Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011

When studying a topic, I’m often drawn to quirky, fringe bits of information rather than the meat of the topic at hand.  For instance, when reviewing Chianti for the Santa Margherita post, I was far more interested to learn that the classic straw covered bottle of the region is called a fiasco than I was about various limits on yields in the vineyard.  I know the latter would be more important on an exam, but the former would be just the sort of smarmy detail to amuse at a wine tasting.  Hence my attraction to this wine, the Domaine de la Cadette Melon 2011.

This is a white wine from Burgundy, which means Chardonnay would be a good guess as to the grape, but wrong.  Failing that, Aligoté is another fairly well known but much less popular white grape of Burgundy, and long time readers of this site will recall there are plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in Saint Bris.  It turns out this is none of the above, and is in fact Melon de Bourgogne.

Melon de Bourgogne certainly has a history in Burgundy, though these days it is more commonly referred to as Muscadet, reflecting its near complete migration to the area of the western Loire around Nantes.  There it is made into Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, an example of this we saw from Guy Bossard.  So even more than I like finding a new example of an unusual variety in the New World, I love finding examples of grapes in unexpected places in the Old World.

While Burgundy is a hugely important region and I’ve only dipped into it here and there, the classification of wine in particular is worth a quick note.  Burgundy values specificity, in that the most sought after wines are from very small areas, often individual, tiny vineyards, and typically from an individual variety.  At the other end of the spectrum is the classification of this wine, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, which essentially can be made from any permitted Burgundian grapes, anywhere in the region.  Ordinaire is the operative work, ordinary, and grand refers more to the size of the region rather than the quality level of the wine.

However, it can be quite an interesting classification for at least two reasons.  First, it can represent a good value proposition, in that the wine in question will be of Burgundy and possibly of a reasonable level of quality, but without the price tag that accompanies more specific geography.  The other reason though is that the classification is sometimes used for wines such as this, a permitted but lesser known grape.  So if you’re looking for a Burgundian César, Tressot or Sacy, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire is likely how it will be bottled.

And so while this wine is officially of no particular place within Burgundy, in truth it’s from somewhere rather special, Bourgogne Vézelay.  While located not far to the south of Chablis, Vézelay has a cooler climate and its soils contain less clay and more limestone.  It is an area with a long history of grape growing, but largely of no great distinction and most of the results have been destined for use in a co-operative.  However, toward the end of the 20th century a number of producers raised their standards and through their efforts the area was granted appellation status for Chardonnay based white wine in 1997.  Pinot Noir and Melon de Bourgogne produced there remain classified as Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire but they represent only a fraction of production.

That timeline coincides with the founding of Domaine de la Cadette.  Jean and Catherine Montanet established the domaine over the course of a decade of vine clearing and replanting from 1987 through to 1997.  Their holdings consists of 13.5HA, mostly Chardonnay with a quarter Pinot Noir / César  and a tiny patch of this Melon de Bourgogne.

They work them organically and were certified such in 2002.  Grapes are hand picked, and their winemaking involves as little intervention as possible.  The produce three different Bourgogne Vézelay varietal Chardonnays, a varietal Pinot Noir and a Pinot Noir / César blend as Bourgogne Rouge and this Melon.

In the glass this wine is clean and bright with a pale lemon yellow colour and slow legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of candle wax, lemon, and vanilla custard.  On the palate it’s dry with medium minus acidity, medium plus body, medium intensity, medium minus alcohol and medium length.  There are notes of lemon, a little asparagus, and some ginger.

I rate this wine as good, possibly very good.  It’s unfamiliar but intriguing.  There are interesting notes across a wide range of flavours – some of which I don’t typically associate with wine – which I find very appealing.  It certainly has complexity though I don’t think the descriptors do it justice.

 

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

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Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

My visit to Burgundy at the start of a tour through France was certainly memorable, from visiting the vineyards of DRC to the winery tour at Dubœuf.  Unfortunately with only so much time, it’s impossible to visit all the places one would like, and regrettably I didn’t get to Chablis.  Fortunately, Chablis is widely available internationally, and today’s wine is the Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009.

