Like a great character actor in film—the bit player you recognize but can’t name—Grenache is everywhere and nowhere at once; it makes an appearance, leaves an indelible impression, then moves on. Grenache is the Paul Giamatti of grapes.
A vigorous vine, the wood of a Grenache trunk is so hardy that the varietal often grows as a bush, without the need for trellising. Likewise, irrigation is largely unnecessary, since the Grenache vines that produce the best wine grapes are under slight water stress. Capable of an exquisite reflection of terroir when yields are restricted, Grenache displays its most profound characteristics when grown in poor soils, frequently dominated by schist and sand to provide adequate drainage. In the cellar, fermentation at low temperatures is important for retaining freshness; maceration for color and tannin takes place during the early stages of fermentation, but is usually stopped before the wine becomes too tannic. New oak must be used judiciously so as not to overpower the rich fruit that is beloved by the variety’s fans, in part due to the extraordinary ripeness levels that Grenache is capable of reaching in warm climates.
Once the most widely planted red wine grape on earth, many Grenache vines were uprooted in recent years—part of the European government’s effort to decrease the amount of inexpensive wine made from unchecked, high-yielding vines. In Spain and Southern Australia, it is enjoying a renaissance, while in France, Grenache remains one of the most important red wine grapes of the Languedoc. Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre is still regarded as the holy trinity in southern Rhône’s best red wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac and Tavel.
Unlike the previous two growing seasons, 2019 came in like a lamb and left behind a lion’s share of superb Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Moderate temperatures throughout the winter and no killing frosts in the early spring ensured an abundant fruit set. Three heat waves followed, each interspersed with rain and more moderate temperatures, and as a result, there was no drought stress for the vines, and ripening never shut down for a significant period.
Harvest was prolonged and allowed growers to pick at what they felt was the optimum ripeness. As difficult as 2017 and 2018 had been, 2019 was a dream vintage; virtually nothing had to be done in the vineyard. The health of the harvest carried through to the cellar, with many growers reporting that their vinification, mostly done on indigenous yeast, was fast and efficient. The only challenge, as it happens, was tannin management, but for Grenache in particular, 2019 was an ideal vintage.
The best, and by most accounts, the most reliable of the many Southern Rhône labels is the insignia-embossed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which hails from a remarkable region between the towns of Orange and Avignon. Named for the castle built by the 14th Century Pope John XXII, this heavily-extracted wine is the template after which most Côtes du Rhône reds model themselves. In fact, it’s these copycats that persuaded the producers of genuine Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers to apply to the French government to protect their name, making it the first AOP in France.
The unique combination of precipitation (Châteauneuf-du-Pape is very dry) and wind (the powerful mistral blows in from the Gulf of Lion in the northern Mediterranean) and especially, the large, flat stones known as galets roulés which serve to prevent surface evaporation and reflect sunlight into the canopy, is the appellation’s secret. This happens to be conditions ideal for Grenache to realize full potential, and as a result, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is largely built around this grape. Syrah adds black-fruit spice, and is grown on cooler higher ground; Mourvèdre brings flesh and acidity, and makes up about 10% of a typical blend. To a decreasing extent, Cinsault is used for aromatics; a total of 13 varietals are permitted, giving the wine a legendary and almost unrivaled complexity.
Big-shouldered and occasionally blustery, Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine may, in ideal vintages as in 2019, be as enjoyable to drink in its youth as it is with age. When young, a core of perfumed fruit tames the tannins and acidity, and tempers into rich leather and smoky, earth-tones as it grows older.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir has origins 60 million years ago, when a shallow primeval sea flooded the Rhône Valley. As it receded, it left behind ‘safre’ (an aggregate of sandy sediment) and banks of clay and limestone. Four ice ages punctuated by warm interglacial period accounts for the terraces visible in Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as the heterogeneous soil. In general, soils in the rocky, western sectors of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are formed of limestone, while sand and clay soils covered with large stones dominate the plateaus. Mixed sand, red and grey clay and limestone can be found in the northern part of the appellation and less stony soil alternating with marl in the east, while shallow sand and clay soil on a well-drained layer of gravel dominate the south.
Located within the Vaucluse department, Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a Mediterranean climate—the type found throughout much of France’s south—and characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. It rarely snows at sea level (as opposed to the surrounding mountains, where snowfall may be considerable.)
As the equal of elevation and rainfall, a third defining feature of the climate in Southern France is the wind. In a land dominated by hills and valleys, it is always windy—so much so that in Provence, there are names for 32 individual winds that blow at various times of year, and from a multitude of directions. The easterly levant brings humidity from the Mediterranean while the southerly marin is a wet and cloudy wind from the Gulf. The mistral winds are the fiercest of all and may bring wind speeds exceeding 60 mph. This phenomenon, blowing in from the northeast, dries the air and disperses the clouds, eliminating viruses and excessive water after a rainfall, which prevents fungal diseases.
In 1936, the Institut National des Appellations l’Origine officially created the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, with laws and rules that growers and vignerons were required to follow. It was agreed that the appellation would be created based primarily on terroir (and to a lesser extent, on geography) and includes vines planted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some areas of Orange, Courthézon, Sorgues and Bédarrides. 15 grape varieties are allowed in the appellation: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picardan, Cinsault, Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Red Picpoul, White Grenache and White Picpoul. Vine density must not be less than 2,500 vines per hectare and cannot exceed 3,000 vines per hectare. Vines must be at least 4 years of age to be included in the wine. Machine harvesting is not allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, so all growers must harvest 100% of their fruit by hand.
Beyond that, vines are allowed to be irrigated no more than twice a year. However, irrigation is only allowed when a vintage is clearly suffering due to a severe drought. If a property wishes to irrigate due to drought, they must apply for permission from the INAO, and any watering must take place before August 15.
Throughout much of its history, CdP provided a leathery foil to the potent and somewhat austere elegance of Bordeaux and the heady sensuousness of Burgundy. CdP is ‘southern wine’, filled with rustic complexity—brawny, earthy and beautiful. But as a business, all wine finds itself beholden to trends, since moving product is necessary to remain afloat. During the Dark Ages (roughly1990 through 2010—in part influenced by the preferences of powerful critic Robert Parker Jr.) much of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s output became bandwagon wines, jammy and alcoholic, lacking structure and tannin, in the process becoming more polished than rustic and more lush than nuanced. For some, this was delightful; for others, it was a betrayal of heritage and terroir.
These days, a new generation of winemakers seem to have identified the problem and corrected it. Recent vintages—2019 in particular—have seen the re-emergence of the classic, balanced style Châteauneuf-du-Pape, albeit at slightly higher prices. A changing climate has also altered traditional blends, so that more Mourvèdre may be found in cuvées that were once nearly all Grenache. Mourvèdre tends to have less sugar and so, produces wine that is less alcoholic and jammy, adding back some of the herbal qualities once so highly prized in the appellation. But a return to old school technique has also helped; many of the wines in this package were not destemmed prior to crushing and most were fermented on native yeast rather than cultured yeast.
This week’s package is comprised of one of each of the following seven wines for $398. The rest of the wines on the list are offered at special prices for your consideration to add to package purchase, or buy separately.
The estate may be considered the love-child of Pierre and Mireille Giraud, the union of two venerable wine families. Pierre Giraud can trace his winemaking roots back six centuries while Mireille Buou’s family owned a village distillery for several generations. In 1974, the couple began to cultivate ten acres as sharecroppers, and over the course of a dozen years, acquired local land. In 1981, they transformed the Buou distillery into a winemaking operation, and first released a bottling under the name Domaine Giraud.
Among their plots, Pierre and Mireille inherited twenty acres of century-old vines located on the plateau of La Crau, Les Galimardes and on the sandy soils of the Pignan area near the Le Rayas district. In 1998, the couple turned the everyday administration of the domain to their children, Marie and François, both with degrees in viticulture and oenology. The work of plot selection as well as a transition to organic farming is now tasked to the new generation.
Domaine Giraud ‘Tradition’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($55)
Red from red: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre grown among the galets in the red clay soils of southern Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The vines, from the Bois de la Ville, la Cerise, les Galimardes, le Tresquoys and Valori lieux-dits, are between 60 and 85 years old, each certified organic. The blend is nearly 60% Grenache followed by Syrah and small amount of Mourvèdre fermented separately; the Syrah in French oak barrels with the Mourvèdre and Grenache in stainless steel and concrete. The wine shows cherry liqueur and lavender flavors with Provençal herbs, licorice, and loamy earth. The tannins are polished and the finish long and complex.
