Over the last few years, I've found myself reaching more and more for new cool-climate French wines. Of course, that has to include the Savoie, located just along the Swiss border in view of Mont Blanc. Although history is as steep as the slopes here, it's a younger name, Domaine des Ardoisières, that I turn to for alpine inflections and mineral spring purity in both the whites and reds.
Ardoisières works with two sites in the Savoie, Cevins and St. Pierre de Soucy, both farmed biodynamically since their 1998 founding. These vineyards were originally planted back in Roman times but were overtaken by forest as the region fell into obscurity. A group cleared these forests in the late 1990's for replanting, then in 2005, Champagne native Brice Omont took the lead on winemaking. This small-production estate has become the darling of the Savoie and a champion of the region's great potential.
From the clay-dominant hillsides of St. Pierre de Soucy, Argile Blanc is made of 40% Jacquère, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Mondeuse Blanche. And Argile Rouge is 80% Gamay and 20% Persan. Compared to Beaujolais Gamay, this Savoie rendition has lighter body and more pepper tones. The fruit profile is more red raspberry than the accustomed plush, grapey Beaujolais traits, and the finish lingers with a brisk mineral flicker that's lip-smacking good! Both wines are aged for nine months in vats.
And from southeast-facing terraces in Cevins, Quartz Blanc is made of 100% Altesse and Améthyste Rouge is 60% Persan and 40% Mondeuse Noire. The heavy schist soils in Cevins give a racy personality and pulverized rock core that makes this one of my favorite French regions for crisp whites. If you haven't experienced Altesse, you're missing out! These being the most mineral-driven and age-worthy wines of the domaine, they're both aged 18 for months in barrel.
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.
Robert Drouhin was among the first in Burgundy to adopt "culture raisonnée" in the late 1950s, and today the domaine is fully organic and biodynamic in all owned vineyards. Grapes are de-stemmed and fermented with native yeasts. Gentle punch-downs are applied once per day for the first half of fermentation, with pump-overs utilized afterward.
Drouhin's Beaune 1er Cru Monopole, Clos des Mouches Blanc and Rouge, transcends the reputation of its village. Located at the southern end of Beaune next to Pommard, Clos des Mouches always surprises with the classic Drouhin elegance married with the more powerful style of the village. The track record of aging is unmatched in Beaune.
Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru is labeled as such, because it comes from only 1.3 hectares of vines divided through the Premier Cru vineyards: 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. This always over-delivers with the classic, unadulterated lacey Chambolle purity and chalky definition.
My first experience tasting the adored Premier Cru, Les Amoureuses, was at a small wine shop in Chassagne-Montrachet in 2012. A well-known Canadian collector called me over to taste the highly anticipated 2010 release. 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 openness and generosity of brand new releases. Pure, unadulterated fruit and maximum impact.
Outside of the iconic Cabernet Sauvignon addresses in Bordeaux, there's one name in France that can go toe to toe with these chateaux in its complexity and age-ability. Mas de Daumas Gassac. France's Southwest Languedoc region may be most famous for its value, but Herault's distinct cool microclimate has proved itself through the decades.
Mas de Daumas Gassac was established in 1970 when Véronique and Aimé Guibert came across an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family along the Gassac river in the Herault. The typical blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon supplemented with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tannat, and Malbec. Alcohol levels have remained modest through stylistic shifts, never taking Bordeaux's cues when things drastically changed in the '80s.
The underground water springs and surrounding mountains created a relatively humid microclimate that mirrored Bordeaux's Médoc. Vine material from First Growth Bordeaux chateaux was planted here to create the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine of Southern France. The cooling influences and limestone bedrock are all reasons why Mas de Daumas Gassac has long stood out as a beacon of sorts for Languedoc freshness. The region has an abundance of 100-plus-year-old plantings, with the dry and favorable climate allowing organic viticulture to thrive.
The wines are highlighted by espresso, dark chocolate, cigar box, brambly blackberries, and savory spices. The underlying verve and tension of the wines have allowed them to improve and transform dramatically with age. As always, the provenance of older wines is the critical factor in the quality you will find in glass, and I'm thrilled to offer this mint condition collection of Languedoc's star estate.
Loire Chenin Blanc produced in the most natural of methods is something I'm always excited to taste. The bar for excellence is very high, given only the most skilled viticulture can turn out these complex and high-wire achievements. That's why when the importer of Chateau de Bonnezeaux had announced a new domaine, and my interest was piqued.
Lejeune, like Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie of Bonnezeaux, worked alongside legendary Chenin Blanc whisperer, Mark Angeli at Ferme de la Sansonniere. Here, Mark taught the skills necessary to produce Anjou Chenin Blanc with minimal intervention.
Lejeune's two cuvées, first and foremost, offer a value that cannot be overstated. Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc from this domaine initially explode on the palate with a soft texture, and open-knit style of fruit met with a mineral grip and tingling finishes that saturate the palate with salinity.
In its fruit profile, the Chenin Blanc shows ripe orchard fruits and honeysuckle cut with lemon citrus notes that switch this broad attack of ripeness into a mineral delivery system masterpiece. The natural element is abundantly clear with its cardamom spices fully enveloped under a strict spine of chalk and schist-derived minerality.
With this importer's portfolio covering names like Roumier, Roulot, and D'Angerville, it's exciting to see the juxtaposition of more natural-minded producers coming to the forefront offering the same fastidious methods of work with a more hands-off approach in the cellar. If there's one new name to familiarize yourself with after the Bonnezeaux wines have completely sold out, it would certainly be Olivier Lejeune's Clos des Plantes lineup.
About the label from Grand Cru Selections: "The illustration for the Chenin Blanc label was made by Magdalena Kaczan, a Polish artist. It depicts the ideas of biodiversity, the ability to establish a human connection to the earth and stars, and the humbling feeling that comes from reflecting on nature’s complexity and the subsequent desire to preserve it."
In a very short time, Julien Sunier has become one of our favorite producers in a region full of unbelievably talented vignerons. Sunier, originally from Dijon, has worked with wineries all over the globe. You can't help but be reminded of the wines of Chambolle-Musigny when you try his Fleurie, due to their haunting grace and depth. He actually sources his neutral barrels from iconic Chambolle producer, Christophe Roumier, where he first worked.
Fleurie, by all accounts, is one of the most feminine of the 10 Crus of Beaujolais and referred to as the Queen of Beaujolais commonly. Julien practices organic viticulture and employs 100% whole cluster fermentation of Gamay. His wines are outrageously floral, elegant, energetic, and are capable of developing in the cellar for years after release.
Visiting with Julien in 2012 put his new domaine on my radar, and over the years since then, I've watched them gain traction with Cru Beaujolais fanatics. His 2019 release raises the bar again. Do not miss Sunier's Fleurie, one that has been a staple of Kogod Wine Merchant since we opened in 2015.
The Wine Advocate's William Kelley on 2019 Julien:
"As I wrote last year, Julien Sunier established his own small Beaujolais domaine in 2008 after a stint working with Christophe Roumier in Chambolle-Musigny, and he has rapidly emerged as one of the region's new star producers. Committed to organic farming from the beginning, whole-cluster fermentation in cement vats at low temperature followed by élevage in used Burgundy barrels are the rudiments of his approach. The style is supple, elegant and perfumed, emphasizing grace and charm, and all the cuvées reviewed here come, once again, warmly recommended."
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