John Updike refers to the French as ‘that strange race, neither northern nor southern, both sensual and ascetic, the epitome in turn of chivalry and the bourgeoisie.’
Updike, a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, non-fiction and art/literary reviews, never got a chance to weigh in on Touraine which—like him—wants to be everything to everybody.
Sitting east of Vouvray, frenetic Touraine produces red wine, white wine, pink wine and sparkling wine; regulation permits Cab Franc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay for the reds while the list of allowable whites includes Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (making up 43% of the plantings in 12,350 acres of designated vineyards). There is also an interesting local variety called Menu Pineau and also a sharp focus on single-varietal bottlings, allowing a showcase for the unique contours these familiar grapes adopt in Touraine terroir.
Of course, some Touraine wines are good, not great, but rest assured that the photo ops are great, not good: Many of the Loire’s most admired and picturesque grand châteaux dot the Touraine countryside.
From this near-fairy tale setting, we have winnowed some superb examples of Gamay and Sauvignon created by the region’s top producers; vignerons who put a strong emphasis on varietal character and terroir expression generally unencumbered by oak. These are excellent choices for either sipping or supper; they are low in alcohol and pair especially well with the sumptuous rillettes and rillons of Touraine. The package is comprised of 9 different bottles (5 red and 4 white wines) for $259.
Most people are more familiar with the Loire’s bookends, Muscadet and Sancerre. But between them lie 79 AOPs representing what InterLoire (the official organization of producers, merchants and traders involved in the production and promotion of Loire wines) calls, “The most extensive, diversified and original vineyard in Europe.”
The AOP covering Touraine stretches from Anjou to the west to the Sologne in the east, converging near the point where the Loire River and its tributaries meet. It covers 104 communes in Indre-et-Loire and 42 in Loir-et-Cher.
Most of the vineyards are located southeast of Tours on the slopes that dominate the Cher River and the land between the Cher and the Loire. With nearly 13,000 acres under vine, the climate varies dramatically as you move inland; oceanic conditions dominate the west, becoming more continental as you move east. These climatic differences combined with varied soils determine the choice of grape variety planted (with later-ripening varieties grown in the west and earlier-ripening ones in the east) and account for the wide variety of wine styles produced.
Terroir is as diverse as the climate, another key factor in fitting vine to site. Broadly ranging from chalky tuffeau to flinty-clay shot through with sand and gravels from eons of deposits from the Loire, even the same grape will display markedly different profiles depending on where it is planted. Nearly all the favored grapes are cool climate varieties and the wines tend to show vibrant acidity and delicate, clean, precise flavors.
Ever since Philippe de Bourgogne cast Gamay from the bosom of Burgundy six centuries ago, the variety has been derided and even despised outside its spiritual home, Beaujolais. Folks who were soured by the sweet and fruity Nouveau cult may bring that prejudice into Touraine, but that would be a mistake: Although once in the shadow of Anjou Gamay, select vignerons in Touraine have made monster strides with Gamay over the past couple decades and these wines now edge out the Gamays of Anjou in depth and complexity. They tend to be medium-bodied with a musky tone that share center stage with aromas of fern and capers intermingled with flinty minerals and plummy notes.
Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, comes with no such baggage; if anything, it’s a marvelous counterpart to Bordeaux’s version, which tends to be forgettable and is nearly always blended with Muscadelle and/or Sémillon. In general, Sauvignon Blanc is fairly delicate and sensitive, and as a result, strongly reflects the terroir where it is grown. Compared to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, Touraine’s Sauvignon Blanc tends to be slightly rounder richer, weightier and more aromatic, with flavors of gooseberry and kiwi emerging alongside green apple, lime and flint.
Loire wears the nickname the Garden of France, but for winemakers, it is also the Laboratory of France. In varying degrees, the established rules of the AOC (or the Europe-wide AOP) seem restrictive to certain winemakers in the Loire, who are happy to create personal-statement wines using rules of their own and label their product not by a narrow appellation names allowed by the AOP, but as the more general ‘Vin de France’ or VdF.
These particular VdF wines display their origins as faithfully as their AOP counterparts, although many are also as much about the process—or lack of process—involved in their creation. For a lover of natural wines—wines without intervention, grown without synthetics, fermented on native yeasts and bottled without sulfur—Loire is a small Valhalla.
What should you expect from natural wines? Great wines are made in the vineyard and that’s where the differences can first be seen. Since the vine exists as part of an ecosystem, animals and insects are encouraged to propagate among them; vines are not manicured and are grown without chemicals while between them, cover crop is allowed to flourish. Ambient yeast cells are found naturally on grape skins, and once the crop hand-harvested, this organic yeast encourages fermentation without additives. The wines are bottled without fining or filtration and as a result may (or may not) appear cloudy in the glass. As for ‘off’ or funky tastes, those familiar pejorative terms for natural wines are largely undeserved; they are the result of substandard techniques by flailing winemakers who are unlucky or out of their depth—something that can happen to conventional wine as well. When made under scrupulously clean conditions using meticulous technique, natural wines are full and fresh, crisp and alive, and display earthy flavors of fruits, flowers and herbs.
In other words, if your winemaker does honor to his grapes, her wine will do honor to your palate.
Clos Roussely was once a lowly outbuilding of the great fortification at Angé-sur-Cher and as it happens, its five-foot-thick Tuffeau walls serve to insulate the winery as efficiently as they once held off Attila the Hun. Not only that, but the 250-year-old hand-dug caves beneath it are ideal for aging the remarkable wines of Vincent Roussely. The transition from barn to vignoble began in 1917, when Anatole Roussely became the first of four generations to dedicate his life to detail; Vincent Roussely, his great-grandson, today works this remarkable terroir—22 acres of clay and limestone peppered with pockets of silex.
“It was my childhood dream to work these soils,” says Roussely, who inherited the estate in 2001. “The terroir is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc, which makes up about 80% of our plantings, but at the heart of Roussely is a small plot of old-vine Gamay. We also have Côt (Malbec), Pineau d’Aunis and a little Cabernet Franc. We have always farmed organically, both for the health of the vines and out of social responsibility, but we were officially certified in 2007.”
The old-school methodology runs through every aspect of the winemaking process. Grapes are hand-harvested and are subject to slow, natural fermentation in the cool catacombs; Gamay undergoes the familiar Méthode Beaujolais, partial carbonic maceration in which some whole grapes are kept intact and begin alcoholic fermentation within the confines of their skins.
Evolving from tradition to technology, Roussely continues to experiment, using concrete eggs for some of his fermentations. “Innovative adaptation means more than simply exploring new techniques,” he says. “It also involves a commitment to ecological responsibility. Right now, about 65% of Loire Valley vineyards are organic and it’s our goal to see that number at 100% by 2030.”
•1• Clos Roussely ‘Canaille’, 2021 VdF Loire-Touraine ‘Gamay’ ($21) Red
‘Canaille’ is the French word for ‘scoundrel.’ 100% Gamay from vines between 25 and 50 years old grown organically on clay and limestone. Aged six months in stainless steel, the old vines add a striking depth to this exuberant Gamay, replete with notes of crushed raspberry, black cherry and nutmeg.
•2• Clos Roussely ‘Irréductible’, 2019 VdF Loire-Touraine ‘Sauvignon’ ‘natural’ ($34) White
Refusing to use sulfur at bottling time is what cost this superb, 100% Sauvignon Blanc its AOP status, but no matter: Vincent Roussely is happy to let it shine through the VdF ‘Loire-Touraine.’ The wine shows complex aromas of white peach, citrus and sappy acidity with a bracing salinity at the finish.
•3• Clos Roussely, 2020 Touraine-Chenonceaux Blanc ($29) White
Touraine-Chenonceaux is its own unique appellation, inextricably linked with the Château of the same name. The vines used for Roussely’s wine are planted on slopes with good natural drainage where soils are mainly limestone, siliceous clay and perruches—the flint-based earth commonly found in the Loire terroirs.
100% unoaked Sauvignon Blanc with a minimum of sulfur dioxide at bottling; the wine shows stone fruit on the nose, especially white peaches, and carries a minerality through to a crisply acidic lemon-lime finish.
•4• Clos Roussely ‘L’Escale’, 2020 Touraine Blanc ($20) White
100% Sauvignon Blanc from vines that have grown in shale limestone for 10 to 40 years and are Guyot pruned. Fermentation is done using indigenous yeasts with occasional lees stirring over the course of élevage. Grapes are hand-harvested at modest yields of 50hl/ha, far less than 60hl/ha that the appellation allows. A very mineral-driven wine, it might be viewed as an affordable Sancerre alternative as it displays a similar profile: Newly mown grass, chamomile, chervil, thyme, honeysuckle and lime peel.
Henry Marionnet’s family has owned de la Charmoise since the 19th century, and he places such a premium on quality that he only produces certain wines in truly good vintages. Located within the quaint village of Soings deep in the forests of La Sologne, the family continues (as they always have done) to quietly push the envelope by viewing each vintage as a challenge presenting the goal of surpassing the last.
Between 1967 and 1978, nearly all Charmoise vines were replanted, so by now, they are all over 30 years old. The two key varieties are Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc, but the estate produces unique wines from grapes not found elsewhere in the world. ‘Provignage’, for example is produced from Romorantin, a rare white grape that produces herbaceous and sometimes tropical-fruit wines; Cépages Oubliés is made from the almost obsolete clone of Gamay de Bouze.
A proponent of natural wines, Marionnet says, “My family has owned Domaine de la Charmoise since 1850; my father Claibert was a winemaker, of course, and I was expected to follow in his footsteps. But I never attended viticulture school—my parents were traditionalists and they didn’t want me coming back with revolutionary ideas. Therefore, my winemaking education involved working with the horses ploughing and clearing, and with a pickaxe, working the ground between the vines by hand. When I took over the domain in 1967, I began to change things. Some of the vines I inherited were of questionable merit, hybrids or similar sub-standard stock, so I set about replanting and expanding the vineyards. But I remained true to the words of the great Émile Peynaud who said, ‘Give me the most beautiful grapes in the world and I will make you the greatest wine in the world’.”
•5• Domaine de la Charmoise ‘Première Vendange’, 2021 Touraine ‘natural’ ($24) Red
The Gamay that produces ‘Première Vendange’ is (as both Marionnet and the barons of Beaujolais would like to make clear) traditional Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc as opposed to the red-fleshed varieties often used to add color to other wines. The vines that make up this cuvée were planted in 1967 and 1978 on a combination of flinty stones in a mix of sand, gravel and clay. The fruit is picked by hand and whole-bunch fermented in stainless steel vats via carbonic maceration, a process continued by indigenous yeasts. The result is velvet smooth with lithe, ripe fruit beneath a floral canopy that shows hibiscus and violet and a touch of anise—certainly a rival to a top Beaujolais Villages.
