Category Archives: TerriorSense

Bordeaux’s Domaine de Chevalier and Its Outstanding White Wine

Bordeaux‘s image and reputation comes from its red wines, which, after all, account for about ninety percent of its production. Rating the overall quality of the vintage is always based on how the red wines fared, without regard to the whites. The famed 1855 Classification stratified only the reds and, except for Haut-Brion, only those from the Médoc where white wine was, and is still, rare. It took another 100 hundred years, in 1959, for the authorities to classify dry whites. But I’m here to tell you that Bordeaux, specifically Pessac-Léognan and more specifically, Domaine de Chevalier, produces spectacularly complex and age-worthy white wines. And sells them at reasonable prices considering their quality.

A recent tasting spanning four decades of both colors of Domaine de Chevalier reminded me of just how special and consistent the wines from the Domaine have been since it was acquired by the Bernard family, headed up by the ever-smiling Olivier and his son Hugo. Panos Kakaviatos, a Bordeaux expert, organized a tasting and dinner in May of this year at the 1789 Restaurant in Washington D.C. At that tasting, the oldest wine was a 1983 white, not a red, from the year the Bernard family purchased the property. Kakaviatos had arranged a similar tasting dinner at the French Embassy in Washington in 2020, just before Covid descended, presided over by Olivier Bernard. All the wines at both tastings came from the Domaine. Those two tastings confirm my enthusiasm for the Domaine’s wines. This report will focus on their exceptional whites. I’ll report on Domaine de Chevalier’s reds at a future time.

Domaine de Chevalier lies just south of the city of Bordeaux itself, in Pessac-Léognan, which was a part of the Graves appellation until 1987 when it received its own AOC.  The soils of Pessac-Léognan are diverse, which accounts for both the stellar red and white wines coming from the appellation. The Cru Classé de Graves classification of 1959 ranked fourteen estates, all located in Pessac-Léognan, for white, red or both. Domaine de Chevalier is one of only six estates that is classified as Crus Classé for both red and white wine. (For completeness, the other five are Carbonnieux, Malartic-Lagravière, Latour-Martillac, Bouscaut, and Olivier).

Of the Domaine’s roughly fifty hectares of vines, six are devoted to whites, up from three ha when the family purchased the property. Sauvignon Blanc comprises seventy percent of the plantings with Semillon accounting for the remainder. Bernard dedicates the cooler soils and sites to the white plantings to capture acidity, which will enhance freshness in the wines. He explains that heat and dryness during the summer will harm the white varieties more than the red ones, so it’s important to keep the white varieties cool. The planting is dense, 10,000 vines/ha, which many believe increases the complexity of the wine, is unusual in Pessac-Léognan. Farming is done organically or biodynamically. Olivier explains that unlike red wine, he can make excellent white wine from younger, that is, 15-year-old vines.  The composition of the blend of Domaine de Chevalier’s white typically follows the plantings, that is two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Semillon.

The Domaine occupies a cooler site in Pessac-Léognan, abutting a forest, which Olivier says has been a Godsend with climate change and keeps the wines fresh. And, as the tasting notes will show, the whites display extraordinary development while maintaining freshness with extended bottle age.

Domaine de Chevalier produces only about 18,000 bottles of white annually, compared to about 100,000 bottles of red. A second wine, L’Espirit de Chevalier, made from young vines, comprises anywhere from 40 to 60% of the production depending on the vintage and the age of replanted vines. It represents a superb value.

“We are looking for freshness in the whites,” explains Bernard, which is why the blend is weighted towards Sauvignon Blanc with its acidity and structure. Bernard points that Sauvignon Blanc has 20 percent more acidity than Semillon at harvest. The Semillon adds body and creaminess. He continues that with climate change and riper Sauvignon Blanc, they need and are using less Semillon.

Bernard’s passion for white wine is evident, proclaiming with a broad smile and enthusiasm, “I like whites. They are another world. The world of red is in the soil. The world of white is in the heaven.  There is something ethereal in the whites. They are airy.”

Though they use optical sorting at the winery for the reds, Bernard says they can easily spot defective white grapes visually. The key, according to Bernard and perhaps drawing on his experience with Sauternes—he is a part-owner of the famous classified Sauternes estate, Château Guiraud—is making successive passes though the vineyard, harvesting only the perfectly ripe grapes. He estimates that the maturation of their 50,000 bunches, though planted together, can vary by two weeks, so they will go through the vineyard up to five times over the two to three weeks of harvest.  Bernard estimates they spend two to four times as long harvesting whites as compared to reds—2000 to 4000 hours per ha versus 1000 hours per ha. Bernard adds that the subtleties are more apparent in whites, which means they must be more compulsive about the harvest of the white grapes. He continues by emphasizing that the focus of the whites should be on the delicacy of the fruit flavors, not the structured tannins, which again mandates a more selective harvesting. There is no skin contact during fermentation for the whites. They are vinified with only the juice and pulp using natural yeast and undergo no malolactic transformation. Fermentation takes place in small oak barrels, roughly one-third of which are new, followed by aging on the lees for up to eighteen months. Though the 1980 white, made before the Bernard family owned the Domaine, was chaptalized, there is no need for chaptalization today, with the average potential alcohol going from 12 to 14 percent over the last thirty years thanks to climate change.

Let me make some generalizations about the white wines before diving into the individual tasting notes. Closed when young, they need bottle age, and then even some air to let them unfold. They have an almost unbelievable ability to develop enormous complexity with decades of bottle age. The 1983 and 1989 tasted this year and the 1980 and 1990 tasted in 2020 were both otherworldly. Apart from the great white Burgundies, it’s hard to find dry white wines that have developed this kind of complexity and captivating allure while remaining fresh and lively at thirty or forty years of age.

photo by Michael Apstein

The wines in this tasting

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2017 Pessac-Léognan     95

Still youthful even at six years of age, this racy wine initially displays the bite of Sauvignon Blanc and oak influence. But, after 30 minutes in the glass all the elements coalesce in a beautiful harmony of citrus-infused creaminess. The lesson is don’t rush these white wines. Give them time. The 2017 growing season presented problem after problem to winemakers.  The earlier harvest for the whites, compared to the reds, occurring in the first half of September, minimized the chance for crop-destroying autumn rains and perhaps explains, in part, why Domaine de Chevalier’s whites excel in what the French euphemistically call “difficult” vintages. This one certainly does. Drinking window: 2023-2047.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2010 Pessac-Léognan     97

There’s no need to give this spectacular wine time in the glass. Its glories are immediately apparent with captivating aromatics. Displaying a great presence, it seduces you with elegance and charm, not power. A firm steeliness offsets a hint of round, nutty richness. Even the empty glass smells great! Drinking window: 2023 – 2035.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2001 Pessac-Léognan     95

Clearly mature, but not old, it maintains a wonderful freshness that balances a subtle nutty character. Apricot undertones are reminiscent of a botrytis-infected Sauternes, but the wine is not sweet at all. An engaging tension between a citrus finish and dry apricots keeps your attention throughout the meal. Very lively, it also grows in the glass. Drinking window: 2023 – 2030.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2000 Pessac-Léognan     92

(tasted in 2020): Though the 2000 vintage for reds was widely acclaimed, the whites did not fare so well, which makes the stature of this wine even more astounding. Still with a subtle and surprising youthful edginess, it combines a delicate peachiness with an invigorating citrus finish. Balanced and long, it’s more evidence that Domaine de Chevalier makes excellent white wines in “difficult” years. Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1993 Pessac-Léognan     90

