Over the last few years, I've found myself reaching more and more for new cool-climate French wines. Of course, that has to include the Savoie, located just along the Swiss border in view of Mont Blanc. Although history is as steep as the slopes here, it's a younger name, Domaine des Ardoisières, that I turn to for alpine inflections and mineral spring purity in both the whites and reds.
Ardoisières works with two sites in the Savoie, Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy, both farmed biodynamically since their 1998 founding. These vineyards were originally planted back in Roman times but were overtaken by forest as the region fell into obscurity. A group cleared these forests in the late 1990's for replanting, then in 2005, Champagne native Brice Omont took the lead on winemaking. This small-production estate has become the darling of the Savoie and a champion of the region's great potential.
From the clay-dominant hillsides of St. Pierre de Soucy, Argile Blanc is made of 40% Jacquère, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Mondeuse Blanche. And Argile Rouge is 80% Gamay and 20% Persan. Compared to Beaujolais Gamay, this Savoie rendition has lighter body and more pepper tones. The fruit profile is more red raspberry than the accustomed plush, grapey Beaujolais traits, and the finish lingers with a brisk mineral flicker that's lip-smacking good! Both wines are aged for nine months in vats.
And from southeast-facing terraces in Cevins, Quartz Blanc is made of 100% Altesse and Améthyste Rouge is 60% Persan and 40% Mondeuse Noire. The heavy schist soils in Cevins give a racy personality and pulverized rock core that makes this one of my favorite French regions for crisp whites. If you haven't experienced Altesse, you're missing out! These being the most mineral-driven and age-worthy wines of the domaine, they're both aged 18 for months in barrel.
The documentary Somm 3's release received a lot of attention, much of it landing squarely on Domaine de la Côte, stewards of the wind-battered slope of the Sta. Rita Hills within Santa Barbara County. It's here where Pacific Ocean-influenced conditions lead us to what might just be the most marginal, Burgundian conditions in California.
Domaine de la Côte walks the walk when it comes to California viticulture. These are wines with intense concentration from small yields due, in part, to the pruning regimen and also to its extremely dense planting of 4,000 to 7,000 vines per acre. The soil is diatomaceous from a 25 million-year-old seabed that defines this wind-battered slope seven miles off the Pacific.
Raj and Sashi are well-versed in Burgundy domaines and their sites like no other producers in America. Their intention from day one has been to produce wines they want to drink. A large percentage of whole clusters are used here for fermentation and extraction levels are moderate, only intended to give regal framing and backbone to the wines still characterized by purity and transparency of site.
I'm inclined to portray this extreme hill as the Côte de Nuits compared to the more Côte de Beaune traits we find in Santa Barbara's inland terrain. Like Gevrey Chambertin and Morey-Saint-Denis, the Sta. Rita Hills have darker fruit expression, deeper structure, and to be blunt, a more fascinating depth and complexity. The juxtaposition between sweet and savory spices is simply unique to this setting.
DDLC's top cuvées show a fine-ness of tannins and delicacy that belies their underlying construction, one capable of transforming slowly over time. Tasting a bottle of 2011 La Côte upon release and, then, four years later mirrored the evolutionary track I only find with Burgundian Pinot Noir. Burgundy is the backbone of our selection, and when I turn our supporters toward California, this is the first destination for top-grade, terroir-driven Pinot Noir.
Bloom's Field is a southwest parcel on the larger slope. Monterey shale serves as the foundation here, but with a topsoil of clay that is lighter in color and texture as compared to other parcels. Heritage selections of Swan, Calera, and Mount Eden make up the vine material. The most open-knit of the trio of Pinot Noirs offered.
Memorious is immediately downslope from Bloom’s Field, bending gently to the southwest with its face to the Pacific Ocean. The vines rest on a bedrock of Monterey Shale covered by alluvial deposits, the heaviest soils of the domaine. Raj and Sashi planted this one acre of Pinot Noir seedlings in 2007, with which they aim to cultivate their own genetic selection.
La Côte is the most entrancing and refined of the domaine's single vineyards. It's been a favorite of mine since first pour many years ago. It hits a sweet spot where grace and intensity converge seamlessly. Sous le Chêne is also sourced from a special parcel located at the very top of La Côte.