•6• Domaine de la Charmoise ‘Gamay’, 2020 Touraine ($20) Red
Made from 40-50-year-old Gamay grapes grown in soils known locally as ‘perruches,’ which means ‘parrot’ but is actually a combination of flinty stones in a mix of sandy gravel and clay. A luscious wine bursting with plum, açaí and blackcurrant followed by more complex notes of kirsch and coffee.
•7• M de Henry Marionnet ‘Sauvignon’, 2018 Touraine ‘natural’ ($38) White
100% Sauvignon Blanc from the parcel that Marionnet considers to be the estate’s finest. Planted in 1970, these grapes only are permitted to make up ‘M’ in outstanding years to preserve the reputation of the label, which always promises rich, unctuous wines with brilliant energy and aromatics, massive focus and grip and acid precision.
Jérémy Quastana is a young vigneron who trained under Olivier Lemasson for a few years before snagging five acres of his own near Lemasson’s main plot in the Loir-et-Cher not far from Cheverny. Prior to that, Jeremy learned the trade at Marcel Lapierre’s Beaujolais winery and did a six-month internship at Clos Ouvert in Chile.
Quastana farms a single plot composed of young-vine Gamay, middle-aged Côt and old-vine Gamay planted on a gentle slope of clay over silex. Jeremy has not applied for AOP recognition, since—like many natural winemakers—he knows the challenge of following commission rules. His wines are unembellished—fresh, pure juice that may serve as a perfect aperitif on a warm day, but which always qualify as a serious approach to winemaking the natural way.
•8• Jérémy Quastana ‘Tierra y Libertad’, 2020 VdF Loire ‘Gamay’ Rouge ‘natural’ ($32) Red
The name is from the famous phrase by Emiliano Zapata, whose picture features prominently on the label; Quastana considers himself a rebel, and his wines often reflect an atypical expression of a given varietal. This one, 100% Gamay, is no exception, showing brine-soaked wild berries, black pepper, cocoa and herbs.
“I grew up in the Loire Valley, but unlike many vignerons working in the Loire, I did not come from a winemaking family,” says Marie Thibault, adding, “But also unlike many of them, I have degrees in both biology and oenology.”
Marie Thibault began making wine in the early 2000s, working for a time with François Chidaine in Montlouis, where she fell in love with Chenin Blanc. In 2011, she founded her own nine acre estate on a single windy slope in Azay-le-Rideau, a lesser known commune of Touraine. She immediately converted to organics and has been certified with Ecocert since 2014. Among the natural elements in her vineyards is the flock of two dozen ewes that graze between the vine rows during the autumn; every ten days, they are penned inside a new hectare to keep the soil naturally fertile and the grass clipped.
“My vineyard is small, but the soils are extremely varied and as such, so are the grapes I grow. I work with Côt (Malbec), and have a special love for Gamay, Grolleau, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Most of my vines are at least 50 years old. I compensate for small production by purchasing from organic estates nearby.”
•9• Marie Thibault ‘Les Grandes Vignes’, 2018 VdF Loire ‘Gamay’ Rouge ‘natural’ ($41) Red
Thibault’s unique lens on Gamay is seen in this example produced from 50+ year-old vines she discovered growing adjacent to her plot on flinty silex soil. The vines were untrained and un-trellised, and harvest was exceptionally labor-intensive. She allows a 10-month maceration in order to shows off the Gamay’s savory side, with crisp rhubarb, earthy red berry notes and fine-grained, well-integrated tannins showcased.
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Posted on 2023.02.15 in Tooraine, France, Wine-Aid Packages  | Read more...
The Methodists were named for a methodical approach to Christianity and the Puritans for a desire to purify it. Although Montgueux’s roots are a bit more pagan (the name means Hill of the Goths), Emmanuel Lassaigne’s angle of approach combines both philosophies, and in doing so, creates the region’s finest Champagne.
As an officially-delineated growing region, Montgueux—a mere fifteen minutes from Troyes—arrived late to the Champagne party; most of the current vines were planted in the 1960s. Among the first to reclaim Montgueux’s once-renowned terroir was Emmanuel Lassaigne’s father Jacques, from whom he took over Champagne Jacques Lassaigne in 1999.
As background notes to his latest project, a renowned two-acre Montgueux vineyard called Clos Saint-Sophie, Emmanuel says: “There were twenty varieties of grapes growing here in the 1880s. The Clos was so well known that Japanese botanists came to study it in 1886 and took a hundred cuttings back with them—the first Vinifera vines to grow in Japan.”
Join us on an exploration of this tiny chalk hill 60 miles south of Épernay, unlike anywhere else in Champagne, led by the tour guide who knows it best, Emmanuel Lassaigne. So in love with Montgueux is Lassaigne that he purchases up to 30% of his grapes from vineyards he does not own simply to present a more unified spectrum of the region’s remarkable terroir.
Classification is a man-made phenomenon; a way of understanding and categorizing a complicated world. Biologists do it, chemists do it, musicologists do it, but no field of study seems more joined at the hip to classification than oenology. Champagne, for example, has typically been subdivided into three major regions—the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne. But, like the platypus who threw a curve ball to biologists as an egg-laying, duck-billed mammal, the classical subdivisions of Champagne ignore a portion of the 84,000 acres legally allowed to wear the Champagne label.
On the other end of the scale, the Comité Champagne (an umbrella organization for both growers and Champagne Houses first formed in 1898 to combat phylloxera) offers its own dizzying classification system, dividing the region in twenty individual sub-regions.
Finding neither taxonomy satisfactory, Champagne writer and former editor of ‘Wine & Spirits’ Peter Liem has found a middle, yet all-inclusive ground with seven named sub-regions—even while admitting that he is courting controversy.
Of the original three divisions, he leaves the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs intact, but argues that Vallée de la Marne should be broken in two to reflect the chalky bedrock of the northeast supporting primarily Pinot Noir and the collection of villages southwest of Épernay (called, unsurprisingly, the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay) where, within a relatively small region, a distinct variety of soils and terroirs can be found. The Côte des Bar is handed to us ‘as is’ since the principal vineyard area of the Aube lies on Kimmeridgian marl, much like its neighbor Chablis.
The most interesting sub-category in Liem’s system is the quartet of Côte de Sézanne, Coteaux du Morin, Vitryat and Montgueux. He groups them together despite their unique but isolated characteristics chiefly because they are areas of new plantings.
• The 1500 acre Côte de Sézanne sits a few miles southeast of Étoge in the Côte des Blancs. Chardonnay accounts for around 75% of the vineyard plantings, but there is a significant amount of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Sézanne wines are known for being among the fruit-forward in the region.
• Contiguous to the vineyards of Sézanne, the Coteaux de Morin forms the northern end of a string of vine-clad hills south of the Côte des Blancs. 2200 acres of vineyard comprise the region; about half is Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay and the rest Pinot Noir.
• Vitryat is located in the Côte des Blancs but removed from the main by 25 miles (to the east); this is Chardonnay country, and this variety dominates Vitryat’s 1130 acres of limestone marl to produce elegant wines with a stony minerality unlike the crisper Champagnes that typifies the Côte des Blancs.
• Montgueux, the smallest of the four sub-regions, is made up of 514 acres of chalk, where the vines generally face south along a single hillside. These wines are renowned for their exotic fruit flavors, especially pineapple and mango. According to Emmanuel Lassaigne, “Our south-facing exposure always produces these tropical wines, but the soils are very chalky, so there is a lot of minerality too.”
In general, if you chalk up Champagne terroir to chalk, you are close, but like the grapes themselves, there are many flavors of this white, soft porous rock, made from the gradual accumulation of fossilized shells from marine life. The ‘Paris Basin’ is the key geological formation that produces the remarkable terroirs of northern France; a giant limestone bowl that, 75 million years ago, was a shallow sea where eukaryotic organisms lived, died and piled up. A slow 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 of which Champagne figures prominently, along with the Loire Valley and Burgundy.
The Campanian chalk that dominates the Côte des Blancs and the Côte de Sézanne is the standard-bearer for Champagne’s terroir, but the chalk in Montgueux and Vitryat, for example, is 13 million years older—deposits from the Turonian Stage.
Montgueux is an outcropping of pure Turonian chalk sitting three hundred feet above the surrounding plains, and although this soft limestone is the predominant mineral presence, small amounts of red clay and flint are also found in the soil—trace elements that allow Montgueux Chardonnay to express a full aromatic palate.
“Explosively aromatic with notes of lemon peel, pomelo and passion fruit giving way to notes of gingerbread and toast.”
This could easily be mistaken for Montrachet tasting notes, but in fact, it is a description of Champagne from Clos Sainte-Sophie in Montgueux. Sainte-Sophie has a more easterly exposure than many local vineyards, giving the wines a unique structure and remarkable complexity. Under the ownership of the Valton family for the past hundred years, for much of this time, Sainte-Sophie fruit was sold to Charles Heidsieck for premium blends. Today, more and more is being dedicated to single-vineyards wines, especially those of Emmanuel Lassaigne.
Former Charles Heidsieck cellar-master Daniel Thibault confirms the original assessment, saying, “If there is a Montrachet in the Aube, it will be found in Montgueux.”
The story of European wine is distinctly bifurcated: Before phylloxera and afterward. Prior to the Great Blight of the eighteenth century, more than 150,000 acres of Champagne were planted to vine. Today, that number is fewer than 90,000 acres. Root-devouring aphids alone did not account for the decline, of course; a couple of World Wars and the subsequent economic implosion played their role. Whatever the cause, in the process, some historically important terroirs were abandoned.
By the 1960’s, a renaissance had begun to find footing among growers, and Champagne vineland that had lain fallow for half a century was slowly replanted. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in Peter Liem’s Big Four—Coteaux du Morin, Côte de Sézanne, Vitryat and Montgueux, which have re-established themselves as important Champagne growing areas. Although there are fewer grower-producers today than in the past (with more growers selling grapes to major Champagne Houses and cooperatives) this leaves a vast opening for pioneers to learn about the varied faces of these long-untapped soils, climates and exposures.
If a poster child was needed for the concept of Champagne’s phoenix rising from the flames of phylloxera, no hill is better suited than Montgueux. And in the endeavor, no white knight may be considered more noble than Jacques Lassaigne. With the original intention of selling grapes to négociant houses, he began to bottle still wine in the 1970’s and Champagne in the ‘80s. His first ‘parcellaire’—a term synonymous with ‘lieu-dit’—was from Le Cotet, a plot that Emmanuel still farms today.
Of it, Emmanuel says, “We have a single area of vines between 55 and 60-years old within this individual vineyard, all Chardonnay, making a wine of intense minerality. It sings with citrus acidity in its youth but as it ages, it fattens. It’s another Champagne which must be treated as a white wine with bubbles, serving it (preferably) not too cold in the correct wine glass.”
