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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Burgundy’s Mâcon region, Frédéric Ménager dreamed of one day ripping guitar solos in a rock and roll band. His family had more immediate ideas, and so Ménager began the long, hard quest to become a chef in France. He worked in Paris and at Restaurant Alain Chapel (with a Michelin-three star rating) before eventually becoming executive chef at Castel de Très Girard, a respected gastronomic restaurant in Morey-Saint-Denis, Burgundy.
But as a rocker at heart with an urge for creative independence, Ménager made a life changing decision to leave the restaurant in 2002. He and his wife, Eva, took a major risk by buying La Ferme de la Ruchotte, a farm where Ménager could chart his own unique path as a poultry breeder and part-time chef. Fifteen years later Ménager has emerged as a respected champion of the “farm to plate” model not only in Burgundy, but around France and internationally. And his passion for heavy metal, hard rock, popular and classical music flourishes stronger than ever.
The 12.5 acre La Ferme de la Ruchotte lies at the end of a serpentine road on top of a hill above the village of Bligny-sur-Ouche, 25 kilometers from Beaune. The farm provides a free-range paradise for Ménager’s passion and specialty—chickens, coqs vierges, and poulardes descended from colorful, ancient French lines such as the Gaulloise Dorée, Barbezieux, Le Mans, La Flèche, and Coucou de Rennes. He also raises rare, ancient breeds of turkeys, guinea fowl, and ducks—over 2,000 poultry in all—along with ten rugged Solognot sheep and twenty black Gascon pigs. One llama, an ostrich, a big black dog and various felines keep them all company. For good measure, Ménager tends an extensive potager garden with greens, carrots, leeks, radishes, celery, beets, peppers….you name it. He also grows diverse fruits.
Everything thrives in the farm’s self-contained, organic environment which is certified by the bright green and white “AB”—Agriculture Biologique—sign at the entrance. Vegetables and fruits grow without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Animals breed and mature without synthetic antibiotics and genetically modified methods. Ménager sees a critical rapport between a healthy, uncontaminated farm and high quality poultry.
“Organic farming guarantees a healthy diet to the animals and a life in the best conditions,” he says. “The breeding time is also longer, and the slaughter is done according to very precise criteria. Ultimately the product is healthier and therefore better for the consumer.”
“A chicken of quality must have firm and muscular flesh, be flavorful and properly fattened,” Ménager adds. “The skin must be fine and well oiled.”
Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants around Burgundy covet Ménager’s tasty bounty, but he also sells to more casual, but excellent culinary destinations such as Caves Madelaine Beaune. Individual customers order poultry for holidays and special occasions. And on Saturdays and Sundays only, Ménager and Eva welcome guests by reservation into their home for a lunchtime meal unlike any other.
On a Sunday in May, Eva greets guests warmly into the cheerfully decorated farmhouse dining room. Inviting aromas fill the snug room while Fred works in the well appointed professional kitchen just through an open doorway. A chalkboard near the fire place features the fixed menu which this day offers Poule en Gelée with new Spring greens, Coq au Vin with Spring vegetables, cheese, and a dessert of chocolate ice cream, gingerbread and gaufrette, a wafer thin, slightly sweet cone.
Homemade, crusty bread and silky pork rillettes await guests who sit at either a large communal table or several smaller tables. My wife and I sat at the communal table next to a couple of American restaurant owners and sommeliers on one side. On our other side sat organic/biodynamic winegrower Yann Durieux with his wife and charming, young daughter. The affable Durieux worked and trained with some of Burgundy’s leading “bio” wine producers. His own domaine, Recrue des Sens, has a rapidly growing reputation for producing deliciously pure and fresh Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines. Dureiux makes wines “naturally” with little intervention and no added sulfites.
Back in the kitchen Ménager plates the first course as the sounds of AC/DC’s hard rock anthems play at modest volume. The chef is a picture of concentration. The music helps keep him focused and inspired.
“Music remains indispensable and inseparable in my life,’ says Ménager who recalls Django Reinhardt’s distinctive, unforgettable guitar playing in his childhood. “Then I took a slap listening to Led Zeppelin’s first album. Jimmy Page remains an incomparable genius. I also remain very impressed by Elvis’ incredible voice, and the unique Steven Tyler”
Other favorites on his eclectic playlist include Serge Gainsbourg, Van Halen’s first album, Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beatles, Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.
Black Label Society lead man Zakk Wylde, a Bayonne, New Jersey native whom Ménager has met twice, also sits atop the list. “A man of great kindness who has immense respect for his fans.” Ménager notes.
He credits Chef Philippe Jousse at Restaurant Alain Chapel with teaching hard work, commitment and discipline as values essential for a chef to show similar respect for dinner guests.
“At Restaurant Alain Chapel I learned that good food is not possible without good products,” Ménager recalls. “In the kitchen I learned camaraderie and the great techniques of French cooking. Philippe Jousse remains for me the greatest technician.”
As the chef at Castel de Très Girard, Ménager constantly searched for quality products to produce quality food. After starting to raise chickens as a hobby, a fellow poultry breeder introduced him to France’s “ancient races.”
“I raised, ate and discovered something exceptional. The chickens just turned my life upside down!” Ménager says.
He and his wife took the plunge at La Ferme de la Ruchotte unsure of the economic viability of their “farm to plate” model. But they envisioned potential benefits, too.
“We decided to reorient our lives to a more ethical ideal with more autonomy and independence,” he recalls. “I try to show my clients and guests that self-sufficiency is possible. You no longer have to depend on big agribusiness.”
By controlling the production channel from birth of the animals through slaughter, Ménager maintains the genetic diversity that is critical to quality.
“Year after year I have observed and tasted my animals. We now know how to make a great chicken, but work still remains to be done,” he says. “Genetic diversity remains the most important thing in order to maintain a livestock with a strong capacity to adapt to its environment.”
At our Sunday lunch, the succulent Coq au Vin and vegetables are a revelation. The bird’s firm, flavorful dark meat and rich sauce marry seamlessly. The fresh Spring vegetables cooked to perfection add savory accents. It is a delicious, hearty course where traditional simplicity allows sublime ingredients to hold center stage.
