Among Burgundy’s many delicious wines, those from Chambolle-Musigny frequently offer the most alluring and enchanting delights especially in outstanding vintages. The best examples balance delicate, complex red fruit aromas and ripe, transparent flavors with uplifting freshness and silky, elegant tannins. Drinking and enjoying four terrific Chambolle wines at a recent lunch proved the point convincingly. Of the highlighted producers, ironically only Fred Mugnier operates in the village, whereas Serge Groffier, the Rion’s and Bruno Clair work out of neighboring villages.
The delicious 2002 Domaine Robert Groffier Père & Fils, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Amoureuses” 1er cru led the pack as a sheer delight. Intoxicating, beautiful red fruit and earthy aromas gave way to pure ripe red fruit with ample concentration. A perfect vein of fresh acidity and elegant tannins carried through the long, long finish. This is a completely seamless and marvelous wine from 2002, a vintage where the reds have finally begun shedding austerity in favor of supple flesh. Kudos to dedicated winegrower Serge Groffier who produced the wine working with his equally talented son, Nicolas, who now directs the domaine located in Morey-Saint-Denis. The vineyard “Les Amoureuses,” meaning “The Lovers” is certainly one of Burgundy’s most beguiling names. The vineyard lies just below the famed Musigny Grand cru as shown on the map at the bottom of the story.
The 2002DomaineJacques-Frédéric Mugnier, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Fuées” 1er cru and 2005 Domaine Daniel Rion et Fils “Les Beaux-Bruns” followed closely behind.
Fred Mugnier occupies a handsome, three story white stone manor house located in an enclosed park-like setting right in the village of Chambolle. For his wines, he favors an understated, highly finessed style without brute extraction. The irresistible, seductive 2002Chambolle-Musigny “Les Fuées” 1er cru displayed Mugnier’s trademark style perfectly. Pretty red fruit and floral aromas opened in the glass leading to juicy, elegant red fruit flavors layered in medium concentration. Bright acidity and smooth seamless tannins carried the long finish. It is an incredibly silky, delicious wine with a delicacy uncommon in the 2002 vintage
The Rion Family resides in the village of Premeaux-Prissey down Route 74 south of Chambolle. Their parcel in Chambolle-Musigny “Les Beaux-Bruns” lies down slope from the premier crus and has relatively deep soils as well as a warmer microclimate. This creates a richer style wine as shown by the Rion’s absolutely delicious, beautifully balanced example from 2005. The ruby color unfolded dark red fruit aromas with pleasant spicy touches. Ripe, juicy dark red fruit flavors layered with fresh acidity and silky, seamless tannins. Many wines from the warm 2005 vintage lack proper balance, but this wine offered everything you hope to find in well made, delectable red Burgundy.
Winegrower Bruno Clair and winemaker Philippe Brun. Clair used fruit from well placed village level vines to produce the 2005 Domaine Bruno Clair, Chambolle-Musigny“Les Veroilles,” a delicious, masterful effort. Clair planted the Pinot Noir vines in 1989 on two previously abandoned plots.. Ripe, pure red fruits jump from the glass with just a hint of pleasant earthiness. Intense, vibrant red fruit flavors characteristic of the warm 2005 vintage balance with refreshing mineral notes and precise, silky tannins through a long, fruity finish. The wine made a perfect complement to classic Cuisses des Grenouilles–lightly breaded frogs sauteed in butter and garlic. Bruno Clairhas his cellar in Marsannay, up the D74 main thoroughfare north of Chambolle. He also produces outstanding Gevrey-Chambertins including an incredibly beautiful wine from Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze Grand Cru where two thirds of his vines date from 1912!
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Burgundy’s Mâcon region, Frédéric Ménager dreamed of one day ripping guitar solos in a rock and roll band. His family had more immediate ideas, and so Ménager began the long, hard quest to become a chef in France. He worked in Paris and at Restaurant Alain Chapel (with a Michelin-three star rating) before eventually becoming executive chef at Castel de Très Girard, a respected gastronomic restaurant in Morey-Saint-Denis, Burgundy.