Established in 1851, Domaine Charvin is currently owned and operated by Laurent, the sixth-generation Charvin to run the domain but the first to commercially market a proprietary bottling. His meticulous attention to detail sees his harvest entirely hand-picked and sorted and bottled without filtration. Charvin produces only a single cuvée of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is consistently rated highly; it’s drawn from a 20-acre plot composed of vines whose average age is over fifty years, mostly planted on sandy, north-facing slopes.
Philippe Bravay is one of CdP’s most vocal cheerleaders and walks the walk just as well. From his 18-acre property, spread over six parcels in four lieux-dits, he draws half his juice from vines over 45 years old and the other half from vines that have hit the century mark. He is dedicated not only to Southern Rhône, but to organic farming and limited yields—his Côtes-du-Rhône harvests 2.5 tons per acre and his Châteauneuf-du-Pape even less. His vinification philosophy is the same for all his wines: “I do not use barriques because I want the wine of my vines and not a technical élevage which loses the origins of the wine. There is no filtration, only one fining for each wine. During the aging, the wine is neither racked nor blended, which is done only at the time of bottling and without the addition of preservatives.”
Domaine de Ferrand, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($61)
90% Grenache, 8% Syrah and 2% Mourvèdre from vines whose age averages 75 years. Lieux-dits that contribute to this wine include La Gardiole and Cabrières vineyards and notably, La Guariguette and Les Jaumes, which were planted in 1904, 1910 and 1920. The wine is concentrated but light on its feet with notes of violet, Asian spices, Bing cherry and smoke behind moderate acidity and ripe tannins—in short, it displays all the richness of the 2019 vintage.
An example of the oldest and the newest in CdP—the cellar originated in 1900, 23 years before the AOP of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was created, yet current owners Vincent and Pascal Maurel are considered prime proponents of the ‘modern style’ of winemaking in Châteauneuf. Clos Saint-Jean is a hundred-acre estate, with 60% of the vineyards located on iconic plateau of La Crau, primarily in the lieux-dits of Côteau de Saint-Jean and Cabane de Saint-Jean, where iron-rich red clays are topped with galets. Another 40% are located in alluvial clay and sandy soils adjacent to the plateau. They also own a small parcel of Mourvèdre in the lieu-dit of Bois-Dauphin near Château Rayas planted on sandy, limestone-rich soils.
The Maurels are dedicated to sustainable agriculture, a philosophy made easier in Châteauneuf since the warm, dry climate prevents the need for chemical applications. For pest control, they use natural pheromones, vines, a process called in French ‘confusion sexuelle’ (!)
Clos Saint Jean ‘Vieilles Vignes’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($55)
A bigger, badder version of the classic cuvée (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Vaccarèse and Muscardin) with darker fruits and more pronounced notes of chocolate and spices behind the intoxicating scents of ripe plums, kirsch and licorice.
Isabel Ferrando is the force behind Saint Préfert and one of the most respected winemakers in France; her reputation has grown every vintage since her first release in 2003. From the 55-acre estate in the south of CdP, she produces five cuvées, two whites and three reds. The vines are old, but her team is young and she is always open to new ideas; she relies on tradition without being trapped by it. For example, she has taken to Stockinger as a supplier of oak for maturation, claiming that the Austrian cooperage results in more tension in the wines. In the 2009 vintage, Ferrando started working with whole-cluster fermentation without added yeasts, and discovered that this magnified freshness in the wines. “In ten years,” she maintains, “I’ve progressed. My sensitivity to the terroir is much more pronounced.”
Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Classique’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($52)
85% Grenache and 5% each of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Vinified from middle-aged vines -30 years, tops- and aged entirely in concrete tanks; a beautifully perfumed and nuanced wine with classic notes of strawberries, cherries, loam and dried flowers; polished, elegant and silky on the palate.
Domaine Raymond Usseglio should not be confused with Domaine Pierre Usseglio, owned by his brother as a continuation of the winery founded by their father Francis. Raymond’s son Stéphane Usseglio has now taken over the reins, and is pushing to reach the potential of some of best holdings in the appellation. About half of the 45-acre domain consists of 60-year-old vines in the famous La Crau vineyard; the other half climbs the hill across the road from the actual ruins of the castle from which Châteauneuf-du-Pape gets its name.
Raymond Usseglio ‘Girard’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($50)
Bottled exclusively for the American market, ‘Girard’ is 85% old-vine Grenache (average age, 80 years) blended with Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Counoise grown in sandy soil with galets on red clay marl. The wine shows rich dark fruit (blackcurrant especially) with white pepper notes behind the characteristic garrigue aromas of bay leaf and rosemary.
La Font du Loup translates to ‘Fountain of the Wolves’, a reference to the wolves who once sought water in the natural springs here. In 1942, the land was purchased by Charles Melia, a grower who sold exclusively to négociants. It was not until 1979 that his descendants began bottling under their own label.
Today, the estate is managed by Charles Melia’s daughter Anne-Charlotte and her husband Laurent Bachas; they have purchased additional acres, including ten acres of old-vine Grenache in the lieu-dit Le Puy-Roland. Vineyards are fully organic and planted mostly to red varieties, although the estate produces a singly bottling of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc made from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc.
The fifty acres of Château de la Font are situated on the highest plateau in the appellation, and harvest takes place about a week later than the rest of CdP.
Château de la Font du Loup ‘Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($59)
100% Grenache from vines 100 years old. The soils of ‘Le Puy Rolland’ lieu-dit are predominantly sand, and Grenache grown in such soils are unique in character, more elegant and with slightly less alcohol with ripe, spice-accented red and blue fruit scents sharpened by smoky minerality. Adding to the striking profile of the wine, ‘Le Puy Rolland’ is composed of north-facing plots which ripen even more slowly than the rest of the château’s vines and the harvest happens two weeks later than many Châteauneuf-du-Pape estates. Around 1,500 cases are produced annually.
… Add from the following
Founded in 1952, Domaine Roger Sabon is currently run by Roger’s sons Denis and Gilbert, with Didier Negron serving as winemaker. Having grown slowly since inception, the domain now covers 50 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 20 in Lirac and 20 in Côtes-du-Rhône. Most of their Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards are located in the northeastern part of the appellation, where the soils are sandier with a high concentration of limestone. They also own a few parcels in Le Crau, famous for its red clay under a deep layer of galets. Their most prized vines, over 100 years old, are located in two plots near Courthézon. These are the source for the 100-point ‘Secret des Sabon’ 2019.
Roger Sabon ‘Le Secret des Sabon’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($216)
‘Le Secret des Sabon’ began as an experiment that evolved into of the Sabon’s top bottlings. As befits the enigmatic name, not much technical information is released about the cuvée, but it may presume to arise from very old Grenache with very low yields; only a single demi-muid is produced each year, corresponding to about 160 gallons. The wine shows more refinement than weight, with red fruit dominating mineral and herb accents.
Siblings Christophe and Isabelle Sabon have found their Holy Grail in Southern Rhône, using both traditional and modern techniques to craft outstanding wines from value-priced Vins de Pays to their benchmark Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While the brother and sister work the cellar, their father oversees the vineyards, scattered about the appellation in 70 parcels, where terroirs range from sandy soils in the north—Chapouin and La Janasse—to the lightly-colored clay-limestone soils and gravelly red clay and galets of La Crau.
Janasse wines are often described as ‘earthy’, in part the result of cellar technique. The grapes are not entirely destemmed and undergo long, gentle macerations lasting up to a month. Afterward, aging takes place in various vessels, from large concrete tanks to foudres and demi-muids. The barrels are mostly neutral, darkened with age and repeated use.
Domaine de la Janasse ‘Chaupin’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($85)
100% old-vine Grenache intended to showcase the purity and energy that these vines are capable of achieving in the sandy soils of Sabon’s lieu-dit ‘Chapouin.’ Since the first bottling in 1990, the cuvée has expanded to include Grenache from the similar terroirs of La Janasse and Le Crau. The wine has a salty cranberry tang lifting the sweet, soft cherry notes, with Provençal garrigue, tea leaves and a long, tannic finish.
Domaine Raymond Usseglio ‘Impériale Vignes Centenaires’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($82): 95% Grenache from La Crau vines that are more than a century old, the wine shows bright scents of roses, black tea and raspberries while the palate is expansive but silky, delivering an intricate interplay of red fruit, dried spices and orange zest.
Domaine de Beaurenard has been a family-affair for eight generations; the current gang includes brothers Daniel & Frédéric Coulon and Daniel’s sons Victor and Antonin. Domaine de Beaurenard has been producing certified biodynamic wines on more than 80 acres of this celebrated terroir since 2010. As Châteauneuf-du-Pape is characterized by the diversity of its soils with a mosaic of vineyards where different varieties grow together, the Coulon family has carefully assembled a ‘collection plot’ of all the allowable CdP grapes; between 1998 and 2005, the best strains of Domaine de Beaurenard’s old vines were carefully selected, and in 2006, the rootstocks were planted. Today, it is a mixed varietal vineyard with the various cultivars interspersed and worked by hand and by horse.