On the wine list, Ménager offers bottles made primarily from organically cultivated grapes. Well known producers such Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Dujac jump out. But lesser known yet terrific producers such as Yann Durieux at Recrue des Sens and Marc Rougeot at Domaine Rougeot Père & Fils in Meursault also catch the eye.
“Wine is very important for us. It is in our genes and is an integral part of our Burgundy culture,” Ménager says. “I love wines that tell a story about the history of Burgundy terroir and the work of soils. Plus many of our wines come from growers who have become friends and who love what we do here. So there is coherence in our collaboration.”
As the Sunday meal draws to a close, sated guests linger under La Ferme de la Ruchotte’s spell. We are all happy savoring the pleasure of this memorable culinary moment.
“Being able to feed our guests with animals we saw born and that we cook as best we can is without doubt my best achievement,” Ménager says. “I love to live on farm with the people who work here and share great moments of happiness like the birth of animals. Slaughtering the animals is not easy, you know, but I live this as a sacrifice.”
“I like to make a kitchen that puts forward my products. As a cook, I am only a courier,” he adds.”The cook should fade in front of an animal that by his sacrifice will feed customers. Great products do not need much. The stars should be the product and the peasant.”
Rock on, Monsieur!
“Hey there, all you middle men,
Throw away your fancy clothes.
And while you’re out there sittin’ on a fence,
Get off your ass and come down here.
‘Cause rock ‘n’ roll ain’t no riddle man
To me it makes good, good sense.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution by AC/DC
Burgundy may be Pinot Noir’s spiritual home, but Alsace winegrowers’ palpable passion for Pinot Noir these days cannot be ignored. Leading winegrowers such as André Ostertag, Christian Beyer, Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin, Maxime Barmès and Rémy Gresser embody the renewed dedication to producing high quality, delicious Pinot Noir wines worthy of international attention. Each grower offers an ambitious vision for Alsace red wines.
“Studying winegrowig in Burgundy gave me a high sense of grand vin. It is a place with a high sense of terroir,” says André Ostertag who returned home to manage Domaine Ostertag which his father, Adolph, created in 1966. “The temptation is to try to copy the style of red Burgundies, but this is a beginner’s temptation. After a while you learn that you have to discover your own wine by understanding the essence of what’s going on in your soils and terroir.”
He notes that Alsace has more diverse soils than Burgundy, and the climate has more sunshine and drier conditions. And on a cultural level, Alsace mixes both Germanic and Latin influences.
“Our best Pinot Noirs have an identity all their own, one with powerful fruit, freshness and ripe tannins,” he says. Achieving this optimal style requires savoir-faire.
“For a long time in Alsace we treated red winemaking similar to white winemaking, but producing serious red wines requires a different approach,” he notes.
He points to reduced yields as a key to enabling proper extraction of color from Pinot Noir grape skins. Providing the notoriously fickle grape with more sun and heat, he notes, also promotes riper tannins which create better balanced wines.
More importantly for Osterag, discovering the true identity and potential of Alsace Pinot Noirs pivoted on the conversion of vineyards to biodyanmie practices. He began in 1997 by abandoning synthetic chemical applications on the vines in favor of biodynamie’s teas and composts. Vineyard soils regained vitality, and he says the vines became more self-sufficient.
“The best grapes come from happy vines that are respected. Biodynamie is the most natural and best way to respect the vines,” he notes. “The vines become better adapted to react to difficult circumstances on their own instead of just depending on humans. The vines then produce better tasting and healthier grapes.”
Ostertag produces two Pinot Noirs. The first, Pinot Noir “E”, he calls vin de fruit or “fruit wine.” The 2014 Domaine Ostertag, Pinot Noir “E” (Imported to the U.S. by Kermit Lynch) comes from 20 year old vines growing in clay and gravel. The wine aged in stainless steel for nine months before bottling. The lovely ruby color offers piping aromas of raspberries and a touch of earthiness. Delicious, crunchy red fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity and marvelous, mouthwatering mineral notes. Elegant, soft tannins frame the fruity finish. A fun, well made red made for gulping pleasure.
Ostertag’s second Pinot Noir comes from forty year old vines in Fronholz vineyard, a very unique site atop a hill in Epfig.
“Fronholz is a very strong place in terms of personality,” he notes. “It faces southwest so the evening sun creates warm afternoons followed by cool mornings. The grapes ripen slowly and develop complex aromatics.”
“The soils are marnes—a type of heavy clay—and clay mixed with chalky limestone, soils perfectly suited for Pinot Noir,” Ostertag adds. “The vineyard gives a Pinot Noir reflecting both sky and earth, lightness and mineral power.”
The 2015 Domaine Ostertag, Fronholz Pinot Noir fermented in stainless steel and then aged in previously used French barrique barrels. It offers red cherry and spicy aromas followed by delicious, ripe sweet fruit, ample concentration, marvelous freshness and smooth tannins. An elegant, understated red giving terrific pleasure.
Looking to the future, Ostertag says his son Arthur, who also trained in Burgundy, has a strong desire to make more Pinot Noir. The warming climate create opportunities, in Ostertag’s view, especially as more growers plant Pinot Noir vines on Alsace’s prominent hillside sites.
“There are many positive conditions for more and better Pinot Noirs in Alsace,” Ostertag says. “But making Pinot Noir is more than a question of just style and what you you want to do. The question of who you are is just as important. Because you make the wine you are.”
“In Medieval times, Alsace made as much red as white wine, so we have a tradition with Pinot Noir for over 400 years,” says 14th generation winegrower Christian Beyer of Domaine Emile Beyer in Eguisheim. “We have everything Pinot Noir needs—a relatively cool climate, plenty of limestone soils, and more and more older vines.”
But Beyer says today’s Alsace reds differ from those of thirty years ago.
“My generation has many experiences outside Alsace in Burgundy, Bordeaux and elsewhere, and this makes a big difference,” says Beyer who, like André Ostertag, studied winegrowing in Burgundy. “Today more winegrowers have big ambitions to produce great Alsace red wines.”
In pursuing quality, Beyer reduced yields and worked organically without synthetic chemicals since returning to manage the domaine in 1997. In 2016 he went further by beginning conversion to biodynamie work in the vineyards. After harvesting by hand, fermentation occurs naturally in stainless steel tanks in a new cuverie.
