Two Ends of the Chenin Blanc Spectrum
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.
Red Burgundy Elite: The Monopole of Jacques-Frédéric MugnierJacques-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.
Provence Value Sweet Spot: Red, White, & Rosé of Triennes
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.
Ultimate Precision from the Côte de Beaune: Vincent Dancer
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
Alpine Stars: The Best Reds from the Foot of the Alps
Whenever the depth of winter creeps its way in I find myself reaching for a smaller and smaller group of red wines. Where Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Piedmont, and Tuscany are mainstays throughout the fall there comes a time about now when I start craving something wild, different, and immensely soothing. The alpine vineyards in France and Italy just south of Switzerland are the place I continually turn, and they continually deliver exactly what I'm looking for. These moments are frustrating in the sense that each of these three producers should have their wines opened with regularity 12 months a year. However, it's now that we need to take a close look at the best of what the vineyards at the base of the Alps have to offer.
Like her family before her, Elisabetta Foradori focuses primarily on Teroldego, the indigenous red grape grown at the base of the Dolomite mountains in northeast Italy. The decision she made to shift from industrial farming to an organic and biodynamic model in 2000 elevated her family's estate onto the world's stage.
Foradori's Teroldegos are the kinds of wines that you'd like to see on the list at every restaurant you frequent, as its versatility is remarkable. It opens with notes of dark plums, licorice, and heady roasted flavor, then softens allowing more floral and herbaceous qualities to come to the forefront. From first sip to that last these wines of Elisabetta are always changing, and fascinating to no end.
2011 Foradori Teroldego IGT
From gravelly soils, aged in a combination of neutral barrels and stainless steel.
$27 per bottle.
2013 Foradori Sgarzon Teroldego IGT
Darker and more concentrated, with more black fruits, black licorice, and wild savory spices.
From sandy soils. 8 months macerating in amphore, with further aging in large neutral barrel.
$46 per bottle.
2013 Foradori Granato Teroldego IGT
From fine silt and gravel soils, aged in neutral barrels.
The most refined and understated. Textured and creamy, black cherry, dark plums, and mint.
$66 per bottle.
The Grojean family have been farming their vineyards in the mountains of Italy's Valle D'Aoste for generations, but it wasn't until 1969 that they were recognized at a local expo and the wines began to be exported. Importer Neal Rosenthal is dialed into the alpine vineyards throughout northern Italy like no one else. His portfolio is so diverse with talents like Jean-Marie Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Montevertine, but it's these smaller, more modestly priced producers from esoteric regions that define the brilliance of his band of vignerons.
The village of Fornet in the Valle D'Aoste sits in the shadow of the towering Mont Blanc. As you can imagine the high altitude conditions provide a snap and clarity to the wines here. Torrette Supériur is sourced from the Rovettaz vineyard comprised largely of sandy-clay soils. The native variety Petit Rouge makes up 85% of the blend, with 10% Furmin and 5% Cornalin. The wine is aged in stainless steel preserving the bright and electric fruit personality. Black raspberry, red licorice, and wild herbs all meld together here to craft an absolutely delicious wine completely reflective of its unique place.
2010 Grosjean Torrette Supérieur Vigne Rovettaz
$24 per bottle.
Domaine Belluard is home to the most thrilling and complete wines in France's Savoie. Dominique Belluard took over his family's vineyards in 1988, at that time the estate was also home to dairy cows, apples, and a mix of agriculture. Just 30 miles from Mont Blanc the village of Ayse is greatly influenced by the towering Alps, but plantings for all of the vineyards are kept at a relative low altitude to allow for maximum ripening.
In addition to Dominique's monumental Mont Blanc sparkling wine, he produces Mondeuse, a native red variety of the region. Of all Dominique's wines his Mondeuse is the rarest with less than one hectare planted. This wine in fermented and aged in amphore and sees no oak or steel at any point of aging. Mondeuse shows a vivid purple quality that calls to mind both Syrah a Gamay. This stands out for its pitch perfect balance, and absolutely singular notes of wild herbs and beaming purple and black fruit characteristics. Their is a softness to the wine that makes it just so easy to drink, but it's structure and mineral backbone is still totally present and vivid. Allocations of this wine are usually less than 12 bottles per year. We were lucky enough to secure a few different vintages here. These wines age beautifully, as primary fruit softens and notes of wild flowers and minerality come more to the forefront.
2014 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.
2013 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.
2012 Domaine Belluard Mondeuse
$57 per bottle.