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A Selection from California and France

John Tilson • 2/15/10        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

Two Stunning White Burgundy Producers

I began drinking White Burgundies in the late 1960s as I was beginning my journey down the wine trail.  From the very beginning, I was captivated by the flavors and balance of the wines and their ability to pair beautifully with a wide variety of foods.

Early on I vividly remember buying two wines that I had never heard of from Wine Merchant and Grocer Extraordinaire, Darrel Corti, of Corti Brothers in Sacramento, California.  They were a 1965 Montrachet from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and a 1970 Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive.  Both wines completely blew me away for different reasons:  The DRC Montrachet for its richness and power and the Leflaive Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet for the finesse and complexity.  From then on I was forever hooked.

In those early days, I was also privileged to drink the 1966, 1968 and 1970 DRC Montrachet.  The 1966 was a wine of stunning elegance and power that I have not had in the last 15 years or so, but never seemed to decline.  The 1968 was rich and opulent.  Later I would learn that the intense tropical fruit quality in the wine was from a heavy incidence of botrytis or “noble rot” which intensifies the sugars and richness of the grapes.  (It is the “noble rot” that is also responsible for the great sweet wines of the world such as Sauternes from France and Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany and other parts of the world).

I drank many bottles of the 1968 DRC Montrachet in the 1970s and 1980s, but none since.  It was definitely showing its age in the mid-80s.  The 1970 I drank on occasion in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  The best bottles of this wine remain, for me, one of the greatest White Burgundies of all time.  Also, a couple of years ago, my wife, Laurie and I were privileged to share a magnum from my friend and contributing editor, John Brincko and his wife, Debbie, which we drank with Aubert and Pamela De Villaine from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.  It was nothing short of perfection.  And the 1970 Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet from Leflaive was always outstanding.  I had many bottles of this wine from different sources over the years and every bottle was superb.   I drank the last bottle in the early 1990s and it was still showing no sign of decline.

Those were the most memorable of my very early experience with White Burgundies.  Since then, I have been privileged to visit and taste White Burgundies at more Domaines than I can remember.  And, in addition to Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Domaine Leflaive, for me, two other producers stand out, Coche-Dury in Meursault and Ramonet in Chassagne-Montrachet.  There are, of course, many more other producers.  But, I have enjoyed more great wines from these Domaines than any others.  Later on, we will have more on our favorite producers.  But, for now I would particularly recommend that you check out two new discoveries:  Pierre Yves Colin-Morey in Chassagne and Domaine Ballot-Millot in Meursault.

Pierre Yves Colin-Morey

Pierre-Yves Colin made wines for his father, Domaine Marc Colin from the mid-1980s until 2005.  In 2001, he and his wife Caroline, the daughter of Jean-Marc Morey, a very high quality producer in Chassagne, founded their domaine and made 150 cases of wine.  In 2006, he received his share of the family vineyards and production now includes some two dozen different vineyards, some of which are owned and the others made from preferred sites that he selects annually.  He buys crushed grapes in the form of juice and often no more than the 1-3 barrels (25-75 cases).  About 60% of the total production comes from estate-owned vineyards in Chassagne and Saint Aubin.  The approach in the vineyards is to use the most natural and traditional methods to assure the highest quality.  His winemaking is also directed toward as little intervention as possible.  Many of the techniques used by other winemakers are not used here as he prefers to let the wine make itself.  Also, he believes in a minimal oak influence on the wines.  Again, the idea is to preserve the intensity and purity of the grapes.  The result is wines of great finesse and style, but with purity of flavor and good underlying backbone and assure aging potential to result in a wine of even more complexity.

We have visited Domaine Marc Colin since the 1980s.  We always loved the wines and the style that was at first  restrained, but developed  richness and complexity with a bit of age.  In 2005, we first visited Pierre-Yves Colin and were most impressed with his wines.  Every year since has resulted in extraordinarily good wines, but the 2007s, for me,  are his best yet.  Tasting from barrel in 2008, they were racy and acidic.  Pierre-Yves was extremely positive on their evolution and he was right.  After bottling the wines are stunning.  These are wines to seek out and lay away.  I have no doubt that they will evolve as cellar treasures in the coming year.

Tasting Notes

The following wines were tasted recently from bottle:  Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, Saint Aubin La Chanteniere, Saint Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien, and Mercurey La Creuze.

The Batard and Bienvenues-Batard have a light yellow color, the Saint Aubin a bit darker and the Mercurey tending to a light yellow gold color.  The Batard retails for approximately $245–350 and Bienvenues-Batard for about $215-275, the Saint Aubin around $30-45, and the Mercury about $20-25.