Beyer produces three levels of Pinot Noir. His Domaine Emile Beyer “Tradition” Pinot Noir comes from both estate grown fruit and purchased grapes.The vines grow primarily in limestone soils to deliver a fruit forward red wine with medium body and well balanced acidity and tannins.
The Domaine Emile Beyer, “Eguisheim” Pinot Noir uses all estate grown fruit harvested from thirty year old vines growing on slopes south of the village. The soils are mainly marl and limestone. The wine has darker red fruit with a touch of earthiness and spice from partial aging in barrique barrels made from Allier and Vosges oak. Ample concentration of pure red fruit in the glass balances with fine freshness and smooth tannins.
Beyer has special fondness for the Sundel lieu-dit, a plot of Pinot Noir vines planted in the upper portion of the Pfersigberg Grand Cru. The soils feature Bajocian limestone mixed with with iron. “Sundel” means “little sun,” and the vines lie on a south facing slope with ideal sun exposure.
“It is wonderful place and always a pleasure to work there,” says Beyer who collaborates closely with his wife Valérie in managing the estate. “You always feel good in this place because it is sunny and yet has a cool climate.”
Beyer used Pommard “Clos des Epenots” 1er cru clones from Burgundy to plant the Pinot Noir vines which are now approaching 20 years old. Respect for the soils and vines is the key to quality, he says.
“It is a cliché, but there are no great wines without grapes,” he says. “I consider myself a viticulturalist first, and a winemaker second.”
The 2015 Domaine Emile Beyer, “Sundel” lieu-dit Pinot Noir has a dark garnet color with a burst of pure, red fruit aromas and earthy notes. Pure, ripe dark red flavors layer in rich concentration balanced by uplifting acidity and elegant, understated tannins. It gives terrific immediate pleasure, but the wine has the fruit and structure to age for 10 to 20 years.
Going forward, Beyer believes that proven, superior Alsace Pinot Noir climats should be considered for Grand Cru status, a designation that the INAO, France’s governing body for appellations, has declined to grant thus far.
“The new generation is open to planting Pinot Noir in the best sites in Alsace,” Beyer notes. “Allowing Grand Cru status for Alsace red wines will encourage the efforts.”
Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin:
Siblings Jean-Paul and Marie Zusslin both returned in 2000 to their family wine estate, Domaine Valentin Zusslin in Orschwihr south of Colmar. Jean-Paul had studied winegrowing in Beaune, Burgundy, while Marie initially studied law before switching to viticulture school in Rouffach, Alsace.
“We grew up in a family winery and our father was a great fan of Pinot Noirs from all over the world,” Marie says. “So my brother and I always shared the same dream and goal—to make our own Alsatian style of Pinot Noir from our beautiful Bollenberg lieu-dit vineyard.”
The siblings started with great advantages. The Bollenberg vineyard had been planted with Pinot Noir for three generations, and conversion to biodynamie already took place in 1997 with approval by Biodyvin in 2000. Using biodynamic teas and MT compost instead of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides is crucial to quality, according to Zusslin.
“The vineyard is a living organism. The cultivated soil is not just a support for the vine, but a living environment, the source of energy for the plant as well as its aerial environment,” Zusslin says.
They religiously apply dynamized biodynamic treatments such as the 500 preparation of “cow horn dung” and the preparation 501 “horn silica” along with other preparations made from yarrow, camomile and other natural materials. The process helps the vines stay in healthy balance and maintains vital soils. Better tasting, fresher grapes result from the magnificent Bollenberg terroir.
As part of a protected nature reserve, the “Landes Seches,” the vineyard actually lies within a dry moor. The Pinot Noir vines grow amid a tremendous diversity of flowers and plants populated by numerous birds, snails, and lizards—not to mention a feral cat or two. It is a windswept, peaceful place of moving beauty with wide open skies in all directions.
The soils include clay and limestone as well as iron minerals. The latter account for the vineyard’s reddish-brown soil color. Bollenberg’s sunny, warm, and dry climate makes leaf canopy management a priority, according to Zusslin.
“We want to avoid overcooked and compote berries,” she says
The Zusslin’s harvest by hand with yields at a very modest 35 hectoliters per hectare. Sorting unripe and damaged fruit occurs first in the vineyard and then again on an air-powered sorting table at the winery.
“It all makes a real difference in the final juice, purer and more delicate,” Zusslin says. All stems are also removed. Fermentation follows with indigenous yeasts in large foudres with extended maceration. Manual punch downs occur three times daily.
“Fermentation is kind of birth. We have to be precise in the process,” she adds.
Aging occurs in a French oak barrels with 1/3 being new each year and a 1/3 of the barrels coming from the nearby Vosges Mountains. Bottling occurs with minute additions of sulfites. In 2010 and 2012 bottling occurred without sulfites added.
All the meticulous attention to detail results in enthralling, delicious Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg offers pure red fruit aromas opening to blackberry and ripe red fruit flavors. Fine acidity and a touch of oak carry the fruity, clean, crisp finish. The 2011 Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg “Harmonie” comes from older vines. Pure red fruit and brown spice aromas lead to concentrated red fruit flavors of tremendous purity and freshness. Elegant, firm tannins add balance to the fruity, smooth finish. Delicious! The 2009 Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Pinot Noir Bollenberg “Harmonie” delivers pure, ripe red fruit aromas with fine complexity and a touch of pleasant earthiness. Ripe, and round fruit balances with terrific freshness and fine, polished tannins. Outstanding!
“When sommeliers blind taste our Bollenberg Pinot Noirs, they typically try to guess the Burgundy location for the wine. When they discover the wine is from Alsace they are astonished,” Zusslin says. “We are proud and a bit amused. It will take a lot more work to convince more people that great Pinot Noir is possible in Alsace. But some good vignerons opened the way years ago in Alsace, and the new generations will continue with the same passion for Pinot Noir.”
At the tender age of thirteen, Maxime Barmès began working in the vineyards with his late father, François, during school holidays and weekends. Maxime and his sister Sophine also tasted plenty of wine with their parents at family meals and restaurants.
Like more and more young growers in Alsace, Maxime eventually journeyed to Burgundy to pursue his formal winegrowing studies. There he learned the latest theories on vine planting and the microbiology and chemistry of vinification. He also pursued an internship with Didier Montchovet, a winegrower in Nantoux near Pommard and an early pioneer of the biodynamie philosophy applied to Pinot Noir in Burgundy.