From the outset, the Lassaignes relied on organic agriculture, using no synthetics and allowing the rows to grass over, creating competition with the vines—a technique that reduces yields and produces smaller berries, both indispensable factors in creating great wines. But as a Champagne house, they are decidedly not certified organic, for reasons that betray a small secret among French vignerons worth squirreling away: According to Emmanuel, “The French are masters in the art of paper. Many growers (like us) who work without chemicals prefer to remain uncertified because we resent having to deal with the bureaucracy and pay the fees to be certified in something we’ve been doing for years of our own accord.”
The majority of Lassaigne’s current ten acres is planted to Chardonnay, and lie across the street from his home above the valley that lies between Montgueux and Troyes. As mentioned, he annually purchases an additional six acres of grapes from old vines in top terroirs.
Of Clos Sainte-Sophie he says, “It’s the best vineyard in Montgueux.”
In the cellar, Lassaigne vinifies all parcels separately and (with the exception of ‘Le Cotet’ and ‘Colline Inspirée’) fermentation is done in stainless steel. The initial fermentations are completed with native yeasts while secondary fermentations rely on a commercial, neutral Aube-originated yeast strain that imparts no aroma to the wine and promotes a very long, cool second fermentation—key to developing the prized mousse of which Champagne is justifiably proud. Although Lassaigne uses sulfur minimally at pressing to prevent oxidation, the domain has been disgorging without sulfur for 32 years. He scoffs at oenologists who insist that sulfur is a preventative measure, saying, “We’ve avoided it for more than a quarter century and to date, nothing has gone wrong.”
Emmanuel also disgorges all the bottles himself, by hand, which is an increasingly uncommon practice in Champagne where machine disgorgement has become the norm.
The human touch plays an integral role in every facet of winemaking with which Emmanuel engages. And it’s fitting, since Champagne is one of humanity’s greatest triumphs.
Champagne Jacques Lassaigne ‘Les Vignes de Montgueux’ Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut ($68)
True to its name, the grapes in ‘Les Vignes de Montgueux’ come from nine individual sites throughout Montgueux where the age of vines is around 35 years and yields are kept to 60 hl/ha (Champagne’s average is 66 hl/ha). Harvest is done at maximum ripeness before the grapes are destemmed and pressed. The base wine undergoes complete malolactic fermentation and is aged in new and old barrels for 12 to 24 months. Once bottled, it is held for one to five years until it is disgorged, corked and released. (Disgorgment Date: March 20, 2022)
The wine shows glints of gold in the glass with lovely dried mango and lemon-lime zest in the aromatics. The palate is vibrantly alive with crisp citrus and creamy melon flavors that are backed by a spine of acidity and dazzling minerality. The finish resonates with succulent pineapple and citrus notes and shows the full, expressive panoply of Chardonnay.
The Côte de Nuits is the northern half of the Côte d’Or. Wines made from Pinot Noir dominate the area’s output, representing 95% of production. Some César is grown to bring backbone and color to Pinot Noir in weak vintages, but the proportion used is always minimal.
Having developed the reputation for quality over quantity, the Côte de Nuits is home to some of the finest red-wine vineyards in the world and includes 24 of Burgundy’s 33 Grand Cru appellations. Their mission statement spills over into the broadest appellation, Bourgogne, and makes these red wines among the best in the world for value. Any estate can declassify any lot from any Burgundian appellation and use this designation, and négociants know this: As a result, that $40 Bourgogne you enjoy may contain juice from vineyards whose names grace labels costing ten times as much.
Domaine Thierry Mortet ‘Cuvée Les Charmes de Daix’, 2020 Bourgogne ($33)
‘Love thy neighbor’ is a rule no more golden that at the estate of Thierry Mortet, located at the very center of the village of Gevrey-Chambertin. Officially created in 1992 when Thierry’s father retired and his estate was divided between his two sons. Thierry wound up with ten acres, which he has grown to 21 acres spread over four villages, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Couchey and Daix, just to the west of Dijon.
Thierry studied enology and viticulture in Beaune and his wife Veronique were joined at the estate by their daughter Lise in 2020. Together they produce around 2,900 cases annually.
‘Les Charmes de Daix’ is produced from 6 different parcels amounting to three acres in total, planted on clay soils with chalky sub-soils. That portion of vines located in the commune of Daix provides delicacy and finesse while those from the commune of Gevrey bring structure and richness. The wine is fresh and fruity, elegant and generous with the aromatic persistence one expects only in much higher-priced Burgundy.
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Posted on 2023.02.02 in France, Champagne  | Read more...
Italy is one giant vineyard, cuff to heel, but in France, wine regions are like fireflies in a midnight garden; they light up isolated corners. The brightest fireflies command most of the attention, of course, and as a result, the highest price points. But Savoie—in the far eastern part of France where the Alps spill over from Italy and Switzerland—is one of most remarkable of the glimmers.
According to Wink Lorch, an avid skier and arguably Savoie’s most vocal champion, the development of the post-war ski industry represented a turning point for the region’s popularity: “This created new customers for its wines, of which very little get exported. Even so, up until the 1970s, there were hardly any vine-growers who lived solely from their vines.”
Over the past twenty years, however, a new wave of independent vignerons has been boosted by organizations dedicated to preserving the singular grape varieties of the region, and Savoie has finally begun to come into its own.
Alpine wines have a crunchy sizzle and a cool sappiness unlike wine from anywhere else. Not only that, but the predominant grapes don’t show up on many other radars, so the unique textures commingle with a whole new flavor profile to surprise and delight the palate.
For the historically inclined, Savoie was the point where Hannibal crossed the Alps en route to Rome; for vinophiles, Savoie encompasses two main sub-appellations—Bugey, with 1250 acres of vines and Vin de Savoie, or simply Savoie AOP, which includes Roussette de Savoie and Roussette du Bugey. There are also 17 Vin de Savoies Crus and four Roussette de Savoie Crus, whose name may appear on labels. Most Savoie vineyards are planted on steep, south facing slopes, where favorable sunlight exposure and excellent drainage make for perfect ripening conditions despite the cold continental climate. The presence of lakes Bourget and Geneva, as well as the upper Rhône River, further moderate the climate. Most Vin de Savoie vineyards are found on limestone-based soils, which is adept at storing heat during the day and reflecting it back onto the vines at night.
Metaphors linking wine to its place of origin are the stuff of poetry, but they’re also the foundation of terroir. Among the most common descriptors of high-altitude wine is ‘refreshing’ which is an offhand way of saying that they tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than valley wines. These acids are often the end result of the cool mountain air which they resemble, giving distinct, cleansing mineral characteristics to the wine with citrus and herbs rather than jammy fruit.
That said, it is sometimes a challenge for winemakers to reign in mountain-borne acid and to keep it from running away with the profile. Tart is acceptable—sour is not. Without delving into too much chemistry, the predominant acids found in wines are tartaric, malic, citric and succinic, and all but the last occur naturally in grapes—succinic acid is produced by yeast during fermentation. In areas where long hang-times for grape bunches to develop sugars and tame acidity are not possible in the mountains, and winemakers will occasionally resort to artificially manipulating the juice, the must, or as a last resort, the finished wine.
These are not wines we embrace at Elie’s, preferring those that display natural balance, favoring the expression of terroir over excessively extracted fruit with high sugar levels. Adjusting acid rather than preserving it defies one of winemaking’s oldest adages: ‘Good wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.’
The wines of Savoie (even the reds) tend be light and somewhat playful on the palate, filled with alacrity and crackle and with correspondingly low alcohol levels to match an ethereal mountain finesse. Yet, we have found many wines of Blard & Fils that seek to take traditional Savoie varietals to the next level, busting through the clichéd ‘Ski & Raclette’ ceiling to create sophisticated wines suitable for the most refined tables.
The wines in this 5-Bottle Sampler Pack represent one of Savoie’s icons and iconoclasts, Thomas Blard, who has taken the management reins from his father Jean-Noël. They represent the wide array of native grapes and their associated flavor profiles that are typical of this hinterland of marvels.
‘The Rest’ covers wines from the dynamic husband and wife team of Florian and Marie Curtet, whose marriage is a match made in the vineyard—specifically, 12.3 acres of the most immaculate organic vineyards in the area. Through them, we showcase even more unique blends and varietals of Savoie.
Located in the foothills of the vast Alpine ranges of Switzerland and Italy, Savoie AOP grows grapes at altitudes between 800 and 1800 feet. Savoie’s 11,300 acres of scattered vineyards are responsible for less than 0.5% of the wine produced in France, and of the 3 millions of wine made in Savoie every year (compare this to Bordeaux’s 158 million), only about 8% of it is consumed outside the appellation. Although even the highest vineyards are at foothill-elevation, the region is distinctly alpine, with towering white-capped mountains and pristine lakes dominating the surrounding terrain: Mont Blanc, France’s tallest peak at 15,000 feet, has a Savoie zip code. The vineyards are adapted to this environment, growing occasionally on 80-degree slopes. Ranging from rocky subsoil to sand (sometimes in the same vineyard) the Savoie terroir supports 23 different grape varieties.
A large portion of western Savoie falls under the sub-appellation Roussette de Savoie. Encompassing four Cru communes—Frangy, Marestel, Monterminod and Monthoux—Roussette wines are dry and made from the Altesse grape, here is called ‘Roussette.’ The name is a reference to the reddish tint that the grape acquires before harvest.
In the past, Chardonnay made up to half the content in Roussette bottlings, but the practice was outlawed in 1999.
Apremont is perhaps the best known white wine Cru in Savoie. Surrounding the tiny village of Apremont, just south of Chambéry, the vines make up one of the most southerly Crus in the department. Apremont wines are made predominantly from the local Jacquère grape and are typically light and dry with floral, mineral characters.
In part, Blard & Fils is hard at work changing preconceptions about this terroir.
Jean-Noël and Thomas Blard are a father/son team who has taken their family domain to new quality heights while moving steadily toward fully organic and natural viticulture. In the 1990’s, Jean-Noël became one of the first vignerons in the appellation to diversify into Pinot Noir, and was also eager to raise the quality bar on Jacquère and Mondeuse—the latter by aging in neutral oak for a minimum of two years. With 25 acres under Blard control, grassed over and fertilized naturally, the Blards use a technique known as ‘intercep’ to remove unwanted greenery before finishing the job by hand.
Five generations of Blard have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat: In 1248, the side of Mont Granier (one of the major formations of the Savoie’s Chartreuse Massif) collapsed, and a wave of boulders and scree crushed the landscape below, forever changing the soil structure. Apremont means ‘bitter mountain’ and Abymes means ‘ruin’ and as a result of the natural upheaval, it is today it is considered to be the best place in the Savoie (and by extension, all of France) to grow Jacquère.
