Chateau le Puy, Patrick et Christophe Bonnefond, Marc Hebrart, Domaine Henri Jouan
While sticking with the Bastille Day theme for this week’s newsletter and selecting wines for the blog, it was difficult not to contemplate what has happened in the French wine industry over the nearly 230 years since the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Between plagues, pests, and politics, the modern era has not been exactly kind to the vineyards of France and so, while reviewing some of this week’s featured bottlings, I’d like to take a second and comment on some of the incredible histories these bottles contain under their corks.
Duc de Nauves, Cotes de Bordeaux, 2016 – $32.99
The Duc de Nauves is the “second wine” from the extraordinary estate of Chateau le Puy located in the right bank’s distant satellite appellation of the Cotes de Bordeaux Francs. This wine is made naturally with only native yeasts for fermentation, minimal to no sulfur added, and of course no filtration before bottling. The ingenious, circulating, multi-tank method employed by the chateau during fermentation ensures a gentle extraction of tannin and flavor from the grapes and creates wines with impressive nuance and velvety tannins. The blend is 70% Merlot, 20% Cab Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and it exudes freshness and approachability while still having enough structure to encourage a few more patient-years in the bottle. This is an absolute staff favorite.
I’d argue that the region of Bordeaux has the most intriguing and politically complex history of any french wine-producing region with, perhaps, the exception of Alsace. It has been ruled over by a dizzying number of foreign powers including but not limited to the Celts, Romans, British (to this day, you might be surprised by the number of English surnames to be found in the region), Arab Invaders, Germans and to some extent, financially at least, the Dutch.
The proximity of the region to the Atlantic Ocean and thus, the international market supplied the region with a commercial advantage over other appellations in France. As time passed, this edge over the competition has translated into a constant flow of capital into the region, and today, the marquee wineries are less likely to be owned by single families but rather run by a managing group backed by massive conglomerates and partnerships. Beyond the usual division between the Cabernet dominant left bank and the Merlot dominant right bank, there is also a push and pull in the region stylistically between the oaky luxurious style and the rustic terroir-driven wines.
Patrick et Christophe Bonnefond, Colline de Couzou, Cote Rotie, 2009 – $69.99
The Colline de Couzou is Patrick and Christophe Bonnefond’s inaugural vintage of this replacement for its Classique Cote Rotie. The Bonnefond brothers typically employ lower amounts of new oak than other properties in the Cote Rotie and this bottling saw 18 months in barrel of which was 10% was new. This 100% Syrah wine is jumping with pepper, bacon fat, flowers, cassis, and dirt as you’d expect from any wine from this region. The judicious amount of new oak allows full expression of the terroir. At this price, it is an absolute steal for a wine of this caliber and from vintage this highly lauded.
Syrah from the Rhone has an interesting history and it is not a coincidence that this wine follows the Bordeaux above. Throughout the 19th century, it was common for wines (typically Syrah from the Northern Rhone and later, wines from Algeria) to be blended into both Burgundies and Bordeaux to enhance the structure and color of the final product. This history is no secret, however. The highly acclaimed Chateau Palmer releases, on occasion, a Cuvee named “XIX Century” which makes an homage to this era and includes approximately 15% Syrah from the Rhone into it’s Bordeaux blend.
Domaine Henri Jouan, Gevery-Chambertain, Aux Echezeux, 2009 – $93.99
The Jouan’s land holdings total around three hectares of vineyards which are divided into 10 distinct parcels spread out over the five different crus they produce. They are a small but traditional house and their winemaking process is simple, direct, and honest as the wines are pressed, pushed quickly through malo, racked off the lees, aged, and bottled unfiltered. They swear they haven’t changed a thing about how they make wine over the last 50 years. Over the entirety of those five decades, they have sold the majority of their fruit to the negociant Maison Joseph Drouhin. These wines are not ostentatious, they are expressive and worthy of exploration. Burgundy club anyone?
Domaine Henri Jouan, Chambolle Musigny, 2005 – $93.99
Chambolle Musigny, sandwiched in the heart of the Cote de Nuits between Vougeot and Morey Saint-Denis (where they are based), and just a stone’s throw from Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanee, offers some of the most exquisite, aromatically lifted pinot noirs produced in the world. This village-level wine from the incredible 2005 vintage is stunning in its ample aromatics and sinuous texture and begs the question – would you rather by a premier cru in an off-vintage or a village level wine from an epic vintage? My answer is that if Henri Jouan and his son Phillipe are making it, I’ll take whatever I can get, and at this time, it’s epic wine from an epic vintage.
The French Revolution and Napoleon’s dissolution of the church’s land-holdings had lasting effects in Burgundy as private citizens moved into the region and picked up where the monks had left off. Further complicating the issue of new vineyard ownership in the region was the creation of the Napoleonic Code which had provisions to ensure that siblings inherit equal parts of a family’s estate rather than the totality of it going to the eldest son. While the benefits of this code are not hard to imagine, in Burgundy the repercussions of it can be seen in the fact that often times, just one person might be the sole owner of a whopping 2 rows of vines in a particular Grand Cru vineyard.
Marc Hebrart Brut Rose Premier Cru – $61.99
I simply can’t word this better than Peter Liem when he says, “Hébrart’s wines have a broad appeal: if you like to think about your wines, they’re intellectually engaging enough to satisfy you; on the other hand, if you’re just looking to drink, they’re simply delicious. The wines are full and generous without being weighty, complex, and soil-driven without being demanding. Overall, the entire range is of consistently high quality, and represents excellent value for the money.”
The region of Champagne saw some of the worst fighting of WWI and a fair amount during WWII as the Germans occupied the area for four long years. The winemakers from this region long for ripeness every year as rain, hail and cold threaten to wipe out their crops. It’s truly astounding how a region that has seen so much destruction and precariously balances year-in and year-out on the precipice of crop destruction can produce wines that inspire so much celebration and exuberance and pair so incredibly well with jubilation.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Champagne is spilled in Paris should Sunday’s World Cup Final go in the direction of the French. If not, expect to hear a lot about Croatian wines next week.
Cheers, and thank you for reading, hope to see you around the shop soon,