“I observed the Burgundy method with Pinot Noir,” he recalls. He also came to an important realization.
“Honestly my father already understood how to make great Pinot Noirs, and he always believed in Pinot Noir in Alsace. Aside from decreasing the quantity of new casks used for aging, I have not really changed the methods I learned from my father,” says Maxime who manages the domaine with his mother, Geneviève, and sister, Sophie. “But in the future, we are always open to other ways of doing things. The important thing is what is in the glass at the end.”
When Maxime’s parents founded Domaine Barmès-Buecherin 1985, they brought together vineyards from their respective families to create a 15 hectare estate. They rapidly moved towards an organic approach in the vineyards and eventually converted to biodyanmie in 1998. Approval from Biodyvin occurred in 2002. Maxime remains a strong believer in biodyanmie as a critical factor in producing quality wines with marked personalities.
“The biodynamie philosophy of cultivation brings harmony and balance to the vine and increases its intrinsic qualities. It strengthens the vine’s natural defenses and gives dynamism to the life and composition of the soils in which the vine is anchored.” he notes. “It also encourages maturation of the grapes’ sugars, acids and phenolics in a healthy and balanced way.”
Phenolic ripening of the skins is especially important for Pinot Noir, according to Maxime, who looks for a “natural expression of the grape in its soil.”
“A good phenolic maturation is important for Pinot Noir because the grapes macerate with the skins,” he notes. “It is very important that anthocyanins and tannins are ripe for Pinot Noir. The resulting wine will naturally require fewer exogenous inputs.”
Maxime produces two Pinot Noirs. The Pinot Noir Réserve comes from an assemblage of different plots of Pinot Noir of different ages and sun exposures. The oldest and youngest vines come from sélection massale grafts from Pinot Noir vines with Burgundy origins. The soils consist of either clay and limestone or marl and limestone soil.
The 2014 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve offers a ruby color with bewitching red cherry, raspberry and earthy aromas. Fresh, pure red fruit flavors of medium concentration balance with zesty acidity and mouthwatering minerality. Elegant, understated tannins balance the fruity, exuberant finish. A charming, delicious wine all the way around. The 2015 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir Réserve unfolds dark red fruit with a touch of spicy oak. The rich, juicy red fruit flavors have great purity and fuller concentration while balancing beautifully with clean acidity. An outstanding, delicious wine.
The second wine, the Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, comes from 55-year old vines planted in Grand Cru Hengst. The clonal grafts came from Domaine d’Angerville in Volnay, a gift from the Marquis d’Angerville to Maxime’s maternal grandfather. The vines toil with a warm southeastern exposure and marl and limestone soils.
“The micro-climate is very sunny and rather dry, which reinforces the potential maturity of Pinot Noir grapes from this terroir,” Maxime notes.
Forty percent of the wine for the 2013 Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Pinot Noir “Vieilles Vignes” aged in new French barrique barrels. The wine opens with a ruby color and lovely pure red fruit aromas and a touch of spice. The purity carries through in the delicious red fruit flavors balanced with superb freshness and elegant tannins. This is a vin de garder, a wine that will mellow and improve with 5 to 10 years of cellar aging. Impressive and delicious.
For the future, Maxime is bullish on Alsace Pinot Noirs and sees new confidence in the region.
“Alsace growers have realized that we have the terroirs to produce great Pinot Noirs, he says. “The future is very promising.”
Vigneron Rémy Gresser is best known for scintillating Rieslings from the Grand Crus Kastelberg, Wiebelsberg and Moenchberg in Andlau in the Alsace’s Bas-Rhine region. But he also takes special care with his Pinot Noirs. The domainefollows a biodynamic philosophy which, according to Gresser, best embodies preceding generations’ respect for the soils and love of authentic winemaking. For Gresser, Alsace’s cultural history always holds important keys to successful winegrowing.
The 2013 Domaine Rémy Gresser, Pinot Noir “Clos de l’Ourse” takes its name from the “clos of the bear” which symbolizes Andlau’s two thousand year winegrowing history dating to “pagan” times. The Pinot Noir grapes grow on slate and limestone soils. The wine ferments naturally and slowly before aging in used barrique barrels of varying ages. The deep ruby color offers delightful, pure red fruit and notes of smokiness and brown spices. Fresh, ripe red fruit with pleasant earthiness and medium concentration balances with precise acidity and fine tannins. Delicious, well made wine.
Other Alsace Pinot Noir Producers Of Note:
2014 François Baur, Alsace Pinot Noir “Schlittweg” lieu-dit: The wine comes from grapes grown biodynamically (as approved by Biodyvin) in stony, sandy soils near Turckheim. It aged in stainless steel for freshness. The dark ruby color offers black cherry and violet aromas leading to ripe, round dark cherry flavors with plenty of zesty acidity. Fresh minerality and smooth tannins balance the wine’s medium concentration. Terrific example of the pleasures of well made Alsace Pinot Noir.
2013 Kuentz-Bas, Pinot Noir “Trois Châteaux”: Winemaker Samuel Tottoli used grapes grown biodynamically (certified by Demeter) with a yield of 35hl/h for a rich, fleshy red. Aromas of black cherries, kirsch compote, and smoky notes open in the glass. Juicy black cherry flavors with a touch of earthiness balance with smoky oak notes and rich concentration. Bright acidity and elegant tannins provide good balance.
2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Noir “Heimbourg”: Winegrower Olivier Humbrecht’s high profile support for biodynamie cultivation as a Biodyvin member and his well deserved reputation as one of Alsace’s top white wine producers overshadows his considerable talents as a red wine producer. The Pinot Noir grapes for this delicious wine come from the west facing slopes of Heimbourg vineyard, a plot just across the road from Brand Grand Cru. The 22-year old vines toil in marl and limestone soils and render a red wine with aromatic complexity, pure ripe red fruit flavors and rich concentration. Fresh acidity and minerality provide the wine with marvelous lift balanced by firm, yet smooth, well structured tannins. Fermentation occurs with 1/3 whole clusters. Aging occurs in used barrique barrels, A lovely, impressive wine that will soften with five years or so of cellar aging.
