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For many years now our yearly visit to the cavernous cellar of Jean-Claude Rateau, outside of Beaune, has been one of the highlights of our winter trip to France. Last January we tasted all of his 2018s from barrel and we can happily report that the wines show an extra layer of ripeness and density but with bright, firm acidity, making this vintage potentially very good indeed. Many critics are calling 2018 in the Loire, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Northern Rhône a "vintage of the century." We think it's a very good vintage, although some wines may be a bit high in alcohol and some will lack acidity - here is where long-time organic and Biodynamic farming, such as at Rateau, will bring a crucial difference in balance and brightness.
The estate was created in 1979 with a few family parcels, in biodynamic agriculture, and now cultivates 10 hectares in the Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune, Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin. Only a light and superficial plowing is done in summer, respecting wild plants and keeping hedges and fruit trees along the vines. Minimal fertilizers are used, always organic composts, as well as biodynamic preparations. Replantings are by massale selection, seeking a great diversity in the parcels, often with co-planted varieties, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc in La Grande Chatelaine. Fermentations are with wild yeasts, of course, with the goal of making wines with no additives, with minimal or zero added SO2.
The wines in today's email are beautiful Burgundies of terroir, with gorgeous fruit, that will offer a great deal of pleasure over the next ten to fifteen years, but the quantities are very limited - we hope you will try them!
About a kilometer or two northwest of the Beaune 1er Crus, La Grande Chatelaine is a cooler site with soils comprised of clay over limestone. Stone fruit and pear skin, white flowers and wet stone on the nose. Bright and fresh aromatically. The mid-weight palate is racy (especially given the vintage) and rainwater fresh with orchard fruit and lemon oil flavors, dancing astride sapid herbal notes with a clinging stoniness on the long, mouthwatering, expansive finish. Delicious with mezze maniche and sautéed fresh white corn, spring onions and grape tomatoes. And I can see this pairing beautifully with grilled sea bass or pan-roasted scallops. This is lovely vibrant Chardonnay with a sense of place and worthy of a look, though I’d drink in the mid-term while the fruit is singing, say until 2025. John McIlwain
From two small parcels in "Aux Eletois" (below Grand Cru Griottes) and "les Epointures" (below 1er Cru Clos Prieur) on the more fine and aromatic side of Gevrey. Ruby robe. The nose offers an intriguing contrast between floral aromas and gamy, sauvage notes. For every rose petal, there’s a contrasting earth tone. The tension is compelling. On the palate ripe cherry and raspberry flavors are underlain by a pungent stoniness on a mid-weight, faintly tannic, but fresh, finish. This is delicious, if brambly, now but should gain in suavity with time in the bottle. I’d choose to pair this with something autumnal and savory. Pigéon? Pintade? Daube? John McIlwain
Permitted in Burgundy, but rarely seen on its own, Pinot Blanc grown by Jean-Claude Rateau in the Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune makes this lovely and versatile wine. The aromas are ripe and pretty, with apple and pear, lemon zest, almond and herbal notes. The palate is silky and pure with white fruits and hints of anise and verbena, supple, round and well balanced with firm acidity. This is a perfect apéritif wine, and will accompany any fish or chicken dish, Asian foods and mild cheeses. David Lillie
Jean-Claude Rateau makes lovely Biodynamic wines in the Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune in his east-facing vineyard of clay/limestone and marne soils. Quite racy and bright even in 2018, the wine shows ripe aromas of lemon, almond, stone, spiced pear and apple. The palate is rounder and more ripe than usual, but perfectly balanced with pear, citrus and stone flavors and terrific length. The antithesis of fat, oaky Chardonnays, this food friendly wine will accompany everything from oysters and grilled seafood to roast chicken and mild cheeses. Delicious now or cellar for 5 to 8 years. This is a real Chardonnay of terroir and a great value! David Lillie
The Rateau Bourgogne Rouge is certified organic and Biodynamic, from both young and 60 year-old vines in the commune of Pommard on alluvial soils over limestone. The wine is aged sur-lie for 8 months in old barriques. The 2018 is a beautiful Pinot Noir, showing the ripeness and balance of the vintage with complex aromas of black cherry, blackberry, violet and earth with hints of licorice and chocolate. The palate is quite sapid and ripe but retains a slightly bitter acidity (and moderate alcohol at 12.5%) with herbal flavors underlying the dense black fruits that linger in the finish with saline minerals - in other words this is a quite unique and delicious red Burgundy. 60 btls for the US, 6 btl max order, please... David Lillie
From a small parcel of 50 year-old vines in AOC Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune, certified Biodynamic, "lyre ouverte" pruning. The wine shows a bright medium red/garnet color and very floral aromas of berry fruits - crushed raspberry and strawberry, quite pretty and a bit riper than usual in 2018, with a bit of orange peel and spice. The palate is bright, and light to medium-bodied with sappy tart cherry and strawberry fruit, finishing with juicy acidity and minerals. The wine is quite elegant and refreshing at 12% alcohol - it's a perfect Pinot for holiday dinners with family and friends. Enjoy! David Lillie
Located toward the bottom of the slope beneath Beaune Grèves and adjacent to Les Cents Vignes, Clos des Mariages is a mix of young and very old vines planted in clay and brown limestone soils. "This fertile soil gives wines that are open and joyous, with delicate spice notes, giving great pleasure in their youth and capable of long-term aging." (J-C Rateau) Indeed the 2018 Clos des Mariages is a gorgeous wine showing a bright mélange of black cherry, strawberry and raspberry with hints of spice, citrus, licorice and violet. The palate shows dense, chalky fruit, sappy and ripe but with firm acidity and mineral flavors that continue in the very long, juicy finish. This is absolutely delicious now and should drink well continuously over the next ten to fifteen years. David Lillie
Jean-Claude says this wine, sourced from lieux-dits Beaux Fougets (clay soils) and Bons Feuvres (iron-rich soils) on the Pommard side of Beaune, always shows aromas of "cerises noires" (black cherries). The 2018 has a dark ruby, verging on purple robe. The ripe, lush nose offers plummy dark fruit aromas with notes of violet, cassis, and spice box. The palate also tends towards black fruits (there's that black cherry!), savory herbal notes, and a brooding earthiness beneath the ripe, exuberant fruit. There’s a lot to sort out here, but this has nice flair and concentration - give this a bit of aeration and it will be a very satisfying bottle with coq au vin or perhaps braised duck legs. John McIlwain