Domaine de Beaurenard, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($89)
65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and the rest a field blend. The domain’s flagship wine is vibrant and fresh with classic notes of black raspberry and black cherry as well as peppery herbs, violets, spring flowers and sous bois.
Château de la Font du Loup, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($51)
60% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, and 5% Cinsault from a lieu-dit named after the estate; La Font du Loup is a high, north-facing plot just east of La Crau. 2019 produced a massive, jammy wine with loads of raspberry and strawberry on the nose and a palate rounded out by herbs—thyme and mint especially—and nicely integrated tannins. Aged one year in oak foudres and three more in cement tanks. 2000 cases produced.
Dominated by a classic château built in 1767, Vaudieu is not only one of the oldest wineries in Southern Rhône, but it was the first to export its wine to other markets. Once the largest vineyards in the region, by the time the Maffre family purchased it (1955), the estate had been reduced to around 60 acres. A series of renovations and purchases, Gabriel Maffre expanded the holdings to its current 175 acres, planted mostly to red varietals, although all 13 allowable grapes are grown somewhere on the property.
Château de Vaudieu ‘L’Avenue…’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($126)
100% Grenache from the Vaudieu lieu-dit, where a typical terroir of rocks, clay and sandy soil is ideal for this variety. The wine shows acacia flowers, kirsch, lavender, wild herbs and plums and a racy, expansive finish.
Château de Vaudieu ‘Val de Dieu’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($89)
A blend of 60% old-vine Grenache with 25% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. The lieu-dit ‘Val de Dieu’ begins near the entrance to the Vaudieu property, where the heavier sandy clay is more drought resistant and best suited to Mourvèdre. It continues up a gentle rise where sandy limestone soils are planted to Syrah before cresting a gentle hill of decomposed sandstone soils that is ideal for Grenache. The wine shows creamy raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry fruit atop a polished structure, while anise, bergamot, fruitcake and cinnamon notes filter through on the finish.
Château de Vaudieu, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019, Magnum ($117)
58% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 11% Mourvèdre and the rest Cinsault; the nose reveals a lively blend of strawberry and fresh cocoa, followed by notes of white pepper. The palate evolves into beautiful concentration of menthol tannins and finishes with notes of graphite.
If a Grenachiste is a loyalist who fights for Grenache, it would be hard to find a High Priestess more qualified than Isabel Ferrando. Her ever-growing expertise and hands-on winemaking produces an outstanding portfolio. The following are her special cuvées.
Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Auguste Favier’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($80)
85% Grenache and 15% Cinsault from the Les Serres lieu-dit, the grapes are handpicked and vinified separately; the Grenache is aged in cement and the Cinsault in 600-liter barrels. The power and grace of this wine extends from the core of cassis and cherry purée to light leather, red licorice and violet notes that lead to a silky finish.
Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Collection Charles Giraud’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($159)
60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre; the high percentage of Mourvèdre shows concentrated black raspberry, boysenberry, violet pastille and fruitcake flavors. 2019 will be the last wine under the Domaine Saint-Préfert label; going forward, the wines will be under the Domaine Isabel Ferrando label. In addition, both special cuvées of Reserve Auguste Favier and Collection Charles Giraud will be discontinued in favor of a single Châteauneuf du Pape cuvée (à la Clos des Papes) that will include all the estate terroirs.
Domaine Saint Préfert Isabel Ferrando ‘Colombis’, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2019 ($159)
100% old-vine Grenache from the Colombis lieu-dit, located on the western side of the appellation. A classic Grenache bouquet of black raspberries, herbs de Provence, peppery spice and flowery incense.
Domaine Saint Préfert ‘Cuvée Spéciale Vieilles Clairettes’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2019 ($432) Magnum
The inspiration for this wine came from a 1947 bottle of Henri Bonneau’s Vieilles Clairettes. With advice from Bonneau, a CdP legend, Isabel Ferrando determined that she could make a similar wine from the rare pink Clairette she had co-planted in her vineyards. Bottled only in magnums as a ‘special occasion’ wine, it is 100% Clairette Rose from 80-100-year-old vines in Les Serres lieu-dit. Flavor notes include pink grapefruit, rose water, melon, lemon curd and macadamia nut notes wrapped in a flurry of chamomile, acacia and warm brioche.
Nicknamed ‘The Lord of Beaujolais’ for its aristocratic bouquet and noble structure, Moulin-à-Vent is to the ten crus of Beaujolais what Moulin Rouge is to Parisian cabarets: First among equals. Of course, that equality is a matter of taste—some consumers prefer floral Fleurie and charming Chiroubles to the full-bodied, tannic-structured Moulin-à-Vent and it’s no secret Georges Dubœuf sells a hundred thousand cases of Beaujolais Nouveau each year.
Forgetting the forgettable and concentrating on the myriad styles of Cru Beaujolais, nowhere is the evidence of terroir—the site-specific contributions of geology, sun-exposure and rainfall—more obvious than in Moulin-à-Vent. Although each appellation works with a single grape variety, Gamay, the results range from light, glorified rosé to densely layered, richly concentrated reds that rival their Pinot Noir cousins from Burgundy’s most storied estates.
Moulin-à-Vent is unusual for a number of reasons, and among them is the fact that there is no commune or village from which it takes its name. Like the Moulin Rouge, the appellation is named for the ‘moulin’—windmill—that sits atop the hill that overlooks the south and southeast-facing vineyards. The most peculiar reality of the Cru, however, is that the wine owes its structure and quality to poison: Manganese, which runs in veins throughout the pink granite subsoil, is toxic to grapevines and results in sickly vines that struggle to leaf out and produce small clusters of tiny grapes. It is the concentration of the juice in these grapes that gives Moulin-à-Vent a characteristic intensity unknown in the other crus of Beaujolais, where manganese is not present. It also gives the wine the foundation of phenolic compounds required for age-worthiness; Moulin-à-Vent is among a very select few of Beaujolais wines that can improve for ten, and even twenty years in the bottle ending up with a magnificent cherry-red color – a color that demonstrates the ability of this cru to “pinoter” with age. That French term simply means that they slowly develop a bouquet similar to Pinot Noir, known for its intense ripe fruit notes.
As it was everywhere else, Covid was the biggest 2020 story in France, and it affected the fanfare that usually defines Beaujolais’ cherished wine traditions. Like the girl from Ipanema, the weather remained aloof, immune and gorgeous. The season began with a mild, frost-free spring, which developed into a hot summer with few disturbances like hail or disease. Drought nipped at younger vines, but by harvest-time, the majority of grapes were in fine health with rich, ripe flavors resulting in slightly higher in alcohol levels than usual.
After damaging frosts in the early spring, 2019 offered Beaujolais one of the sunniest seasons on record, but along with the blue skies came the sort of oppressive heat generally linked to climate change. With temperatures exceeding 100°F throughout the region, drought set in and it was not until some welcome rain fell in August that the vintage found hope. Accompanying the rain were a few violent hailstorms, further reducing yields and necessitating vigorous sorting at the winery. Estates that were up to the task produced richly concentrated wines with balanced acidity which drink beautifully now, but may stand up to additional time in the cellar.
As in much of Burgundy, 2018 was glorious throughout Beaujolais; the best harvest since 2015—bountiful and balanced. Both the winter and spring were extremely wet, but far from affecting the harvest, they topped-up water reserves in the soils to ensure the vines didn’t succumb entirely to drought when the hot summer struck. As is the case in prolonged dry conditions, older and more established vines fared better. In general, 2018 Beaujolais is rich, spicy and concentrated with great texture and bracing acidity. The majority of the wines are ready to drink, but the top estates might benefit from an additional year or two of aging.
Says Éric Janin: “I represent the fourth generation of a domain established in the county of Saône-et-Loire at Romanèche-Thorins. Romanèche-Thorins soil is comprised of manganese, a type of rock once called ‘glassmaker’s soap’ because it served to whiten glass used by pottery makers. Within the word ‘domain’, we find ‘main’, meaning ‘hand’ in French. The hand symbolizes work, dexterity and identity. It also gives care, contact and sharing, accompanied by a mind constantly in motion. Jean-Claude, Marcel, Paul and myself: Craftsmen from the outset. Our hands are the raw material of our winegrowing profession, just as grapes are the raw material of wine. At our domain, these two materials have been in contact unceasingly; they remind us of the past, anchor us to the reality of the present and launch us towards the future.”
