Wine Offerings

The French Climate Divide: 2023 Rosés Show The Difference Between Warm-Climate (Mediterranean) and Cool-Climate (Oceanic) Fruit. Ten Types, Spanning the Two, by Seventeen Producers. A Dozen Rosés $349 – A Holiday Sampler.

Two things that France and the United States share: A red, white and blue flag and a passion for rosé. So, while we’re celebrating both on the Fourth of July, we’ll take the opportunity to offer a springboard to this style via through a series of rosés that span France from north to south.

Tastes in wine run hot and cold and so do the climates that produce them. Nearly every commercial vine on earth is grown between 30° – 50° latitude (both north and south), but that range offers an almost endless array of rainfall patterns, cloud covers and wind configurations and such a wide spectrum of environments and that generalization seems pointless. And yet, anyone qualified to blind taste with authority should be able to tell you very quickly whether the wine comes from cool or warm region simply by gauging the character of the fruit.

In cool climates, where budding occurs late and frosts arrive early, even grapes harvested at optimal ripeness tend to produce lighter, more acidic wines with flavor profiles that lean toward savory herbs and acidic fruits like cranberries and tart cherries. In fact, you’ll find these types of descriptors used for wines made from any number of varieties that have adapted to cooler climates. In contrast, warm weather and extended growing seasons in the world’s southerly vineyards results in jammier, richer wines with less acidity and darker fruit flavors (blackberry and plum), often underscored with exotic aromatics like coffee and chocolate.

Nowhere is this climate divide more obvious than in France, and no style of wine demonstrates it better than French rosé, a wine with many guises. A versatile food wine and a cherished part of French viticulture, crisp, cheerful rosé is produced both in France’s frosty north and sultry south with characteristically different, yet equally spectacular results.

Mediterranean Climate
Provence and Southern Rhône Valley Rosé

With the same passion as its red and white cousins, rosé raises the flag of diversity and complexity in an infinite combination of terroir, grape variety and vintage variation. If you still consider it a pale, pink, lightly alcoholic swimming-pool tipple, have we got a surprise for you!

Hugging the Mediterranean between Spain and Italy and blessed with consistently fine growing condition, Southern France produces wines ideally suited for this summery milieu. Despite its location France, the vineyards are still far north of almost all of Spain and Italy’s, so the days are long during the growing season, allowing grapes to fully ripen. The Gulf Stream and Mediterranean Sea keep it balmy while steady winds banish humidity that can cause disease and mildew.

As such, the reds are particularly robust, and these grapes, of course, are the foundation of the pinks.

The 2023 Vintage

Drought was the name of the 2023 game, and the Mediterranean coast experienced it badly, sometimes halving harvest volumes. Although vines can survive scorching heat, they tend to produce less juicy and more acidic grapes. But every region has its variations. The vines in Roussillon, for example, suffered severe water stress throughout the season whereas those in Languedoc experienced an ‘episode cévenol’—a storm specific to the south of France—in September. Despite these extreme conditions, the vines’ tough, deep roots were able to draw on unexpected resources to ensure that the grapes continued to grow and the overall harvest, while smaller than normal, looks promising.

Côtes-de-Provence

The massive Côtes-de-Provence sprawls over 50,000 acres and incorporates a patchwork of terroirs, each with its own geological and climatic personality. The northwest portion is built from alternating sub-alpine hills and erosion-sculpted limestone ridges while to the east, and facing the sea, are the volcanic Maures and Tanneron mountains. The majority of Provençal vineyards are turned over to rosé production, which it has been making since 600 B.C. when the Ancient Greeks founded Marseille.

Château Les Mesclances
Côtes-de-Provence

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.

 1  Château Les Mesclances ‘Faustine’, 2023 Côtes-de-Provence ‘La Londe’ Rosé ($36)
La Londe is a tiny sub-appellation of the Côtes-de-Provence spread between the communes of Hyères and La Londe-les Maures itself, as well as some specific areas of Bormes-les-Mimosas and La Crau. 75% of the production is rosé made from Cinsault and Grenache, bolstered by up to 20% of various red and white varieties, including Tibouren, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Vermentino, known locally as Rolle.

Mesclances’ La Lond is a serious, age-worthy rosé that blends 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre from the estate’s blue-schist soils, fermented spontaneously, with the Grenache given 15 hours of maceration and the Mourvèdre derived from the saignée method.

 

 


Bandol

Conventional wisdom has taught us that wine grapes fare best in places where nothing else will grow; rocky, water-starved soil on precipitous hillsides make vine roots work harder, ramifying and branching off in a search of nutrients and, in consequence, producing small grapes loaded with character. Cue Bandol, the sea-and-sun-kissed region along the French Riviera, which is not only good country for grapes, it’s good country for the soul. Made up of eight wine-loving communes surrounding a cozy fishing village, Bandol breaks the Provençal mold by producing red wines that not only outstrip the region’s legendary rosé, but make up the majority of the appellation’s output. In part that’s due to the ability of Bandol vignerons to push Mourvèdre—generally treated as a blending grape in the Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape —to superlative new heights.

Domaine La Bastide Blanche
Bandol

Michel and Louis Bronzo purchased Bastide Blanche in the ‘70s in the belief that the terroir could produce a wine to rival those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With that in mind, the brothers planted Carignane, Cinsault, Clairette, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. Vintage 1993 proved to be their breakaway year, putting both Bandol and themselves on the wine map.

The estate is located in the foothills of Sainte-Baume Mountain, five miles from the Mediterranean Sea on land that is primarily limestone scree.

 2  Domaine La Bastide Blanche, 2023 Bandol Rosé ($31)
Predominantly Mourvèdre shored up with Grenache and Cinsault, this cuvée is full-bodied from direct-press and shows orange citrus, watermelon, herbed cherry and some lengthy minerality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cassis

The entire vineyard area of Cassis is under five hundred acres, but most of the properties overlook the sea, which moderates the heat and creates an ideal climate for vine growing; the commune is known primarily for its herb-scented white wines, principally from Clairette and Marsanne (about 30% of Cassis production is rosé) and despite its name, it does not produce Crème de Cassis.

Domaine Bagnol
Cassis Rosé

Sitting just beneath the imposing limestone outcropping of Cap Canaille 700 feet from the shores of the Mediterranean, Domaine du Bagnol is the beneficiary of the cooling winds from the north and northwest and as well as the gentle sea breezes that waft ashore. Cassis native Jean-Louis Genovesi and his son Sébastien run the 18-acre estate.

 3  Domaine Bagnol, 2023 Cassis Rosé ($37)
45% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 20% Mourvèdre. A taut, acidic, sea-dominated rosé from a handful of parcels totaling 17 acres planted in clay and limestone on a gentle north-northwest-facing slope. It shows the characteristic salinity of a coastal vineyard with supple nectarine and melon notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Côtes-du-Rhône

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.

Domaine Charvin
Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé

Established in 1851, Domaine Charvin is one of the region’s perennial superstars. Laurent is the sixth-generation Charvin to run the domain, and the first to commercially market a proprietary bottling. He tends vines in the northwest end of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, primarily in Cabrières, Maucoil and Mont Redon, farming organically and engaging in old-school vinification, without de-stemming and fermenting in concrete tanks for 21 months before bottling without filtration.

4  Domaine Charvin, 2023 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé ($24)
45% Grenache, 45% Cinsault, 10% Mourvèdre showing up-front notes of candied cherries, strawberry, lavender and Provençal herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oceanic Climate
Loire Valley Rosé

Established in 1974, Rosé de Loire is an official appellation that covers rosé made in the Loire Valley region of western France. Broadly speaking, the appellation follows the wider Loire River valley from Blois in the east, almost to Nantes, on the Atlantic coast in the west, covering the same lands as Touraine, Saumur and Anjou but stopping on the border with Muscadet.

Obviously, such a wide swath of land is varied in terrain and geography, from the shale-based vineyards in Anjou to the undulating chalk and tuffeau hills of Saumur and Vouvray. Touraine itself boasts a wide variety of soil types (including clay-limestone, clay-flint, as well as sand or light gravel on tuffeau. Climatically, the region is heavily influenced by water, with the Loire River and its tributaries moderating both very warm and very cold weather while the Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay) to the west is the origin of much of the weather patterns in the area.

Only Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Grolleau, Grolleau Gris, Pineau d’Aunis and Pinot Noir are permitted in Rosé de Loire wines. The blend (or single variety) used is at the discretion of the winemaker.

The 2023 Vintage

The Loire suffered a hit-and-miss 2023. The winter was relatively mild and rolled into an equally benign spring without cataclysmic frost. Budburst was largely successful, and the gently rising temperatures proved idyllic for flowering, with yields promising to be high. June, however, hot and humid and aggravated by frequent rain; disease pressure ran high. Producers had to frequently spray and those who weren’t vigilant lost yields. That said, the heat pushed the grapes to phenolic ripeness signaling an early harvest.

Although some parts of the valley were struck by several fierce heatwaves, nights were cool enough to preserve both acidity and aromatics.

Sancerre

Sancerre in a nutshell—or rather, an oyster shell—boils down to the sea. Sancerre’s terroir is built on the remnants of the vast primordial ocean that once covered the hills and valleys of northern France and deposited calcium-rich shells from ancient, oyster-like sea creatures. This is ideal soil for the two grapes for which Sancerre is justly famous, primarily Sauvignon Blanc and to a slightly lesser extent, making up about 20% of the output, Pinot Noir and its attendant rosé.

A ‘typical’ rosé from Sancerre is created by allowing the Pinot Noir to macerate on the skins for a short period of time, generally between two and 20 hours, lacing the wine with a deeply layered nose featuring elegant green citrus, sweet floral notes, passion fruit and fresh green herbs. A semi-tannic structure, which is prized in these rosés, usually means they are better after a year or two in the bottle.

Like its red-blooded parent, rosé made from Pinot Noir has a natural affinity for food, and is a perfect foil for the rich cheese produced throughout the appellation.

Domaine Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy
Sancerre Rosé

The oyster-shell limestone of Sancerre, called Kimmeridgian, forms the base soil beneath the tiny hamlet of Maimbray, located in a valley surrounded by chalk hills of Chavignol and Verdigny. Across 43 acres of this vital terroir, Pascal Reverdy and his wife Nathalie (alongside Nicolas’s widow Sophie) combine tradition with trajectory: Now, sons Victorien and Benjamin shore up the team. Having completed his DNO at Dijon, with stints at Armand Rousseau (Gevrey-Chambertin), Châteaux Léoville Las Cases and Beychevelle (St Julien) and Christine Vernay (Condrieu), Victorien returned first in 2019. Benjamin reappeared in the summer 2023, having cut his teeth at Domaine de la Romanée Conti.

Pascal, who founded the winery in 1993, explains the family’s mandate: “We are about 70% planted with Sauvignon Blanc and 30% with Pinot Noir. Hard pruning keeps yields low, with vineyard being grassed through, and lutte raisonnée being practiced. Harvesting is by hand and we have built a reputation across white, red and rosé Sancerres, with no oak ageing, as well as three special cuvées (Les Anges Lots, La Grande Rue and à Nicolas) which are barrel aged.”

 5  Domaine Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy ‘Terre de Maimbray’, 2023 Reverdy Sancerre Rosé ($32)
The ‘Terre’ in the name is ‘blanche’—the ‘white earth’ of Sancerre’s classic terroir. From three acres of 30-year-old Pinot Noir grown in characteristic clay-limestone, direct-pressed and vinified in demi-muids (10%) and stainless steel tanks (90%), the wine shows a bouquet of ripe strawberries and red grapefruit underpinned by earthy tones that still allows bright acidity to sparkle through.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Roger & Christophe Moreux
Sancerre Rosé

Established in 1895, with winegrower roots extending back to the 16th century, work in the Moreaux’s 22 acres has been handed down across many generations. Today, following the retirement of his father Roger, responsibility rests with Christophe Moreaux.

Located in the tiny hamlet of Chavignol (population 200) along the Upper Loire River where they are renowned equally for their wine and their cheese—Crottin de Chavignol has its own appellation. Wine, however, is the passion of Christophe, who says, “We believe we are in possession of some of Sancerre’s  greatest terroirs, the vineyards of Les Monts Damnés and Les Bouffants.”

Moreaux production is a scant 65,000 bottles per year, with about one quarter of it made from Pinot Noir, both red and rosé; it is fermented in stainless steel and aged for six to eight months before release.

6  Domaine Roger & Christophe Moreux ‘Cuvée des Lys’, 2023 Sancerre Rosé ($27)
A lightly structured rosé with a distinct herbal edge; ripe with aromas of apricots, cherries, currants, and wild strawberries supported by vibrant acidity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Morin
Sancerre Rosé

Gérard Morin took over the family’s vineyards about twenty years ago and, while making some of the most striking wines in Sancerre, he prepared his son Pierre to run the show. Pierre, who once worked the vineyards of Adelaide Hills, saw little in Australia worth emulating in Sancerre. He now helms the estate with an eye toward maintaining a house style typical of Bué (about a mile and a half from the village of Sancerre): rich, aromatic whites and some particularly deep reds that are best matched, according to Pierre, to “an andouillette cooked in the vineyard on vine prunings, ideally for breakfast.”

The Morin’s vines are planted on a steep hard-calcaire amphitheater surrounding the commune of Bué and consist of 17 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and five of Pinot Noir. Yields are held low through spring de-budding (one of Pierre’s few, but significant changes) and all harvesting is done by hand. Fermentation is done by parcel in an air-conditioned chai, in enameled steel vats, with the finished wines left alone on their lees for as long as possible.

 7  Domaine Pierre Morin, 2023 Sancerre Rosé – Bué ‘Les Rimbardes’ ($31)
Les Rimbardes is situated to the east of Bué, nearly to the border of Sancerre. Soils here are heavy with clay, giving the wines more heft. This fruit-forward rosé offers grapefruit, strawberry, Meyer lemon, and tangerine zest aromas intertwined with rhubarb, lemon and hints of caramel.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Dominique et Janine Crochet
Sancerre Rosé

The steeps slopes of Bué are also home to winemakers Teddy and Cyprien Crochet, who took over from their father Dominique after his untimely passing. Although Teddy spent time as a rugby player, he remains true to his roots, now five generations deep. Cyprien raves about the holdings in Chêne Marchand, Grand Chemarin, Champ Chêne and the steepest vineyards in the La Côte de Bué: “We like to think that the Crochet name is synonymous with the town of Bué,” Cyprien says, “…one of the three greatest villages in Sancerre. We’re equally proud to be producing Sancerre in a winery our father started in a garage—we are true garagistes making ‘vins de garage.’”

Established in 1992, Dominique and Janine began with a handful of of perfectly situated hillside acres. Today, the domaine extends to nearly forty acres hosting more than forty tiny parcels. Grapes are hand-harvested—a Bué necessity, given the steep hillsides—and indigenous yeast is preferred, especially for the reds, which are treated to light clay filtration before bottling

 8  Domaine Dominique et Janine Crochet, 2023 Sancerre Rosé ($29)
Grown on silex soils, the wine is attractive in both color and bouquet; salmon pink and perfumed with cherry and rose petal, which is echoed on the palate with juicy citrus accents and culminates in an energetic and crisp finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine de Sacy
Sancerre Rosé

In keeping with the theme of these selections—small production, family-owned hamlet wines—miniscule Sacy nestles near Crézancy and Bué; Karine Millet has taken over the family domaine with of vines. Karine practices polyculture, the historical practice in Sancerre, where cow manure from the farm is used throughout the vineyards and sustainable viticulture, without herbicide or pesticide, is the rule of the day. Her vines average 30 years old, with some approaching half a century.

“Our soil is all ‘terres blanche,’” Karine says. “This is a late-ripening terroir made of thick clay layers intertwined with flat, white limestone. It’s rich in fossils that have the particularity of whitening while drying in the sun. Terres Blanches terroir gives a strong aromatic concentration, tension and aging potential to the wines as well as a pronounced mineral character.”

