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.
If one Pinot Noir-focused Champagne name has emerged onto the scene with the greatest impact over the last couple of years, it's undoubtedly Frederic Savart. With only 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Savart's style is one which has won over his fervent fan base in sweeping fashion, seemingly overnight. Rarely do a range of these cuvées escape the New York restaurant scene, but...
Enthusiasm is not something capable of being contained by Frederic. He's happy when he meets you, and he's really happy when you see what's up in the glass. He's avid about ensuring we understand terroir expression is the primary objective. But, unlike many who walk that high road, he brings a flair and delicious factor that's compelling immediately.
Located in the Premier Cru village of Ecueil, Savart's parcels have distinct sandy topsoil above clay and chalky bedrock. Certainly, this is part of the story of why finesse is the first thing you recognize. But, in the cellar, larger format aging in wood brings an oxidative influence that's really about soft contours of texture, and not about the flavor of wood. Waxing poetic, easy. Executing, very difficult.
Savart's Champagnes remind me of that rare breed that makes their brilliance known upon first sip, no matter the taster. They are low in dosage (4.5 grams/liter here) and brimming with energy, yet each cuvée has a unique luscious fruit profile that's completely intoxicating.
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"Readers who have not tasted these wines yet owe it to themselves to do so, as Clerget has all the passion, talent and skill to be one of the next generation of superstar vignerons in Burgundy."- Stephen Tanzer, Vinous, January 2018
Thibaud Clerget's debut release of the 2015 Volnay 1er Cru Monopole Clos du Verseuil was, without question, the single most exhilarating new Burgundy find of the last three vintages.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 3rd release from the talented Thibaud Clerget, the 2017 Volnay 1er Cru Monopole Clos du Verseuil, complete with a steep discount on vertical 3-packs with 2016 & 2015.
Much of what draws me into Burgundy is the history of the delineated parcels and the family domaines who've tended them for generations. Careful study over hundreds of years have keyed vignerons into where good terroir becomes great, and that line is often very fine.
It's unlikely to find a young vigneron's initial vintages met with such warm reception. And even rarer is the fact that the pinnacle of Clerget's Volnay lineup comes from a monopole Premier Cru vineyard that's relatively unknown by name, but in terms of real estate it's the secret crown jewel of the village.
I'm too young to remember when Mugnier took Maréchale back from Faiveley and produced his first vintage, or when Dujac released the inaugural Malconsorts. But, I will always remember where I was the day I sat down and tasted the first release from Thibaud Clerget. The chatter surrounding the reborn Domaine Yvon Clerget has been steadily increasing over the two vintages. And the story of how this rebirth came to fruition is one destined for a Burgundy silver screen.
The Clerget family has been producing wines in Volnay for 28 generations. (Yes, that's a very different sort of family winemaking history). In 2009, Yvon Clerget chose to retire and wanted to hand the reigns off to his son, Thibaud. Although passionate and extremely knowledgeable about wine and the terroir of the domaine, Thibaud had a mature perspective. He knew in order to reach the heights he'd envisioned for the domaine the best course would be to work for other Burgundy elites. So, father and son decided all the fruit from the domaine would be sold off during this phase from 2009 to 2014.
Thibaud worked with the greatest terroir in Burgundy while at Hudelot-Noellat and Henri Boillot, intensely studying vineyard management and vinification practices. He also traveled to work with Pinot Noir-focused wineries in Oregon and New Zealand. In 2015 he returned to produce his first vintage at his home domaine in Volnay. Of his entire Côte de Beaune lineup it's the monopole vineyard (owned exclusively by Clerget) that had me twisting arms to get every possible bottle from the minuscule production of this secret site.
Clos du Verseuil is the .6 hectare monopole that Thibaud Clerget will be celebrated for as the next several decades unfold, of this I'm sure. Situated in between fabled 1ers, Taillepieds & Clos de la Bousse d'Or, this site is all about that thrilling combination of power, elegance, and underlying tension. The same attributes that have placed D'Angerville and Lafarge's Volnay monopoles into the cellars of every serious Burgundy collector. There's no way to mince words, this bottling is Volnay at its best. And today pricing is far below where this will rise.
Volnay and its high limestone content sit in rare company with Chambolle-Musigny as one of Burgundy's most ethereal and delicate examples of Pinot Noir. Looking at the duo of D'Angerville and De Montille we're at the apex of what's proven possible here over many decades. While there may be no Grand Crus in the village, savvy collectors know these top Premier Crus transform and go the long haul as well as nearly anything from the Côte de Nuits.
Pronounced structure and tightly-coiled mineral tension make D'Angerville and De Montille perfect domaines to stash in the cellar, yet each has a more open-knit style than has been standard in the past. Today's list covers 2016 through 1985.
D'Angerville's protocol on excluding punchdowns and relying solely on pumpovers for fermentation give these wines a plush and soft-fruited personality that meshes brilliantly with the chalky terroir of Volnay. This combo brings enough slight austerity to make these both delicious and supremely thought-provoking.
De Montille has always been associated with whole cluster ferments, and, in turn, that elevated exotic spice component and stemmy crunch had made these famous for their fortress-like persona of the Hubert de Montille era. As son Etienne has taken over, these past decades have been moving to round their structure out a bit and provide an earlier drinking window. The style here is not a huge shift from one generation to the next as much as it is simply keen on allowing wines to offer more joy and expression in the early-going.
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.