Domaine Gilles Bouton Chassagne Montrachet Voillenots Dessus Blanc 2021
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.
Nothing abides. Just as we Burgundy purists begrudgingly acknowledged the vitality and variety of the three previous hot-weather vintages, along came 2021, classic Burgundy with its frost, damp and low yields.
Way back when, in pre-climate-change conditions, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would struggle, year after year, to come to maturity in what was this, the northernmost spot in Europe where grapes could ripen enough to make still wine. That struggle was, in fact, the very definition of viticulture in Burgundy (chaptalization notwithstanding).
But then weather patterns started to change, not drastically, but gradually: milder winters and earlier springs; hotter summers and earlier autumns. By the time we got to 2018, then 2019 and then 2020, those mild winters were breeding grounds for mildew, the early springs were prone to killer frosts, those hot summers forced ripeness onto reticent grapes varieties, and early autumns left little time to the winemaker to sort it all out.
If this all sounds like an accident waiting to happen, hang on to your hat; it’s all perspective.
2018 was wet, wet, wet through winter and up to mid-April. Then an explosive bud-burst sent the winemakers scurrying to control the vegetation. But then it got hot, hot, south-of-Spain hot, and mildew never stood a chance. Early harvest, no health issues. Big crop. Great vintage.
2019 was wet through the winter. Early bud burst, then frost took part of the crop. A warm set up flowering, but cold weather set in, taking another part of the crop. Then it got hot and very dry. Well-tend vines and, especially, old vines did well because there was last winter’s water in the water table, and good vines can go deep for water. Hot, healthy harvest. Great really ripe vintage.
2020 was precocious. Mild wet winter. Bud burst in mid-April. From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end. Harvest started in August. Indeed, there was more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. When to pick? Overall, great vintage both white and red.
See a pattern?
And 2021…well in 2021 things returned to ‘normal’ (if such a thing is possible in Burgundy!) First came devastating frosts in the early part of April, which were followed by a cool May, leading to a damp summer with the ever-present threat of hail.
Chardonnay was more affected than Pinot Noir in that the red grapes come into leaf later. What all this means for the Burgundy harvest is that it will be a story of low yields (miniscule in places) and a late harvest.
When the older winemakers talk about what to expect this year, words such as ‘historic’ are used and comparisons are drawn with the harvest of 1970.
Some say we could be down 30% on 2020s already low yields. But it isn’t all bad news. Winemakers are nothing if not hardy, and their optimism cannot be shaken that easily. Fewer grapes on the vine means that those which have survived should have an intensity of flavor which sets them apart and may mark this harvest out as extraordinary. There may be other upsides, too: because the harvest is later, the grapes have had more ‘hang time’ which could mean good phenolic maturity.
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