that roughly mirrors Prohibition. James Joyce’s iconic novel follows—in minute and exhilarating detail—three Dubliners as they meander through the course of a single day, June 16, 1904, and is today considered one of the most important works of literature ever composed.
Much of the action in ‘Ulysses’ takes place in pubs, where Leopold Bloom—the novel’s main protagonist—shows a particular penchant for Burgundy. In a passage that made the very real ‘Davy Byrne’s Pub’ famous, Bloom orders a Gorgonzola sandwich along with his customary glass of Burgundy.
We won’t sell you cheese or bread, because we’re a wine shop. But while Joyce fans across the globe celebrate ‘Bloomsday 2022’ by marathon Joyce readings, pub crawls and bubbly walks through Dublin, we will be pouring a variety of Chablis wines on premise on Thursday, June 16 from noon to 7pm, and you are invited to join us at anytime convenient for you.
‘More bang for the buck’ or ‘more bounce to the ounce’? —choose your idiom and see how well it applies in Southern Rhône. Two factors contribute to the ocean of wild, hedonistic and affordable wines from the ground floor of French winemaking: A hot, dry Mediterranean climate that allows most grapes to fully ripen in most vintages and the generosity of the mainstay grape variety, Grenache. Given a judicious watch on acid levels, the ability of Grenache to produce big, balanced wines in copious quantities keeps prices down and makes it a quintessential quaffing wine, as perfect for a summer barbecue as it is for a hearty winter stew.
The four Southern Rhône red wines offered in this week’s package represent all the above—they are paradigms of unabashedly forward fruit that avoids becoming jammy; they are fleshy and ripe, well-structured and filled with spicy, savory undertones.
The two rosés added as a paean to springtime represent the typically Rhône-ish style of pink, richly-flavored, bone dry and somewhat darker in hue than the saccharine blush of California.
In Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape lords over the imagination. Like the Pope’s castle from which it draws its name, CdP sits atop Rhône grand pyramid—a rarified position shared (in part) by the very few villages entitled to use their own name on the label. Among these are Gigondas, Tavel, Rasteau, Cairanne, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Beaumes de Venise and Vinsobres. It is within these other bottles—the ones without the embossed papal coat of arms and St. Peter’s crossed keys—that the biggest quality bargains in Southern Rhône wine may be found.
During the 1980s (and continuing to this day), many producers in Southern Rhône found that the demand for excellent wine coupled with increasing New World competition forced a rethink of their methods. As a high yielding grape, Grenache, along with Syrah, is responsible for much of the simple bulk wines from Southern Rhône and nearby Languedoc. But to legal comply with a Cru’s exacting stipulations, yields have to be reined in. Cru is a French word meaning ‘growth’ but refers to a legally demarcated region that’s recognized for its quality and distinctive terroir. You can’t physically change your terroir, but you can streamline its expression by producing limited quantities of wine using a better selection of grapes and by using of mandated quality measures.
These ambitious improvements have supercharged the region’s sense of re-discovery, but it’s fair to say that not domains have made identical strides at the same pace. That said, the following terroirs and winemakers win our highest praise—they are wines that display phenomenal detail, rich complexity and unique personality while offering unequalled value, especially pitted against the ever-escalating price tags for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
This holiday 12-bottle package is comprised of two of each of the following six wines:
In 1971, Gigondas was the first of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations to be elevated to Cru status. Once referred to as ‘the poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape’, the fact is, Gigondas wines have improved so much that in modern times that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate the best of Gigondas from its glossier embossed cousin. Gigondas vineyards are found along the base and slopes of the first Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, where the combination of limestone soils on the Montmirail slopes to the east, and rocky, sandy, free-draining soils on the flatter, lower-lying land to the north and west.
Spreading over 112 acres in Gigondas, Plan de Dieu and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Domaine Saint Damien is the brainchild of Joël Saurel and his son Romain who have lifted the estate—named for the patron saint of doctors—from humble roots to becoming one of the most reputable domains in Gigondas.
Gigondas Rosé 2021, Domaine Saint Damien ($28)
70% Cinsault, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre from vines grown in red clay dominated by ‘cailloux’ stones, all between 15 and 45 years old. The wine shows lovely sun-ripened strawberries, raspberries and loganberries along with a sweet touch of red jam. Garrigue notes develop in the glass while the fruit intensity joins the acids and powdery tannins for a luscious ride.
Tavel and rosé are inseparable terms; not only did Tavel become the first French rosé appellation in 1937, it remains the only appellation in the Rhône dedicated exclusive to producing rosé. The characteristic luminosity and complexity of Tavel rosé is in part due to the blend of allowable grapes—nine varieties, none of which makes up more than 60% of the varieties grown. Unlike much of Southern Rhône, where Grenache gets top billing, Tavel wines usually contain about half Grenache, relying on Syrah for its intense, fresh-fruit aromas, Mourvèdre for color, Carignan for tannin and Clairette—a white grape—for flowery elegance.
