It's no secret that over the last decade Jean-Marie Fourrier has catapulted his family's domaine into elite status within Burgundy. Fourrier is the 5th generation to lead this 9-hectare Gevrey Chambertin estate, officially taking over for his father in 1994 after interning with the mythical Henri Jayer.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Domaine Fourrier lineup, highlighted by the 2017 vintage.
The wines of Fourrier are most associated in my mind for their silken texture with ripe and vivid fruit. They also are lauded for their ability to drink great at all stages of development. But, above all, it's a sense of purity and site reflection that have put them atop the wishlist of every traditional Burgundy collector.
2017 is a red vintage in Burgundy that will show a ton of accessibility and charm in the near term, with softer tannins and more open-knit fruit than we saw in 2015 & 2016. Structurally, the wines share a profile with the 2007 vintage, but the quality of fruit at harvest is much more sound with no signs of the herbal elements that kept that vintage from entering a more elite category. 2017, unlike 2015 & 2016 is a vintage where terroir shines through first and foremost, as opposed to being marked by the aforementioned vintages' intensely robust and dark fruit profile. Generally speaking, the 2017's veer more into the red fruit register.
Jean-Marie is most noted for his strict reliance on using only old vines for domaine bottlings - averaging 60 years according to my visit in November 2012. The maximum new oak employed is 20%, and like Jayer grapes here are overwhelmingly de-stemmed.
Much of the magic to the wines' purity has to be tied into Jean-Marie's practice of using very minimal amounts of sulphur, instead relying on dissolved CO2 to remain in the wine protecting against oxidation. Because of this it's recommended that younger bottles are double decanted to help "blow-off" any slight effervescence that might remain.
There's no producer in the Northern Rhone that continues to raise the bar each vintage like Guillaume Gilles. His 2008 was a showstopper for me at the time of release, impressing for an authenticity of Syrah that grabbed ahold of me immediately - the kind that's romantically spoken of, but rarely found in bottle.
Savage, spicy, purple-hued, and filled with crushed granite, Gilles' Syrah from the famed Chaillot vineyard encapsulates everything that habitually points me to Cornas. Last July's visit with Guillaume was a great opportunity to learn more about the young vigneron who highlights this new generation.
Guillaume trained under Jean-Louis Chave and the now-retired Cornas legend, Robert Michel. If Michel's wines were known for their uncommon transparency and light-handed touch, Gilles are darker, more ferocious, and packed with a concentration that's quite different. However, like Robert Michel, the soul of the wines from Gilles are founded on a sense of place that's undoubtedly pure granite and 100% whole cluster fermentation - just the way we like our Cornas!
Personally, falling hard for the wines of Thierry Allemand has set my eyes continually toward today's more under-the-radar producers. Allemand's 2017's will easily fetch $250+ per bottle - at less than half the price there's simply no producer deserving of more attention now than Guillaume Gilles.
Today, Gilles farms just 2.5 hectares, working by hand the famed Chaillot vineyard (pictured below) that he leased from Robert Michel. His traditional approach means zero de-stemming, aging in large neutral barrels, and no fining or filtering. That quintessential combination of roasted meats, violets, blackberries, smoke, black pepper, and the granitic "scorched earth" that Cornas derives its name from is always front and center.
One of the secret wines in the range that only sees 30 cases arrive to the US annually is his Les Peyrouses VDF, which was served last at our tasting. Les Peyrouses is a small parcel containing vines planted over 100 years ago. Unlike the granitic soils of the terraced slopes of Cornas above, this lower portion is planted on sandy and clay soils scattered with the iconic galet stones from the plain of the river. Peyrouses is akin to the more rustic country cousin of Gilles' Cornas cuvée - But, these extremely old vines create an intensely concentrated wine that leads Guillaume to pour as the finalé during visits.
And, for the 3rd time, I'm able to offer Gilles' Cornas "Nouvelle R". The name comes from the vineyard Les Rieux, situated at a very high altitude in Cornas at 450 meters above the amphitheater. The soil here is very unusual, a white granite. Prior to the 21st century, nobody had planted vines here, fearing they would not ripen properly. Of course, warming temperatures have winemakers everywhere looking for higher altitude land. At 12.5% alcohol this was a stunner when I tasted with Guillaume, and his mentor Robert Michel remarked this is what Cornas used to taste like in the '70s and '80s when alcohol levels were more modest.
Finding compelling natural wines that equally hit the mark in their soundness and complexity is a mission of mine. When Spain's most exciting natural-minded producer tapped 1891 and 1910-planted Albillo vines I was enticed. Learning he also excluded sulphur additions and had blocked malolactic fermentation to highlight its fresh factor, I wanted to taste immediately.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Alfredo Maestro Lovamor Albillo for $27 per bottle.
Lovamor comes exclusively from 128-yr-old and 119-yr-old Albillo vines in Peñafiel, located in Spain's Basque country. Alfredo Maestro excludes any and all additives in his winemaking. And here, he took the unusual step to vinify these white grapes on their skins for seven days, giving a warm golden hue and adding a textural grip and very slight tannin that makes this one of the wildest and most though provoking wines in all of Spain.
