Volnay and its high limestone content sit in rare company with Chambolle-Musigny as one of Burgundy's most ethereal and delicate examples of Pinot Noir. Looking at the duo of D'Angerville and De Montille we're at the apex of what's proven possible here over many decades. While there may be no Grand Crus in the village, savvy collectors know these top Premier Crus transform and go the long haul as well as nearly anything from the Côte de Nuits.
Pronounced structure and tightly-coiled mineral tension make D'Angerville and De Montille perfect domaines to stash in the cellar, yet each has a more open-knit style than has been standard in the past. Today's list covers 2016 through 1985.
D'Angerville's protocol on excluding punchdowns and relying solely on pumpovers for fermentation give these wines a plush and soft-fruited personality that meshes brilliantly with the chalky terroir of Volnay. This combo brings enough slight austerity to make these both delicious and supremely thought-provoking.
De Montille has always been associated with whole cluster ferments, and, in turn, that elevated exotic spice component and stemmy crunch had made these famous for their fortress-like persona of the Hubert de Montille era. As son Etienne has taken over, these past decades have been moving to round their structure out a bit and provide an earlier drinking window. The style here is not a huge shift from one generation to the next as much as it is simply keen on allowing wines to offer more joy and expression in the early-going.
Discussions have arose with some customers who love red Burgundy, but tend to prefer bottles on the younger side. While the tertiary notes that develop with age may speak to you, or not, it's undeniable some producers are known for the most glacial of aging. Ghislaine Barthod of Chambolle Musigny is at the top of that list.
Today, I'm very happy to offer a range from Barthod covering 1989 through 2016.
I vividly remember Becky Wasserman's 10-Year-On retrospective of the 2002 vintage held at her home in Burgundy in 2012. Elite domaine's top Premier and Grand Cru bottlings filled tables for the walk-around tasting. When all was said and done, it was the wines of Ghislaine Barthod that held a level of freshness and verve that was in a world of its own at this tasting of vintage past.
There's a piano string-like tension to these Chambolle-Musigny wines that, in many ways, illustrate the personality of the village the best. This high proportion of active limestone separates Chambolle from just about every village in the Côte d'Or, save for Volnay. Barthod's eye toward transparency and grace have always put these atop my personal Burgundy wish list.
Last July's visit through the Northern Rhone anxiously started in Burgundy when I hit the road at dawn on my birthday and drove south. Short on sleep from the night's festivities, but the anticipation for the next chapter on the tour was all the fuel I needed. First stop: Domaine Auguste Clape.
Today, I'm happy to offer wines from the legendary Cornas family, stretching from 1988 to 2016.
Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult. Eric Asimov does a much better job. Of course, being the original producer in Cornas to bottle under his own label is a notch on the belt. And, having worked exclusively by hand on these treacherously steep terraces is another. Sadly, the day after my visit with his son Pierre-Marie, Auguste Clape passed away at 93.
No domaine founded in the birthplace of Syrah captures the soul of its appellation like Clape has with Cornas. Having started with a domaine bottling in 1955 and having stopped all négociant sales in 1968, Auguste Clape is a pioneer of the Rhone joined in ranks with names like Verset, Trollat, and Juge.
Clape's 5.5 hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Reynard and Chaillot from Allemand fame, as well as Nöel Verset's cherished, Sabarotte. This dizzying array of Cornas terroir plays a huge role in the success that's spanned so many decades here. The wines are produced in the most traditional fashion with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.
The style of the domaine has always been one that's pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. This style of fruit-forward Cornas coming from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure, but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. Unlike Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, the argument is often made that of the Big 3, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the typical savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of the wines from this fabled domaine.
Tasting through each parcel and visiting the vines with Pierre-Marie was a window into a time long ago. Methods and settings have remained unaltered. There hadn't been rain for some time, and just maintaining footing on these steep slopes was a challenge, as both of us used a grasp on the échelas stakes for support.
In the cellar, tasting 2017 in foudre back through bottles from the 90's was a great lesson in the transformation of the wines. The highlight may have been that 2017 barrel sample of the isolated 80-yr-old, 1.2 hectare Reynard parcel. A concentrated and chiseled beast from the robust 2017 Northern Rhone vintage.
Côtes du Rhone is 100% Syrah from 30-50-yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 6 months in cement, and another 6 months in foudre. 2% is comprised of free fun juice from young vine Cornas.
Cornas is sourced from 30-60 yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 22 months in 6 or 22 hl-foudres.
Cornas Renaissance is sourced from younger vines. Fermentation and aging is the same as the Cornas.
The highlight through eight days in Burgundy in July 2018 was undoubtedly visiting for the first time with Frédéric Lafarge in Volnay. The village is synonymous with grace and delicacy, but ardent collectors know in the traditional realm they can be among the most long-lived in Burgundy. The wines of Domaine Michel Lafarge are models for this tightrope act of finesse and tension, and they are among my favorites for this reason precisely.
