Sitting with friends at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe with a platter of oysters is one of life's great pleasures. This occurs far less frequently than I'd like, but after returning from a vineyard tour in Mendocino I found myself there before a late flight back home. Zuni's wine list is one of the best in the city, and it's always a challenge to be decisive before the oysters arrive. A friend wasted no time in choosing the perfect pairing of stainless steel Chablis. There may be several trustworthy options in this group, but nothing exceeds Louis Michel. And no bottling brings more obvious value than his famous Premier Cru, Montée de Tonnerre - or as it translates, Thunder Mountain.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2014, 2016, & 2017 Louis Michel Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre.
Montée de Tonnerre, much like Gevrey's Clos Saint Jacques or Chambolle's Les Amoureuses, is really Premier Cru in name only given the proper hands. The south-west facing slope sits next to the 7 Grand Cru vineyards of Chablis along the right bank of the Serein river. In the northernmost region for still Chardonnay this SW exposure is vital to bring ripeness, one that seriously separates the great from the modest in Chablis.
Louis Michel was an innovator in the 1960's, moving away from barrel aging of Chardonnay. The Kimmeridgian limestone soil here was viewed as so unique that stainless steel was the more ideal vessel to fully unmask the terroir. Steely Chablis and oysters can be a great combo, but the old vines of Montée de Tonnerre bring a sense of grandeur that marches to a different beat.
Michel's Thunder Mountain is always a favorite selection for the cellar, as the wine picks up flesh and deeper color with time. The crushed oyster shell component that is exhibited on day one is met with sweet cream and hazelnut notes that slowly develop.
In the context of great white Burgundy vineyards, Montée de Tonnerre is always part of the elite group. The price tag can start at $230+ from some Chablis domaines. Louis Michel's lineup has always been synonymous with value, but at as low as $45 per bottle his Thunder Mountain is unquestionably the gem of the region.
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. And, in the case of Vosne Romanée 1er Cru Les Petits Monts, proprietor Véronique Drouhin personally owns this secret gem of a Premier Cru herself. As you can imagine, this gets quite the special treatment and is plowed by horse.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 release from Domaine Drouhin.
* 2017 wines are not listed online at this time. To order, please reply with your desired quantities.
My first experience tasting Burgundy's most adored Premier Cru, Les Amoureuses, was at a small wine shop in Chassagne-Montrachet in 2012. For some reason it's one of the more vivid memories that's stuck with me from a year living in Beaune. A well known Canadian collector who splits his time between the US and Burgundy called me over to taste the highly anticipated release of Drouhin's 2010. I remember his incredibly strict declaration to me as I swirled: You can have all the money in the world to line your cellar with DRC, Leroy, and Rousseau, but if you pass on Drouhin's domaine holdings, you're a fool. 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 generosity of fruit in brand new releases. Pure, unadulterated fruit and maximum impact.
Drouhin's Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru is labeled as such because it comes from only 1.3 hectares of vines divided through the 1ers: 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. It always over-delivers, and late releases from the domaine clearly show its transformative capabilities through decades.
Drouhin's Vosne Romanée 1er Cru is sourced from Malconsorts, Les Petit Monts, and Chaumes (located below La Tâche). This a brand new cuvée and certainly rivals the Chambolle 1er that has been a standard bearer for decades under Drouhin. A trifecta of Vosne 1ers Cru vineyards if there was one!
Drouhin's Beaune 1er Cru Monopole Clos des Mouches Blanc and Rouge are two wines that transcend the reputation of its village more so than any other wines in Burgundy. Located at the southern end of Beaune next to Pommard, Clos des Mouches always surprises with the classic Drouhin elegance that marries with the more powerful style from this village. The track record of aging is unmatched in Beaune. Bottles of both whites and reds from the 80's are regularly standouts at Burgundy dinners filled with Grand Crus.
Véronique Drouhin's Vosne Romanée 1er Cru Les Petits Monts is the ultimate insider Burgundy bottle. Sitting above Grand Cru Richebourg and next to fabled 1er Cru Cros Parantoux, this is case in point for illustrating how nothing beats top tier real estate in Vosne Romanée. This cuvée has been heightened in 2016 with the younger vines now going into the Vosne Romanée 1er Cru cuvée for the first time. Bottles of 1988 (available below) are among the freshest and profound red Burgundies I've been fortunate enough to drink.
Robert Drouhin was among the first in Burgundy to adopt "culture raisonnée" in the late 1950's, and today the domaine is fully organic and biodynamic in all owned vineyards. Grapes are de-stemmed and fermented with native yeasts. Gentle punchdowns are applied once per day for the first half of fermentation, with pumpovers utilized afterwards. Each Premier Cru featured today is aged in a modest 20% new French oak.
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.