 9  Domaine de Sacy, 2023 Sancerre Rosé ($29)
A beautiful and balanced summer wine offering medley of citrus flavors wrapped in an with an intense bouquet of strawberry, raspberry and red fruit cake. The palate shows solid Sancerre structure with varietal character: spicy red Pinot Noir with a classic hint of watermelon rind and mineral notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Menetou-Salon

Menetou-Salon is an AOP in the Centre-Val de Loire with vineyards extending over 820 acres and covering 10 communes, including Menetou-Salon itself. Only 3600 bottles of Menetou-Salon Rosé reach American shores each year, so if you can find it, you are in an exclusive club.

Domaine Philippe Gilbert
Menetou-Salon Rosé

Having felt the pull of the soil, Phillipe Gilbert left his occupation as a successful playwright to take over the family estate in the hamlet of Faucards in the midst of Menetou-Salon. The vineyards are scattered throughout the heart of the appellation in prime sectors of the villages of Menetou-Salon, Vignoux, Parassy and Morogues where the soil is a classic mix of clay and limestone sitting on the famous Kimmeridgian basin.

With the assistance of his colleague, Jean-Philippe Louis, Philippe Gilbert has plunged headlong into the system of biodynamic viticulture and the domaine is now certified as an organic producer.

 10  Domaine Philippe Gilbert, 2023 Menetou-Salon Rosé ($32)
100% Pinot Noir, Philippe’s standout rosé is pressed directly and fermented spontaneously—a rare practice for the category since most growers want to ensure market-demanded consistency at all costs. It spends six months in steel, undergoing natural malolactic fermentation. Exuberant and energetic, it offers brambly raspberry, white cherry and grapefruit zest interlaced with notes of pulverized chalk and wet river stones.

 

 

 

 


Chinon

Playwright François Rabelais (a Chinon local boy made good) wrote, “”I know where Chinon lies, and the painted wine cellar also, having myself drunk there many a glass of cool wine.” That wine was likely red: though capable of producing wines of all hues, Chinon’s focus is predominantly red; last year, white and rosé wines accounted for less than five percent of its total output. Cab Franc is king, and 95% of the vineyards are thus planted. Rabelais’ true stage was set 90 million years ago, when the yellow sedimentary tuffeau, characteristic of the region, was formed. This rock is a combination of sand and fossilized zooplankton; it absorbs water quickly and releases it slowly—an ideal situation for deeply-rooted vines.

Château de la Bonnelière
Chinon Rosé

Respect for tradition and love of family are the twin forces that animate Château de la Bonnelière: In 1976, Pierre Plouzeau bought the old family castle and renovated the property while replanting the largely-vanished vineyards. His son Marc took over in 1999 and has become one of Chinon’s most prolific and talented personalities, responsible for a plethora of marvelous juice—red, white and pink. 43 acres of vines and a 1500-square-meter cellar carved out of the castle’s solid stone foundation provide an environment as beautiful as it is fecund.

 11  Château de la Bonnelière ‘M Plouzeau – Rive Gauche’, 2023 Chinon Rosé ($19)
A cuvée born in the alluvial soils on the left bank of the Vienne, where the sand and gravel terroir produce Cabernet Franc of exceptional freshness. The wine shows crisp minerality and notes of raspberries and peaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rosé-de-Loire

Although rosé production in Loire has expanded markedly in recent years, its commercial origins go back to the early 20th Century when the wines were dubbed ‘Rouget’ in the Anjou and ‘Vin Gris’ in Touraine. Today, they are required to be dry with no more than three grams per liter of residual sugar and cannot have more than 12.5% alcohol-by-volume.

The title covers much of the rosé production in the area although it is worth noting that all the appellations covered by the Rosé de Loire title can produce their own rosé. Both the Saumur and Anjou appellations can make rosé produced from Cabernets Franc or Sauvignon and these must be labeled “Cabernet de Saumur” or “Cabernet d’Anjou” respectively. Additionally, Rosé d’Anjou (another possible rosé title in Anjou) is broadly similar in production requirements to Rosé-de-Loire.

Château Soucherie
Rosé-de-Loire

Perched on a rise overlooking the Layon river, Soucherie is considered one of the most beautiful domains in Anjou. Roger-Francois and Pascal Beguinot have transformed 90 acres of limestone, clay and schist into multiple lieux-dits spread across Anjou, Chaume, Coteaux du Layon and Savennieres. Around the winery, 54 acres are planted on a southern hillside sheltered from the winds; the 11 acres in Chaume contain vines over 70 years old while the four acres in Savennieres (Clos des Perrieres), loaded with shale, produce wines noted for their minerality. Maître de chai Thibaud Boudignon is leading the charge towards 100% organic viticulture through the principles of ‘agriculture integrée’—a ‘whole farm’ management system intended t deliver more sustainable agriculture by combining modern technologies with traditional practices according to a given site and situation.

 12  Château Soucherie ‘L’Astrée’, 2023 Rosé-de-Loire ($27) Gamay
Cellarmaster Vianney de Tastes hand-harvests this pure Gamay rosé, and shapes the variety into a pale, juicy and dynamic wine by direct pressing and four-months of aging in stainless steel.  The wine offers white peach, dandelion greens, sweet basil and pineapple sage.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Semi-oceanic Climate
Champagne’s Coteaux-Champenois Rosé

Côteaux Champenois Rosé is a still Champagne as rare as a five-leaf clover; it is only produced from select, authorized vines, and only in certain vintages, in extremely limited quantities, and by very few Vignerons.

Domaine Fleury
Côte-des-Bar

Although it sounds a bit contradictory, doing what comes naturally’ is often an exacting science and a dedicated quest, and nowhere in Champagne is this more evident than in the fields and cellars of Domaine Fleury, the Côte des Bar foremost champion of ‘The Art of Nature.’

Founded in 1895 in the heart of the Côte des Bar and driven by the terroir of the clay-limestone hillsides formed by the first tributaries of the Seine, Fleury has a storied history in the region, managing to weather both the phylloxera crisis and the market crash of 1929. But according to Jean-Pierre Fleury, it was biodynamics over all else that gave new meaning to Champagne production: “To be respectful of the natural and living heritage of this terroir, where custodians of the land forever learn, in all humility, to perceive the balance and to unearth its mysteries.”

Gone entirely biodynamic by 1992—a time when the concept was foreign to nearly every winemaker in France—Jean-Pierre has passed the spirit of purity and innovation to his children: Morgane Fleury, an actress and sommelier, who has developed a new concept of an ecological wine and champagne bar in central Paris; Jean-Sébastien, also at the heart of innovation at the domain, who is experimenting with grafting techniques in the vines as well as reintroducing horses to work on certain plots; Benoît, who is currently working with massale selection and agroforestry as new ways of cultivating the vines in symbiosis with an adapting environment.

Domaine Fleury, Coteaux-Champenois ‘Côte-des-Bar’ Rosé ($68)
Comprised of vintages 2017, 2018 and 2019 hand-harvested 35 to 40 years old Pinot Noir vines, fermented spontaneously with low-intervention, bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine offers a nose of Maraschino cherry, strawberry and lemon zest while the fruit-driven palate had notes of cherry and raspberry behind bright acidity.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot
Montagne-de-Reims

In 1985, when Dominique Lelarge took over his family estate, his first order of business was to improve the quality of the soil in the vineyard, and this began with a more sustainable farming approach. To this day, he views the use of pesticide an inherent threat to nature, and treats this understanding as a wake-up call: “Life is a gift from nature,” he says. “Everything starts in the vineyard, so it is important for us to respect what nature handed us.”

Although the Lelarge family has grown grapes in Vrigny since 1799, the last two decades have seen the leadership of the two Dominiques (winemakers and owners Dominique Lelarge and Dominique Pugeot) embrace and encourage diversity in both their ecosystem and in their outlook on Champagne production. Nestled in the Premier Cru village of Vrigny on the Montagne de Reims slopes—a mere 15 minutes west of Reims—their 21 acres are planted primarily to Meunier (11 acres), but a percentage of Pinot Noir (7 acres) and Chardonnay (3.4 acres) also figure into their blended wines.

Certified organic since 2014 and biodynamic since 2017 by Demeter, Lelarge-Pugeot encompasses 42 distinct parcels flourishing at elevations averaging 400 ft.

“We do not make wine so much as we farm vines, meticulously looking after every single step of the growth to produce the most natural Champagne possible.”

Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot, 2020 Coteaux-Champenois ‘Montagne-de-Reims’ Premier Cru Vrigny Meunier Rosé ($66)
A zéro-zéro cuvée that represents the family’s first ever attempt at making a still rosé made exclusively Meunier. The fruit comes from two parcels of 40-year-old vines with tiny concentrated clusters, which create highly aromatic Meunier showing high-toned notes watermelon, pomegranate, tarragon and salinity.

 

 

 

 


Continental Climate
Burgundy Rosé

Don’t let its relative lack of press fool you—Bourgogne Rosé is made in 300 communes throughout Burgundy and comes in multiple incarnations; some barbecue basic, others rich and cellar-worthy.

As might be imagined, most Bourgogne Rosé is mad with Pinot Noir, although Gamay is also permitted (there are some made exclusively from Gamay—in fact, if you see a rosé with ‘Mâcon’ and another geographical denomination on the label, the wine must be 100% Gamay). In very rare cases, Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Beurot in Burgundy), Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc turn up in a rosé, at least in part to help manage the wines’ color. In the northern Grand Auxerrois region, the ancient César grape gets to play a supporting role, adding some depth and structure.

The 2023 Vintage

In terms of yield, 2023 was historic—the quantity of healthy grapes grown had not been seen since 1982, and bunches were harvested that weighed double the norm. So copious was the output of Burgundian vineyards that, due to INAO rules, it could not all be harvested. The major producers had to cut 50% of the harvest to meet the normal, optimal 35-40 hl/ha.

With yields like this, it is doubtful that 2023 will go down as a great vintage, but it will certainly produce lively and energetic vintage, which is an ideal scenario for rosé.

Domaine Collotte
(Côte-de-Nuits)
Marsannay Rosé

Located on Rue de Mazy, Marsannay’s ‘high street’, Domaine Collotte shares a headquarters with Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair, owned by a Collotte cousin. Formerly under the control of Philippe Collotte, his daughter Isabelle—having completed her viticulture studies—has joined her father in the domain and specializes in making the family’s superb Marsannay Blancs.

Isabelle entered the business with plenty to work with: Covering about forty acres, mainly in Marsannay but with small plots in Fixin, Gevrey and Chambolle, Domaine Collotte draws mainly from vines over fifty years old and farms one lieu-dit planted in 1947.  Among the innovations she has insisted upon involves selling less wine in bulk, which was a practice of her father.

In addition, she has embraced a holistic view of vineyard work: “Plowing is the norm here, no herbicides,” she says. “The grapes are triaged at the winery before 100% destemming into concrete tanks with one week of cool maceration. We love the thermal stability of concrete so there is a little pigeage early in fermentation and later only remontage. The color is ‘fixed’ with a short period at 35°C where the wine slowly cooling in the tank before a pneumatic press and then into barrels.”

Phillipe adds, “The common thread running through Domaine Collotte is an intimate link, our visceral attachment to Marsannay. For over 100 years, each generation of the Collotte family has dedicated its life to this village and its vineyards. Even if some of our parcels are located in Chambolle-Musigny, Fixin or Gevrey-Chambertin, it is in Marsannay-la-Côte that the heart of Domaine Collotte beats. Clos de Jeu, Champ Salomon, Boivin, Grasses Têtes, Combereau are a few of the Climats de Marsannay that plunge us daily into history by domain that is eminently proud of its roots.”

Domaine Collotte, 2023 Marsannay Rosé ($26)
Isabelle Collotte’s 2023 rosé is sourced a two-acre plot of Pinot Noir; the harvest is sorted as soon as it arrives in the vat room before being pressed directly. The pressing is done on a long cycle and at low pressure for a quality must; static settling is carried out for 24 hours and the wine is vinified in stainless steel tanks. The wine displays aromas of raspberry and tangerine, supported by secondary notes of rose water, rhubarb and anise.

 

 

 


Pierre-Marie Chermette
Beaujolais Rosé

Pierre-Marie Chermette was raised in the vineyard; his fondest memories of the family home in Vissoux was riding the tractor. He pursued it as his life’s work, earning National Diploma of Oenologist from Dijon at the age of 20. Two years later, he convinced his father to stop selling the fruits of his labor to merchants, and developed the market estate bottled wines, increasing the plots who was selling his wine in bulk to merchants. He invests himself fully in the family winery by developing the marketing of bottled wines. Over the years, he diversified the number of appellations the family worked, and is now responsible for nearly 75 acres.

Pierre-Marie Chermette Vissoux ‘Griottes’, 2023 Beaujolais Rosé ($22)
The estate started making rosé in 1985, when it was a genuine rarity in Beaujolais region, relying on younger vines to produce a vibrant, tangy rosé that shows wild strawberry and Morello cherry with undertones of stony minerals, dried herb and star anise.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Rosé with Character and Dimension

Since 2000, white wine sales in France have plateaued while rosé’s have doubled; over that same timespan, red wine has declined in popularity at such a staggering rate that even if rosé does not win over a single new fan, it may well surpass red wine sales in France in the future.

There is more to the phenomenon than simply wine drinkers making a bandwagon fashion statement. Even those who had to be weaned from white zinfandel are discovering that pink wine is not merely washed-out red, but a gustatory middle-ground between the lightness of white and the heaviness of red—a product able to offer more depth with less tannin and the ability to evolve with age in a way that is both unique and multi-dimensional.

Domaine Gavoty
Côtes-de-Provence Rosé

Roselyn Gavoty (the eighth generation of Gavoty to helm her family’s Roman-era farm; her ancestor Philémon acquired it in 1806) is on the cutting edge of viticulture. Situated along the Issole River in the northwestern corner of the Côtes-de-Provence, surrounded by oak and pine forests, the Gavoty family has worked the land without synthetic chemicals for decades, obtaining organic certification in recent years. The vineyard covers 150 acres in the commune of Cabasse (‘harvest field’ in the old Provençal language). Roselyn says, “Our vines are planted on clay-limestone soil, and produce a majority of rosé by the saignée method, involving involves bleeding off a portion of red must to create structure and depth.”

Domaine Gavoty ‘Clarendon’, 2022 Côtes-de-Provence Rosé ($37) – Current Release
In his articles for ‘Le Figaro’, Bernard Gavoty often wrote under the pseudonym ‘Clarendon,’ and this cuvée—produced from the domaine’s oldest Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan vines (dating back to the early 1960s)—honors his memory. Combining saignée with the juice from the first pressing, the wine striking a wonderful balance between vinosity and immediacy, showing strawberries and red currants.

 

 

 

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Posted on 2024.07.05 in Sancerre, Côte-de-Provence, Côtes-du-Rhône, Rosé de Loire, Anjou, cassis, Bandol, Menetou-Salon, Santenay, Chinon, France, Beaujolais, Wine-Aid Packages, Loire, Southern Rhone  |  Read more...

 

Mining the Minerality in Riesling: Dry Alsatian Wines Demonstrate Transparency and Express the Distinctive Character of Vineyards in Which the Grapes are Grown. Twenty-One Wines by Ten Outstanding Producers.

There’s no reason why the term ‘minerality’ should be controversial in wine descriptions, but since it is, maybe it’s better to think of it like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart did pornography: “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Or taste it. The quality that winds up in tasting notes as ‘minerality’ covers a plethora of sensations that likely do not involve any actual minerals. Nor does it need to: When a Riesling is described as being ‘steely,’ nobody is expecting actual alloy-in-a-glass. When the word ‘minerality’ comes into play, it may lack the precision of, say, ‘kiwi fruit,’ but it is a summary of tastes that involve salinity, wet-stone freshness and a sort of granular powderiness in between chalk and seltzer. And for the record, it is nothing like ‘steeliness.’