Burgundy is a region that rewards closer inspection, and specialist knowledge can demand detailed information not just down to specific villages but indeed down to who owns which row of vines in which vineyard.  With that intensity of focus, it’s no wonder that in the study of Burgundy, sometimes entire regions can be overlooked or forgotten.  It most frequently happens with Beaujolais – I have a map supplied by the Bourgogne Conseil Régional that notes the region as being south of Macon but apparently there was not enough room on the paper to include it.  The map does include Chablis, and while there is an argument to be made that Burgundy and Beaujolais would be better thought of as separate regions, it is a far less common sentiment with regards to Chablis.

That said, even a quick look at a map reveals the geographic distance between Chablis and the rest of Burgundy, and it could just as easily have been included with Champagne or the Loire’s Central Vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.  However, in terms of wines, the still, varietal Chardonnays of Chablis are a better match for the other white regions of Burgundy despite the distance.

The region has a continental climate, and a cool to cold one at that.  While summers can be hot at times, winters are typically very cold and spring frosts through May are one of the biggest factors in vintage variation.  They can impact not just the quality of the vintage, but in extreme cases whether or not there is a vintage.  So potent is the threat that since the 1950s various approaches have been pioneered to help the vines survive frosts, from heating units in the form of smudge pots to aspersion, or the spraying of water droplets to form a protective layer of insulating ice on the vines, preventing serious damage.  Both approaches have their drawbacks, in terms of cost and effectiveness respectively.  I’m also somewhat surprised that aspersion is permitted given its resemblance to irrigation.  (I am kidding).

Chablis is largely based on a highly sought-after soil type known in English as Kimmeridgian (sometimes Kimmeridgean), or argilo-calcaire in French.  Named after Kimmeridge, a town in Dorset, England, it is typically a mix of clay and limestone fossils dating back to an identically named stage in the Upper Jurassic epoch.

In terms of the Chablis appellation, established in 1938, Chardonnay is the only permitted grape, and there is a hierarchy of classifications.  There are seven Grand cru climats, or lieu-dit, and a further 40 such vineyards with Premier Cru classification above the generic AOC Chablis.  There is also the neighbouring and not as highly regarded Petit Chablis, also Chardonnay based, and established in 1944.  However, it is on the fringe of Chablis and based largely on Portlandian soil, which is younger and has a larger sandstone content.

As this is my sixth varietal Chardonnay, I’m not going to talk about the grape too much, but how it is handled in Chablis does deserve a note.  Chardonnay is a wine that can be subjected to a variety of treatments in the winery depending on the desired style.  Within Chablis, the use (or not) of oak is a big point of differentiation in terms of style.  The region as a whole is known for producing wines that have a steely intensity, and in some cases that is quite literal with fermentation in stainless and no oak treatment post-fermentation.  (I am not suggesting you can taste the fermentation vats.)  Others ferment in barrel, and others still start in steel and then have some oak maturation.  However, other influences outweigh the use of oak, such that Chablis is generally thought of as an easy wine style to identify in blind tastings, perhaps because with age even those wines not subjected to oak treatment can pick up flavour characteristics often associated with oak, including nuttiness.

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils is a small, family run producer which has been working vines in Chablis for generations.  The domaine and its 32 acres were established by the namesake, but were passed to his children in 1976, with Pascal tending the vines, Didier making the wine and Marilyn running the business side.  In the vineyard, their focus is on low yields, with severe pruning and two rounds of crop thinning over the growing season.  In the winery, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and does not see oak maturation, so as to most clearly express their terroir.  It does, however, undergo malolactic fermentation.  In 2006 they acquired a sorting table, enabling them to hand select their grapes, and in conjunction with that improvement they shifted to using wild yeast for fermentation.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a thin film instead of legs on the inside of the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon, seashell, quince, candle wax, a hint of smoke which may be what other people call struck match.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lemon, really tart lemon at that, quince, seashells, and some flint.

This is a very good wine.  I want to call it austere, but I’m not sure that’s really what’s hitting me.  There is a purity to the acidity, which is very intense, but not to the exclusion of the mineral notes.  It certainly fits the profile of what I would expect of a somewhat young, unoaked Chablis, and while it’s at the expense of any richness or creaminess that some people enjoy, the steeliness is undeniable.

I can’t find a website for the producer, so no link and the pin in the map is approximate.

Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

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Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009

Back in December I mentioned this producer, a partnership really, and had a bottle of one of their wines with Christmas dinner.  However, since it was Christmas, I had better things to do than to take good notes or write up very much about it.  So tonight it’s another of their wines, somewhat more modest in price than the Nuits-Saint-Georges I enjoyed in December, but good for my purposes.  It’s the Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009.

