2012 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc

A Simply Superb White Burgundy

Pierre-Yves Coin and Caroline Morey: The merging of two great Chassagne families.

Pierre-Yves Coin and Caroline Morey: The merging of two great Chassagne families.

Pierre-Yves Colin is one of the hottest winemakers in Burgundy. His domaine, which shares the name of his wife, Caroline Morey, is not even a decade old in its full-fledged form. The target of every Sommelier or collector with their ear to the ground, they clamor to have his wines on their list, or in their cellar. It’s a feeding frenzy.  And while I really have no desire to add to that hysteria, I would be less than honest to say this wasn’t one of the very best Bourgogne Blancs I have ever had.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (aka Colin-Morey, or even PYCM for short) came into being in 2001 when Pierre-Yves was still the winemaker at his family’s Chassagne winery, Domaine Marc Colin. He bought the first 1700 bottles worth of fermenting must and began his fledgling negociant label. His  wife, Caroline Morey (according to the chassagnemontrachet.com site, was given 6 ha. by her father, the stalwart Chassagne producer Jean-Marc Morey, in 2006, (although the

Berry Brothers and Rudd site claims that he took the vineyard from his family.

The road leading out of Chassagne-Montrachet: The 1er Cru "En Remilly" is directly to the right & above; the vineyard to the left is Les Combes au Sud. Somewhere ahead, up on the hillside, resides Pierre-Yves' vineyard that supplies part of this Bourgogne Blanc.

The road leading out of Chassagne-Montrachet: The 1er Cru “En Remilly” is directly to the right & above; the vineyard to the left is Les Combes au Sud. Somewhere ahead, up on the hillside, resides Pierre-Yves’ vineyard that supplies part of this Bourgogne Blanc.

In either case, this allowed the couple to start in earnest. Pierre-Yves left his position as winemaker (his last vintage at Marc Colin being 2005) and with the 2006 harvest, the domaine was born.  Production is said to be around 70,000 bottles, with 2/3rd of the grapes coming from their own Chassagne Montrachet vineyards, the rest being purchased grapes, or wine. I suspect this changes with each vintage, depending on

what is available. PYCM is particularly well-known for  his numerous Saint-Aubin bottlings, particularly en Remilly which sits atop Chevalier-Montrachet.  New bottlings with the 2012 vintage are a Rully 1er Cru and a Montagny Premier Cru. These two bottlings are showing much higher acidity and are much tighter than the Bourgogne now, and need time in the bottle.

His is White Burgundy of a new style, with elevage being in larger 350 ltr barrels, given no battonage, and left in barrel for an extended 20 months. His Criots-Montrachet (the vineyard I understand is owned by American Burgundy expert and California-based venture capitalist, Wilf Jaeger), gets even longer time in barrel and is released months after the Chassagne’s, Puligny’s and Batard. Addendum 3/15/14: After talking to Pierre-Yves, the Bourgogne Blanc comes from two estate plots, one from Puligny-Montrachet, below the village and the other from high up on the hill in Saint Aubin. It was not clear what appellation the Puligny vineyard is actually in, whether it is Bourgogne or Village. It is pretty clear the Saint Aubin is Village level, as there seem to be no Bourgogne appellated vineyards high up on the hill.

2012 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Bourgogne Blanc

Part from a Puligny vineyard and the balance from a hillside Saint Aubin plot. Both plots are estate owned.

Part from a Puligny vineyard and the balance from a hillside Saint Aubin plot. Both plots are estate owned.

From first sip this was a wow wine. It has verve and complexity right up-front, with a textural quality of a higher level wine, and a very distinct salinity. The fruit is of crisp green apple, and even to a greater extent of a rich

lemon, like one that has been charred on the grill. Don’t interpret that to mean the wine was oaky or toasty, because it is not. There are elements of cream and vanilla to the body of the wine, as it rolls off the sharp corners of its acidity, that leaves the wine fresh and clean, with subtle notes of river-stone on the finish.  This particular bottle had taken an extended mid winter, lost by UPS trip across the mid-West, and it came back to us having been frozen, and the cork protruding by almost an inch. It definitely got a serious cold stabilization in America that it never got in Pierre-Yves’ cellar, as tartaric crystals littered bounced and buoyed their way across the bottom of the bottle,

like a snow globe.  No fear, this was fabulous. Even at $30 for full retail, this is a real value in White Burgundy. Score: 91 points any way you slice it.

Bourgogne Blanc can come from any one (or more) of 300 communes within Burgundy. Although most Bourgogne Blancs are made of Chardonnay, both Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are permitted. There a 1000 hectares planted in Bourgogne Blanc appellated vineyards. Regulations regarding maximum yields are relaxed, as are vine training techniques and planting densities.  None of these things seem to factor into Pierre-Yves Bourgogne Blanc. I would not be surprised if village level or misfit lots of premier cru appellated wine ended up in this cuvee. Outstanding.

Now I digress into a related (but none-the-less) subtopic. 

I will meet Pierre Yves after La Paulee in San Francisco, and I may get a few of my questions answered.  However, French winemakers truly don’t understand American’s need to know all the details of how a wine is made, and sometimes it seems they resent being pressed for technical information.  Because of that some winemakers have been somewhat notorious for not being forth-coming and allowing misconceptions to remain, leading to some pretty inaccurate facts printed in books regarding how much vineyard land is owned by a producers, vs how much more wine is actually produced by that same producer from that particular vineyard.  By many, this is all considered confidential information.  As an importer, and a representative of a particular domaine, it can make it difficult to come off as an authority to a technically inclined, detail oriented, and enthusiastic American wine-buying public.