Nowhere in the world does Altesse reign as regally as in Roussette de Savoie, an AOP which has adopted the grape’s nickname ‘Roussette’ as its own. Late to ripen, and turning pink near harvest, the variety produces small grapes with a tight-bunch structure. Its most significant success is as a stand-alone varietal (chiefly in Roussette de Savoie and Roussette du Bugey), but it is also permitted as a minor blending component in the Jacquère-predominant Vin de Savoie wines.
The most likely origin theory is that Altesse is indigenous to the southern shores of Lake Geneva since it shares a close genetic link to the western Swiss workhorse Chasselas. Altesse is perfectly suited to the mountainous terroir around the western Alps in Savoie, and retains a high level of acidity while developing characteristic flavors of bergamot, hazelnut and almond. Such characteristics make it ideal for the production of sparkling wines as well and, consequently, Altesse is included in the region’s Crémant de Savoie wines and the sparkling Seyssel wines. Still Altesse wine is sometimes aged in oak and can age in bottle for up to five years.
•1• Blard & Fils, 2020 Roussette de Savoie ‘Altesse’ ($31) 12.5% alc
100% Altesse from Abymes, from vines that are 35 years old. As always, Thomas Blard ferments naturally, with 20% of the juice seeing skin contact for 10 days. Aged on the lees for 10 months before bottling, the wine presents a terrific nose of green grass, salt, lemon and ripe apricot. The palate follows with green tea, lime zest, and herbs behind an exhilarating, Chablis-like texture.
Jacquère’s pedigree is 100% Français, and specifically Savoyard—at least, it’s impossible to find significant plantings outside the shadow of Mont Granier in the villages of Apremont and Abymes. The wines have characteristic cool-climate acidity vines and they write the book on the classic descriptors ‘mountain fresh’ and ‘alpine clean.’ Leaning toward the herbaceous with showers of freshly cut grass, green apples and pears, Jacquère is usually best when consumed young, while it still displays clean minerality and lively citrus palate.
It’s a high yielding vine, something that does not always lend itself to high quality. Since the 1980s, an attention to wine made from limited yields has resulted in wines with considerably more depth and weight, showcasing the region’s potential.
•2• Blard & Fils ‘Cuvée Thomas’, 2021 Vin de Savoie Apremont ($29) 11.5% alc
Cuvée Thomas is a blend of several different Jacquère parcels where vines are between 36 and 120 years old. Grown on clay/limestone soils seasoned with blue silex, the grapes are fermented on native years and aged ‘sur lie’ for nine months prior to bottling. The wine shows a delicate fresh almond bouquet above a foundation of crisp apricot and peach, with a mineral-driven palate that expresses textbook Jacquère salinity.
Lesson one is offered by INAO, the organization that defines appellations in France: Malvoisie does not belong to the Malvasia family, which produces many forgettable wines throughout the Mediterranean, including Pinot Grigio. Instead, it is Frühroter, a cousin to Austria’s famous Grüner Veltliner. It resembles Pinot Gris on the vine, and since Malvoisie was not, until recently, approved for Savoie, many growers simply labeled their Malvoisie ‘Pinot Gris.’
The second lesson comes from Thomas Blard himself: “Our Malvoisie is the real deal; Frühroter Veltliner and never Pinot Grigio.”
Frühroter Veltliner wines tend to be somewhat herbaceous with light lemony characters and often a note of almonds. It is an early ripening grape susceptible to frost, which accounts for the prefix ‘früh’, which means ‘early’ in German.
•3• Blard & Fils ‘Monemvasia’, 2019 Vin de Savoie ($37) 12.5%
Thomas Blard does not make ‘Monemvasia’ every year; it is entirely dependent on the success of the harvest. Instead, in some years, Thomas and Jean-Noël do a sweet wine from the grape using ‘passerillage,’ the technique of drying the grapes in ambient air to concentrate sugars.
2019’s ‘Monemvasia’ is dry. It originates from 10-year-old vines from three different parcels with a mix of clay and limestone soils where elevations average 1200 feet. The wine, which shows delicate cucumber, Meyer lemon, and crisp mineral tones, was vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged 12 months in stainless and from Crémant.
Mondeuse Noire, commonly known simply as Mondeuse, is a grape with a distinctive personality. Having likely originated in eastern France, probably in or close to the region it now calls home, Savoie, it was once thought that Mondeuse was identical to the northern Italian grape Refosco as they both share similar botanical characteristics and flavor profile. DNA analysis has shown that they are separate varieties, while the same analysis revealed that Mondeuse is not a color mutation of Mondeuse Blanche, but is either its parent or offspring. The significance of this is that Mondeuse Blanche is one of the parents of Syrah, making Mondeuse Noire the grandfather of Syrah or half-brother to Syrah—something to keep in mind while tasting.
Like Syrah, Mondeuse offers violets, candied red fruit, dark berries, black pepper and spice enveloped in raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and plum with a bitter cherry and peppery finish.
•4• Blard & Fils, 2020 Vin de Savoie Arbin ‘Mondeuse Noire’ ($39) 12% alc
The Blard winery is actually in the Apremont region of France but they are leasing some 50-year-old Mondeuse vines in Arbin. Grown in clay and limestone soils, there is a pronounced iron-rich mineral note to the nose, along with red fruit and a little green apple carrying through. Somewhat lacy on the palate but with grip.
Though it makes up less than 7% of total Bugey plantings, Bugey is still the spiritual home for Burgundy’s red wine standby, and is the only legally allowable grape in red Bugey Cru Manicle. Manicle whites, like Burgundy, are made from Chardonnay. Manicle’s zone covers a small, south facing mountain slope on the southern apex of the Jura mountain range—a unique aspect that means it can be seen for miles to the south. The calcareous slopes of these southern extremities of the Jura Mountains offer an excellent environment for grape growing. This combines with the sunny aspect and good natural drainage of the landscape. The steep slopes of the Manicle Cru vineyards optimize sunshine exposure during the growing season. High altitude Pinot Noir sports fresh red fruit and seductive tannins; featured flavors are rose, raspberry, sour cherry, anise and paprika.
•5• Blard & Fils ‘Pierre Emile’, 2020 Savoie ‘Pinot Noir’ ($37) 12.5% alc
Considered by critics to be among the best examples of this varietal in Savoie, the wine shows gaminess behind its elegant cranberry mantle with hints of iron, forest floor, cassis, wild strawberry and violet. The acidity remains at the forefront and will be tamed with a bit more bottle time; the tans are elegant, silky and integrated.
Chautagne is a sub-region of Vin de Savoie; to, qualify under the AOP name, the grapes must be grown either in Chautagne itself or in the neighboring communes of Motz, Ruffieux or Chindrieux. The appellation’s continental climate is tempered by the presence of Lac du Bourget (France’s deepest, largest lake) to the south, keeping the vineyards cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This effect is exacerbated by the high limestone cliffs which surround the valley, storing warmth and thus aiding the ripening process. As a result, the vineyards of Chautagne are often among the first to be harvested in Savoie, usually in early September.
After working for four productive years with Jacques Maillet, Florian Curtet took over Maillet estate in 2017, christening the new venture Domaine Curtet. It is comprised of the same 12-acre property on the hillsides above the Upper Rhône River near Switzerland. The holdings are highlighted by two distinct vineyard sites; Chautagne’s traditional grape varieties Gamay and Pinot Noir are planted in the commune of Serrieres en Chautagne in the lieu-dit ‘Vignes du Signeur’, the ‘Vines of the Lord’, while nearby, in the village of Motz, the traditional Savoie grapes Mondeuse, Jacquère, and Altesse grow in the vineyard known locally as ‘Cellier des Pauvres’, the ‘Cellar of the Poor.’
Florian and his wife Marie farm biodynamically, adopting the spirit of ‘autrement’—an approach that is devoutly non-interventionist. The couple’s gregariousness and creativity is established in every facet of their process, symbolized by the dragonfly on their label to indicate the touch of nature showcased in every bottle.
Domaine Marie & Florian Curtet ‘Tonnerre de Grès’, 2019 Savoie Blanc Natural ($46) 11% alc
50% Jacquère, 50% Altesse from vines averaging 28 years in age and planted in Mollassic limestone soils with a west/southwest exposure. The grapes are first pressed, then fermentation/aging is done in concrete tanks over nine months on the lees. The wine’s aromatics are subtle and lovely—tart yellow apple and pear with a bit of almond flour, lavender and flint on the finish.
Domaine Marie & Florian Curtet ‘Frisson des Cimes’, 2019 Savoie Rouge ‘blue label’ ($46) 11% alc
A blend of Gamay, Mondeuse and Pinot Noir from Motz, grown at elevations average one thousand feet with a southwest exposure. The soils here are the famed ‘molasse’ of the region, composed of shale and conglomerate that form as shallow marine deposits before rising mountain chains. The wine presents well, floral on the nose with subtle and high-toned aromas of blackberry, cassis and dark cherry with hints of white pepper adding a nice, spicy background.
Domaine Marie & Florian Curtet ‘Frisson des Cimes’, 2018 Savoie Rouge ‘red label’ ($46) 10% alc
100% Mondeuse from 50 year old vines planted to sandstone with a western to southwestern exposure. In the cellar, whole-cluster fermentation is employed without pump-overs or push downs, a period that lasts 4-5 weeks before pressing. The wine is then aged in concrete tanks for 11 weeks, filtered lightly, and bottled with just a small dose of SO2. The wine shows mulched forest floor and sweet barnyard smells that lead to black plum, blueberries, pine and finishes with crunchy graphite.
IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is the Europe-wide name the category once called Vin de Pays, the ‘country wines’ of old. Certain wines from parts of the Savoie and Haute-Savoie region are not entitled to be labeled under the AOP name even if they hail from the same boundaries as Vin de Savoie, Roussette de Savoie or Seyssel. This category focuses on geographical origin rather than style and tradition, and gives winemakers greater stylistic freedom than AOP rules.
Tarentaise vineyards pride themselves as being the first ones in France (if you’re coming from Italy); they sit slightly north of the 45th parallel and occupy the south-facing slopes of the Tarentaise Valley, where soils are composed of schist and ardoise. The area is on the comeback trail, reflecting a self-sufficient agricultural society that started to decline around 60 years ago, leaving behind much fallow land. From the 5000 or so vineyard acres that dotted the area during the first half of the 20th century, not many remain today, and those that do are maintained by a small number of diehard wine growers.
In 2005, Brice Ormont left the rolling hills of his native Champagne to make wine in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Domaine des Ardoisières was created in 1998 by the iconic grower Michel Grisard; Brice Ormont took over upon Grisard’s retirement. The vineyard was planted on slopes up to 60% in grade with local grape varieties like Jacquère, Mondeuse, Altesse, and Persan. So steep is the region that Ormont claims that it receives two hours less sunlight per day; an hour in the morning and another in the evening.
