Category Archives: Burgundy

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

Restaurants “Vantre” in Paris and “Le Terroir” in Burgundy Deliver Delicious, Memorable Food and Wine Moments.

When visiting Paris and Burgundy, two of France’s most popular destinations, we all share a burning question. Where can I eat and drink well and memorably without breaking the bank? In Paris, the relatively new Vantre offers an intriguing option, and in Burgundy, Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay provides a reliably charming choice.

Vantre occupies a modest storefront in Paris’ edgy, high energy 11th arrondissement, whereas Le Terroir’s unassuming entrance lies behind a quiet terrace on a side of Santenay’s place du jet d’eau. Each location has its charms, but the engaging personalities and wine knowledge of Marco Pelletier at Vantre and Corinne Germain at Le Terroir provide the real allure. They are owners, but they also serve as sommeliers with genuine passion for pairing delicious wines with their respective chef’s inventive, well made dishes. Add professional, graceful service without pretense, and the essentials for pleasurable, memorable dining moments all come together.

Vantre:

In 2016, Marco Pelletier (pictured above) opened Vantre (19, rue de la Fontaine au Roi, Paris, 75011; Tel: +33 1 48 06 16 96; Subway: Goncourt) with the goal of “democratizing” fine French wines. If anybody can achieve this lofty goal, it’s Pelletier who has matchless, encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary French wines. Previously he served six years as a sommelier at Le Taillevent in Paris’ 8th arrondissement and then eight years as Chief Sommelier at Hôtel Le Bristol, also in the 8th arrondissement. As a primary buyer stocking the vast cellars at these highly rated Michelin-starred restaurants, Pelletier came to know France’s most accomplished producers as friends and colleagues.

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Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu offers bewitching floral aromas and stupendously delicious, fresh flavors.

Even so, the Quebec-born Pelletier has an unstuffy, infectious enthusiasm for enjoying and sharing wine. I first met him by chance nearly ten years ago after one of his long shifts at Hôtel Le Bristol. He was unwinding at a casual “watering hole,”  Gérard Pantanacce‘s old wine bar, Le Café du Passage on rue de Charonne not far from Place Bastille. Joined by Parma-based professor and sommelier, Paolo Tegoni, the four of us wiled away the evening into the wee hours. We ate Pantanacce’s signature rillettes, charcuterie, steak tartare and “Saucisse de Morteau” while tasting blind “mystery” wines.

First came a Tuscan red, then a light-bodied Bugey Pinot Noir. Then came a sensational white, the Domaine Eric Morgat’s Savennières “L’Enclos,” and then an older J. Vidal Fleury, Hermitage. Last, but not least, came the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” a red blend produced by a partnership between Pelletier, Pantanacce and another friend who owned vineyards in the Libournais near Bordeaux. The food, wines and camaraderie all made for an instructive and memorable experience.

Pelletier brings the same enthusiasm for shared discovery, convivial fun and savoir-faire to Vantre’s wine program. The list offers over five hundred selections ranging from “grand vins” to more obscure wines from lesser known, but up and coming producers. Because Pelletier offers his own personal collection of wines accumulated over eighteen years as a top sommelier, many older vintages from Roulot, Comtes Lafon, Vieux Télégraphe and countless others are available. Hard to find gems also stud the list thanks to Pelletier’s direct access to great producers.

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Gonet’s delicious dessert “Vin de Liqueur” made in Champagne.

For example, Vantre offers Yves Gangloff’s Condrieu, a wine with bewitching honeysuckle and peach perfumes, pure, ripe fruit and scintillating freshness. Gangloff produces maybe 6,000 bottles annually for the entire world, and Pelletier secures his allocation by going directly to the domaine to visit his friend. The wine pairs beautifully with talented Chef Iacopo Chomel’s Gnocchi with Sage Butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Pelletier offers his “baby,” the Domaine de Galouchey “Vin de Jardin,” both by the glass and the bottle. Its enchanting red fruit aromas, ripe, succulent fruit and superb, exhilarating freshness carry through the natural, mouthwatering finish.

“The vines for Galouchey were planted in virgin soils that never saw chemicals,” says Pelletier, noting that his group tends the vines completely naturally. “We harvest by hand, berry by berry to use only perfectly ripe fruit. The juice ferments with natural yeast, and we add nothing ”

It pairs perfectly with tender Beef Cheeks with Braised Endive. The dish is another of example of the chef’s scrumptious, bistro-style cuisine du marché-—“market cuisine”—that guests enjoy at Vantre’s marble top tables and comfortable banquettes under high ceilings.

Ever the wine educator, with dessert Pelletier served a rarity—the Michel Gonet, Ratafia de la Champagne. For centuries, Champagne growers made Ratafia primarily for enjoyment in their own region. It’s a “Vin de Liqueur” where Gonet blends fresh, sweet juice from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the current vintage with Eau de Vie distilled from the third and fourth pressings of Champagne grapes from prior vintages. The resulting drink which has about 18% alcohol by volume. Judicious aging in barrels mellows the wine’s fiery notes without hiding its marvelous fruit forward aromas and freshness. It placed a delicious cap on another memorable food and wine experience thanks to Pelletier’s exuberant, confident guidance.

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Sommelier and co-owner Ms. Corinne Germain at Le Terroir Restaurant in Santenay, Burgundy.

Restautant Le Terroir Restaurant:

Since opening Restaurant Le Terroir (19, place du jet d’eau 21590 Santenay; Tel.: 03 80 20 63 47) in 1989, Chef Fabrice Germain and his spouse Corinne, a native of Colmar in Alsace, have followed one telling philosophy: “Il n’est rien de plus sérieux pour nous que votre plaisir! There is nothing more serious for us than your pleasure.”

The hardworking couple now attracts a cadre of loyal return guests from France and around the world. It is always a pleasure to rediscover the comfortable, cheerfully decorated, white tablecloth dining room as  Ms. Germain warmly welcomes every guest through the door. At the table, visitors rely on enjoying the pleasures Chef Fabrice’s seasonal menus featuring Burgundy classics with creative touches. Corinne provides superb wine suggestions from the list with over 300 references including half bottles and magnums.

When it comes to Burgundy’s most iconic dish—piping hot snails in butter, garlic and parsley—nobody surpasses Chef Fabrice. He cooks the plump snails to perfection for optimal texture. He avoids overcooking the garlic to allow the flavor to shine.

The dish paired beautifully with Ms. Germain’s suggestion of the 2011 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “En Remilly.” As a hard-working vineyard perfectionist, Olivier Lamy consistently turns out scintillating whites like this delicious gem. The wine had just enough bottle age to bring together a lovely balance of ripe fruit and Lamy’s trademark crystalline freshness.

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Chef Fabrice Germain’s classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne.

Ms. Germain offers a range of Lamy’s other selections along with well-balanced whites from Alain Gras, Jean-Marc Vincent, Vincent Bachelet, Bernard Moreau, and many others.

Chef Germain’s main courses start with creative preparations of daily market seafood selections such as cod, salmon and turbot. Other courses include Burgundy classics with creative twists. For example, the fixed menu features Coq au Vin with deboned rooster, smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, and  fresh pasta, served in a casserole. Braised lamb with garden rosemary comes with grilled confit potatoes, chopped bacon, and sweet garlic cream with lemon confit. A grilled Charolais beef tenderloin with red peppercorns has a red wine sauce, beets with gingerbread, potato croquettes, and brown mushrooms. Each dish pairs easily with the restaurant’s wide selection of fresh, immediately pleasurable red wines.

“I choose wines for the immediate pleasure they bring,” Ms. Germain notes. “They must be balanced and without excessive wood and dominant alcohol.”

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Domaine Chevrot et Fils’ terrific Marnages “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru.

The list has a particularly strong selection of Santenay red wines from the likes of Domaine David Moreau, Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair, Domaine Roger Belland, and Domaine Bachey Legros. Highlights from the Côte de Nuits include Domaine Cécile Tremblay’s Vosne Romanée and Chambolle Musigny, Domaine du Vieux Collège’s Marsannay and Fixin, and Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay.

Ms. Germain regularly participates in tastings with a Burgundy sommeliers club where she looks to discover producers focused on using healthy grapes grown with respect for each individual terroir. For example, brothers Pablo and Vincent Chevrot of Domaine Chevrot et Fils in nearby Maranges tend their vines with organic practices and take a natural, hands-off approach in the winery. Their 2014 Domaine Chevrot et Fils, Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru offers pure red fruit, moderate concentration, terrific freshness and elegant tannins that match particularly well with Le Terroir’s cheese course.

