Fontaine-Gagnard in Chassagne Montrachet is probably a domaine better know for its white wines than its reds. But the last few years have seen their reds go from strength to strength, in no small part due to the focus and attention to detail of Celine Fontaine, who seems to have taken over all winemaking duties.
I recently had the opportunity to taste several vintages of their glorious Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of the most impressive 1er Cru expressions in the appellation. With allocations of Domaine Michel Lafarge rarely making it past En-primeur now days, picking up a bottle of Clos des Chênes that’s almost ready to drink is becoming a rare luxury.
The reds grapes at Fontaine-Gagnard are normally destemmed with light crushing. The must is then transferred into vats for the alcoholic fermentation for up to a week with little to no temperature control. The reds undergo daily punch downs and pump overs and then usually undergo a light filtration.
A dark ruby colour, there is interestingly little to no graduation of colour in the glass. A very pretty nose awaits with a beautiful bouquet of crushed rose petals and cherry blossoms. There are wonderfully expressive notes of strawberry confit, caramelised red cherries, and red berry pastille fruits. Lovely lift, freshness and an attractive sappy, stalky, minerality develop in the glass with just the faintest hint of sweet wood spice. An elegant, medium-bodied palate is perfectly harmonious and sleek, thoroughly seductive with a focused concentration of cherry pith, sappy spice, bramble berries, tart red plums, and a mouth watering maraschino cherry finish. Plenty of stony, dusty tannins add a little extra frame to the wine. A really attractive expression of Volnay that should easily drink well for another 10 to 12 years.
The Burgundy En-primeur tasting season in the UK over the months of January and February is a very exciting time for buyers, if for no other reason than the probable likelihood of discovering a new family scion or black sheep Burgundian off-shoot that has started producing a new range of wines. Getting in early with an order could be critical in securing an ongoing allocation.
Domaine Duroché is currently run by fourth generation Gilles Duroché along with his son Pierre, so they are by no means a new winery. But they have definitely resurfaced as one of the most sought after wineries in Burgundy over the past 4 or 5 years, along with producers like Domaine Denis Mortet, Domaine Georges Noellat and Heitz-Lochardet. I myself only really started to notice their wines on the En-primeur circuit around 3 years ago, probably too late to secure any meaningful allocations. But the wines are so good my endeavours continue.
Their Gevrey Chambertin holdings include three wines each at village level – Jeunes Rois, Etelois and Champ; Premier Cru level – Champeaux, Estournelles St Jacques and Lavaux St Jacques; and Grand Cru level – Charmes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze and latterly, a tiny parcel of Griotte Chambertin.
A wonderfully seductive bouquet greets the drinker with lifted perfumed fragrance, violets, sweet jasmine and cherry blossom. But it’s the intense red maraschino cherry note that rings the loudest. So powerful and beguiling. The crystallised cherry purity resonates across a beautifully vibrant, crisp fresh palate bristling with tart cranberry, caramelised cherries and kirsch liquor complexity. So pure, so supple, so seamlessly elegant. The Lord alone knows how Duroché achieves this concentration of fruit together with this level of purity and textural balance at only 12.5 Abv. A really impressive creation. Such a pleasure to drink.
Founded in the 1840s, Domaine J.A.Ferret is located in the heart of the most famous “climats” of the Fuissé amphitheatre, and has followed a female line of succession, who cleverly decided to bottle their wines themselves long before the practice became common place in Burgundy. The 18 hectare Domaine was acquired in 2008 by the Louis Jadot empire and encouragingly, the estate has remained unwaveringly quality focused ever since.
The 1 hectare Les Perrières vineyard, located on the so-called ‘back side of the rock’, les Perrières lies halfway up the slope, just above the les Clos parcel. The slope, which faces south-east, is somewhat steeper than that of les Clos itself.
The average age of the vines is 35 years old and are grown on soils derived from alluvial deposits, consisting of a mix of deep silt and clay containing a few stones. The subsoil features streaks of limestone and limestone marls, while the top layers, which are moderate in depth, and are littered with calcite and flint stones on the surface over a metre-thick layer of limestone marls.
Domaine J A Ferret Pouilly Fuisse Tete de Cru Les Perrieres 2014, Burgundy, 13.5 Abv.
The anticipation of top quality for this 2014 was high and this wine certainly does not disappoint. The nose is steely and Roulot’esque, bristling with hints of dusty limestone, struck match reduction, lemon & thyme, lime peel pith, yellow grapefruit preserve and salty sea breeze notes. Not just lifted and complex, the aromatic intensity and focus is so very impressive. On the palate there is beautiful intensity with supreme balance and textural harmony. The creamy oak tastes very expensive but is very intelligently applied, allowing it to melt into the lemon lime fruits. It’s so rare to get this supreme crescendo of minerality, salinity, struck match reduction and vibrant acidity in perfect equilibrium with crystalline fruit intensity. A really superb wine from a once in a decade quality vintage. Drink now to 2030+ (Recommended retail £38 per bottle).
