La Prevostura's Lessona is a great reminder for me on why I went down this path as a wine merchant. Continuing to discover newer producers and regions is a top priority, one that is extremely rewarding.
70 miles north of Barbaresco, you will be in Alto Piemonte, a region whose alpine vineyards shrunk from 120,00 acres to 5,000 after World War II. And it is the commune of Lessona that is one of its very smallest today - under 20 acres planted! Its sandy soils and cooler altitude render a more delicate and lighter expression of Nebbiolo as compared to Barolo and Barbaresco.
Since 2001, the young Bellini brothers have farmed their Lessona vineyard, but 100 years ago this same parcel was one of the very most revered in the region. They have worked tirelessly to get the land back to its gold standard, waiting until 2009 to commercially bottle.
Their 2011 Lessona is comprised of 95% Nebbiolo, and 5% Vespolina (used to soften the inherently tannic Nebbiolo). I was floored when I tasted with winemaker, Cristiano Garella. It has all of the savory, stony alpine elements that make high altitude Nebbiolo so thrilling, but also a depth, complexity, and length that's rare at this price point.
2011 La Prevostura Lessona $41.95 per bottle
The 2011 La Prevostura Lessona offers red cherries, balsamic and licorice notes, and mouth-watering crisp red fruits. It has the elegance and sophistication of great Burgundy, and site-specific transparency that immediately takes you high into the hills above Piedmont.
The diversity within the range of styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is something that fascinates us to no end. On a recent trip we visited two particular producers who accentuate this truth in show stopping fashion. Today we focus on two very different sides to the Chenin Blanc coin.
It is only 25 miles that separate Saumur from Anjou, but the styles of Chenin Blanc seem worlds apart. Terroir plays a large role, but we also found that winemaking philosophy and technique is a pivotal element in what distinguishing these stunning wines.
Arnaud Lambert has resurrected the Chateau de Brézé of Saumur, a domaine praised for their Chenin Blanc wines as far back as the 15th century where they were served at royal courts throughout Europe. Regularly the Chateau would exchange their wines with those of the revered Château d'Yquem of Bordeaux. And today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As times passed and industrialism gave way to quick fixes in the vineyards (herbicides, pesticides) to ensure high yields and minimize the need for hand work the Chateau de Brézé lost something. Recruited in 2009, Lambert has spent the last seven years finding the magic by going back to the roots. Lambert immediately converted to organic farming, drastically reduced yields, and has started to incorporate biodynamic principals.
Saumur's high concentration of tuffeau limestone, and its active calcium content, has long delivered wines of striking purity and elegance. Winemaking styles here lead most producers to block malolactic fermentation, which help Chenin Blanc preserve it's bright, linear, and more crystalline characteristics. The top whites here see some new French oak, but the flavor is nearly imperceptible, as fruit from these sites absorbs any wood quality that may otherwise stand out. While most wines in the appellation showcase fresh orchard fruit notes, those of Chateau Brézé have a deep layered texture to them with an impressive array of tertiary qualities. The poached pear and quince flavors are met with brown spices, orange zest, and chalky minerality.
Lambert would be the first to tell you that it was not an overnight change that has made these wines what they are today. It was a few years of intense vineyard management that has finally brought quality up to such a high level. 2012 marked a defining moment for the domaine, as their top two wines offered today resemble the glory of what once graced the tables of kings and queens throughout the continent.
2012 Chateau de Brézé Saumur Clos de la Rue $53.95
The top wine of the domaine. From the warmest vineyard on the hill of Brézé, and protected from the gusts of wind that regularly zip throughout vine rows. Sandy limestone at the top of the hill, with clay underneath gives richness, power, and deep texture.
If Chateau de Brézé is a reflection of the grand achievements of centuries past in the Loire, then Kenji and Mai Hodgson serve as stark reminders of what thrilling heights await us as we look toward the future. The couple, originally from British Columbia, have an adventurous spirit that embodies what's so exciting about today's Loire Valley.
They produce wines under the Vin de France (VDF) designation which allow them to essentially ignore the archaic requirements set by local appellation laws, like those of Anjou. While the VDF designation was once commonly thought of as the lowest generic label, today it is used by hundreds who find its flexibility a blessing that allows them to craft the wines of their dreams. And believe me, with the 2014 Les Aussigouins Kenji and Mai landed on cloud nine.
In Vancouver it proved nearly impossible for the Japanese-Canadians to rely on organically farmed sources of grapes, and land was too expensive to buy outright. They took a giant leap and moved to the Loire without a grasp of French, but what they lacked in language they made up for in sheer determination. After four years they finally made their mark thanks in large part to the generosity and mentorship of iconic producers in the region like Richard Leroy and Mark Angeli.
2014 Vins Hodgson Les Aussignouins VDF $43.95
Les Aussignouins is sourced from vines in the famed Montbenault vineyard that Richard Leroy has drawn a spotlight to over the last few years. While Leroy's wines are doled out in 6 bottle allocations per year (if you're lucky!), Hodgson's version just landed this month in the US for the first time ever, and while quantities are small, we took a rather large slice.