This is just the sort of wine that I like to cover in this blog.  First off, it’s Pinot Noir, and I help make a half decent Pinot Noir, so while I’m not an expert, I’m certainly an interested party.  Second, it’s from a producer I’ve had enough times before to know that I like their wines in general, which gives me great hope that I’ll like this one specifically.  And finally, I’ll get to rant a bit, which is always fun (for me).

Marchand & Burch is an international partnership between Pascal Marchand and Jeff Burch.  Marchand is a Burgundian winemaker from Montreal, who has worked with Chateau de Chorey Les Beaune, Comte Armand, and Domaine de la Vougeraie.  He is a self-described “Biodynamic Ambassador”.  Burch is the owner of Howard Park Wines and MadFish Wines of Western Australia.  They apparently met in Burgundy and eventually formed this partnership, producing wines in both Burgundy and Western Australia.  Their range includes a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and it appears that they produced at least a couple of vintages of Shiraz in Australia in 2007 and 2008, but it’s not clear if they still do.

Before I go any further, I must first address Biodynamics, which is described by its proponents as a holistic method of organic agriculture.  According to presentation notes on the Marchand & Burch site, it differs from what is commonly thought of as organic farming because “it recognises that there is a growth force or energy force which is related to the cosmic rhythms.”  It operates on a cycle that mirrors the movements of the moon and planets, and relies on herbal treatments of soil and fertilizer to enhance their influence.

The stated aim in the presentation of the Marchand & Burch use of Biodynamic practices is to get more colloidal humus into the soil, which makes it healthier, which in turn makes for healthier vines and better quality grapes and moves toward sustainable vineyards.  I think many people would agree that is a laudable goal.The presentation ends by saying that “Biodynamic practice is empirical, as it is based on experiment, practical experience and observation, without regard to science or theory.”

As Rudolf Carnap said in The Unity of Science, “Science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.”  (Hat tip to TMBG.)  So Biodynamic practice is claiming to be what is essentially science, but without regard to science.  In fact, it is much closer to a religion, and likely one that predates monotheism.  The presentation is littered with terms such as “cosmic rhythms”, “livingness” (is that even a word?), “Biological wholeness”, “cosmic influences”, and “life giving vortices”.  They energize their water (by stirring, or running through concrete moulds) which they believe results in “giving the water a pulse.”  If they have an electrocardiogram to go along with that claim, I’d love to see it.

Biodynamic practice is not science, and in many ways is much more of a cult.  The key is in this line:  ”Bio-dynamic practices are not implemented best, by delegating or contracting out; to people that don’t have a sense of commitment or at least an open mind.”  So it’s not just that you perform what is required of the practice – you have to be committed.  You have to believe.  Whereas with say, actual science, you don’t have to believe at all.  In a vacuum, a believer and an non-believer fall at the same rate, regardless of their commitment to gravity.

However, it is true that some people applying this non-scientific approach can have positive results in terms of healthier vines and better quality grapes.  So does that mean that Biodynamic practices work, even if they don’t satisfy people such as myself who are more scientific than spiritual?  The way to determine that is through scientific research, with controlled experimentation and careful analysis of the results.  Are the healthier vines and better grapes because cow horns act as antennae for focusing cosmic forces, or is it that people who can afford to take the time and to employ the people to do such things are doing a better job at managing their vineyards?  To dismiss the numerous anecdotes of improvements out of hand would be as unscientific as to take them as fact, and I hold out hope that someday perhaps we’ll know if there is even the slightest kernel of truth to what I suspect is the pseudo-science of Biodynamic practices.

At the end of the day though, what matters most to me about a wine is how it is in the glass.  While stories about the vineyard or how the wine is made can certainly add to the enjoyment, if a wine isn’t good then nothing else matters.  And to paraphrase someone who knows more about Marchand & Burch than I do, I don’t need a(nother) religion.  Fortunately for me, and the reason I am happy to buy and drink Marchand & Burch wines, this is a good wine, indeed very good.  And while I really needed to get that Biodynamic stuff out of my system, I now need to talk a little about this wine generally.

