If you do not know Chassagne Montrachet red, you are missing one of the great pleasures of Pinot in Burgundy. This lieu dit 'Champs de Morgeot' is lush and spicy, with a totally different spin on the Pinot Noir from further north in Volnay and Pommard. Luscious and juicy, in the hands of the Borgeot brothers this is a gem of a Pinot, with great structure and density infused with black fruits.
The Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, have great 'touch' with Chardonnay, producing classy and distictive village and 1er cru wines in Burgundy's 'golden triangle' of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. But Santenay is home turf, and their wines from there and the Cotes Chalonnaise just to the south are undiscovered gems and also well worth a look.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
COTE DE BEAUNE
In the very south of the Côte de Beaune. Chassagne-Montrachet is one of the triumvirate in the 'golden traingle' of white Burgundy (with Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault). The broad hillside that it shares with Puligny brings out an extraordinary expression of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In Chassagne, they are grown side by side, such is the complexity of the terroir. The zone includes some plots in the neighboring village of Remigny which shares the same soil conditions. Extensive marble quarries which form a cliff face in the vineyards, are the source of the stone that went into the building of the Trocadero in Paris and more recently the Louvre Pyramid.
Produced in the communes of Chassagne-Montrachet and Remigny, the appellation Chassagne-Montrachet includes 55 premiers crus. The commune of Chassagne-Montrachet also produces 3 grands crus: Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet and Criot-Batard-Montrachet.
White Chassagne Montrachet can be one of the world's great Chardonnays. At its best it is glittering gold with hints of green. Aromas of honeysuckle and hazelnut with a citrus acidity in youth. Deep, smokey gun-flint minerality. Notes of honey and fleshy pear. Luscious attack, round and decadent with the minerality carrying the mid-palate through to a long finish.
Red Chassagne Montrachet (sadly more and more rare in the shadow of white Chassagne's popularity) can have one of the most beautiful and brilliant robes of all of the Cote de Beaune. The nose is cherry and nutty cherry pit with spicy notes and Pinot savagery with age. There can be great substance to a Chassagne red, a depth that can be overlooked because of the prettiness of the fruit. Young tannins can be austere, or at least used to be. The modern Chassagne red tends to be more fruit forward and open.
At altitudes between 220 and 325 meters, the succession of rocks from the top down is first rauracien then callovien and finally argovien. The soil of the various climats range from pebbly limestone, through marls, to sandy soils with a Jurassic basis.
White wines - Chardonnay
Red wines - Pinot Noir
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Whites : 187.16 ha (including 116.60 ha premier cru)
Reds : 114.27 ha (including 33.43 ha Premier Cru)
The opulence and power of the whites work well with delicate white meats such as poultry or veal. Fish, either in well-spiced couscous or in curries or stir-fries, are also well-suited. Salmon, in itself highly aromatic, works particularly well. The premiers crus will complement crayfish, lobster, or even foie gras.
Chassagne reds can be powerful, despite the first impression of freshness and fruit. This makes it a good match with quality cuts of meat such as grilled or roast lamb, grilled pork and spicy meat dishes in general. The premier crus can go to game birds.
The following climats are classified premier cru:
Abbaye de Morgeot
Bois de Chassagne
Chassagne du Clos Saint-Jean
Dent de Chien
La Grande Borne
La Grande Montagne
Les Champs gain
Les Grandes Ruchottes
Les Grands Clos
Les Petites Fairendes
Les Petits Clos
Tête du Clos
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard known as a lieu-dit:
Bouchon de Corvée
Champs de Morjot
Dessous les Mues
Le Clos Reland
Le Concis du Champs
Le Poirier du Clos
Les Grandes Terres
Les Meix Goudard
Les Plantes Momières
Les Voillenots Dessous
Plante du Gaie
Plante Saint Aubin