 

The 2007 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Batard-Montrachet has an initially subdued nose with citrus and mineral.  The flavors are very pure and precise with mineral, citrus nuances, a combination of finesse and power.  Tasted from the same bottle over the next week, the wine continued to open and evolve.  Spice and tropical notes appeared and the wine softened, but retained great structure and flavor – all signs of a long life ahead.  This promises to be a very great Batard.  4stars

The 2007 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, like the Batard, is initially restrained, but even more so.  Citrus and mineral nuances on the nose and palate, very pure and flavorful, but racy.  Again, tasted over a week, begins to open, showing tinges of spice.  Still backward, this is a wine to age.  3stars

Best Buys

The 2007  Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint Aubin Chateniere 1er Cru, has nice citrus-toned perfume with mineral nuances.  With similar flavors on the palate, it is very pure, has good backbone and very nice flavor – a wine of finesse and style.  2stars

The 2007 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien is very similar to the Chateniere, but with a bit more mineral and citrus.  This is a lovely wine of refinement and purity.  2stars

The 2007 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Mercurey Les Creuzes has a lovely perfumed nose of citrus and mineral, with a touch of coconut.  It is rounded, but with backbone and very crisp on the finish.  It has great finesse and breed for a wine in this price range.  2stars

I have not tasted other 2007 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey wines since bottling, but based on the above and our tastings from barrel in 2008, I think I can safely say that if these descriptions represent your style of wine, you will not be disappointed with any of the 2007s from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey.  Over several vintages and in different bottlings from Grand Cru down, his wines have been remarkably good and very consistent.

As always, White Burgundy aficionados that can afford them will gravitate to the Grand Crus, such as the Batard-Montrachet and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet.  But not to be overlooked are the stunning array of Meursaults, such as Perrieres and Genevrieres, and all the Saint Aubins and wines from the south such as Mercurey.

Domaine Ballot-Millot

Even a lot of very serious White Burgundy fans may have never heard of this producer. I first became acquainted with the wines in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  In those days, the wines were imported in New York and rarely made it to the West Coast.

I remember, in particular, the great 1979 Meursaults which along with those of Coche-Dury and Francois Jobard were truly outstanding.  I drank the last of my Ballot-Millots some years ago and they were gorgeous, remarkably fresh and showing no sign of decline.  I still have some 1979 Meursaults from Coche-Dury and Francois Jobard and they are still great wines today.  But, although I have continued to buy Coche-Dury and Francois Jobard every year since those early days, I lost track of Ballot-Millot.

That is until the wine appeared last year on the West Coast, now imported by Atherton Wine Imports in Menlo Park.  It seems that about five years ago Charles took over from his father Philippe.  The 2006s and 2007s are really impressive, particularly the 2007s.  Much work is done in the vineyards to assure low yields to produce concentrated wine.  Likewise, new oak is used sparingly and winemaking is kept at a minimum to allow for the natural expression of the grapes (sound familiar?)  This is the style of White Burgundy that I most favor.

This is a Domaine to look for and buy.  Again, I am sure that given some age these too will be cellar treasures and keep and gain complexity over a very long period of time.  Prices are in a range of $30 to 75, which I believe is very reasonable given the quality.

Tasting Notes

The following wines were tasted recently from bottle on two separate occasions for the 2006s and three separate occasions for the 2007s; 2006 Meursault Charmes, Meursault Genevrieres and Meursault Perrieres and 2007 Meursault, Meursault Les Criots, Meursault Charmes, Meursault Genevrieres, Meursault Narvaux and Meursault Perrieres.

Our tasting was done blind with the 2006s and 2007s.  It was not difficult to pick the vintage as the 2006s are rounder and show more fruit and lushness at this stage, while the 2007s are racier, and more  mineral driven.  All the wines are very pure and show finesse.  The colors are all light yellow to light yellow with a golden hue.  Prices range from $30-40 for the Meursault, $38-50 for the Meursault Les Criots and  $35-65 for the Premier Crus, Narvaux, Charmes, Genevrieres and Perrieres.

The 2006 Ballot-Millot Meursault Charmes has a lovely perfume that hints of peach, citrus and a touch of spice.  The gorgeous fruit again shows peach, citrus and spice nuances.  It is rounded and balanced and drinking beautifully now, but should keep for many years.  2stars

The 2006 Ballot-Millot Meursault Genevrieres has a lovely perfume hinting of citrus and spice, faintly floral.  It is balanced, with lovely flavor of citrus and spice nuances and a long, crisp finish – gorgeous now with a long life ahead.  3stars

The 2006 Ballot-Millot Meursault Perrieres has a gorgeous perfume, with nuances of tropical fruit, citrus and spice, great style and lovely flavors, with a good backbone. This wine should greatly benefit from 3-5 years of age and will keep well beyond.  3stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault has a nice perfume of citrus, spice and mineral.  Flavors are similar.  It is elegant and rounded, with a long, crisp finish – a lovely wine.  2stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault Les Criots has a lovely perfume with citrus nuances.  It is elegant, flavorful and balanced, with a citrus finish – lovely wine.  2stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault Charmes has a lovely spice-tinged perfume and is supple, lush and round, yet with finesse and backbone.  This is delicious.  3stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault Genevrieres has a gorgeous perfume, faintly honied and tropical, with citrus nuances.  It has great flavor, style and finesse and a long, crisp finish – a delicious Meursault with a long life ahead.  3stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault Narvaux has a nice perfume with hints of tropical fruit, citrus and spice.  It has lovely flavors, good backbone, has depth, but just now is a bit restrained and needs time.  Sh0uld be outstanding.  3stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Meursault Perrieres has a deep perfume with notes of citrus and spice.  With air it develops a faintly mineral nuance.  It is flavorful, balanced, with depth and concentration and a long, lingering finish.  A delicious wine, it will be even better with additional age.  3stars

These are very impressive wines and reasonably priced for the quality.  They are wines that can be consumed now but will repay aging, particularly the 2007s.