Located on the bank of the Rhône River opposite to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Tavel represents a triumvirate of terroirs: The lowest portion sits on sandy soils with very little organic matter and produces aromatic, low-alcohol wines; Lauses—a type of shallow soil covered with stone tiles mixed with red clay on a limestone bedrock—results in wines of great finesse and pronounced minerality; finally, Les Vestides, where the soil is blanketed with limestone rocks and roots run deeply, produces robust, structured wines slightly higher in alcohol.
Château de Manissy was built in the middle of the 18th century by the Congregation of Missionary Fathers of the Holy Family who planted the first vines in 1916. Having developed a loyal following for their Tête de Cuvée, the priests turned over the managing of the estate to Florian André in 2004. Among the many improvements he brought to the site was a switch to minimal interference agriculture and in 2012, he certified organic and began producing some exceptional wines from the limestone and clay soils.
Tavel Rosé 2021, Château de Manissy ‘Cuvée des Lys’ ($16)
55% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Clairette and 15% Cinsault, the wine shows lush summer fruit, candied raspberries and watermelon behind the flinty core. Weighty and rounded, supple, with crisp acidity and the tang of minerality.
“Rasteau is a powerful wine,” says Helen Durand of Domaine du Trapadis. “Power and freshness aren’t opposites here. Even if acidity is soft, there is freshness from minerality and finesse, particularly with age.”
Long considered one of the best of the Côtes du Rhône Villages, the appellation obtained Cru status for dry red wines in 2010—previously, it had been heralded for its fortified sweet wine, Vin Doux Naturel. The climate is typical of Southern Rhône except that the south-facing hillsides provide protection from the cool Mistral winds; the soils are relatively diverse, though it is the higher proportion of clay which gives the red wines their distinctive body and richness.
A family-run estate for eight generations, brothers Daniel & Frédéric Coulon and Daniel’s sons Victor and Antonin carry forward Domaine de Beaurenard’s torch amid a mosaic of limestone, round pebbles on a clay substrate with varying amounts of iron and fine sedimentary sand. The brothers are nearly as well known for their cultivar conservatory as for their wine: Says Daniel, “Our primary goal was to safeguard the natural genetic heritage that is particularly well adapted to the terroir. But we were also mindful of future generations, and if global warming continues, to increase the proportion of varieties that contain less sugar and contribute aromatic complexity.”
Rasteau Red 2019, Domaine de Beaurenard ($33)
80% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 3% Mourvèdre from Beaurenard’s sixty acres in Rasteau, the wine displays an array of floral scents in the nose with garrigue and wild blackberry notes. Fruity and spicy on the palate with wild raspberry, rosemary and thyme with an appealing tannic structure.
Adjacent to Gigondas, nestling at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail and extending beyond the commune of Vacqueyras to Sarrians, Cru Vacqueyras was once known for the rustic quality of its wine. In recent years, however, producers have sought—and obtained—elegance to offset the brambles. The vineyards of Vacqueyras are generally found at lower elevations where it is warmer than their neighbors’ hillside sites. Many of the vines are planted in the Garrigues, or flatlands, which are covered with galets roulés, although there are a few higher-elevation vines found on the region’s sandy slopes and stony terraces. “Compared to Gigondas, Vacqueyras has always been the more accessible and eager wine,” says Jean François Arnoux of Arnoux & Fils. “It offers more fruit, warmth and spice, and it doesn’t hurt that the price is typically 20% less.”
In the world of wine, longevity is the consummation devoutly to be wished; it means staying power, both on the palate and in the field. Domaine La Garrigue was founded in 1850 by the same family that runs the property today. Brothers Maxime and Pierre Bernard are at the helm, with wives, children, nieces and nephews all at work, and there is plenty to be done: At over two hundred acres, it is the largest domain in Vacqueyras. There are three terroirs in Vacqueyras, and La Garrigue has plots in each of them, aware of what each brings to the party. Red-clay-under-galets plateau of La Garrigue (not coincidentally, where Domaine la Garrigue is located) offers power and depth, the sandy soils around the village of Vacqueyras bring finesse and the rocky limestone slopes at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail mean structure.
Vacqueyras Red 2019, Domaine La Garrigue ‘Albert & Camille’ ($26)
Only a thousand cases of this rich red wine were made; it is a blend of 80% Grenache with the balance being made up of Syrah and Mourvèdre from 70-year-old vines grown at an average elevation of five hundred feet. Wild raspberries and plush red plums dominate an otherwise brambly palate filled with intriguing hints of truffle, olive, peppery herb and ribbon-smooth tannins.