Marchand & Burch make a number of wines in Burgundy, and this is their Bourgogne (red).  It’s Pinot Noir, and the label says Wine of Côte d’Or, which pins it down to the limestone and marl area south of Dijon which is made up of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune.  While the region is home to some of the most prestigious wines and appellations of the world, this wine is not specific to any one vineyard or village, which could mean it is either from an undistinguished plot or a mix of grapes from within the area as a whole.  For some people, that could make this a lesser wine, and indeed it does command a much lower price than the other Marchand & Burch Burgundian Pinot Noirs.  As for me, I go with what’s in the glass.

It’s clear, medium minus ruby color with quick, thick legs.  It has a clean, intense nose, with a developing character and serious perfume.  There are notes of raspberries, black cherries, licorice, black pepper, and some herby characters.  A hint of symplocarpus foetidus*.  The palate is dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium alcohol, and medium plus length.  It has flavours of black pepper, cherry, dark chocolate, star anise, and a Black Forest gateau finish.

This is a very good quality wine, with intensity and complexity that other wines of more prestigious regions, villages and vineyards would envy.  At its price, I would do well to buy a case each year and eventually have access to a range of vintages, but first I’m going to need to sort out some local cellaring.  This is certainly not the first time (this month even) that I’ve taken issue with the philosophy of a winery but am happy to recommend their wine, and it almost certainly will not be the last.  While I am happy to pass judgement on both winery and wine, they’re not the same.  A winery I love can certainly make a bad wine and a winery that I think has a completely wrongheaded philosophy can absolutely make a very good wine.

*symplocarpus foetidus – Eastern Skunk Cabbage, a common plant along the banks of the stream behind the house where I grew up.  Unfortunately, it’s an example of a useless tasting note, very evocative to me personally, and maybe a dozen other people, but meaningless to the rest of the world.  But really, I get it all the time, on Pinot Noir especially, and hate that I can’t write it, well except on my own blog.

Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Perle d’Ivoire

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Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Perle d’Ivoire

Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Perle d’Ivoire

This post is from Easter Lunch, which was as good enough a reason as any to pop open some bubbles, and that’s just what we did with the Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Perle d’Ivoire.  The focus of this post is Crémant, partly because I’ve written a fair bit already about Burgundy and its grapes, but mostly because it is really worth understanding.

Crémant is a catch-all term for sparkling wines made in the traditional style, so if you see something that’s labelled Crémant, you can be sure of a few things right off the bat.  First off, within France and Luxembourg it’s a controlled term, such that it is associated with an appellation.  Along with those appellations are specific rules and restrictions regarding a wide range of facets of production (which is pretty much true of every appellation).  These will determine the permitted grapes, yields in terms of HL/HA, and the way in which the wine is actually made.

[A side note - there is a sparkler from Yellowglen called Vintage Crémant.  I'm fairly certain it's just a cheeky appropriation of not only the term "Crémant" but also the term "Vintage" as there's no indication of year of production when I try to order a case.  I can't comment on the wine itself but as I rule, I hate it when producers, usually in the New World, take terms which have strict, often legally defined, meanings from the Old World and throw them around willy-nilly.]

Areas in which Crémant is produced are spread throughout France (while Luxembourg has a single Crémant de Luxembourg covering the entire country) and mirror many of the larger appellations, including Alsace, Bourdeaux, Burgundy, Die, Jura, Limoux, and the Loire Valley.  The one thing they share in common is the way in which they’re made.  The extraction rates will vary by appellation, but there is a limit to how much juice may be used per quantity of grape, though it’s usually expressed in the reverse as the minimum quantity of grapes is required per quantity of wine.  Almost always the base wine will be a blend of different vintages, though there are examples of vintage Crémant, including some from the featured producer.  The second fermentation will take place not just in bottle, but in the bottle in which it will be sold.

If you’re still scratching your head as to why this is at all interesting, for me there are two main reasons.  First, each region has its own specification as to allowed grapes.  If you’re drinking Champagne, you’re likely having a wine that is a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, though there are a handful of other grapes permitted even if they constitute much less than 1% of the area under vines.  However, if you’re sipping Crémant d’Alsace, you could instead be tasting Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, and Riesling in addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  For Crémant de Loire, Grolleau and/or Chenin Blanc could be the local grapes (or possibly Cabernet Franc).  Crémant de Die is mainly the Clairette, while Crémant de Jura could have Poulsard as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Crémant de Bourgogne is a bit of a curiosity.  Like other regions, you get a mix of the grapes permitted in their still wines, so in this case Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but some components of Gamay and Aligoté are also permitted.  (I don’t know if the Burgundian Sauvignon Blanc grown in St-Bris is permitted.)  What makes it a curiosity is that when many people think of Burgundy, the image is of tiny production, walled vineyard where ownership of the vines many change row to row, and very specific geographical indicators for tiny little appellations.  Crémant production in Burgundy is the complete opposite, with big companies, huge volumes, and grapes sourced from throughout the region.

