A freezing and rather murky start in Chassagne Montrachet this morning has been transformed by the brightness, freshness and clarity in the wines of Domaine Paul Pillot. Thierry is quick to highlight this warm vintage’s ‘unexpected purity and energy’ and tasting his wines, they are all that and much more. His broad range of Chassagne Montrachets across all of the main ‘climats’ are simply sensational. For me, the 1er Crus Les Caillerets and La Romanee stand out as being wines of indisputable class displaying mineral drive and plenty of freshness and energy that will enable them to develop perfectly over the next 8-10 years.
Moving to neighbouring Puligny Montrachet, home to some of the most illustrious names in the world of white Burgundy we arrive at one of the best, Domaine Etienne Sauzet. Sauzet’s Puligny Montrachets this year are stellar. Three standouts at 1er Cru level will come as little surprise; Combettes on its clay and limestone soils is a complex beast that will require several years in the cellar to reach its drinking window. Folatieres on the other hand displays a riper more tropical character and is hugely crowd pleasing. Perrieres on stonier soil is high toned, mineral and elegant and remains quite closed with lots of potential. Of the Grand Crus, few will get a chance to access the extremely limited Le Montrachet but those who do will be treated to an unforgettable wine that is as about as fine and layered as it comes. (The Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet aren’t bad either!) Harvest dates have played a significant role in this abundant and hot vintage. Picking earlier has clearly enhanced the brightness in the wines and accentuated the freshness, purity and finesse. Having feared that the warmth of 2018 may have played a detrimental role, we are very upbeat about the whites of 2018.
Heading north into the Cotes de Nuits, next stop, Drouhin-Laroze in Gevrey Chambertin. Few surprises here. A brilliant range of wines starting from the crunchy dark cherry-laden Gevrey Chambertin Villages Dix Climats through to the Grand Crus. The Chambertin Clos-De-Beze shows incredible balance and intensity, the Clos Vougeot, lots of muscle and concentration. The splendid purity and sheer class of Le Musigny tops off a superb flight of wines that exude the freshness and potential of 2018 for the reds of Gevrey, Vougeot and Chambolle.
Domaine d’Eugenie in Vosne Romanee is not a grower that I have visited before despite having tasted a few of their wines. Purchased by Francois Pinault of Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Latour in 2005 from the Engel family, this was one that I was particularly looking forward to. We tasted with Michel who explained that the challenge, as with many other growers, was to preserve holy grail of freshness and vibrancy in 2018. Protecting the vines from the extreme heat meant significant work was required in the vineyard throughout August, a month when all the growers would traditionally be sat on a beach! The result of this meticulous work is a group of reds that rank amongst the best we tasted all week. The Vosne Villages, a finely poised bombardment of fresh red fruits. The Vosne Clos d’Eugenie, using 40% new oak, a creamier wild strawberry-laden wine that is reined in by excellent levels of acidity. At Grand Cru level the Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux proved more intense and powerful yet hugely harmonious and pure. Finally the Clos Vougeot, a wine that exudes some spicier characteristics allied to wonderful purity and layer upon layer of tightly wound red fruits. This will be a cracker in the years to come..
The final visit of the day as the temperature drops like a stone, we arrive at Domaine des Lambrays in Morey St Denis where Jacques Devauges explains that 2018 was the hottest vintage since 1901 and one where everything happened very quickly. With a warm and wet growing season the recurring issues of controlling the long fermentation and sugar levels were again reiterated. Harvesting early was vital. Few will be aware that Lambrays also produce two stunning whites from their small holdings in Puligny. The 14 rows of 1er Cru Folatieres are beautifully ripe and citrus, precise and delicious. The 1er Cru Puligny ‘Clos de Cailleret, more toasty with a bigger structure and needing time. We are always big fans of the three reds. The straight Villages Morey St Denis is intense and a mixture of dark and red cherry with tremendous balance for a wine at this level. The Morey 1er Cru from a slightly warmer microclimate shows refined sweet dark currants on the palate. There’s a step up in complexity here and I will be securing a case for my cellar for sure. Finally the Grand Cru, Clos Des Lambrays which wasn’t the final blend, so drawn by Jacques from two separate barrels to taste. The extremely fine tannins and structure are the hallmarks of a wine that is destined for great things. With layer upon layer of refined fruit coming to the fore there is so much going on here that is rather difficult to evaluate at this stage!
Today leaves me in no doubt that although this is by no means a homogenous vintage, it is an exciting one for all of our growers who have produced terroir-driven styles that reflect each village and each climat perfectly. There is so much purity and energy in the wines that 2018 will be a fascinating one to follow over the coming months.