Domaine Gilles Saint Aubin 1er Cru 'Murgers des Dents de Chiens' 2019
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.
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving balance and purity. The length of red fermentation varied a lot, but the tannins are fine and the wine has vigor.
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