(from magnum): Despite the larger format, the 1993 seemed more tired and less elegant than even older vintages. The same appealing combination of citrus freshness and dry apricots expanded in the glass. Still, it lacked the expressiveness of the 2001. That said, if consumed by itself and not next to grander vintages, it would garner applause. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1990 Pessac-Léognan     95

(tasted in 2020): With its riper peach-like and nutty nuances, the still charming 1990 reflects the heat of that vintage. Nonetheless, this generous wine retains enlivening citrus freshness and a firming minerality. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1989 Pessac-Léognan     97

Another spectacular example of how these white wines develop, the gorgeous 1989 exhibits a captivating array of herbal notes intertwined with a hint of tropical and stone fruit ones. Despite the plethora of sensations emanating from the glass, the wine is not flamboyant, but rather suave and seductive. A lemon cream acidity keeps it fresh and lively even at 30+ years of age. It also passes the empty glass test with flying colors. Drinking window: 2023-2040, and possibly longer.

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1983 Pessac-Léognan     96

Olivier Bernard’s first wine, the gorgeous 1983 at 40 years of age is still fresh, balanced and a joy to drink. Great aromatics draw you into a panoply of flavors: creamy citrus, hints of dried apricots, and a touch of nuttiness. This sublime wine also passes the empty glass test! Note the Graves appellation on the label because Pessac-Léognan had yet to be established. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1980 Pessac-Léognan     94

(tasted in 2020): Bernard described 1980 as a really cold year, which explains why the previous owner, the famous Claude Ricard, chaptalized the wine. You wouldn’t know it from tasting it. The lively 1980 conveys a marvelous and balanced combination of white peach-like nuances, subtle almond-like nuttiness all supported by enlivening citrus acidity. Drinking window: 2023 (drink up).

Four Decades of Guigal’s “Classic” Hermitage

E. Guigal’s consistently stunning “classic” Hermitage, as Philippe Guigal refers to it, as distinct from their Ex Voto-bottling, dispels several wine myths. First, it shows that a négociant bottling can be superb. Secondly, and more surprisingly perhaps, is that Guigal buys, get this, wine, not grapes, for much of their 45,000-bottle annual production. Philippe, who, with his father, Marcel, is in charge, explains that they have contacts from growers that date from when his grandfather, Etienne Guigal, worked at Vidal-Fleury. When Etienne left Vidal-Fleury to start E. Guigal in 1946, many growers followed him. Fred Ek, Guigal’s long-time U.S. broker and importer, told me, “They know where and what to buy and are willing to pay for it.” Philippe adds with a smile, “We recognize quality. It is normal that quality costs more, so we pay more, and we pay very quickly, which is a big difference.”

Philippe explains that while today the house does buy more grapes for their classic Hermitage than they once did, they still do buy some wine. When they buy wine, Philippe adds, they prefer to do it as soon as possible after the alcoholic fermentation, sometimes even before the malolactic fermentation has been completed. Ideally, they would like the wine to be vinified in Hermitage, racked, and then moved to their main winery in Ampuis for élevage.

Importantly, now that they own vineyards in Hermitage, wine that they feel is not up to their high standards for Ex Voto will go into the classic bottling. In 2001, Guigal acquired vineyards on the Hermitage hill when they acquired two firms, Jean-Louis Grippat and de Vallouit, within four months of each other. Guigal’s Ex Voto Ermitage comes from four parcels, with different soils, comprising 2.2 ha scattered over the hill. (Please note that regulations for the appellation allow wines from Hermitage to be labeled either Hermitage or Ermitage. Traditionally, but not invariability, producers will label their normal cuvée Hermitage, reserving Ermitage for their top cuvée.) The 0.65-ha piece of Les Bessards has a granite base while the same size parcel of Les Greffieux lies mostly on gravel. Completing the blend is 0.45-ha of the alluvial-based Les Murets and a similar sized plot of L’Hermite with its sandy-clay loam. Philippe points out that the Syrah from each block brings complementary components to the wine. Bessards provides structure, while Les Greffieux imparts concentration. A dark minerality comes from L’Hermite, while Les Murets provides finesse. Guigal produces Ex-Voto in only the best years. The last time they opted not to was 2014. Philippe says they are unsure about making Ex Voto in 2021 because it was a rainy growing season. He notes that savvy consumers rush to buy their classic Hermitage in years when no Ex Voto is made because it contains grapes that would have gone into that upscale prestige bottling.

Back to the classic Hermitage. Although regulations allow the use of a small percentage of white grapes in red Hermitage, Guigal’s uses only Syrah. The classic Hermitage undergoes roughly four weeks of fermentation in vats before being aged in oak barrels, 50 percent of which are new, for 36 months. Despite what seems like a lot of oak aging, Guigal’s Hermitage, even when young, is always in balance and not marred by oak flavors. Philippe believes this is because the wine always has adequate concentration and because they have their own cooper, giving them total control over the quality and character of the barrels they use.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve consumed, with dinners, five vintages—1978, 1983, 1985, 1990, and 2000—of Guigal’s classic Hermitage from my cellar. Guigal produced all of them before they purchased any vineyards in Hermitage. Three points stand out. Firstly, these wines develop magnificently with bottle age. Secondly, they never seem to tire, even at 40+ years of age. Thirdly, Hermitage takes a long time to reveal its grandeur: the 2000 was barely ready to drink and still youthful at two decades of age.

Three final points. 1) Don’t overlook wines made by top négociants. 2) Judge the wines, not the technical data. Here are five examples made from purchased wine and aged seemingly for too long in oak barrels. And they’re great! 3) The most important thing on the label is the producer’s name.

Photo credit: Dee McMeekan

The wines in this tasting

E. Guigal 1978 Hermitage                   96
An alluring mellow meatiness has replaced the youthful power and black pepperiness of the now suavely textured 1978 Hermitage. Floral aspects amplify its charms. Each sip brings additional nuances. Perfectly mature, it remains pristine and lively, not tired in the least. I doubt further evolution is in the cards for this polished and refined Hermitage, but I suspect it will remain on a plateau for another decade. Drinking window: 2023 – 2033.

E. Guigal 1983 Hermitage                   92
The lighter weight 1983 displays a delectable combination of beefy undertones and floral red fruits. Savory elements accent this fully mature Hermitage, which seems to have faded compared to the 1978. Drinking window: 2023 – 2028.

E. Guigal 1985 Hermitage                   97
This remains a monumental Hermitage, showing an explosive youthful power without a trace of heaviness. Its concentration suggests it’s more than eight years younger than the 1978. A marvelous meaty element offsets black fruit and minerality. But the wine’s suave elegance and freshness are what’s captivating. The finish of this pristine wine is seemingly endless. Drinking window: 2023 – 2043.

E. Guigal 1990 Hermitage                   97
Like the glorious 1985, Guigal’s bold 1990 Hermitage exudes power and grace though with a more youthful edge. Exotic spices and dark black fruit-like nuances accent its meaty, almost bloody, character, producing a ying-yang of fruit and earth. Through it all, Guigal’s signature, a suave texture, is clear. For all its presence, it’s not a heavy wine. Drinking window: 2023 – 2048.