Nowhere does this quality waft from the glass in a more recognizable form than in Alsatian Riesling, where it is a useful tool in identifying specific terroirs—the Grail of wine expression.

Alsace Rieslings Set a High, Dry Standard.

When you grow expressive grapes in ideal conditions, then refuse to mask subtleties or exuberances with oak, you have come close to achieving the holiest mission of Riesling in Alsace: Purity.

With the crystalline clarity of a Mozart concerto, the ideal manifestation of this style is sizzling and dry, linear (insofar as it should not lose any momentum on the palate) and hits the senses running. The classic nose shows citronella, grapefruit, peach, pear with lime blossom and nettle flowers. Depending on terroir, some will display cumin and fennel, but above all the mineral notes mentioned above will manifest themselves as gunflint and kerosene.

This organoleptic kaleidoscope is also renowned for its ability to mature with finesse over many years—potentially, for decades.

Riesling may be the ultimate Rhineland grape, but once it became acclimatized to the unique conditions of Alsace, it began to produce a wine utterly unlike the off-dry to sweet German classics. Having been introduced to Alsace at the end of the 15th century, the uptick in acreage only developed in the second half of the 19th century, and it was not until the 1960s that it reached the top position of production areas in Alsace.

Today, it is standard-bearer for a specific style of Riesling; acidic elegance, vigorous and exquisite aromas along with strong ties to the mineral world. Dryness is not a given, although the late-harvested versions will be designated as such.

Riesling: The Most Transparent of Grapes

The diversity of Alsace terroirs is ideal for this grape as it’s a transparent veil. Transparency, like minerality (and many other things ‘Riesling’) is often misunderstood. Essentially, it refers to a wine’s ability to translate the specifics of its vineyard site into flavors, aromas and textures that present themselves in the glass. Riesling is particularly adept at this, and the result is a flavor profile with an almost infinite variety of expressions.

Of course, this not a grape that suffers fools with foolish vineyard sites gladly. In order to give up this characteristic transparency, Riesling requires cool climate conditions, and in excessive heat, it quickly over-ripens and becomes flabby. Given long, slow ripening, however, Riesling’s power is without parallel. It’s no surprise that some of the world’s finest examples come from cold regions, where the vines are grown on terraces on steep slopes that maximize exposure to the sun. Some of the world’s top Riesling locations demonstrate marginal viticulture that walks a fine line toward greatness. Riesling, a grape that is often associated with struggle, thrives best in rocky, barren sites, but the reward of that struggle is the variety’s amazing ability to convey the signature of that site.

Alsace: A Geologist’s Dream

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 and 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.

Grand Cru: Singularity of Character, Diversity of Climats.

As a gold medal represents the highest award that an Olympic athlete can win, in the wine world, Grand Cru is the highest designation to which a plot of land can aspire. If you are a lover of French wine (a rhetorical point since you are reading these words), it is no doubt a term that is both mysterious and sacred, as various pieces of earth have been considered in religious tradition from time immemorial; Kashi Viswanathan in India, Mecca in Arabia and Lourdes in France. Although not imbued with supernatural powers of healing, Grand Cru vineyards are saturated in terroir that is considered the ne plus ultra of any wider appellation.

At least, that’s the theory. In our continued exploration of Alsace, we find that Grand Cru status has an additional determining factor: Politics. This is not to suggest that these are not the finest wines that Alsace can produce, only that it may not be a guarantee of it, at least compared to Burgundy. Alsace has enormous geological diversity within a fairly constrained area, and each Grand Cru may rightly claim its own unique identity rather than an absolute commitment to rules that would ensure top quality and singularity of character.


Domaine Dirler-Cadé

As the name suggests, Domaine Dirler-Cadé is the union of two historical Alsatian winegrowing families. Jean Dirler is a 5th generation winemaker whose family had been making wine in the tiny village of Bergholtz, tucked into the lower hills of the Vosge Mountains, since 1871. Ludvine Cadé’s family owned vineyards in nearby Guebwiller, known as Domaine Hell-Cadé. The marriage of Ludvine and Jean in 2000 produced Domaine Dirler-Cadé, one of the finest domains in Alsace, with almost half of their 44 acres in Grand Cru vineyards, as well as plots in five lieux-dits.

A century before natural winemaking was in vogue, Jean’s family had been practicing winemaking under the motto ‘natural wines, fine wines.’ But during a training course with François Bouchet in 1997, Jean and his father Jean Pierre became convinced that biodynamics is the best possible way to produce true terroir wines.

Jean explains the eureka moment: “Right after the Bouchet course, we began to cultivate organically and biodynamically in order to best express the exceptional personality of these terroirs. In many parcels, we plough partially in autumn and completely in spring to ensure th destruction of the superficial roots and then let natural grassing reconstitute in summer to create a balanced and vita ecosystem.”

Jean-Pierre adds, “The soil in the vineyards is plowed four to five times a year by horse. The team removes flowers versus green harvesting, and old canes are not pruned off until March. Other organic practices such as natural crop covers, herbal teas, and homeopathic doses of horsetail instead of fertilizers. It doesn’t stop there—at harvest time, a small, close group of vineyard workers share food and wine during the season, as it is important to harvest the fruit by hand in a joyful and good mood, with a positive energy.”

In the winery, Dirler-Cadé uses slow, whole-cluster presses, spontaneous fermentations, and prolonged maturation on the lees. The resulting wines are expressive and complex, with a versatility that makes them just as fitting at a three-star Michelin restaurant as they are at a natural wine fair.

Domaine Dirler-Cadé, 2022 Alsace Riesling ($32)
Built from declassified Grand Cru grapes, Dirler-Cadé’s basic Riesling retains many of the markers of their vineyards of origin, juicy, supple, and aromatic, with intricacies of lime, verbena, herbs, and spice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Grand Cru Kessler: “Exceptional Minerality Issued From Rich Sandstone Soil.”

Kessler Grand Cru is not only shaped like a basin, ‘basin’ is what Kessler means. The site is sheltered from the cold winds blowing along the Guebwiller valley, where dry stones form an unmistakable tie between the neighboring Grand Crus of Saering, Spiegel and Kitterlé. The blend of sand with heavier scree and its steep slope stimulate the production of wines full of character.

Kessler sits on a sandstone substrate from the Buntsandstein Vosges area, where erosion has produced red soils with rather abundant mineral deposits. At its base there is a linear outcrop of Muschelkalk limestone covered by sandstone. This creates compact and erythemal soils with a scant water table. But vineyards thrive only by developing a very deep root-growing system.

Domaine Dirler-Cadé, 2013 Alsace Grand Cru Kessler ‘Heisse Wanne’ Riesling ($45)
As the estate’s flagship wine, the iconic Heisse-Wanne bottling is from 80-year-old, southwest-facing vines grown on steep terraces at the upper limits of the Kessler, where plowing must be done by horse. Always notably richer than standard Kessler, it is striking for the intensity of the mineral extract and the concentration of Riesling fruit; peach, green apple and lemon peel.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Weinbach

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 a 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 great wines 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.

Domaine Weinbach, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($35)
Pineapple and ginger on the nose, with grapefruit, peach, pear and cut grass appearing mid-palate along with notes of honeycomb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Weinbach ‘Cuvée Théo’, 2019 Alsace Riesling ($39)
Harvested in the granitic sand of the monopole Clos des Capucins, the 2019 ‘Cuvée Théo’ displays a slightly flinty nose and classic Riesling intensity with lychee and mangosteen, lime and crisp Granny Smith apples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Weinbach ‘Cuvée Colette’ 2019 Alsace Riesling ($54)
Cuvée Colette comes from a portion of Schlossberg not entitled to Grand Cru status, but has many of the characteristics that elevate the vineyards in this part of Alsace, resulting in a silken, pure and refined wine, fresh with wet stone and the bright bouquet of white peach and lemon, finishing with a spark of salinity.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Grand Cru Schlossberg: “Graceful and Floral, Freshness Drawn From Granite Soil.”

About five miles from Colmar, Schlossberg overlooks the Weiss valley from the outskirts of the town of Kientzheim up to the medieval Kaysersberg castle. The 150-acre Grand Cru sits on very steep hillside. The lieux-dits, therefore, are covered by a succession of terraces between 750 and 1300 feet in altitude, with the majority facing due south on the Bixkoepfel hillside, with a small detached portion looking towards the east.

Schlossberg is solidly Riesling country, with coarse and sandy-clay soil creating a rich surface with a wide diversity of mineral components like potassium, magnesium, fluorine or phosphorus. Combined with low water retention, this is the sort of high-altitude neighborhood in which Riesling can likewise reach great heights.

Domaine Weinbach, 2021 Alsace Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling ($99)
Wild herb and dried citrus zest drive a sensationally crisp wine with hints of mandarin orange, persimmon, jasmine and chamomile. The fruit is ripe and the acidity is vibrant, leading to an intense, long finish flecked with salty minerality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2021 Domaine Weinbach ‘Cuvée Ste Catherine’ Alsace Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling ($135)
From 60-70-year old vines on the mid-slope of Schlossberg. It was fermented over a full year and stopped at around 5 grams/liter of residual sweetness—rich for the domaine, but with sufficient acidity to carry it off. The nose is ripe with orange blossom and pineapple; the palate shows a bit of smoky reduction framed by the crystallinity of the granitic terroir.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Albert Mann

According to David Schildknecht of The Wine Advocate, “The Barthelmé brothers, Jacky and Maurice, have maintained their position near the forefront of Alsace viticulture by farming a range of relatively far-flung and outstanding vineyards as well as offering excellent value virtually throughout their range.”

The fifty acres for which the Barthelmé are responsible are highly regarded throughout Alsace. Headquartered in the village of Wettolsheim near Colmar, the spirit animal of the operation is Albert Mann, Maurice’s father-in-law. He was the first to hit upon the idea of using modern production tools without neglecting the constraints of the land and his philosophy was to make wine using the elements of the soil, without the help of fertilizers. The Barthelmé brothers have embraced his beliefs and are now at the forefront of organic/biodynamic Alsace producers. The goal of the estate is to produce wine that is in harmony with nature: “Wine is the memory of the grape and is capable of transmitting the taste of the earth.’

The brothers began practicing biodynamic viticulture in 1997 in three of their Grand Cru vineyards, receiving certification from Biodyvin in 2015. This labor-intensive technique is intended to give the wine the purest reflection of its terroir and own identity. Says Maurice, “In ploughing the vineyards, we encourage the roots to descend to a maximum depth to capture the beneficial mineral elements from degraded rock below. Our holdings are divided up into a myriad of distinct plots, thus ensuring that each wine is reflective of their precise origins, while remaining as complex and multi-faceted as possible.”

The domain owns vines in five separate Grand Cru sites.

Domaine Albert Mann, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($30)
An entry-level Albert Mann by name alone: This 100% Riesling is exhuberant with Mandarin orange, Meyer lemon, Angostura bitters and a firm backbone of minerality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2019 Domaine Albert Mann Alsace Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling ($88)
A substantial, acid-ripped Riesling that, while exuding youth, is built for the ages. The nose is marked by hawthorn and lime blossom, while on the palate, citrus peel is underlined by a minerality that beautifully expresses the granitic terroir.
 

 

 

 


Domaine Meyer-Fonné

Félix Meyer is one of those winemakers whom you sense is a star that will grow ever brighter with every vintage. He is the third generation in his family to be making wine since his grandfather founded Meyer-Fonné in the late 19th century and since taking over 1992, Félix has modernized equipment, developed export sales and is currently driving the family’s holdings deeply into the best vineyards of Alsace.

According to Félix, “Our vineyard covers eighteen hectares and seven communes, where the nature of the soils, the relief of the land and levels of exposure are varied. The soils range from poor quality filtering alluvial deposits (Colmar) to rich, deep clayey sandstone land in Riquewihr, with granite in between in Katzenthal, while the relief ranges from the flats of Colmar to the steeply sloping Katzenthal. The degrees of exposure are also very varied, ranging from the cooler western part which is suitable for the earlier vine types to the south-facing part which is very warm and sunny. This great variety of terroirs constitutes a distinctiveness and a richness in relation to many of the French vineyards.”

A stickler for detail with an overriding sense of responsibility, both his family and the earth, he makes his home in Katzenthal, known for its distinctive granite soils. With this remarkable terroir beneath his feet, Meyer has developed a knack for mixing wine from various of his parcels into complex and balanced cuvées. Among his cellar tricks is leaving wine to age on lees in large, older foudres, as was once the tradition in Alsace. All of Meyer’s bottlings are characterized by their stunning aromatics and signature backbone of minerality and electric acidity.

Domaine Meyer-Fonné ‘Vignoble de Katzenthal’, 2017 Alsace Riesling ($27)
From the granite slopes surrounding the Meyer family’s property in Katzenthal, this wine is a blend of grapes planted in 1985 and 2009 in granitic soil with mica and calcareous marl. It is deep, spicy and resinous, and might easily be confused for a Cru wine from the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg: “Fine with Crystalline Structure. Demarcates Between Minerality and Salinity.”

Located in an amphitheater open exclusively to the south, Wineck-Schlossberg is a smallish Grand Cru (67 acres), wonderfully protected from the wind by three hills. The parcels are delimited so that each one of them benefits most favorably from the microclimate; the steep slope is mostly exposed due south with south-east and south-west variations along the small valleys surrounding the Wineck Castle, the feudal ruins that sits in the middle of the vineyard.

The soil is composed of two-mica granite from Turckheim, very weathered, deep ‘grus’—granite weathered down to individual minerals; subsoil belongs to the crystalline-base foundation of the Vosges mountain range.

Riesling does extremely well on these slopes and ripens early here. And why not? It adores granite and likes pebbly and light soils; its rooting system easily ventures deeply into the grus, and can be found from the summit to the mid-slope of the hills.

Domaine Meyer-Fonné, 2016 Alsace Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg Riesling ($45)
The crumbly binary mica granite known as ‘de Turckheim’ in the Wineck-Schlossberg Grand Cru gives this wine a pure and delicate with (as suits the winemaker’s name) Meyer lemon and fresh tarragon lacing white peach, grated ginger, lemon curd and stone notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Grand Cru Schoenenberg: “Intense Sensation, Which Precedes a Minerality Evoking Warm Pebbles.”

Voltaire owned several acres. The great Swiss mapmaker Merian, mentions it in 1663: “Schoenenbourg is where the most noble wine of this country is produced …”

The locality, with a surface area of 130 acres, sits on terrains of Keuper marl, dolomite rock and gypsum, rich in fertilizing elements which have good water retention. They are covered with fine Quaternary-period layers of Vosges and Muschelkalk sandstone silt-pebbles, resulting in structured, full-bodied wines backed by robust exuberance, with gypsum expressed in smoky, match-stick and flint notes.

Schoenenbourg Grand Cru wines age wonderfully, developing intense and rich aromas. The terroir microclimate is particularly suited for the prestigious Vendanges Tardives and Sélections de Grains Nobles. Schoenenbourg requires patience, and it’s really only after aging for five to seven years that it fully expresses its potential, although it is easily able to preserve it’s mature splendor for years afterward.

Domaine Meyer-Fonné, 2017 Alsace Grand Cru Schoenenberg Riesling ($45)
Only ten cases of Meyer-Fonné Schoenenbourg are imported into the United States every year, so consider the availability a remarkable opportunity. Much like the clay and ‘marne verte de keuper’ marl terroir itself, this wine is weighty stuff. Grapes were gently pressed in a pneumatic press for 4-10 hours, then the must was left for 24-36 hours to allow the heavy lees to settle. It was fermented over three months in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks (with limited use of oak barrels), racked two weeks after fermentation has completed and kept on the fine lees until a September bottling. It is a precise, dry, mineral-focused Riesling combining ripe apple flavors with bright citrus and shows subtle chalk on the finish.

 

 


Domaine Albert Boxler

The list of storybook names in Alsace does not always include Domaine Albert Boxler (who produces a scant 5200 cases of wine per year) but it should; there are few serious critics who would take exception to the statement that Jean Boxler, Albert Boxler’s grandson, is responsible for producing some of the most complex and terroir-driven white wines not only in Alsace, but in the world. In an equal blend of nature and nurture, Boxler’s portfolio contains a remarkable roster of racy, intensely structured and very long-lived wines.