The restaurant team presents a classic “chariot” giving guests the pleasure of surveying and making selections from a full array of top French fromages. Amidst the blue Roquefort, the firm Comté, the soft Camembert de Normandie and all the others, Burgundy’s Époisses de Bourgogne invariably stands out. Le Terroir always offers a perfectly ripe Époisses with intense, earthy aromas and a slightly coulant—“runny”—texture.

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The fountain outside of Restaurant Le Terroir in Santenay’s central square.

Desserts include Parfait Glacé au Marc de Bourgogne et Son Coulis de Fruits—a firm ice cream parfait topped with Burgundy grape spirits and a purée of fresh fruit—and Croquant Spéculoos, mousse chocolat au lait cardamone et pamplemousse granité à la bière blanche et miel de Bourgogne–a spiced biscuit paired with a duo of chocolate mousse topped with cardamon cream and refreshing grapefruit granita ice with nuances of wheat beer and honey.

Outside of Le Terroir just across the street in Santenay’s central square, the jet d’eau—the public fountain—-offers a cheerful display. It serves as a reminder of another memorable Burgundy dining experience at Le Terroir.

 

 

Ethereal 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux Illustrates Enduring Pleasures From Whole Bunch Fermentation With Stems

Ethereal 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux Illustrates Enduring Pleasures From Whole Bunch Fermentation With Stems

Sometimes, if you’re fortunate enough to drink Burgundies with generous friends who kindly share great wines with decades of cellar aging, you experience a wine whose profound beauty and sheer pleasure stops you in your tracks with emotion. Such was the case this week with the 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux.

The first captivating glimpse of this brilliant wine in the glass hinted at something marvelous. Its limpid, shimmering ruby color stood in stark contrast to more deeply colored preceding wines, the delicious ’05 Domaine Michel Gros Vosne-Romanée “Clos de Réas” 1er Cru and Pascal Lachaux’s full-bodied ’02 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée “Les Chaumes” 1er Cru.

The first sniff of the ’96 Dujac Echezeaux’s heavenly, complex perfumes promised more pleasure. Delicate red fruit aromas and pleasant spicy notes came from the glass. It was enthralling and ethereal.

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The 1996 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux in the glass.

The memorable opening sip fulfilled expectations. Astounding purity of red fruit flavors with full concentration unfolded with terrific finesse and uplifting freshness and energy. The wine’s superb balance and silky, refined tannins carried the lingering, resonating finish. It was a profound wine with transparent fruit, good depth and elegant understatement, and it was a sheer pleasure to drink.

So what could account for the pronounced contrast in styles between the Dujac Echezeaux and the first two outstanding, but less ethereal wines?  Gros and Lachaux certainly are conscientious producers. They meticulously tend their Pinot Noir vines with labor-intensive, hands-on approaches without the extensive application of synthetic chemicals. And the quality of their premier cru terroirs are arguably comparable to Echezeaux despite its Grand Cru status.

A key difference, however, between the wines occurred during fermentation. Dujac used significant whole cluster fermentation with stems, a traditional fermentation method that persisted across Burgundy well into the late 1980’s. The approach came into question because many growers at the time did not discard damaged, rotted fruit and unripened stems. Unpleasant “green” wines with rough tannins resulted especially in difficult vintages. In reaction, beginning in the late 1970’s the late Henri Jayer made the then bold move of completely removing stems before fermentation. He also advocated allowing long maceration of the juice on the skins. The changes enabled Jayer to produce deeply colored, rich wines featuring luscious, intense fruit, fresh acidity and smooth tannins. As the style gained favor with critics and consumers, the destemming approach spread in Vosne-Romanée with well regarded, dedicated producers such as of Anne Gros, Michel Gros, Pascal Lachaux at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Jean Grivot, and Sylvain Cathiard.

Meanwhile other prominent growers—namely Aubert De Villaine at the iconic Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Lalou Bize-Leroy at Domaine Leroy and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac in nearby Morey Saint Denis—continued fermenting wines with high percentages of whole grape clusters including stems. They meticulously sorted bunches to ensure using only undamaged, ripe clusters with fully ripened stems in fermentation. They limited yields in the vineyards and tended the vines precisely in what Aubert De Villaine refers to as a “haute couture” approach. The resulting wines, as shown by the ’96 Dujac Echezeaux, consistently stand the test of time. They scale the heights of excellence and refinement while giving memorable pleasure.

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Winegrower Jeremy Seysses outside Domaine Dujac.

When used properly, fermenting whole clusters with the stems has several advantages. As Clive Coates, MW, noted in “The Wines of Burgundy” (2008), the approach can give more tannic structure, fresher acidity and more complex flavors. The presence of stems also creates better aeration for a more even fermentation. Generally the process results in lighter hued, less densely colored wines.

These days in Burgundy, the young—and even not so young—generation of winegrowers increasingly embraces using more whole cluster fermentation. For example, the talented Charles Lachaux at Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux used high percentages of clusters across the board in the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages from Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin.

“For me it creates more seductive wines that suit my taste. It’s the style I prefer,” Charles says. “But with whole bunches you have to be careful to avoid greenness and harsh tannins in the wines. You must be more intuitive in the winemaking,  And it creates the opportunity for more emotional wines. That’s why I like it as well.”

Jeremy Seysses along with his winemaker wife, Diana Snowden-Seysses, now takes the lead at Domaine Dujac, and they favor using whole cluster fermentation tailored to the context of each vintage’s personality and conditions. For example, the ripe 2015 vintage warranted higher percentages of whole cluster fermentation.

Similarly at Domaine Rougeot in Meusault, winegrower Marc Rougeot and his sons used 100% whole cluster fermentation with stems for their delicious 2015 Domaine Rougeot, Volnay Santenots 1er Cru. The wine’s gorgeous ruby color offers raspberry aromas with spicy notes opening to pure red fruit flavors. Smooth tannins carry through the long, fresh finish.

In 2014, a solid vintage where fruit was not as ripe across the board as in 2015. the maestro of Volnay, Nicolas Rossignol of Domaine Nicolas Rossignol, achieved dazzling results using 50% whole bunch fermentation for his Volnay “Clos des Angles” and Volnay “Chervets”

Julien Guillot's delicious Bourgogne "Cuvee Auguste' made with whole cluster fermentation.
Julien Guillot’s delicious Bourgogne “Cuvée Auguste’ made with whole cluster fermentation.

Even Domaine Méo-Camuzet‘s Jean-Nicolas Méo who worked very closely with Henri Jayer has experimented with fermenting about ten percentage of whole clusters and stems for some of his outstanding wines.

“Fermenting with whole clusters is generally not my style or taste, but the experiments show that the whole bunches and stems give some extra tannins and balance,” he notes. “On the other hand, using whole clusters with stems does not permit a cold soak of the grapes prior to fermentation which is very important to us. So you gain on one end, but lose on another.’

In southern Burgundy in the Mâcon, Domaine des Vignes du Maynes winegrower Julien Guillot used whole cluster fermentation with stems for his terrific 2015 Vignes du Maynes, Bourgogne “Cuvée Auguste.” The wine comes from organically grown 50-year old Pinot Fin vines. And in addition to using whole clusters and stems, he wine fermented with indigenous yeasts and was aged in neutral barrels. Bottling occurred with minimal added sulfites. Pure strawberry and earthy aromas waft from the glass. Fresh, crunchy red fruit flavors and fresh mineral traits follow. Soft, elegant tannins frame this brilliant, authentic wine’s fruity, fresh finish.

All this said, the question of whether to ferment with some percentage of whole clusters inclduing stems boils down to a matter of each winegrower’s personal style and taste. Part of Burgundy’s abiding charm and allure lies with the growers’ diversity of choices.  The trick lies in knowing and appreciating the styles so you can spend your hard earned resources on wines delivering your preferred pleasures.

Jean-Claude Rateau: Burgundy’s Biodynamic Pioneer Leads Change While Quietly Delivering Exhilarating, Delicious Wines

Jean-Claude Rateau: Burgundy’s Biodynamic Pioneer Leads Change While Quietly Delivering Exhilarating, Delicious Wines

Eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire suggested “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”—“We must cultivate our garden”—even in the face of life’s complications and chaos. Burgundy winegrower Jean-Claude Rateau takes Voltaire’s advice to heart. Since graduating from Beaune’s Lycée Viticole in the late 1970’s, he has carefully cultivated his vineyards very much like a garden using organic and biodynamic methods requiring dedicated manual labor.

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Jean Claude Rateau’s cuverie lies just a few kilometers down the road from his old school.