Domaine Marcel Deiss, Pinot Noir “Burlenberg” lieu-dit: In their Burlenberg vineyard in Bergheim, winegrowers Jean-Michel Deiss and son Mathieu use a co-plantation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Beurot (a.k.a., Pinot Gris) vines growing in complex, hard limestone soils. They follow an a biodynamic approach, but don’t look for messages about certification from Jean-Michel. He rejects facile labels and easy answers in favor of a more philosophical bent. That said, his Burlenberg Pinot Noirs are known for their originality—a blend of complex blackberry, currant and spice traits with full concentration, firm acidity, marvelous minerality and rich tannins.
Domaine Albert Mann, Pinot Noir “Grand H”: Winegrower Jacky Barthelmé trained in Burgundy and holds a special passion for Alsace reds. The domaine pursues biodynamie cultivation (as approved by Biodyvin), and the grapes for this wine come from primarily heavy clay and limestone soils in the Grand Cru Hengst vineyard. A wine of complex aromatics with raspberry and blackcurrant flavors, full concentration, rich acidity and firm tannins.
Christian Binner, Pinot Noir “Hinterberg”: The wine comes from a small parcel of Burgundy clone vines under biodynamic cultivation within the famed Schlossberg Grand Cru’s granite soils. Yields are a modest 35 hl/h and harvested manually. Fermentation occurs with whole clusters with indigenous yeasts in large foudres. Aging takes place in foudre for eleven months before bottling without added sulfites.
Fritz-Schmidt, Pinot Noir, Rouge d’Ottrott Réserve de l’Ami Fritz: The wines is made from grapes grown with a “sustainable” philosophy under Terra Vits certification in the village of Ottrott, one of Alsace’s best known Pinot Noir terroirs dating to the Middle Ages. Soils are sands, clay and alluvial muds. Aged in both foudres and barriques.
Each Tuesday our little tasting group in Pittsburgh dreams of our favorite wine region, Burgundy, by sharing wines over a modest lunch at a local bistro. This week’s theme happened to be Pommard, and as usual we tasted the wines “blind” without foreknowledge of the producer, specific climat and vintage. The experience is always instructive and fun, and occasionally delightful with startling surprises. This week was no exception.
The first wine offered a promising start. Its ruddy color showed cellar aging and smelled of ripe red fruits with meaty, earthy notes. In the mouth, pure, ripe dark red fruit with good concentration and fine freshness suggested a good older vintage. A touch of firm tannins remained on the finish, but the wine’s overall balance led to guesses of a premier cru from 1998, 1999 or 2002.
Indeed it was the 1999 Domaine Jean-Marc Bouley, Pommard “Les Rugiens” 1er cru, and what a wonder delight it was to drink. Many of our little group of 7 or 8 Burgundy fans have purchased wines from Jean-Marc Bouley since the early 1990’s. In the past the wines’ firm tannins resolved reluctantly, but this lovely wine from the great 1999 vintage was completely on point. (Now with the son, Thomas Bouley working with meticulous care in the vineyards, this domaine is on the rise, so do not hesitate to buy.) The first wine, as it turned out, was only a prologue to the next miraculous wine.
The second wine showed a dark, youthful ruby color in the glass. Fresh, ripe red fruit and pleasant earthy notes wafted from the glass. The wine’s pure red fruits had marvelous concentration brought into perfect focus and balance with startlingly fresh acidity and minerality wrapped in elegant tannins. Tasters’ guesses ranged across 2013 to 2005 to 2002 for vintage and most assuredly a premier cru.
Wrong and wrong! The 1990 Domaine Leroy, Pommard :”Les Vignots” was 27 years “young” and from a well placed village lieu-dit. It left our experienced group of Burgundy tasters shaking our heads. The vibrant color, the pure fruit, the unbridled freshness, and the wine’s sheer vitality in the glass delivered pleasure second to none.
As for the reasons, certainly the bottle was purchased directly at the time of release and cellar aged properly for decades. The “Vignots” climat is a fine terroir, rich in clay and limestone on a slope with good drainage But in the end, one concludes that only a vigneron with the passion and savoir-faire of Lalou Bize-Leroy could make such the wine.
Her legendary vineyard practices rely on a biodynamic approach and incorporate meticulously detailed work by hand on each vine. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides never touch either the soils or the vines. Only natural teas and herbal mixtures are applied to tap into the vines’ natural energies and capacities to resist diseases on their own.
Early in the season–often during raw weather in April–time consuming ébourgeonnage by hand removes buds selectively from each vine to maintain low yields. As the season progresses the tips of the vines are neither clipped nor trimmed to maximize energy within the vines. Additional removal of buds occurs after flowering.
Selection of only ripe fruit occurs during hand harvesting followed by a meticulous second selection in the cuverie to ensure only the best fruit goes into wooden vats. Fermentation occurs with native yeasts and whole bunches of grapes, stems and all. Gentle punch downs and remontage occur during slow fermentation. After pressing, the new wines go by gravity for aging first into one cellar and then into an even deeper, colder cellar until final bottling.
But all this description of process matters little to the ultimate dazzling reality of the wine in the glass, in this case after twenty seven years in bottle. It was yet another blind tasting demonstrating that Lalou Bize-Leroy can produce spectacular wines of unrivaled pleasure and refinement. So pity the wines that followed.
Yet both wines held their own. The 2010 Domaine de Courcel, Pommard “Grand Clos des Épenots” 1er cru offered pretty red fruit aromas a hint of smokiness leading to fresh, correct red fruit flavors with modest concentration.Plenty of fresh acidity and firm tannins will allow the wine to age gracefully for another 5 to 10 uears.
The 1998 Domaine de Courcel, Pommard “Grand Clos des Épenots” 1er cru had a dusky ruby color with some brown at the rim. Ripe dark plum and red fruit aromas and plenty of earthy notes led to ripe, round red fruit and meaty flavors. Fine acidity and resolved tannins added good balance and structure.
