On the A-List with Domaine de Villaine

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Many years ago, when I first climbed out of the busser basement to become a server at the now-defunct Blue Ribbon Brooklyn, staff wine tastings were a highlight of the job. We would gather in Soho during the day when the restaurants were closed and our general manager and our various sales reps would lead us through several wines. I knew nothing about wine, but was eager to learn and always looked forward to these events. I tasted a number of memorable bottles over the years during these classes but one that is stamped in my mind was the 2004 De Villaine Aligote de Bouzeron. It was a revelation: racy and crisp and alive with citrus and flowers. It  was also one of the first times that the idea of minerality in a wine was really clearly illustrated for me. (I also remember it because I was nearly fired later that night in the middle of service, but that is a story for another time).

Domaine de Villaine is located in the village of Bouzeron, at the northern tip of the Côte Chalonnaise. The estate was purchased in 1971 by Aubert de Villaine shortly after he assumed directorship of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Aubert and his wife Pamela, an American art historian, immediately set about the rehabilitation of the vineyards. The majority of the domaine's surface was planted to Aligoté Doré and from the very beginning Aubert dedicated himself to making first-class wine from what had long been considered by Burgundians only good enough to dilute with a wallop of crème de cassis. In his seminal memoir Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit Lynch wrote of visiting de Villaine in 1974 and of the offense he caused by the mere suggestion that he wanted to advise his clients to make Kir from De Villaine's Aligoté. But he follows it with his realization that the wines could not only be serious, but even great and ageworthy and in the years since the domaine has become one of the flagships of the Kermit Lynch portfolio.

Today the estate is run by Aubert's nephew Pierre de Benoist, who is one of the most engaging vignerons with whom I've had the pleasure of tasting. He believes as fervently as his uncle in the charms of Aligoté. I would even venture that the astonishingly high and consistent quality level of the wine over the twenty years since he joined the domaine has been one of the driving forces behind a recent resurgence in top-drawer Aligoté. The variety receives prime placement in Bouzeron, planted at the top of the hillsides where the thin and intensely rocky topsoil helps to naturally control the otherwise vigorous growth.

While the Aligoté is the best known wine at the estate, the rest of the production is by no means to be ignored. The reds are also tremendous. The two Bourgognes produced, "La Fortune," and "La Digoine," are both single-parcel wines that drink far above their station. "La Fortune" is a plot of vines roughly 30 years old and produces wines that are a bit more supple and approachable in their youth, while "Digoine" is older, approaching an average age of 50 years. Here the wines are more structured but maintain great finesse—I would not hesitate to say that this is one of my favorite red Burgundies. If one has the patience to wait, it ages into something magnificent (a '99 drunk with some dear friends the night before the 2016 election will remain stamped forever in the minds of everyone at the table).

Some years after that first taste of Aligoté de Bouzeron, I visited Burgundy for the first time and in addition to a wonderful visit to taste with Pierre, I lucked into an invitation to Bouzeron to have dinner with Pamela and Aubert.The meal featured some magnificent wines, including two venerable bottles of Bouzeron. The first was a 1992 and teetered between like old honeyed Vouvray and dry Riesling, full of dried mint and petrol. The second, a 1985, could never have been mistaken for anything but great white Burgundy - beautifully fresh and intensely stony.

As a pair, those bottles that evening cemented my appreciation for this singular estate. These days the cat is out of the bag on these wines. Allocations have gotten smaller and tighter and certainly the wines are more expensive than they were. That said, when one takes into account the price-to-quality ratio here, these might be among the finest wines in the region.   Sam Ehrlich

 

**Wine is in store and available immediately. Please note that what is on offer today is everything available.**

 

Domaine de Villaine 2019 Aligoté de Bouzeron

From vines between 10 and 90 years old, planted in limestone and white marl on the uppermost slopes of Bouzeron. Aged in foudre for ten to twelve months, with no lees stirring.

  • white
  • 3 in stock
  • $41.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
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Domaine de Villaine 2019 Bourgogne La Fortune

From vines planted in clay and limestone and averaging between twenty and thirty years old. Fermented and aged in large wooden tanks, to avoid any apparent wood influence.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $51.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic

Domaine de Villaine 2019 Bourgogne La Digoine

From vines between forty and fifty years old, fermented at least two thirds whole cluster and aged in the same large wooden tanks for ten to twelve months. One of the most ageworthy Bourgognes in the market!

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $59.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic