Domaine Gilles Bouton Chassagne Montrachet Voillenots Dessus Blanc 2019
The vineyard sits in the heart of Chassagne-Montrachet, actually the name is an old reference to the ‘Neighborhood’ due to the proximity to the village houses. Complex citrus notes transform into fresh just ripe peach with subtle notes of smoke and spice. This wine feels alive!!
We met Gilles Bouton back in the days of our hotel-barge Le Papillon when we were cruising the inland waterways in search of the real Burgundy. I remember the first taste of his Saint-Aubin 1er Cru ‘en Remilly’, thinking we had discovered the best deal in white Burgundy ever.
Gilles Bouton took the reins of his maternal grandfather’s 4 hectare (9.6 acre) domain in 1977. The holding now totals 15 hectares (36 acres) and is spread out over four villages (Saint Aubin, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault) all prime property in the so-called Golden Triangle of white Burgundy.
Gilles was joined by his son, Julien, at the end of 2008. The domain today makes on average 60,000 bottles per year. The Boutons sell most of their wine to private individuals either out-the-door at the domain or at numerous wine salons in France.
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
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