Despite the similarity in their names, Mondeuse Blanche is only a very distant cousin to Mondeuse Noire. In modern times, it has become nearly extinct and can be found only in a few acres in Savoie. It produces light, soft and floral wine, often blended with other grape varieties.
Domaine des Ardoisières ‘Argile’, 2020 IGP Vin des Allobroges ‘St-Pierre de Soucy’ Blanc ($36) 11.5% alc
A blend of Chardonnay (40%) and Jacquère (40%) and Mondeuse Blanche (20%). Jacquère is a clean, high-acid alpine variety while Mondeuse Blanche, nearing extinction, is found in a small foothold in the Bugey sub-region halfway between Annecy and Lyon. Vines are planted to a mix of shale marl, hard black shale, and clay soil and the wine ferments in a mix of stainless-steel tanks and French oak barriques, then aged in used barrels for about eight months before bottling. The wine shows beautiful weight and tension, with smoke on the nose, ripe citrus on the palate, and salinity on the finish.
Gamay is grown throughout Savoie and Bugey—it is the most widely planted red variety in the region, covering about 14% of the AOP vineyards. As an early budding grape, it presents yearly challenges to an alpine climate, however, and the success of the harvest in any given season depends not only on the weather, but on the age of the vines and the skill of the producer. It is a favored red in Chautagne, in whose terroir it expresses a profile of cinnamon, spices, raspberry, strawberry and pepper.
Domaine des Ardoisières ‘Argile’, 2019 IGP Vin des Allobroges ‘St-Pierre de Soucy’ Rouge ($45) 11% alc
A blend of 80% Gamay and 20% Persan from 40-year-old vines grown on slate in Saint-Pierre-de-Soucy, ‘Argile Rouge’ is the rare wine that manages to present both delicacy and saturation at the same time. The nose is slightly smoky, with a touch of white pepper and red bramble; the fruit notes become more pronounced on the palate, which is bright with red currant and pomegranate. The true minerality of the mountain terroir shows up at the finish.
Persan is the poster-child grape for a wonderful variety that fell out of favor with growers, due in part to its susceptibility to fungal disease in damp weather. Among those in the know, who are willing to work with this fault, it is highly prized. Persan seems to have originated in the Maurienne Valley and was presumed extinct until it was rediscovered being grown by some local Savoie viticulturists who use it primarily as a blending grape. Alone, it produces age-worthy reds with a strong aromatic profile and in assemblages, this is what it brings to the table.
Domaine des Ardoisières ‘Améthyste’, 2018 IGP Vin des Allobroges ‘Cevins’ ($99) 11% alc
Biodynamically-grown Persan (60%) and Mondeuse Noire (40%) from the steep monopole Cevins with full southern exposure and a terroir of schist and mica. Yields are restricted to an average of only 20hl/ha, following which the grapes were whole-bunch fermented on native yeasts before spending 18 months in neutral oak. The flavor profile may be likened to a Côte-Rôtie with some of heavy notes replaced by the airy freshness of mountain wine; stone, raspberry and a touch of pepper to balance the bright salinity of the finish.
“There is nothing constant but change.” Heraclitus, 500 BCE
It’s not likely that the Greek philosopher had Savoie wine industry in mind when he made his prophetic statement, but even in his time, viticulture depended almost entirely on the weather. And even then (and in every vintage since), the climate has been subject to gradual shifts, some more dramatic than others. Thomas Jefferson, who lived during the Mini-Ice Age of the eighteenth century was unable to grow vinifera grapes in his famed Monticello vineyards. Today, they thrive there.
In Savoie, where the threat of freezing temperatures early in the season and harsh storms in the fall haunts every vintage, there are some obvious upsides to warmer springs, hotter, drier summers and more temperate falls across the region.
But it’s a double-edged sword, since along with the extra balm comes unpredictable hailstorms, and although spring frosts may lessen on the whole, those that do hit seem to redouble in intensity. It doesn’t take more than a couple of these before a vineyard cannot recover. This doesn’t even touch on the potential threat to the ski industry, one of Savoie’s biggest draws and a steady source for wine customers.
Winemakers in Savoie feel somewhat helpless in the face of the climate—a plight of the profession since the days of Heraclitus. Innovation, which has saved the day throughout history, will find a way. In Savoie, a new generation is focused on sustainability and it is a start, but the hard truth is that marginal appellations Like Savoie are having to adapt and modify systems and farming practices that have been in place for centuries.
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Posted on 2023.01.31 in Savoie, France, Wine-Aid Packages  | Read more...
Not all Burgundy is the stuff of legend, but all is the stuff of Burgundy. That is, wine from a narrow strip of French farmland that runs for around sixty miles from Auxerre in the north to Mâcon in the south, or to Lyon, if Beaujolais is included. But Burgundy is more than simply wine; it is a way of thinking. After many centuries of experimentation and the subsequent subdividing of vineyards based on family inheritance, mesoclimates, soil types and topographical features, modern Burgundy exists as a mosaic of fences, walls and property lines.
The most prestigious of these wines come from the 33 Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte d’Or; meaning literally, the ‘Hills of Gold’, further subdivided into Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The top domains produce rarified wines with stratospheric price tags, but represent only about 2% of Burgundy’s total 70,000 planted acres. Most of the wine produced in the appellation is regional wine—a fourth tier (after Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Villages) that accounts for 52% of Burgundy’s total output. White wines making up about half of that; red wine accounts for 27%, Crémant 21% and rosé a drop in the bucket at 1%.
The seven appellations contained within the ‘régionale’ classification produce earthy wines available at down-to-earth prices and represent a more complete understanding of Burgundy’s overarching philosophy of terroir. As such, régionale wines don’t seek to compete with the superlative top-shelf Crus of the Côte d’Or, and better still, many continue to fly under the radar.
So specific are the cru vineyards of Burgundy that ‘régionale’ vineyards may exist in the literal shadow of more renowned domains, occasionally separated by hundreds, or even as little as dozens of feet. Régionale wines tend to be culled from vineyards located along the foot of more prestigious wine-growing slopes on limestone soil mixed with some clays and marls, where the earth is stony and quick-draining.
Unlike Bordeaux, where classifications are based on individual châteaux (capable of buying other vineyards and expanding), Burgundian label classifications are more geographically focused. A single vineyard, therefore, may have multiple owners, each with a small piece of the action.
The ‘Bourgogne’ label first appeared in 1937, and in 2017, a further classification permitted wines from vineyards located within the Côte d’Or to be labeled as ‘Bourgogne Côte d’Or’; it’s a great tool for a consumer looking to explore the wide diversity of vineyards among the Hills of Gold while maintaining a terroir-focused, climat approach to Burgundy.
The Côte de Nuits is the northern half of the Côte d’Or. Wines made from Pinot Noir dominate the area’s output, representing 95% of production. Some César is grown to bring backbone and color to Pinot Noir in weak vintages, but the proportion used is always minimal.
Having developed the reputation for quality over quantity, the Côte de Nuits is home to some of the finest red-wine vineyards in the world and includes 27 of Burgundy’s 33 Grand Cru appellations. Their mission statement spills over into the broadest appellation, Bourgogne, and makes these red wines among the best in the world for value. Any estate can declassify any lot from any Burgundian appellation and use this designation, and négociants know this: As a result, that $40 Bourgogne you enjoy may contain juice from vineyards whose names grace labels costing ten times as much.
Domaine Thierry Mortet ‘Cuvée Les Charmes de Daix’, 2020 Bourgogne ($33)
‘Love thy neighbor’ is a rule no more golden than at the estate of Thierry Mortet, located at the very center of the village of Gevrey-Chambertin. Officially created in 1992 when Thierry’s father retired and his estate was divided between his two sons. Thierry wound up with ten acres, which he has grown to 21 acres spread over four villages, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Couchey and Daix, just to the west of Dijon.
Thierry, studied enology and viticulture in Beaune, and his wife Veronique were joined at the estate by their daughter Lise in 2020. Together they produce around 2,900 cases annually.
‘Les Charmes de Daix’ is produced from 6 different parcels amounting to three acres in total, planted on clay soils with chalky sub-soils. That portion of vines located in the commune of Daix provides delicacy and finesse while those from the commune of Gevrey bring structure and richness. The wine is fresh and fruity, elegant and generous with the aromatic persistence one expects only in much higher-priced Burgundy.
Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils ‘Terroir de Gevrey’, 2018 Bourgogne Rouge ($41)
Local boy makes good’ is a common enough tale in Burgundy, where land—which can command a price tag twice that of Bordeaux—is generally held by families. Most success stories involve inheriting it or marrying it. Rare is the breakthrough of an outsider who can, for example, step off a train in Gevrey-Chambertin without connections or formal wine training and forge a Burgundian empire within an enclave already pretty imperialistic.
Enter Jean-Michel Guillon. Born into a military tradition, Jean-Michel Guillon chose to settle in France after his past service in the Polynesian Islands and in 1980, without much formal training, planted grapes on five acres of land. What began as a nascent fascination grew into an overarching passion, and the estate today covers nearly forty acres spread over more than 20 appellations. It is work that, like the best Gevrey-Chambertin wines, took years to peak, both stylistically and critically: 2020 turned out to be Jean-Michel Guillon’s best vintage ever.
He explains: “It is all the result of my love for this land, and any acclaim I have received is based on innovative production processes and more importantly, taking into account the ecological needs of the vine. The climate crisis and the scarcity of natural materials is taken very seriously at the winery. Global warming is at the heart of the destruction of habitat destruction and the appearance of certain diseases. In order to facilitate cultivation and harvesting, we have worked diligently worked to reduce our carbon footprint by using phytosanitary products that respect the environment.”
Among his most aggressive innovations may be his use of new oak—100% at all levels, including the Bourgogne Rouge, his entry-level wine. On this front he quotes Henri Jayer, perhaps Burgundy’s most inventive winemaker: “There are no great wines without new barrels.” As such, Guillon & Fils is the biggest buyer of new French oak in Burgundy after Domaine Romanée-Conti and the Hospices de Beaune, most arranged through a long-standing partnership with the Ermitage and Cavin cooperages.
Ruby-red and luscious, this mineral-driven, refined and light-footed Pinot-based Bourgogne from Gevrey-Chambertin shows a pure, ripe and elegant nose of cassis and lightly spiced plum that complements the balanced body. The wood for which Guillon is famous is prominent but not dominant, allowing the berry notes to ooze through.
Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils ‘Les Graviers – Chambolle’, 2018 Bourgogne Rouge ($41)
Made of declassified Chambolle-Musigny, very few cases of this top price/value wine were made; the silky, ripe structure and whiffs of powdery vanilla makes the wine’s pedigree obvious. It is exceptionally rich with ripe, even sweet tannins and a serious and unusually powerful finish, especially in the context of the Bourgogne category.
Domaine Perrot-Minot ‘Gravières des Chaponnières’, 2018 Bourgogne Rouge ($75)
After spending several years in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or working as a liaison between growers and négociants, Christophe Perrot‐Minot returned to his family domain in Morey‐Saint‐Denis. Prior to this prodigal homecoming, his father Henri had operated primarily as a grower, selling the majority of the family production in bulk. Christophe soon shifted the focus to estate bottling, and all but a small portion of Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, is now released under the family’s own name.
Today considered one of the benchmark producers in the Côte de Nuits, his wines have become more refined in every vintage. A combination of intense field work and innovation in the cellar over the past thirty years have raised the bar in his portfolio, aided in particular by his year 2000 purchase of Pernin‐Rossin, giving him many old‐vine parcels from which to draw fruit.
Among Christophe Perrot‐Minot’s many innovations has been a renewed focus on sorting during harvest; his goal of producing more elegant wines has been achieved through the use of less new-oak in aging as well as less extraction during fermentation. The wine is a blend from two vineyards located in Morey-Saint-Denis; one plot is 55 years old and the other, 25 years old. ‘Gravières des Chaponnières’ shows cherry brandy, earth and graphite with chalky tannins and a savory tang.
Laurent Ponsot ‘Cuvée des Peupliers’, 2017 Bourgogne Rouge ($68)
Laurent Ponsot left his namesake family business (Domaine Ponsot) in 2017 to pursue a new adventure with his son, Clément. “The official reason is that I’m at retirement age but I don’t want to retire,” he said. ‘‘I own some vineyards and have decided to create a négociant business, buying grapes from friends. I’ll have an involvement in the vineyard, so as not to be merely a buyer of grapes. It is a real joint venture.”
For Ponsot, winemaking is foremost a matter of terroir expression and according to him, every detail within the process is important, in the vineyard and in the cellar. He refers to ‘haute couture wines’ with as little as possible intervention in the natural process. His grapes are grown without the use of chemicals and in the winemaking process, without the addition of sulfites. Instead, he uses a neutral gas during barrel élevage. Nor does he use any new oak: ”As you know, I am resistant to the addition of an oak taste, which is like the addition of natural extracts of fruits or flowers in the wines: it comes neither from the terroir or from original grapes. I consider that the barrel is only a way to oxygenate the wine by respecting its aging cycle.” He has therefore been experimenting with alternatives to oak barrels for years now.
Cuvée des Peupliers is drawn from a parcel of vines just below the Route Nationale in Chambolle on the Morey line. Ponsot has farmed these vines since 2002, and despite the appellation, it remains pure Chambolle in personality—it is fleshy but silken, retaining a juicy grace through a long finish redolent with earthy, forest-floor notes.
“Climate change is a fact,” says Laurent Audeguin, agronomist and enologist at the French Vine and Wine Institute. “As temperatures rise, the best vineyard sites become too warm. Vines are subject to increased risks of spring frost, sunburn and drought. The resulting wines, once defined by their elegance, subtlety and gracefulness, are getting riper by the year.
As chilling as that prospect sounds, it appears unavoidable, and the silver lining in Burgundy is that once-borderline areas have begun to come into their own, while many of the old reliable names are planting new Pinot clones that accumulate less sugar and ripen later. And there are plenty to choose from: Although there are 47 officially allowed Pinot Noir clones, in reality, only a few are widely used.
Nobody can have a genuine bone to pick with the statement that today, Bourgogne-level wines from Côte de Beaune are considerably better than those of decades past.
Domaine Bernard & Thierry Glantenay, 2018 Bourgogne Rouge ($41)
With roots in the 16th century, Domaine Bernard & Thierry Glantenay is a family story with 500 years of history. Up until around fifteen years ago, the estate sold its grapes to négociants, but that changed with Thierry taking the reins from his father, and today, the full production is sold as domain bottlings. Having trained as an engineer, Thierry brings a meticulous attention to detail to his winemaking, using no more than 25% new oak for even his top wines in search of terroir expression; His lieu-dit wines are considered among the best in the region, with vines between 60 and 80 years old and there is no question that the Bourgogne represents a significant value amid today’s stratospheric Burgundy price tags.
Glantenay Bourgogne Rouge comes from 30-year-old vines grown in deep clay soil and results in a satiny wine filled with succulent aromas of blackberry and raspberry giving way to crunchy acidity and a generous core of fruit.
Domaine Buisson-Charles ‘Hautes-Coutures’, 2018 Bourgogne-Pinot Noir ($47)
Following the retirement of Michel Buisson in 2008, his daughter Catherine and her husband Patrick Essa rose to the occasion like grape skins in a vat of fermenting must. The domain they inherited covers 30 acres, nearly all of it in Meursault. Their five parcels of Village-level vines now average over 65 years in age, while the oldest are nearing the century mark. There is a small parcel of Meursault ‘Tessons’, one of the great lieux-dits of the region, lying on the hillside above the southern half of the village, and there are tiny pieces of four exceptional Premier Crus. Only a few barrels of Charmes, Les Cras, Goutte d’Or and Bouches-Chères are produced each year. The wines are unique in their intensity and persistence, and are neither too lean nor too fat. Says Patrick, “Our mantra of freshness comes from the fruit and the soil, which produces grapes without overt acidity.”
From a pair of Pinot Noir parcels located between the villages of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, with vines over 50 years in age. Aging is done in barrels, 25% of which are new. The wine shows notes of violets and sweet bramble on the nose while the palate is filled with black cherry and ripe, slightly spicy plum.
Olivier Leflaive ‘Cuvée Margot’, 2019 Bourgogne Rouge ($40)
So renowned is the name Leflaive in Burgundy that no real history is required, but for the record, the family has been rooted in Puligny-Montrachet since 1717. Joseph Leflaive steadily acquired parcels of exceptional Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards in the twentieth century and was one of the precursors of domain bottling.
In 1985 Olivier started his own domain, focusing solely on buying grapes and managing vineyards with a team he directed himself. With this new team, he was able to source wines from outside of Puligny-Montrachet. In 1995, Olivier Leflaive in mutual agreement with his family, left Domaine Leflaive to concentrate on Maison Olivier Leflaive. Today, he controls 50 acres of vineyards located mainly in Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault and Pommard and in 2010, recovered its ownership in legendary vineyards managed by Domaine Leflaive after the lapse of an 18-year lease to the Domaine.
‘Cuvée Margot’s’ winemaker, Franck Grux, was kind enough to share details of this wine, and further embellishment is unnecessary: “As usual, these grapes used in 2019 came from different classified vineyards through the Côte de Beaune; 30% from Pommard, 20% from Volnay and 20% from Meursault. Pernand Vergelesses contributed 15%, while a sector of Puligny gave us 10%; the rest came from Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. They received one week of primary fermentation followed by two weeks of gentle cuvaison. The wine saw 15% new oak for one year and was bottled just before Christmas, 2020 without fining.” It shows refined nuances of black currant, red fruit, earth, spice, and alluring floral aromatics with remarkable complexity.
Domaine Thierry et Pascale Matrot, 2019 Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($35)
In 1914, Joseph Matrot and his wife Marguerite took up residence in Marguerite’s family home with the intention of developing the property into a respected wine estate. Over the course of several generations, Domaine Matrot expanded to fifty acres, and in 2000, began harvesting the vineyards organically. Of the change, Thierry Matrot says, “It’s not a revolution, it’s just an evolution. Technology has made things easier, but our winemaking philosophy has changed very little. The vinification is about the same. We don’t use new oak for the village wines or the Premier Crus; we prefer to allow the terroir to express itself and to show the character of each vintage. And my father worked in just the same way.”
The estate extends across five villages, producing both regional appellations and several Premier Crus in Meursault and in neighboring Puligny-Montrachet.
The grapes used in Matrot’s 2019 Bourgogne Pinot Noir are harvested in two plots at the bottom of the Volnay-Santenots slopes; the wine is structured and fleshy, showing blackberries, red currants, warm pie spice and underbrush notes behind fine tannins and a complex finish.
Domaine Michel Gay et Fils, 2017 Bourgogne Côte-d’Or Rouge ($36)
Great wines may be made in the vineyard, but the finesse is often created on the sorting table. When Sébastien Gay took over Domaine Michel Gay after his father’s 2001 retirement, among the improvements he initiated was a shift to organic farming, doing multiple “green harvests”, limiting yields by hand-pruning the vines and adding a pair of sorting tables where dozens of workers determine the quality levels of individual grapes. According to Sébastien, “Our wines show more balance now because modern techniques allow us to better control the different steps in the winemaking process.”
At just over 25 acres, the estate is relatively small, but it incorporates vineyard plots in communes with storied names and spreads across a kaleidoscope of terroirs, including Chorey‐lès‐Beaune, Aloxe‐Corton, Savigny‐lès‐Beaune Premier Crus Aux Serpentières and Les Vergelesses, three Premier Crus in Beaune, Les Toussaints, Aux Coucherias, and Les Grèves, as well as a small parcel on the Corton hill in the Renardes vineyard. Vines are between forty and sixty years old, and receive the same individualized attention as the grapes do at harvest. A fifth-generation winemaker, Sébastien has embraced modernity while revering tradition and the result is a portfolio of wines that see improvement with nearly every vintage.
The AOP ‘Bourgogne Côte d’Or’ encompasses 40 villages between Dijon and Maranges; as a restriction within the general Bourgogne AOP, it is fairly new, intended to highlight the unique potential of the Côte d’Or to produce wines superior to either Yonne or Saône-et-Loire. Michel Gay’s 2017 displays a solid, fleshy Burgundian profile, with ripe cherry, cinnamon, forest floor and a soft tannic backbone.
Despite the hot and dry conditions, Sarah Marsh MW characterizes 2020 Côte de Nuits as ‘joyously fresh in a vibrant, classically style.” Cool nights offset the heat and allowed the all-important acids to develop on schedule, but the harvest itself came uncommonly early, with some growers starting as early as August 20th and finishing by September 2nd, the earliest on record. Côte de Nuits reds from 2020 are noted for their big tannins and fine perfume.
Excitement around the 2019 Burgundy vintage remains high, although the summer put climate change front and center; much of the crop was lost due to vines either being too stressed or grapes being sunburnt. The berries that did survive were, in general, richly concentrated. The red wines are, in general, complex, richly fruit-forward and refined, with the best examples likely to cellar well. The whites are also extremely concentrated, rich, and ripe, but without losing the crucial balance and elegance. In both categories, small yields means limited allocations, particularly of the top wines, and demand is high.