The family of Paul Janin, originally coopers, has tended Gamay vines since 1917. Paul’s grandfather wanted a closer connection between the vine and consumers, and in 1952, he began to bottle his own wine. In 1967, Paul’s father bought a plot of grapes in the lieu-dit Les Greneriers; today, those vines are a hundred years old. Paul took over in 2008, and while his youngest daughter Perrine completes her studies in viticulture and oenology, his son Eric, a fourth-generation grower, now oversees the fruit from its inception in the vineyard to its final resting place in the bottle. The grapes are farmed using lutte raisonnée methods, and the flaky, pink granite soil produces structured, powerful wines that gain even more character as they age.
Domaine Paul Janin & Fils ‘Vignes du Tremblay’, 2019 Moulin-à-Vent ($29)
Modern-day Le Tremblay is a blend from several lieux-dits; Les Greneriers, Les Burdelines, Les Pérelles, Champs de Cour, Les Brussellions and Aux Caves. The vines, between 40 and 70 years old, are pruned traditionally in the low-trained Gobelet style. Wine from each plot is matured in separate vats for a period of 18 months on fine lees, allowing for micro-oxygenation and then blended just prior to bottling.
Domaine Paul Janin & Fils ‘Piémonts’, 2020 Beaujolais-Villages ($24)
‘Piémonts’ is a blend of wines from old vines in two named plots, Les Jumeaux and Les Peloux. Vines are 30 to 60 years old grown in Piedmont soils and ancient alluvium. The bouquet shows hints of blueberry, mulberry and plum; tannins are firm, the balance between richness and acidity on point and the finish long.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent has a history as unique and fascinating as the wine. In the late 1700s, Philiberte Pommier discovered that certain plots on her estate yielded better wines than others, and set out to understand the geology that underscored a self-evident truth. She began to tailor her winemaking to individual lieux-dits in her property (then called Château des Thorins), and in 1862, Pommier’s wines were deemed the best in the Mâcon region at the Universal Exhibition of London. At the time, Philiberte Pommier was 99 years old.
Today, the estate encompasses nearly a hundred acres and covers some of the appellation’s finest climats—Les Vérillats, Le Champ de Cour, La Rochelle—with an average vine age of over forty years. The pink granite soil is rich in iron oxide, copper and manganese, and since 2009, under the new ownership of the Parinet family, investment in the winemaking facilities and the vineyards has resulted in plot-specific signature wines.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent, 2018 Moulin-à-Vent ($39)
Three unique terroirs on the estate are blended to create this luscious flagship wine: ‘Les Thorins’ is an iconic south-facing plot, ‘Le Moulin-à-Vent’ looks eastward and ‘Aux Cave’ is rich in silica with 80-year-old vines. The wine is deep red color with purple tints and lovely aromas of wild berries, hints of cardamom and flowers; notably rose, peony and violates with spice reasserting itself on the finish.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent, 2018 Moulin-à-Vent ‘Les Vérillats’ ($49)
Les Vérillats is one of the earliest delineated terroirs of Moulin-à-Vent. Located above the windmill, the ten acres of 65-year-old vines enjoy an easterly exposure with a panoramic view of the vineyards. The granite soil is exceptionally sandy (atypical for a great terroir of this appellation), nearly two feet deep and well-drained. It is layered over pink granite bedrock rich in iron oxide, copper and manganese; the vineyard lies in the corridor of drying winds that exert a profoundly positive effect on the maturation and concentration of the grapes. The wine is spice-accented with dark berry notes complex with suggestions of musky earth, mocha and violet. Expansive on the palate, it finishes long and chewy with a slow-build of dusty tannins.
Château du Moulin-à-Vent, 2018 Moulin-à-Vent ‘Champ de Cour’ ($53)
‘Champ de Cour’ is an 8-acre lieu-dit found on a slight slope between the windmill and Fleurie, with an eastern exposure that shelters it from the wind. Granitic surface rocks force the roots to dig deeply and, in the process, benefit from five distinct minerals that give the wine a unique character. The top soil is deep and heavier than in the rest of the appellation, retaining more water. The wine shows an explosive nose with roasted and spicy (pepper and saffron) notes. A full-bodied wine of considerable elegance, lively tannins and superb length with a distinctly mineral finish.
With five generations working the same hillside, a certain metaphysical pas de deux takes place between terroir and wine grower. Add a third party (Bruno Copéret’s wife Valérie) and Domaine de Roche-Guillon is ready for the challenges of marketing and climate change that lie ahead. The Copéret vineyards spread over 22 rolling acres of granite-based soil; they enjoy a south facing exposure, which—combined with altitude of over 1100 feet—ensure the vines yield grapes with considerable ripeness.
Domaine de Roche-Guillon, 2020 Moulin-à-Vent ($22)
The plots to elaborate this wine are located between the Vauxrenard commune and Émeringes, expressing the granitic soils of Vauxrenard and the sandy-clay of Émeringes. Half the selected grapes were fermented in whole bunches and half were destemmed before spending twelve days macerating at 84° F. With a floral potpourri on the nose and maraschino cherry and wild blackberry on the palate, the wine demonstrates typical muscularity of Moulin-à-Vent with gripping tannins, concentration and energy.
Winemaking has been the legacy of Liger-Belair family for a quarter of a millennium. Prior to establishing his own domain, Thibault Liger-Belair studied oenology, worked for a communications firm in Paris and started an internet company to discover and sell high quality wines. Still, the vines beckoned, and in 2001, at the age of 26, he returned to them. The following year saw his first harvest of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and in 2003, he expanded into Richebourg Grand Cru, Clos Vougeot Grand Cru and Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Petits Monts. In 2009, he ranged farther afield, into Beaujolais, and now produces Beaujolais-Villages and several Moulin-à-Vent wines.
The soil in his Moulin-à-Vent property is shallow (less than 20 inches deep) and composed primarily of granitic sand and quartz, and about half the vines of the 35 acres were planted between 1910 and 1955. His signature wine, for this reason, is ‘Les Vieilles Vignes’—the ‘old vines.’
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2019 Moulin-à-Vent ($48)
A cuvée blending nine old vine parcels of old vines located in a belt around the Moulin-à-Vent hill. The wine offers exotic aromas of spiced candied cherries with a rustic undertow of damp earth; bright, acidic with a firm tannic structure and long, sweet finish.
Albert Bichot owns six domains in the heart of five great vinicultural regions; each estate cultivates its own land using sustainable practices and employs a dedicated winemaking team devoted to that domain alone. Bichot’s 13 acres within the 1631-acre Moulin-à-Vent appellation are located at the heart of one of the 18 recognized single vineyards, Rochegrès, meaning ‘grey rock’ As the name suggests, the granitic parent rock is visible at the surface of the soil in the vineyards. These vines benefit from mainly south-eastern exposure and thrive in very pure, lean pink granitic soil, forcing them to plunge their roots deep in search of the nutrients they need.
Domaine de Rochegrès, 2019 Moulin-à-Vent ($27)
A beautifully concentrated wine with an expressive mineral base; the nose evokes cherry compote and tart plums, then evolves into floral and spicy notes, finishing with a touch of oak.
Domaine Diochon is so close to the iconic windmill that the leaves of the vines are stirred by the breeze it creates. Nearly as famous as the mill is the heavy, curling Teddy-Roosevelt-mustache of the proprietor, Bernard Diochon, who took over the estate from his father in 1967. In waxing philosophically about his terroir, he references ‘crumbly granite soil that allows the vines to plunge easily towards gore subsoil, which feeds the vines, while adding a pronounced mineral component to the wine.’ For the geologically challenged, ‘gore’ is an accumulated mass of sand and thin clay deposits with weathered feldspars, mica, and quartz.
Creating wine from vines between forty and a hundred years old, Diochon is a fan of the specific qualities of the tannins in wines from Moulin-à-Vent, which are unique to the appellation. “I like tannic wines without heaviness; with fruit and floral aromas. I don’t like weighty wines with hard tannins. My favorite wines are St Émilion from Bordeaux, and Chambolle-Musigny and Nuits-St-Georges from Burgundy. Every vigneron naturally chooses to make wines in the style they prefer.”
In this, he is as good as his word, having established the benchmarks of his house style: Harvesting only when the grapes are perfectly mature, using (of course) traditional whole cluster fermentation, aging in large old oak foudres and bottling unfiltered in the springtime.
Domaine Diochon ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2019 Moulin-à-Vent ($26)
Domaine Diochon is an outlier in Beaujolais; it produces only one bottling each year: Old-vine Moulin-à-Vent. Crafted from vines planted in 1920, 1950 and the 1960s, it remains a benchmark of the Diochon style, defined by well-integrated tannins without heaviness and lifted by fragrant fruit and floral aromas. Soulful and savory with notes of cherries, iron and smoke.