The Boxler family’s 32-acre holding is centered around the ancient village of Niedermorschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, dominated by the imposing granite hillside Grand Cru, Sommerberg. “At the conclusion of World War II, my grandfather Albert returned to Niedermorschwihr from Montana, where he had been busy enjoying the natural gifts of Big Sky country.” Jean says. “He was in time to harvest the 1946 crop. He became the first generation to bottle the family’s production himself and commercialize it under a family label—in fact, the wine still wears a label drawn by our cousin. My father Jean-Marc continued the tradition for several decades until passing the baton to me in 1996.”

Jean vinifies micro-parcels separately, de-classifying some into his Réserve wines and producing multiple bottlings of Sommerberg from the different lieux-dits depending on the vintage. Sommerberg Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are the specialties of the domain, while Boxler also produces one of Alsace’s best Crémants (and Edelzwicker), an incredible Gewürztraminer grown in limestone, and some of the most hauntingly pure Vendanges Tardives and SGNs in all of Alsace. If that weren’t enough, the Boxlers also own land in the powerful Grand Cru Brand, the ultimate counterpart to their holdings in Sommerberg.

“The Sommerberg hillside terminates in my driveway,” Jean laughs, “making it easy to basically live in the vineyards and ensure exceptionally healthy fruit year after year. After harvest, our wines are vinified and aged in old foudres in a small cellar underneath the family home until bottling. Not much has changed over the centuries because not much has needed to.”

Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($73)
Sourced from the Dudenstein lieu-dit within Sommerberg (because the other two parcels normally added to the Réserve were too low in acidity), the 2020 Riesling Réserve is bright and aromatic with ripe peach and mango intertwined with soft smoke. Slightly piquant in the style of the best Alsace Rieslings, the finish is structured and dense, yet maintains its signature cleanliness on the palate.

 

 

 

 


Grand Cru Sommerberg: “Delicate Freshness, Which Evolves Toward Roasted and Exotic Notes.”

Sommerberg stretches over the foot of the Trois-Épis mountain to the south of Katzenthal and to the north of Niedermorschwihr. Located on a 45° angle hill oriented directly to the south, Sommerberg covers 69 acres overlooking Niedermorschwihr. The slopes rise steadily to 1310 ft. and so are amongst the steepest in Alsace, rivaling even the severity of the volcanic hillside of the Rangen Grand Cru.

The Sommerberg hillside is composed of mica-rich granite with the upper layers in an advanced state of decomposition. As a result, the topsoils contain a high proportion of granitic sand, rich in minerals not found in most other Alsace vineyards. It also receives only about 21 inches of rain a year, making it among the driest sites in the northern half of Frane.

Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling ($99)
The granitic soils of Sommerberg are further shaped within the wine by allowing the élevage time to develop in well-seasoned foudres. The wine, with the potential to become even better over the years, shows perfectly ripe fruit rife with the beautifully flinty and herbal terroir notes of the super-steep vineyard.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘Eckberg’ Riesling ($117)
From 45-year-old vines in a steep mid-slope lieu-dit in the geographic center of the Sommerberg, the Eckberg parcel is vinified separately by Boxler only in exceptional years; 2020 certainly qualifies. The wine boasts vivacious acidity combined with saline undertones that set off apricot, citrus, wet rock, honeycomb and freshly-cut jasmine.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Mann

After stints in Côte-Rôtie and Champagne, where he learned the value of biodynamics from Bertrand Gautherot, Sébastien Mann has been making wine at the family estate since 2009, taking over from his father. He says, “I think that thanks to biodynamics, we have succeeded in bringing an additional element to our vines. My father made wines essentially linked to the earth; I have a much more holistic style, linked to the stars.”

Domaine Mann’s 32 acres were founded upon the theory that in order to produce terroir-driven wines with aging potential, legally allowable yields have to be cut in half. From the outset, the estate produced 35 cuvées, one for each parcel.

“The style of the wines changed very quickly when I came on board,” Sébastien maintains. “95% of the wines we produce now are dry. It was not an easy task, since Alsace is one of the warmest and driest regions in France. Grapes can easily ripen with a high sugar level. I don’t think my father could imagine that with biodynamics we would be able to achieve such a great evolution, achieving phenolic maturity while making dry wines.”

Grand Cru Pfersigberg: “Sensation of Density Without Loosing Minerality .”

Straddling the communes of Eguisheim and Wettolsheim, Pfersigberg is one of four Grand Crus which run in a line just to the south-west of Colmar. The third-largest Alsace Grand Cru, at 184 acres, it also is a land of gentle slopes, unlike the nearly unmanageable vineyards of Zinnkoepfle and Rangen.

Pfersigberg soils are predominantly composed of limestone and marlstone, with a higher quantity of clay than is usual this far away from the river basin. This clay reduces the drainage efficiency of the local soils. The Cru is noted for the concentration of Gewürztraminer, although Pfersigberg wines may also be produced from Riesling, Pinot Gris or Muscat.

Domaine Mann, 2018 Alsace Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg ($69)
A near perfect representation of Alsace Grand Cru Riesling with a number of years under its belt showing the evolution of tertiary flavors (honey, beeswax and petroleum) while retaining gentle reminders of the freshness of youth—pear, plum, white peach, infused with gentle notes of chamomile.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Schoffit

To call a man a ‘pioneer’ who cultivates wine country that has been famous for eight hundred years (vintage 1228 was described as ‘extremely good; so hot you could fry an egg in the sand’) may seem a stretch, but the spirit that impelled Bernard Schoffit to purchase 16 acres around Clos St. Théobold belongs to a frontiersman. Previously abandoned because the slopes were deemed too steep to work, the vines in question (in Rangen de Thann AOP) grew on a plot of soil that has been likened to Montrachet and Chambertin. And from this forbidding site, relying on extremely low yields, he is making extraordinary wine with each cépage.

In addition, Schoffit raises grapes in the lieu-dit Harth, an alluvial terroir close to the commercial area of Hussen in northern Colmar, and three acres in the granitic Grand Cru Sommerberg to the south of Katzenthal and to the north of Niedermorschwihr. In Harth, Schoffit tends 80 years old Chasselas vines, of which a few percent are replanted each year as an illustration of Schoffit’s long-term perspective.

Based near Colmar, Bernard took the winery over from his father Robert and his son Alexandre is now a co-owner. Demonstrating the estate’s commitment to sustainable agriculture Alexandre maintains, “All our vineyards are organic, and we also started to work biodynamic a few years ago. In order to show more transparency, I decided in 2016 to launch the official certification process, but for administrative reasons it was stretched over different years. The first wines officially labeled fully organic will be some cuvées of the 2019 vintage (Harth Riesling and Harth Pinot Gris for example), and the rest of the classic range will follow in the 2020 vintage. For the Grand Crus, it will be from the 2022 vintage. The official certification for biodynamic is in progress and we are still waiting to know from when we will be able to use it on the labels. But for now, Domaine Schoffit gives the assurance that we are both bio and biodynamic!”

Grand Cru Rangen: “Mineralized Volcanic Soils Produce Aromas Marked by Smokiness.”

Volcanic upheaval is the name of the game at inconspicuous hillside adjacent to the town of Thann, making it a geological anomaly in the Vosges Mountains. But there even more bang for that buck—while ploughing Rangen acres that had been abandoned for multiple generations, Olivier Humbrecht (Domaine Zind-Humbrecht) uncovered three unexploded bombs from World War II. Dotting the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains and is notable for more than just its terroir: Rangen is the only site in Alsace to be classified as Grand Cru in its entirety, and is home to the highly respected Clos Saint Urbain and Clos Saint Théobald vineyards.

In Rangen, the altitude climbs higher (1100 to 1525 feet) and the slopes have an average gradient of 60%. It is predominantly planted to Pinot Gris, the variety that accounts for 57% of vines; Riesling represents about a third of the site while Gewürztraminer is 10%. Despite its southerly aspect, Rangen is late-ripening, mainly due to its higher rainfall and cool winds which also make the site more prone to botrytis and its attendant Sélection de Grains Nobles and/or Vendanges Tardives sweet wines.

The late-ripening terroir also increases power (and often alcohol) in the wines. Wines from Rangen are often described as having a ‘smoky’ taste.

Domaine Schoffit, 2019 Alsace Grand Cru Rangen ‘Clos Saint-Théobald’ Riesling ($60)
Clos Saint-Théobald sits to the east of Clos Saint Urbain and is, like Urbain, a monopole owned entirely by Domaine Schoffit. One wine pro described it this way: “The vineyards of Clos Saint-Théobald are aggressively steep and the footing is treacherous with loose rocks and dry, sandy soils slide constantly, threatening to send you tumbling down the hillside. The Schoffits will warn you: If you fall, don’t damage the grapes.”

The wine shows the bite of fresh pineapple with smoke and floral notes. But it is the minerality that stands out and gives the wine an intensely salty finale.

 

 


Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Aligned with the same winemaking traditions it first established in 1691, Zusslin is located in the southern part of Alsace in Orschwir on the Bollenberg, Clos Liebenberg (a Zusslin monopole) and the hillsides of Pfingstberg Grand Cru.

Early to the Crémant game, the domain was also an early practitioner of biodynamics, having introduced this philosophy to viticulture in 1997. Says Valentin (whose name, perhaps, makes this an iconic sparkling wine for February 14): “We plant cover crops to encourage good insects and microbial life for the soil, encourage bees to pollinate the beneficial plants and we grow trees to attract the birds that eat the harmful bugs. This way of thinking carries through everything we do in the fields and in the winery.”

In addition, his wife Marie insists that their lifestyle goes far beyond a philosophy, and as evidence, she indicates the wall on the property that bears names of 13 generations of Zusslin winegrowers: “We represent not only history, but the circle of life.”

‘Lieu-dit’ Identity: Geographical Detail

As in Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, an Alsatian lieu-dit is a specific part of a vineyard or region recognized for a unique topographic or historical specificity. They are often a smaller part of a named Climat, and are generally used as a microscope that accentuates a particular quality. When you see a lieu-dit mentioned on a wine label (and can distinguish it from a proprietary winemaker name for the bottling), it has genuine meaning.

However, unlike Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, in Alsace Grand Cru AOPs, the listing of the lieu-dit is mandatory and the Grand Cru designation may be used only if a lieu-dit is also indicated. (Lieux-dits may also be indicated on regular Alsace AOP wines, but is not mandatory.)

Domaine Valentin Zusslin, 2018 Alsace ‘Bollenberg Neuberg’ Riesling ($51)
Bollenberg is one such lieu-dit. Located on a hill near Rouffach and the Domaine Valentin Zusslin’s home village of Orschwir, it’s one of the driest places in France with only about 15 inches of annual rainfall. The vineyard sits on 23 million year old limestone, lending a salty base to the wines produced here. 2018 Riesling is a complex and evolving example of the Zusslin’s imperative of terroir-reflection. It shows star-anise, lemongrass, and emerging notes of butter and honey.

 

 


Domaine Valentin Zusslin, 2016 Alsace ‘Clos Liebenberg’ Monopole Riesling ($51)
Clos Liebenberg represents a group of plots of almost ten acres atop the Pfingstberg hill. A Zusslin monopole, Clos Liebenberg is a southeast-facing vineyard surrounded by wild hedges, stone walls and forest, the highest property owned by the winery. Surrounding forest helps to retain moisture and keeps temperatures lower than nearby terroirs. Clos Liebenberg wines display a tension and a elegance typical of cool sandstone terroirs; the 2016 is, at this point, wonderfully mature with intense iodine and chalk, a slightly reductive nose that expresses Mirabelle peach and quince, with a long saline finish.

 

 


Domaine Christophe Lindenlaub

It’s no surprise that Christophe Lindenlaub has gone the winemaking route: His family has been growing grapes in the northern Alsace town of Dorlisheim for over 200 years. But he brings a slightly new approach to the sorting table: Over the past decade, he has worked diligently to convert the family’s 30 acres into organic viticulture and the cellar to the production of zero-additive wines.

“Our vineyards consist mainly of clay and limestone soil, some with a sandstone sub-layer, with vines mostly aged between 30 and 60 years,” Christophe explains. “My focus has been to harness the true potential of our sites by moving away from chemical intervention in the vineyard and cellar, and I use primarily stainless steel for élevage as a means to further define the freshness and precision in the wines.”

Christophe Lindenlaub ‘En Équilibre’, 2021 Alsace Riesling ($35)
100% Riesling from vines grown at 700 feet in a south/southeast-facing vineyard. The grapes are hand-harvested, cold soaked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks, then aged sur-lie for eight months in stainless steel. It is bottled without sulfur, and without fining or filtration, giving it a smoky richness.

The wine shows a clean spine of acidity highlighted by flavors of green apple, Anjou pears, lemon peel and green tea, brightened by a hint of petrol.

 

 

 


Clime and Riesling: Mountainous Northern Catalunya Makes The Grape Its Own

At first pass, Spain and Riesling may seem like unlikely bedfellows; under the tyranny of a warming planet, Spain has undergone a series of recent, record-breaking heat waves, with temperatures into triple digits by May—green kryptonite to a variety that thrives best in the cool summers of northern Europe.

Elevation is proving to be the saving grace, and the most delicious irony in changing weather patterns is that regions once considered too cold for vines are warming to the point that they can produce quality wines. In Catalunya, vineyards at the foothills of the Pyrenees are being planted at altitudes up to 4,000 feet. Twenty-five years ago, this would have been impossible, but formerly inhospitable areas are beginning to slip into vineyard Goldilocks Zones.

Castell d’Encus, Talarn, Lleida

At higher elevations, peak temperatures are not necessarily much cooler, but intense heat lasts for shorter periods and nighttime temperatures are colder than at lower altitudes. This increased diurnal shift (the temperature swing over the course of a day) helps grapes to ripen at a more even pace, over a longer period of time, than where temperatures remain relatively stable.

Pushing altitudes creates a unique set of challenges, of course: Soils, particularly on slopes, are generally poorer, water is scarcer and unexpected weather events like frosts and hailstorms are always a threat. But struggle is Riesling’s trumpet call, and in Catalunya, this unlikely new union is producing wines where the quality is as high as the altitude.

 

Castell d’Encus
Higher Grounds

“Our philosophy is that of an organic vineyard, without herbicides, insecticides or fungicides that are not included in organic practices.” – Raül Bobet

Raül Bobet

Above all, Castell d’Encus is an experiment, and one that has been approached with all the precision and insight of a research scientist. The goal, from the outset, was to discover the methodology behind reflective, subtle, non-explosive and low-alcohol wines with aging potential at an altitude where even the old-time winemakers claimed that grapes could not thrive.

But the grand experiment has a more ecological edge, and according to Bobet, “It was vital to us to pair an excellence in mountain winemaking with environmental protection. We want to channel new actions to increase biodiversity and create awareness as an example that everyone can get involved in taking care of the Earth. From our situation, we carry out actions in order to reduce the human impact on the land, the vineyard and the environment, without using herbicides or fungicides. We take advantage of the force of gravity and geothermal energy for certain tasks in the winery.”

Castell d’Encus ‘Ekam’, 2020 Costers-del-Segre ‘Pallars Jussà’ ($45)
85% Riesling and 15% Albariño sourced from a cool, southwest-facing plot in the Pallars Jussà comarca, located between the Lleida Plain and the Pyrenees. Ekam means ‘divine unity’ in Sanskrit and offers an intense bouquet of kiwi, grapefruit, peach and ripe green apple and light kerosene notes which will develop and mature with age. Fermented in 2500 and 5000-liter tanks at low temperature, it is ‘trocken’, or dry. 2250 cases made.

 

 

 


Notebook …

Sugar: The Word That Cannot Speak Its Name

In Alsace, sugar has bedeviled winemakers and consumers for eons, although new regulations might be a little sugar to help the medicine go down.

