Since 1481, there have been 16 generations of unbroken lineage at the Chave estate along the Rhone River's towering granite slopes. When we look closely at the birthplace of Syrah there's no name more respected than that of Jean-Louis Chave.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 & 2016 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph, along with back-vintage Hermitage Rouge and Blanc stretching through 1985.
Chave's Saint Joseph captures everything that thrills the senses from Northern Rhone Syrah, while offering an immediacy and generosity upon release that Hermitage simply cannot. Each vintage flaunts a huge spectrum of black, blue, and red fruits. Spices range from exotic Indian to cracked black pepper. And the tell-tale notes of violets, olive tapenade, and roasted meats are always on full display.
However, it's the underlying mineral component from these granite terraced slopes serving as the backbone of Chave's wines. It's this definition that allows the wines to age effortlessly, and makes reaching for another sip habitual. Examples of the Saint Joseph from the late 1990's have floored me for their sense of vivacity, freshness, and still-present regal structure.
Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992, following his studies in Enology at UC Davis. Once home, he undertook his primary mission of re-planting the steep slopes of Saint Joseph, as his ancestors had done centuries ago. In fact, it was precisely on this hillside that the domaine officially started in 1481. These vineyards had remained fallow since phylloxera decimated vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century.
Along with carrying on the tradition of producing the the iconic Hermitage bottlings, Jean-Louis knew that these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing magnificent wines, and offered a value to consumers that Hermitage could not. 25 years have now passed since these terraces began to be re-built by hand, and vines have been re-planted among the traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of all success in the Rhone comes from hands-on work and fastidious attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.
Since the Saint Joseph appellation was officially given AOC status in 1956 the boundaries have expanded immensely. It's these choice parcels that represent the best and most serious terroir for the zone. Slopes that the Chave's knew were capable of producing intensely concentrated, structured, and age-worthy Syrah. Land where machines were incapable of working, as everything must be done entirely by hand.
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.
When it comes to France's south-west Languedoc region, I tread lightly. There are some hidden gems, but certain criteria is a prerequisite: high altitude vineyards, very depleted rocky soils, organic farming, and a light touch in the cellar. When a Burgundian chooses to continue south after training under Jean Foillard in Morgon you know there's going to be something special at the end of that rainbow.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Maxime Magnon "Rozeta" Corbières Rouge for $40 per bottle.
Rozeta is sourced from a limestone and decomposed granite (schist) parcel of 50-60-year-old Carignan vines. Supplemented with small amounts of Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret. Aging takes place in neutral Burgundy barrels from a top Chassagne Montrachet domaine.
Prior to landing in Corbières, Maxime worked under Morgon icon, Jean Foillard. And then traversed his way through the Languedoc spending time with Faugères' most respected name, Didier Barral. It was with Barral where he was introduced to an abandoned plot of old Carignan vines in nearby Corbières. He quickly jumped on this unique hillside to embark on his own new chapter.
Most noted from Maxime's vineyards is the lack of topsoil. Certainly, all great vineyards have a rocky base below, but in these high altitude parcels the drama is jaw-dropping (see picture below). Old Carignan makes up most of the plantings, but small percentages of Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret are found throughout and all grapes are fermented together. It's this addition that helps brings an elevated lift and aromatic intensity to these wines that have ingratiated them to more natural-leaning wine lovers.
Magnon's influence from Burgundy and Beaujolais is clear the moment you put your nose in the glass. Rozeta has a paler hue and delivers a freshness of wild red fruit tones that are a huge departure from the Languedoc norm.
I speak a lot about a wine's sense of life and verve. This heartbeat of authenticity is something winemakers often shy away from, instead opting for the safe haven of dark extraction of fruit and density for the sake of powerful impact. Magnon flips these typical Languedoc sensibilities upside down, instead relying on transparency and only minimal sulphur at bottling to highlight the most natural characteristics of these ancient hillside plantings.
Domaine Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées has been a huge hit with customers. With no Grand Cru holdings the domaine regularly flies under-the-radar, but proof in glass has made it apparent these are among the best values in my personal favorite appellation in the world. Sigaut's perfect counter-punch of precision and saturating power is one of my favorite Burgundy finds. However, through the domaine's oldest vines located below Grand Cru Bonnes Mares is where their lineup reaches its final crescendo.
Today I'm happy to offer, from 1947-planted vines, Domaine Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers Vieilles Vignes.
During our 2016 Red Burgundy seminar and tasting it was Sigaut's Chambolle Musigny 1er Crus that stood out for the second year in a row. Simply put, this is where the convergence of terroir and value have no match. Sentiers sits directly below Chambolle Musigny's most powerful and structured Grand Cru, Bonnes Mares. As one drives along the Route des Grand Crus you will be taken directly through this point mid slope with Bonnes Mares to the west and Sentiers below to the east. Driving north, the price tag for this stretch of terroir begins at $300 and rises quickly to the tipping point over $1,000 per bottle.
How has Sigaut flown under-the-radar? The 5-hectare estate has no Grand Cru holdings. In the minds of some collectors looking to pounce on Grand Crus Musigny and Bonnes Mares this leaves the domaine off the radar a bit. Of course, all of this is to our gain.
Anne and Hervé Sigaut apply organic and biodynamic principles in the vines, and the wines show the purity of Chambolle with 100% de-stemmed fruit and aging in modest 30% new French oak. In 2016, that hauntingly ethereal and bona fide Chambolle Musigny lacing really makes itself known. This is a vintage that's very reminiscent of 2010, revealing that same rare proportion of ripe concentration with bright lift and energy.
Pricing for 2016's have risen across the Cote d'Or, but Sigaut's top wines available today at $107 and $96 shows that value hunters who prefer traditional-leaning domaines have a reliable source for two of Chambolle Musigny's top Premier Cru climats.
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.