Domaine Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées has been a huge hit with customers. With no Grand Cru holdings the domaine regularly flies under-the-radar, but proof in glass has made it apparent these are among the best values in my personal favorite appellation in the world. Sigaut's perfect counter-punch of precision and saturating power is one of my favorite Burgundy finds. However, through the domaine's oldest vines located below Grand Cru Bonnes Mares is where their lineup reaches its final crescendo.
Today I'm happy to offer, from 1947-planted vines, Domaine Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers Vieilles Vignes.
During our 2016 Red Burgundy seminar and tasting it was Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Crus that stood out for the second year in a row. Simply put, this is where the convergence of terroir and value have no match. Sentiers sits directly below Chambolle Musigny's most powerful and structured Grand Cru, Bonnes Mares. As one drives along the Route des Grand Crus you will be taken directly through this point mid slope with Bonnes Mares to the west and Sentiers below to the east. Driving north, the price tag for this stretch of terroir begins at $300 and rises quickly to the tipping point over $1,000 per bottle.
How has Sigaut flown under-the-radar? The 5-hectare estate has no Grand Cru holdings. In the minds of some collectors looking to pounce on Grand Crus Musigny and Bonnes Mares this leaves the domaine off the radar a bit. Of course, all of this is to our gain.
Anne and Hervé Sigaut apply organic and biodynamic principles in the vines, and the wines show the purity of Chambolle with 100% de-stemmed fruit and aging in modest 30% new French oak. In 2016, that hauntingly ethereal and bona fide Chambolle Musigny lacing really makes itself known. This is a vintage that's very reminiscent of 2010, revealing that same rare proportion of ripe concentration with bright lift and energy.
Pricing for 2016's have risen across the Cote d'Or, but Sigaut's top wines available today at $107 and $96 shows that value hunters who prefer traditional-leaning domaines have a reliable source for two of Chambolle Musigny's top Premier Cru climats.
Tasting the entire range with Raphael Bérêche last year was a masterclass in champagne precision. While this stable of artisanal wines are produced in very small quantities, the Coteaux Champenois Rouge is simply on a different scale. I'm thrilled to showcase two warm vintages where this rare bird soars.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1999 and 2015 Bereche Coteaux Champenois Rouge Les Montées for $109 per bottle.
Bérêches's Les Montées is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. The grapes are only partially de-stemmed and the fermentation is done in barrel, sometimes yielding only a single one. There is no fining or filtering before bottling.
On one hand, Raphael is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a child-like joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, him and his brother, Vincent (who focuses in the vineyard) take an exacting approach to every detail in this domaine founded in 1847.
The nine hectares owned by Bérêche are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio. But, Rapha knows the quality in bottle will be dictated, above all, by the number of minutes each vine sees of hand working through the growing season.
The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal. Starting at home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay (pictured below), all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and those heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel. In addition to the Coteaux Champenois Rouge, these other cuvées are available below.
NV Brut Resérve is comprised of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims is where parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced to bring that nervosity from chalky soils. And the broader and richer tones come from Pinot Meunier and additional Chardonnay parcels from Mareuil le Port in the western Vallée de la Marne.
35% of the Brut Réserve comes from a perpetual blend of reserve wine and is supplemented with 65% from the harvest listed below. It's this reserve portion of the blend that brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage. Fermentation is split between 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, aging taking place in 600-liter neutral barrels.
Coteaux Champenois Blanc 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois is the rarest wine from the domaine. A still, single vineyard Chardonnay, this wine from a surprisingly warmer vintage (2013) in Champagne has all of the chalky drive and crystalline personality that you'd imagine, but with a definitive weight that fleshes out on the palate and finishes very long. I've stashed many bottles in my cellar and always am amazed at the evolution from one year to the next, slowly picking up more deeper color, orchard fruit tones, but framed by wild acidity, nonetheless.
Remensis Rosé comes from a single parcel in the Petite Montagne de Reims village of Ormes. 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, with all color coming from small addition of still wine. This has always been a favorite for its ginger and tangerine notes supported by beaming acidity and a precision rare to find in the world of rosé champagne. Today's offering features wines from the 2012 base vintage, the maturing in bottle has put this in a perfect spot where all of the notes are now more pronounced and expressive than I've ever tasted before, still finished by laser-focused salinity.
Les Beaux Regards is sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Rapha's great-grandfather in his home village of Ludes (pictured below). The interplay between finely-woven threads of minerality and a concentrated driving force through the finish really had the tasting come to a halt in my mind. The balance is an ideal example of how Rapha is at the top of the echelon today. 2013 and 2014 available below.
Les Cran is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming from old vines in the best mid-slope parcels in Ludes. Raphael has an interesting take, "[Le Cran] demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.”
Reflet d'Antan is as special as they come. Sourced from a solera started in 1985 by Rapha's father, Jean-Pierre. This is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Each vintage 2/3 of each barrel is removed to blend with the Brut Reserve. "Reflection of yesteryear" tells the story of this esteemed producer, still showing the fine lacy texture and brimming energy that you will find with the youngest wines here.