Domaine Gilles Bouton Saint Aubin 'en Creot' 2020
Garnet robe with bright fruits, raspberry, black currant, black cherry, seasoned with spice and coffee. Full bodied but silky with a lively fruit finish.
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
A close neighbor of Montrachet, lying between Chassagne and Puligny, and in places touching on the grand cru vineyards themselves, Saint-Aubin is a wine-growing village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune in the heartland of the great white burgundies. The neighboring hamlet of Gamay may have given its name to the Gamay grape. The appellation was granted recognition in 1937. The words “Côte de Beaune "(rouge) may be added to the name of the village, or the wine may be labelled as "Côte-de-Beaune-Villages ".
The appellation Saint Aubin covers the village of Saint Aubin and Gamay, and includes 30 premiers crus vineyards. The soil is deep in most parts of these vineyards, and gives a vigorous, full-bodied Pinot Noir, robust yet refined. Tender and fruity, the village wine reaches its peak after 3 to 5 years in the cellar.
White Saint-Aubin can often be as noble as its more famous neighbors of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. When young, it combines aromas of white flowers, flinty minerality, nuttiness and orange blossom. Richer fragrances come with age, beeswax and honey, almond paste and spice. This is a firm wine which becomes fleshier and fuller with time. It has potential to be a wine with real breeding.
Red Saint Aubin is usually dark garnet or crimson color. Its aromas are of blackcurrant, black cherry and often blackberry. These are set off by spicy coffee notes, and can take on very earthy tones. In the mouth it is fat and silky with a lively finish. Older wines are supple, warm and long.
White grapes grow on white clays with a high limestone content ; the reds prefer brownish clays. The slopes are steep in places and face east or southeast. Altitude varies between 300 and 350 meters.
Reds - Pinot Noir
Whites - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 10000m2= 2.4 acres
Whites: 113.12 ha (including 87.55 ha Premier Cru)
Reds : 49.69 ha (including 35.64 ha Premier Cru)
Saint Aubin whites are a subtle balance between elegant freshness and a rich but not excessive fatness and body, which gives it a fluid, juicy mouth-feel. Wine like this is great with firm-textured fish and grilled or steamed shellfish. It would also go well with free-range, dense-fleshed poultry.
Saint Aubin reds have surprising depth, real earthiness that often verges on Pinot Noir notes of manure. You are looking to match this traits with flavorful meats like roast beef or pork, glazed or bwell-basted poultry, rich full-fat cheeses, or sautéed foie gras. Richness in general goes well with this type of tannin.
On the label, the appellations Saint Aubin' and Saint Aubin 1er Cru may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Bas de Vermarain à l'Est
Derrière Chez Edouard
Derrière la Tour
En la Ranché
En Vollon à l'Est
Le Bas de Gamay à l'Est
Les Combes au Sud
Les Murgers des dents de chien
Les Travers de Marinot
Sous Roche Dumay
Sur le sentier du Clou
The following climats are village wines from a single-vineyard, known as a lieu-dit.
Au Bas de Jorcul
Bas de Vermarain à l'Ouest
En Vermarain à l'Est
Le Banc de Monin
Les Travers de chez Edouard
Sous les Foires