E. Guigal 2000 Hermitage                  93
Surprisingly youthful, Guigal’s energetic 2000 Hermitage was supple and suave, but lacked the enthralling meaty and savory nuances that appear as Hermitage ages and matures. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delight to drink now, especially if your tastes run to bold dark fruit flavors because it’s balanced and fresh. But to me, Hermitage has more to offer as it matures, so I would continue to cellar this stately beauty for another five years. Still, if someone opened it to accompany a steak from the grill, I’d happily take a glass or two tonight. Drinking window: 2028 – 2048.

An Awesome Aligoté

Let me get right to the point. The 2020 Aligoté from Domaine du Cellier aux Moines is the best Bourgogne Aligoté I’ve ever had, and I’ve had one from Coche-Dury. Why is it so stunning? Firstly, this Aligoté, labelled “Sous les Roches,” comes from a vineyard in Montagny planted in 1945. Secondly, the extremely focused and talented team at Domaine du Cellier aux Moines made the wine.

Although Aligoté represents only about six percent of vineyard plantings in Burgundy today, it has played a much bigger role in the past. In the 19th century, before phylloxera, growers intermingled Aligoté with Chardonnay in grand sites, such as Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet, and blended the two grapes in the winery. After phylloxera, Aligoté fell out of favor and its acreage declined. Now it is usually planted in less renowned sites, frequently on flatter lands in the plains, and often—all too often—winds up being used for making Kir, a popular Burgundian aperitif.

The appellation, Bourgogne Aligoté, is an anomaly in Bourgogne, the epicenter of terroir-based viticulture, because it is named for the grape, not the site. The grapes for Bourgogne Aligoté can come from anywhere in Bourgogne, from the Côte Auxerrois in the north near Chablis to Mâcon in the south. (The French prefer the use of the term Bourgogne, rather than Burgundy because that’s the traditional name of the region. Plus, in French, burgundy can be translated as maroon or Mon Dieu, Bordeaux.)

Before we get to the wine, a bit of the backstory. Philippe Pascal, whose family today owns Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, explains that Raymond Corneloup planted the vines, a sélection massale, in 1945 to celebrate the end of World War II and the surrender of Nazi Germany. (A massale selection, in contrast to a clonal selection, is a selection of many different vines, each displaying a unique characteristic, to maintain the genetic diversity of a vineyard.) Corneloup, who owned vineyards and worked in Montagny, chose limestone rich soil on one of the highest slopes in that village near an old quarry, hence the name of the wine, “Sous les Roches.” When Raymond’s son, François, took over the property, he continued his father’s tradition of selling the grapes to the local Montagny co-op. That is until he retired, at which time he agreed to a long-term contract with Pascal and the Domaine du Cellier aux Moines in neighboring Givry. Today Pascal and his team do all the farming, vineyard work, and harvesting in addition to the winemaking.

Pascal notes that they have not done DNA testing to determine if any of the vines in Sous les Roches are the Aligoté Doré planted in Bouzeron, which are today felt to produce superior wines (see Ian D’Agata’s article: Understanding Bouzeron, Its Terroir, And the Great Wines of Domaine de Villaine). But he notes that the grapes are clearly golden at harvest, like those of Aligoté Dorée, because they wait for perfect phenolic maturity. Sous les Roches is tiny, only one-fifth of a hectare and the production equally minute, about 1,500 bottles in 2020.

Domaine du Cellier aux Moines 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté Sous les Roches                       96

With both minerals and fruit on the nose, it is no surprise that those components of the 2020 Domaine du Cellier aux Moines Bourgogne Aligoté “Sous les Roches” caresses the palate. This thoroughbred displays incredible power and grace. An enveloping creamy richness and riveting mouthwatering saline-like acidity amplifies its appeal.  You’d be excused if you failed to identify this beauty as Aligoté because of its depth and complexity. I repeat the advice that Philippe Pascal gives when showing this wine to visitors, “Do not make a Kir with it.” Its cutting edginess and luxurious body would, however, make it a good choice with a vast array of sushi, Cantonese dishes, and even bolder Asian fare. Planted in the correct site and farmed, vinified, and aged seriously in the cellar, Aligoté can develop in the bottle just like the grandest Chardonnays. Ponsot’s Morey St. Denis Premier Cru Monts Luisants, made entirely from Aligoté, shows just that, developing a layered complexity with a decade or more of bottle age. Though Domaine du Cellier aux Moines’ Aligoté is breath-taking now, I suspect it too will develop divinely with bottle age given its balance and pedigree. The problem, of course, will be keeping your hands off it. Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Finger Lakes Riesling: Paul Hobbs Has Landed

Will Paul Hobbs be the Rocket that launches New York’s Finger Lakes region?

Every under-recognized fine wine region needs a high-profile producer to be a locomotive to pull it onto the world’s stage. With his new venture, Hillick and Hobbs, named after his parents, Joan Hillick and Edward Hobbs, Paul Hobbs just might do it for New York’s Finger Lakes. Robert Mondavi did it for California in the 1970s. At about the same time, Angelo Gaja drew attention to Piedmont and Piero Antinori’s work shined a bright light on Tuscany. The Drouhin family did it for Oregon in the 1980s. Well-known names either go to an area—Drouhin in Oregon—or just by making and promoting superb wines in their home region—Mondavi, Gaja, and Antinori—bring attention to the entire region. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent producers making world-class wines in the Finger Lakes today. That’s just the point. There are, Hermann J. Weimer, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Ravines Wine Cellars, to name just three.  It’s just that too few people know about them and the region. Hobbs’ presence will change that by putting a spotlight on the entire Finger Lakes region.

Paul Hobbs, one of California and the world’s leading winemaker, needs no introduction. He was among the first, if not THE first of the “flying winemakers,” those who consult in the Southern Hemisphere, effectively doubling winemaking experience. Critics consistently score his wines highly. Hobbs’ Napa Valley Cabernets and Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs routinely command triple figure price tags upon release and sell out quickly, but Hobbs has plenty of experience outside of California. He has partnerships all over the world, Viña Corbos (Mendoza, Argentina), Crocus (Cahors, France), Yacoubian-Hobbs (Vayots Dzor, Armenia), Alvaredos-Hobbs (Galicia, Spain), but what he is doing in the Finger Lakes is completely different, both commercially and viticulturally, from everything he’s ever done before. As with all his other projects, beginning all the way back to 1991, when he started in California, Hobbs has purchased fruit from top-quality growers with choice vineyards in unique terroirs whose viticultural practices met his exacting standards. He would make the wine, bottle it under his label, but also crediting the grower. He explained that it made sense commercially because start-up costs were much lower and “there was less investment if it failed.” It would be seven years after he first purchased grapes from Larry Hyde in Napa and Richard Dinner in Sonoma in 1991, for Hobbs to acquire his initial vineyard, which he named the Katherine Lindsay Estate, in honor of his great grandmother.

However, in the Finger Lakes, though he searched high and low, he could not find growers who could meet his standards and supply him consistently with grapes that met his specifications. So, he recruited his brother, David, who lived in Upstate New York—that’s what everyone who lives south of Albany calls it—and knew something about farming, to help find land suitable for vineyards. He knew it would be expensive, but he wanted to make world-class Riesling, so he felt it was the only way to go. Finally, in 2013, they acquired a 78-acre property, which had mostly never been planted, on the southeastern shores of Lake Seneca. Never mind that he had never made Riesling commercially before. He explained that he has always been fascinated by it, calling it his “gateway ‘drug’ into the wine world.”