According to Marc Hugel (Hugel & Fils): “When I first started in the trade 35 years ago, most of our wines contained three grams of sugar per liter or less. Now, most have more. I think there is correlation between our move toward sweet wines and low prices.”

Although dry wines is the purported goal of winemakers to meet a demand for food wine, warmer weather patterns have pushed ripeness, forcing producers to leave residual sugar to keep alcohol levels in check. Extra sugar can also hide; four grams per liter can seem bone dry with high enough acid levels. Another factor is that as wine ages, it tastes less sweet on the palate, a phenomenon that even Marc Hugel can’t explain. “Sometimes I leave residual sugar to keep alcohol moderate, but upon release six or seven years later, it tastes dry.”

The Grand Crus were defined at a time when getting to ripeness was problematic, so they are generally the sites that achieve greatest ripeness, often south-facing hillsides. An outdated regulation requires potential alcohol to reach 10% at harvest, but today it’s more of a problem to restrain alcohol. Even the most committed producers admit that it’s mostly impossible to get completely dry Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer from Grand Cru sites: “Pinot Gris ripens very rapidly. Sometimes you say you harvest in the morning and it’s dry, you harvest in the afternoon and it’s sweet,” says Étienne Sipp (Louis Sipp). Marc Hugel adds, “Gewürztraminer will reach 13-14% when Riesling gets to 11%. It’s better to have 14% alcohol and 7 g/l sugar than 15% alcohol and bone dry.” Céline Meyer (Domaine Josmeyer) says, “If Gewürztraminer is completely dry it’s not agreeable because it’s too bitter.”

Now, a standardized sweetness guide will be required on all labels of AOP Alsace beginning with wines produced from the 2021 harvest. One option is for labels to contain a visual scale with sweetness levels and an arrow clearly pointing to one specific level. Slightly more information is available in the second option, a designation on each bottle of either Dry (sec): sugar content does not exceed 4 g/l; Medium-Dry (demi-sec): sugar content 4 g/l and 12 g/l; Mellow (moelleux): sugar content of the wine is between 12 g/l and 45 g/l and Sweet (doux): sugar content of the wine exceeds 45 g/l.

 

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Posted on 2024.06.27 in France, Wine-Aid Packages, Alsace, Costers del Segre  |  Read more...

 

Bloomsday Commemoration (June 16) – Jurassic Odyssey: Chablis Elevates Terroir to Its Most Precise Expression. Exploring Grand Crus and Premier Crus Over Three Vintages, in Three Sampling Packages.

2024 marks the hundred-and-second 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 Joyce 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.


Chablis: Burgundy’s Golden Gate

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 47 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.

Elaborating Chardonnay: Back to The Origins

All Chablis is Chardonnay, but not all Chardonnay is Chablis. That deceptively simple fact belies the multiple faces that this variety adopts in the relatively small confines of Burgundy—incarnations based equally on terroir and tradition. The Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais tend to produce balanced, approachable, subtly-oaked Chardonnays that Americans may know best from the 1990s craze of wines from the village of Pouilly-Fuissé.

The Côte d’Or, on the other hand, turbo-charges the concept by producing oaky, complex and long-lived wine. Only the most intensely-flavored fruit can stand up to this style of oak-barrel maturation, but the resulting wines are at the pinnacle of the world’s great whites.

The third style features in this week’s packages, where a cooler climate and northerly latitude barely allows the grapes to ripen, thus ensuring that Chablis makes a leaner style with higher acidity that does not lend itself to intensive oak-aging. As such, these wines are pristine, rarely seeing new oak at all, and only occasionally seeing milder, seasoned barrels to soften some of the electricity.

Chardonnay in Chablis: Acid Trip

Acidity in wine must be handled with the same circumspection as in the laboratory—make a wrong move and you end up with a wincing sting; in either case, it’s a fail. Balance is the key in all things wine, but clearly, wines from more northerly regions face a bigger struggle in balancing ripeness with sharpness, and Chardonnay is the poster-child varietal for ‘If life hands you lemons, make Chablis.’

The line between refreshing tension and acid-reflux may be fine, and one reason that aging Chablis has always been a requirement in Cru versions is that time softens acids and allows the briny, saline-driven savoriness to blossom. Nearly all Chablis undergoes a secondary malolactic fermentation prior to bottling, a technique that transforms malic acid into softer lactic acid and provides a more stable environment. Most Premier and Grand Cru Chablis also see time in neutral oak to further the mellowing process before facing the catwalk of consumption.

Jurassic Odyssey: What Lies Beneath

“The vineyards of Chablis have a single religion,” writes Jacques Fanet in his book ‘Les Terroirs du Vin’: “Kimmeridgian.”

Kimmeridgian limestone marl – courtesy of The Source

Soil in Chablis; big chunks of Portlandian limestone on top with soft Kimmeridian limestone marls underneath.

In the middle of the 18th century, a French geologist working in the south of England identified and named two distinct types of limestone from the Jurassic Era; Portlandian, which he found in Dorset with a layer of dark marl just below it, subsequently named after the nearby village of Kimmeridge. These strata also run across the Channel and through the north of France, where they become a part of the ‘Paris Basin’ and play an indispensable role in creating the soils. A slow geological tilting of this basin allowed the Seine, Aube, Yonne, and Loire rivers to cut through the rising ridges and form an archipelago of wine areas in Champagne, the Loire Valley and ultimately, Burgundy.

Chablis remains the biggest island in the Kimmeridgian chain and it is home to some of the finest Chardonnay terroirs found on earth. The defined region ‘Chablis’ was recognized in 1923 by the Wine Tribunals as requiring a sub-soil of Kimmeridgian limestone while wine grown anywhere else in Chablis would be classed Petit Chablis. The Grand Cru mid-slope in Chablis maps almost perfectly to the Kimmeridgian outcrop, with the soft, carbonate-rich mud rock capped by Portlandian Barrios limestone and supported by Calcares à Astarte, yet another type of limestone.

And now for the interesting part: As vital as Kimmeridgian soil is to the top Cru classifications in Chablis, it is not the primary consideration. Geologic conditions identical to those experienced by the Grand Cru slope extend both northeast and southwest, but the vineyards on those sites are classed as Premier Crus. As a matter of fact, the reference to Kimmeridgian limestone in the definition of Chablis was discontinued in 1976, a tacit admission that slope and orientation are of even greater importance to wine quality.


Rive-Droite vs. Rive-Gauche Premier Crus: Six-Bottle Package Sampler ($339)

When wine people become involved in right bank/left bank imbroglios, they’re usually arguing Bordeaux. Not today, where the banks are along a different river and within a different appellation and most assuredly showcase a different style: Chablis.

The River Serein runs through the Chablis valley, bisecting a series of Crus and Climats. As a quick refresher course, a Burgundian climat is a specific area that, due to superior physical and weather patterns, has been identified and named for producing wine with unique organoleptic qualities—appearance, aromas, taste and mouthfeel. ‘Climat’ is often used interchangeably with ‘lieu-dit,’ so for the record, here is the difference: A lieu-dit is a plot of land whose name refers to something precise in either historical or topographical terms; it is purely geographical and corresponds to a clearly defined area. A Climat can refer to a lieu-dit, to just a part of a lieu-dit, or even several lieux-dits grouped together. It is a statement of quality first, geography second.

Chablis, split down the spine by the Serein, contains 47 Climats that can be mentioned on the wine label; 40 of them produce Chablis Premier Cru and the remaining 7 make Chablis Grand Cru. The Chablis Grand Cru Climats are all found on the right bank of the River Serein, while Chablis Premier Cru Climats are found on both sides of the river, with 24 on the left bank and 16 on the right.

Decide for yourself in this week’s six-bottle package which of Louis Michel’s interpretations you prefer; we’ll offer a profile of each wine individually, of course, but as a general rule, wines from the left bank are more mineral and fresh while wines from the right bank are rounder and opulent.

The 2022 Vintage: Superb Harvest with Outstanding Lasting Potential

The worst reviews of Chablis 2022 call it ‘very good’, and from there, depending on producer, the sky is the limit. On top of being the sunniest summer on record, the preceding winter was mild and dry, with under five inches of precipitation over four months. Budbreak started at the end of March, and perhaps 30% were lost by a subsequent frost. But a second generation of buds proved productive, leading to good yields. June, July and August were hot and generally dry, though with enough rain to stave off drought. Maturity was early and quick, and harvest began toward the end of August and lasted into the second week of September.

Louis Michel & Fils
“Chablis des Amateurs”

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.

Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel

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.

Rive Droite Premier Crus

Not only is longevity is a hallmark of palate sensation in Chablis: more than half of the Climats entitled to wear the ‘Premier Cru’ label had their present-day names by 1429. Chablis Premier Cru represents about 14% of Chablis production, with sites scattered on either side of the Serein River and covering around 2000 acres. As in Bordeaux, where the location of the vineyard compared to the Dordogne and the Garonne determines the style and quality of the wine, the case is similar in Chablis. Again, as in Bordeaux, this is the result of soil, topography and exposure to the sun: On the right bank, close to the village, many of the well-known Premiers Crus share similar geology, exposition and characteristics with the Grand Crus.

Marc-Emmanuel Cyrot of Domaine Millet describes wine from the right bank this way: “The right bank provides complex, well-balanced wines, with a maximum of minerality and vivacity. These vines face south or southwest, getting warmer afternoon sun, making more opulent, fruit-driven wines, that can be steely and powerful.”

•1• Louis Michel & Fils, 2022 Chablis Premier Cru Vaulorent ($60)
The Fourchaume vineyard, massive in both size and reputation, extends for nearly two miles … with the exception of one enclave which is found in the Grand Cru valley. Vaulorent comes from this enclave. The wine is fermented on native yeast in stainless steel tanks over at least 12 months with as little handling as possible, then bottled with slight fining.

The wine shows an arresting, gunflint-scented bouquet with focus and delineation that emphasizes shellfish, mineral reduction and floral, white-fleshed fruit flavors.

 

 


•2• Louis Michel & Fils, 2022 Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre ($60)
Set slightly back from the Grand Crus vineyards, Montée de Tonnèrre abuts Blanchot, where its moderate slopes, exposed to the west, welcome the sun in the afternoon. The grapes are protected from the east winds and ripen without much effort while the shallow soil, underlain with Kimmeridgean marly limestone, reveals veins of blue clay to gives the wines both minerality and energy.

The wine is intense and powerful, with nutty, honeyed accents, and in this outstanding vintage from an outstanding producer, it is every bit as good as many a Grand Cru.

 

 


Rive Gauche Premier Crus

There’s no genuine ‘left and right,’ of course: The so-called lefties lie on the Serein’s west side, where vineyards tend to face southeast and get morning sunlight. This results in lighter, more restrained wines with floral and green apple notes.

•3• Louis Michel & Fils, 2022 Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons ($54)
Vaillons is one of the largest Premier Cru vineyards in Chablis, sitting southwest of the town itself. As in all left bank climats, it gets an abundance of early sunlight to make fresh, slightly floral wines with intense minerality. The Climats Séchets and Les Lys can use Vaillons on their labels but often opt for their own names.

The lieux-dits of Chatains, Roncières, Mélinots—tiny parcels in the Valvan valley—are blended during vinification to produce aromas of toasted hazelnuts mingle with sweet white peach, soft spice notes and mild tobacco.

 

 


•4• 2022 Louis Michel & Fils Chablis, 2022 Premier Cru Montmains ($51)
Montmains lies southeast of Vaillons, separated only by a small valley. It has particularly stony soils, making a lighter, leaner style of wine. Butteaux and Les Forêts lie within Montmains and are often seen on labels. Louis Michel’s four Montmain vineyards extend along a clay slope known for being sensitive to spring frosts, requiring extra care in the field.

The wine shows ripe, candied flavors with notes of saline behind spicy floral aromas, toasted almonds, candied lemon and apple and a lively, chalky finish.

 

 


•5• Louis Michel & Fils, 2022 Chablis Premier Cru Forêts ($60)
Forêts is one of the three Climats included under the ‘flag-bearing’ Montmains, often overlooked. Typical of the left bank, Forêts’ south and east exposure provides exceptional sunlight, and the grapes can take all the time they need to ripen. Rather flat at the bottom, Forêts turns into a steep slope towards the top of the hill. Like many climats of Chablis, Forêts has a marly Kimmeridgian subsoil.

The wine displays classic gunflint along with earthier elements of fern and forest bracken mixed with ripe apricot, cocoa and pepper.

 

 


•6• Louis Michel & Fils, 2022 Chablis Premier Cru Butteaux ($54)
Proudly perched on a hilltop (or ‘butte’—hence, the name), Butteaux is a high-altitude climat that overlooks its neighbor Forêts. Butteaux south-facing slopes where too ventilation provides the grapes with the perfect terroir for easy ripening. In the subsoil, the Kimmeridgian marls are quite shallow and characterize in places by large blocks, while on the surface, white and blue clay with large stones facilitate drainage.

The wine originates in four parcels spread over the Butteaux slopes, the most distant acres from the Louis Michel winery.  It shows caramelized baked-apple aromas with toasted nuts, wet stone made more complex by the earthy spice of forest undergrowth.

 

 


Right-Bank vs. Left-Bank Premier Crus Sampler: Two-Bottle Package ($145)

This is a winner-take-all package, two bottles, one each of right bank vs. left bank, both vying for palate supremacy.

The 2019 Vintage: Concentration and Complexity

A relatively mild winter, with few prolonged cold spells, got a bit antsy in the early spring with a couple of serious frosts, which cut into yields quite drastically. By the end of June, the temperatures reversed themselves in intensity and a long heat wave moved in. July was cooler, with August heating up again; overall the balance led to grapes in which acids concentrated along with sugars at the end of the season. The low-yielding 2019 vintage Chablis in Chablis produced wines that are simultaneously atypically concentrated but very incisive and structured, although aromatically, quite classically Chablisienne.

Domaine Billaud-Simon

Credit Napoléon’s loss at Waterloo for the establishment of Domaine Billaud-Simon; Charles Louis Noël Billaud returned home from the war to plant vines on the family holdings in Chablis. A century later, the estate expanded with the marriage of his descendent Jean Billaud to Renée Simon.

Winemaker Olivier Bailly, Domaine Billaud-Simon

Owned by Erwan Faiveley since 2014, the 42-acre site produces wine from four Grand Cru vineyards, including single-acre plots in Les Clos and Les Preuses. The Domaine also owns four Premier Cru vineyards, including Montée de Tonnèrre, Mont-de-Milieu, Fourchaume and Vaillons.

 1  Domaine Billaud-Simon, 2019 Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre ($81)
Montée de Tonnerre is a hundred acre umbrella vineyard sitting on a southwestern spur, with Blanchot and the Grand Cru sites just over the Bréchain valley to the north, and Mont de Milieu on the next hillside south. Billaud-Simon has plots within the three sectors of Montée de Tonnerre with the oldest plots in the Pied d’Aloup climat which are nearly 90 years old. Olivier Bailly normally only uses tank for this climat but this year has 6% in barrel.

The wine is mineral and intense, with nutty, honeyed characters beginning to emerge with age.

 

 


 2  Domaine Billaud-Simon, 2019 Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons ($64)
The 318 acre Vaillons vineyard is made up of eight, smaller climats, all Premier Crus in their own right, but also able to be blended together to produce, or just simply labeled Vaillons. Billaud-Simon’s Vaillons is a blend of six of them.

The wine shows electrifying acidity that has begun to mature with the sweet peach and green apple notes.

 

 

 

 


Left-Bank Premier Crus: Six-Bottle Sampler Package ($399)

This package focuses on the left bank alone (with one exception, L’Homme Mort), with all the unique site-specific glories contained within.

The 2020 Vintage: An Early Yet Classic Vintage

In 2020, the problem for Chablis was not reining in grape acid, but retaining it. Like much of Western Europe, Chablis experienced the warmest 12 months on record, warmer even than 2003. This meant an early start to the 2020 growing season and, while there were outbreaks of frost, the damage remained minor, particularly when compared to 2021.