Conclusion

So there you have it.  A little background on my experience with White Burgundy and what I look for when buying, cellaring and drinking the wines.  And, I now have two new domains whose wines I will be buying each year.  My advice to you is taste the wines, and if you agree with me, do the same.  Buy some wines from these producers every year.  The softest vintages drink early (within the first 10 years) and the vintages with some backbone, lay away for extended age.  But 2006, 2007 vintages can be drunk now, but both will repay with age, particularly the 2007s which I believe will turn out to be one of the very great White Burgundy vintages.

And, I love the wines with fish, particularly shellfish.  Also, the richer wines are a  great complement for chicken in cream sauce, especially with mushrooms or truffles.  And soft cheeses marry beautifully with White Burgundy.

2007 Red Burgundies

Domaine Ballot-Millot

This Domaine, in addition to the stunning line-up of Meursaults, makes Red Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune, with several Volnays and Pommards.  The wines are made using the same basic minimal intervention philosophy used for the white wines.  With lovely colors, they show finesse and elegance rather than power.

These 2007s are gorgeous wines that should age beautifully.  They are priced from $40-55 and represent very good value.

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Pommard Pezerolles, with a plummy, spicy, berry perfume.  The wine has finesse, style and elegance yet is flavorful.  The rounded, spice-tinged berry fruit has lovely floral undertones.  Very tasty now, but it will benefit from age.  2stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Pommard Rugiens, has a gorgeous perfume of cherry and rose petals, hinting of spice.  It has great style and is flavorful, with floral, cherry and spice nuances.  A seamless wine with great flavors and purity.  This is a stunning Burgundy showing beautifully now.  But,  additional bottle age, it will soften and develop more complexity.  3stars

The 2007 Ballot-Millot Volnay Taillepieds , has a spice-tinged perfume.  Lovely berry flavors are balanced and refined.  A wine of finesse and elegance, it is lovely now, with a long life ahead.  2stars

N.B.  While we gathered pricing from a number of different sources, it is important to remember that wine prices can vary a great deal.

California Pinot Noir

Soliste Cellars

Soliste Cellars, a very small, artisanal winery in Petaluma, is owned by Claude Koeberle and Donald Plumley who are producing handcrafted Pinot Noirs.  The name Soliste derives from Burgundy, where a winemaker often reserves a special barrel for their family and friends, which is called Soliste.  Their mission is to craft the best possible Pinot Noir in the New World, a quest for excellence based upon a shared vision rooted in deep friendship.

Koeberle and Plumley believe vineyard selection and care to be the single most important responsibility in an effort to produce extraordinary wines.  They use ancestral Burgundian techniques, with minimal intervention, blended with modern production equipment and resources.

In our first issue, Pinot Noir was our first article.  So we now, once again, begin our quest for great Pinot Noir from California which we will also expand into Oregon, Washington and New Zealand.  Our contributing editor, John Morrill, was most impressed with these wines from Soliste Cellars.  I tasted them and was equally impressed.  They are lovely expressions of the Pinot Noir grape with balance, but not lacking in depth nor plagued by over-extraction which are a common fault of many New World Pinot Noirs.

The 2007 Soliste Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyard T Block Sonoma Coast has a deep color and a lovely perfume of berries and spice, with floral nuances.  On the palate, it is round, supple and balanced, with berries and spice, not overdone but with very good flavor.  It should benefit from a few years aging – very nice.  2stars

(13.6% alcohol, 323 cases, on allocation, $68.00)

The 2007 Soliste Pinot Noir L’Espérance Sonoma Coast is deep-colored, with a gorgeous, faintly smoky, floral-nuanced perfume of berries and spice.  It is elegant, supple and round, quite rich and flavorful, with spicy berry fruit and a good backbone.  A lovely wine, showing an oaky, spicy complexity, but it is restrained, and backed by lovely pure fruit that is balanced, with a freshness and backbone that should carry this wine to a new level of flavor, balance, complexity and length in 3 – 5 years.  This is an outstanding California Pinot Noir. 3stars

 

(13.7% alcohol, 177 cases, extremely limited allocation, $68.00)  Because of extremely limited production, Soliste Cellars wines are presently available only by subscription to their Mail List (info@soliste.com, 707.206.1538) and at selected restaurants.

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One comment so far for “A Selection from California and France”

  1. Thank you for the suggestions. My experience with White Burgundy does not even remotely approximate yours, and the informations is a positive component of my learning curve.

    Posted by Archie McLaren | March 27, 2010, 10:34 am

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