To say that the wines of Lirac are lyrical is not just a pun; the noted combination of elegant perfume and savory grace softens the might. Lirac’s reds are similar in style to the softest of the Côtes du Rhône Villages but miles ahead in complexity. 85% of Lirac production is red, with rosés accounting for 5% and whites the remaining 10%.
Lirac’s two thousand acres are directly across the Rhône from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the appellation shares the same iconic galets roulés, sand and limestone soils. Vineyards on Lirac’s upper terraces are generally made of red clay and large pebbles known as ‘terrasses villafranchiennes’; the soil of the lower vineyards shows more loess and clay-limestone. All elevations are prone to summer drought and, under certain strictures, irrigation is allowed. “The terroir of Lirac is often hidden in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says Laure Poisson of Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac. “But in recent years, Lirac has emerged from the shadows to become something different, something unique.”
There’s no ambiguity at Domaine Maby—the Maby family has been tilling these soils for 70 years. Nestling in pastoral beauty near Avignon, the family’s first vines were in the lieu-dit Clos du Palai. In the 1960s Roger Maby snaked the holdings into the magnificent pebbled terroir of Lirac, and in 2005, Roger’s son Richard Maby—who’d spent the previous fifteen years in finance—joined the team. He recognized the potential of Lirac and Tavel and is credited with bringing new energy and a modern style to the wines.
Lirac Red 2018, Domaine Maby ‘La Fermade’ ($21)
55% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre, with the remaining five percent a field blend. ‘La Fermade’ refers to a previously-wooded plot that was cleared and replanted with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Picpoul in the 1970s; those vines are now fully mature and produce low yields of intense fruit with balancing acidity. The wine shows a rich nose of baking spice and blackberry syrup; on the palate there is cassis, black cherry, garrigue and an undercurrent of wet stone.
One of the Rhône’s newest and most promising appellations, Cairanne earned its Cru colors in 2016. Located just east of the historically significant city of Orange, Cairanne’s soils are predominantly made of limestone and alluvia, the latter explained by the presence of several local rivers and streams, especially the Aigues. Red, iron-rich earth over sandstone bedrocks may be also found throughout Cairanne, while topography ranges from the glacial plateau to the south of the town to the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills to the north and west. Although 60% of the wine is the standard Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend, Syrah prefers the cooler parts of Cairanne’s mesoclimates, and in 12% of Cairanne’s blends, Syrah is the dominant varietal with Mourvèdre as the only other grape in the cépage.
Denis Alary of Domaine Alary considers himself a perfectionist as well as a grand idealist; his seventy acres of vineyard, entirely in Cairanne, is where he goes to relieve the stress that accompanies the loftiness of his ambitions. “Alone,” he says: “Without a cell phone.” As he took over the estate from his father Daniel, the oenologist is now passing responsibility to his son Jean-Etienne who brings an international reputation to this dry, dusty corner of France, having vinified at New Zealand’s Seresin, Australia’s Henschke and in France at Confuron-Cotetidot in Burgundy.
Cairanne Red 2019, Domaine Alary ‘L’Estévenas’ ($26)
A 50-50 blend of Grenache and Syrah that contains one of the oldest parcels of Syrah planted in the Southern Rhône, Alary’s flagship wine delivers as expected; a focused nose with aromas of red berry, licorice and wild herbs. Inky and layered on the palate with loads of luscious black fruit alongside notes of cracked pepper, Kalamata olive and rich leather.
In France, a wine cooperative is strength in numbers; they consist of like-minded growers and winemakers who join forces to buy grapes in bulk and vinify according to the specifics of each region from which they purchase. Thus, they serve as market regulators, due in part to the substantial volumes they handle and large storage capacities.
The Cave de Cairanne is one such endeavor. Grower-owned, it was formed in 1929 and today consists of 65 vignerons working 1300 acres in Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Villages Plan de Dieu, Cru Cairanne and Cru Rasteau. Camille Cayran, one of the three founders, described the cooperative’s mission and pioneering philosophy in these terms: “Knowing how to understand and perpetrate the traditions handed down to us by the founding fathers of our region is the mindset of a winemaker who is also the gardener of his treasure. Deeply rooted in our history, it is also a question of respecting men all the way down the creating process from the vine to the glass. It is a veritable human adventure.”
Cave de Cairanne ‘Chantecôtes – Les Terres Vierges’ Côtes du Rhône Red 2019
(12 Bottles Pack for $150)
Sainte Cécile Les Vignes, two years older than Cave de Cairanne, merged with that cooperative in 2020, believing that they could provide Cairanne with additional volume while upping the ante on their own quality level. “With this merger, we are giving ourselves the means to make the best possible wines, through better management of maturities, later harvests, stricter plot selections,” said Denis Guthmüller, president of Cécilia-Chantecôtes.
A balanced blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, ‘Les Terres Vierges’ (The Virgin Lands) is rich crimson in color showing blackberry liqueur, ripe pie cherry, smoked meat and hints of underbrush.