Hobbs’ journey into wine was unusual, to say the least. Hobbs had been raised in a tea-totaling fruit farming family in Niagara County in Upstate New York. (Hobbs’ mother prohibited alcohol since her brother died of an alcohol-related accident.) In the late 1960s, his father wanted to diversify from orchard fruit and had secured contracts to supply grapes to local wineries. To convince Paul to run the farming aspect of this new project, he lured him with his first taste of wine, a 1962 Château D’Yquem served in a Dixie® cup. Hobbs recalls that his mother thought it was some exotic fruit drink—a reasonable assessment—and was happy until she saw the bottle.

At Notre Dame, Father James McGrath, his Botany professor, asked him to join his wine appreciation course. Hobbs declined at first because of his mother’s prohibition but then, using a time-honored technique—always choose which parent to ask when you need something—he asked his father, who consented. As the younger Hobbs tells it, his father and Father McGrath “colluded,” to convince him to attend the University of California at Davis, where he received a Master’s in Food Science in Department of Enology, instead of medical school. At Davis, he was a member of a tasting group that invited producers from all over the world. That’s when he really discovered great German Riesling and became fascinated by the grape. To this day, he speaks fondly of how he loves the German precision on the label. For years he managed to make side trips to the Mosel whenever he was in Europe. So, why did it take him forty years to make Riesling? Perhaps, like so many of us, he simply put off things he really wanted to pursue until later in life.  He explains that for decades his world was California, then Argentina. But he always wondered where you could make great Riesling, like J.J. Prum’s. Around 2009, on another leg of his globetrotting consulting, this time for Stratus Vineyard located in Canada’s Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, the proximity to the Finger Lakes got him thinking, like “a seed waiting to germinate,” about Riesling.  He felt that the shale and slate-filled soil and steep slopes cascading down to the lakes was similar to the topography of the Mosel. He had already been looking for sites in Washington State and Oregon, but he found “nothing compelling.”  You could, he felt, “make good, but not great, Riesling there.”

Hobbs plans to focus on Riesling exclusively, with “no burning desire to try other varieties,” though when pushed, he admits to thinking about Blaufränkisch. But he emphasizes his attention with be on making “great Riesling.” He’s not doing it to make a living—he clearly doesn’t have to—but rather to “see what we can do in the U.S. to compete with the world.” He realizes it’s an outsized investment in time and money.

There are challenges. Some years they get very little rainfall. Coupling that with some of the rootstocks they’ve chosen and the well-drained rocky soil, means that they may need to resort to drip irrigation, something Hobbs did not expect. There are steep slopes and rocks that need to be conquered to plant rows up and down the slope instead of across, a system that allows for better airflow, the need for less pesticide and better drainage, but results in greater labor costs. Manual harvesting, which Hobbs insists results in better wine, adds to the expense.  Depending on the year, they may perform labor-intensive leaf thinning and/or a green harvest. All in all, Hobbs’ practices are expensive, but result in better quality grapes, which is what he’s after. Hobbs proudly notes that with these measures they keep their yields to only about three tons per acre of grapes, roughly half to one-third of what is standard in the area. Another challenge Hobbs faces is selling Riesling, which has been embraced by wine critics and wine geeks but not consumers who are put off by the unpredictable level of sweetness. To combat that fear, Hobbs is fixated on a completely dry style. His labels prominently proclaim, “Dry Riesling.” He is positioning Hillick and Hobbs Riesling at US$35, which he admits is a bargain for the quality—and I agree—and would like to see it at US$50 a bottle. To keep costs down, Hobbs built a temporary winery in Ovid, about 30 minutes away from their 22 acres (out of a possible 47) of planted vineyards. He plans a state-of-the-art winery in the future and will convert the Ovid facility to a warehouse.

The winemaking for Hillick and Hobbs Riesling depends on the vintage. To date, Hobbs finds that he achieves full physiological maturity by late September/early October with low sugar levels, of only about 20.5 to 22 brix. The amount of skin contact varies year to year. He favors whole cluster pressing with the juice going into stainless steel tanks, keeping a close eye on how much press juice goes into the finished wine. No sulfur goes into the juice. Fermentation, using native yeasts, is long and slow, sometimes finishing in the following spring. Towards the end of fermentation, he might add sulfur to kill bacteria, preventing malolactic fermentation and allowing the yeast to finish their job. Hobbs remarks that the climate of the Finger Lakes and his viticultural practices means he never needs to acidify the wine. With his name and his established projects all over the world, Paul Hobbs already has a robust distribution network for export. Though he made only 1,845 cases of Hillick and Hobbs Riesling in 2019 and only 1,765 cases in 2020, he’s already exporting it to Japan. He envisions expanding to other Asian countries and the U.K. soon. He hopes that exportation will help make the world realize the potential of the Finger Lakes region for distinctive, top-quality wine. Hillick & Hobbs has released two vintages, the 2019 and 2020, so far. Both are sensational (full tasting notes below). Riesling fans will love this duo of Riesling. Non-Riesling fans will be converted by them. They plan to release the 2021 in the spring of 2023.

It’s ironic that the winery is named, in part, after his previously tea-totaling mother. At least they no longer must drink Château D’Yquem from Dixie® cups.

The wines in this tasting

Hillick & Hobbs 2020 Riesling Estate Vineyard Seneca Lake New York USA                             96

Floral hints announce good things will follow. And they do. This stellar Riesling delivers alluring subtle peach-like nuances balanced by firmness and flintiness. It has substantial weight and density, but without a trace of heaviness. Electrifyingly dry, its riveting saline minerality amplifies the wine’s charms. Befitting an excellent wine, it blossoms as it sits in the glass. Deep and long, it finishes with a delectable hint of bitterness. (12.5% stated alcohol). Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Hillick & Hobbs Riesling 2019 Estate Vineyard Seneca Lake New York USA                              93

The 2019 was the first commercial vintage at Hillick & Hobbs. It’s slightly less explosively delightful than the glorious 2020, which may be a result of an extra year in the bottle, vintage variation, or just a learning curve. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting bone-dry Riesling that delivers a harmonious complexity of subtle fruitiness and stoniness. A delicate hint of white flowers on the nose complements its palate-cleansing edgy minerality. Like the 2020, it is long and refined. (12.5% stated alcohol). Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Michael Apstein’s Top Five Wines of 2021

Not all of these five wines qualify as the best –however you define “best”—wine I had in 2021. Instead, each of them taught me something. As a doctor—the word comes from the Latin docere, to teach—I do teach. I teach patients, students, and young physicians. But, I also like to be taught, so I chose these wines because they taught me something. Sometimes the very “best” wines are hard to describe. Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot’s legendary winemaker of forty vintages, once told me that sometimes words—trying to describe a wine—actually detract from the wine’s grandeur. I guess that’s the definition of truly indescribable. As you’ll see, many of these wines fit that description.