Today his vital soils and sturdy vines render superb grapes which Rateau uses to produce exhilarating red and white Burgundies with tremendous purity and freshness. Meanwhile as one of the 1995 founders and current President of the Groupement d’Étude et de Suivi des Terroirs (“G.E.S.T.”), he is committed to studying and preserving Burgundy’s unique terroirs. Rateau and other “veterans” readily exchange knowledge with young winegrowing colleagues. The goal is to continue positive changes by training the new generation on the importance of maintaining organic materials in Burgundy’s precious soils.

On a cool, but brilliantly sunny day last May, Rateau provided a close look at his magnificent vineyards coming into bloom. Down the road from his cave, we stop at Beaune “Les Coucherias” 1er cru, a semi-circular vineyard set on a gentle slope where a quarry formerly operated. Rateau has special sentiment for this vineyard that faces directly south.

“It has the best exposure in Beaune with early morning sun and the last rays of sunshine each evening,” says Rateau who planted the vineyard after noted French agronomist Claude Bourguignon analyzed the soils.

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Jean-Claude Rateau among “Les Coucherais” 1er cru’s Chardonnay vines.

“Claude found the red clay soils rich in iron and limestone very similar to Le Montrachet Grand Cru,” Rateau recalls. “So I planted Chardonnay on double cordon trellis which creates good air flow in the vines.”

Instead of applying synthetic chemicals, Rateau relies on natural organic composts and biodynamic teas to activate the soils while also nurturing and strengthening the vines. Vital vines sink deep roots, Rateau notes, to pick up nutrients and critical minerality.

“Les Coucherias gives a rich, deep wine with lots ripeness and  freshness,” he adds. “C’est beau, n’est-ce pas?”

It is indeed beautiful.

Next, we drive into the hills to the west of Beaune to visit the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune vineyards. Deer and wild boar roam the scenic wooded hillsides where black truffles grow in abundance. In recent years increasing numbers of vignerons in the appellation have followed Rateau’s lead by embracing organic viticulture methods. The brown loamy soils of their vineyards teem with green grasses and colorful flowers standing in stark contrast to the dried out, eroded hard surfaces of neighboring vineyards treated with synthetic chemicals.

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The lyre trellis system that Rateau uses in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

“It is possible to make really good wines from the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, but it takes a lot of careful work,” Rateau notes.

He uses the “U” shaped lyre trellis system developed by Dr. Alain Corbonneau in Bordeaux. The vines stand about one meter tall and then branch onto two cordons.

“In my opinion the lyre is the best method for viticulture,” Rateau says. “The vines have plenty of foliage which is all active.”

Active foliage delivers better photosynthesis to ripen fruit consistently which traditionally has been a big challenge in the Hautes-Côtes. And since the grape bunches hang below the leaves, Rateau says the foliage helps protect the fruit from sunburn. In addition, the lyre system exposes the bunches to more wind which helps combat mildew and fungus.

“It is a very intelligent way to grow grapes, and I like it very much,” Rateau adds. “It optimizes the health of the grapes. But it a demanding mode, requiring a lot of care, especially to control the yield. And it is difficult to work manually since the vine leans outwards. But it is the most beautiful method.”

The lyre system has detractors. Grape yields can be high if left unchecked. Plus the vine density is lower than permitted under bureaucratic rules. But with Rateau’s attentive biodynamic approach, his high quality Hautes-Côtes de Beaune white and red wines offer terrific, easy drinking pleasure that speaks for itself.

Meanwhile as President of “G.E.S.T.”, Rateau collaborates with other winegrowers in exploring new methods for training vines.

“We are working towards a  high-vine, high-density system with spacing at two meters similar to Alsace,” Rateau says. “For the regional Bourgogne appellation and Hautes-Côtes appellations, this could eventually replace restrictive low vines and very wide vines on lyres. The goal is to have a more ergonomic system with better quality, lower yields, lower cost, and more ecological balance.”

On the way to see Rateau’s premier cru vineyards, we pass another important “G.E.S.T.” project, the Mont Battois Vine Conservatory northwest of Beaune. In collaboration with the Association Technique Viticole de Bourgogne which owns the parcel, Rateau and his colleagues envision planting fifty-two ancient vine varieties including the well known Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamey plus more obscure vines such as César, Tressot Blanc, Tressot Panaché, and Troyen. The first twenty-two plantings occurred in April 2016.

“These vines are our heritage and history,” Rateau says. “They are rustic varieties more resistant to diseases. The plantings provide a genetic reservoir if anybody wants to recreate grape varieties close to those of today. These varieties produce less alcohol and have more acidity which today has potential importance in relation to global warming.”

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Vital, sweet smelling top soils in the Beaune, Bressandes 1er cru with Rateau’s Pinot Noir vines in early May. 2017.

Next we stop at the beautiful Beaune “Les Bressandes” 1er cru. Here Rateau’s vigorous Pinot Noir vines toil in clay and limestone soils interspersed with distinctive grèzes litées, a scree of limestone pebbles formed by the erosion of an ancient rocky cliff. The steeply sloping vineyard faces directly to the East and covers about 88 acres with 40 different owners.

“This is a very warm vineyard. When it snows, it melts first here,” Rateau notes.”The vine roots decent very deeply here, and the terroir creates red wines with lots of depth.”

Rateau holds a scoop of the rich soil to his nose. The sweet, earthy aromas and texture brings a bright smile to his face as he exhales.

Ah, c’est du vrai sol!l,” he notes. It’s “true soil” resulting from over thirty years of working by hand without synthetic chemicals.  ECOCERT certifies all of his vineyards as organically cultivated, and Rateau is seeking Biodyvin’s certification of his biodynamic vineyard practices.

“When I started I was virtually alone in pursuing organic farming,” he recalls. “Today over fifteen percent of Burgundy growers in the Côte-d’Or are biologique and that’s a great change and progress.”

To encourage more growers to focus on preserving vital, lively soils, each October, Rateau and other experienced winegrowers taste wines from younger growers under forty years old.

‘We taste the wines “blind” without knowing who made each bottle, and then we give our comments,’ he notes. “It’s the best way to discover and encourage promising new growers. If you search, you can still good wines and good value in Burgundy because of the positive changes happening these days in our vineyard soils.”

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Older barrels in Jean-Claude Rateau’s cellar in Beaune.

In the cellar, Rateau minimizes interventions during fermentation and élevage. He relies only on wild yeasts, and, depending on the vintage and terroir, he ferments his red wines with whole grape bunches including stems. Then the wines–both whites and reds–age in used barrels ranging from three to ten years old. Bottling occurs with minimal additions of sulfites.

Because Rateau sells seventy five percent of his wines to French caviste shops and to restaurants in Paris and around France, he is not well known in the United States. But Chambers Street Wines in Manhattan consistently offers a good selection each year. And Rateau’s prices offer terrific value for the quality.

His wines faithfully reflect each terroir and have purity of fruit, freshness and unforced, charming personality. These “old school,” elegant Burgundies favor finesse and juicy, drinking pleasure over extreme concentration and showy power. Every passionate Burgundy should seek them out. The following wines were tasted from bottles in Rateau’s cellar in May, 2017:

White Wines:
2015 Jean-Claude Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc:
Made from Chardonnay growing on Lyre trellises in clay and limestone soils on the sunny, east facing hillsides over the hill from Beaune. The wine has fresh citrus and pear aromas and earthy touches.The pure, fruity flavors balance with racy acidity and fresh minerality through the long, dry finish. Delicious!

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune Pinot Blanc:  Made from Pinot Blanc, a variety that Rateau notes is more widely planted in Burgundy than most consumers may realize. It also has fresh, clean aromas of pears, peaches and apples opening in to round, ripe fruity flavors balanced with Rateau’s trademark acidity and minerality..

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Clos des Mariages”: This is made from an unique blend of late harvested Chardonnay (75%), Pinot Blanc (10%) and Beurot (a.k.a., Pinot Gris) (15%) grown near Rateau’s home in Beaune. The wine has fresh aromas of grapefruit with notes of brown spices, and on the palate it has more concentration than the first two white wines. Clean, fresh finish.

2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Coucherias” 1er Cru: The wine has complex aromas of pears and citrus with floral notes and a decided touch of earthiness. The rich, ripe flavors of citrus, melon and honey layer in pronounced acidity and a mineral laden dry finish. Age for 3 to 5 years before drinking.

