Domaine Gilles Bouton Chassagne Montrachet Voillenots Dessus Blanc 2020
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.
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
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