Catena Zapata 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata, Mendoza Argentina               97

Nicolás Catena Zapata has been credited with putting Argentinian wines on the world’s wine map. This wine, Nicolás Catena Zapata, the winery’s flagship, is a multi-vineyard, multi-variety blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grown in their high-altitude vineyards. The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata is bold, but not heavy. Its complexity is riveting. Each taste reminds you you’re in for a treat. Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which invites another sip. A youthful wine, to be sure, its texture and balance predicts a beautiful evolution. It taught me that those of us who focus on and gravitate towards European wines need to open our minds to other parts of the world. Drinking window: 2027-2037.

Domaine Michel Caillot 2014 Bourgogne Blanc Les Herbeux                       95

Founded in 1961 by Roger Caillot (Michel’s father), this Meursault-based estate has just over twelve hectares of vines spread over the Côte de Beaune, including a piece of Bâtard-Montrachet. This Bourgogne Blanc comes from a lieu-dit that lies within the geographic limits of the village of Meursault, but is not entitled to the Village Appellation. I purchased a 12-bottle case of it in early 2021 from Berman’s Wines and Spirits, an excellent Boston retailer, for about 20 US$ a bottle (it was likely being closed out, since it was a seven-year old “simple” Bourgogne Blanc.) I’ve happily consumed half the case already and look forward to the remainder this year. Startlingly expressive, it’s has both good weight and excellent energy. A few herbal notes actually come through, which I guess explains the name of the lieu-dit. It taught me that white Burgundy need not be expensive and that even wines from the less prestigious appellations when made by talented producers can evolve and develop. It reinforces my mantra: producer, producer, producer. This is a seven—soon to be eight—year old refined Bourgogne Blanc that has developed complexity. And so, 95 points for what it is. Drinking window: Drink now until who knows?

  1. Guigal 1990 Côte Rôtie La Mouline                            100

Guigal gets my vote as the Rhône’s best producer. The La Mouline vineyard, about one hectares set in an amphitheater, is planted with Syrah (roughly 90 percent) and Viognier, a white grape indigenous to the Rhône Valley. The vines are very old, some dating to the 1890s. The two varieties are harvested and fermented together, so the exact ratio of Viognier in any particular vintage is unknown and depends on the climatic conditions in any given year. Of the three La La’s, La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque, as they are known, La Mouline always gets my vote, likely because the Viognier in the blend provides finesse and refinement. I was fortunate to drink the 1990 La Mouline twice in 2021. Both times it was other-worldly. Meaty and spicy yet elegant and refined, it’s an explosive and captivating wine. Burgundy meets the Rhône! It taught me that one, I should have bought more of it back then when it was actually affordable, and two, wines can truly be magical. Drinking window: now—2025.

Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio 1961 Barbaresco                      100

Though today Mascarello is best-known for their gorgeous estate-grown Barolo, they actually purchased grapes for this Barbaresco. They stopped making Barbaresco in the early ‘80s after they acquired most of the Monprivato vineyard because they wanted to focus on estate wines, according to Fred Ek, his longtime U.S. importer. This was a magical wine, delivering the Burgundian sensibility of what I call “flavor without weight,” buttressed by Italian acidity, which kept it fresh and lively throughout the meal. It taught me that in the right hands—producer, producer, producer—fabulous wine can be made from purchased grapes. Drink now—why wait.

Ravines Wine Cellars 2017 Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard Finger Lakes New York State                               95

In its short two-decades of life, Ravines Wine Cellars is already making world-class Riesling. The Danish-born winemaker, Morten Hallgren, comes from a winemaking family—his parents own the top-notch Provence-based Domaine de Castel Roubine. Though the Castel Roubine produces no Riesling, Hallgren certainly understands that grape. Mineral-y and fresh, this Riesling has poise and penetration. The wine reminded me to look to the Finger Lakes region as a source of superb Riesling and that terroir matters, everywhere, because this single vineyard bottling stands head and shoulders about their multi-vineyard offering. Drinking window: now-2025.

Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc: Created by an Act of God

In this article, Michael Apstein tells the history, viticulture and winemaking side of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc. As well as a vertical tasting of the wines spanning close to 40 years.
by Michael Apstein

Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc is a rarity in Beaune, where 86 percent of the appellation’s vines are red. And among the whites in Beaune, few ever achieve the elegance and stature of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc. Moreover, though classified as a Beaune Premier Cru, Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc sells at prices closer to that of a Grand Cru. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of this famed vineyard by Maurice Drouhin, the son of Joseph Drouhin, who founded the house in 1880, so I thought it was a good excuse to taste a dozen vintages from my cellar, spanning the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, and make a pilgrimage there to discover what all the fuss was about.

Frédéric Drouhin, grandson of Maurice and along with his sister, Véronique, and two brothers, Philippe and Laurent, run this family-owned estate, explained the origin of this iconic wine, what many would consider the flagship of this venerable house. Just after the end of World War I, Maurice took over from his father what was a négociant firm at the time. By Frédéric’s description, he had a “quality-driven” personality. It’s abundantly clear that he was also a visionary. He anticipated that growers would eventually start to bottle their own wines, making it more difficult for négociants to have a steady supply of grapes and wine. So, he decided to buy vineyards. Travel was difficult in those days, which meant that working and maintaining a vineyard in the Côte de Nuits, though a more prestigious locale, was impractical. He opted for what he felt was the best site in Beaune to which he and the workers could walk.

In 1921, he started buying parcels in the Clos des Mouches, recognized as a top vineyard even before the official classification system came into effect. Bordering Pommard to the south, Clos des Mouches takes its name from the bees who came there to gather pollen. (Mouches, though literally “flies”, is Burgundian slang for bees). Bit by bit, Maurice acquired roughly just over half of the entire vineyard—40 different parcels comprising 14 ha (35.6 acres). At that time, the vineyard was planted almost exclusively with Pinot Noir, the grape for which Beaune was best known.  Maurice’s early task was to replant the vineyards following the devastation of WWI and phylloxera. He followed the tradition of the time by including a small percentage of white grapes—chiefly Chardonnay and Pinot Beurot (aka Pinot Gris). These whites would be harvested together with the reds and co-fermented to provide extra sugar to boost the final alcohol without adding significant flavor. Think of it as a kind of vineyard-based chaptalization necessary at a time when ripening Pinot Noir was always a challenge. That practice explains why, even today, there are white varieties co-mingled with reds in some Burgundy vineyards.

Southern wall of Clos des Miuches bordering Pommard

Maurice opted for Chardonnay and planted it in separate rows so it would be easier to care for the vines.  Then, in 1928, by a quirk of nature—an act of God—the Chardonnay ripened too late to be co-fermented with the Pinot Noir. Maurice, always a parsimonious farmer, decided to make two barrels of white “house” wine. When he tasted it, eureka, he realized he had something unique and excellent, so, starting in the 1930s, he replanted the entire vineyard equally with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a planting pattern that has remained to this day.

Standing in the vineyard, its heterogeneity is apparent. Its four terraces of vines display not so subtle differences of exposure, elevation, and vine age. Even a cursory glance at the ground by a non-geologist such as myself reveals soils and rocks of different colors that must harbor different minerals and nutrients. Some vines are planted in an east-west direction, while others have a north-south orientation.  Frédéric emphasizes that each of the 35 to 38 parcels receives individual care. They are harvested and vinified separately as often as possible.  Making the final blend from these different wines is like completing a puzzle, according to Frédéric, searching for just the right combination to create the Clos des Mouches style. The batches that do not make the cut for Clos des Mouches, usually about 20 to 30 percent, wind up as part of the blend for Drouhin’s Côte de Beaune, a small, 25-ha, appellation that is many cuts above the more well-known and much larger, Côte de Beaune-Villages.