Red Wines:rateau
2015 Jean-Claude Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Rouge:  A juicy, fresh and easy drinking red from from 50 year old vines in clay, limestone and marne soils in the heights above Beaune. Charming light ruby robe, gorgeous red cherry and spice aromas; juicy, fresh red fruit with lovely transparency; light concentration balanced with zesty acidity and mineral notes; delicious fruity finish with terrific freshness. Beautiful. Good value too. Bien qualité/prix.Tasted chez DeSimone as well.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Prévoles”::  Made from Pinot Noir grapes growing in a well placed lieu-dit below Beaune “Chouacheux” 1er Cru. Rateau fermented the wine with 100% whole bunches to achieve terrific finesse and pure, transparent red fruit. Lovely red cherry and griotte flavors unfold with bracing, delicious acidity and elegant tannins.Decanting it for an hour or so at home should develop more fleshy notes and round out the delicious red fruit.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Gevrey-Chambertin: Rateau’s only red from the Côte-de-Nuits made from Pinot Noir growing in two lieu-dits near Grand Cru and 1er Crues climats. The wine offers complex, aromatic black fruits and floral notes with pleasant earthy hints. The dark red fruit layer in a rich, concentrated body balanced with fresh acidity and smooth tannins. Pronounced minerallity balances the fruity, elegant finish.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Reversées” 1er Cru: Made from older Pinot Noir growing in cool limestone soils also rich in red iron deposits.The wine offers pure strawberry red fruit aromas with floral hints a touch of pleasant earthiness. Red red fruit layers in rich, fresh acidity and moderate concentration. Smooth, refined tannins add balance to long, fruity finish. Delicious.
2015 Jean-Claude Rateau Beaune “Les Bressandes” 1er Cru: Made from Rateau’s warmest vineyard in a particularly ripe vintage. Fresh, frank raspberry aromas and brown spice hints open to ripe, yet refreshing red fruit flavors with medium body and lovely elegant tannins.  A juicy delight with superb balance that will improve in bottle for years to come. Lovely, delicious wine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock and Roll Survives With Chef Fred Ménager, Poultry Breeder Extraordinaire At La Ferme de la Ruchotte

Rock and Roll Survives With Chef Fred Ménager, Poultry Breeder Extraordinaire At La Ferme de la Ruchotte

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.

One of La Ferme de la Ruchotte’s free-range “ancient race” birds. Photo Credit: Juliette Ranck

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 thAB pubrives 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.”

la ruchotte table
A ceramic bird in the dining room.

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.

la ruchotte-1
Fred Ménager reveals a bit of his hard rock inspired tattoos otherwise concealed by the white chef’s jacket. Another tattoo–in vivid green, of course—refers to his “100% Organic” commitment. Photo Credit: Juliette Ranck

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.”

Coq au vin made from an "ancient race" chicken.
Coq au vin made from an “ancient race” chicken. Photo Credit: Kate DeSimone

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.

The 2015 Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne rouge.
The delicious 2015 Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne rouge made with whole grape clusters and minimal sulfites.

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

(Photo Credit to Juliette Ranck for portrait of Fred Ménager.)

 

 

 

 

Northern Burgundy Vignerons Persevere with Pluck, Passion, Personality

Northern Burgundy Vignerons Persevere with Pluck, Passion, Personality

On the otherwise brilliantly clear morning of April 21, 2017, a smoky gray haze hung over the famous Chablis Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy. The night before, temperatures dropped below freezing just like the two previous nights.  Exhausted, but plucky vignerons had again valiantly manned bougie smudge pots burning through the cold night air attempting to hold devastating frosts at bay from the vines.

The moment was particularly pivotal since warm temperatures in early April accelerated the growing season with early bud breaks on the vines. Just one night of frost, let alone three consecutively, can cruelly destroy vulnerable buds and carry away prospects for an abundant vintage. Coming on the heels of the 2016 vintage where frost and hail wiped out 80% or more of many producers’ production, the early 2017 conditions have been particularly dispiriting.

Yet after sleepless nights and long days, vignerons like Samuel Billaud in Chablis and David Renaud in Irancy, a nearby appellation also vulnerable to frost, meet with foreign visitors and local customers. Why? The answer lies with passion for the terroir and resilient, independent personalities proudly committed to the winegrowing métier as a way of life.

Samuel Billaud on the morning of April 21, 2017 after three consecutive nights of fighting frost in Chablis.
Samuel Billaud on the morning of April 21, 2017 after three consecutive nights of fighting frost in Chablis.

In the center of the town of Chablis, an unshaven and mildly gaunt Samuel Billaud patiently provides a tour of his cuverie and cellar which he acquired in 2015. After harvest, sorting occurs before the operation’s Bucher bladder press applies gentle, steady pressure to newly harvested Chardonnay grapes. Gravity then takes the juice to débourbage decanting tanks and then into stainless steel fermentation tanks where natural indigenous yeasts do their work. Élevage occurs in a mix of new but mainly older demi-muid casks.

Previously Billaud made wine for his family’s venerable Domaine Billaud-Simon estate. But after philosophical differences with his uncle over keeping the domaine on an independent course, in 2009 Samuel created his own label. In 2015 he came full circle by purchasing 4 hectares (about 12 acres) of well placed Grand Cru, Premier Cru and village Chablis vineyards previously belonging to Domaine Billaud-Simon. Samuel also purchases additional Grand Cru fruit from other well regarded growers.

 A tasting at the domaine of a wide selection of wines from 2015 (see notes below) shows a true master taking full advantage of the vineyards’ distinctive chalky Kimmeridgean marl soils. Billaud’s exhilarating white wines balance a complex mix of ripe fruit and smoky aromas, pure fruit flavors, striking freshness and minerality, and long, seductive finishes. Not surprising, since Billaud values proper balance in all his decisions.

“We practice lutte raisonée but we are effectively biologique organic,” he says. “But in a catastrophic year like 2016 some treatments were required to have any crop at all.”

Conversely the more agreeable 2015 vintage required practically no intervention while delivering outstanding fruit leading to terrific wines. Over time Billaud remains committed to achieving financially viability while maintaining the vital, lively soils necessary for healthy vines and vibrant, scintillating wines.

Deploying the bougie smudge pots to combat frost and maintain crop size provides a similar balancing act, according to Billaud.

“It is expensive and time consuming to light the bougies so we can afford only to protect about ten percent of the vines,” he notes. “We protect the Grand Crus and Premier Crus.”

Hillside old vines overlooking Irancy.
Hillside old vines overlooking Irancy.   Photo Credit: (c) 2017 rodthompson photography

Just southwest of Chablis in Irancy, David Renaud faces similar decisions. He tends Pinot Noir and César old vines in a little amphitheater valley rich in Kimmeridgean marl and brown limestone. Picturesque ranks of vines and bushy cherry trees cover the slopes of the hollow leading down to the village. The unusual situation captures warmth and sunshine to help ripen the grapes and at the same time tempers the effects of harsh winds and cold Spring temperatures that occur frequently. Renaud’s fifteen hectares include well placed sites in premier crus Paradis, Les Mazelots, Vaupessiot and Palotte. His grandfather planted the Mazelot vines in 1935.

As a fifth generation winegrower, Renaud works with a special appreciation for both history and his current challenges and opportunities.

“The monks of the Abbey Saint-Germain-d’Auxerre began working this terroir in the 9th century and recognized its unique qualities,” Renaud says while walking the vines above the village. “In fact, the name of the nearby town of Vincelottes on the Yonne River means wine cellars in Latin.”

Winegrower David Renaud in Irancy,
Winegrower David Renaud in Irancy.

During his youth, Renaud worked with his grandfather and father in the vineyards before studying oenology. After returning home full-time, he began a gradual conversion to biologique organic cultivation with the goal of optimizing quality and taking full advantage of Irancy’s unique terroir. It was an ambitious, labor intensive change entailing significant risk considering Irancy’s cold, often damp environment.

But the move improved the quality of the wines and burnished the Renaud family’s winemaking reputation both in France and internationally. The domaine eventually obtained organic certification after David took full responsibility for the domaine in 2005.

No chemical fertilizers, herbicides or fungicides touch the vines which are trained simple Guyot style. He limits yields to around 45hl/h. Renaud’s  rocky vineyards teem with vitality and life in stark contrast to nearby lifeless, dried out vineyards.