According to Domaine Long-Depaquit’s Matthieu Mangenot, “2020 was a very easy vintage to manage. With a 40% reduction in rainfall and over 300 hours more sunshine than average, there were next to no disease issues in the vineyard. The dry weather even retarded weed outbreaks and this meant little to no spraying was required.”

One of the surprises that has emerged from persistent summer heatwaves brought about by a changing climate is a somewhat unique ability for Chardonnay to adapt without losing its sense of place. 2020 is a case in point, according to Mangenot: “Despite the heat and dryness, the alcohol levels are normal, the acidity levels are exceptional and the overall balance on the palate means the wines are representative of an excellent vintage for the region.”

Domaine Laroche

As one of Chablis’ most respected holders of Grand Cru vineyard land, Domaine Laroche is in many ways synonymous with the appellation. Shored up by a thousand years of history, the first Laroche to own land was Jean Victor who bought his first parcels of vines in the village of Maligny, a short distance from the village of Chablis. Passed along from father to son, the Laroche vineyards continued to expand gradually and by the mid-1960s totaled fifteen acres. In 1967, when Henri Laroche inherited this land, he had witnessed three years in the 1950s and 1960s in which there was no production at all; his vines yielded very little, and it was impossible to make a living from vine-growing alone—local farmers had turned to cereal crops and animal rearing to survive. Winemaking became something of a Chablisean afterthought, and so plagued was the region with spring frosts that Henri managed to save a section using rudimentary techniques such as burning straw and old tires.

Grégory Viennois, Domaine Laroche

With his son Michel joining the team, Laroche expanded into the best Crus in Chablis, for a current total of 222 acres, including 15 acres of Grand Crus, 52 acres of Premier Crus, and 156 acres of Chablis AOP. Only Chardonnay grapes are grown, of course, and the best vineyards are planted primarily on the region’s unique Kimmeridgian soil—a mixture of clay, chalk and fossilized oyster shells, renowned for producing crisp, mineral-driven, precise and elegant wines prized throughout the world.

1•  Domaine Laroche, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru L’Homme Mort ($82)
L’Homme Mort is one of the most northerly Premier Crus in Chablis, located within the larger Fourchaume Premier Cru (Right Bank) just south of the town of Maligny. Wines made in this oddly-named (The Dead Man), 17-acre Climat share the softer, more rounded characters that are synonymous with Fourchaume while also possessing a distinctive zingy minerality.

The nose shows classic notes of minerals, citrus, brioche and stone fruits with a textured and balanced mouthfeel with saline tinges and bracing acidity.

 

 


•2• Domaine Laroche, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru Les Beauroys ($69)
Les Beauroys lies on the left bank of the Serein, and produces wines that are most often described as ‘charming’. It is among the earliest vineyards in Chablis to ripen and is known for being delightfully accessible in its youth.

The wine shows a delicate nose that combines anise with candied orange peel and leads to a pithy palate driven by citrus and salinity.

 

 

 


•3• Domaine Laroche, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet ($72)
The Côte de Lechet vineyard lies just above the small village of Milly on the western side of the river. A southeasterly aspect gives it exposure to the less intense morning sun, in contrast to the more sunset-facing slopes on the other side of the valley. This encourages slower ripening in an already cool climate, and ensures that the acidity that typifies the region’s wines flourishes.

Elegant and floral with spicy undertones, the wine demonstrates a profound minerality that lingers through to the finish and adds complexity to the gentle acidity.

 

 


Domaine Long-Depaquit
Enviable Holdings

At more than 150 acres, Long-Depaquit is one of the largest domains in Chablis, renowned and respected not only for its sprawling terroir but for a commitment to low-intervention, organic farming. In 2014, upon completion of a new winery, the estate has focused on quality improvements centered on earth-friendly approach; in 2019, the property was awarded the highest Level 3 Haute Valeur Environmentale certification.

Beaune-based négociant Albert Bichot has managed Long-Depaquit since 1967, and the current winemaker, Matthieu Mangenot, joined in 2007 after dual training as an agronomist and an oenologist in South Africa, Lebanon, Bordeaux and especially, Mâconnais  and Beaujolais. He has spearheaded the domain’s comprehensive approach to authenticity and sustainability.

Matthieu Mangenot, Domaine Long-Depaquit

Long-Depaquit produces around 180,000 bottles of Chablis each year, and like most large estates in the region, the lion’s share is village wine fermented and aged in 100% stainless-steel tanks. Wine from their six Premier Cru sites and six Grand Cru sites wines see a small percentage fermented and aged in barrels between two and five years old; Grand Cru Les Clos typically sees a higher percentage (25 to 35%) of oak.

Their flagship cuvée is Grand Cru La Moutonne, drawn from a 5.8 acre monopole vineyard that straddles two Grand Crus (95% in Vaudésir and 5% in Les Preuses) in a steep amphitheater capable of producing some of the richest, most complex wines in Chablis.

•4• Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru Les Lys ($64)
Les Lys is a Premier Cru climat within the larger, umbrella Premier Cru vineyard of Vaillons. While contiguous with the latter, Les Lys has a unique aspect, bordering Séchets but facing northeast over the town of Chablis towards the Chablis Grand Cru vineyards; the rest of the Vaillons climats face generally southeast.

A textbook example of how brightly Premier Cru Chablis can shine; grilled pineapple and yellow apple on the nose with a palate of salt-preserved lemon, crushed hazelnut and fruitcake spices.

 

 


•5• Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons ($55)
Found in a valley to the southwest of Chablis on the western side of the Serein River, a southeasterly face and high-quality Kimmeridgian soils below meld to make this large climat a sought-after location. At 318 acres, the Vaillons vineyard is made up of eight, smaller Climats, all Premier Crus in their own right, one is Les Vaillons.

Tensile and incisive, the wine displays classic aromas of crisp green apple, citrus zest, white flowers and oyster shell with racy acids and loads of depth at the core.

 

 


•6• Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Premier Cru Les Beugnons ($59)
Les Beugnons is located at the western extremity of the Valvan valley on the left bank of the Serein River, where the favorable exposure is very favorable for creating expressive and charming wines.

The wine shows rich aromatics of pear peel, slight smoke, yeasty lees and candied lemon following through with a juicy palate reminisicent of ripe Mirabelle and a touch of honey.

 

 

 


Keeping Potential: The Grand Crus – Six-Bottle Sampler Package ($724)

In Chablis, the Grand Cru appellation comprises seven climats—Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir. It is mainly produced in the village of Chablis, but also at Fyé and Poinchy. At elevations between around 300 to 800 feet, and exclusively on the right bank of the Serein, Grand Cru vineyards enjoy the ideal combination of sunshine, exposure and soil, formed in the Upper Jurassic era, 150 million years ago, are composed of limestone and marl with Exogyra virgula, tiny oyster fossils.

The jewel in the crown of Chablis, this is a wine for keeping, for 10 to 15 years, sometimes more. One the nose, the mineral aromas of flint are intense, giving way to linden, nuts, a hint of honey and almond. In an ideal vintage, the balance is perfect between liveliness and body, encapsulating the charm of an inimitable and authentic wine.

 1  Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Bougros ($108)
Bougros is located at the northwestern edge of the Grand Cru hillside; it covers nearly 39 acres of slop on the Right Bank of the Serein and tends to produce wines that are rounded and less austere in youth than those from the other Grand Cru climats.

Silky and expressive, the wine offers brioche, toast and ripe green apple with petrol, dried peach and shellfish nuances.
 

 


 2  Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses ($117)
The 29-acre Preuses slopes continue from those of the Bougros climat at the bottom of the hill, becoming increasingly steep toward the top. At the northern end of the Grand Cru slope, the Kimmeridgian soils and a sunny aspect make for an excellent terroir, but the wines tend to be rich and elegant, if less aromatic than other Chablis Grand Cru wines.

The wine is steely and rich with a gunflint character behind softer floral tones and hazelnut notes.

 

 


 3  Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Les Vaudésirs ($135)
At the heart of the Grand Cru area, the Vallée des Vaudésirs is a perfect example of the geology and history of Chablis, bearing witness to the erosion that followed the last ice age. Long-Depaquit’s vineyard is more than forty years old, planted in the ‘endroit des Vaudésirs’, where, beneath steady sunshine, Kimmeridgian outcrops are the most numerous.

The wine’s bouquet is redolent of citrus fruit and delicate lily and chamomile notes while the palate offers green apple notes, hint of white peach and a hint of coastal herbs.

 

 


 4  Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos ($135)
At 65 acres, Les Clos is by far the biggest Grand Cru climat in Chablis. Its southwest exposure, offering perfect sun, combines with a relatively steep slope to provide optimal ripening conditions. Because of its size, Les Clos’ soil is multi-faceted: towards the top, stones and limestone become more prevalent, whereas towards the bottom, on the contrary, it gets deeper with more clay.

 

 

 

 


The wine blends two plots and reflects the specificity—the bouquet combines floral notes from the higher of the two plots with almond and hazelnut notes from the mid-slope vineyard.

 5  Domaine Long-Depaquit, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots ($117)
Blanchots provides a unique soil composition, combining typical Chablis Kimmeridgian limestone with ammonites and a layer of white clay. Blanchots takes its name from this white clay, which retains moisture and protects the vines from hydric stress.

The wine shows a floral nose dominated by lilies and white roses; the ample mouth is generous with citrus and stone fruit, leading to mineral fish with hints of flint and graphite.

 

 


 6  Louis Michel & Fils, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles ($112)
At under 25 acres, Grenouilles is the smallest of the Chablis Grand Cru appellations. Because it lies next to the Serein, a beneficial moderating effect comes into play and when combined with its exceptional south and southwest exposure guarantees an excellent opportunity for long, slow ripening. The poor and stony clay soil sits on a bed of Kimmeridgian limestone and marl, adding to the superior draining of this low-lying climat.

The wine shows notes of fresh meadow flowers, white stone fruit and kiwi with a chalky and slightly saline backbone.

 

 


Chablis’ Pinnacle

Gilding the Lily 101: We know what to do when life hands us lemons, but when the vineyard hands us Grand Cru crop, the options are interesting. Technical director Grégory Viennois explains the steps involved in creating the Domaine Laroche pinnacle, ‘La Réserve de l’Obédience’:

Laroche owns 11 acres, or just over one-third of Grand Cru Les Blanchots, and maintains that is their favorite plot of earth in Burgundy. This is in part due to Blanchots’ unique soil composition, combining typical Chablis Kimmeridgian limestone with ammonites and a layer of white clay. Blanchots takes its name from this white clay which retains moisture and protects the vines from hydric stress.

With eastern and southern exposures on a steep slope where elevations range from 500 to700 feet, these old (70+ years) Blanchots vines ripen with a matchless minerality and aromatic richness due to soil, orientation and intensive viticulture: More than 30 people are dedicated to caring for Domaine Laroche vineyards, with each person responsible for only one plot. Domaine Laroche practices ‘lutte raisonnée, or ‘reasoned protection’, using chemical intervention only when required. The vineyard is plowed to aerate the soil and encourage development of the root system, as well as the organic life in the soil; vines are pruned and trained by hand, with a strict pruning and debudding regimen.

“The grapes are hand-harvested in Grand Cru Les Blanchots and collected in small crates to go to the winery, where they are sorted. Then, each parcel is kept apart in order to do the entire winemaking process separately. Blending of the best wines from Grand Cru Les Blanchots takes place at the beginning of the summer every year—samples are taken from each vat, cask and barrel and are then tasted and selected for their delicacy and silky outlines. The aim is to express in the glass the typicity of the terroir as faithfully as possible. We try to get nearer to the perfect wine if it exists: refined, intense, mineral and capable of maturing for at least twenty years.”

Domaine Laroche ‘La Réserve de l’Obédience’, 2020 Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots ($234)
Up front, notes of elderflower, vanilla and apple aromas and flavors converge. There is gobs of mid-palate richness above vivid acidity. Within a few years, look for the emergence of exotic aromas of petrol, quinine and pear scents to precede the appealing and concentrated minerality.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Laroche ‘La Réserve de l’Obédience’, 2019 Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchot ($193)
Regardless of vintage La Réserve de l’Obédience is a delicate and subtle wine that showcases a markedly different style in its youth than in its maturity. Up to five years, the white fruit aromas, the mineral-driven finish and the extraordinary freshness remain front and center. With a few more cellar years, the inherent richness of terroir is expressed at its best and the soft spices and acacia honey notes, still supported by the freshness, emerge to center stage.

 

 


A note …

About Joyce and Bloom

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.

“Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky… O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum…. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.”

James Joyce, ‘Ulysses’

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Posted on 2024.06.15 in Chablis, France, Wine-Aid Packages  |  Read more...

 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Finds Its Balance: Two Domaines Show The Craveable Attraction of The Wine’s Combined Intellectual and Hedonistic Elements

Gifts Fit For A Great Father’s Day

Fathers come in all stripes and strengths, of course, and so no wine can serve as a ‘one-size-fits-all.’  But if ever a wine comes close, it’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Or, for our purposes, Châteauneuf-du-Papa.

Like any patriarch worth his salt, Châteauneuf matures with grace but is approachable at any age. Like any good mentor, Châteauneuf is a wealth of insight into a number of subjects—in this case, the cornucopia of grapes that make up its essence. Châteauneuf is a bit rustic and at times, may be rough around the edges, but in general, overdelivers on a promise of exuberance while retaining a brooding core—qualities that intermingle as the years go by. Like the role that a father may play in our lives and imaginations, Châteauneuf-du-Pape remains a timeless example of muscle and guidance from which there is always something new to learn.


‘Age before beauty’ is an expression that champions wisdom over looks, and it’s a concept with a lot of meaning in a discussion about terroir. The primacy of place—the philosophy under which a wine should reflect its specific acre of origin—is one of the fundamental Grails of winemaking, especially in France. And this is a quality which a given wine may not express in the bloom of youth, when fruit and façade remain in the forefront. It takes years in the bottle before a wine’s primary flavors have settled; only then do the earthy underpinnings emerge.

If recognizing terroir is your intent, then age before beauty is your shibboleth.

But this is less important if the celebration you’re after is wine’s hedonistic side, and this is why youthful wines are so primally enjoyable.

Not many appellations produce wines that excel in equal measure regardless of age, albeit for different reasons. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of them, and this week, we’ll take a look at the product of two outstanding CdP estates, Chapelle St. Théodoric and Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils. Both domains produce wines that are sensuous gems in their youth and powerhouses of sophistication in their mature years. And as vital to an understanding this mystical metamorphosis, we’ll look at some details of the vintages that produced them.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape 
Peak Expression Of The Wines Of Southern Rhône

Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s Rhône valley has traditionally been viewed as a rustic cousin to the elegant and long-lived persistence of great wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Châteauneuf is age-worthy, certainly, but there is exuberance in the fresh fruit flavors that dominate the style that makes it decadently drinkable virtually from the day it is released. It was said to make up for in pleasure what it lacked in sophistication.

With more than 8,000 acres under vine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the largest appellation in the Rhône, producing only two wines, red Châteauneuf-du-Pape, representing 94% of the appellation’s output, and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Of the eight red varietals planted, Grenache is the most dominant variety by far, taking up 80% of vineyard space, followed by Syrah, Mourvèdre and tiny quantities of Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse and Terret Noir.

Untrained Old Vines Grenache Bush in Galets Roulés

Grès Rouge, Sand and Safre

Terroir varies and can only be viewed as a generalization; limestone soil predominates in the western part of Châteauneuf-du-Pape; sand and clay soil covered with large stones on the plateaus. Mixed sand, red and grey clay, and limestone can be found in the northern part of the appellation, less stony soil alternating with marl in the east and shallow sand and clay soil on a well-drained layer of gravel in the south. The large pebbles contribute to the quality of the vines and grapes by storing heat during the day and holding water.