Noteworthy for having the hottest and driest growing seasons since the intense heatwave of 2003, 2018 provided perfect weather during flowering and again at harvest, with some drought between. The crop was among the biggest in years with the red wines of Côte de Nuits acclaimed for being mostly complex wines, enjoyable young, with good potential to age.
Low yields may or may not produce excellent vintages, but high yielding vintages like 2017 tend to produce what the French refer to as ‘restaurant wines,’ meaning that they offer plenty of fragrance, attractive fruit, lacy tannins, reasonably strong terroir characters and an overall air of approachability. 2017 was the most consistent growing season in several years, and many of the vines that had suffered badly in the previous year’s frosts went into overdrive and were, in some cases, overladen with fruit. Some producers chose to green harvest to counter this problem, as too much fruit can result in a lack of concentration in the individual berries. The Pinot Noir harvest began in early September and was finished before the heavy rains of October set it, leading to some spectacular wines.
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Posted on 2023.01.24 in Côte de Nuits, Morey-Saint-Denis, Premeaux-Prissey, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Marsannay, Côte de Beaune, Ladoix-Serrigny, Vosne-Romanée, Pommard, Volnay, Pernand-Vergelesses, Puligny-Montrachet, Beaune, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Côte de Beaune, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, Chorey-lès-Beaune, Monthélie, Aloxe-Corton, Vougeot, Auxey-Duresses, Saint-Romain, Blagny, Maranges, France, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages  | Read more...
Aging is synonymous with living, and with experience comes change. As always, wine goes with the flow.
The best of mature wines show their age with grace, providing layers of complex tones; earth and forest while retaining their fountain of youth where the brilliance of a fruit core and the freshness of acidity has not faded past recognition. If a wine can be brooding but bright, deep and delightful, then its senior years can be marked as successful, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir.
Wine is evolution from vine to cellar and from bottle to glass; the maturation process is a complicated one. The science—involving the ratio of sugars, acids and phenolics and the slow polymerization of tannins—is as dry as a dusty old flagon of Gevrey-Chambertin. But even the most carefully-kept bottles of the most age-friendly wine have an apex, a window of optimal drinkability wherein the all the magic that is likely to happen has already happened. For a red Burgundy from a solid (but not great) vintage, that window hovers at around a decade.
The wines in this selection represent ‘12s from five top producers in the Côte-de-Nuits, Burgundy’s red wine Valhalla—wine that are not only standing proudly within their personal windows-of-drinkability, but performing under a spotlight.
The science of maturing wine may be dry, but the romance of drinking it? How sweet it is! If you were lucky enough (or sufficiently prescient) to have had a milestone in 2015 or 2019, a wedding, perhaps, or the birth of a child or a grandchild, you should sock away a few Burgundies—these are legendary vintages that may come along only once every couple decades.
But these wines are a long way from being fully ready to enjoy; they will not truly unfold for another ten years at least, and may not be done evolving until long after that. With 2012, a better-than-average vintage, it is to be expected that they are fully coming into their own right about now. Wherever you were in 2012—the year that Barack Obama won re-election and Hurricane Sandy lambasted the Atlantic Coast—these wines have borne the years at least as well as you have and perhaps better. They have evolved remarkable flavors and textures that you would never have experienced had you consumed them upon release. They have enjoyed a long, cool and still hibernation and are now ready to come out and play—preferably, like Proust’s Madeleine, to tickle your memories of a decade gone by.
As happens in Burgundy from time to time, 2012 snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The combination of a cold and wet spring led to a difficult flowering, and the insult-to-injury was a catastrophic hailstorm on June 6. From that point, mildew became an issue, and estates that did not treat for the numerous outbreaks tended to see their yields devastated. It was not until late August that the weather finally decided to cooperate, and ripening was speedy because the crop level was so low. The harvest began in late September, and top estates took particular care in sorting to remove damaged or dehydrated bunches.
Let’s be honest, 2012 was no 1961, but there have been comparisons made: A rough start led to reduced yields and a balmy recovery concentrated juice to produce some truly remarkable Pinot Noirs in the Côte-de-Nuits. Apart from the southern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges the Côte de Nuits survived the hailstorms relatively unscathed, and the wines from Premier and Grand Crus are, by some, considered superior to any recent vintage, including 2010, 2009 and 2005.
Prior to taking over the family estate in 1989, Dominique Gallois studied catering in Paris and ran his own restaurant for six years. When he returned to Burgundy, the domain consisted of six acres in Gevrey-Chambertin which his father had managed for forty years, selling the grapes to négociants. Dominique began to renovate the property and in 1989 (after purchasing additional acreage in Combe aux Moines, Petits Cazetiers and Goulots), he began to bottle his own product, looking first to private customers to build a reputation.
Recognizing that he works in terroir that is the envy of the world, Dominique takes special care to tend to the domain by hand, without pesticides or herbicides. Says Gallois, “Our year is quite full; winter months are dedicated to vine maintenance and Guyot-style pruning. During spring and summer, several tasks are performed allowing yields to be controlled and managing the healthiness of the future grapes. Harvesting is manual—we count on a small, faithful team to carry out the first sorting on the vine. Thereafter, grapes pass over a sorting table where bunches are inspected so as to conserve only the best fruit.”
“The Emperor would drink only Chambertin.” – Louis Constant Wairy, Napoleon’s valet.
As those schooled in Burgundian lore know, during the nineteenth century it became fashionable for villages in the Côte d’Or to adopt double-barreled names, adding a hyphen followed by the name of their most famous vineyard: Thus Chambolle added Musigny and Gevrey added Chambertin.
In minimalism, less may be more, and in wine—especially those with a hyphenated name—more may be less; a village-level Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, does not seek to compete with the quality of ‘Le Chambertin’ itself. But if nothing else, its name reminds you that it comes from a rarefied zip code. And to be sure, the region is hallowed grapeland, graced with the Holy Trinity of terroir—elevation, climate and soil structure. Contained within the appellation are nine Grand Crus and 26 Premier Crus (whose name on the label may be followed by the name of the climat of origin) as well as well as nearly a thousand acres of Villages wine.
Gevrey-Chambertin wines are full-bodied, rich, and meaty in their youth and mature to feature notes of leather, game and underbrush.
Domaine Gallois, 2012 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru La Combe aux Moines ($110)
Combe au Moines is one of the most physically elevated climats in Burgundy, lording over the commune of Gevrey-Chambertin at an elevation of 1300 feet. The twelve-acre vineyard produces Pinot Noir that is bright, earthy and slightly rustic—qualities that grow more pronounced with age. Like much of the Cote-de-Nuits, Combe soils are built upon limestone, although within the vineyard they are quite rocky and free draining and, by offering scant fertility, lessen the vigor of the vines and lead to the production of small, concentrated grapes. Unusual for the region, the vineyard faces slightly north, although the steep slope distributes the available sunshine.
According to Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, “The first taste of Charlopin’s hauntingly unique wines will turn a casual Burgundy lover into a serious aficionado. You won’t find heavily extracted, fruit-forward Pinot Noir here, but rather, the epitome of tradition and terroir expression.”
Prior to the 1970s, Philippe Charlopin was, like his father before him, a vine renter; he did not make a serious purchase until ’78, when he bought vines in Gevrey-Chambertin on the advice of his friend and mentor Henri Jayer, whose own Grand Cru Richebourg averages around $16,000 per bottle, higher than Romanée-Conti. Even so, the late Jayer’s mission statement was simple: ‘Make wines that are good to drink both when young and old.’
Philippe Charlopin operates on this same principal. He gradually expanded his holdings to 60 acres of vines divided into 140 parcels, including 12 acres in Chablis—a purchase that came about after his Chardonnay-loving son, Yann, came aboard in 2004. Today, the father-son team wrings the most from their superb terroirs while maintaining sustainable practices in the vineyard.
Domaine Philippe Charlopin, 2012 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Bel-Air ($150)
Bel Air is the only Premier Cru climat sitting above Gevrey-Chambertin’s Grand Cru vineyards on the mid-slope of the Côte d’Or, at elevations approaching a thousand feet. The cooler mesoclimate makes for leaner, less-concentrated wines than those of the Grand Cru, yet Bel Air wine still displays much of the same balance and elegant red fruit character of its parent appellation.
The vineyard was created from barren land in the 1960s and acquired Premier Cru status only in 1987. Some critics believe that especially in warm, ripe vintages, when the altitude is not a disadvantage, Bel Air can produce wine that closely resembles its neighbor, Chambertin, Clos de Bèze. The wider Bel Air lieu-dit sits between the woods and the western border of the Clos de Bèze Grand Cru. It also borders the upper Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru to the north, however, only the lower portion of the lieu-dit is classified as Premier Cru.
With 18 wonderful appellation plots, 12 of which are Premier and Grand Crus, Domaine Bertagna has an obvious garden of delights from which to draw. The estate itself once belonged to Cistercian monks, famous for founding the Clos de Vougeot in the 13th century; the cellars and vineyards are still located in the heart of the village near the Château and its ancient Chapter House; the winery has been owned by the Reh family since 1982 and today is managed by Eva Reh.
Although at 52 acres the property is extensive, many of its terroirs are similar—well-drained and stony, with a thin layer of chalky subsoil over a deep rocky base—significant mineral deposits of manganese and iron oxide give the soil a mahogany color.
Harvest is carried out by hand, beginning first with the domaine’s vineyard sites in the Côte de Beaune, followed by those in the Côte de Nuits. After fermentation, wines are aged for approximately 18 months in French oak barrels with various levels of toast. The domaine’s flagship, Clos de la Perrière, fermented with natural yeasts and aged in 50-percent new French oak barrels for 18 months.
Along with Vosne-Romanée, the communes of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin round out the ‘Big Three’ of Burgundy reds. Much has been written to compare the last two, perhaps best summarized by Nadine Gublin of Domaine Jacques Prieur: “Chambertin has a colder climate and tends to have more structure than Musigny; Musigny is more forward and elegant; it has a body that is very silky and satiny, while Chambertin has greater finesse, but needs more time to reveal itself—it is more serious and discreet.”
There is a marked difference in size, too: Chambolle-Musigny is relatively small, covering five hundred acres, of which 180 are Premier Cru—the appellation has 24. There are also two Grand Cru climats, Bonnes-Mares, which links its vineyards to those of Morey-Saint-Denis, and Musigny, overlooking the Clos de Vougeot. The prestigious Premier Cru site Les Amoureuses, however, is doubtless on their level.
Domaine Bertagna, 2012 Chambolle Musigny ‘Le Village’ ($98)
Domaine Bertagna ‘Le Village’ hails from a one-acre parcel of 87-year-old vines overlooking the village of Chambolle-Musigny. Sitting just above several Premier Cru sites, the terroir begins in shallow red calcareous clay with rocky limestone subsoil underneath.