But as a rocker at heart with an urge for creative independence, Ménager made a life changing decision to leave the restaurant in 2002. He and his wife, Eva, took a major risk by buying La Ferme de la Ruchotte, a farm where Ménager could chart his own unique path as a poultry breeder and part-time chef. Fifteen years later Ménager has emerged as a respected champion of the “farm to plate” model not only in Burgundy, but around France and internationally. And his passion for heavy metal, hard rock, popular and classical music flourishes stronger than ever.
The 12.5 acre La Ferme de la Ruchotte lies at the end of a serpentine road on top of a hill above the village of Bligny-sur-Ouche, 25 kilometers from Beaune. The farm provides a free-range paradise for Ménager’s passion and specialty—chickens, coqs vierges, and poulardes descended from colorful, ancient French lines such as the Gaulloise Dorée, Barbezieux, Le Mans, La Flèche, and Coucou de Rennes. He also raises rare, ancient breeds of turkeys, guinea fowl, and ducks—over 2,000 poultry in all—along with ten rugged Solognot sheep and twenty black Gascon pigs. One llama, an ostrich, a big black dog and various felines keep them all company. For good measure, Ménager tends an extensive potager garden with greens, carrots, leeks, radishes, celery, beets, peppers….you name it. He also grows diverse fruits.
Everything thrives in the farm’s self-contained, organic environment which is certified by the bright green and white “AB”—Agriculture Biologique—sign at the entrance. Vegetables and fruits grow without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Animals breed and mature without synthetic antibiotics and genetically modified methods. Ménager sees a critical rapport between a healthy, uncontaminated farm and high quality poultry.
“Organic farming guarantees a healthy diet to the animals and a life in the best conditions,” he says. “The breeding time is also longer, and the slaughter is done according to very precise criteria. Ultimately the product is healthier and therefore better for the consumer.”
“A chicken of quality must have firm and muscular flesh, be flavorful and properly fattened,” Ménager adds. “The skin must be fine and well oiled.”
Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants around Burgundy covet Ménager’s tasty bounty, but he also sells to more casual, but excellent culinary destinations such as Caves Madelaine Beaune. Individual customers order poultry for holidays and special occasions. And on Saturdays and Sundays only, Ménager and Eva welcome guests by reservation into their home for a lunchtime meal unlike any other.
On a Sunday in May, Eva greets guests warmly into the cheerfully decorated farmhouse dining room. Inviting aromas fill the snug room while Fred works in the well appointed professional kitchen just through an open doorway. A chalkboard near the fire place features the fixed menu which this day offers Poule en Gelée with new Spring greens, Coq au Vin with Spring vegetables, cheese, and a dessert of chocolate ice cream, gingerbread and gaufrette, a wafer thin, slightly sweet cone.
Homemade, crusty bread and silky pork rillettes await guests who sit at either a large communal table or several smaller tables. My wife and I sat at the communal table next to a couple of American restaurant owners and sommeliers on one side. On our other side sat organic/biodynamic winegrower Yann Durieux with his wife and charming, young daughter. The affable Durieux worked and trained with some of Burgundy’s leading “bio” wine producers. His own domaine, Recrue des Sens, has a rapidly growing reputation for producing deliciously pure and fresh Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines. Dureiux makes wines “naturally” with little intervention and no added sulfites.
Back in the kitchen Ménager plates the first course as the sounds of AC/DC’s hard rock anthems play at modest volume. The chef is a picture of concentration. The music helps keep him focused and inspired.
“Music remains indispensable and inseparable in my life,’ says Ménager who recalls Django Reinhardt’s distinctive, unforgettable guitar playing in his childhood. “Then I took a slap listening to Led Zeppelin’s first album. Jimmy Page remains an incomparable genius. I also remain very impressed by Elvis’ incredible voice, and the unique Steven Tyler”
Other favorites on his eclectic playlist include Serge Gainsbourg, Van Halen’s first album, Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beatles, Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.
Black Label Society lead man Zakk Wylde, a Bayonne, New Jersey native whom Ménager has met twice, also sits atop the list. “A man of great kindness who has immense respect for his fans.” Ménager notes.