When American-born Juan Sanchez founded his Paris wine shop nearly twenty years ago, he named it La Dernière Goutte, a French name meaning “the last drop.” It proved ironic, indeed, because nearly twenty years later, this cozy establishment at 6 rue Bourbon-le-château in the Left Bank neighborhood of St-Germain-des-Prés continues pouring French wines and hosting popular introductory classes. Over the years Sanchez added a trio of popular dining spots nearby, and most recently he opened Freddy’s, a comfortable wine bar. At each stop, quality, convenience and fun prevail. To see for yourself, start by stopping in at La Dernière Goutte for a Saturday afternoon free wine tasting with an outstanding French winegrower on hand to answer questions and talk terroir.
Recently on the last Saturday in April, Sanchez’s engaging and knowledgeable colleague, Patty Lurie, poured samples and handled sales. Talented northern Rhône winegrower Guillaume Clusel chatted with customers. The tasting becomes hectic at times, but Lurie keeps the pace moving with a judiciously enforced semblance of order. Nobody seems to mind anyway because Clusel’s wines are so darn tasty and inspiring.
Which is one of Sanchez’s keys to success. He offers only estate grown wines–in French, vins de propriétaire–from relatively small production, artisan domaines. Each winegrower takes a personal interest in his or her vines. They work with mud on their hands and boots directly in the vineyards typically without chemicals in organic–and sometimes also biodynamic–fashion. As Clusel’s wines vividly illustrate, the resulting wines reflect distinct terroir while singing with lively fruit, personality and pure pleasure.
His wines come from the Côteaux du Lyonnais, a reclaimed terroir west of Lyon, as well as Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu with the family domane, Clusel-Roch. He helped spearhead the domaine’s conversion to biologique organic winegrowing without chemical herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. Grasses and flowers grow between rows in winter to promote robust life in the soils, a factor forcing vines to compete and become sturdy. Spring plowing helps reawaken vines and requires tremendous labor in the steep and rocky vineyards.
Yields come in at low levels to further enhance quality. After manual harvest and partial destemming, the grapes ferment as naturally as possible.
The Côteaux du Lyonnais, “Galet” red wine offers a real show stopper. This Gamay wine has real guts and breeding to deliver a terrific glassful of pleasure. Aromas of cherries and blackberries waft up with hints of newly plowed earth and smokiness. Pure red fruits and mouthwatering minerality open in the glass balanced by firm, but entirely elegant tannins. All in all, it is startlingly delicious, well made and reasonably priced.
The other Clusel wines were terrific, too. Which raises a dilemma for travelers from outside Europe. You love the wines and would like to buy a case, but how can you take them home without spending a small fortune on either shipping or a fancy travel case for checked baggage?
Sanchez offers the perfect solution as Patty Lurie demonstrates. She first individually wraps the bottles in reinforced, rigid cardboard holders. Then the holders go into a sturdy, rigid cardboard box. Packing tape closes the box and then comes the touch of magic.
Lurie firmly wraps heavy twine around the box from stem to stern. Then, in a stroke that would make Rube Goldberg smile ear to ear, she creates a sturdy twine handle for easy toting. You then check in the box at the airport as luggage.
“It works and we’ve never had a customer have a problem taking home wine with our carrier'” she notes. Which is great, because in addition to Clusel, La Dernière Goutte offers hundreds of wines including those from terrific Burgundy producers such as Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot, Domaine Denis Mortet, and Domaine Simon Bize.
After purchasing your wine, you’re ready for a casual bite to eat, a good glass of wine and a comfy ambiance. Sanchez has you covered there, too.
Just around the corner from La Dernière Goutte on rue de Seine, he operates the excellent restaurants Semilla and Fish. But his new little gem, Freddy’s at 54 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, is a sure bet. The super friendly staff has passion for and knowledge of fun, terroir-driven wines. Recently the Domaine des Huards Cour Cheverny Rouge, a red blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc from an organic Loire grower, served as wine of the day. The Domaine de la Pépière, Muscadet “Clissons” made from from grapes grown organically in granite soils in the western Loire Valley also catches the eye.
The fun menu includes seasonal, tapas style vegetable plates such tempura asparagus spears. Creatively prepared main courses are also available.
So put it all together—La Dernière Goutte’s great selection of reasonably priced quality wines, the convenience of being able to take your wines home on the plane, and fun wine and food just around the corner—and the ingenious Mr. Sanchez and his teams are on a roll. And you won’t want to miss enjoying the experience.
To visit Domaine 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By most measures, the F.E. Trimbach’s riesling Clos Sainte Hune remains the flagship of Alsace’s dry white wines. Made from grapes grown in Rosacker vineyard’s distinctive Dolomitic limestone, the wine’s consistent elegance, complexity and fidelity to terroir certainly merit accolades.
But Alsace’s glorious dry rieslings do not stop there. The sheltering Vosges Mountain to the west create a marvelously sunny, dry climate over a stunningly diverse mosaic of soils in 51 grand cru vineyards. This provides scores of outstanding Alsace winegrowers with singular opportunities at every turn to make world-class dry rieslings worthy of serious consideration and enjoyment.
Just southwest of Strasbourg in northern Alsace, for instance, the village of Andlau nestles in a snug valley surrounded on slopes by three distinct grand cru vineyards: Wiebelsberg with sandy soils over sandstone, Moenchberg with marl soils and limestone and the magnificent Kastelberg with brittle blue slate soils. With laborious pruning, manual harvesting and organic treatments of the vines, the well-drained slopes yield outstanding quality grapes and thrilling riesling wines.
A visit with winegrower Rémy Gresser, a wily veteran of 40 vintages, proves the point. In the town center, Gresser points out a statue of a bear eating grapes, a symbol of Andlau’s winegrowing dating to ancient Gallo-Roman “pagan” times. More systematic cultivation began in the ninth century with the founding of the Abbey of Andlau.
Gresser, a former president of the growers’ Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace, focuses on his keen appreciation of history, Alsace’s larger purposes and terroir in his 2013 Domaine Rémy Gresser Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace, France. Its lovely, complex, floral and citrus aromas mingle with smoky hints. Ripe citrus flavors balance exquisitely with fresh acidity and smoky mineral touches. The wine finishes completely dry with a clean, lingering finish.
At 33 years old, the 1983 Domaine Rémy Gresser Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace, also reveals vibrant, persistent freshness, delicious ripeness and remarkable flair and personality. Its longevity comes from Kastelberg’s distinct slate terroir which, with dedicated hard work and savoir-faire, accords an abiding backbone of acidity and fruity purity.