After strict pruning and a mid-season green harvest to control yields, Bertagna grapes are hand-picked and then hand-sorted at the vineyard and the winery. Natural yeast fermentation ensues before aging in 30% new French oak barrels for 16 to 18 months.
Says winemaker Eva Reh, “2012 turned out to be quite a good vintage for us. Many are referring to it as ‘classic’, as good as, perhaps superior, to anything recent.”
Originally named just Vosne, the village took the suffix Romanée in 1866 in honor of its most prized vineyard, La Romanée—a habit of many Burgundy communes of the era. From the perspective of a wine lover, it may be grouped together with neighboring Flagey-Échezeaux; while the villages are entirely separate, their finest vineyards are clustered together immediately north of Vosne-Romanée and take that latter title.
The entire surface area of Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru vineyards (excluding Flagey-Echézeaux) is 67 acres, about half the size of the single Clos de Vougeot climat just across the commune boundary. Even so, the commune of Flagey-Échezeaux with the Échezeaux and Grands-Échezeaux sites included, has more Grand Cru surface area than the Premier Crus and Villages combined. Vosne-Romanée is divided between six individual climats—La Grande Rue, La Tâche, Richebourg, La Romanée, Romanée-Saint-Vivant and the most famous, Romanée-Conti. The best vineyards lie on the mid-slope of the Côte d’Or escarpment. Around these prestigious sites are dotted the Premier Cru vineyards and some entirely unclassified land—the difference between a grand cru vine and one deemed worthy only of the regional Bourgogne appellation is sometimes a matter of a few feet.
Domaine Bertagna, 2012 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts ($140)
Like most of its neighbors on this part of the Côte d’Or, Les Beaux Monts is a climat planted entirely to Pinot Noir, and is known for full-bodied yet elegant wine with ripe fruit character. It’s middle-sized at just under 30 acres, and is composed of a patchwork of soils that straddle the commune boundaries of Flagey- Échezeaux and Vosne-Romanée at the western end of the vineyards.
Fermented on native yeast, the wine sees a substantial proportion of new oak, developing a powerful structure as the brilliance of the fruit rides through with intensity and refinement. This was a wine originally built to last, and one which has now come into its own.
Bouchard Père & Fils can rightly be called a Burgundian icon. Founded in 1731, the estate owns and manages 321 acres, with 30 acres classified as Grand Crus and 183 as Premier Crus, making Bouchard the largest land-holders in the Côte d’Or. In 1985, the domain was purchased by the Henriot family of Champagne, and in 2013, Alsace-born Frédéric Weber took over the cellars.
Says Weber, “Year after year, we are committed to achieving the truest and finest expression of each terroir, with respect to traditions, and the specificities of each vintage. I work with the same team and use the same equipment at the winery, whether crafting a Rully, Côte de Beaune-Villages or a Clos Vougeot or Montrachet.”
Under Weber’s guidance, the estate remains committed to sustainable practices and in 2015, was awarded the highest environmental certification in France, the Haute Valeur Environnementale by the French Government.
With the village of Nuits-St-Georges itself as the fulcrum, the robust appellation Nuits-Saint-Georges extends to the north as far as the border of Vosne-Romanée, while the southern section lies partly in Nuits-Saint-Georges and partly in Prémeaux. The wines from each section are unique in style and according to experts, with differences defined (in the main) by the lay of the land. The soils in the northern sector are built around the pebbly alluvium that washes down from up-slope, and in the low-lying parts, around silty deposits from the river Meuzin. In the southern sector the alluvia at the base of the slopes originate in the combe of Vallerots where there are deep marly-limestone soils, while at the top of the slope, the soil has nearly all eroded away and the rock is near the surface. In both regions, favored exposures are mostly to the east or southeast.
Producing predominantly red wine, Nuit-Saint-George bottles display the muscularity and breeding most sought after in Burgundy—the ability to improve with bottle age. When young, the wine display aromas of cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant, and when matured, leather, truffle, fur and game.
Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils, 2012 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Cailles ($130)
Les Cailles is a highly-regarded Premier Cru climat in Nuits-Saint-Georges lying between Les Saint-Georges and Les Porrets-Saint-Georges vineyards. The 17-acre site occupies a position on the hill perfectly angled to take advantage of the morning sun; as it slopes gently toward the east, the vines are bathed in sunlight for a good portion of the day. The soil is pebbly and sandy, and derives its name from the French term for pebble. So good is the terroir that this section of Nuits-Saint-Georges is considered by many to be worthy of an upgrade to Grand Cru status.
Bouchard’s 2012 partnered weight with acidity, creating a combination of freshness and jelly-like richness which has required a full decade to properly elicit all its nuances.
The 20 acres that make up Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron are now controlled by Sophie Meunier-Confuron and her husband Alain Meunier, who converted all parcels to organic viticulture in 1990. This includes excellent parcels of Premier Cru and Village vines in Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny and Nuits-St. Georges as well as two great Grand Crus, Romanée-St. Vivant and Clos Vougeot.
The Confurons vinify according to the Burgundian mantra of ‘power without weight’, seeking a depth of flavor balanced by refinement and elegance.
Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, 2012 Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru Les Chabœufs ($220)
The nine acres of Pinot Noir vines that make up Les Chaboeufs is located in the strip of vineyards south of Nuits-Saint-Georges, near the commune border with Prémeaux-Prissey. It lies next to the Les Perrières vineyard, below a quarry that lays bare the limestone substrata for which Burgundy is renowned. Subtleties of topography mean that downdrafts tend to channel down the site. The macroclimate here is therefore marginally cooler than those of neighboring vineyards and produce wines that are bright and spicy in their youth, growing gradually more complex with dried herb and cherry.
One-third of the Confuron plot, slightly more than an acre, was planted in 1979 and the rest in 2012.
Grand Cru perches at the top of the Burgundy quality hierarchy for a simple reason: It is impossible to fine-tune the category further. Whether you (or anyone, critic or consumer) prefers Chambertin to Musigny or Bâtard-Montrachet to Corton-Charlemagne hinges on any number of subjective factors; you may champion a given vineyard for its high quality-to-price ratio, its flavor complexity, because you can resell it for a profit (or some combination therein), and chances are, your list of top wine names will include a few Grand Crus, of which Burgundy has 37.
Échezeaux is huge, organoleptically and physically. At over one hundred acres located within the village of Flagey-Échezeaux, just north of the vineyards of Vosne-Romanée, it is subdivided into 11 lieux-dits which are further broken up into numerous plots owned by 80 individuals from various local families. The Échezeaux du Dessus, Les Poulaillères and En Orveaux lieux-dits on the upper mid-slope are generally recognized as the climat’s best patches because of their stonier, thinner soils and good drainage. This fragmented nature has seen its share of criticism, and there are those who believe that only portions of Échezeaux are truly worthy of Grand Cru status.
Domaine Philippe Charlopin, 2012 Échezeaux Grand Cru ‘Vieilles Vignes’ ($290)
Charlopin’s Échezeaux comes from less than one acre of vines planted in the 1920s within En Orveaux, a block at the northern end of the Grand Cru vineyard. It is usually one the last vineyards to be harvested, and there is generally more acidity in the berries, leading to a leaner style of wine. However, the wines tend to show no less fragrance for this and can be exceptionally fine and aromatic—ideal candidates for aging. En Orveaux soils, like many high on the hill along this part of the Côte d’Or, are made up of a thin layer of rocky clay over a hard limestone base.
The Vougeot commune should be distinguished from its most famous vineyard, Clos de Vougeot, since it also encompasses several other fine climats (several of which are Premier Cru) and has a reputation for excellent white wines as well as reds—rather unusual for the Côte de Nuits. Even red wines from the tiny appellation are allowed to add up to 15% ‘accessory’ varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.
Deriving its name from the small Vouge river, Vougeot (both the Clos and the satellite climats) owes its reputation to the powerful abbey of Cîteaux, who established these vineyards in the 12th century. The best wines of Vougeot are among the most masterful in Burgundy, succulent and mellow allowing a seamless balance between elegance and delicacy and meaty fullness.
Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, 2012 Clos-Vougeot Grand Cru ($390)
The grapes for Confuron’s Vougeot Cru come from a one-acre plot of vines that were planted in 1962; soils are brown and calcareous, rich in clay and alluvium. Confuron’s plot is located in the upper part of the vineyard, just behind the castle. The wine is aged in barrels for 15 to 18 months with 80% new oak. Production is around 2,000 bottles per year.
Domaine Bertagna, 2012 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru ($390)
Located at the midpoint of the climat, Bertagna’s slightly-under one acre of vines are worked organically, with Guyot-style pruning and green harvesting. The grapes are destemmed and hand-sorted, then given a slow, cool three-week fermentation following which the wines are barreled in 100% new oak for a minimum of 16 months.
Referred to as ‘the Mozart of the Côte de Nuits’ for its finely-tuned nuances, Saint-Denis faces east or slightly southeast at an elevation of around 800 feet. The climat is part of a chain that may be seen as a southerly extension of the Grand Crus of Gevrey-Chambertin; first the Clos de la Roche, then Clos Saint-Denis followed by Clos des Lambrays, and finally Clos de Tart leading to Bonnes-Mares.
Limestone dominates the soils of these acres; near the foot of the slope Clos Saint-Denis at the foot of the slope has pebble-free brown limestone soils which contain phosphorus (like Chambertin) and clay (like Musigny).
Domaine Bertagna, 2012 Clos Saint Denis Grand Cru ($380)
Bertagna’s acre-and-a-third at Morey-St-Denis is located next to the Clos de la Roche. The 2012s are just beginning to hit the sweet spot with a nose of forest floor, mushroom with plenty of Morello cherry and black fruit compote remaining; the finish is particularly lengthy and may last longer than the bottle (!)
Once opened, wine immediately begins a dynamic process of oxidation, encouraged when you swirl the wine in your glass. (Have you ever had a host top off your glass and wonder if the refill came from the original bottle?) Aeration smooths harsh tannins while swirling dissipates the undesirable volatiles that may have developed inside the bottle as acid and alcohol intermix; the warmth from the room and your hands concentrates the aromatics. For most well-produced wines, a period of ‘acclamation’ is necessary for a freshly uncorked wine to reveal its full potential, and with older wines—those that have been cellared for a number of years—this is especially true. Decanting is aeration on a large scale, where the wine is poured into a second vessel, preferably one with a broad bottom to give the wine more surface exposure to oxygen. Since winery labels and bottle design are part of experience, it’s recommended that the wine be returned to its place of origin before serving.
These wines are best served at cellar temperature, 60 – 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Posted on 2023.01.13 in Côte de Nuits, Morey-Saint-Denis, Premeaux-Prissey, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, France, Burgundy  | Read more...