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.
The southern Rhone valley is home to Grenache-dominant blends, and it's Châteauneuf-du-Pape where these wild strawberry, white pepper-spiced, and gamey reds reach their apex. The perfect exposition and drainage from vineyards perched high on the hill in Châteauneuf-du-Pape make for the most thrilling and age-worthy wines of the entire southern Rhone.
The style of CdP has been one of ever-growing power and ripeness. The hot temperatures here have a tendency to give these blends roasted fruit notes. The prominent gallet river stones have a large role in this, as they absorb daytime heat and reverberate it upward to the hanging clusters even through the night. This is where sand enters the equation.
Rare pockets of sand-dominant parcels give a decidedly different quality to the wines - one marked by elegance, racy structure, and a more quiet purity, void of any sense of stewed or baked fruits. And, in these small zones few producers have garnered more respect and praise than Laurent Charvin.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape & 2017 Côtes du Rhone Le Poutet.
* The appellation originally received its name when Pope John XXII relocated in 1309 from Rome to Avignon and constructed "the new home of the pope", or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At this time the wines of Burgundy were more likely served to the pontiff, but things quickly changed when the pope familiarized himself with the Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah blends from Avignon's most revered hillside vineyards.
Laurent Charvin took over this 6th generation domaine in 1990 and that's when the magic truly started. Unlike most producers, Laurent chose whole cluster fermentation and has stuck with bottling only one Châteauneuf-du-Pape - no reserve, no spéciale cuvée, no old-vine bottling. Why should an estate's hallmark wine suffer by taking the best components out to bottle on its own? So, the sole CdP bottling here is always a masterpiece year in, year out. But, 2016 is simply a dream year for the southern Rhône, and not since 2010 have we seen something this pitch-perfect.
The domaine is located in the northwest of the appellation. With sandy soils and northern exposure (mitigating the sun's influence), the wines here take on a different quality than is the norm in CdP.
Farming of these 60-year-old average vines is organic, with a blend usually of 85% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah, and 5% Vaccarèse. The wines are fermented with stems and aged in concrete tanks. This approach to elévage works really well to preserve brightness and verve in the wines that otherwise may easily fall by the waist side.
Laurent's wines are seamless, spicy, and posses an elusive purity not often found in CdP. They always show of dark raspberry, asian spices, with smokey and wild floral notes. These are absolutely singular expressions Châteauneuf-du-Pape and each release quickly sells out from importer Weygandt-Metzler. Quantities are very limited.
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.
If there was to be only one gold standard for Chenin Blanc it would be Huet. Loire Valley's village of Vouvray has been home to the domaine since its first of three famous vineyards, Le Haut-Lieu, was purchased in 1928.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 great trio release of dry (Sec) wines from Huet, as well as their benchmark Loire sparkling wine, the 2013 Pétillant.
Huet's brilliance lies in running the entire range from dry sparkling (the Pétillantfeatured below) all the way through the sweetest (Moelleux, also featured below). As an appellation, Vouvray traces production back to the 9th century, but it wasn't until Victor Huët relocated here from Paris that he began the domaine. Victor's son Gaston took over in 1937, and after spending five years in a German POW camp he returned home and purchased the next duo of vineyards, Le Mont and Clos du Bourg. Today, thisGrand Cru level trio of bottlings are revered for their expressive site specificity, as well as their transformative prowess.
Le Haut-Lieu's deep limestone and clay make this the richest, most plush, and approachable of the range.
Le Mont has far less clay, and the wines are the most mineral-driven and racy of the trio.
Clos du Bourg has the most shallow and rockiest soils, but its signature is actually a middle ground: The mineral component of Le Mont with the more sensual, flashy texture of Le Haut-Lieu.
Upon release, the young, dry 2017 Huet Vouvray Sec wines offer upfront notes of white peach, pineapple, and chalky minerality. But with age, notes of white flowers and honeycomb emerge and fall into place in a beautifully seamless way that's simply vintage Huet.
In Saumur, Antoine Foucault, son of the late Charly Foucault, had seen the reputation and pricing of his father's Clos Rougeard wines soar across the globe like no other domaine in France. Today, little is known of Foucault's own domaine he founded in 1999. The Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc produced from the best limestone slopes in Saumur brings the unrivaled elegance of Clos Rougeard, with a singular potency that will guide this address into cult territory. We laugh when we hear of times past where Clos Rougeard sat on shelves for under $60, and here I expect the same to follow suit.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Saumur wines of Antoine Foucault's Domaine du Collier.
Visiting with Antoine in 2016 was a dramatic moment, there's no other way to describe the experience. For starters, descending into the cellar was akin to the fantastical space imagined for Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom. The cavern was close to 100% humidity, with walls of bedrock wet to the touch and stalactites at every turn. The shadowed figure of Foucault returning into faint light with a thief of wine from each new barrel further imprinted the mystique.
Like his father, Antoine's greatest joy is working among the vines. Witnessing the meteoric rise of popularity of Clos Rougeard throughout his life has left him surprisingly humble, showing no interest in the limelight or travel. He speaks matter of fact, and his sensible philosophy on organic and biodynamic viticulture is ultimately defined by rigorous hands-on work in each parcel.
There's a powerful concentration to Antoine's wines that differ from his father's, yet they're still built upon that familiar grace and seamless pleasure found in their texture. (Antoine vinified the 2016 vintage at Clos Rougeard upon his father's untimely passing). The real distinction on the protocol for Collier's wines is their unusually long aging, many times over two years in wood. Once fermentation is concluded the wines are gravity-fed into barrel and remain completely untouched, with zero sulphur additions.
There's a large proportion of new wood used at Collier, but never have I tasted at a domaine where this level of oak was so imperceptible and pushed into the background of the wine. The wood absorbs much of the firm structure in these wines, softening the contours and bringing an added layer of refinement.
Saumur Blanc is 100% Chenin Blanc primarily sourced from vines aged 25-75 years in the Ripaille site.
Saumur Rouge La Ripaille is 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from a single vineyard of vines ranging between 30-60 years old.
Saumur Blanc Charpentrie comes from 100-yr-old vines in this single vineyard.