Capitain Gagnerot Saint Romain 'Au Bas de Poillange' 2016
This parcel of Saint Romain ‘Au Bas de Poillange’ is relatively new to the Maison Capitain, and it has become the pet project of Patrice’s son, Pierre-Francois, who works it with strict organic methods. What’s most interesting is that the Capitains know well the minerality of the Corton Mountain. But this Saint Romain is something all its own. Floral with racy stony freshness. It’s a tiny production of about 3000 bottles a year.
Anybody who has followed us since our start in early 1996 knows the Maison Capitain-Gagnerot in Ladoix-Serrigny. We have seen three generation now. Roger Capitain was our first mentor in Burgundy, and we learned our craft leaning against a wine barrel, soaking up his wisdom and discussing his inimitable wines. His sons Patrice and Michel, and now Patrice's son Pierre Francois (the whole family, really), carry on a tradition that is most easily described as a style. There is no mistaking a Capitain wine. Once you know it, you can pick one out just in the bouquet. It's a purity. And it's our benchmark in Burgundy.
BURGUNDY 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
Remember, this was a tough one for Burgundy. For some producers, it was the fourth consecutive year that their vineyards were damaged and their yields were low. There had not been a ‘normal’ crop since 2009, so their cellars were empty. And when we talk of 50% crop loss, that’s an average across the region. Some areas had zero crop.
So when we get excited about the quality of the 2016s, we need a little restraint as well. Not everyone did the meticulous vineyard work that was necessary to get through the horrible start. As always, if you want to find the best wines, you need to know the best producers. Another important consideration in a low-yield vintage is the shortage of grapes, which means that the big negociant houses can have trouble sourcing fruit. Be careful with negociant wines in 2016. Buy from tried-and-true producers.
COTE DE BEAUNE
Saint Romain stands at the foot of an impressive rock outcrop, with a magnificent view out over the Saone River valley and across the vineyards below. Because of this commanding position, there have been settlements on this spot since early pre-historic times. And so some of the earliest plantations of vines were in this protected narrow valley, just off-line from the main escarpment of the Côte d’Or to the west of Auxey-Duresses. Above and beyond the village are vineyards classified Hautes Côtes de Beaune. Appellation Saint Romain can be either white or red, and the grapes are the traditional Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Produced in the commune of Saint Romain, the appellation Saint Romain has no premiers or grands crus. However, many wines mention the name of the single-vineyard (climat) from which they originate.
There are several distinct soil zones in the valley leading up to the village of Saint Romain. Coming up the valley from Auxey-Duresses, vines on the left are apt to be Pinot Noir. On the right in a south-facing amphitheater, you find the majority of the village vineyards. And here there is a distinct difference in soil make up, with the hills flanking to the left being better for Chardonnay. Traditionally, Saint Romain was white, but producers have found parcels that work well for Pinot, so that today white accounts for about 55% of the production.
Chardonnay benefits from a rich vein of limestone here (calcaire actif) that gives Saint Romain whites a distinctive freshness in their minerality. Lemony notes are frequently lime tinted. And white floral notes are common.
Pinot Noir shows itself as ruby red in youth with red fruit notes of raspberry and cherry. These wines drink well young, especially in riper years, with forward fruit and spicy mineral notes. They have aging potential up to 10 years.
Notably higher (at between 350-410 meters) and cooler than the rest of the Cote d’Or, these vineyards have the potential to produce a style of Burgundy all their own. With a very interesting mix of geologic strata based on lias from the earliest Jurassic period, we get swirls of limestone and marl, notably calcaire actif that is particularly interesting for Chardonnay and produces a specific minerality completely different from other zones of white Burgundy production.
Red wines - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds: 39.22 ha
Whites: 57.03 ha
The freshness in the minerality of Saint Romain white makes it a perfect aperitif wine. But it also lends itself to preparations similar to those you choose for Chablis. Escargot, goat cheese, shellfish in general and oysters in particular. Saint Romain reds can be elegant and velvety, but are often most appreciated for the lustiness of youth. Perfumed and spicy, it goes well with white meats and veal, and roasted birds.
The following are village climats:
Au Bas de Poillange
La Croix Neuve
Le Dos d'Ane
Le Village Bas
Le Village Haut
Sous la Velle
Sous le Château