However, this leads into the second thing that is of interest with Crémant, and that is the value proposition.  It is not, generally speaking, an expensive wine, though it is often very well made, and it’s always made in the traditional method.  So in addition to ticking a box for an interesting collection of grapes, it’s very often a good value.  I don’t typically talk too much about price with regard to the wines I cover, but a Crémant de Bourgogne will cost you a good deal less than a comparable sparkling wine from Champagne.  Before I have the black helicopters of the CIBC swooping down on me, they’re not the same.  There are stylistic differences and obviously, within Burgundy the premium grapes go into still wine, whereas within Champagne the best grapes are for sparkling wine.  For me, Crémant is what I want to be buying when I have a party for more than dozen people.  For smaller gatherings, I can afford to spend more, but when I want to put something sparkling that I know I’ll enjoy into the hands of a lot of people, Crémant can be perfect.

Louis Bouillot is a large producer and part of the Boisset La Famille des Grands Vins.  Founded in 1877 by Jean Bouillot in Nuits-Saint-George, it’s grown into one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in Burgundy.  I couldn’t find their exact address but I remember driving past a huge facility of theirs next to the motorway when I was staying near Nuits-Saint-George last year – check out the view.  They do a range of entry level Crémants, including blanc-de-blanc, blanc-de-noir, rosé, and a mix of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamay.  They also produce some vintage Grands Terroirs which are expressive of particular geography, another rarity for Crémants.  The Perle d’Ivoire is either 100% Chardonnay or there is 5% Aligoté as well – the Boisset Family Estates product page says the former at the top of the page and the latter down about halfway.

This wine was pale lemon green in the glass with a veritable bubble storm.  The bead persisted until the last glass was finished, a few hours later.  It had a fresh lemon nose, some floral notes, and was developing, but it had a medium minus intensity.  The aromas were very light, but what was there was certainly fragrant, a bit like a wildflower you really have to get your nose into.  Delicate would probably be the right term.  On the palate, there was very crisp acidity and a medium body with medium plus flavour intensity and medium minus alcohol.  There were notes of sweet lemon, bitter lime, a little oak (not sure if any is used), some minerality, and grapefruit.  It had a medium length and a clean finish.

There were no faults – nothing out of place.  Not the most intense, full bodied, or flavourful sparkling wine I’ve had, but perfectly formed for what it is, and a very good value.

Sabre à Champagne Laguiole

Sabre à Champagne Laguiole

Finally, it’s a good candidate for sabrage, and knowing I had a spare bottle in case of catastrophe, I had a go.  Step 1:  get an appropriate blade.  This is a Sabre à Champagne Laguiole that my wife bought for me a year or two back, and which for me qualifies in the Best Gift Ever category.  However, any heavy blade will do, and I actually had very good results once with the back of a cleaver.

Cleanly (sort of) shorn neck

Cleanly (sort of) shorn neck

I don’t really have an action shot, but I’ll upload a video at some point.  But the goal is to hit the ring on the neck at the point where the seam running up the bottle hits it.  If you look closely, it’s generally pretty easy to spot, though not as easy to hit.  If you’re successful, you’ll get a cleanly decapitated bottle.  Unfortunately, getting the amount of force to use just right is all down to experience.  You want it to be a crisp blow with just enough force to nip the ring, but not so much that you’ll cause a mess.  No description I can write will actually be helpful – you just have to give it a go, and then another, and another, until you have a decent success rate.  Even then, not something to do with a really expensive bottle unless you like to live dangerously.

Cork with neck of bottle intact

Cork with neck of bottle intact

If you’re really lucky, you’ll get one of these – a cork with the end of the neck of the bottle still surrounding it in a relatively clean ring.  It’s tricky, not only because you can’t shatter it with the blow, but also it has to survive landing wherever it goes.  We have one from the first time we saw sabrage demonstrated, mounted on a little bit of plexiglass with a ribbon, from Pierre Jordan at Haute Cabrière.