In the cellar Renaud proudly displays photos of his great grandmother and other family members involved in harvest and winemaking. He credits the family with instilling the passion and discipline needed to persevere along the path to quality despite difficult vintages. Renaud and the domaine’s small team continue to live out the winegrowing métier with meticulous vineyard work throughout the year. The delicious wines in the glass testify to the success of their hard work.
Tasting Notes:
Domaine Samuel Billaud:

2015 Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis:
Made from two parcels of vines on the Serein River’s left bank and one on the right. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Plenty of ripe fruit in the note with smoky hints. Medium bodied, ripe fruit–grapefruit, orange. Fresh acidity, refreshing mineral notes, clean dry finish. Correct, well balanced, delicious Chablis. Highly Recommended.
2015 Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis “Montée de Tonnerre” 1er cru: Made from two sites within the well placed vineyard near the Grand Crus. Fermented 80% in stainless steel and 20% barrels. Green apple and smoky notes on the nose. Concentrated fruit with notes of salinity and firm acidity. Delicious, refreshing minerality framed an elegant, pure fruit finish. Very classy.
2015 Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis “Séchet” 1er cru:
Made from well located vines averaging over 70 years old. Complex aromas of ripe fruit and flint. Pure. transparent fruit with full ripeness balanced with terrific energy and freshness. Aged on fine lees for a touch creaminess. Long, pure finish. Delicious, complex, refined.
2015 Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis Grand Cru “Bougros”:
Made from high quality fruit purchased from an old friend and respected winegrowing colleague, this outstanding wine has spicy, saline aromas. Ripe fruit with pronounced minerality. A vibrant, delicious wine with great class and refinement.
2015 Domaine Samuel Billaud, Chablis Grand Cru “Vaudésir”:
Fermented and aged in older, neutral barrels. A marvelous Grand Cru where tension between ripe fruit and uplifting freshness hold in perfect balance. The aromas and flavors reveal ripe citrus, white peach and brown spices. This beautiful wine’s depth, vibrant freshness and mineral structure will enable graceful aging and improvement in the bottle to 10 to 20 years.

avid Renaud's classic Irancy with limestone rocks taken from nearby vineyards.
A bottle of David Renaud’s “classique” cuvée Irancy shown with typical limestone rocks taken from nearby vineyards.

Domaine David Renaud:
2015 Domaine David Renaud, Irancy: This “classique” cuvée comes from vines in a variety of microclimates. Harvest yields of the Pinot Noir stay around 45hl/h before destemming and fermentation in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts. Aging in stainless steel as well. Bright, fruity cherry and earthy notes on the nose. Juicy, fresh cherry flavors with moderate depth and fine tannins. An all together engaging and frank that over delivers for the price. Highly Recommended.

2014 Domaine David Renaud, Irancy “Les Mazelots”: Manually harvested Pinot Grapes from a specific lieu dit with very old vines. Aging in 600 liter demi-muids for 16 months before light filtering and bottling. Spicy, black cherry aromas. Rich, dark cherry fruit with superb freshness and distinct minerality. Fine tannins frame a long, fruity and delicious finish.
2015 Domaine David Renaud, Irancy “Vaupessiot”: From 60 year old vines. Maninly PInot Noir with just a touch of César. Aging in 228-liter barrel and larger demi-muids. Fresh dark red fruit. Medium body. Pronounced freshness and firm tannins. Will requires a few years of bottle aging to knit completely. Very fine.
2012 Domaine David Renaud, Irancy “Palotte”: Made from a fifty-fifty blend of Pinot Noir and César, a grape grown only in Irancy. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Released after longer aging in wood and bottle aging. Dark red fruits on the nose with smoky notes. Rich, full bodied pure dark red fruit flavors. Fresh minerality balances firm tannins.
2012 Domaine David Renaud, Grume de César, Coteaux Bourguignonne: Made from 100% old-vine César. Released after extended élevage in barrel and in bottle. Red and balck fruit aromas on the nose, Fresh, fruity flavors. Full bodied and fresh. Firm tannins. Needs additional bottle aging to become fully balanced and delicious.
N.V. David Renaud,Crémant de Bourgogne: Made by the local cooperative with Renaud’s Pinot Noir grapes. A blanc de noirs produced with Méthode Champenois and secondary fermentation in bottle for 16 months. Lovely frothy bubbles, fresh fruity aromas with light yeast notes, Delicious, frothy flavors and a clean, dry finish. Outstanding.
(Opening Photo credit of smoky haze over Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos: (c) 2017 rodthompson photography)

 

 

 

 


 

 

Charles Lachaux: A Portrait of the Winegrower as a Young Man

Charles Lachaux: A Portrait of the Winegrower as a Young Man

In the early 2000’s, winegrower Pascal Lachaux of Domaine Robert Arnoux in Burgundy readily called on his teen-age son, Charles, to translate business conversations with English-speaking importers and journalists. The poised and engaging young man communicated confidently. His intelligence and the obvious bond of trust, mutual respect and collaboration between father and son made telling impressions.

charles lachaux 3

Later after studying oenology in Beaune, Charles Lachaux left his village of Vosne-Romanée to work with wineries in the United States, New Zealand, South Africa and Bordeaux. The experiences proved essential to his formation as a winemaker, but unlike Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce’s fictional anti-hero in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Lachaux returned home energized to pursue his freely chosen métier.

“Going away was part of the best times. You learn to hear, to open your mind and to discover there are other things happening in very different ways elsewhere,” Charles recalls. “It was a very rich experience that gave clearer ideas and understanding of what we want to do in Vosne-Romanée.”

Today thanks to Charles’ willingness to take risks backed up by hard work, the domaine’s wines are better than ever in terms of elegance, purity and sheer pleasure given. Tasting the 2015  wines from barrel at what is now called Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux was marvelous. But Charles is quick to attribute success to a family team effort with his father, Pascal, and mother, Florence.

Charles Lachaux with his parents in 2015.
Charles Lachaux with his parents, Pascal and Florence.

“We are free as a family to take care of all aspects of the domaine,” he notes. “From the start after my return in 2011 my father gave me a lot of responsibility for technical winemaking. Gradually I have taken more responsibility for decisions and ideas in the vineyards as well. But my father still works with a close eye on what we are doing.”

“My parents have more time for themselves, and I have time to be involved with work,” he adds. “It is a clever way to involve and interest us all, because what we are creating and crafting here should give emotion. We always have to try to make wine with our guts.”

To this end, the still relatively young Charles Lachaux works with focused passion and a keen sense of the past, present and future.

A marker on the
A marker on the “Le Chemin des Moines de Saint Vivant,” the forest path where for centuries monks and lay brothers traveled to Vosne-Romanée from L’Abbaye Saint Vivant, a monastery 10 kilometers away on top of the hill in Vergy. The Abbey owned and developed what eventually became Burgundy’s most famous vineyards today.

“Working over nine hundred years the monks from the L’Abbaye Saint-Vivant in Vergy categorized the vineyards. They did hard work that we cannot do better today even with our modern tools,” Charles observes. “All our savoir-faire and techniques really start with them.”

Lachaux also acknowledges his late grandfather, Robert Arnoux, as playing a key role in setting the stage for the domaine’s current success.

“Before my grandfather’s generation, we were all farmers with some vineyards, animals, and fruit trees. We ate and drank what we produced because the wines were not so popular outside Burgundy,” he says.

His grandfather had his own vineyards and also worked for the owner of part of the famed Romanée Saint-Vivant Grand Cru. When the opportunity arose to purchase the vines, Arnoux did not hesitate. The Romanée Saint-Vivant wine remains the domaine’s crown jewel.

Today building on his own parents’ success in improving the vineyards and growing international demand for the domaine’s wines, Charles Lachaux also draws strength and camaraderie from a circle of slightly older colleagues who also learned from stages outside Burgundy. The likes of accomplished vignerons Thomas Bouley in Volnay, Nicolas Rossignol in Volnay and Beaune and Olivier Lamy in Saint Aubin share Lachaux’s open minded approach. They epitomize the best of the current generation of winegrowers working hard to maintain the Burgundy’s  traditions while making their way successfully in an ever more competitive and fast paced context.

“We discuss what’s happening in the vineyards and cellars,” he notes. “We don’t have secrets which is really helpful in trying to go further in the quality of work. We share what can be done to get results, and it is the best way to go forward without losing time.”

Vosne-Romanée premier cru vineyards high above the famed Grand Crus and the village.
Vosne-Romanée premier cru vineyards high above the famed Grand Crus and the village.

Lachaux, like most accomplished growers, still believes 90% of quality comes from attentive, focused work in the vines.

“For me, it’s the interesting part, and it’s often difficult with unpredictable weather,” he says. “But if you aren’t passionate about the work and love doing it, you won’t produce a great product and great wines.”

Maintaining vibrant microbial life in the soils is a top priority. Which, of course, means foregoing chemical fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides while exploring alternative means to strengthen the vines.

“Vines are like human beings. If they exist in a healthy environment with good nutrients they will produce better results,” he notes. “It’s in our interest to bring back healthy soils so the vines can produce tremendous fruit and wines.”

For Charles, it is also about “respecting the life of the vine.” So for him the best chance for healthy vineyards producing quality fruit also involves intensive, thoughtful manual labor on the vines themselves. He favors meticulous, time consuming Guyot-Poussard pruning and training vines at high levels.