If I were to choose one domaine in Burgundy to drink from Chablis through the Côte de Beaune, it would be Joseph Drouhin. The name has become synonymous with elegance and precision, offering terroir-driven wines founded upon transparency first and foremost. While the relatively large estate purchases grapes from many top growers, they also have their own domaine holdings where all aspects of viticulture are under their control—fully organic and biodynamic.
Robert Drouhin was among the first in Burgundy to adopt "culture raisonnée" in the late 1950s, and today the domaine is fully organic and biodynamic in all owned vineyards. Grapes are de-stemmed and fermented with native yeasts. Gentle punch-downs are applied once per day for the first half of fermentation, with pump-overs utilized afterward.
Drouhin's Beaune 1er Cru Monopole, Clos des Mouches Blanc and Rouge, transcends the reputation of its village. Located at the southern end of Beaune next to Pommard, Clos des Mouches always surprises with the classic Drouhin elegance married with the more powerful style of the village. The track record of aging is unmatched in Beaune.
Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru is labeled as such, because it comes from only 1.3 hectares of vines divided through the Premier Cru vineyards: Noirots, Hauts Doix, Borniques, Plantes, and Combottes. The tiny parcels are vinified together. Among secret cuvées in all of France, I put this pretty high on my list. This always over-delivers with the classic, unadulterated lacey Chambolle purity and chalky definition.
My first experience tasting the adored Premier Cru, Les Amoureuses, was at a small wine shop in Chassagne-Montrachet in 2012. A well-known Canadian collector called me over to taste the highly anticipated 2010 release. Not surprisingly, the wine in the glass was one of the most memorable I had in Burgundy. There's something to be said for the openness and generosity of brand new releases. Pure, unadulterated fruit and maximum impact.
If 2009 was the watershed moment for Cru Beaujolais, then 2019 is a fitting vintage to compare to, now, ten years later. 2009's hot growing season naturally brought forward a bold, full, and ripe personality to the wines. This style pulled in many new Bojo drinkers, myself included.
Today, Cru Bojo fans are crossing their fingers annually in hopes of a relatively cool growing season that results in wild herbs, snappy, tart red fruit, and a pronounced mineral spine. Moving forward, 2019 is as good as it gets, folks. It was a hot growing season, but vignerons are much better-suited today to handle the threats from drought and burn. What stands out here versus recent vintages is a real sense of underlying tension that gives these a crisp form.
If you have to pick one producer who nailed this vintage's cooler-side-of-the-pillow potential, it is Guy Breton. Home to arguably the most graceful style of the region, Guy, better known as P'tit Max by his friends, is always one to pick on the earlier side and limit extraction, ensuring levity and freshness are the prime markers of his wines.
While some love the bursting Beaujolais style, the below producers are my favorites in 2019, having dug deep to find the most classic examples of the vintage!
Outside of the iconic Cabernet Sauvignon addresses in Bordeaux, there's one name in France that can go toe to toe with these chateaux in its complexity and age-ability. Mas de Daumas Gassac. France's Southwest Languedoc region may be most famous for its value, but Herault's distinct cool microclimate has proved itself through the decades.
Mas de Daumas Gassac was established in 1970 when Véronique and Aimé Guibert came across an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family along the Gassac river in the Herault. The typical blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon supplemented with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tannat, and Malbec. Alcohol levels have remained modest through stylistic shifts, never taking Bordeaux's cues when things drastically changed in the '80s.
The underground water springs and surrounding mountains created a relatively humid microclimate that mirrored Bordeaux's Médoc. Vine material from First Growth Bordeaux chateaux was planted here to create the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine of Southern France. The cooling influences and limestone bedrock are all reasons why Mas de Daumas Gassac has long stood out as a beacon of sorts for Languedoc freshness. The region has an abundance of 100-plus-year-old plantings, with the dry and favorable climate allowing organic viticulture to thrive.
The wines are highlighted by espresso, dark chocolate, cigar box, brambly blackberries, and savory spices. The underlying verve and tension of the wines have allowed them to improve and transform dramatically with age. As always, the provenance of older wines is the critical factor in the quality you will find in glass, and I'm thrilled to offer this mint condition collection of Languedoc's star estate.