He credits Chef Philippe Jousse at Restaurant Alain Chapel with teaching hard work, commitment and discipline as values essential for a chef to show similar respect for dinner guests.
“At Restaurant Alain Chapel I learned that good food is not possible without good products,” Ménager recalls. “In the kitchen I learned camaraderie and the great techniques of French cooking. Philippe Jousse remains for me the greatest technician.”
As the chef at Castel de Très Girard, Ménager constantly searched for quality products to produce quality food. After starting to raise chickens as a hobby, a fellow poultry breeder introduced him to France’s “ancient races.”
“I raised, ate and discovered something exceptional. The chickens just turned my life upside down!” Ménager says.
He and his wife took the plunge at La Ferme de la Ruchotte unsure of the economic viability of their “farm to plate” model. But they envisioned potential benefits, too.
“We decided to reorient our lives to a more ethical ideal with more autonomy and independence,” he recalls. “I try to show my clients and guests that self-sufficiency is possible. You no longer have to depend on big agribusiness.”
By controlling the production channel from birth of the animals through slaughter, Ménager maintains the genetic diversity that is critical to quality.
“Year after year I have observed and tasted my animals. We now know how to make a great chicken, but work still remains to be done,” he says. “Genetic diversity remains the most important thing in order to maintain a livestock with a strong capacity to adapt to its environment.”
At our Sunday lunch, the succulent Coq au Vin and vegetables are a revelation. The bird’s firm, flavorful dark meat and rich sauce marry seamlessly. The fresh Spring vegetables cooked to perfection add savory accents. It is a delicious, hearty course where traditional simplicity allows sublime ingredients to hold center stage.
On the wine list, Ménager offers bottles made primarily from organically cultivated grapes. Well known producers such Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Dujac jump out. But lesser known yet terrific producers such as Yann Durieux at Recrue des Sens and Marc Rougeot at Domaine Rougeot Père & Fils in Meursault also catch the eye.
“Wine is very important for us. It is in our genes and is an integral part of our Burgundy culture,” Ménager says. “I love wines that tell a story about the history of Burgundy terroir and the work of soils. Plus many of our wines come from growers who have become friends and who love what we do here. So there is coherence in our collaboration.”
As the Sunday meal draws to a close, sated guests linger under La Ferme de la Ruchotte’s spell. We are all happy savoring the pleasure of this memorable culinary moment.
“Being able to feed our guests with animals we saw born and that we cook as best we can is without doubt my best achievement,” Ménager says. “I love to live on farm with the people who work here and share great moments of happiness like the birth of animals. Slaughtering the animals is not easy, you know, but I live this as a sacrifice.”
“I like to make a kitchen that puts forward my products. As a cook, I am only a courier,” he adds.”The cook should fade in front of an animal that by his sacrifice will feed customers. Great products do not need much. The stars should be the product and the peasant.”
Rock on, Monsieur!
“Hey there, all you middle men,
Throw away your fancy clothes.
And while you’re out there sittin’ on a fence,
Get off your ass and come down here.
‘Cause rock ‘n’ roll ain’t no riddle man
To me it makes good, good sense.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution by AC/DC
Each Tuesday our little tasting group in Pittsburgh dreams of our favorite wine region, Burgundy, by sharing wines over a modest lunch at a local bistro. This week’s theme happened to be Pommard, and as usual we tasted the wines “blind” without foreknowledge of the producer, specific climat and vintage. The experience is always instructive and fun, and occasionally delightful with startling surprises. This week was no exception.
The first wine offered a promising start. Its ruddy color showed cellar aging and smelled of ripe red fruits with meaty, earthy notes. In the mouth, pure, ripe dark red fruit with good concentration and fine freshness suggested a good older vintage. A touch of firm tannins remained on the finish, but the wine’s overall balance led to guesses of a premier cru from 1998, 1999 or 2002.
Indeed it was the 1999 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley, Pommard “Les Rugiens” 1er cru, and what a wonder delight it was to drink. Many of our little group of 7 or 8 Burgundy fans have purchased wines from Jean-Marc Bouley since the early 1990’s. In the past the wines’ firm tannins resolved reluctantly, but this lovely wine from the great 1999 vintage was completely on point. (Now with the son, Thomas Bouley working with meticulous care in the vineyards, this domaine is on the rise, so do not hesitate to buy.) The first wine, as it turned out, was only a prologue to the next miraculous wine.
