Domaine Borgeot Chassagne-Montrachet 'Vieilles Vignes' 2016
The Domaine Borgeot makes one of the purest and most consistent styles in Chassagne-Montrachet today. This village Chassagne comes from 50 year old vines, and it's fat. But by no means flabby. With orange flower richness and dusty minerality and good acidity to hold it all in suspension, this wine (as is often the case with Borgeot wines) drinks way above its appellation. There is a spiciness that almost reminds you of muscat, but the structure says Borgeot.
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 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
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