“Chenin Blanc is so much in demand that it’s being grown in parts of the Loire better known for Cabernet Franc.” — Jason Wilson, Vinous
I recently wrote an offer for the 2018 Saumur-Champigny Les Mémoires produced by Thierry Germain of Domaine des Roches Neuves, an heir of the Loire's cult producer Clos Rougeard and who's made a name for himself as one of the top Biodynamic vignerons in France. I didn’t talk about his Saumur Chenin Blanc at the time, because it’s worthy of its own excavation.
A 2015 Vinous review of Loire Chenin says that much of Saumur’s white varieties were ripped out in the 1960s to be replaced by Cabernet Franc. However, Germain owns a handful of small parcels in what should be considered historic sites (some with vines almost a century old).
L'Echelier is Germain’s one-hectare, old-vine Chenin site in Dampierre-sur-Loire where the soils are enriched with Turonian limestone; the vineyard is contained by an ancient stone wall built 300 years ago. These 70-year-old Chenin vines that have stood the test of time are three decades older than the Cabernet Franc sharing the same parcel!
Three kilometers east in Parnay, Clos Romans is the smallest (less than an acre) and most coveted of Germain’s parcels—some would go as far as to compare it to the grandeur of Corton-Charlemagne. The soils here change to Senonian limestone, and the stone wall is centuries older than the one at L'Echelier. Germain started replanting the vines after he purchased the site in 2007.
As people become wiser with age, I find older vines to be more seasoned, expressing more pronounced aroma, body, and concentration. The 2015 L'Echelier has a warming herbal aroma reminiscent of lemon balm tea with a spoonful of honey. The wine starts out round with soft apple flesh, yellow florals and honeycomb, then a boost of acidity (a characteristic that I love about Chenin) streamlines the wine with pressing energy.
However, I especially gravitated toward the 2017 Clos Romans for its sheer sense of composure and focus. The aromas are of pollen and dried honeycomb, and there’s more vibrant springtime on the palate with budding wildflowers, salty minerality, and underripe lemon. It’s a quiet wine that opens up more and more with time, and knowing that this vineyard is in good hands, I’m eager to see how Clos Roman will continue to develop in the coming years.
Loire’s high-acid, mineral-driven Chenin is much like dry German Riesling or, even, young Chablis. I like drinking White Burgundy as much as the next person, but for my budget, the next French region I happily turn to for white wine is the Loire. Germain is an excellent reference point for the magic happening in Saumur and, arguably, in the ranks of France's most dynamic vignerons.
It's no secret that over the last decade Jean-Marie Fourrier has catapulted his family's domaine into elite status within Burgundy. Fourrier is the 5th generation to lead this 9-hectare Gevrey Chambertin estate, officially taking over for his father in 1994 after interning with the mythical Henri Jayer.
Today, I'm happy to offer the Domaine Fourrier lineup, highlighted by the 2017 vintage.
The wines of Fourrier are most associated in my mind for their silken texture with ripe and vivid fruit. They also are lauded for their ability to drink great at all stages of development. But, above all, it's a sense of purity and site reflection that have put them atop the wishlist of every traditional Burgundy collector.
2017 is a red vintage in Burgundy that will show a ton of accessibility and charm in the near term, with softer tannins and more open-knit fruit than we saw in 2015 & 2016. Structurally, the wines share a profile with the 2007 vintage, but the quality of fruit at harvest is much more sound with no signs of the herbal elements that kept that vintage from entering a more elite category. 2017, unlike 2015 & 2016 is a vintage where terroir shines through first and foremost, as opposed to being marked by the aforementioned vintages' intensely robust and dark fruit profile. Generally speaking, the 2017's veer more into the red fruit register.
Jean-Marie is most noted for his strict reliance on using only old vines for domaine bottlings - averaging 60 years according to my visit in November 2012. The maximum new oak employed is 20%, and like Jayer grapes here are overwhelmingly de-stemmed.
Much of the magic to the wines' purity has to be tied into Jean-Marie's practice of using very minimal amounts of sulphur, instead relying on dissolved CO2 to remain in the wine protecting against oxidation. Because of this it's recommended that younger bottles are double decanted to help "blow-off" any slight effervescence that might remain.
In the magically distinctive Jura region there're special pockets where varieties blossom into their greatest and truest possbile form. For Poulsard (locally known as Ploussard) that fairy dust of sorts comes from the ground of the tiny village of Pupillin, located just south of Arbois. While Poulsard plantings throughout the Jura are crafted into singularly delicious wines, those from Pupillin are something entirely different.
