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.
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.
I anxiously awaited the arrival of the 2018 vintage from Domaine Savary. In Chablis where many consider François Raveneau king, it was his introduction to importer Kermit Lynch that landed this terrific, under-the-radar domaine in the states. At $33 per bottle for Savary's Old Vine cuvée, this is the greatest value to go deep on from these famed Kimmeridgian slopes.
Savary's old vine bottling captures everything I love about Chablis. Crushed oyster shell, cool-fruited citrus and green apple, with an uncanny texture impossible to resist conjuring the legendary wines of François Raveneau.
Chablis may be part of Burgundy, but its extreme northern setting and soil comprised of fossilized seashells share more in common with parts of Champagne and Sancerre than with the more luscious Chardonnay found 80 miles south-east in the Côte d'Or. The mineral expression matched with the cold climate of Chablis is magical for crafting wines brimming with mouth-watering salinity and faint nutty flavors that reveal themselves with air.
There's still so much of Chablis that's harvested too early, farmed without conviction, resting on the laurels of the iconic appellation printed on the label. Savary is a prime example of what the region can do the very best, pushing ripeness in this frigid northerly climate to the max, while preserving the necessary tension. Fermentation is carried out in 20% neutral wood and 80% stainless steel for their Vielles Vignes cuvée. The wine is then aged in larger, neutral demi-muids barrels.
Olivier Savary follows a long history of vignerons, but due to challenging vintages his parents had chosen not to continue the family domaine. Olivier had to start over when he finished oenology school in Dijon, and since 1984 with his wife Francine, they've slowly built what once was lost. A serendipitous introduction to importer Kermit Lynch by François Raveneau brought these stateside. While pricing of Raveneau will top several hundreds of dollars, today's old vine bottling is a perfect reminder that Chablis is still the bulls-eye for mineral-driven value Chardonnay.
Harvest is underway in Burgundy and today we are taking a close look at the region's top addresses for Pinot Noir. We have young and old featured below from Côte de Beaune legends like Lafarge, D'Angerville, and De Montille. Côte de Nuits stars like Dujac, Rousseau, Roumier, and Mugneret-Gibourg. Plus so much more.
Serious values can be found with 1999 L'Arlot Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos Des Forets (Monopole) for $177, Drouhin's secret Chambolle and Vonse 1er Cru brews from elite Premier Cru vineyards, and finally the best of all values in Burgundy: Bourgogne Rouge from masters like Fourrier, Hubert Lignier, Barthod, and Lafarge.
The list is deep, and should you like to secure wines immediately I recommend purchasing directly through the below link. Otherwise, please email me with your requests. Bon vendange!