Today, I'm happy to offer a deep lineup from Domaine Michel Lafarge, highlighted by one of the regions's greatest value Pinot Noir, the Bourgogne Rouge from 2015 & 2014.
The Bourgogne Rouge is sourced from one hectare of 41-52 yr-old vines in the lieu dit, Petit Pré. Within the context of this most humble Burgundy appellation, Lafarge's example is the stuff I simply dream to drink on a nightly basis. It's highlighted by a purity and ethereal lift that's almost never realized at this level in Burgundy.
Domaine Michel Lafarge was founded in the early 1800's, and today is managed by Michel, with his son Frédéric, and granddaughter Clothilde. The trio has seen dramatic trends sweep through Burgundy in their time. During the 1950's, vignerons started incorporating chemicals in the vineyard, but Lafarge never considered it. In the mid to late 80's when the practice of elevated extraction was rampant this domaine continued their own path founded on transparency. And then in 1995, Lafarge was one of the very first to begin biodynamic practices in the vineyard.
Tradition can mean so many things in Burgundy, but the use of hand-destemming and reliance on nearly all older barrels for aging places the domaine in a very specific position.
It may be unfair to jump in categorizing Volnay as feminine and ethereal, leading one to believe the wines lack the rigid structure required for serious aging. Michel Lafarge touched on this really eloquently in his terrific interview with Levi Dalton on I'll Drink to That! Wine Podcast:
"It's difficult to achieve the silkiness in tannins, but in Volnay it's unacceptable to have hardness. It's the silkiness of the tannins that define the overriding definition of Volnay."
Domaine Lafarge holds vineyards primarily in Volnay, with plots in Pommard, Beaune, and Meursault. All wines have a regal frame met with the translucent qualities that put terroir firmly in the crosshairs. Volnay may not have Grand Cru vineyards, but if given the opportunity to drink any Côte de Beaune reds, my first choice is always Volnay.
Volnay Vendanges Sélectionnées comes from multiple parcels in the middle of Volnay adjacent to Premier Cru vineyards. 1.25 hectares of 50-yr-old vines. Aged in 7% new wood.
Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Aigrots comes from a 0.88 hectare parcel of vines planted as far back as 1949. Soil here is limestone and clay, but with a mix of gravel and red clay.
Beaune 1er Cru Grèves comes from a 0.38 hectare parcel of vines planted in 1951 on light gravel soils over limestone.
Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets comes from a 0.28 hectare parcel planted in 1957 on red and brown clay soils over limestone. Aged in 15% new wood.
Volnay 1er Cru Clos du Château des Ducs (Monopole) comes from a 0.57 hectare parcel planted as far back as 1946 on deep brown clay soils over limestone. This vineyard is owned exclusively by Lafarge and located next to their home garden. Aged in neutral oak.
Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes comes from a 0.9 hectare parcel planted as far back as 1951 on shallow red clay soils over limestone on the lower portion of the vineyard.
Eloi Dürrbach believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. Through the decades he's proved this slice in Les Alpilles, The Little Alps, can produce some of the very most celebrated wines in France.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Domaine de Trévallon.
Domaine de Trévallon set out from inception in 1973 to tell the story of place despite rigorous opposition. 44 years later Eloi Dürrbach's vision of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from his family's estate has won the hearts of collectors across the globe. Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, and Loire have taken the lion’s share of my most significant experiences drinking French reds over the years, but the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage is unsurpassed. These are Grand Crulevel wines in all but name, with pricing that’s a welcomed reminder of its humble origins.
Eloi Dürrbach planted these two varieties in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of Alpilles mountains. Before phylloxera ravaged vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century Cabernet Sauvignon had been widely planted here. The appellation system set rules in the 1930's to establish which varieties could be labeled under particular zones, and Cabernet Sauvignon was given the boot. Dürbach understood his unique terroir offered the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend potential for greatness, so he chose to label his wines as France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
Driving north into the hills of Provence from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon I began to wonder just how Cabernet Sauvignon could strive here. As I climbed the Alpilles with the Mediterranean shrinking in my rear-view, the road began to narrow and the incline slowly steepened. Coming down onto the northern side temperatures quickly dropped and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south was quickly replaced by the picturesque roadway (below) leading to Trévallon.
The Trévallon estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, of which nearly all are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The whole cluster-fermented reds age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving this wine its tremendous clarity and brightness. While the gravel of Bordeaux is home to the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, and the granite northern Rhone to the greatest Syrah, Dürbach knows here on limestone the sum of the parts achieves something far greater than each posses on their own.
These are magnificent wines that call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. And a seductive quality that reminds me each time of the treasure trove of older Burgundy that lined Eloi's personal cellar.
To give context to the aging curve of these wines, a bottle of 1988 opened in September was incredibly fresh and continued to develop in the glass. It single-handedly made the case for the elegance and cellar potential that Provence is capable of.
The rare blanc (3 bottles available) is comprised of 50% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Grenache Blanc, 8% Clairette. Each grape variety is aged separately in barrel prior to assemblage and bottling.