Rather than shedding tears, Bordeaux adds tiers—and classification is what Bordeaux is all about. While the Grand Vin is expected to be the A-game of any château, with technological advancements and an increasingly warm climate, the price of these top-shelf wines has risen with the temperature, and quality is ensured by an ever more rigorous selection of grapes on the sorting table.
Second wines—a tradition begun by Château Margaux in the 17th century—were the logical place to establish grapes deemed unfit for inclusion in the Grand Vin. And since the terroir in which they were grown was often similar, and occasionally identical to the first wines (and generally made by the same vigneron), it stands to reason that the great estates would release these ‘little brother wines’ under some version of their famous name. Château Lafite Rothschild’s second wine, for example, is Carruades de Lafite; Château Margaux’s is Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux.
This name-game association has a downside, of course: As the prices for a château’s main bottling rose, they found that they could easily command more for second wines as well, and inexorably, these began to be priced beyond the reach of many consumers as well. Especially in the Médoc, the cost of second wines crept up to a price point once paid for the first. Some châteaux found a solution in producing third wines, and although fourth wines are not unheard of, the bulk of a harvest that does end up in one of the three is generally declassified and sold to négociants.
As mentioned above, any viable business must weigh the needs of customers with their ability to pay for their product, and the cachet associated with First Growths in Bordeaux is so encompassing that maintaining quality outweighs any need for quantity. It’s fair to suggest that for Bordeaux’s most heralded names, second wines are not a bid for publicity, but exist as a vital—and growing—revenue source. In 2010, for example (one of the best years for quality in decades) only 40% of the harvest went into Lafite’s first wine while a full 55% went into Carruades.
In contrast is Château Léoville Barton, who uses about 80% of their grapes for their Grand Vin, a Deuxième Cru. It’s a somewhat unique philosophy, says the late Anthony Barton: “‘We produced some jolly good wines doing things that in the current era would make our oenologist scream. Grapes into one big wooden barrel, crushed by foot in the field. But we made vintages such as 1945 and 1947. The other day I found an invoice for a fiddler who played while we stomped. Now you need velvet gloves for touching the grapes.”
Other estates, like Château Pontet-Canet, express a goal of vinifying 100% Grand Vin—a once unreachable star brought closer to earth by advancing technology and better land management. Beyond the biodynamic movement which is sweeping most winemaking regions in the world, Picovale weather stations are increasingly allowing vineyard managers to be proactive in the face of incipient bad weather, especially the dreaded springtime frosts. Experience, formerly the sole means of measuring phenolic ripeness and knowing when to harvest, has guided winemakers in Bordeaux since Roman times, but technology can remove the last traces of guesswork. Brimrose Le Vigneron AOTF-NIR Analyzer calculates and levels of sugar and acidity, bringing groundbreaking insight to the exact time winemakers should be harvesting.
These innovations allow a much more precise product to be bottled, and with the increasing quest for perfection, they are becoming increasingly indispensable, even in a region where tradition is sacred.
Older vines are a legacy among wine growers, and when they reach a certain age, it becomes a point of pride. With an expansive root system and substantial permanent wood, these vines have adapted to their environment and are more resilient to drought and extreme weather. At the same time, they are more prone to disease and damage and produce increasingly smaller yields, and at some point, it no longer makes sense to keep them in commercial production. Maintaining a sustainable economic vineyard means replanting, and in Bordeaux, mature vines are often replaced after about 35 years. After that, it takes between ten and twenty years for a vine’s fruit to reach potential, and a natural outlet for grapes from younger vines is an estate’s second and third wines, where it is expected that the tannins will be a bit coarser and less integrated, but which will mature more quickly than Grand Vin bottlings.
In fact, the idea that second wines can be enjoyed earlier than their big brothers is one of their main selling points. Great wines may take twenty years to reach their apex; a lesser version may deliver its entire package upon release, or at least, within a few years. Second wines may come from the same winemaker who makes the first, and even the same plots of ground, but the philosophy is different. By using slightly less newsworthy fruit in the second wine rather than the first, the quality of the Grand Vin is expected to remain high; the alternative may to produce more Grand Vin with lesser grapes, but which would consequentially, be available at a lower price. It’s an endless balance, well summarized by Anthony Barton: “While I don’t believe that you can go too far in the search for perfection in wine, you can certainly go too far in search for profits.”
Philippe Sereys de Rothschild (owner of Château Mouton Rothschild) compares Vintage 2018 to the legendary ‘59s, which he claims are still near-perfect, with incredible depth and finesse. “It’s always interesting to try to describe a vintage with one word,” he says. “2009 is velvet; 2010 is square. And 2018? The word that comes to mind is ‘dense.’ It’s a vintage that you want to follow.”
According to Bordeaux wine merchant François Thienpont: “In 2018, we saw a very specific weather pattern. The first half was very rainy, and then, after mid-July, it was dry. That means that we didn’t have any vines suffering hydric-stress. They weren’t affected by the drought and the vines were able to do the job for the grapes. It was easy. It was absolutely awesome!”
In terms of size and renown, Margaux is a vastly important appellation, with 21 Cru Classé properties from the 1855 Bordeaux Classification within its borders. As feminine as the name are the wines of Margaux, at least by traditional standards—they are famous for their perfumed fragrance and lilting, delicate expression of terroir; in cooler vintages, they may come across as lightweights compared to the powerhouses of Pauillac, but in fine vintages like 2018, they are incomparable in grace and depth.
Encompassing nearly four thousand acres of vines, Margaux is the second largest appellation in the Haut-Médoc (after Saint-Estèphe), but the irony remains: The quintessential character of Margaux relies not on size, but on finesse. The velvet and silk that the wine exhibits on the palate combined with the ripe plum and violet aromas that dominate the nose may confuse tasters into thinking that there is a higher percentage of Merlot in the cuvée, but geography gives rise to this softness, built primarily around Cabernet Sauvignon. Margaux is the warmest major appellation in the Left Bank and it is almost always the first to harvest, so floral, red-fruit freshness remains in Margaux, while it may turn into black currant and mulberry notes in other prestigious Left Bank appellations.
Château d’Issan Package: Six bottles; two bottles of each for $326.
The roots of Château d’Issan’ vines delve deeply into Margaux’s gravel, but not as deeply as the roots of the estate delve into history. One of the oldest producing châteaux in Bordeaux, wines from d’Issan vineyards were used to toast the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry the Second. Oddly perhaps, although Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant varietal today, when d’Issan was classified as a Third Growth in 1855, the wine was produced entirely from a grape that is now all but extinct in Bordeaux: Tarney Coulant.
In 2013, Château d’Issan sold a 50% stake to Jacky Lorenzetti of Château Lilian Ladouys, Château Lafon-Rochet in Saint-Estèphe and Château Pédesclaux in Pauillac. Along with Emmanuel Cruse, the winemaking has been upgraded to include sorting tables and a new pneumatic press along with an increase of the proportion of new French oak barrels used to age the wine; currently an average of 50% of the aging barrels are seeing their first vintage.
First Wine: Château d’Issan, Margaux 2018 ($99)
2018 D’Issan is composed of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, half of it aged in new oak and half in second-year barrels for an estimated 18 months. A deep garnet color, it offers blackberry compote, warm cherry pie and cassis with spice box and fragrant earth plus hints of tea behind a core of firm, fine-grained tannins.
Second Wine: Château d’Issan ‘Blason’, Margaux 2018 ($40)
D’Issan’s second wine, introduced in 1995, is made from the estate’s youngest vines. It is fruity and accessible, offering a bouquet of blackberry and cranberry laced with undergrowth, mint, lavender and tobacco leading to full, fruity mid-palate and a mineral-driven finish.
Third Wine: Château d’Issan ‘Moulin d’Issan’, Bordeaux Supérieur 2018 ($24)
Bordeaux Supérieur (mostly red wines) is an appellation tier applied to wines made within the generic Bordeaux AOP zone, and as the name suggests, they are intended to be a ‘superior’ form of standard Bordeaux AOP wines and rely heavily on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Moulin d’Issan is silken and sweet; and with 90% Merlot the wine is gentle on the nose and shows tart cherry and raspberry with an underflow suggesting tobacco leaf and integrated chocolate. It’s mouth-filling and briefly luscious, offering the trademark Château d’Issan Margaux framework at a fraction of the cost.
Whereas the Right Bank of the Gironde is known for clay-rich soils that produce smooth, softly-fruited wines with balancing tannins, the Left Bank—where vines tend to struggle through limestone and gravel—is known for tannic wines that become exponentially more complex with age. The Left Bank encompasses the Médoc region, whose face, quite arguably, is Pauillac.