Be safe – always chop the top of bottles away from people you like.  A serious note on safety, you actually need not worry about glass shards in your wine, as the pressure (and sometimes wine) that is released when the top is removed pushes them away from the bottle, particularly if the bottle is held at an angle.

Result!

Result!

And as with just about everything related to wine, really at the end of the day it’s about drinking, and so if you managed not to shatter the bottle, your wine will taste even better for the risk you took and the skill you demonstrated.  Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

 

 

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Sometimes I write up wines because the grape, region or producer particularly interests me.  In this case though, it’s a wine that is made to mess with people who think they know about wine.  The wine for today is a classic Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy, the Goisot Saint-Bris 2007.

Now if you know little or nothing about wine, the words Sauvignon Blanc and Burgundy might all seem fine in a sentence because one is a grape, one is a region, and what’s not to like.  However, when you know slightly more than a little, you’ll believe that white Burgundy means Chardonnay.  Then, just when you think you know what you’re talking about you’ll be able to meaningfully drop Aligoté as a charming, lesser known, Burgundian white grape.  It’s at that point someone will pour you a glass of Saint-Bris, tell you only it’s from Burgundy, and watch you try to decide if it’s Chardonnay or Aligoté.

Honestly though, I love that there is always something to learn about wine – there’s always some obscure region that is worth exploring or a new producer doing something interesting that’s worth trying.  And along the same line, there’s no point in thinking you know very much about wine, because there’s no shortage of things that are unknown, new, or both.

But really, there isn’t much that’s unusual about this wine except to people who think they know more than they do.  Saint-Bris is a region of Burgundy just south of Chablis, which puts it closer to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé than to Côte des Beaune.  So really, instead of asking why Sauvignon Blanc is planted in Saint-Bris, one could just as readily ask why Chardonnay is planted in Chablis?  Fortunately, that’s not actually a question I want to try to answer here, because I’m actually quite fond of Chablis as it is, and as this is my first Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc, I’m liking it even before my first sip.

To actually address Saint-Bris as more than a curiosity, it is a proper AOC, since 2001 that is, for white wine within Burgundy, best known as the only Sauvignon Blanc AOC, though Sauvignon Gris is also permitted even if rarely present.  Before the formalization of the AOC system, it was sometimes sold as Chablis, and pre-phylloxera it hosted another white grape, Roublot, though it was largely replanted with Sauvignon Blanc.  The climate is cool continental with frost an annual danger, and the soil is not so different from its northern neighbour, Chablis, with clay and limestone.

Sauvignon Blanc is generally worth a few pages, and this is actually the first varietal I’ve had since I started this blog, but I can’t bring myself to first write it as a grape in the context of Saint-Bris when there are so many other regions more readily identified with the grape.  I will instead put the discussion of Sauvignon Blanc as a grape on hold until I have a Sancerre or a Marlborough offering in hand, and as the summer is fading here, it will need to be sooner rather than later.

Domain Goisot is a family with over six centuries of history Saint-Bris, which has itself been home to vines for nearly 2,000 years.  They’re located in Saint-Bris itself, though they produce wines of a few local appellations, including other Sauvignon Blancs and a Pinot Noir.

The first thing I noticed about this wine in the glass is that it was slightly oxidized.  It was a medium minus gold colour, with a quick film upon swirling.  On the nose was bruised apple, almond, lemon/lime, and a vegetal aroma like a freshly cut open squash or pumpkin.  On the palate there was high tart acidity, with notes of lemon, mineral, and more of the vegetal flavour.  It had a medium plus length, a medium minus body, a medium plus intensity, and a medium length with a tinned asparagus finish.

I bought this wine as a bin end, and while I’ve certainly enjoyed learning about the region and producer, I had some concern this bottle was not in ideal condition.  Being five years old and a varietal not typically known for having huge ageing potential, I knew I was taking a chance, and when it showed notes suggesting it was oxidized, I initially thought it was past its prime, but having looked more closely at the Goisot website, I’m not so sure.

I’m honestly not sure I would have guessed Sauvignon Blanc had I been poured this blind, though the vegetal character, especially the asparagus should have given that away.  I’ve read that Saint-Bris produces Sauvignon Blanc but with Chablis technical treatment.  I’m not actually sure I know what that means, but given that this one has gone through malolactic fermentation, and has spent time on lees, it could mean that there’s a fair amount of winemaking employed on it.    And with that in mind, I’m calling this a good wine, though one I would like to try again in a younger form (the wine, not me).