While the value here is certainly the first thing that pops at $27 from 128-yr-old vines, the main attraction is what happens in glass (or decanter depending on how you approach Lovamor). Once poured, there's a huge transformation that takes place.
What starts with spicy orchard fruit and slight cider-like tones shifts after time to reveal mouth-watering salinity and renewed freshness from lingering minerality. Pear and red apple notes are slowly met with a more nervy kaleidoscope of citrus fruits. It's a wine that provides equal amounts of deliciousness and fascination.
Whether you're focused intently on the unsulphured natural side of wines, or you're just curious to see the best executed skin-contact whites, Lovamor at $27 per bottle is your ideal landing spot.
Some of our most successful offers to date have come from late winery releases via Portugal and Spain. In all circumstances these are red wines. While wineries do age whites for late release, it's just not nearly as prevalent as with reds. Furthermore, drinking 25+yr-old whites can surely be a fascinating and even delicious exercise, but if I'm not at least enticed to finish an entire bottle, it's a hard pass for me.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the white that broke this mold, the 1991 Caves San João Poco do Lobo Arinto Branco for $63 per bottle, and discounted with special mixed 3-pack pricing including the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1996 Tinto (Baga).
In 2013 the Costa family, owners of Caves San João in Portugal, decided to open their cellars up and begin to release wines that have aged on site. Vintages ranged from 1959 to 2000. The dominant white variety in coastal Barraida is Arinto. In its youth Arinto has a sharp acidity that begs to be given time in bottle. Having these wines arrive directly to California this year from Caves San João is a fortune that simply does not exist today in the world of wine. Well, at least not at pricing that dips below $60 for a 28-yr-old white wine at its peak.
1991 was a particularly stellar year for Arinto in Portugal's coastal Barraida zone. Vines were planted in 1950 on a mix of limestone and clay that endows this high acid variety a serious sense of grace. To bring some flesh and texture the white Arinto grapes are partially fermented on their skins. And instead of aging in oak, this is exclusively aged in cement tanks, an important element as to why at 28 years old this white still carries a relatively pale hue and wicked amount of tension.
Using aged Viura of white Rioja is an adequate gauge for the general profile you should expect here. I'm hesitant to dive into the cornucopia of flavors, as this covers such a diverse range from citrus to stone fruit, fresh herbs to white flowers, and finishing with chalky minerality that veers more toward rounded earth tones as it's exposed to air. If this were a red I would heavily advise against decanting for aeration, but as a white I think this really begins to hit its stride after about 30 minutes in the decanter.
While these late winery release reds from Portugal have proved to be big hits with our customers, I'm very excited today to finally offer a white. One that doesn't just check the intrigue box, but also brings a delicious-factor that will pull you to the bottle's very last drop.
In the magically distinctive Jura region there're special pockets where varieties blossom into their greatest and truest possbile form. For Poulsard (locally known as Ploussard) that fairy dust of sorts comes from the ground of the tiny village of Pupillin, located just south of Arbois. While Poulsard plantings throughout the Jura are crafted into singularly delicious wines, those from Pupillin are something entirely different.
My hunt for an example that lived up to what I drank while visiting the village in 2012 has been ongoing. After tasting through importer Neal Rosenthal's current releases that included the 2016 Overynoy-Crinquand Pupillin Ploussard, I was taken back instantaneously to that damp weekend 5 years ago. Poulsard here can often show a huge disparity in styles, and to be blunt, soundness due to its reductive and finiky nature. Overynoy-Crinquand showcases the rarefied air of Poulsard, a brightness and purity unlike anywhere else on earth.
Mickael Crinquand is the fourth generation to farm these 5 hecatres, of which all have been under organic regimen since the 80's. Here the red clay-limestone marl soil is planted to all of the standard Jura varieties: Trousseau, Chardonnay, Savagnin. But, the oldest vines today are Poulsard.
2016 in the Jura, as in nearby Burgundy, is a vintage I cannot overstate my enthusiasm for. Clarity and concentration is in total balance. Here, fermentation and aging takes place in large foudre, with pumpovers kept to a bare minimum to limit extraction. This protocol gives a whispery lace structure to Poulsard and highlights everything I love about the variety's fresh strawberry and sweet cinnamon spiced inflection. In the glass there's the palest of red hues you'll ever find, with a slight rust-colored tinge. But, a suprisingly sturdy tannic sturcture holds this featherweight in a way that provides a thrilling sense of grip.
Over the last decade, the Jura has brought us a new level of excitment and fascination for their native, obscure varieties. There aren't many importers who can touch Rosenthal's sense of mission in finding these smaller domaines that show their sense of place under the most sensitive and deft touch. Of all the esteemed terroirs within the region, it's Pupillin's Poulsard that compels me the most. At $30 per bottle from a magic vintage this is the wine that's finally ended my long pursuit.