Clos des Mouches looking east (Note the east-west orientation of the vines)
Clos des Mouches looking north (Note the north-south orientation of the vines)

The Drouhin family has a deep and emotional attachment to the vineyard. They bury their dogs there. It’s where Robert, Maurice’s son, always went to find worms when he went fishing. One year, according to Frédéric, he found no worms, which startled him. That revelation convinced him that they needed to move forward with organic viticulture to rejuvenate the soil, which they did starting in 1988.  Frédéric notes that Clos des Mouches has acted as a laboratory for biodynamic practices since their portion of the vineyard was large, contiguous, and devoid of “pollution” from their neighbors. Barely a decade later, in the mid-90s, Drouhin moved to biodynamic practices in Clos des Mouches, practices that have spread to the rest of their domaine. Now, they farm the entirety of their domaine biodynamically, according to Frédéric.

The diversity of rocks

The winemaking is simple and non-interventional. At Drouhin, they press the Chardonnay and give it a little skin contact, depending on the vintage, according to Frédéric. Then, the Clos des Mouches Blanc is fermented and aged in oak barrels made by a variety of coopers, about 25 percent of which are new. Drouhin clearly considers the vineyard and the wine Grand Cru, despite its official Premier Cru classification. The market does so as well, since their Clos des Mouches Blanc commands anywhere from a 50 to 100 percent premium over other producers’ wines from the same vineyard. Frédéric is quick to note, however, that that premium occurs in the marketplace since they price the wine only about 25 percent higher than their other Beaune Premier Crus. Consumers and the press often ask Frédéric why they don’t replace the Pinot Noir with Chardonnay since the Clos des Mouches Blanc commands a higher price, 25 to 30 percent more, than the Clos des Mouches Rouge. His succinct response: “Because we like it.” After tasting six vintages of the rouge with him, the 2019 to the 1978, I can see why!

I tasted the following dozen vintages of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc from my cellar in preparation for my visit to Maison Drouhin in Beaune last month,and then tasted a few more directly at the domaine. Although Frédéric opined that the Clos des Mouches Blanc started to enter its drinking phase at about seven years, the tasting of older vintages showed just how brilliantly they developed, providing great pleasure even at their 35th birthday and beyond. From these tastings, several things are clear: 1) Clos des Mouches Blanc has uncommon elegance and stature for a white wine from Beaune 2) Though fermented and aged in oak barrels, none of the wines, not even the youngest, tasted oaky. You felt the effects of oak—a suave richness—without tasting its presence. 3) Similar to white Grand Cru Burgundy, Clos des Mouches Blanc is tightly wound when young 4) It starts to unwind by age seven, reaches a plateau at about age ten to 12, and then remains there, depending on the vintage, for 30-plus years.

Clos des Mouches Blanc may have been created by an Act of God almost a century ago, but it is men and women—the Drouhin family— that have made their Clos des Mouches Blanc the Grand Cru-like icon it is today.

The wines: Going back four decades of Clos des Mouches Blanc, 1982-2019

Please note that all the wines in this report from the 2000 vintage (included) and younger I tasted in Drouhin’s cellar, except as noted, with Frédéric Drouhin in Beaune in September 2021. All wines in this report from vintages before 2000 came from my cellar. Relative to the drinking windows of some of the wines in this report, readers may be surprised to find that in many cases I have given the same year – 2025 – as the upper limit of my drinking window range, and this for wine of very different vintages. I have chosen 2025 despite the difference in freshness/acidity described in the tasting notes because I suspect that none of these wines will gain anything from further aging. Clearly, the question might well be the steepness of the decrease of the slope of their line of enjoyment—and most importantly, the provenance and storage of any bottle someone comes across.

(The photo credit for the bottles shot in this article goes to Dee McMeekan. All other photos in this article are by the author, Michael Apstein).

1982 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      92

Its apricot yellow almost orange color initially gives you pause. But its creamy, texture and freshness offer reassurance. Pleasure awaits. A subtle ginger-like spice offsets nuttiness and a hint of butterscotch. An amazing 39-year-old white Burgundy!  Véronique Drouhin, who oversees Domaine Drouhin Oregon, remembers that 1982 yielded a larger than average crop. Drink now.

1985 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      98

Though similar in color to the 1982, the 1985 is far fresher and brighter. It has less depth—there’s still plenty of stuffing—but far more elegance and precision. A hint of white pepper-like spice balances its minerality.  The wine displays a positively glorious combination of weight, finesse and persistence. A magical 36-year-old white Burgundy, the 1985 Clos des Mouches Blanc shows how wonderfully these wines can develop. 98 points. Drink now – 2025

1986 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

Don’t be put off by the deep color of these mature white Burgundies. Similarly orange colored, the ’86 displays even more energy than the ‘85, but somehow with less finesse and minerality. Surprisingly, it conveys more mature notes—more subtle apricots—compared to the ‘85. But, frankly, we’re counting angels on the head of a pin. The 1986 delivers similar overall pleasure, especially as it sits in the glass! Apparently, it just needs time to open after 34 years! The ginger-like spice, which is becoming a signature of this wine to me, appears in the finish. Drink now – 2025

1987 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      80

The darker orange of the ’87 is suspicious and does not bode well. Unsurprisingly, given the vintage, this wine is disjointed and clearly on the downside.

1988 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

A dark straw color suggests the 1988 is back on track. And, indeed, one sip confirms it.  Great acidity imparts a wonderfully uplifting freshness that balances a subtle nuttiness and honeyed richness. Minerality persists as does a white pepper-like spice. The acidity in the finish amplifies its appeal. You’d be hard pressed to determine the age of this elegant wine in a blind tasting. Drinking window: Drink now – 2025

1989 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      94

Despite its orange-tint, the 1989 shows no sign of fatigue. Quite the contrary. Fresh and lively, it displays a balanced combination of delicately dried fruit and that ginger-like spice atop a suave texture. Good depth and refreshing citrus notes in the finish just expands its appeal. Its elegance is still apparent at three decades of age. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1990 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      95

With its concentration, the 1990 still, at 31 years of age, displays the ripeness of that vintage. Brilliant acidity keeps the caramel and honeyed notes in this orange-colored wine in check. Spicy nuances also provide balance. It’s an intriguing and harmonious combination of honey, spice, and citrus. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1991 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

The medium to dark straw color suggests less ripeness and maturity compared to the 1990.  The palate confirms that initial impression. The caramel-y notes are still present, but it’s more elegant and racier. At 30 years of age, this is a seductively mature, yet fresh wine. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1992 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      91

Darker yellow than the 1991, with a tinge of orange, the 1992 displays caramel notes, but without the zestiness of the 1991. Still, it’s surprisingly good and fresh, especially considering the less than wonderful vintage. Drinking window: Now. Drink up.

1993 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      —

Sadly, the 1993, from a reputedly excellent vintage, was badly oxidized.

1994 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      —

A straw yellow without a hint of orange correctly predicted the fresh, slightly creamy and mineral-y character of the 1994. A firm structure nicely offset its honeyed, but not sweet, richness.  Ginger-like spice appeared with air. But after an hour in the glass, the bright straw yellow color turned orange and clear oxidation appeared on the palate.  I’ve never seen a wine oxidize in front of me. It went from a 94 to a 74-point wine in an hour. Drinking window: Now, but quickly.