Having skipped key parts of what I try to keep as my standard post format, I’m feeling slightly guilty that the whose raison d’être of this post is to point out that there’s an appellation in Burgundy based around Sauvignon Blanc.  While that was incredibly novel to me when I first found that out (a few days ago), it’s not a great insight – it’s a bit of trivia you either know or you don’t.  I do enjoy such tidbits, but in the future I’ll try to keep them as asides or footnotes instead of devoting an entire post to one.

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

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Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007

I had the pleasure of trying this wine because a student winemaker who is helping out with vintage generously brought it to share during lunch.  It was apparently left over from a party where they opened up some excellent wines, and rather than have this lost in the crowd, he very thoughtfully shared it with the people with whom he is working vintage.

The wine in question is Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007, which is worth examining term by term.   Domaine Armand Rousseau is the producer, with domaine being the term for estate, used most commonly within Burgundy and Armand Rousseau being the man who founded the estate in the early 20th century.  Gevrey-Chambertin is a small area of Burgundy within the Côte de Nuits which produces some of the most famous Pinot Noir in the world.  1er Cru, or Premier Cru, denotes a place in the hierarchy of Burgundy which places it just below the very top tier, Grand Cru. Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is the name of a particular vineyard from which these grapes originate.

If I had the time, I could write pages on each of the sentences in the last paragraph, and I’d never actually get to post this, so I’m going to confine myself to the producer and the region.  Frankly, I find Burgundy pretty intimidating, and so I’m just hoping that I can write this up without spelling the producer’s name wrong three different ways and getting some critical facts wrong.  And for the record, some of the material I’m referencing is being machine translated, so take that as you will.

Domaine Armand Rousseau is a family run vigneron and wine producer based in Gevrey-Chambertin.  The namesake, Armand, was born into a wine trade family, involved as merchants, coopers, grape growers and winemakers.  He effectively started the family name as a wine brand in the 1930s when he bucked the trend of using négociants to bottle and sell his wine and instead began doing it on his own, becoming one of the first producers in the region to do so.  He also pioneered the sale of Bungundian wines into the USA, and to this day they export the vast majority of their production.  From a base of inherited property, he expanded holdings in the region.  His son Charles Rousseau began work with his father in 1946 after studying winemaking at the University of Dijon.  Armand died in a car accident in 1959 at which point Charles took over entirely, continuing the expansion .  At present, the third generation has taken over, with Eric Rousseau working as the winemaker, with help from his sisters, Corinne and Brigitte.

Not being well versed in it, Burgundy often comes across to me as a million small producers, where the name that matters on the bottle is the region or the vineyard.  While the label style of this bottle would certainly suggest that, Domaine Armand Rousseau itself is itself incredibly distinguished.  The shift to domaine bottling was revolutionary in Burgundy, and while the majority of wine is still sold to négociants for blending, many small producers have been able to create brands based on their unique qualities. Their present holdings are across eleven vineyards, including seven Grand Cru, this and two other vineyards at Premier Cru, and one Village.

I was going to write a bit about the region, but this is Burgundy, so it makes more sense to talk about the particular vineyard.  Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is a Premier Cu vineyard, or climat, of the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, which in turn is part of the Côte de Nuits.  Gevrey-Chambertin has eight Grand Crus (according to OWC, Wikipedia says nine) and 26 Premier Crus, of which Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is one of the most highly regarded.  It is considered by some to be of Grand Cru quality, but when the village’s vineyards were classified in the 1930s, only those adjacent to the Le Chambertin were considered for Grand Cru status and Lavaux-Saint-Jacques was disqualified.

The vineyard itself is roughly 9.5HA, or 23.5 acres, of which Domaine Armand Rousseau owns .46HA or 1.1 acres.  The rest is owned by dozens of other producers, each with their individual plots that range from tiny to Domaine Denis Mortet with a massive 1.2HA (2.96 acres).  The weather for this vineyard is no different than the rest of the region, with cool nights and hot days during the growing season, but it’s the soil, the aspect and the altitude that makes all the difference in Burgundy.  Situated along a hill with a full southern exposure, it’s slopes ascend from 290m to 320m (950ft to 1050ft).  The soil depth is very shallow at the peak, becoming deeper down the hill.  Less rocky and darker than its neighbours, the area has a foundation of limestone.