Specifically, the Montbenault vineyard is located within Coteaux du Layon Faye de Anjou. The Chenin Blanc here is grown on volcanic rhuloite rock and differs dramatically from the limestone-dominant Saumur vineyards. The winemaking decisions here are quite different, as well. Malolactic fermentation is uninterrupted, zero sulphur is used, and the wines age for a rather short period of time in neutral oak barrels, before going into tank and then bottle.
Les Aussignouins has a broad texture, giving rich golden orchard fruits, and a distinct honeyed quality. What impressed so much at our visit was how perfectly balanced this wine was. It had the purity and laser-like focus of the Saumur wines, but with wild exotic fruit notes and concentrated savory spices on the ultra-long finish. I must have revisited this wine three more times when I was traveling in France and each time was more blown away. Of all the wines of Vins Hodgson this is the one we knew we had to go deep on.
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier produces wines that personally can be best described asdesert island Pinot Noir. We're talking the short list. One cannot overstate just how beloved the red Burgundies from this address really are. There are few producers in the world who summon the interest of collectors and the respect of their neighbors quite like Mugnier.
The domaine lies in the heart of the village of Chambolle-Musigny, home to the most ethereal wines of Burgundy. Mugnier and his gentle approach to winemaking is as synonymous with the village, dubbed the Queen of Burgundy, than any other producer. In fact, Mugnier only produces one Pinot Noir from outside, the Premier Cru Clos de la Maréchale from Nuits-Saint-Georges.
The easy way to tell the story is to say Mugnier applies that lifted style of his Chambolle wines to his Maréchale, hailing from a village better known for dark earth and muscular structure. Though this characterization has plenty of validity, it tends to sell short just how profound in its own right this monopole vineyard (one owner) from Nuits-Saints-Georges really is.
Maréchale lies at the southernmost end of N-S-G, coming from the Premeaux commune. For centuries the wines of Premeaux have been described as the most elegant of the larger N-S-G appellation. Within Maréchale there are portions of oolitic limestone and sandy soils that are wildly different from what's found throughout the village. This terroir plays as much a role in the grace of the wine here as Mugnier's soft touch in the cellar.
* From the 1820's the walled in Clos de la Marechale vineyard appeared on maps, and in 1855 Jules Lavalle's publication classifying vineyards ranked Maréchale as "1ère Cuvée" - Lavalle said at this time the top wines of Premeaux were selling for the same price as Grand Cru Clos Vougeot bottlings.
Clos de la Maréchale always shows a stunning array of red fruits like pomegranate and wild strawberry, a tell-tale mocha note, and always finishes with a sappy, black cherry core. Mugnier de-stems 100%, during fermentation punching down of the cap is very gentle and done relatively infrequently, and new oak usage is minimal. The goal is to never over-extract too much tannin or color. These wines are always on the more pale end of the spectrum, dominated as much by their notes of roses and violets as they are by fruit profile. This is the essence of perfumed Burgundy. When Pinot Noir was christened the heartbreak grape chances are strong it was Mugnier in the glass.
2014 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale
$119 per bottle.
A vintage of relatively fleshy and darker-fruited wines, with classic structure and very good vibrancy offering tons of early to mid-drinking appeal.
2013 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale
$119 per bottle.
A vintage characterized by it's freshness and bright fruit qualities. A long, cool growing season gave excellent phenolic ripeness without high alcohol levels. The ultimate classicist vintage.
2012 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale
$134 per bottle.
A vintage with tremendous concentration and supple tannins. Good acidity provided excellent balance, and these are on track to age magnificently.
2014 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$142 per bottle.
2013 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle-Musigny
$159 per bottle.
2008 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$172 per bottle.
2007 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$172 per bottle.
2006 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$172 per bottle.
2005 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$242 per bottle.
2002 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$239 per bottle.
1998 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny
$189 per bottle
2014 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées
$257 per bottle
2012 Mugnier, Jacques-Frederic Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées
$277 per bottle.
2010 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées
$349 per bottle.
2009 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées
$313 per bottle.
2008 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuees
$259 per bottle.
2005 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées
$377 per bottle.
1998 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Bonnes Mares
$594 per bottle.
2014 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses
$939 per bottle.
1990 Mugnier, Jacques-Frédéric Musigny
$1,599 per bottle.
If you're interested in learning more about Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier please be sure to listen to the always excellent, I'll Drink to That! Wine Podcast by Levi Dalton. It has become a great resource to hear, in their own words, the stories of today's most celebrated winemakers across the globe.
In 1989 two legends of Burgundy teamed up in Provence to craft three honest and affordable wines from a high altitude vineyard in the Var region. Since that time Triennes has become the staple of restaurants and sommelier's fridges across the country.