“By pruning late and tall, we try to push what the vineyard can do itself in producing quality fruit and resisting odium and mildew,” he notes. “The approach allows more leaves for photosynthesis, and then the vines are more focused on the grapes and root system for greater results.”

In the cellar, Charles spearheads another big change by favoring fermentation with significant percentages of whole Pinot Noir bunches, stems and all. It can render wines with bright, pure, transparent fruit and finesse instead of heavy concentration and high alcohol.

“For me it creates more seductive wines that suit my taste. It’s the style I prefer,” he says. Yet the approach carries risks especially in unripe vintages.

“With whole bunches you have to be careful to avoid greenness and harsh tannins in the wines. You must be more intuitive in the winemaking,” Charles notes. “But it creates the opportunity for more emotional wines. That’s why I like it as well.”

Continuing with an approach of taking risks calculated for quality, Charles allows fermentation with indigenous yeasts only. He also uses new oak barrels more judiciously during élevage, again in an effort to highlight transparent fruit and each climat’s distinct personality in the context of each distinct vintage.

arnoux cartonLooking forward, Charles says his family has no immediate plans to expand its 14.5 hectares of vines.

“The aim will be to keep what we have which will be a difficult task already,” he wryly notes. “Trophy hunting” buyers of Burgundy vineyards continue to drive land prices to inconceivable heights. The spiral inflates inheritance transfer taxes and complicates carrying forward family domaines in tact. One senses, though, that this family of clever and creative winegrowers will adapt and find their way forward together especially with Charles as one of the most dedicated growers of his generation.

Meanwhile Charles Lachaux’s intense focus on producing quality shines brightly in the 2015 wines. Lachaux calls it a powerful, hot vintage but with fine acidity and relatively short production. Notes are presented in order with presentation of the wines at the domaine:

2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Nuits-Saint-Georges: Fermentation with 70% whole clusters and 70% in stainless steel tank. The wine’s dark red color offers aromas of framboise and spiciness. Juicy, dark red fruit flavors; moderate concentration and well balanced acidity; fine tannins. Drink over 5 to 8 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Vosne-Romanée: Fermentation with 70% whole clusters and aging in 15% new oak. Ripe red fruit and spice aromas. Juicy, fresh red fruit flavors and moderate concentration. Well balanced vibrant acidity and fine tannins. Drink over 8 to 10 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Poissets”:
Made from 60 year old vines in marl and limestone. Fermentation with 100% whole clusters and punch down by foot. Fresh raspberry and spice aromas. Fresh red fruit flavors, moderate concentration. Firmer tannins but a fine, long finish. Drink over 8 to 10 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Vosne-Romanée “Les Hautes Maizières”
: Made from 40 year old vines just below Suchots 1er cu. 80% whole cluster fermentation. Ripe red fruit aromas, sweet, pure red fruit flavors, moderate concentration and plenty of fresh acidity. Fine, firm tannins. Drink over 8 to 12 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Procès” 1er Cru: Made from 40 year old vines in the line of premier cru, limestone rich vineyards on the slope just south of the village. Partial whole cluster fermentation. Aging in one year old and a small portion of new oak. Dark red fruit and spice aromas. Ripe, velvety fruit. Fine tannins. Long finish. Drink over 8 to 12 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Nuits-Saint-Georges “Clos Des Corvées Pagets” 1er Cru: Made from 45 year of vines in a walled clos with linestone and sandy soils near Premeaux. Big, ripe red fruit flavors; ample concentration and richness balanced with freshness and fine tannins. Very classy. Drink over 10 to 15 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,
Vosne-Romanée “Les Chaumes” 1er Cru: Made from 40 year old vines at the top of the vineyard in limestone and clay soils just below La Tâche Grand Cru. 70% whole cluster fermentation. Ripe, dark red fruit aromas with spice and earthiness. Big, rich dark red fruit flavors; full bodied concentration; terrific freshness and supple, powerful tannins, but well balanced. Will age gracefully 15 to 20 years easily.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,Clos-de-Vougeot Grand Cru:
Made from vines high on the hill near the old Château itself. Fresh, pure red fruit aromas open to similar flavors. Moderate to full concentration; fine, ripe tannins, fresh, fruity finish. Drink over 10 to 20 years.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Echézeaux Grand Cru:
Made from vines in limestone and iron rich soils. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Aged in mostly new oak. Terrific, seductive red fruit aromas with spicy notes; pure, transparent red fruit flavors; tremendous, fresh acidity; rich, supple concentration; fine, elegant tannins; a long, vibrant finish. Drink over 10 to 20 years. Highly Recommended.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Latricières Chambertin Grand Cru:
Made from a combination of 60 year old vines and younger vines near the top of the vineyard with a cooler microclimate and plenty of limestone. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Understated red fruit aromas with spicy notes. Pure, ripe red fruit flavors; medium concentration; pronounced, fresh acidity; tight, fine tannins; Lovely, tense finish. A refined wine requiring 15+ years to knit completely.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,
Vosne-Romanée “Les Suchots” 1er Cru: Made from very old vines, some over 90 years old and planted by Charles’ grandfather. A higher percentage of new oak for aging and all whole clusters for fermentation. Has spicy, dark red fruit aromas with floral notes. Firm, pure dark red fruit with full  depth, and concentration, yet well balanced with freshness and fine, firm tannins. Will require long patience in the cellar, but the beautiful structure will last.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux,
Vosne-Romanée “Aux Reignots” 1er Cru: This vineyard holds a special spot for Charles. It sits above La Romanée-Conti and La Romanée on a steep hillside with meager, stony soils. “It makes a very tender, pure wine with great tension and a focus on red fruits,” he notes. It cannot be plowed by tractor, so the domaine manages a very high canopy where pruning has been curtailed. “We are attempting to lift the terroir a bit further through what we know for the moment,” he adds. It is a great experiment for now. The 2015 wine has marvelous transparent red fruit aromas with spicy notes. Sweet, pure red fruit with terrific fresh undertones that lift and frame the wine beautifully. Firm, very fine tannins, and a long, resounding pure fruit finish. A wine of pleasure and fine emotion built for the ages.
2015 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux, Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru: All of the domaine’s savoir-faire and hard work comes to fruition in this marvelous, complete wine. 100% whole cluster fermentation. 80% new oak for aging. A big, spicy nose of black and red fruits. Round, ripe red fruit flavors with tremendous depth. Plenty of fresh acidity and mineral tones with fine, smooth tannins. Fresh, seamless finish. It could drink now with pleasure, but will also last for decades.


The Wizard of Saint-Aubin, Olivier Lamy, Strikes Again in 2015

The Wizard of Saint-Aubin, Olivier Lamy, Strikes Again in 2015

Visiting the village of Saint Aubin takes a bit of effort. It lies at the bottom of Burgundy’s famed Côte-d’Or vineyards, just to the west of Chassagne-Montrachet off the road leading out to the magnificent Сhâteau de la Rochepot, a restored historical site. For those who make the trip and snare a bit of time to taste wines with the hard working vigneron Olivier Lamy at Domaine Hubert Lamy, a tutorial awaits in terroir and the pleasures of fine Burgundies especially the whites.

The Saint Aubin road.
          The Saint Aubin road.

The affable and thoughtful Lamy exudes passion for his diverse vineyards, at least eighteen distinctly named places. In addition to Saint-Aubin, his vines dot sites in Santenay, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, There’s just under 47 acres with twenty percent  Pinot Noir vines and the remainder being Chardonnay.

Lamy cites relentless, meticulous vineyard work as the key to success. He precisely focuses all of his energies on maintaining the vines to produce exquisite fruit.

The winter brings la taille sévère, the severe pruning by hand of the vine canes. Spring entails l’ébourgeonnage, the tedious, back breaking work of carefully removing buds from the vines. And summer brings vendange en vert, a harvesting of green fruit. All efforts aim to maintain low yields and to allow each vine to focus on producing quality grapes. In battling pests and vine diseases, Lamy takes a lutte raisonée approach which strictly limits chemical applications and seeks to keep soils active and alive with life.

Harvest occurs manually, followed by another selection of the grapes in the cuverie before gentle pneumatic pressing. Slow, natural fermentation occurs before élevage of the wines for up to eighteen months in barriques and larger demi-muid barrels. Olivier uses around twenty percent new wood each year.

As for tasting the wines, Lamy’s impressive savoir-faire and dedicated hard work are fully evident. Each wine is a thoroughbred offering personality, precision and pleasure, Each faithfully reflects the subtle differences of its terroir.  Yet magnificent freshness, transparent fruit, exhilarating tension, and beautiful mineral balance carry across the lineup.