1998 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      85

The brass-colored 1998 showed far better than expected considering the vintage. Lemony acidity imbued life and a hint of ginger-like spice added complexity.  But overall, it lacked both amplitude or excitement. Drinking window: Past its prime. Drink up, if you have any.

2000 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      93

The 2000, from a lighter vintage, is, nonetheless, lovely, and still fresh. Reflecting the vintage, it displays less of a presence, but a tell-tale ginger-like spice still appears. This is an elegant, gentle wine that’s mature, yet still fresh. Frédéric points out that they had only recently begun biodynamic practices in the vineyard, so they had less of an impact on the wines from this vintage. Drinking window: Now – 2025

2006 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

Frédéric describes the 2006s as “charming.” He explains that a lightning storm forced an earlier than anticipated harvest of the Chardonnay. For reasons he could not explain, lightning damages Chardonnay, but not Pinot Noir, grapes, making it a rare year in which they harvested in Chablis before the Côte d’Or. It was the first year for their current technical director/winemaker, Jérôme Faure-Brac. At 15 years of age, this Clos des Mouches Blanc was sensational, mature, yet fresh and precise. Dried stone fruit flavors and a hint of spice filled out its honeyed, yet not sweet, richness. Enlivening acidity in the finish amplified its stature. Drinking window: Now – 2030

2010 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      85

Sadly, the darker color of the 2010, from a great vintage, suggested premature aging. That mature character carried through on the palate, pushing it over the top. Surprisingly, with air, it started to regain vibrancy, but never showed the grandeur expected from this vineyard in a great year. The pieces were there—good acidity, a touch of spice—but they never came together. Drinking window: Based on this bottle, drink now. But I suspect it was the odd, off, bottle, so I would not generalize regarding drinking window based on this one sample.

2014 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

As Frédéric predicted, a hint of maturity was just starting to peek out at seven years of age.  This wine has a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. A subtle and engaging nuttiness complements the stone fruit flavors and spice-y notes. A creamy texture adds a luxuriousness without overwhelming. Riveting acidity in the long finish intensifies its stature. Frédéric, with typical Gallic understatement, sums it up succinctly, “Ca c’est bon.”  (This one, it’s good). The fly in the ointment is the extremely small quantities—they lost 90 percent of the Chardonnay—due to a severe frost and hail that year. Drouhin was forced to release the Clos des Mouches Blanc in three-packs! Frédéric warned that some on the market currently could be fake. Drinking window: 2025 – 2035

2017 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      92

The 2017, the product of a cooler and wetter year, is the least exuberant of the ‘17/’18/’19 trio. The characteristic stone fruit and ginger-like spice is there, but partially hidden at this stage. The balance is superb, nothing sticks out, so I suspect the wine is just in a “closed stage.” I expect to see it blossom nicely in a few more years. Drinking window: 2025 – 2035

2018 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      93

As expected of a top-notch young white Burgundy, it was tight, like a coiled spring ready to unleash its energy. This clean and chiseled wine had remarkable acidity, especially considering the warmth of the vintage. Minerals, a hint of stone fruit, and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reinforce its stature. Its elegance persisted the following day after being left in the fridge overnight. (this sample I tasted at home for a Zoom® tasting sponsored by Drouhin in June, 2021). Drinking window: 2028 – 2038

2019 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

Véronique explains in an e-mail that they kept the 2019 in barrel longer than usual because of the quality of the lees. She continues, “The quality of the lees was stunning and kept nourishing the wine bringing volume, complexity and length. It kept getting better and better so we let it [remain undisturbed] until . . . it was time to blend all [the] barrels. Once that was done we waited another couple of weeks before bottling it.” This prolonged barrel-aging helps explain the wine’s great texture and length. It’s richness and elegance are compelling, yet it’s not an overdone wine.  Delicate spiciness—again a hint of ginger comes through—and an uplifting finish add excitement to the 2019. Tasted next to Drouin’s 2019 Corton-Charlemagne, the Clos des Mouches Blanc was lighter, but no less penetrating and persistent. Drinking window: 2029 – 2050

Michael Apstein

Michael Apstein has written about wine for over three decades. As a free-lance writer, he has written over 300 wine columns for The Boston Globe newspaper. His writing has also appeared in a variety of U.S., Canadian, and U.K. publications, including Decanter, The San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Magazine, and Wine and Spirits. Furthermore, he has been a regular guest commentator on Whitley on Wine, a radio show based in San Diego and broadcast nationally. Over the course of his career, Michael, who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Division of Gastroenterology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, has received numerous awards, including a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award in 2000 the Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne Press Trophy in 2008. Michael also judges frequently at numerous international and national wine competitions and is a well-respected wine educator who taught at the Boston Center for Adult Education for 20 years, an activity for which Bon Appetit magazine chose him as one of five instructors nationwide whose “focused classes closely examine a specific wine producing region or wine style.”

What am I Drinking Now? Domaine Louis Jadot 1985 Bonnes Mares

Louis Jadot 1985 Bonnes Mares                                    98


Chambolle-Musigny is home to two grand cru vineyards: Musigny, whose name was appended to the village’s original name in the nineteenth century, and Bonnes Mares (the latter name is almost always written with a hyphen between the words Bonnes and Mares, but at Louis Jadot they prefer the spelling without it, as you can see from the photo of this wine’s label). A decade ago, François Millet, long time winemaker at Comte de Vogüé, compared the two wines while we were tasting them in the cellar: “Bonnes Mares grabs you, while Musigny gently takes you by the hand to lead you.” Less poetically, Bonnes Mares is more muscular and powerful, displaying more black fruit compared to the more red-fruited and floral Musigny. Though expensive like all Burgundy grand crus, Bonnes Mares is, dare I say, a bargain compared to Musigny, which usually sells for at least twice the price. Indeed, Bonnes Mares is occasionally less expensive even than Chambolle’s most famous premier cru, Les Amoureuses, which abuts Musigny.

Bonnes Mares, one of Burgundy’s thirty-three grand cru vineyards, is unique. It’s the only Côte de Nuits grand cru that spans two villages, Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-St. Denis.  The vineyard faces east and lies on a slope that ranges in elevation from 250 to 280 meters above sea level. Ninety percent of its 15.06 hectares lie in Chambolle, while the remainder extends into Morey. Most of the roughly twenty-five producers have vines in both villages though Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair makes a Bonnes Mares exclusively from its vines in Morey-St. Denis. Some could argue Bonnes Mares should have two appellations, based not on the village boundaries but rather based on its different soil compositions: About one-third of the vineyard has white soil, while the remainder has a darker soil. A diagonal line that runs from the northeast corner of the vineyard to the border with the premier cru Les Fuées on the southwest demarcates these two basic soil types, with the white soil lying at the top of the slope. Importantly, Domaine Louis Jadot has a long narrow strip of vineyard that goes from the base to the top of the slope, encompassing both soil types. The Jadot holding of 0.27 hectares in Bonnes Mares dates back to 1985 at the time of its acquisition of the Clair-Daü estate. As part of that acquisition, Jadot also acquired plots in Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Musigny, Les Amoureuses, and Clos Vougeot, making it the most significant transfer of top vineyards in modern Burgundy history. In fact, Maison Louis Jadot bottled Bonnes Mares as a négociant prior to 1985, but the 1985 is the first vintage of Bonnes Mares bottled under the Domaine Louis Jadot label (estate-owned vineyards).

