Another World

Jun 12, 2006

Day 8, June 10: This day, I journeyed to another world, the Maconnais. I fell in love with the rolling hills, steep valleys and the imposing limestone outcroppings, the most famous of which is Le Solutré. But first, a much-anticipated visit with Christophe Perrot-Minot, who is crafting some of the sexiest wines in the Côte d’Or today.

Chez Perrot-Minot, the tasting is done in the arched tasting room; samples of the 2004 and 2005 vintages have been prepared ahead of time. Both vintages, tasted non-blind, are a success here.

The 2004 vintage was challenging, in that each cluster contained unripe grapes, grapes with bitter, dry tannins and ripe, healthy grapes, according to Perrot-Minot. Not to mention the vineyards damaged by hail. Consequently, a huge amount of time was devoted to sorting berry by berry, employing 14 people and 2 sorting tables.

The Vosne-Romanée Les Beaux Monts, a premier cru, is a big step up from the village wines, all floral perfume, cherry and mineral with great finesse. The Chambolle-Musigny La Combe d’Orveau continues this theme, with even more silkiness and detail. The Nuits-St.-Georges La Richemone Ultra takes everything to another level. Made from a parcel of vines planted in 1909 (with millerand berries), this has extraordinary richness, harmony, black cherry, mineral and spice flavors. It sets the stage for the grands crus, whetting the palate for the complex, resonant Chambertin Clos de Bèze, with its sweet cherry, blackberry, floral and mineral notes and an expansive Chambertin of tremendous richness and length.

The range is even more impressive in 2005, despite not all the wines having finished malolactic fermentation. But I get a real sense of the different terroirs and the character of the wines, if not all the details and layers that will come with time.

The Nuit-St.-Georges Ultra again set the pace, already showing unbelievable silkiness, harmony and concentration. The Mazoyères Chambertin is more masculine than the Ultra, with an intense black currant note and dense tannins. The Chambertin, a coulis of black fruits, also offers floral and mineral elements, fine intensity and length. In 2005, Perrot-Minot made a Clos Vougeot from the Domaine René Engel parcel of old vines just below the château. It‘s ripe, elegant and precise, with red berries and mineral flavors.

The Maconnais is an hour from the Côte d’Or via the autoroute. You are almost immediately surrounded by vineyards, but unlike the famous escarpment to the north, here the vines have several exposures and the appellations are large and vary from place to place in quality. The soils are similar—the classic argilo-calcaire (a mix of clay and limestone)—but the limestone is more chalky in places.

Olivier Merlin makes very pure Chardonnays from a 25-acre domaine and from purchased grapes, for which he he contracts parcels of vineyards and manages the vines. Everything is picked by hand; 80 percent of the vinification of whites is in wood and 100 percent for the reds.

We tasted several 2005s from barrel. Merlin makes 3 different cuvées of Mâcon from his vineyards near the winery in La Roche Vineuse and 4 cuvées of Pouilly-Fuissé. The Pouilly-Fuissé Terroir de Vergisson is firm and minerally; the Pouilly-Fuissé Clos des Quart is rich, round, fleshy and long.

Château Fuissé is one of the leaders in the region, with 120 different plots of vines spread over 74 acres in the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. It is very much a family domaine, with Jean-Jacques Vincent, son Antoine and son-in-law Philip Tuinder at the helm.

Tasting in the cellars is a vinous tour of the appellation. I tasted almost 2 dozen components of what will become either the Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru, Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes or one of the two single crus, Le Clos and Les Brûlées. It was fascinating going from a flinty, mineral Chardonnay grown on limestone to one with power and weight from clay soils. There were casks of wine from 20-year-old vines and casks of wine from 55-, 60- and 79-year old vines, the last from the oldest parcel of Le Clos behind the estate. We tasted from new barrels and older barrels. Each one provides a different component of the blend.

And the final wines develop wonderful complexity and harmony with age. The Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2002 is still a baby, revealing honey, quince, lemon and mineral flavors with fine richness and length. The Vieilles Vignes 1996 is very exotic, with apricot notes and opulent profile, yet backed by the firm structure of the vintage and a long mineral-tinged finish. It still needs a few more years. The Vieilles Vignes 1979 is mature, with a complex truffle, anise and tropical fruit bouquet. The palate picks up lanolin and mineral notes. It’s well balanced.

France Burgundy

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