A June 2016 visit in Burgundy meant tastings with some of my favorite storied domaines like Mugneret-Gibourg and Denis Bachelet, but it was after a lunch with Jeremy Seysses at Domaine Dujac and a beautiful bottle of 1993 Clos de la Roche that I got tipped off to something happening across the street—the new Domaine Charlopin-Tissier.
Yann Charlopin-Tissier’s background is surrounded by legendary figures. His father, Philippe Charlopin, was a student of Henri Jayer as he started his own domaine in 1978. Yann worked closely with his father starting in 2004, and then with another mentor, Jean-Marie Fourrier, before launching his own domaine, now at just 4 hectares. Like these Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin mythic names, Yann favors picking as ripe as possible and prefers de-stemming.
Yann filled me in on his methodical and organic approach to viticulture, his excruciatingly low yields, and his disdain for talking too much about winemaking choices in the cuverie. "These wines are made in the vineyard," he would repeat. And the dirt under his nails, and muddy boot prints littered throughout the courtyard drove home that point. For me, this image greatly juxtaposed with what you find in bottle––suave and sophisticated texture, luxurious mouthfeel, supported by very concentrated ripe fruit buffered with mouth-watering salinity.
My two favorite wines of the 2020 vintage capture precisely what is so special here: The Marsannay La Montagne is surely the sleeper pick in the range, but this lieu-dit coming from the top of the slope in Marsannay where it is substantially rockier than below offers a masterclass in balance, between bold, ripe, dark fruit with powdery tannins and mineral finish. The Pernand Vergelesses Sous Frétille is one of best kept secrets in Premier Cru white Burgundy. Always a site that delivers crisp salinity and a Grand Cru-level drama. Yann’s version has a ruthless intensity of fruit with a chalky grip that is truly head-turning. This reflects his ambition for powerfully concentrated wines that still somehow have a wizardly refinement on the palate.
Tucked between the Côte de Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne, Aurélian Laherte has almost single-handedly put the tiny Côteaux Sud d’Epernay on the map with his truly singular and brilliant work focusing on Pinot Meunier.
This 1889-founded domaine has followed an organic and biodynamic path since Aurelian took the reins in 2005. He opts for old Burgundy barrels, partially or fully blocks malolactic fermentation, and keeps dosage between very low to zero, giving wines with body and texture but a precise and saline-driven mineral backbone—a combo that really appeals to me.
Laherte's Ultradition Extra Brut has been a house champagne for us for many years. Now, the secret is out, and we’re limited to as few as 12 bottles a year. At $53, the value cannot be overstated. There's also the micro-production cuvées from single parcels that are off the charts.
If you are curious about alpine wines, you must check out Savoie's native red variety, Mondeuse. One of the best examples we have encountered this year comes from a first-generation vigneron: Nicolas Ferrand.
Coteau de la Mort, or hill of death, was one of many ancient hill vineyards re-planted during Savoie’s renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to early champions like Michel Grisard of Prieuré St-Christophe. In 2013, it became a part of the 1.5 hectares Ferrand purchased when starting Domaine des Côtes Rousses. Saint Jean de la Porte, one of Savoie’s top crus for Mondeuse, has distinct red clay soils mixed with limestone and moraine. Ferrand has farmed organically from the beginning and utilizes horses and sheep in the vineyards.
Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps (2019), describes Coteau de la Mort as “a devout and serious wine,” comparing its taut youthfulness to a meditative monk. What a description! It's comparable to Northern Rhône Syrah, with high-toned black cherry, black pepper, and pressed rose petals, but today, the 2018 bottling is also juicy and sleek. It's fair to say Ferrand has our attention with this current release—a refreshing take on this sliver of Savoie history.
“I make my wine like Bartolo Mascarello!” That's what Massimiliano Calabretta told his U.S. importer when they first visited his estate in Sicily. The family's formula is simple: To work with old-vine and own-rooted parcels preserved as long as possible through organic farming. Their historic practices have stood the test of time as the world around them rapidly changed. The wines at Calebretta are entrenched in tradition, just as Bartolo Mascarello would have approved.
Nerello Cappuccio is often considered a blending grape (mainly because of its viticulture difficulty and susceptibility to disease than any varietal shortcoming). Calabretta saw his old, ungrafted vines offered a very different expression of the variety, with an aromatic lift that stood apart from his counterparts: Dark red fruits, smoke, lavender, violets, and a saline-infused finish that has made reaching for this wine habitual.
Nerello Mascalese is the primary red variety on Mt. Etna. The vines for Calabretta's old-vine cuvée, Vigne Vecchie, start at 60 years old and go well over 100 years, many of which are un-grafted. Aging takes place in 50-70 hectoliter Slavonian casks for up to 42 months. This protocol draws parallels to traditional Barolo producers, but the similarities go beyond aging formats.