This wine was ruby in the glass, with a medium minus intensity, and thick legs  On the nose it was developing and of medium intensity, with notes of black cherry, forest floor, violets and raspberries.  On the palate it was dry with medium plus intensity, acidity, and tannins, which were very tight.  The alcohol and body were medium.  I found cranberry, rich oak and pencil shavings on the palate, with a long length and a black cherry finish.  The wine really opened up over the 30 minutes it took our group to work our way through the bottle.

This was a fantastic wine – elegant and complex, with great ageing potential.  The acidity will certainly last, and I expect the tannins to soften and secondary characteristics to come to the fore.  It was certainly an unexpected treat to taste this wine, and I have to think up something nice to bring to the winery for when we finish vintage.

Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

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Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2010

All the OCW terms I need to know, along with links into the Jancis Robinson site are now in a spreadsheet, along with what section they’re from, their relative importance, and in some cases if they relate to a region, grape or style of wine.  For all the manual work, I don’t think I actually learned anything.  Then again, this week is more about putting the structures into place to better be able to absorb the material needed, and determining just what that material is.

More importantly, I picked up a nice bottle to go with the chicken that’s currently roasting in the oven.  For the vast majority of the world, I have very few reference points with regards to individual producers (though that is changing and should do more so over the next four weeks), and even for those few areas with which I can associate a producer, often it’s more because of their size and distribution channels than for the quality of their wine.  Within France I’m especially bad, though a recent trip there did wonders.
The wine tonight is Seguin-Manuel Pouilly-Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes” 2010 from “Appellation Pouilly-Fuissé Contrôlée”.  There are a number of other bits of text on the label, but those are the most important as far as what’s in the bottle.  I don’t know this producer, but a quick glance at the Domaine Seguin Manuel website shows them to be based in Beaune and that they produce a variety of reds and white from appellations in Burgundy.  For this bottle, I’ll try to work out from the label.

Pouilly-Fuissé is an appellation within Mâconnais at the very southern tip just before the region turns into Beaujolais.  That puts it within Burgundy, at the southern end, and Burgundy of course is in eastern France, about one third the distance to Geneva to the east as it is to Paris to the northwest.  The appellation only produces still white wines, made from Chardonnay.  Within Burgundy (especially if you don’t count Beaujolais, which many in Burgundy don’t), the Mâconnais is the warmest region and gets the most sun, which gives their wine a different character from other Burgundian Chardonnays such as from Chablis or even Côte de Beaune.  Just knowing the AoC, even not knowing the producer, I’d expect this to be a full bodied wine with buttery flavours and some ripe fruits, rather than minerality and sea shells you might get much further north in Burgundy.

In the glass, this wine does not disappoint on the promise given by the label.  It is full and rich, and while I don’t taste any peach that some might expect from Pouilly-Fuissé, I certainly get lemon, butter, and some toasted pecans and almonds.  Full student grade note is as follows.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium yellow colour with thick, quick legs given a swirl.

Nose

Clean, medium intensity, developing, with notes of cashew, lemon, toast, butter, and almond.

Palate

Dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus alcohol, medium-plus body, and medium-plus flavour intensity.  The palate matches the nose with butter, almond, lemon, and toast.  The finish is medium-plus, with a slight brininess which was actually very pleasant.

Conclusion

This is a very good quality wine – the acidity, intensity of flavour and body were all medium-plus in an intense but balanced way.  The alcohol level was not as high, but it didn’t leave the wine tasting as though it was missing anything and leaving the grapes to ripen further might have resulted in lower acidity and fruits in the tropical spectrum.  The length was good at medium-plus.  I could have done with slightly more complexity, but this is a young wine and hasn’t had a chance to develop many secondary characteristics.

I think I’m going to give up on trying to speculate on what I would have guessed this wine to be had I not seen the label, as for the purposes of this blog I’m not likely to be served many blind.  That said, it is what I would expect from Mâconnais in that it is a full style for a Chardonnay, perhaps as close to a New World style as you’re likely to find under AoC within France.

This wine cost just over $50.00 which I think was fair, given the quality level and the miles it has traveled.  That said, there are many New World Chardonnays of a similar style and quality level available for a much lower price.

Readiness to drink – drink now, will keep for 5 years.  I think this wine is beyond youthful even though it was only made last year.  The buttery and nutty notes are what drive it, and they may be supplemented with some honey in the coming years, but I don’t think it will hugely improve with time.