My hunt for an example that lived up to what I drank while visiting the village in 2012 has been ongoing. After tasting through importer Neal Rosenthal's current releases that included the 2016 Overynoy-Crinquand Pupillin Ploussard, I was taken back instantaneously to that damp weekend 5 years ago. Poulsard here can often show a huge disparity in styles, and to be blunt, soundness due to its reductive and finiky nature. Overynoy-Crinquand showcases the rarefied air of Poulsard, a brightness and purity unlike anywhere else on earth.
Mickael Crinquand is the fourth generation to farm these 5 hecatres, of which all have been under organic regimen since the 80's. Here the red clay-limestone marl soil is planted to all of the standard Jura varieties: Trousseau, Chardonnay, Savagnin. But, the oldest vines today are Poulsard.
2016 in the Jura, as in nearby Burgundy, is a vintage I cannot overstate my enthusiasm for. Clarity and concentration is in total balance. Here, fermentation and aging takes place in large foudre, with pumpovers kept to a bare minimum to limit extraction. This protocol gives a whispery lace structure to Poulsard and highlights everything I love about the variety's fresh strawberry and sweet cinnamon spiced inflection. In the glass there's the palest of red hues you'll ever find, with a slight rust-colored tinge. But, a suprisingly sturdy tannic sturcture holds this featherweight in a way that provides a thrilling sense of grip.
Over the last decade, the Jura has brought us a new level of excitment and fascination for their native, obscure varieties. There aren't many importers who can touch Rosenthal's sense of mission in finding these smaller domaines that show their sense of place under the most sensitive and deft touch. Of all the esteemed terroirs within the region, it's Pupillin's Poulsard that compels me the most. At $30 per bottle from a magic vintage this is the wine that's finally ended my long pursuit.
We sold out very quickly of Alex Foillard's 2016 and 2017 Brouilly, and today I've received some great, timely news, that his 2018 Beaujolais-Villages is ready.
This cuvée comes from Alex's oldest vines (70-yrs-old) from an east-facing lieu dit, Saint Ennemond. Fermentation and aging in concrete exclusively. Very limited number of pumpovers here, just once every few days. Like the wines of his father, Jean Foillard, Alex's are about satin-texture and loaded with spice, and of course most importantly they are supremely drinkable in their downright deliciousness.
Thus far, there's a lot of anticipation for the 2018's in Beaujolais. It is a warm vintage with heat spikes throughout July and August, but unlike 2015 the amount of spring rain was very high, and therefore the vines were well positioned in summer with ample ground water in reserve. In short, the 2018's are fleshy and ripe with very good acidity and a fresh streak that was missing in the more forward-style of 2015. The east-facing Saint Ennemond was a great vineyard purchase with the increasing temperatures in mind, and 2018 proves that even in years with many 100+ degree days, exposure can mitigate a lot.
Alex Foillard's wines are new to the scene and come in very tiny quantities, even relative to his father's small production. I'm very happy today to offer this small parcel from the oldest vines in the hands of the region's most exciting newcomer.
In the hills above Dijon you can find the roots to one of Burgundy's greatest inception stories. While it's is a fresh departure from a domaine's normal evolution in Burgundy, the wines in bottle are the most thrilling element from Marc Soyard. In only three vintages they have gone from obscure to seeing a cult following.
Today, I'm happy to offer Marc Soyard's 2017 Domaine de la Cras Rouge and 2016 "Cras" Blanc.
Domaine de la Cras goes against the grain of what Burgundian law has dictated for centuries. Five years ago the city of Dijon purchased a vineyard just outside their limits. The city essentially held a casting call to find a winemaker for the property. The criteria was that they must be young, have no family vineyard holdings, be prepared for organic farming, and open the domaine for educational tours. The rent for the land would be paid each year to the city in bottles, 2,000 exactly.
Marc Soyard, originally from the nearby Jura, was chosen. Soyard does not come from a family of vignerons, but he had worked previously for the esteemed and tiny Domaine Bizot in Vosne-Romanée. Bizot is known for their rigorous vineyard work, minuscule sulphur regimen, and their use of whole grape clusters for fermentation.
Soyard works a slope, En Bessy, just outside Dijon. His Pinot Noir pulled me in immediately for its super crunchy and unadulterated bright red berry fruit. 100% whole cluster ferment gives a lifted and spicy, floral character that just floored me. Even before tasting, those aromas are so intoxicating they grab ahold of you straightaway.
The Chardonnay's supple mouthfeel melds with an exotic stone fruit profile and is backed up by a crazy, zippy mineral drive. In short, these wines are unlike anything produced in the region today. and speak to this unique slice of Dijon.
The "Cras" bottlings are the domaine's top wines and come from the oldest vines on the steepest portion of En Bessy. Biodynamic and organic approach to all viticulture here, with only small amounts of sulphur additions, primarily at bottling. Older barrel elévage for the Coteaux de Dijon Chardonnay, and 50% new wood for the two "Cras" cuvées.