Lamy lets the wines speak for themselves in the glass. He watches with a knowing gaze and smile, ever ready with an explanation as tasters marvel at and enjoy each wine. He is a wizard who knows the apparent magic in the glass comes, in reality, from patient hard work carried out hour after hour both in the vineyards and in the cellar. Nobody does it better or with more dedication than Olivier Lamy. He stands in high regard with his colleagues in Burgundy.

Of course, Lamy would also be first to acknowledge that Mother Nature’s cooperation also helps in Burgundy’s often damp and unpredictable climate. In general, 2015 shapes up as one of the best and reasonably bountiful vineyards in many years. The month of September offered plenty of sun and only a little rain, Cooling breezes allowed the grapes to ripen beautifully with little rot and damaged fruit. The following 2015 wines were tasted in October, 2016, in Saint-Aubin. Lamy exports 65% of his wines to global markets:

The Wizard at work.
                          The Wizard at work.

Reds:
In 2015, Olivier used varying amounts of whole cluster fermentation to produce delicious, savory reds that will drink pleasurably over the next 5 to 15 years.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Santenay–50% whole cluster fermentation. Fresh, ripe red fruit, a touch of pleasant earthiness; clean, fruity flavors and modest concentration finish; plenty of freshness and smooth tannins.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Chassange-Montrachet Rouge–again fresh, ripe red fruit, plenty of freshness, moderate concentration, perhaps a little more tannic.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin “Derrière Chez Edouard’ 1er cru–the pure red fruit, taut acidity and smooth tannins continue here but with more concentration than the village wines. Elegant, delightful pleasure.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Santenay “Les Gravières‘ 1er cru–Lamy thinks very highly of this small plot of “old vines” Pinot Noir growing in rocky marl and limestone. The pure red fruit continues with a touch of earthiness. The concentration is enhanced here and the acidity and elegant tannins create terrific balance for a long, striking finish of great pleasure.

Whites:
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Bourgogne Blanc “Les Chataigners”
— from vines just next to Saint-Aubin. Here is a classy white Burgundy over delivering quality for the price. Crisp grapefruit and quince aromas and full flavors; direct, taut acidity; light and elegant through a flavorful finish.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin “La Princée”–made from a blend of fruit from the western side of the village. Whole bunches are pressed directly. Ripe citrus aromas open to a precise, crisp attack of firm, ripe fruit; moderate concentration, rich acidity and a touch of creaminess. Lovely.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Santenay “Les Gravières‘ 1er cru–ripe pineapple and citrus aromas lead to crisp, ripe fruit. Rich concentration balances with pronounced acidity and elegant creaminess.  Long, crisp, seductive finish.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Chassagne-Montrachet “Le Concis du Champs”–a village lieu-dit with mainly clay soils produces fresh citrus aromas with more concentrated, ripe fruit; ample, fresh acidity; fermented in barrel; delicious finish.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Puligny-Montrachet “Les Tremblots”–village lieu-dit with deep clay and limestone on a mild grade; old vines of 45 years and over 80 years old; long alcoholic fermentation; aged in 20% new wood. Fresh citrus, mango and pineapple aromas followed by ripe,yet crisp  fruity flavors balanced with fresh acidity. The long, seductive and refined finish has a touch of pleasant salinity. Exotic!
lamy cuve 2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin “Les Frionnes” 1er cru–a blend of fruit from vines of varying ages with some near 80 years old; long fermentation leads to crisp attack with ripe citrus; correct, pure fruit and fresh acidity; again a touch of pleasant salinity on the finish. Should continue to balance with several years in bottle,
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint-Aubin “Derrière Chez Edouard’ 1er cru
–relatively young vines; long alcoholic fermentation and aging results in a very fresh, crisp wine with well balanced concentration; the freshness and precise balance carries through the vibrant. clean finish.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin, “Clos De La Chatenière” 1er cru
–from older vines planted on the eastern side of the village towards Puligny-Montrachet. Ripe citrus and tropical fruit aromas with smoky notes; ripe fruit with enhanced depth and concentration. A big, ripe wine with flesh butl plenty of fresh acidity and minerality for terrific balance. Again very seductive and delicious.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin Blanc, “En Remilly” 1er cru
–made from vines located east of the village near Puligny-Montrachet, just around the hill from the Grand Crus.. A resounding wine with pineapple and citrus aromas; ripe fruit flavors with full concentration balance with rich acidity, a touch a creaminess and an elegant, refreshing finish. Tremendous purity and pleasure.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Saint Aubin Blanc, “Murgers Des Dents De Chien” 1er cru–made from vines located just above and over the hill from the woods above Le Montrachet Grand Cru. Another big, resounding wine with great depth of fresh fruit and marvelous fresh acidity. Intriguing from start to the delightful, long finish. Has the fruit and freshness to age beautifully.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Chassagne-Montrachet, “Les Macherelles” 1er cru–a site located near the neighboring village and comprised of limestone, marl and sand. Delivers a wine with distinctly earthy, smoky notes balancing the fresh citrus fruit. Plenty of depth and fresh acidity. The most “rustic” of Lamy’s lineup but still quite elegant and pure.
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Chassagne-Montrachet, “Les Chaumées” 1er cru–made from soils with more clay complementing the limestone.  Distinct aromas of peaches and earthy touches. Great concentration and flavor with superb freshness and a long finish. Will age beautifully..Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet_vineyard_sign (2)
2015 Domaine Hubert Lamy, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru “Haute Densité”–made from vines just down slope from  Bâtard-Montrachet in a tiny parcel with extremely rocky soils with little clay. Vines averaging over 40 years planted with high density. Tremendously complex aromas with ripe stone fruit and citrus. Marvelous depth of flavors and  freshness. The only wine with a touch of noticeable oak in the vibrant finish, but a decade or so in the bottle with doubtlessly knit all elements together.

Older Vintages:
The 2007 Saint Aubin “Les Frionnes” 1er cru is still fresh as a daisy and delightful.Fruity, clean, fresh with good concentration–not a hint of oxidation.
The 2000 Saint Aubin “Mergers des Dents de Chien” 1er cru remains lively and fresh 15 years after a modest vintage. Simply masterful, outstanding winemaking here. Terrific pleasure. The Wizard at work again!.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pioneering Gevrey-Chambertin Winegrower Sylvie Esmonin Personifies Bold Change

Pioneering Gevrey-Chambertin Winegrower Sylvie Esmonin Personifies Bold Change

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.

clos saint jacquesSylvie 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.
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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’s:

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’s:

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 NuitsVillages: 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.

 

 

Combat Cold Weather By Enjoying Époisses Cheese and Crisp Wines

Combat Cold Weather By Enjoying Époisses Cheese and Crisp Wines

Enduring cold weather at the start of a new year calls for serious measures. Time to break out the Époisses de Bourgogne cheese and tasty wines.

Those already familiar with the glories of Époisses know what I mean. Once you’ve experienced Époisses, the intense sensory impressions cannot be forgotten. Passionate reactions are common.

Époisses cheese starts simply enough. The milk comes from Brune, Montbéliarde, and Simmental Française cows grazing in the area between Auxerre in the north of Burgundy and the famed Côte d’Or vineyards near the village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the south.  For French domestic consumption, Époisses producers use unpasteurized milk, whereas Époisses exported to the United States comes from pasteurized milk.

After heating the milk, producers mold the curds into rounds which are rubbed with salt and placed on maturing racks in cool, damp cellars. Then the magic begins.

Workers rinse the young cheeses and then brush them with a “cocktail” of watery brine, Brevibacterium bacteria and marc de Bourgogne, a raw spirit distilled from the remains of newly pressed Burgundy wines. As the rubbing process repeats over the next four to six weeks, les ferments du rouge (i.e., red molds) naturally develop to nurture Époisses’ distinctive personality.

That personality starts with the cheese’s vivid reddish, orange color. Draw closer, and the cheese’s powerful, unabashed aromas demand attention. The pungent, heady perfume exudes fruitiness, wild garlic and barnyard aromas.

Then cut into a properly aged Époisses, and the creamy, glistening texture oozes. The French call it, coulant, i.e., runny. On the palate, mild, deliciously fruity and savory mushroom flavors prevail.

In short, the cheese should be alive and sing with pleasure. Add it all up, and, as famed French gourmand, Brillat-Savarin, observed, Époisses is “the king of all cheeses.”