One of the great rewards of working in the wine trade are the diverse international friendships that are formed while tasting, buying and selling fine wine. This past weekend my wife and I packed our bags and boarded the Eurostar to attend the wedding of my Beaujolais buddy, Geoffray Benat.
I recently wrote a post about Geoffray’s amazing bistro restaurant Cepages in Westbourne Park Road in Nottinghill, which you can read here…
While Geoffray and his wife Erika now run their successful restaurant together, it was in one of his previous wine sales jobs many years ago that I first made my acquaintance with Geoffray. Of course, the fact that Geoffray’s father owned and ran the excellent Julienas estate of Domaine de Cotoyon was an added extra, and before very long, I was not only buying an array of Languedoc wines from Geoffray but also the superb wines of his father Frederic Benat, produced in Julienas and St Amour. Fast forward 6 or 7 years and finally it was time to visit Geoffray at home in Julienas to celebrate his wedding.
Vignerons are of course spoiled for choice for wedding wine selections when not only your own family make great wines, but also your best man and several of your close friends also attending the wedding.
For those travelling from afar, we attended a lovely welcome dinner on the Friday evening at Geoffray’s parent’s house. This was a wonderfully casual family affair gathering outside in a marquee for dinner. The evening proved to be a very useful opportunity to meet all the extended friends and family.
Saturday the 1st of July was the big wedding day at the local Mairie or town hall, followed by a most impressively well planned celebratory dinner for 150 people at the local Chateau de Pruzilly.
But first, an afternoon Vin d’Honneur in the Parc of Chateau Pruzilly followed, where a wider group of friends and family, not just those invited for the dinner, had the opportunity to congratulate the bride and groom with a glass or two of wine… in this case, the lovely Cuvee Reservee Methode Traditionnelle Sparking wine also made by Geoffray’s family.
6.00pm signalled Champagne, Cocktails, and pre-dinner Canapés in the courtyard of Chateau Pruzilly before the grand banquet officially kicked off at 8pm. Once again, we were plied with never ending amounts of fine Champagne, white Burgundy made by Geoffray’s friends in the Maconnais, and of course magnums of Frederic Benat’s fantastic Cru Julienas 2015 Beaujolais.
What a wonderful event celebrating the marriage of a really lovely couple. Also encouraging to see how the whole local vigneron community of friends came out to support the Benat family in celebrating this happy union.
All good things must come to an end and so on Sunday we started the long trek back to Paris. A big thank you to Geoffray and Erika and the whole Benat family for your wonderfully welcoming hospitality. I look forward to visiting Beaujolais again soon!
This week I attended the “Art of Chablis Trade Tasting” in London to catch up on the latest happenings in one of the wine world’s great classical regions. Billed as a discovery of the various appellation styles, from Petit Chablis to Grand Cru, there was a fairly mixed bag of wines on show, some represented in the UK, some seeking representation.
After a pretty indifferent “restaurant vintage” in Chablis in 2015, and then a crop reduced by 60-70% in 2016, like much of Burgundy, this is a region in flux with many concerns for its future commercial path.
The last serious quality vintage in Chablis was certainly 2014, producing wines with taught acidity, tension and rasping chalky minerality. But despite its slightly lacklustre reputation, the 2015s on taste (the majority of wines), were encouragingly impressive and seemed to have grown in stature, and showed plenty of mineral classism and steely freshness despite lacking some visceral thrill.
But of course there were some real stand out wines, none more so than JP Droin’s incredible 2014 Grand Cru. From grapes grown on Kimmeridgian marls, this wine was clarified straight after vinification. The musts were then placed partly in stainless steel tanks, and partly in barrels. The malolactic fermentation was done systematically. Ageing is for around 10 months in partly new barrels.
Jean Paul et Benoit Droin Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2014, 13 Abv.
The 2014 Chablis Valmur is one of the most impressive wines in the lineup. The aromatics are very exotic with a tantalising nose of quince, green fruits, pineapple pastille, bruleed figs and subtle tarte tatin notes from the oak aging. The palate is broad, expressive and fresh, with a beautifully creamy, textured palate. This wine has everything… a complex nose, a youthful, dense expressive structure, and a long, exotic, nuanced finish and plenty of classical dusty, pineapple intense, Chablis notes. Such a beautiful, creamy palate texture, seductive fruits and a crystalline finish. Supremely vibrant, pithy, chalky, this wine is almost overpowering in intensity. I could drink this all day.
It all started 26 years ago when Claire, a Montpellier graduate, first started making wine. Her winery is located between the Cotes de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits, 9kms away from each. Claire has always focused on very minimalist intervention winemaking and only adds a very small amount of sulphur before bottling.
A sufferer of migraines, Claire first started experimenting with no sulphur winemaking in 2001, experimenting with Aligote. In 2002, she started to also make her reds without sulphur additions during winemaking. In 2016 she lost 70% of her fruit to frost, prompting her to start buying in Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes from St Pourcain.