Pauillac represents three of the five First Growths named in the 1855 Classification, with another fifteen classified wines adding trophies to the wall, including two heralded Second Growths. The wines of Pauillac contain a characteristic finesse, elegance, and intensity essentially unmatched by any growing region elsewhere in the world. The maritime climate and unique soil matrix, ideally suited to Cabernet Sauvignon, is key to the splendor. Nearly flat, (the average elevation in Pauillac is twenty feet), the subsoil is often composed of alios, a hard sandstone rich in iron, which may account for the appellation’s classic strength and vitality. The châteaux, in the main, are less subdivided than in neighboring regions, making it easier to pinpoint variations in style according to terroir.
Pauillac consists of about 3000 acres of vineyards, which on average produce seven million bottles of wine per year.
Pauillac contains a dozen Fifth Growth estates, each vying to match fame of Château Lynch-Bages, long considered the leader in the category, dubbed ‘the poor pan’s Mouton’ for its rich and powerful style. Among those who consistently outperform their classification, especially in recent years, is Château Pédesclaux, thanks to Jacky, Françoise and Manon Lorenzetti’s commitment to organic viticulture and the addition of state-of-the-art cellar technology. Says wine critic Jeb Dunnuck: “This estate has made leaps and bounds in terms of quality over the past decade, and my money is on the 2018 Château Pédesclaux being the best to date.”
Château Pédesclaux Package: Six bottles; three bottles of each for $294.
Pédesclaux is classified as a Fifth Growth, and the original accuracy of that designation may be confirmed by the fact that the Pédesclaux family was well-regarded as négociants at the time, and Edmond Pédesclaux was one of the brokers who actually helped determine the 1855 Classification. That said, there has not been a Pédesclaux at the helm since the nineteenth century, but the various owners since have slowly but steadily improved the plots they owned while purchasing additional vineyards. Part of the overall plan has involved rebalancing the vineyards, adding more Cabernet Sauvignon (to which the terroir, Garonne gravel on subsoil of limestone, is particularly suited) and removing rows of Merlot. The current breakdown of the vineyards is 48% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc.
To the Lorenzetti family, who took over the estate in 2009, land stewardship is paramount; all vineyards are farmed organically and certain plots, biodynamically. Respect for the environment has been at the heart of their approach to viticulture. Once they had restructured the existing vineyards and purchased several high-quality plots atop the Milon plateau (where their rows are interspersed with those of Mouton and Lafite), they introduced exacting and sustainable farming methods to improve the land, and the results are evident in the bottlings, which in recent years far outgun the châteaux’s classification.
First Wine: Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac 2018 ($67)
64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, the wine shows a solid core of cassis and blackberry liberally framed by dark cocoa and espresso notes which carries through a spice and licorice finish.
Second Wine: Château Pédesclaux ‘Fleur de Pédesclaux’, Pauillac 2018 ($31)
59% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc from a 120-acre plot, the estates 2018 second wine is characterized by its higher percentage of Merlot, leading to a rich nose of wild blackberries and garrigue, showing wild strawberries and supported by spicy notes of cedar, camphor and pepper. The palate, delicate and fresh, is laced with velvety tannins.
As a special expression of thanks to valued patrons who have supported us over the years, Elie Wine Company is proud to extend an invitation to a special in-store tasting on Monday May 9 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. With our guest Augustin Lacaille, the charismatic commercial director of the Left Bank châteaux; Château d’Issan, Château Pédesclaux, Château Lafon-Rochet and Château Lilian Ladouys, we will make a vinous trail through the four great Châteaux each of whom offers exceptional quality and remarkable value.
In Burgundy, the vagaries of weather play an integral part in a given terroir’s potential; even the most ideal soil matrix, with a perfect balance of minerals, humus and micro-organisms, is useless if frost kills the buds and rain drowns the roots. The historical divisions among the domains of Burgundy are (compared to Bordeaux) very much on a human scale, with holdings subdivided among families, but nearly all are demarcated, to some extent, based on the immutable quality of the terroir.
What this legal concept did not anticipate is that the weather, volatile from vintage to vintage, might change on a grander scale and bring different weather on a more regular basis. Colder areas, once considered inferior, are currently finding that global warming allows their grapes to ripen more fully, and domains once spared rain are now deluged in the spring.
These changes are also happening on a human scale; the average Burgundian temperature has increased one degree Celsius since 1987, while flowering and harvesting have been on average two weeks earlier in that period compared with the previous two decades.
Among the winners in this high-stakes meteorological gamble are some outlying regions in Burgundy that don’t get a lot of airplay. As a result, these are wines whose prices have not yet caught up with their ever-increasing quality.
Due west of Nuits-Saint-Georges, in the wild hinterlands of Burgundy, along southern half of a 12 mile stretch of vineland known as the ‘Champs-Élysées of the Bourgogne’, lies a lesser known wine region ripe for discovery. Once neglected by both growers and patrons, the area known as Hautes-Côtes de Nuits has enjoyed a viticultural renaissance in the past half century that has manifested terroirs similar to those in the heralded Côtes itself.
Overlooking the slopes of Gevrey-Chambertin and extending as far as the wood of Corton, the appellation was officially recognized in 1961 and covers 20 communes; 16 in the Hautes Côtes region in the département of Côte-d’Or, plus the higher areas of 4 communes in the Côte de Nuits where elevations average 1200 feet. Vines are planted along sides of valleys that cut through the Jurassic limestone plateau to the west of the Côte; the underlying rock is the same as that of the Côte but the soil is thin or non-existent, formed by a mixture of eroded limestone and marly subsoil.
“At almost every 2019 tasting I was struck by how beautifully the ripe yet precise fruit, the elegant tannins and the lively acidity gelled on the palate. Although all the top red wines from the pinot noir grape have excellent aging potential, most of them are already open and enjoyable. That reminds me of great modern vintages like 1985 and 2009.” – James Suckling.
Bernard Hervet, former director of Faiveley and Bouchard, went even further: “The long hot, dry summer was ideal for Burgundy and created perfect conditions that could perhaps rival 1865, the greatest vintage of all.”
Despite two bouts of frost in April and rain at flowering, conditions quickly righted themselves. Short but intense heat spikes throughout the summer concentrated the juice in small berries (known in Burgundy as ‘marbles’), leaving high tartaric acid levels and low levels of malic, meaning that wines kept a stable acidity even after the second fermentation. As a result, 2019 wines favor concentration and depth while remaining focused, vibrant and with remarkable transparency to individual terroirs.
Weather is arbitrary; the decision on when to pick your grapes is not. Nowhere is this determination more vital than in Burgundy (where a harvest can be decimated overnight), and no vintage is more exemplary of this delicate balance of risks and rewards than 2018. For those who waited until full phenolic ripeness, the harvest provided both quality and quantity.
Winter and spring were unusually wet and warm, with rainfall in both January and March twice the average for the time of year. This provided water reserves that was key to vine health throughout the torrid growing season, where temperatures were consistently above average. July brought two ferocious hailstorms, but so successful had been the flowering that there was already a good crop on the vines; in some ways the hail acted as a beneficial green harvest. Since vine age, exposition, soil type, rootstock, pruning method, the number of bunches on the vine and management all influence when fruit reaches full ripeness, the harvest date throughout the Côtes de Nuits varied, with some great growers, including Gevrey-Chambertin opting to pick early to preserve freshness in the wines.
Perdrix (translated in English to the partridge that appears on the label) was taken over in 1996 by the Devillards, owners of Domaine du Château de Chamirey in Mercurey, Domaine de la Ferté in Givry, Domaine de la Garenne in Mâconnais and Domaine Rolet in Jura. According the Robert Parker, it is a prime example of the ‘great undiscovered terroirs’ lurking among the more famous domain names of the Côtes de Nuits—it has been at the top of several of his blind tastings. The small, 30-acre estate produces wine from vines whose age averages 35 years; Devillards have invested considerable sum to bring both the philosophy and the technology of Perdrix to its current level.
Domaine des Perdrix, 2018 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Blanc ($45)
100% Chardonnay planted on the high slopes of Prémeaux Prissey at an altitude of 1200 feet, the grapes originate in a single-acre plot of clay and limestone. After harvesting by hand, aging in Allier and Vosges oak (10% new) lasts nine months. The wine is pale gold with green tints, showing crisp apple and lemon on the nose with acacia flowers as an accent. The palate is delicate and slightly unctuous with cream and vanilla on the finish.
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.
