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.
The drive from Mt. Etna to Vittoria was a great reminder as to just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicliy is. Temperatures rise and the climate turns dry and arid. It's hard to believe this place I'm headed is beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines. There's no better introduction to the wines of Vittoria then through the 1980-founded dream project brewed up three young friends.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 COS Frappato for $26 per bottle, along with the COS Nero d'Avola and Cerasuolo.
Originally, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) chose as young men to produce 1,470 bottles of wine in October 1980. Cilia's father had a winery, and 3 hectares of nearby bush-trained vines were sourced. It was simply intended as a fun project. After showing the wine to a renowned sommelier in Palermo the trio received a much surprised enthusiastic response, and were told they needed to follow down this path.
The magic of Vittoria, one that took some time to make itself evident to the naked eye, is the soil and wind. There's a constant breeze coming from the Hyblaean mountains sweeping through these vines resting on red clay/sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate these inland temperatures preserving acidity, the red sand cools immediately after the sun sets, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine - giving high acidity and nervy minerality. Organic and biodynamic viticulture here are implemented on all parcels.
Putting all this together it's clear why the red wines coming from COS resemble traditional Burgundy and Northern Rhone in their brightness, energy, and spice. Frappato and Nero d'Avola are the two main red varieties. An over-generalization can be made to the former resembling Pinot Noir, with the latter resembling Syrah. Blended together the most recognized of the wines of Vittoria is produced, called Cerasuolo.
COS has put these two obscure varieties on the worldwide map. Over the years the small region of Vittoria has garnered more attention, and rightfully so. The three friends are the ultimate ambassadors and are constantly pushing the envelope in maximizing the potential for their wines, never resting on their laurels.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle the new vintage. The Cerasuolo is fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to what is used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This is certainly one of the most important choices made to ensure the wines are accentuated by crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink, and just as importantly pair well at the dinner table with a wide range.
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.
The magic of the wines coming from Elisabetta Foradori's estate in Trentino's Dolomite Mountains has been well documented here before. Today, I'm happy to turn to some new arrivals covering a huge diversity of colors and styles.
In a world where skin-macerated whites seem to be vying for the title of orangest, haziest, apricottyest, the elegance and grace in Nosiola is a reminder of the possibilities. Aged on the skins in amphora, the result is a bright, orchard and citrus mountain stream with an amazing texture that never once makes you think orange wine. As compared to Elizabetta's Pinot Grigio and Manzoni Bianco, Nosiola is leaner and less obviously skin contact. Its subtlety is what impresses the most.
Nosiola is an ancient variety that's native to the Trentino. Plantings have reduced drastically over the last centuries, and today is primarily in these hills in the Valle dei Laghi above Trento and Pessano. Nosiola really strives in porous soils, planted here on just two hectares of a limestone/clay mix. The delicacy and more reserved nature of this white is largely attributed growth on these depleted soils. And, long maceration on skins in clay amphora (tinaja from Villarrobledo, Spain) slowly coax out Nosiola's personality. Decanting and serving above 60 degrees is highly recommended.
Manzoni Bianco is a cross between Riesling and Pinot Bianco, developed by Dr. Manzoni in the 20th century. It comes from the clay and limestone Fontanasanta hills above Trento. It's macerated for one week on its skins in cement tank and then pressed off into Acacia barrels for 12 months aging.Foradori's Teroldegos are the kinds of wines I'd like to see on the list at every restaurant I frequent, as their versatility is remarkable. The wines from this esoteric variety open with notes of dark plums and licorice, then soften allowing more floral and herbaceous qualities to come to the forefront, finishing with fine pronounced minerality. From first sip to the last, these wines of Elisabetta are always changing, and fascinating to no end. Foradori Teroldego comes from gravelly soils, aged in a combination of neutral barrels and stainless steel.
Foradori Sgarzon Teroldego is darker and more concentrated, with greater black fruit emphasis, black licorice, and wild savory spices.
From sandy soils. 8 months macerating in amphore, with further aging in large neutral barrel.
Foradori Granato Teroldego comes from fine silt, limestone, and gravel soils. Vines for this cuvée were planted as far back as 1938, and as young as 1956. Aged in older foudre, Granato is the most refined and understated. Textured and creamy, black cherry, dark plums, and mint. Granato was the first "riserva-level" Teroldego that Foradori ever bottled in 1986.Elisabetta's journey to being one of the most respected natural wine producers in the world came with challenges. Her family purchased this Trentino estate in 1934, her father bottling his first vintage in 1960. His untimely passing in 1976 meant that her mother had to manage the winery until Elisabetta finished her enology degree, then being thrust into the 1984 harvest and taking control of production thereafter. The philosophical trek for Elisabetta was a winding one that began with the immediate removal of high yielding pergola-trained vines. She wisely chose massale cuttings from the estates oldest vines and trained them much lower in the guyot method. Her approach brought a new concentration to the wines that garnered awards in the 90's, but she felt their was an energy and vitality missing.Upon familiarizing herself with Rudolf Steiner's teachings she slowly adopted biodynamic principles and eliminated laboratory yeasts. Sulphur additions were lowered, riper stems began to be included in ferments, and a more gentle extraction protocol was used. She also began visiting Giusto Occhipinti at COS, learning about the use of clay amphora for aging.
There's been a steady rise in awareness for Foradori's wines in the US and each release I find these have an added layer of refinement and precision. If you're curious about the best whites & reds being produced in Italy's extreme alpine setting, Foradori is the spot I recommend you turn to first.
When it comes to Puligny-Montrachet and its wide range of prized vineyards there's no address I fight harder to source than Jacques Carillon. With only 5 hectares, Jacques has built up the domaine he inherited from his father, Louis, and taken the refinement and incisive detail of these Chardonnays to a new level. This is Prime Time Puligny.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the 2017 release that has just arrived.
The Carillon domaine has roots going back to 1520, but it was Louis's work in the 1970's that caught importer Neal Rosenthal's interest. And starting with the 1980 vintage the wines were imported by him to the US. In 2010 the estate was divided in two between brothers, Jacques and François. While both produce top Puligny, the wines of Jacques see less bâttonage and focus more on tension and minerality, just the way we like it.
Jacques Carillon's wines always have a wow factor when they're poured. There's a rigor and detail to them magically conveyed within the most elegant frame, sensually begging to be drunk. Rich, golden apple fruit and citrus marries perfectly to the salinity from this fabled village's limestone soils. Their arrival on the table marks a special occasion, no matter the designation of the bottling. As far as I'm concerned, his villages level Puligny Montrachet is simply the perfect bottle of white Burgundy.
Winemaking is similar to estates like Roulot with one year in barrel (never more than 20% new), and then to stainless steel tank for 6 months prior to bottle. This method employed by many of our favorite domaines is a crucial element in preserving the tension at the core of white Burgundy's allure. Never tiring, it begs you to come back to the glass again and again.
2.6 hectares make up the Villages Puligny Montrachet bottling. Aging in 225L and 600L barrels, 15% of which are new.
0.55 hectares for Les Champs Canet. Aging in 225L barrels, 20% new oak. The most linear and fine of the 1ers.
0.5 hectares for Les Macherelles. Aging in 225L barrels, 15% new oak. The richest and most saturating on the palate of the 1ers.