Also in Andlau, bio-dynamic winegrower Antoine Kreydenweiss offers the terrific 2014 Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg, Alsace. Marvelous, pure citrus flavors unwind with fresh acidity and flinty minerality on a long, dry finish.
South of Andlau in Nothalten, hardworking winegrower André Ostertag, a biodynamic pioneer in Alsace, cultivates riesling in grand cru Muenchberg. Stony volcanic soils and pink sandstone prevail for a richer dry riesling as shown in the 2010 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg, Alsace (PLCB Luxury Code: 48250; $57.99).
The golden color and ripe nose of apple and peach open to delicious ripe fruit with firm acidity. Fresh, pure fruit and resounding minerality frame the long, dry finish. It expresses eloquently distinctive Alsace terroir and the winegrower’s style and vibrant personality. Recommended.
Further south in Katzenthal, Felix and Aura Meyer tend riesling on the superb southeastern exposure of Wineck-Schlossberg grand cru’s sunny slopes. Ancient granite geology covered by thin topsoil yields full flavored, yet dry, wines with crystalline purity.
The 2011 Domaine Meyer-Fonné Riesling Grand Cru Wineck-Schlossberg, Alsace, France (PLCB Luxury Code: 46979; $41.99; Waterworks store only) delivers marvelous floral and citrus aromas along with taut citrus flavors of notable depth. Chiseled acidity creates beautiful, elegant tension balanced with delicious saline minerality carrying through the lingering, bone-dry finish. Highly recommended.
In Alsace’s southern tip, Grand Cru Rangen de Thann’s spectacularly steep slopes feature hard, purely volcanic grauwacke — metamorphic rocks with little or no top soil. Vine roots plunge deep into the mineral-laden subsurface to render wines with distinctive personality and exquisite beauty.
Father and son winegrowers Bernard and Alexandre Schofitt offer the captivating 2013 Domaine Schoffit Clos Saint-Théobald, Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, Alsace. Tasted in the vineyard on a brilliantly sunny autumn morning, the wine’s intense peach, citrus and smoky aromas lead to round, ripe-fruit flavors. Fresh acidity, smoky mineral flavors and a touch of creaminess frame a precise dry finish of marvelous length.
As Bernard Schoffit noted, “When you taste a wine like this, you’re happy you worked so hard to make it.” Enough said.
Domaine Bott-Geyl’s talented winegrower Jean-Christophe Bott clearly enjoys putting boots in vineyard soils. For our 9:30 AM appointment he arrives on a small tractor direct from early morning vineyard work.
“Everything in the vineyard is done in the light,” he says leading the way out of Beblenheim’s picture post card streets. We head to the warm and dry and Sonnenglanz Grand Cru, a name that translates to “sunshine.” It provides an ideal site for Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
The vineyard sits on a windy hilltop. The brilliantly sunny Spring day with chirping birds and softly tolling church bells provides an enchanting moment to soak in panoramic views of Alsace’s surrounding vineyards. To the East across the Rhine River, the hills of Germany’s Black Forest appear in the distance.
Bott and his team tend the vines with labor intensive organic and biodynamic methods that provide ample opportunity to enjoy his vineyards’ bright sunny exposures and breezes. Regular plowing between rows forces vines to compete vigorously, while systemic application of biodynamic composts and teas create vitality and natural resistance to molds and diseases. Bott applies the “500” cow manure spray to revive soils in early Spring and the “501” silica spray on early Summer to energize the flowering vines.”
“Vine roots must go deep to reflect the personality of the place,” he says.
Winegrower Jean-Christophe Bott explains the organic and biodynamic methods used in the chalky Sonnenglanz Grand Cru vineyard in Beblenheim, Alsace, France.The domaine is certified by “Biodyvin,” a leading biodynamic organization.
Bott plants about at 7,800 vines per hectare, a high density that reduce yields naturally. The vines deliver grapes with fruity concentration balanced by mineral complexity resulting from Sonnenglanz’s marl soils of limestone mixed with clay and mud. To ensure diversity when replacing vines, he grafts sélection massale clippings from best existing vines within the vineyard itself.
After harvesting by hand, Bott’s lets patience and minimal intervention guide his work in the cool cellar’s shadows. Whole grape bunches go into gentle pneumatic presses that feed juice by gravity to vats for slow fermentation. In May of 2016, wines from 2015 still slowly bubbled away in large oval foudre barrels. Aging the wines on the lees, i.e., spent yeast, adds creamy notes. Bottling occurs with minimal sulfites. Distinct personality and terroir shine through.
“Each wine should not be something that everybody likes,” Bott notes. Vive la différence!
Jean-Christophe Bott in the domaine’s tasting room in Beblenheim, Alsace, France.
The following notes come from a tasting in May 2016 at Domaine Bott-Geyl which is a member of the “Alsace Crus et Terroir” association:
2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl Riesling “Les Éléments,” Alsace: Made from a blend of grapes grown in the leading village of Riquewihr, Zellenberg and Ribeauvillé, the wine delivers a classis, delicious Alsace Riesling ready for immediate enjoyment. Delicate citrus and floral aromas unfold before ripe, refreshing citrus and quince flavors. The wine finishes dry with delicate fruitiness.
2011 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling “Grafenreben,” Alsace: Clay and limestone soils create classic aromas of grapefruit and quince followed by ripe, spicy citrus flavors. Fresh acidity balances the dry, fruity finish. 2011 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, Alsace: This site rests on a layers of ancient granite topped with sandstone and shale from early periods. The resulting wine delivers pure citrus fruit aromas and complex, layered floral notes. The rich, ripe fruity flavors balance with austere, yet pure acidity that will mellow and round out with cellar aging. An enthralling dry Riesling. 2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Schonenbourg Grand Cru, Alsace: This large vineyard in the neighboring village of Riquewihr offers complex soils combining marl with gypsum rocks and Vosges sandstone laced with plenty of Muschelkalk limestone. The resulting wine delivers a light golden color with subtle, austere citrus and apple aromas with earthy notes. The fleshy, fruity flavors deliver plenty of concentration balanced by racy acidity and mineral notes. The wine finished dry, yet fruity. This is one to cellar for at least five years to allow the wine to pull together completely. 2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Mandelberg Grand Cru, Alsace: The site’s chalky, stony soils and tendency to ripen early results in a wine with golden color and plenty of classic aromas of citrus and white flowers. Ripe, fruity flavors balance beautifully with elegant acidity and pleasant creamy notes.