Jacques Seysses (Domaine Dujac) and Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), friends of many years, found a perfect microclimate tucked into the hills of Provence 18 miles from the Mediterranean. Given the collaborators pedigree, it should come as little surprise that their success begins in the vineyard. Upon reviewing soil samples they chose this specific hillside made up of the similar limestone and clay based soils they knew so well from Burgundy.
Triennes focuses on three wines. Each variety was chosen for the specific terroir in this unique location. The red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The never-ending warm sun and dry conditions of Provence are perfect for these two varieties that here show forward blackberry, blueberry, and plum notes. Having a full bodied red blend on hand is always a necessity, and this delivers vintage in and vintage out. The ideal pop-and-pour red for every occasion!
The estate's white is 100% Viognier, showing an array of peach, apricot, and orchard fruit notes. Viognier demands that it receives some cooling influences to keep the fruit profile from becoming too rounded or cloying. This site is perfectly suited to the grape, endowing a crisp and focused element that's rare to find for the variety. A perfect white to pair with seafood, but with a deep texture that holds it's own with chicken and pork.
The rosé of the Triennes is perhaps the most recognized of all the wines here. This is, without a doubt, our house rosé and top restaurants across the country have agreed for years now. Comprised of mainly Cinsault, with some Grenache and Syrah, this has a very pale hue and is absolutely bone dry. It always hits the mark for quenching thirst, never coming across heavy or overly rich. This is the quintessential Provençal rosé that begs to be a staple of every home.
2016 Triennes Rosé
$16 per bottle.
2016 Triennes Rosé 1.5L
$34 per bottle
2015 Triennes Sainte Fleur Viognier
$16 per bottle.
2014 Triennes St. Auguste Rouge
$16 per bottle.
On a frigid April morning in 2012 I visited with a newer producer for me. There were lots of rumblings about what Vincent Dancer was doing in Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. Some had spoken about his radical approach, others simply noted that his Chardonnay from his grand vineyards were a departure from what his neighbors had been producing for generations. After meeting and tasting with the humble, and somewhat shy Dancer, it became clear as day that this was the domaine I would have a laser-focus on going forward. My plans to open my shop were still years ahead, but I began collecting Dancer's wines for myself immediately.
Vincent came from Alsace and quietly grew his estate in Chassagne-Montrachet into five hectares of vines. He became the very first vigneron in the fabled village of Chassagne to become certified organic. Slowly his wines began to show up onMichelin star restaurants throughout France. The accolades began to follow:
“The highly gifted perfectionist, Vincent Dancer, incarnates the new generation of young, dynamic wine growers.” -La Revue du Vin de France
Dancer's style is one that looks to tell the story of vineyard and vintage without any background noise. There are no labratory yeasts, enzymes, acid adjustments, fining, or filtering. Battonage (stirring of the lees in barrel), a practice widely used in Chassagne to give weight, texture, and creaminess to wines in not utilized here. This is the ultimate hands-off approach to natural winemaking.
Dancer's wines jump out initially for their intensity of bright, perfectly ripe fruit. The precision of each cuvée is finely woven and there's a tremendous difference between each of his bottlings. His style is most closely connected with Pierre Yves Colin-Morey, but yields are kept lower by Dancer and the wines showcase more concentration and power. And that is the secret to what makes these wines so marvelous. They walk that ultimate high wire of lean, defined structure with a huge depth of flavor intensity and concentration.
I've been assembling this relatively large collection of wines from Vincent for some time now. The 2014 vintage marks the first time these have been widely imported to the United States, and I jumped on them.
2014 is clearly shaping up to be one of the greatest white Burgundy vintages over the last several decades. The hallmark was thick skins with a tremendous amount of extract met with bright acidity that provided a once-in-a-decade like balance. It reminds me quite a lot of the 2015 vintage throughout Gemany. The wines are not short on power, and they are filled with a rocky core of minerality with all the buffering needed to signify a near perfect vintage.
2014 Vincent Dancer Bourgogne Blanc
2014 Vincent Dancer Meursault Les Corbins
From the northern end of the village where richer and more textural Chardonnays are common, this shows a rare combination of saturating texture with a firm mineral spine.
2014 Vincent Dancer Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Tête du Clos
From a special walled-in-parcel located in the 1er Cru Morgeot vineyard. Crystalline, full of verve. Considered to be a Grand Cru level parcel within Morgeot.
2014 Vincent Dancer Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Romanée
The richest of the Chassagne wines here. Located next to the famed Grandes Ruchottes vineyard.
2014 Vincent Dancer Meursault 1er Cru Perrières
The greatest vineyard of Meursault. With air notes of hazelnuts, meyer lemon, and cream. All in a Grand Cru-level chiseled frame. The ultimate combination of power and finesse!
2013 Vincent Dancer Meursault 1er Cru Perrières
2012 Vincent Dancer Meursault 1er Cru Perrières
2007 Vincent Dancer Meursault 1er Cru Perrières
2012 Vincent Dancer Bourgogne Blanc
2004 Vincent Dancer Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Tête du Clos