Tucked between the Côte de Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne, Aurélian Laherte has almost single-handedly put the tiny Côteaux Sud d’Epernay on the map with his truly singular and brilliant work focusing on Pinot Meunier.
This 1889-founded domaine has followed an organic and biodynamic path since Aurelian took the reins in 2005. He opts for old Burgundy barrels, partially or fully blocks malolactic fermentation, and keeps dosage between very low to zero, giving wines with body and texture but a precise and saline-driven mineral backbone––a combo that really appeals to me.
Laherte's Ultradition Extra Brut has been a house champagne for us for many years. Now, the secret is out, and we’re limited to as few as 12 bottles a year. At $53, the value cannot be overstated. There's also the micro-production cuvées from single parcels that are off the charts.
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Boncie as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Trame, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Also consider Chiesamonti, which comes from a one-hectare parcel in Castelnuovo Berardenga. The stonier soils here result in a wine with brighter red fruits and a long saline finish (Differing from Giovanna's other wines that exhibit more fleshy characteristics). These two Chiantis are all class.
Giovanna farms her five hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the Stockinger barrel sample that had me in love.
Soldera on the Casse Basse estate is hallowed ground in Montalcino. Founded in 1972 by Gianfranco Soldera, it's still one of Italy's most mysterious and celebrated addresses. Soldera is known for their rigorous standards in the vineyard, and selection in the cuverie is ruthless. The wines are featherweight, age-worthy beyond compare, and a model upon which all others in Montalcino follow suit.
The late Gianfranco was on vacation during my visit in 2017, but touring with his son-in-law, Paolo, who manages production, was a detailed exploration. The estate's 10 hectares of vines are adjacent to a mesmerizing garden with hundreds of flowers. The vineyard's hillside is composed of clay and galestro, a schist rock that can be broken apart in your hands, allowing vines to travel deep below the surface for nutrients. The vines grow freely, modeled after Lalou-Bize Leroy in Burgundy. But the real turn of events with the farming is the shockingly low yields, with some vines reduced to as few as three clusters prior to harvest.
The role of selection became a great theme. Soldera believes each vintage has an optimal berry size. They have a de-stemming machine that disposes of grapes outside the preferred dimensions. These select grapes ferment in massive old wood fermenters and get transferred to botti for elévage. Sulfur additions are essentially zero. After the required two years of aging, the wine goes directly from botti to bottling line, minimizing the movement as much as humanly possible.
Sampling the gorgeous 2013 vintage from botti was a haunting experience. The wine was shockingly transparent and light, beginning with its fabled weightless frame, then a saturating and deep grip. The tannins are never forceful, but that's not to underestimate the aging intended for this wine. Sangiovese takes on so many forms in Montalcino and Chianti, but here at Soldera, it seems to exist on its own plane. There's no doubt in my mind after visiting that this site is truly magical, but it's the difficult choices that are made at every stage that allow a wine of this magnitude to come to life.
Cru Beaujolais has been a cornerstone of our selection from the start. While Foillard, Métras, Lapierre, and Dutraive represent the foundation for the greatest value reds in France, the younger generation is now clearly making its mark. Yann may be separated from the aforementioned because of age, but when you line up his wines, it's crystal clear these are commanding interpretations of terroir.
Yann grew up in Fleurie, but after studying commerce in school and traveling through the Alps, he never expected to circle back to become its generation's brightest talent. He found himself working in a wine shop, and surrounded by passionate people, the flames of curiosity were stoked. He spent time working under perhaps the region's most revered names: Yvon Métras and Jean Foillard. Like them, Yann knew that organic farming and traditional methods in the cellar would be his path forward.
In 1992, Yann's family purchased vineyards and slowly converted them to organic farming. Yann took a more active role in leading the domaine in 2013, and he began applying what he had soaked up from his apprenticeships. Similarly, Yann's style is one of elegance, silken texture, and laser focus, expressing each unique terroir in the Famille Bertrand stable.
There's no producer in the Jura that executes brilliance across such a diverse range of wines and styles like that of Stéphane Tissot. And, "BBF" is the sparkling white from the Jura that you've always wanted to find in your glass. As a category, Cremant du Jura can be delicious and pleasing but rarely would take your mind to Champagne. BBF delivers here.
The name is a play on the use of 228-liter barrels for elévage, Blanc de Blancs élevé en Fût. Where this benchmark Cremant du Jura diverges from champagne is in its faint nutty aromas, baking spices, and ripe tropical notes. However, the structure is as serious as much of what you are to find from the Aube, with even more salinity and razor-fine cut reminiscent of the Côte de Blancs.
Tissot took control of his family's domaine in 1990 and worked very quickly to drastically reduce yields and convert the vineyards to organic and biodynamic viticulture. Today, Stéphane is seen as one of the world's most respected and prominent voices on the subject.
Tissot's Chardonnays each have that unmistakable reductive, flinty note that's often referred to as Noble Reduction. If you're a fan of the wines of Jean-Marc Roulot and Coche-Dury in Meursault, this distinctive smokey and matchstick trait, at its best, adds mesmerizing personality to Chardonnay.