The second wine showed a dark, youthful ruby color in the glass. Fresh, ripe red fruit and pleasant earthy notes wafted from the glass. The wine’s pure red fruits had marvelous concentration brought into perfect focus and balance with startlingly fresh acidity and minerality wrapped in elegant tannins. Tasters’ guesses ranged across 2013 to 2005 to 2002 for vintage and most assuredly a premier cru.
Wrong and wrong! The 1990 Domaine Leroy, Pommard :”Les Vignots” was 27 years “young” and from a well placed village lieu-dit. It left our experienced group of Burgundy tasters shaking our heads. The vibrant color, the pure fruit, the unbridled freshness, and the wine’s sheer vitality in the glass delivered pleasure second to none.
As for the reasons, certainly the bottle was purchased directly at the time of release and cellar aged properly for decades. The “Vignots” climat is a fine terroir, rich in clay and limestone on a slope with good drainage But in the end, one concludes that only a vigneron with the passion and savoir-faire of Lalou Bize-Leroy could make such the wine.
Her legendary vineyard practices rely on a biodynamic approach and incorporate meticulously detailed work by hand on each vine. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides never touch either the soils or the vines. Only natural teas and herbal mixtures are applied to tap into the vines’ natural energies and capacities to resist diseases on their own.
Early in the season–often during raw weather in April–time consuming ébourgeonnage by hand removes buds selectively from each vine to maintain low yields. As the season progresses the tips of the vines are neither clipped nor trimmed to maximize energy within the vines. Additional removal of buds occurs after flowering.
Selection of only ripe fruit occurs during hand harvesting followed by a meticulous second selection in the cuverie to ensure only the best fruit goes into wooden vats. Fermentation occurs with native yeasts and whole bunches of grapes, stems and all. Gentle punch downs and remontage occur during slow fermentation. After pressing, the new wines go by gravity for aging first into one cellar and then into an even deeper, colder cellar until final bottling.
But all this description of process matters little to the ultimate dazzling reality of the wine in the glass, in this case after twenty seven years in bottle. It was yet another blind tasting demonstrating that Lalou Bize-Leroy can produce spectacular wines of unrivaled pleasure and refinement. So pity the wines that followed.
Yet both wines held their own. The 2010 Domaine de Courcel, Pommard “Grand Clos des Épenots” 1er cru offered pretty red fruit aromas a hint of smokiness leading to fresh, correct red fruit flavors with modest concentration.Plenty of fresh acidity and firm tannins will allow the wine to age gracefully for another 5 to 10 uears.
The 1998 Domaine de Courcel, Pommard “Grand Clos des Épenots” 1er cru had a dusky ruby color with some brown at the rim. Ripe dark plum and red fruit aromas and plenty of earthy notes led to ripe, round red fruit and meaty flavors. Fine acidity and resolved tannins added good balance and structure.
With this year’s International Women’s Day, the spotlight naturally shines on women in wine. Until the late 1970’s, in the U.S. women primarily held technical laboratory roles and French women typically performed sales paperwork at wineries. Today women work professionally in every imaginable role such as winery owners, wholesale and retail wine distributors, restaurant sommeliers, wine media and wine marketing. But some of the most intriguing stories come from women at the “ground” level, growing grapes and producing wine.
Consider Sylvie Esmonin in Burgundy, France. She enjoyed advantages as a member of a multi-generational grape growing family. But success in her own right required tenacious commitment to pioneering paths in male dominated times. Esmonin is no revolutionary, yet she quietly personifies the International Women’s Day theme of #BeBoldForChange.
Sylvie and her sister grew up in Gevrey-Chambertin at the domaine headed by her father, Michel Esmonin. The family vineyards include the famed Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos Saint-Jacques premier cru located literally outside the back door. The gently sloping vineyard has limestone rich soils, perfect sun exposure and a sheltered location. Its a terroir capable of yielding some of Burgundy’s best fruit. Yet, like many of his generation, Michel initially sold grapes in bulk to négociants.