Like the soils, there is an enormous diversity of winemaking styles among CdP producers, creating both appealing, easy-to-understand fruit-filled wines as well as wines of greater intensity and sophistication.



Chapelle St. Théodoric

Chapelle St. Theodoric is the domain that isn’t a domain, at least not in the usual sense of the word. Since 2009, grapes come from two lieux-dits in the CdP have been vinified under the direction of American wine importer Peter Weygandt while the vines are cultivated by the team from nearby Domaine de Cristia.

Baptiste Grangeon (right) Domaine de Cristia

The lieux-dits Guigasse and Pignan were chosen for their sandy soil and nearly stone-free surfaces. Both parcels contain only Grenache vines at an average age of 50 years with some over one hundred. The vineyards are biodynamic and the yields are low—around 14 hectoliter/hactare. Compare this to the legally permitted 35 hl/ha and the average for the appellation at 32 hl/ha.

The genuine ‘Chapelle Saint-Theodoric’ is an old chapel situated by the parking place in the center of Chateauneuf-du-Pape at Avenue Baron le Roy. The chapel is one of the oldest historical buildings in town. It’s used for expositions and has no relation to the vineyard.

Peter Weygandt has been an importer of French wines since 1987 and has gained an international reputation for the quality of his selections and his portfolio of top boutique French, Italian, German, Austrian, Georgian, Spanish and Portuguese wines.

A Clear Sense Of Place

From its inception in 2009, the mission of Chapelle St. Théodoric has been to display the pure and expressive complexities of Grenache as interpreted by winemaker Baptiste Grangeon. The experiment is to see how, with identical treatment of the fruit, the subtleties of two proximate terroirs can be identified. La Guigasse is planted on sandy soil and the Le Grand Pin parcel on higher soil at the top of Pignan, literally adjoining the vines of Château Rayas.

Chapelle St. Théodoric

The vinification is traditional whole-cluster such as that employed by Jacques Reynaud at Château Rayas, Laurent Charvin, Henri Bonneau. The two parcels are vinified, aged and bottled separately, but with the exact same treatment, and the challenge is to find what terroir differences one might find in pure sand, between vines less than 200 meters apart.

The difference between the wines from these two parcels is clear and distinct: La Guigasse is the slightly richer of the two while Le Grand Pin, perhaps because the sand is nearly pure white, perhaps the higher elevation or due to some other factor yet to be determined, makes a wine that is lower in alcohol, more perfumed and finer.


The 2021 Vintage: Year Of The Vigneron

Precocious is a dangerously loaded word, whether it is used to describe a child or a vintage. It generally means that things are happening out of sequence, earlier than is usual. 2021 was such a season in Southern Rhône, and the rumbles of discontent began the year before. Autumn, 2020, was mild and damp and the season remained so until a short cold spell happened in January ʼ21. In February, Saharan winds brought unseasonable highs that reached into the mid-60s°F, advancing the vegetative cycle throughout the vineyards. Vines, if not growers, love these unseasonable warm spells, leaving them easy targets for one of a vigneron’s worst nightmares— spring frost. Sure enough, during the first week of April, a catastrophic frost lambasted the vineyards and across Châteauneuf-du-Pape, reports indicated potential losses of up to 80%. The double-whammy of frost is not only seen in the damage it inflicts at the time, but that it leaves grapes weaker and more susceptible to fungal disease in the weeks to come. To aggravate this latter risk, the rest of the spring was humid, with heavy rains accompanied by cooler temperatures and less than average sunshine, raising fears of coulure (uneven ripening).

In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the catastrophe saw a 70% reduction in yield in a few spots, but overall, the impact was ameliorated by the proximity of the Rhône River. Even so, in 2021, the skill of the winemaker came to the forefront. Every vigneron in the appellation had issues to deal with and questions to consider, including the use of whole bunch (weighing its aromatic benefits against the risk of underripe stalks), the amount of oak to use, how strictly to sort grapes, and in particular, how much to alter their blend in the varieties or vineyard plots they could draw from.

It is fair to say that the best domains did splendidly, creating wines in classical CdP style, meaning, possessed of exceptional elegance and incipient freshness, fruit not bogged down by alcohol. Managed well, cooler temperatures permit a long, slow ripening period and produce grapes with full phenolic ripeness but lower sugars. This leaves alcohol levels blissfully low compared to recent averages, and a welcome change to some of the headier wines of some vintages.

Chapelle St. Théodoric ‘La Guigasse’, 2021 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($99)
Possibly the wine of the vintage; on the nose, intriguing spices waft over herbal and savory notes to provide a compelling counterpoint to cherry and raspberry perfume, while the full-bodied palate is concentrated and sappy, finishing bright, fresh and long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapelle St. Théodoric ‘Le Grand Pin’, 2021 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($108)
From 35-year-old Grenache vines in Pignan, this is a floral, ethereal expression of Chateauneuf-du-Pape marked by scents of roses, lavender, strawberry compote and hints of pine resin. The 2021 Châteauneuf Du Pape Le Grand Pin offers a slightly fresher style compared to the La Guigasse, which always tends to be a slightly more powerful wine.

 

 

 

 


The 2016 Vintage: Benchmark Vintage, Truly Rare

The 2016 vintage in Rhône was dominated by warm days and cool nights; ideal conditions for growing top-shelf Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah. Preceded by a relatively mild winter, the spring was dry and cool and summer exploded with plenty of sunshine and heat. September rains replenished the reservoirs enough to allow each variety to reach full phenolic ripeness. Harvest began in mid-September and, depending on vine age and terroir, some growers continued grape picking until early October. Châteauneuf red wines from this vintage are creamy and concentrated with silken texture and brilliant fruity richness, while the whites, full-bodied richness, remarkable complexity and sensational freshness.

Chapelle St. Théodoric ‘La Guigasse’, 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($99)
Dark-berry brawniness overlies the raspberry compote, with earth and minerals on the nose and fleshing out in the mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 2015 Vintage: Rich, Ripe And Full Of Powerful Fruit

Although the Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s 2015 vintage was slightly challenging for the slow-ripening Grenache, talented winemakers rose to the occasion by producing wines with superior tannins and ripe fruit if slightly higher levels of alcohol.

In early September, the entire Rhône Valley saw heavy rain, which favored the vines planted on free-draining sand and resulted in fresh fruit-forward flavors and expressive minerality. The best domains produced age-worthy wines with complex flavors and sumptuous textures.

Chapelle St. Théodoric ‘La Guigasse’, 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($83)
Highly expressive, mineral-accented aromas of baked cherry and incense that pick up toasted earth element over a cherry core. Precise in the mouth with intense red fruit liqueur, a touch of acidity and a generally autumnal nature.
 

 

 

 


The 2010 Vintage: Terroir-Driven, For Aging

The summation of 2010 vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is ‘low volumes but very high quality.’ Although climate specialists described the climate of this vintage as cooler and wetter than usual, there was shatter (floral abortion) on the Grenache during springtime and hydric deficiency in July and August, explaining the low yield.

2010 was a season of extremes; CdP experienced 55 days during which temperatures were higher than 86°F along with 46 days of frost (compared to a more standard 30). From October 2009 to September 2010, rainfall was 23% higher than average, but lower than average in July and August. During the agricultural year, total rainfall was close to 31 inches (average is 25 inches) making this period one of the wettest in terms of rainfall over the past 139 years.

As in 2009, this vintage’s quality and characteristics are due to the climatic conditions: a rainy springtime and a dry summer enabled the grapes to be healthy and build an interesting tannic structure. During harvesting, sorting was minimal and everything proceeded smoothly, apart from a storm at the beginning of September, leading to superb results across the board.

Chapelle St. Théodoric ‘La Guigasse’, 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($169)
100% Grenache, not destemmed, and aged and fermented in older demi-muids. It shows the typical Guigasse herbal streak, especially menthol and pine needles, and the richness of Guigasse fruit that one can expect. Full-bodied blackberry, violets and chocolate all emerge with air contact, so let it breathe; it is nicely balanced with a great mid-palate and a long, silky finish.

 

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils

The quintessence of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the conviction that the sum of parts is greater than the whole. As such, Domaine Pierre Usseglio maintains 60 acres of vines spread out across the entire region, maintaining property in 17 individual lieux-dits with one plot set aside for the production of white wine. The red-wine holdings are planted to 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault; vine age ranges from 30 to 75 years of age. A sizeable portion of the CdP vineyard sits within famous La Crau, ancient confluence of the Durance and Rhône rivers; the rest climbs the hill across the road from the actual ruins of the castle from which Châteauneuf-du-Pape gets its name.

Grégory Usseglio

The estate also owns 15 acres of Côtes-du-Rhône, another 15 in Lirac and another five acres that it bottles as ‘Vin de France.’

Says Jean-Pierre: “We work our vineyard manually, and with respect throughout the seasons. We let nature express itself freely. It is thanks to this difference in terroir that we can offer complex, silky and balanced wines; our vines are spread across multiple sites where the soils range from limestone and rolled pebbles, to sand and sandstone flecked with clay. These are the voices of the earth and we are committed to listening.”

Fierce But Lovable, The ‘Proverbial’ Brooding Wine

Spencer Tracy, James Dean, Ron Perlman to name but a few: Brooding, fierce actors who are also lovable.

In the world of wine, no example is more striking than that of Usseglio’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the proverbial brooder that also offers a candy store’s worth of fruity delights—cherry to blueberry to deep rich raspberry. The earthiness, quite literally, grounds these flavors, but it is an easy wine to cozy up to, especially when young. The evolution that slowly supplants the chewy fruit with Provençal herbs and leathery forest tones offers a neophyte drinker some time to develop a passion for such tertiary flavors. That gives CdP a great profile, depending on how long it has been allowed to brood, as if Ron Perman played both the Beauty and the Beast.


The 2020 Vintage: Supple Fruit, Accessible Tannins, Stands Out For Immediate Drinkability

Following the extreme heat of 2019, growers were hoping for plenty of rainfall over the winter to replenish aquafers, and they got it. An astonishing 15-20 inches of rain fell between October and December, and a mild early spring saw vine buds break nearly two weeks earlier than in 2019. The summer was hot, but not unreasonably so; rains were moderate and frequent enough to prevent heat stress. Harvest for white grapes began in the third week of August, and the 2020 vintage is extremely strong in this category, however small (only 5% of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s total). It is characterized by elegance and beauty, with a nose marked by citrus and stone fruit and a palate that combines balanced acidity with a prolonged finish.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Tradition’, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($45)
Tradition 2020 is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 5% each Mourvèdre and Cinsaut; it shows an aromatic bouquet of red berries, plum with subtle of dried herbs. The palate echoes the nose, with an enduring and balanced finish suggesting impression of structure and finesse.

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Tradition’, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($128) 1.5 Liter
Same wine as above in magnum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Usseglio, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($67)
2.5 acres is used in the production of this blend of 70% Clairette, 25% Grenache Blanc and 5% Bourboulenc, fermented and matured in a mix of vessels including stainless steel, barrels and amphorae. Fragrant and youthful with a wonderful salinity below flavors of white peach, pears and apples with some pronounced flintiness; the wine has excellent grip and bold extract with multiple layers that continue through a long finish.

 

 

 


Réserve des 2 Frères

Domaine Pierre Usseglio Réserve des Deux Frères made its debut with the 2000 vintage. The name was changed to ‘Réserve des 2 Frères’ in 2007 along with a label redesign.

The wine is made from the estate’s oldest Grenache vines. Previously made with 10% Syrah, this only rarely the case today, although a small percent of Syrah went into vintage 2020. Grapes are usually completely destemmed; the level of stem retention depends on the vintage.

Slightly more modern in style than the tradition-heavy ‘grandfather’ wine ‘Mon Aïeul,’ ‘Two Brothers’ is aged in a combination of 10% new demi-muids and 10% new oak barrels along with a combination of one- or two-year-old French oak barrels, where it ages for 12-20 months. Domaine Pierre Usseglio Reserve des 2 Frères is not made every year, and when it is, only 500 cases are produced.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Réserve des 2 Frères’, 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($179)
A splash of Syrah in the 2020 bottling leads to a fresh and focused wine, balanced, toasty and loaded with raspberry liqueur, crème de cassis, graphite, smoke meats, licorice that combines power and elegance.
 

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Réserve des Deux Frères’, 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($207)
Grenache (per se) is not always the best candidate for aging; it possesses a naturally low concentration of phenolics, which contribute to its pale color and lack of extract. With a propensity for oxidation, Grenache-based wines tend to be made for early consumption.

But in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, under the hands of skillful viticulture and planted in marginal soil with restricted yields, all that changes. The vibrant fruit of young Grenache mellows and spice box tones come out with leather, and in this wine, tar, black olives and tobacco.

 

 


The 2019 Vintage: Grenache Excels As Harvest Lingered Into Early October, An Elite Vintage

As a variety, Grenache enjoyed a marvelous renaissance in 2019, and for this sun, heat and wind-loving variety, 2019 provided ideal conditions throughout Southern Rhône. An abundant fruit set was followed by three heat waves interspersed with rain and more moderate temperatures, and as a result, there was no stress for the vines and ripening never shut down. Growers were able to pick at optimum ripeness and nothing much had to be done in the vineyard. The fruit’s health carried through to the cellar, with many growers reporting that their vinification were fast and efficient.

Cuvée de Mon Aïeul

Usseglio’s flagship wine produced from highly selective plots that narrow lieux-dits down still further. Only Grenache vines between 75 and 90 years old are used, originating from La Crau, Bédines and Serres. No destemming is done and fermentation lasts for 30-40 days.

Having made its debut in 1998, and translating to ‘My Grandfather’, Mon Aïeul has been made from 100% Grenache since 2020; previously, 5% Syrah was used in the blend. Half of each year’s blend wine is aged for 12 months in used demi-muids while the remained is aged in concrete tanks. Production averages 650 cases per year.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Cuvée de Mon Aïeul’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($124)
Full-bodied, lusciously textured and round, showing upfront notes of Asian spice, cocoa, and mint with a palate loaded with blackberry, kirsch and raspberry behind a granite-shale minerality.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Not For You!

From the oldest vines of the estate, Usseglio’s quirkily named ‘Not For You!’ originates in the estates oldest Grenache vineyards and is not made every vintage. It was made for the first time in 2007, from the Les Serres lieu-dit when Thierry Usseglio and consulting winemaker Baptiste Olivier ended up with one particular barrique that contained over 17% alcohol after the fermentation finished. According to Usseglio, Josh Raynolds tasted it and then wrote down in his notes that this wine, because of its sheer concentration and intensity, is “Not for You!”. Usseglio loved this statement and spontaneously decided to name this particular cuvée following Josh’s comment. Since, it has been bottled in 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2019.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Not For You!’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($399)
Despite the obvious wood influence, floral elements shine through cedary notes, adding nuance to the flavors of black cherries, plums and milk chocolate. The wine is full-bodied and supple, with crisp acids over notes of bark and earth. There is a ‘long-haul’ expectation here that is poised to deliver great depth and sophistication down the road. Currently, the wine is opulent, but with the stem and bark notes still prominent, with a bitter chocolate-covered cherry notes.

 

 

 


Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Not For You!’, 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($890) 1.5 Liter
The same wine in magnum, which will take longer to age to perfection, but will deliver more, as the slower maturation process is almost certain to be a plus—it usually is.

 

 

 

 

 

 


No 18

Talk about a cornucopia! The titular ‘18’ is a reference to the number of grape varieties that go into this co-fermented field blend; at around 5% each, this covers the whole of the ‘allowables’—Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Terret, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Picpoul Noir, Picpoul Blanc, Picpoul Gris, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Picardan.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘No 18’, 2021 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($159)
The grapes are harvested manually, 100% destemmed, and vatting is followed by thermo-regulation that lasts between 20 to 30 days. The wine is then aged in amphorae for a year prior to bottling. It shows young-vine strawberry, cherry and white flowers with pretty, silky tannins to shore it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 


LIRAC

A SHORT HOP ACROSS THE RIVER FROM CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

On the western side of the Rhône River, about six miles north of Avignon, Lirac is a typically Mediterranean wine growing cru, with low yearly rainfall and high sunshine levels (especially during summer and into the harvest months). The famous Mistral wind from the north plays a significant cooling role, and blows, on average, 180 days a year.