Domaine Louis Jadot’s 1985 Bonnes Mares is quintessential Burgundy, what I call “flavor without weight.” Explosive mineral-like dark flavors appear while the wine dances on the palate, light as a feather. Even at thirty-five years of age, it remains fresh, continuing to evolve in the glass throughout the meal. Each sip brings new delight. The seductive texture of Chambolle speaks loud and clear as its prominent tannic structure of youth has melted away. There’s a grandeur to this wine. What a way to be grabbed! Drink now and over the next decade.

What am I Drinking Now? Pernot Belicard

Pernot Belicard 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or

Domaine Pernot Belicard is a name to remember because it will soon be included among the top names for white wine in all of Burgundy. The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, grandson of Paul Pernot, a legendary producer in Puligny-Montrachet. Philippe started in the family cellars at a young age, so even though he is still a young man, he has plenty of experience—not to mention a superb teacher—behind him. Belicard is his wife’s family name and with their marriage came the vineyards, which had been in the family for decades. Prior to their marriage, the family either sold grapes or leased their vineyards. In 2008, Philippe took over his in-laws’ domaine and used those grapes for his wines. He is letting the leases on the other family vineyards expire so he can increase production in the future. Eventually, he should inherit some of his own family’s vineyards too, expanding Pernot-Belicard even further. Given the quality of his wines, that is good news for consumers.

The Pernot Belicard domaine is small, only 4.5 hectares, and, at this stage, produces only about 30,000 bottles of white wine. The vineyards are mostly in Puligny-Montrachet, where he has seven plots that he blends to achieve a harmonious expression of a village Puligny-Montrachet. In some vintages he bottles an exceptional Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes from one of the plots. He also has small parcels in three of that village’s Premier Crus: Champ Gain, Champ Canet, and Perrières. All three of his Puligny Premier Crus are chiseled, distinct and reflect their respective sites. He also has vines in Meursault from which he makes a spectacular Meursault Vieilles Vignes and a stunning Meursault Les Perrières-Dessous. He produces a small amount of elegant white Beaune Premier Cru from the from Pertuisots. With the 2018 vintage, Philippe added a little Aligoté and additional village Puligny-Montrachet from his family’s holdings.

The grapes for this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or come from six plots totaling 2.3 ha on the lower portion of the slope just outside of the boundary of the Puligny-Montrachet village appellation. With the 2017 vintage, Philippe opted to use the new regional appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or to indicate that all the grapes came from vineyards within the Côte d’Or as opposed to the broader labeling, Bourgogne Blanc, which encompasses vineyards throughout all of Burgundy.

The grapes for the 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or, like all his grapes, are hand-harvested. Half of the juice is fermented and aged in older oak barrels—the other half in stainless steel tanks. He performs no batonnage and, in keeping with his low-intervention philosophy that the wine should reflect the site, he explains that the wine determines when the malolactic occurs—sometimes in November, sometimes in January. If necessary, he performs a soft fining and filtration before bottling. Pernot Belicard’s firm and mineral-y 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or displays good depth and definition, punching far above its weight category. With exceptional length and stature rarely seen in a regional wine, it delivers more enjoyment that many producers’ Puligny-Montrachets. And—at half the price (roughly USD 30). Drink now and over the next five years.

Since all of Pernot-Belicard’s 2017s are top-notch, I recommend buying whatever you can find and afford. He also succeeded admirably with the 2018s by harvesting early, the end of August, to capture the acidity, which makes those wines easy to recommend as well. I highlight this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or because it takes real talent to make a sensational wine from less exalted terroir—and it’s a bargain.

What Am I Drinking Now? Ridge Vineyards 1994 Monte Bello

A word from the Editor-in-Chief

Please join me in giving a BIG welcome to Michael Apstein, one of the most passionate and nicest people in wine, not to mention erudite. I do not use the word “erudite” lightly: believe me, no other word could be more apt (in fact, in this case, you might even say “Apst” ): for Apstein, Michael, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and one heck of a good doctor and teacher (trust me, I know); but one with over 300 wine columns under his belt for the Boston Globe daily. His first of what I hope will be an interminable of pieces at TerroirSense offers a glimpse into his writing style: clean, scientific, and to the point (there’s the doctor), very easy to understand and learn from (there’s the teacher) and just plain fun to read and enjoyable (there’s the good writer). I have always been fascinated by how well California wine ages, a trait that I do not believe goes recognized or gets appreciated as much as perhaps it should. Please do tell us what your thoughts are on the subject and Michael will be happy to respond, and I might chime in too, as after all all us wine geeks love a lively wine discussion. And make sure to also follow Michael if you like on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein. Welcome Michael!

– Ian D’Agata, TerroirSense Wine Review Editor-in-Chief

Ridge Vineyards 1994 Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains         96

Without question, Ridge Vineyards is among the best producers in California. Their Monte Bello, their single vineyard Bordeaux-blend first produced with the 1962 vintage, is one of California’s greatest wines. At twenty-six years of age, the 1994 Monte Bello demonstrates the stature of the wines from this vineyard.

The Monte Bello vineyard is comprised of four ranches, Perrone, Torre, Rousten, and Klein, lying between 510-820 meters above sea level (or 1700-2700 feet) in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco. Both its elevation and proximity—just twenty-four kilometers or fifteen miles—to the Pacific Ocean explains its cool microclimate, which at first glance might be less than ideal for red Bordeaux varieties. But there’s sufficient heat during the day to achieve ripeness and the cool temperatures at night preserve the grapes’—and hence, the wine’s—acidity. The clay atop limestone soil, which is very different from the soils of other sites well-known for Cabernet Sauvignon in California, such as Napa and Sonoma Valleys, contributes to the wine’s uniqueness.

Ridge produces two wines from this property, an Estate Cabernet, which is more approachable in its youth, and Monte Bello, which Paul Draper, Ridge’s longtime winemaker who retired in 2006, advises needs a decade of age to show its complexity.

In 1994, a cool wet spring delayed set and, as a result, harvest, which started with Merlot on October 1, was late by today’s standards. The remaining varieties were picked between October 18 and 28. For comparison, the grapes for the 2018 Monte Bello were harvested roughly a month earlier.

The winemaking is non-interventional or, as Draper refers to it, “pre-industrial.” They use native yeasts and allow malolactic fermentation to proceed naturally. The wine is aged in oak barrels, mostly French, but with a little American oak as well. The only intervention is a strict selection of grapes and wines that go into the final blend of Monte Bello.

Always a Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blend, the 1994 Monte Bello was the first vintage in which it comprised less than 75% of the blend and another three grapes—Merlot (15%), Petit Verdot (9%) and Cabernet Franc—were included.  At 26 years of age, it remains youthful and fresh.  Flavors—initially plummy—evolve as it sits in the glass. A gorgeous olive-tinged savory aspect emerges. During the meal over a couple of hours, each sip brings new delight. This wine is not fading. For all its muscular power, there’s not a trace of heaviness. Indeed, its elegance is startling. The suave tannins impart a silky texture. Weighing in at a modest 12.7% stated-alcohol reminds us that you do not need super ripe grapes to make a super wine. Drinking window: now-2031.