It was never a foregone plan for Sylvie to work full time at the family domaine. She trained initially as an engineer in agronomy and industrial food production. But after early unhappy corporate internships, she refocused on chemistry and viticulture studies.
In the mid-1980’s she worked as an independent consulting oenologist before accepting her father’s invitation to handle the domaine’s administrative duties and sales. She agreed to return only if the domaine committed to the riskier path of producing, bottling and selling its own wines. She also led efforts to depart from systematically spraying the vines with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
Over the next decade the domaine’s wines earned a sterling international reputation which led to success just as Burgundy sales expanded globally. Eventually Sylvie took the domaine’s helm in 1998 with Michel Esmonin remaining active in the vineyards. Today as a hard-working, hands-on vigneronne, the affable Sylvie greets visitors in unpretentious work clothes and boots, aided by her energetic dog, Justy.
Clearly Sylvie believes wine should have personality and give great pleasure. Her red Burgundies have intoxicating floral and red fruit aromas, ripe, pure fruit with ample concentration, fresh acidity and elegant, bold tannins. Achieving such charming, gorgeous balance requires confident savoir-faire both in the vineyards and the cellar. Part of the trick lies in fermenting whole grape clusters with stems for most of Sylvie’s red wines. Its a technique hinging on attentive, meticulous manual work with vigorous vines in healthy, living soils. A little cooperation from Mother Nature also helps!
During a visit to the domaine to taste the 2015 and 2014 wines, a bottle served blind at the end of the visit proves the point perfectly. The wine had ripe red fruit aromas, moderate concentration and a pleasant fruity finish with resolved tannins.
Surprisingly it was the 2004 Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos Saint-Jacques 1er cru. The 2004 vintage is, of course, notoriously difficult, with many hard, unripe wines with unpleasant “greenness.” Not this wine. Why? Sylvie took a risk by harvesting very late in 2004 to coax the maximum ripeness from Mother Nature. Esmonin also sorted with a table de tri prior to fermentation. Her team’s hard work paid off as shown in a marvelous wine tasted 12 years later.
Currently in the American market, available wines include the juicy 2013 Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Bourgogne Rouge “Cuvée Sylvie” (around $35), the lovely 2013 Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin (around $55) and the cellar worthy 2013 Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertine, Clos Saint-Jacques 1er Cru (around $135).
In coming months look for the following wines in the U.S. The notes are based on tasting at the cellars in Gevrey-Chambertin in October, 2016:
2014 Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin “Vieilles Vignes”: Spicy dark fruit aromas, concentrated, juicy red and dark fruit, very fresh, firm tannins. Very agreeable but will require minimum of five years cellar aging. 2014 Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos Saint-Jacques 1er cru: Very fresh red fruit aromas with a touch of exotic black liquorices. Full, concentrated ripe fruit. Terrific freshness. Fine, firm tannins, Beautifully balanced. Should age gracefully for 10 to 15 years easily.
2015 Sylvie Esmonin, Bourgogne Rouge “Cuvée Sylvie”: Ripe red fruit and floral notes. Perfectly balanced and ripe. Light concentration but fresh and delicious. Made from 100% destemmed fruit. Will drink well now and over the next five years or so. 2015 Sylvie Esmonin, Côte de Nuits–Villages: Made from vines in nearby Brochon. Black fruit and spice aromas. Dark red fruit on the palate. Good freshness and firm. persistent tannins. Made partially with whole bunches. Needs a few years of cellar aging to resolve completely. 2015 Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin: Clean, pure red fruit aromas with direct appeal. Appealing, pure ripe red fruit on the palate with moderate concentration. Lovely freshness and energy with smooth, elegant tannins. Long finish.Terrific wine that will age nicely. 2015 Sylvie Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos Saint-Jacques 1er cru: A big, rich wine packed with enticing dark raspberry fruit and spice aromas. Rich, concentrated flavors balanced with terrific energy and fine tannins. Terrific refinement. A wine of purity and pleasure meant for long aging.