Lirac terroir is largely built around elevation; vineyards on the upper terraces of the appellation are made up of red clay and the large pebbles known as ‘terrasses villafranchiennes’, with the soil of the lower vineyards gradually showing more loess and/or clay-limestone. All 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.”

Blend makeup in Lirac wines is reasonably focused, with regulations favoring the classic Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (and a bit of Cinsault) blend. Grenache must make up a minimum of 40% of the blend while Syrah and Mourvedre must be over or equal to 25%.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, 2020 Lirac ($33)
Usseglio & Fils’ 2020 Lirac is produced with 50% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah from vines averaging 40 years old. A sweet core of blackberry is enshrouded in notes of black plum, black currant, aniseed and traces of new leather which lend promise to a cellar-worthy gem.

 

 

 

 

 


Famille Pierre Usseglio ‘L’Unique’

Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

The purpose of inventing the ‘Vin de France’ appellation was purely commercial; for a country whose wines are so inextricably linked to place of origin, a category that allows grapes from anywhere in the country to be used may seem like an odd innovation. But, faced with competition from elsewhere, it allowed winemakers to create a lower-priced product that could compete with New World wines. And, as is the case in a nation of vignerons, VdF wines are (for the most part) of self-evident quality, with many approachable, easy-to-understand prizewinners.

Famille Pierre Usseglio ‘L’Unique’ , 2020 Vin de France Southern-Rhône ($25)
The spirit of VdF is loud and clear from the playful label on this blend of Grenache (40%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (20%), Marselan (15%) and Merlot (5%) macerated for 25 days followed by six months aging in concrete before release. The wine is ripe and fruit-forward with fresh red berries, spring flowers and light spices. Very much an everyday wine that proves the Usseglio clan’s deft hand with all strata of winemaking, even in the level playing field that VdF encourages.

 

 


Notebook …

Traditional and Modern Styles

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 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; however, many of the wines in this offer were destemmed prior to crushing and were fermented on native yeast rather than cultured yeast.

Vineyard Management and Grape Varieties

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, Court 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, Picpoul Noir, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc. 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.

Climate And Weather

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.

 

 

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Posted on 2024.06.10 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, France, Wine-Aid Packages, Southern Rhone  |  Read more...

 

The Enduring Beauty Of Beaujolais Great As Well As Joyous Wines. Distinctive Enough To Bear More Specific Appellations And Individual Parcels. Domaine de Vernus, A New Face, In Five Crus. 7-Bottle Pack For $264

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on mortality as well as to celebrate the rebirth of warmth and leisure time. No wine captures the complexity emotions better than Beaujolais, which can be light and lyrical as well as profound and nuanced. These are ideal wines with which to celebrate Memorial Day, the gateway to summer and the joy of transcendence.


In literature, a character study is a critical examination of a single character to understand not only their significance to a given narrative, but as a way of better understanding the work as a whole. This week, we will undertake a similar focus on a lone, but phenomenal Beaujolais winemaker (Guillaume Rouget of Domaine de Vernus) in order to see how a single talented vigneron can exemplify the moods, the changes, the whims of a region where a diverse terroir remains committed to a single grape variety, Gamay.

Rouget certainly comes with a proper pedigree: The grand-nephew of Henri Jayer (the Burgundian innovator known for making some of the most critically acclaimed and expensive Pinot Noirs in the world), he was trained to the vine from childhood, first by his father Emmanuel Rouget and then at the École des Vins de Bourgogne in Beaune. When he decided to join forces with Domaine de Vernus owner Frédéric Jametton in Régnié-Durette, it was to pursue a shared goal: Producing elegant, racy wines that display the intense fruitiness of Gamay along with age-worthy structure that can develop complexity over time alongside the best Burgundies. Guillaume is in charge of the entire production chain, from cultivation through all phases of vinification, ultimately taking part in the marketing of the estate’s wines. A true renaissance man in Beaujolais, his handling of various top Crus may not be ‘Beaujolais Nouveau,’ but it is very much the new Beaujolais.

Guillaume Rouget with father Emmanuel Rouget, Domaine Emmanuel Rouget in Vosne-Romanée and Flagey-Echézeaux

The Beaujolais Vineyard: Diversity Of Soils, Rocks and Minerals

The biggest error a Beaujolais neophyte makes is an expectation one-dimensional predictability. To be fair, the mistake easy to make based on the region’s reliance on Gamay, a grape that elsewhere may produce simple and often mediocre wine. In Beaujolais’ terroir, however, it thrives.

In fact, this terroir is so complex that it nearly defies description. But Inter-Beaujolais certainly tried: Between 2009 and 2018, they commissioned a colossal field study to establish a detailed cartography of the vineyards and to create a geological snapshot of the exceptional richness found throughout Beaujolais’s 12 appellations.

Beaujolais may not be geographically extensive, but geologically, it’s a different story. The region bears witness to 500 million years of complex interaction between the eastern edge of the Massif Central and the Alpine phenomenon of the Tertiary period, leaving one of the richest and most complex geologies in France. Over 300 distinct soil types have been identified. Fortunately, Gamay—the mainstay grape, accounting for 97% of plantings—flourishes throughout these myriad terroirs. In the south, the soil may be laden with clay, and sometimes chalk; the landscape is characterized by rolling hills. The north hosts sandy soils that are often granitic in origin. This is the starting point wherein each appellation, and indeed, each lieu-dit draws its individual character. There are ten crus, the top red wine regions of Beaujolais, all of them located in the hillier areas to the north, which offer freer-draining soils and better exposure, thereby helping the grapes to mature more fully.

A Palette Of Ten Crus

Beaujolais is a painter’s dream, a patchwork of undulating hills and bucolic villages. It is also unique in that relatively inexpensive land has allowed a number of dynamic new wine producers to enter the business. In the flatter south, easy-drinking wines are generally made using technique known as carbonic maceration, an anaerobic form of closed-tank fermentation that imparts specific, recognizable flavors (notably, bubblegum and Concord grape). Often sold under the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations, such wines tend to be simple, high in acid and low in tannin, and are ideal for the local bistro fare. Beaujolais’ suppler wines generally come from the north, where the granite hills are filled with rich clay and limestone. These wines are age-worthy, and show much more complexity and depth. The top of Beaujolais’ classification pyramid is found in the north, especially in the appellations known as ‘Cru Beaujolais’: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour.

Each are distinct wines with definable characteristics and individual histories; what they have in common beyond Beaujolais real estate is that they are the pinnacle of Gamay’s glory in the world of wine.

2020 Vintage: Rhône Scents. Bathed in Sunshine.

If you can invent a way to leave Covid out of the equation, 2020 was a wonderful vintage throughout Beaujolais. The growing season was warm, beginning with a mild and frost-free spring, which developed into a hot and sunny summer without hail or disease. Drought—a persistent worry in the region—was not as severe as it might have been, and by harvest-time the majority of grapes were in fine health with rich, ripe, almost Rhône-like flavors—raspberries, sour cherry and even garrigue; the local scrub comprised of bay, lavender, rosemary and juniper.

2020 yields were low due to the dry conditions, leading to concentrated juice and wines able to benefit from time in the cellar.

But, of course, you can’t leave Covid out of the equation: Normally the release of Beaujolais Nouveau occurs on the third Thursday of every November, but in pandemic-dominated 2020 the normal celebrations could not take place and producers instead chose to release the wines a week earlier than usual in order to allow for international shipping times.


 

Domaine de Vernus

After thirty years in the prosaic world of insurance brokerage, Frédéric Jametton decided to do a rakehell turn on his career trajectory. Having been born in Dijon and lived in Burgundy for most of his life, he had become an enlightened wine lover. Not only that, but his former profession brought him in contact with numerous members of the wine community. At the end of 2017, he realized that the time had come to invest in a winery.

Winemaker Guillaume Rouget, left, with Frédéric Jametton, Domaine de Vernus

Initially looking in the south, he became convinced that the heat spikes brought on by climate change made it unsuitable for the long haul, and after discussions with his friend Guillaume Rouget of Flagey-Echézeaux (who agreed to come on board as a consultant) Jametton settled on Beaujolais, piecing together 30 acres of vineyards acquired from 12 different proprietors, and is gradually restructuring parcels with a view to more sustainable farming.

Thanks in part to Rouget’s influence, vinification is conducted along Burgundian lines, with around 70% of the grapes destemmed and fermented in stainless steel with élevage in recently-used, high-quality Burgundy barrels for some 10–11 months. Jametton’s ultimate goal, echoed by Rouget, is to offer a range of wines that brings out the best of the different terroirs while respecting the character and personality of each Cru and each plot.

With Rouget in charge of the vineyards and winemaking process, Frédéric remains at the management helm and spearheads marketing.


Beaujolais-Villages: Gamay in Full Bloom

Of the three Beaujolais classifications, Villages occupies the middle spot in terms of quality. To qualify, the wine generally hails from more esteemed terroirs in the northern half of Beaujolais, from one of 38 villages that have not been named ‘cru’ appellations. They are expressive wines with more structure and complexity than generic Beaujolais, though not as exclusive as those from the ten crus. Accounting for about a quarter of all Beaujolais production, Villages wines are most often produced by négociants and vinified using stricter rules as to yields and technique.

1  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Beaujolais-Villages ($27)
80% whole cluster fermentation from vines around 35 years old; the grapes are subject to alternate grape-treading, pump over, and ‘delestage’—a two-step ‘rack-and-return’ process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated daily from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. Fermentation on wild yeast for two weeks. A fruit-forward, juicy wine  with expressive aromas of strawberry and spicy black cherry.

*click on image for more info

 

 


Régnié: The Gateway to Beaujolais

Many Beaujolais wines are best consumed in their youth, and this is a quality emphasized with gusto by Régnié, the youngest of the Beaujolais crus. In fact, it wasn’t until 1988 that a group of 120 wine growers lobbied to get the appellation officially recognized, pointing out the newcomer in the family has plenty to offer: Its favorable geographical location between its two brothers, Brouilly and Morgon, allows the production of wines of a unique fruitiness.

Often called the ‘Prince of the Crus’, Régnié’s terroir is distinguished by the pink granite soils found high in the Beaujolais hills. Here, at some of the highest altitudes in the region, vines are planted on coarse, sandy soils that are highly permeable and drain freely, an environment which is well suited to the Gamay grape variety.

Further down the slopes, higher proportions of clay with better water storage capabilities lead to a slightly more structured style of wine. The variation within the vineyard area allows growers to produce everything from fresh, light wines to heavier, more age-worthy examples of Régnié.

2  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Régnié ($30)
From vines with an average age of 42 years. 100% destemmed with three weeks of fermentation time on native yeasts followed by ten months maturation, half in oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. The wine has a lively acidity behind notes of sour cherry kirsch with hints of agave and pepper.

*click on image for more info

 

 

 

 


Domaine de Vernus, 2019 Régnié ($72) 1.5 Liter
Same wine, in 2019, in magnum, allowing for a slower maturation process in the cellar.

*click on image for more info

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chiroubles: A Terroir in Altitude

Granite is notorious for its strong erosion effects on soils and Chiroubles finds a perfect balance with light, sandy soils that remain moist throughout the summer; the climate tends to be oceanic, though with a Mediterranean and Continental touch.

Chiroubles is relatively tiny, with fewer than a thousand acres under vine, but it is a mouse that roars. This is due mostly to elevation: Chiroubles vineyards are the highest in Beaujolais, with some planted 1500 feet above the Saône River valley. Taking advantage of extreme diurnal shifts between the warm days and cold nights, the same soils that produce Fleurie to its immediate north here build wines that are lighter and fresher, often with pronounced floral characteristics.

 3  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Chiroubles ($27)
From the highest-altitude vines in Beaujolais with an average age of 63 years  in the Verbomet lieu-dit and 36 years in Châtenay, both featuring terroir built on shallow granitic soil. The back-breaking work required to harvest on the steep slopes of Chiroubles produces an airy, intensely perfumed wine with silky notes of black cherry, plum and raspberry with a pronounced minerality and electric acidity.

*click on image for more info

 

 

 


Fleurie: Home to Fragrant Wines

Each of the Beaujolais crus wears its own face; where Morgon is bold and handsome and Saint-Amour is a fairyland of delicate beauty, Fleurie—covering an unbroken area of three square miles—represents Beaujolais’ elegance. The terroir is built around pinkish granite that is unique to this part of Beaujolais, with the higher elevations accounting for thinner, acidic soils that produce graceful and aromatic wines. Below the main village, the wines are grown in deeper, richer, clay-heavy soils and the wines themselves are richer and deeper and appropriate for the cellar. The technique known as gridding, which involves extracting more color and tannin from the skins of the grapes, is proprietary to Fleurie.

 4  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Fleurie ($34)
From vines with an average age of 63 years. 80% destemmed with three weeks of fermentation on native yeasts followed by ten months maturation in oak barrels, 6% new. The wine shows soft-bodied fragrance with concentrated notes of strawberry and rose petal above a vivacious acidity.

*click on image for more info

 

 

 

 


Morgon: Power, Reveals Itself in a Few Years

Morgon, on the western side of the Saône, may only appear on the label of a Gamay-based red wine; even so, the appellation allows the addition of up to 15% white wine grapes: Chardonnay, Aligoté or Melon de Bourgogne. Nevertheless, the wines of Morgon wind up being among the most full-bodied in Beaujolais, with the potential to improve in the cellar so consistently that the French describe wines from other AOPs that display this quality by saying, “It Morgons…”

The largest of the Beaujolais crus, the terroir is largely built around ‘rotten rock’ made up of decomposed shale, giving the appellation’s wines aromas of sour cherries with notes of violet and kirsch with delicate tannins that  promise optimal ageing.

5  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Morgon ($36)
From vines with an average age of 67 years. 80% destemmed with three weeks of fermentation on native yeasts followed by ten months maturation in 80% oak barrels and 20% in stainless steel tanks. This structured Morgon is a benchmark showing cherries and plums abound along with licorice, mineral and taut acidity.

*click on image for more info

 

 

 


Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Morgon ($86) 1.5 Liter
Same wine in magnum, allowing for a slower maturation process in the cellar.

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 6  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Morgon ‘Grands Cras’ ($47)
Grand Cras, ideally situated at the foot of the Côte du Py, ranks among the appellation’s most famous climats. The deep soil is made up of granitic alluvium that allows grapes to maintain Burgundy-level tannins while retaining the fruitiness typical of Beaujolais. With an average vine age of 71 years, the fruit is hand-harvested and 80% destemmed, following which the wine spends ten months in oak. A rich, cherry-driven profile with hints of kirsch, fresh tobacco and menthol.

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Moulin-à-Vent: Power and 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 Duboeuf sells a hundred thousand cases of Beaujolais Nouveau a 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 concentrate reds that rival Burgundian Pinot Noir cousins from the 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 outrageous 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.

7  Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Moulin-à-Vent ‘Les Vérillats’ ($63)
‘Les Vérillats’ stand at the very top of an old granitic mount at around 900 feet elevation where the topsoil is so thin that trellis stakes cannot always be fully anchored. Terroir is very specific here, known locally as ‘gorrhe’—a thin, acidic soil lacking in nitrogen but containing high concentrations of potassium, phosphorous and magnesium. The wine, from 70-year-old vines, shows atypical black fruits—blackberries and currant, along with supple minerality and bracing acids.

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Domaine de Vernus, 2020 Moulin-à-Vent ‘Les Vérillats’ ($162) 1.5 Liter
Same wine in magnum, allowing for a slower maturation process in the cellar.

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Posted on 2024.05.23 in Fleurie, Beaujolais-Villages, Regnie, Chenas, Chirouble, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, France, Beaujolais, Wine-Aid Packages  |  Read more...

 


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