Several Époisses producers export to the United States, but go with the reliable Berthaut Époisses, a family firm that resurrected commercial production in 1956. An 8.8 ounce round sells nationally around $20 to $25. Pair the cheese with aromatic wines with ample fruitiness and plenty of fresh acidity.                                                       :

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The 2014 François Cazin “Le Petit Chambord,” Cour-Cheverny, France (Available nationally online around $20.00) comes from Romorantin vines. The ancient variety grows only in the eastern Loire Valley in clay, limestone and silica soils in Cour-Cheverny, a sub-appellation of Cheverny A.O.C. where dedicated winegrower François Cazin makes his home.

Hhis lovely white unfolds white flowers, citrus, quince and peach aromas. Ripe flavors of citrus and peach layer with rich, fresh acidity and light creamy notes carrying through the beautifully balanced, dry finish. Highly Recommended.

The 2014 Joseph Mellot, Menetou-Salon, “Les Thureaux” Pinot Noir, France (Available nationally online around $25.00) comes from Pinot Noir vines growing in the eastern Loire, just south of Sancerre in the Menetou-Salon appellation. The area has clay and Kimmeridgian limestone soils rich in marine fossils.

Mellot practices sustainable farming to enliven top soils. This forces the vines to sink roots deeply into the limestone subsoils. The resulting wines delivers terrific freshness.

This wine’s bright raspberry and light brambly aromas open to fresh red fruit flavors. Delicious acidity and soft tannins balance a fruity, dry finish. Highly Recommended.

Veronique Drouhin, Frederic Drouhin, Laurent Drouhin, and Philippe Drouhin for Maison Joseph Drouhin and Domaine Drouhin Oregon in Beaune, Burgundy, France.
Veronique Drouhin, Frederic Drouhin, Laurent Drouhin, and Philippe Drouhin for Maison Joseph Drouhin and Domaine Drouhin Oregon in Beaune, Burgundy, France.

The 2014 Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaune-Villages, France (Available nationally on-line for around $25.00) comes from the ever-reliable Drouhin family, winegrowers and négociants headquartered in a cluster of historic properties in Beaune. The cellars encompass ancient Cellars of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Cellars of the Kings of France in Beaune.

This delicious wine relies on carefully selected Pinot Noir grapes grown in various villages in the Côte de Beaune. The four Drouhin siblings who direct the firm rely on long-term contracts with growers who share a farming approach focused on quality over quantity.

The prevalent terroir of clay and limestone creates distinctly fresh, well balanced fruit that winemaker Véronique Drouhin-Boss ferments with indigenous yeasts. Aging occurs in a combination of new and previously used French oak barrels to impart subtle spicy notes. As always, the Drouhin’s highlight finesse, purity and balance to permit the terroir to shine brilliantly.

The wine’s dark ruby color unfolds fragrant dark red fruit and a touch of spiciness and smoky earthiness. Delicious, ripe dark red fruit flavors balance with fresh acidity and fine, elegant tannins. The fruity, refined finish lingers nicely. Highly Recommended.

Brothers at Burgundy’s Domaine Chevrot Highlight and Reclaim Maranges’ Distinctive Terroirs

Brothers at Burgundy’s Domaine Chevrot Highlight and Reclaim Maranges’ Distinctive Terroirs

To visit Dochevrot3-3maine Chevrot’s Maranges 1er cru vineyards of “Le Croix Moines” and “La Fussière,” winegrower Pablo Chevrot locks in the four-wheel drive on his truck and buckles the seatbelt. He navigates up a rocky, steep slope to the high terrasse where the marvelous climats lie in serenity and sunshine.

For Pablo and his brother Vincent, the enthralling panoramic views from this beautiful place are a bonus. Cultivating vines in the distinctive terroir holds the primary attraction. The vineyards hug the southern tip of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and extend over three villages—Dezize, Sampigny and Cheilly.

The Chevrot’s cultivate mainly “old vine” Pinot Noir plants here. But seven years ago they jumped at the chance to plant Chardonnay vines at the top of the hillside, just below the forest in a site abandoned for nearly sixty years.

chevrot-maranges“It was an unique opportunity to cultivate and reclaim premier cru vineyards, so I was very happy to do it,” Pablo recalls. “But the work was longer and much harder than we expected.”

They cleared dense scrub and trees and removed huge stones from the soils before planting the vineyard with diverse selection masssale cuttings from the best vines in their existing vineyards. The method decreases yields compared to using commercial clones, but it enhances the chances for more flavorful wines with distinct personality.

The forest shelters the vines from cold north winds from above, while consistent warm air from below prevents damaging frosts.  But its the complex soils that Pablo and Vincent find especially intriguing.

Marls—a mix of clay and fossilized limestone—predominate in the subsoils, while the covering scree holds limestone rocks mixed with significant numbers of chailles. The latter are small, reddish, flinty stones rich in silica that regulates moisture. Pablo says the complex soils convey refreshing minerality and smokiness to complement the grapes’ ripe fruitiness and ample acidity.

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To maximize the best quality fruit, the Chervot’s have long worked organically without applying chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. The process requires year round, tricky vineyard work that over time results in healthy, vital soils and naturally vigorous vines.

Until 2016. Domaine Chevrot maintained ECOCERT certification, but this year’s extraordinary mildew attacks during flowering required extreme measures.

“We sprayed chemicals to combat the incredible mildew. We still lost 50% rather than the entire crop,” Pablo notes. “It was very difficult, but the final quality was good in 2016.”

The vineyards will lose organic certification for three years because of the extraordinary measures. But Pablo remains optimistic.

“This year alone did not completely undo the good effects of the hard organic work we’ve done on the vines for many years before,” he adds.

Down the hillside on a  lower terrasse near the Cosanne River, the brothers cultivate both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Maranges “Sur le Chene,” a village lieu dit.
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Again the vines hug a steep slope, but here the soils combine Jurassic limestone and alluvial, decomposed granite sands and rocks. Large stones and gravelly soils predominate nearer the bottom as the vineyard approaches the river.

Across the small river closer to the Chevrot family homestead, the domaine has vines classified as Haut Côtes de Beaune and Bourgogne. Pablo and Vincent also make a dry white Aligoté from 50-old vines as well as dry, sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne. The domaine produces other red and white wines from vines in the neighboring village of Santenay.

Over a casual, but tasty lunch of Jambon Persillé and Bœuf Bourguignon, the brothers join their affable parents, Fernand and Catherine. The parents began expanding the domaine significantly in 1973, and they clearly passed along a passion for the soils, vines and wines to their sons.

The brothers work with dedication and precision to produce pure, delicious wines as naturally as possible. Now the circle remains unbroken. Pablo and Vincent are introducing their own young children to the passions, pleasures and traditions of winegrowing.

Reasonable US domestic prices for Domaine Chevrot’s high quality wines create tremendous value.

Tasting Notes:
2015 Domaine Chevrot Maranges Blanc:
The fruit comes from gravelly soils, and in the warm 2015 vintage ad touches of botrytis mold which according to Pablo further concentrated the Chardonnay. The juice was barrel fermented. Bottling occurred with minimal sulfites. Ripe peach. apricot and orange aromas balanced with pure, rich fruit and fresh acidity. Outstanding wine.
2014 Domaine Chevrot Maranges “La Fussière” 1er cru Blanc: Made from the younger Chardonnay vines planted at top of the steep hillside in limestone and “Chaille” soils. Fresh grapefruit and smoky aromas lead to crisp citrus and apple flavors. Well balanced, pure fruit in the dry finish.
2014 Domaine Chevrot Bourgogne Aligoté, Cuvée Speciale “Tilleul”: Made from 50-year old vines in a site farmed with a horse. The wine is barrel aged for fifteen months. Aromas of quince and peach open to ripe fruit of citrus and ginger spice. Fresh acidity and refreshing mineral notes balance the clean, direct and dry finish.
2014 Domaine Chevrot Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er cru: Fifty percent of the hand harvested Pinot Noir grapes for this wine fermented in whole bunches with stems to create balanced texture. Ripe, black fruit aromas open to black cherry flavors. Vibrant acidity and firm, elegant tannins frame the long, fruity finish. A few years of cellar aging will round out the wine beautifully.
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2013 Domaine Chevrot Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru: The dark red cherry color unfolds fresh cherry and raspberry aromas with violet floral notes and subtle nuances of oak. Absolutely delicious, pure red fruit flavors—wild strawberries, ripe cherries and pomegranate– balance with uplifting, fresh acidity. Terrific wine for drinking now while the 2014 ages.

2010 Domaine Chevrot Maranges “Le Croix Moines” 1er Cru:
The light ruby color offers enticing, bright red fruit aromas. Fresh red fruit and vibrant, fresh acidity, balance with smooth, elegant tannins. The wine has matured nicely for pleasurable drinking.