2012 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Riesling, Sporen Grand Cru, Alsace: Bott’s site features venerable 80-year old vines on a slope above chalky marl and clay. The resulting wine offers intense fruity aromas with ripe fruit balanced by zesty acidity. The dry, fruity finish lingers pleasantly.
2009 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Pinot Gris, Sonnenglanz Grand Cru, Alsace: The grand cru terroir of chalk and marl delivers a golden wine with fresh grapefruit and pineapple aromas with hints of floral honey. Similar ripe flavors in the glass balance with crisp acidity through a ripe, round finish with plenty of lingering freshness.
2013 Domaine Bott-Geyl, “Clos des Trois Chemins,” Gewurztraminer, Alsace: The site features marl and chalk soils over mother rocks of sandstone and quartz. Combined with the southeastern sun exposure, the site creates terrific terroir for producing remarkable well balanced Gewurztraminer. Subtle grapefruit and spice aromas precede fruity, delicious citrus and spice flavors. Layers of fresh acidity balance the fruity, dry finish with a light, refined touch.
2010 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardive, Sonnenglanz Grand Cru,
Alsace: Made from hand picked bunches of very ripe grapes partially dried by the Botrytis cinerea “noble rot,” this golden, super sweet wine balances richness with refreshing acidity and mineral notes. The fruity finish lingers deliciously.
In 2006, Dino Briglio, Antonello Canonico and Emilio Di Cianni, native sons of the mountains in Calabria, Italy, followed their dream. With plenty of passion but no formal winegrowing background, they launched L’Acino Winery near the ancient fortified town of San Marco Argentano. They aimed to produce traditional wines worthy of Calabria’s noble, under-appreciated terroir and ancient culture.
After 10 years of working tirelessly to reclaim vineyards with indigenous Calabrian grape varieties, the partners’ international reputation for delicious, organic wines has blossomed. L’Acino ships wine throughout Italy, Europe, Asia and the United States, and it participates in “Raw Wine,” London’s artisan wine fare.
For the partners, it begins with their love for Calabria, the often misunderstood southern region occupying the “toe” of Italy’s famous “boot.” This rugged land of incomparable beauty is rich in olives, figs, vineyards and diverse ancient culture. In October during the 2016 harvest, I returned to “la bella Calabria” and visited L’Acino to see the team in action expressing their rich heritage through wine.
The winery operates at Masseria Perugini, a working agriculture estate featuring an acclaimed restaurant, charming grounds and overnight accommodations as an “agriturismo” site. Two young, friendly dogs and their feisty companion, an adorable kitten, welcome visitors. In the winery, heady smells of fermenting grapes fill the air as Antonello Canonico leads the winemaking team. They work virtually around the clock with grapes ripened in nearby vineyards.
“In our village of San Marco Argentano, almost every farmer growing fruits, olives and vegetables also has their own little vineyard to make wines they drink themselves,” says Dino Briglio, who trained as a historian. “The vineyards usually last 40 to 90 years and have never been grafted onto native American rootstocks.”
For their initial white, L’Acino purchased a rugged, hillside vineyard near mountainous Pollino National Park. The site featured relatively young Mantonico Bianco vines, an indigenous white-skinned grape. The partners then purchased another patch planted with Magliocco, an indigenous red-skinned grape.
To improve quality, they farmed organically, using plowing and natural treatments instead of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Both sites have high altitudes above sea level to create large temperature swings between day and night. The grapes ripen slowly for optimal balance between fruit, acidity and mature tannins. Manual harvesting minimizes bruising the grapes while also permitting sorting.
“For us, producing natural wines has never been dictated by a passing trend,” says Briglio. “We only work by traditional ways, the way of our families and neighbors.”
Encouraged by the quality and commercial reception of their initial wines, the partners purchased another 12 acres on a windy, dramatically sloped site enjoying plentiful sun. Its sandy soils cover solid sandstone rock below.
“In any other place, this would be considered a grand cru site,” Briglio notes. The partners planted native Mantonico Bianco and Magliocco vines, along with Guernaccia Bianco and Guernaccia Nera. According to Briglio, the latter two came from Spain in the 1500s when the Kingdom of Aragon ruled the region. L’Acino continues to plant more vines in anticipation of keeping pace with growing global demand for their wines.
The entry level white, L’Acino Chora Bianco, Calabria I.G.P.,blends Mantonico, Guernaccia and Pecorello for a fleshy yet fresh dry finish. The L’Acino Chora Rosso, Calabria I.G.P. blends Magliocco and Guernaccia Nera for a juicy red with soft tannins. Both wines have pure, fresh fruit and floral aromas leading to juicy, refreshing flavors balanced by zesty acidity and mouthwatering minerality.
These easy-drinking, delicious and captivating wines call for the soups, antipasti, pork and seafood dishes prevalent in Calabria. A visit to the charming little bistro, Tre Cipolle sul Comò in Rende offers a fun opportunity to pair the wines with traditional food. The restaurant’s charming hosts, Andrea and Carlotta, have passion for their work and a light sense of humor reflected in the fun ambiance.To whet the appetito, they use Vecchio Magazzino Doganale’s locally produced spirits such as “Jefferson Amaro Importante” and “Roger Bitter Extra Strong” for delicious “Doppolavoro” cocktails. The restaurant’s inventive dishes highlighting local produce include fresh, perfectly cooked pasta with roasted chestnuts and pig cheeks. A flavorful hint of Calabrese spiciness peeks through.
The dish pairs beautifully with the 2015 L’Acino “G”, a delicious white from very old Guernaccia Bianco vines. The wine’s golden color unfolds enticing peach and honey aromas leading to fresh, fleshy fruit flavors. Tremendous acidity and mouthwatering minerality balance the dry finish. And like all L’Acino wines, it is made completely naturally without additives and technological tricks in the winery. It’s a wine worth tracking, and L’Acino Winery is definitely a producer to put on your pleasure seeking radar.