Bottled wines now typically contain 35ppm total SO2, with minimal amounts being added after Malolactic in reds. “Sulphur additions end the wine feeding itself off its lees and compacts the lees.” Long, slow 3 hour pressings allows the juice to oxidise, resulting in very stable wines.
1 Le Clou 2015 (Patois for Clos)
Aligote 55-60 year old vines, 12.5 Abv. – Rich, honied white citrus, lemon blossom, and biscuits and pithy yellow peach and white toast complexity despite no oak use. Palate is taught, pithy, stony, and fresh with real vibrance but also density, ripeness and fleshy depth without losing its pithy, mineral saline briney edge.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2 La Plante d’a Cote 2016
(Name of a young vine) 11 Abv. – Whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast. Rich perfumed nose of talc, musk, Parma violets, strawberry confit and smokey, chalky, sappy, minerality. Bottled early in Feb 2017, after ageing in fibreglass. Super sappy, saline, perfumed with a light textural touch, elegance and sleek, feminine purity and bright, stony, red cherry and red plum low alcohol vibrancy. Real ‘vin de soif’ drinkability.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
3 Le Gamay de L’Allie 2016
Aged in stainless steel, show lovely plummy, savoury red fruits, hints of reduction, cassis and black cherry nuances. Palate is pristine and pure, showing cherry sherbet, pink musk sweets, tantalising acids and wonderful uplifting freshness. Such an energising joy to drink.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
4 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Orchis Mascula 2014 – Beautiful dusty, fragrant melange, wet river pebbles, chalk board duster and stemmy sappy spice. Real lift and energy, cherry blossom, red apples, and tart red cherries. Texture is very polished and pristine, pinpoint tannins, and seductive smokey, chalky, crunchy red berry fruits. Very impressive interpretation of Pinot Noir.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
5 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Myosotis Arvensis 2013 – The 2013 is a more savoury, earthy expression, showing red currant, cured meats, strawberry compote and a complexing sappy, mineral limestone vein. Palate is dense and fleshy, broader and more leesy, savoury than the crunchy ’14. Lovely salty, saline hints of red cherry and salted strawberries, and smokey minerality linger on the long, sensual finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
6 Nuits-St-Georges Les Damodes 1er Cru 2012 – Dark dense wine instantly showing the Nuits power. Nose is packed full of black damson plum, red apple purée, raspberry confit, savoury frais de bois and hints of sap and cured meats with dusty wet river pebble minerality. Palate is vibrant, crunchy and super saline, with perfumed black fruits and chalky, limestone notes. The texture is super suave, the balance intense, pure and harmonious with a chalky, dry powdery tannin finish. A masculine styled wine with a feminine touch.
There are several famous premium “commodity” wines produced in France, none more so than the wines from appellation Chablis. Few other regions other than Savennieres, Jura and perhaps Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, can offer such intense, terroir focused, style specific wines as Chablis. After all, there are many regions in the world that can make great Chardonnay, but none that can make a worthy Chablis lookalike.
But Chablis is in the midst of challenging times, along with many other Burgundy regions. Vintage after vintage of small or reduced crop yields have placed massive pressure on continuity of supply and strained the appellation’s means to sustain listings in all segments of the trade. In 2016 alone, some growers like Simonnet – Febvre saw yields reduced by up to -60% by up to 6 different “plagues” through the season, according to winemaker Jean-Philippe Archambaud, including hail, frost, floods, etc.
So today I was rather appreciative to spend time with Jean-Philippe to taste through his latest vintages from Simonnet-Febvre. Of particular interest to me were a pair of Grand Crus – The Les Clos 2012 fermented 50% in tank and 50% in barrel, and a Blanchot 2011 fermented 100% in oak and also aged 20 months in barrels.
The Les Clos was laden with wet chalk, liquid minerals, dusty limestone, dry bitter lemon, white citrus and dried herbal pineapple nuances. The palate was super elegant, richly concentrated but thoroughly harmonious with bright acids, broad fleshy green tart fruits, salty green apples, steely minerality and a long, classical, classy finish at 13 Abv. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Blanchots 2011 was seductive and fleshy, with an expressive nose of caramelised tinned pineapples, subtle green toffee apple richness, pear purée, and a melange of bruised yellow stone fruits. There was profound intensity and a beautifully expressive, fleshy texture that resonated with chalky calcareous green apple spice, a familiar liquid minerality, bright crunchy green fruits and a real Cotes de Beaune Burgundian weight and complexity. The oak did alter the profile of this wine but it remained so juicy and complex that one could only see it as an attractive component. I could certainly drink a lot of this! (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The 2015 Chablis wines in general are going to be a slightly lacklustre, pleasant, “restaurant” vintage. If you can find 2014s or indeed some exciting 2012s and 2011s like these Simonnet-Febvre wines, they are worth the time and money. 2016 is going to be almost non-existent and who knows what 2017 holds in store. There are meagre pickings ahead for Chablis.