Domaine Joliet Fixin 1er Cru 'Clos de la Perriere' 2020
Pale ruby red, this Fixin at 13% alcohol is anything but your stereotypic Fixin rustic. Very elegant, sweet fresh raspberry fruit, then cherry. There’s richness and intensity, ripeness and purity, a tension that tells you it will age well. Complex and seductive, long and exciting.
COTE DE NUITS
The Clos de la Perriere in Fixin, founded by the Cistercians in 1142, is, as the name implies, a walled-in vineyard that the monks way back when knew made an exceptional wine. Inside those walls however, the vineyard is composed of 4 distinct parcels. And while each of these 4 parcels on its own produces an interesting wine, the four together make magic.
That the monks knew this back in the Middle Ages is not, in itself, extraordinary. They had time, and plenty of ‘ora et labora’. And as, over time, they came to know where the best vineyards were, they put walls around them.
There are lots of vineyards called ‘clos de something-or-other’ in Burgundy. The best known of course is the Clos de Vougeot. But where the Clos de la Perriere is different, unique even, is that it has never been divided up. If the idea of putting a wall around a vineyard was to enclose various parcels of land that are component parts of one great wine, then dividing and selling off parcels within the clos can only dim the original vision.
In 1855 Dr. Lavalle classified the Clos de la Perriere as ‘tête de cuvée’, as he did most of the present-day grand cru vineyards. Two years previous, the Joliet family bought the Clos, and it has been in their family since. 6 generations, with Benigne Joliet at the helm today. Perhaps because the wine at the time was not up to its potential, perhaps simply because it is Fixin, who knows, but when the modern classifications were made, the Clos was relegated to premier cru.
But Benigne Joliet knows that it is a grand cru. Perhaps the only vineyard of grand cru stature still intact that was laid out by the monks in the Middle Ages. And he is fighting to have it recognized as such, both with the AOC people and in the cellar.
I have had the pleasure of tasting the 2013 in its component parts, 4 cuvees from the four parcels inside the walls. Benigne Joliet presented it dramatically. Cuvée #4, the oldest vines from the parcel the furthest to the north was alive, like only wine from well-tended vines can be alive. Depth and density. Cuvée #2, the youngest vines gives vivacity, a bright acidity over soft tannins. Cuvée #1 from the parcel the furthest south, and hence the earliest harvested, gives you the fruit, a big burst of fruit. And Cuvée #3, from the edge of the wall near the forest at the top of the vineyard gives the bottom, the edge, the tannin.
But like four notes in a chord, when Benigne blended together the approximate assemblage that will be 2013 Clos de la Perriere, the wine sang. Bright, peppery, alive, with big yet subtle fruit and a long, long finish.
Fixin 1er Cru ‘Clos de la Perriere’ from Domain Joliet. Relatively unknown. Poised again for greatness after nearly 900 years!
Fixin 1er Cru ‘Clos de la Perriere’
Fixin 1er Cru ‘Clos de la Perriere’ *
*Within the Clos de la Perriere are lieu-dit parcels:
Queue de Hareng
Bas de Chemin
Vierge Jeune and Vieille
Parc Bas and Haut
Benigne Joliet has radically changed production methods at the Clos de la Perriere during his stewardship. Each of these lieu-dit parcels listed above is picked and vinified separately. And 4 separate cuvees are eventually assembled before bottling. Yields have been greatly reduced. Harvest follows the maturity of each individual parcel, the grapes are picked as late as possible. The grapes are sorted and destalked, then fermented with a minimum of handling. Each cuvee is considered separately in terms of manipulations, punching down or pumping over. The wines are raised in 15% new Troncais oak for 24-36 months with no racking.
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 NUITS
You can see the upper reaches of the Fixin vineyards as you leave Dijon heading south. Only the vines of Marsannay separate Fixin from the modern commercial zone that sprawls out into the plain. And along with Marsannay, Fixin seems at times to have lost its identity in the hub-bub of suburbia. For some reason these appellations are seen as the rustic cousin of Gervey-Chambertin. But look closely and carefully and you will find not only substance and tradition, but also some interesting undiscovered gems.
Fixin is a ‘village’ appellation of the Côte de Nuits. This appellation includes 6 Premiers Crus Wines from within the area of this appellation (including the villages of Fixin and Brochon) may also be known as Cote de Nuits-Villages.
Fixin produces mostly red wines from Pinot Noir but there are some plots of Chardonnay. The reds are generally considered ‘gutsy’ and require some aging before opening. They can be a deep purple color, but more modern wines tend to a classic Burgundy ruby or garnet. The nose is floral, often violet (not unlike wines from further south in the Cotes de Beaune). There are classic Burgundy blackcurrant and black cherry fruits, and the nuttiness of cherry pits. They are often marked with animal and peppery notes. Usually considered to be tannic and hard in their youth, but this is a function of the winemaking and use of oak. With age Fixins have a rounded attack and solid structure, with remarkable fullness and surprising finesse.
Fixin is very similar in soil make-up to Gevrey-Chambertin, but lower, and with more alluvial soil in the lower reaches. The premier cru parcels are on homogenous brown limestone with east to south-east exposures at 350 to 380 meters of altitude. In some spots the soil is more marly. The remaining plots are on lower ground at the foot of the slopes and the soil is a mixture of limestone and marl.
Reds - Pinot Noir
Whites - Chardonnay
Area under production
1 hectare (ha) = 10,000 m2 = 2.4 acres
Reds : 91,76 ha (including 17.12 ha Premier Cru)
Whites : 4,25 ha (including 0.5 ha Premier Cru)
Red wines dominate appellation Fixin, and these are generally muscular wines with a tannic structure that make them ideal for braised meats, roast pork, beef rib, or traditional stewed poultry like coq au vin. Cheese combos tend towards hard mountain gruyere or comte. Rarer white Fixin partners well with the Burgundian specialty of cold-cuts like jambon persillé, as well as with firm-textured goat cheeses.
On the label, the appellations 'Fixin' and 'Fixin 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos de la Perrière
Clos du Chapitre
Le Meix Bas
The following climats are village wines from a single-vineyard, known as a lieu-dit.
Aux Petits Crais
Champs de Vosger
En Combe Roy
La Croix Blanche
Le Poirier Gaillard
Les Basses Chenevières
Les Champs des Charmes
Les Champs Tions
Les Crais de Chêne