Domaine Gilles Saint Aubin 1er Cru 'Murgers des Dents de Chien' 2021
Gilles has two different parcels in this, the best known of the Saint-Aubin premier crus. One with old vines, situated near the Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Les Garennes’ (which he also makes), and the other near Puligny 1er Cru ‘Folatieres’. He makes these wine in double-sized barrels, 40% new oak, to tame the tannins. There is a deep, almost Meursault quality to the Dents de Chien, spicy and complex. Great continuity from attack, through mid-palate and on to a superb 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.
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
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