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Most of you readers know my colleague John McIlwain and are aware of his deep and abiding love for Burgundy wines. He and I were friends before I ever came to work here at Chambers Street and it was over bottles of Burgundy that we first bonded. Anyone who has had dinner with us knows that when we get together that we are somewhat indelicate. Our enthusiasm has a tendency to get the best of us and if we find a wine we love (or one we really don't) we often blurt things out that draw sharp looks from diners around us. We wouldn't have it any other way. John and I recently had the rare opportunity to sit down and taste through all the tremendous 2019s from Domaine Chandon de Briailles. But it was an academic setting and we were surrounded by sales reps from the distributor, not to mention a Zoom screen featuring vigneronne Claude de Nicolay. So we found ourselves scrawling inappropriate things in the margins of our tasting sheets, as we made our way through what is arguably the best crop of wines we have encountered so far in this remarkable vintage.
Claude and her brother François have deep roots in the region, as the De Nicolay family has owned the estate since 1834. The vineyards include substantial holdings in Savigny-les-Beaune (Fourneaux, Lavières and Vergelesses), in Pernand (Île de Vergelesses) and in Aloxe (Corton Grand Crus Clos du Roi, Bressandes and Corton-Charlemagne). Claude's mother Nadine ran the estate in the 1970s and 1980s until handing over the reins in 1988. In those forty-odd years, a steady change took place that set Chandon firmly on a course as one of the most viticulturally progressive estates in the region. Nadine moved to eliminate any chemical treatments of the vineyards and under Claude and Francois the estate was converted entirely to biodynamics, achieving Demeter certification in 2012. Today they are focusing on replacing tractors with horses and on the reduction of copper in the fight against powdery mildew.
In the cellar the wines are made with little fuss and great transparency. There is no fining or filtration and the use of new oak tops out at twenty percent for the Grand Crus. The whites tend to be intensely mineral and structured. The reds have always been fermented with a high percentage of whole bunches. But the recent acquisition of a pair of new vertical presses has changed the wines for the better. The pressure is gentler and more even, and the resulting wines are more refined where they could previously feel rustic, especially in challenging vintages. Claude finds the tannins less astringent in the reds and that the solid material extracted during pressing is finer and thus quicker to separate from the juice.
Claude's analysis of the vintage was illuminating. It presented all the challenges that growers fear: a warm end to winter that led to early budbreak; April frost, leading to some damaged buds and rain in June that disturbed flowering and led to an uneven flowering and a higher-than-normal percentage of millerandage (shot berries). This was followed by an exceptionally warm summer with temperatures rising as high as 108 degrees Fahrenheit. She made more than one comparison with 2015 in terms of the season but made an important distinction in the manner in which the vines were managed. In 2015, there was a much higher percentage of leaf removal during the heart of the ripening season, leading to some intense overripeness and sunburn on the berries. In 2019, she and her team were much more careful to leave more cover in the fruit zone, either removing fewer leaves or training and trimming the shoots higher to create more shade. She credits this, at least in part, with the level of freshness across the whole range.
Today's offer represents all the wine we have available from the estate. There is genuine value at every level, from village to Grand Cru (and at the top, all things considered, I think the wines are almost cheap). Act quickly. Otherwise, you will find yourself muttering and cursing, "*&%$ *@#% ^@#%." Sam Ehrlich
This is one of the best village wines in Burgundy, buoyed by the fact that it is in fact two thirds 1er Cru. A few years ago, Claude made the decision to stop bottling two separate Fourneaux and combined them to make a sort of super-village wine. This is very fresh and lively, with red fruit and sherbet, blood orange and pretty stem character. There is plenty of acidity and energy, with good length and saltiness in the finish.
Aux Fourneaux was one of the chosen no-sulfur candidates in 2019. Claude's process for choosing these is based on the energy in individual barrels and she always chooses older barrels, which tend to be more reductive and will hold up better to oxygen in bottle. She generally bottles these cuvées after twelve months in barrel as opposed to the normal 16-18 months. This bottle has a touch more stem spice and the fruit leans a bit more rhubarb. There is still the bright beautiful texture and long fresh finish. This is excellent. Sam Ehrlich
From 50-year-old vines located mid-slop where the shallow soils overlay flat limestone rocks, giving way to clay sub-soils. Just a touch of reduction in the nose but giving way to round juicy cherry and roses, with a lovely quenching quality and very stony. 100% whole bunch here but doesn't betray it. Sam Ehrlich
3.13 hectares of vines dating from 1938, with an average age of 40 years, in limestone clay soils, well exposed to the east. Île des Vergelesses is considered the finest climat in Pernand-Vergelesses and the Chandon bottling is a truly fabulous wine, year after year. The fruit is distinctly red here but reviewing my notes, I was apparently more concerned with the mouthfeel and texture than any kind of flavor descriptor.I also used a bad word in my hyperbole. This starts out quite point and linear, with incredible drive, but broadens in the mid-palate and becomes quite lacy. Overall this is quite delicate, with just the right amount of grip. Tremendous. Sam Ehrlich
The vines here are on average forty years old in red clay soils over rocky sub-soil. This was a true Grand Cru on the day we tasted and a great and quite open young Corton. The aromatics were soaring, with strawberry, lots of red flowers and a lovely dustiness to it. All of these were in full evidence on the palate too, accented with cocoa nib and with a lovely full mouthfeel. A great wine tomorrow and for years to come. Sam Ehrlich
From two parcels, one planted in 1963 and one in 1985, Clos du Roi is nearly adjacent to Corton-Charlemagne and the soils are quite complex, with limestone, clay, marl and sand.
In 2017, Chandon produced their first skin-contact white, made from a few rows of Pinot Blanc in Ile de Vergelesses.The 2019 is the second edition. It's decidedly unlike the rest of the lineup and not immediately identifiable as Burgundy, but it's a strikingly pretty wine nonetheless. Domaine Simon Bize has made a similar wine the last couple of years (I wonder what they are putting in the water in Savigny-les-Beaune!)
Okay, this is not a 2019. The '19 edition was not bottled in time for this tranche and will arrive later this winter. But we had a chance to re-taste it alongside these other wines and it was FANTASTIC, so I am giving it another go-round. Chandon de Briailles' bottling of Ile de Vergelesses comes in both red and white and each one is a benchmark expression of the appellation. Pernand is lodged in a combe (a valley) between the hills of Corton and Savigny and stays a couple degrees cooler thanks to a wind that comes down from the north through the gap. The wines are as a result always fresh feeling even in warmer vintages and this 2018 is no exception. The nose and palate are both redolent with lemon peel and orange, fresh ginger and something that feels a bit liked poached pear. But what is really remarkable is the intense minerality - salty and stony and beautifully crisp. This is a wine with real spine but not at the expense of pleasure. One of the best whites of the vintage that I have tasted and unmissable for fans of serious white Burgundy. Sam Ehrlich
This has often been overlooked in the Chandon range, but only to the detriment of white Burgundy lovers everywhere. This is white wine made from parcels traditionally devoted to red, planted by Claude's mother at the beginning of the 1980s when there was a shortage of quality Pinot Noir vine material. The wine spreads across Corton-Bressandes, Chaumes, and Renardes. This has always been a favorite of mine. The wine ages beautifully but also drinks well young, as it sees no new oak, no stirring and ultimately feels fresh even in warmer vintages. This 2019, bottled with no sulfur, is incredible. It's brilliantly citrus-y, with great power and focus and quite giving now but will doubtless improve. Sam Ehrlich