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair ‘Le Clos du Prieuré’, 2018 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Rouge ($49)
Putting the ‘haute’ in Hautes, the three-acre plot of Pinot Noir is located at an elevation of nearly 1500 feet. As a result, the climat requires additional hang-time to ripen the grapes, and harvest is generally done a week to ten days later than the rest of the domain’s holdings. Planted with an east-facing orientation on slopes with a 40% grade, the white marl and limestone soils are difficult to work, but reward perseverance. The wine shows ripe aromas of black cherry, raspberry and smoke with a whiff of roasting meat; full and round in the mouth with a persistent, mineral-laden finish. 2,628 bottles produced.
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair ‘La Corvée de Villy’, 2018 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Rouge ($49)
‘Corvée de Villy’ is a bit more than an acre and a half of stony earth in the upper reaches of Nuits-Saint-Georges on the Chaux plateau. It was planted to Pinot Noir in 1988 and according to Liger-Belair, is comprised of a specific blend of two soils that influence the wine in two steps: “The first 30 centimeters of the soil are composed of red-orange lava clays rich in ferrous elements and then it is the primary limestone that formed the basis for the creation of the Côte. The nose is floral with the aromas of red fruits; the palate is richer and more ‘gourmet’ on first impressions and finishes with freshness and minerality brought by the limestones.” 3,300 bottles made.
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 domain’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.
Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret ‘Les Dames Huguettes’, 2019 Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Rouge ($41)
With an average age of 35 years, the five acres of Pinot Noir vines that produce ‘Les Dames Huguettes’ are planted in deep soils composed of limestone and argovien marls. The grapes are hand-sorted and destemmed at the winery and mature in slightly-used (a single vintage) barrels. The wine is tight and structured, with notes of sappy spring flowers, tart black cherries, forest floor, violets, and damp earth. A fabulous length for this price point; it is certainly a match to most Village-level Burgundies.
Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2019 Bourgogne Rouge ($35)
Vines between 28 and 55 years old, planted on decomposed limestone grit over deep clay; 100% hand-sorted Pinot Noir offers a bouquet of rose petals and spicy wild cherry, leading to a silky palate featuring a core of dense black cherry ends with dusty, nicely integrated tannins.
The whole of Burgundy produces around 200 million bottles of wine per year, and more than half of it falls under the appellation ‘Régionale’. This broad, encompassing catchment covers 23 individual AOPs producing wines on a vast array of terroirs, with chalky soils around Joigny in the north and granitic soils in the south (although limestone-rich, marly soils lie beneath the majority of the appellation).
These wines are considered entry-level, but with the advent of a warming climate and passionate input from a younger generation of winemaker, the wines are of increasing quality.
Considered by many to be Nuits-Saint-Georges’ top domain, the estate has been passed down through many generations and is, to this day, a family affair, with four Gouges at the helm.
Grégory Gouges has been the domain’s winemaker since 2003; Pierre today runs the business end with his cousin Christian, son Grégory, and Grégory’s cousin Antoine. The vineyards cover 36 acres, including seven of the best well-positioned Premiers Crus: Les Chaignots, Les Chênes Carteaux, Les Pruliers, the monopole vineyard of Clos des Porrets-Saint-Georges and nearly three acres each of each of the appellation’s most famous vineyards, Les Vaucrains and Les Saint Georges.
Domaine Henri Gouges, 2019 Bourgogne Rouge ($53)
From the bottom of hillside in the lieu-dit ‘Des Petits Chaliots’, the wine displays pronounced intensity, with a nose showcasing strawberry, red rose, cured meat, gravel, underbrush and white pepper, finishing with crushed-rock minerality.
With properties found in the heart of the Côte de Nuits, Jérôme and Jocelyne Castagnier—working a scant ten acres—manage to produce four Grands Crus in the prestigious soils of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny and Vougeot.
Says Jérôme: “I’m the fifth or sixth largest owner of Grand Cru in Morey-Saint-Denis, but when it comes to Village-level appellation Morey-Saint-Denis, I’m the smallest. All I have is two rows of vines. That’s one barrel of wine.”
Having left a career as a trumpet player to pursue the vine, he adds, “After my studies at the Conservatory in Dijon and the Conservatory in Paris I took a job in the French Republican Guard Band, working at the Élysée Palace under both Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2004, at the age of 26, I had to decide whether to continue the career in music or to uphold the family tradition. I chose the latter and returned to Morey-Saint-Denis, thus becoming the fifth generation in my family running the domain.”
Among the younger crop of vignerons who manifest a worldview based in respect for the environment, the Castagniers rely on biodynamics and earth-first techniques at every phase of the winemaking process.
Domaine Castagnier, 2018 Côteaux Bourguignons Rouge ($49)
Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire or Bourgogne Ordinaire was reimagined in 2011 as Côteaux Bourguignons; it is a generic appellation that extends the length and breadth of Burgundy. Although they are intended as everyday wines, the Castagniers have produced an exceptionally elegant Pinot with complex aromas of plums, raspberries and cherries and fresh red fruit flavors in the mouth with earthy floral, mushroom and mineral notes and balance acidity.
Like Jérôme Castagnier, Manuel Olivier—despite a childhood spent among the vines—did not follow in the family footsteps directly out of the gate. First, he traveled to Switzerland to pursue his passion for skiing, and along the way, decided that he was equally passionate about wine. He entered the field (literally) with a few acres of vines in 1990, which has grown to nearly 30 in Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune.
Using wild yeast, his goal is to produce approachable, subtle wines where the fruit expressed delicacy. He says, “This can only be obtained by an obsessive attention to detail; handpicking, low temperature maceration and use of natural yeast. I destem half of my harvest and take a minimum of seven days low-temperature maceration prior to fermentation.”
Domaine Manuel Olivier Crémant de Bourgogne Brut ($26)
Sparkling Burgundy made its entrance into history in 1830 when it was lauded by the poet Alfred de Musset (1820-1857) in his “Secrètes Pensées de Raphaël” — ‘Raphaël’s Secret thoughts.’
Unlike Champagne, the appellation is exclusively applied to white base wines or rosé, which must be made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay (minimum 30%), Gamay (20% maximum), Aligoté, Melon and Sacy (a low-acid varietal grown within the Yonne and Allier départments).
Domaine Manuel Olivier Crémant de Bourgogne Brut is 25% Aligoté, 50% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. A méthode traditionelle, it bursts with clean, crisp flavors of apples and white fruit; juicy and full-bodied, with fine floral details and citrus spice keeping it buoyant into a long finish.
Domaine Manuel Olivier Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé Brut ($26)
100% Pinot Noir made from various parcels throughout the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. Soft raspberry and fresh apricot aromas with a hint of sesame seed highlight a lovely mousse; palate flavors include white cherry, nectarine, and tart strawberry. Medium acidity, light body with a creamy finish.
When our friend and colleague Leslie Pariseau from ‘PUNCH’ Drinks sent out an email to wine retailers and restaurant/bar managers asking about the state of the art in wine appreciation today, we thought it was worthy of a detailed response. In brief, she asked four pertinent questions:
• Which producers do you feel represent the best of wine culture right now?
• What can each of these producers teach us about zeitgeist values right now (and by right now, we mean right now)?
• What do you feel they say about the evolution of your own tastes?
• What do you think goes into the attraction toward these producers, both among wine people and consumers in your market (e.g. label design, story, labor practices, agriculture, etc.)?
These are the very questions we ponder with every bottle we shelve and every package we assemble for our weekly wine offerings. They represent our ongoing fascination with winemaking trends vs. winemaking traditions, and they spearhead our search for labels (many obscure) that represent a growing movement in every wine region we cover—a move toward minimal interventionalism.
In all things wine, ‘balance’ is the key to the kingdom; it is a term interchangeable with harmony and may reference acid, alcohol level, grape sugars and tannin, but also, a scale in which the long-term health of the product is considered along with the flavors inherent on release. More than just a radar blip or a grab for social capital, a naturalistic focus in winemaking is not only more honest approach to the art of fermentation, but it is better for a sustainable environment: It’s a nod to the past and a gesture toward the future.
These are four of our wines whose owners and winemakers check all the boxes. Each of these selections expresses the evolution of style through innovation while honoring heritage through tradition. Not only that, but each puts an emphasis on Ms. Pariseau sense of immediacy: They are wines that will not require years to mature but are quite ready to drink… right now.
Like an iron-red ruby amid the seafoam of limestone, the soils of Fosse-Sèche are rather unique to the Loire—a fact that has been recognized since the 13th century, when Benedictine monks first planted vines there. Move the clocks ahead to 1998, when the Keller-Pire family took over the estate, enraptured by the beauty of the surroundings and its exceptional terroir, composed of iron oxide and flint silex just beneath the topsoil. Twin brothers Guillaume and Adrien Pire, who grew up in Madagascar, brought with them not only degrees in agronomy and viticulture, but a deep respect for the wild land of their youth. Along with their wives Julie and Cécile, they have instilled Fosse-Sèche’s 800-year history with an abiding belief in a holistic remake of all phases of winemaking.
If a single word was to describe the most profound change that has taken modern European winemaking by storm, it is biodynamics—techniques that their forebears may have practiced by necessity without naming it, but which today is a nod to the cosmic continuum of which agriculture is only a part. Two-thirds of the Fosse-Sèche property is a natural reserve, with a bird sanctuary, acres of honey flowers, goats, bees and thriving wetlands; the hundred acres of vine are in a single parcel and are planted to Cabernet Franc (70%) and Chenin Blanc (30%).
Château de Fosse-Sèche ‘Arcane’, VdF* Loire Blanc 2019 (Natural) ($39)
A cuvée from the estate’s finest hand-sorted Chenin Blanc, aged on the lees for nine months in French oak, producing a richly-complex and honeyed wine juicy with quince, lime peel, apple and fresh almond, finishing with chalky crispness.
Château de Fosse-Sèche ‘Eolithe’, VdF* Loire Rouge 2018 (Natural) ($34)
‘Eolithe’ is the geological name for the iron-sprinkled flint that forms the winery’s unique soil structure. Relatively low in alcohol for a fully ripened Cabernet Franc (12.5%), the wine is rich with purple flowers (violets) and purple fruits, plums and blackberries; a piercing spine of acidity keeps the flavors lively and promises potential for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—if you don’t drink it tonight.
*VdF: Established a decade ago, Vin de France is a special designation meant to allow vintners to blend wines from different regions and new combinations of grape varieties, and represented a fundamental shift for a country tied to geographic classification for its wines. It has been a resounding success, with more than 340 million bottles sold annually under the VdF label, much of it increasingly high-quality and medal-worthy.
If the prevailing spirit among modern winemakers acknowledges a spiritual connection between humans and earth, it is no wonder that Henry Marionnet is known as ‘The Pope of Gamay.’ The vines of Domaine de la Charmoise—150 acres mostly dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay—grow at the highest point between the Loire and Cher rivers, where a combination of aspect and geology provides plenty of sunshine and shelter against spring frost. In that environment, which his family has owned since 1850, Henry Marionnet says: “Give me the most beautiful grapes in the world and I will make you the greatest wine in the world.”
As would suit a purist’s purist, his mentor was the earth itself: “I never attended viticultural school; my winemaking education involved working with the horses ploughing and clearing, and with a pickaxe, working the ground between the vines by hand. When I took over Domaine de la Charmoise in 1967, I began to change things. Some of the vines I inherited were of questionable merit, hybrids or similar sub-standard stock, so I set about replanting and expanding the vineyards.”
Having recently succeeded his father in managing the estate, Henry’s son Jean-Sébastien has brought his own perspective to Domaine de la Charmoise, expanding the range to include Côt (Malbec) and Chenin Blanc as well as some Loire’s rarest varietals. To be sure, Henry’s presence is still widely felt—as an advisor and a lodestar.
Henry Marionnet ‘Renaissance’, Touraine 2018 (Natural) ($36)
“Here we only make special wines,” says Henry Marionnet. “Wines that others don’t make.”
The swagger touted by ‘Renaissance’ centers on a plot of ungrafted Gamay planted in 1992; Marionnet claims that it is the only such vineyard in Europe. The soil is stony, flinty clay combined with silica which warm up quickly and is known locally as ‘perruches’—a word that translates directly as ‘parakeets.’ Carbonic maceration may occasionally turn Gamay into bubblegum, but here, from the Loire’s legendary 2018 vintage (vinified on natural yeast and bottled without sulfites) it is bright and beautiful, suave and supple, exhibiting a refined nose and a juicy palate with notes of violet, peony and fresh red-fruit syrup.
Domaine de la Charmoise ‘Première Vendange’, Touraine 2019 (Natural) ($23)
The Gamay that produces ‘Première Vendange’ is (as both Marionnet and the barons of Beaujolais would like to make clear) traditional Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc as opposed to the red-fleshed varieties often used to add color to other wines. The vines that make up the cuvée were planted in 1967 and 1978 on a combination of flinty stones in a mix of sand, gravel and clay. The fruit is picked by hand and whole-bunch fermented in stainless steel vats via carbonic maceration, a process continued by indigenous yeasts. The result is velvet smooth with lithe, ripe fruit beneath a floral canopy that shows hibiscus and violet and a touch of anise.
The French have long celebrated micro-terroirs, recognizing in their system of ‘lieu-dit’ and ‘climat’ that certain parcels of land produce wines identifiably unique from those nearby, even if they share an appellation. Vines are influenced by soil, aspect, rainfall, air drainage, and even the subtlest differences can make a tangible difference in the resulting wine.
Brothers Arturo and Kike de Miguel have re-imagined the concept in Rioja Alavesa. Artuke (a portmanteau of their two names) consists of 32 different vineyard plots on 54 acres that fall within a geographic triangle formed by the villages of Baños de Ebros, Abalos and San Vicente—all north of the Ebro River and each with unique terroir. Traditionally, Spain’s Gran Reservas have been sourced from a multitude of vineyards, and the art was seen in the expertise of the blend and the changes wrought by long aging prior to release. The brothers have chosen to reject the constraints of Rioja’s classification system (which is based primarily on time and type of aging) to focus instead on vinifying small cuvées of indigenous varieties, and aging them for a shorter time in neutral barrels in order to capture the purest, most vivid expressions possible.
Artuke ‘Finca de Los Locos’, Rioja 2018 ($35)
Finca de Los Locos is a terraced site that overlooks the Ebro River and Paso Las Mañas. At more than 2000 feet elevation, the wind-swept, pebble-strewn slope is the highest in Samaniego. 80% Tempranillo and 20% Graciano from vines planted in 1981; the name comes from the assignation neighbors gave Arturo and Kike’s grandfather when he first planted vines in the shallow chalky soil: ‘Loco’—crazy. Loco boy makes good with this sapid, solidly Mediterranean-flavors of fresh herb, dry earth, dusty tannins and crisp, almost salty minerality. 10,800 bottles made.
Artuke ‘Artuke’, Rioja 2021 ($17)
Far from the grapey Kool-Ade that often sums up Beaujolais Nouveau, this carbonic offering is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Viura (a white grape a.k.a. Macabeo; one of the Cava trinity). It is beautiful, fragrant and luscious with a nose of violets and thyme, a rich mid-palate of black cherry and cranberry underscored by orange peel and Damson plum.
“If we take care of the earth, we take care of ourselves,” promises Carmen López Delgado. “Life has given me a new opportunity.”
She is alluding to the sudden illness and prolonged recovery that refocused her cosmic viewpoint and convinced her that her personal renewal could be mirrored in the ways she tended a vineyard. “We made this decision when my illness pushed us to look for everything related to living and life in seeking to recover health.”
In 2005, with her partner Luis Ruiz, she pioneered biodynamic agriculture and winemaking throughout a 20-acre vineyard in Santa Olalla near Toledo. The dry continental climate of central Spain was ideal for the cultivation of Graciano, of which she planted twelve acres compared to five of Tempranillo. That alone makes her iconic; Graciano is rare enough in Spain, let alone among the cereal fields and Cornicabra olive groves of Castilla-La Mancha.
Uva de Vida ‘Latitud 40’, La Tierra de Castilla 2018 (Natural) ($24)
Uva de Vida winery sits at the wine-friendly 40˚ northern latitude, which circumvents the globe to include northern California, Sardinia and about half of the wine producing areas in China. Here, forty miles south of Madrid, it suits Graciano—the sole varietal used here. Although the ‘Vino de la Tierra de Castilla’ designation carries with it slightly less stringent regulations that of the prestigious DO of Castilla-La Mancha, like the ‘Super Tuscans’, gems may be found among the iconoclasts. Ideally served slightly chilled, ‘Latitud 40’ displays freshness on the nose with hints of lilac, menthol and pie cherries. On the palate, wild blueberries take center stage and the menthol shows a mint-leaf edge. The finish is long and juicy with a slight hint of chocolate. 20,000 bottles made.
Uva de Vida ‘Biográfico’, La Tierra de Castilla 2020 (Natural) ($20)
The 2018 version of this vibrant wine contains a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Graciano grown in clay-limestone soils at an altitude of about 1600 feet. Hand-harvested and fermented on ambient yeasts, the wine is clarified naturally and bottled unfiltered without Sulphur. The dark color belies a lyrical, almost floral quality to the wine; lilac and violet notes appear on the nose, with bright, spicy red fruit supplied by the Graciano tempered with the earthy tannins of Tempranillo. 8,800 bottles produced.