Although I am hardly an authority on French culture, I think it comes down to the fact that wine is considered first as a finished product, whose primary job is to provide enjoyment, and secondly must represent its appellation authentically.  The grape type is not on the label unless it is put there for the export market. On the other hand, in the United States, the primary objective of a wine is to be the best Cabernet, or the best Chardonnay. Where the grapes comes from has become an ingredient to make the best Cabernet, not thought of as the reason for being what it is, and in particular, never a directive of what a wine should be.  That’s a huge fundamental difference in outlook. Their position is: It’s a Bourgogne Blanc. It tastes like Bourgogne Blanc, and you enjoy it. End of story.  Our culture wants the particular ingredients of what makes it a great Bourgogne Blanc, which they don’t feel is relevant to the narrative.

While the younger generation is more evolutionary in the winemaking process, they are more open to discussing their techniques in the cellar, but that doesn’t mean they will lay open what vineyards are blended together, how much wine is actually made, or in any way invite scrutiny into allocations. Not to mention that sometimes these questions are just too annoying questions in general. Information is often given grudgingly, and with that, incorrect information is allowed to perpetuate in books by noted authors.  The way they see it is, that stuff is just none of our business.

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2011 Ballot Millot Meursault “les Narvaux”

downloadToday the nose is showing a bit Loire-like with its parsley, Kafir lime, and tarragon notes, enriched by  cream, lemon zest, touch of gravel and toasty notes, but it may very well just be a bit disjointed and out of sorts after its voyage across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal.

This is much more elegant and much less concentrated than the 2010 Meursault Village I reviewed last July which was dense and a little tough-edged. This on the other hand, is very clean, with a light lively palate that sings, with parsley, basil-lime, grapefruit, Meyer lemon, minerals, light cream notes. I really like this, although it isn’t what I would call impressive, but it begs another sip, and then another glass. Its palate impression is light to mid-weight in terms of Meursault, with a weightless but firm palate impression.  It show only the vaguest of oak on the nose (and the palate). It’s application of oak is perfect: deft and balanced.  This will gain some weight and fill out with another year or two, and the cream will take on a larger role, and I suspect the green notes will integrate completely.  Score: 90 points.

imgresCharles Ballot is a young winemaker who some, like wine writer John Tilson of the Underground Wine Letter, are calling a rising star.  In his thirty’s, Charles Ballot took over from his father Philippe a few years ago, and is driving the domaine toward a more elegance style, and that has been particularly evident in the domaine’s reds which includes two well situated Premier Crus, Pommard Pezerolles and Volnay Taillepiedes.  He farms his vineyards lutte-raisonnee, which generally means he farms organically,  unless  the situation requires something more drastic, or perhaps if it doesn’t suit him – there are no laws or oversight surrounding the use of this term. At a minimum it usually means no weed-killers and no chemical fertilizers, and a reduction of other treatments.

Meursault Narveax, lieu dit

Meursault Narvaux is a go-to for the budget conscious Burgundy drinker. Narvaux-Dessous is a fairly large, village appellated vineyard that is situated just above the Premier Crus of Les Genevieres and Poruzots, a bit higher up on the slope. This is one of the more well-known lieu dits (named vineyards) and while using the name Narvaux is optional, many winemakers choose to bottle this as a single vineyard, and put the name of the vineyard on the label. Bottling this as a single vineyard, and naming it, can be attributed in part to marketing, and in part to the superior position of this climate (another French word for vineyard-microclimate).

Narvaux’s up-slope vineyard position means thinner soils, as well as shallow top soil due to erosion, so it is typically lighter-bodied than Premier Crus that sit below it.  But the vineyard is well protected by the hill and its excellent exposure, it gets plenty of ripeness to make a satisfying drink. According to The Wine Spectator’s Bruce Sanderson, Ballot has two parcels in Narvaux-Dessous, one has 35-year-old vines, and the other plot ‘s vines are 60 years old.

Narveaux arial map

Wine Note: 2010 Domaine Ballot-Millot, Meursault

Domaine Ballot-Millot sources it’s Meursault village bottling from a Chardonnay vineyard above the Les Boucheres 1er cru, in what appears to be the Chaumes des Narveaux vineyard,

Français : vendanges à Meursault (Bourgogne)

Français : vendanges à Meursault (Bourgogne) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

although the winery is not specific. Winemaker Charles Ballot (30) sorts his fruit on tables in the vineyard, then presses the grapes lightly using a pneumatic press.  The wine is then racked from its gross lees into oak barrels where it finishes primary fermentation and malolactic (secondary fermentation). After twelve months in barrel, the wine is transferred to stainless tanks for six months, and before being fined with diatomaceous earth before bottling.

The nose is typical for a cool long growing season, and certainly shows what a tight, classic, vintage 2010 had been. While there is Meursault’s typical honey, white flowers, lemon curd, toast from oak, and a touch of sulfur, it doesn’t yet show the gras (fat) and nuttiness you get with a Meursault that is ready to drink. It does smell like a more expensive White Burgundy, like ones I’ve had from Domaine Leflaive’s former winemaker, Pierre Morey, and that is a good thing. In the mouth, it’s got some concentration, but it’s a bit tight and the oak is definitely showing, giving the wine a bit of dryness. Give this another year: the fruit and fat should be more evident, and the oak will have retreated, sweetening the whole package up. A wonderful wine that’s not quite optimal yet – give it enough time and it should come together beautifully.  87 points today.  Potential 90-91 points.

After an hour, the wine shows significant integration, with lime rind, chalk, and minerals showing up on the palate as it opens. This wine is still anything but fat, with a wonderful liveliness – it’s concentration now showing on mid-palate, onto the long, warm, nectarine and lime tinged finish.

Burgundy’s White Wine Blight: Pre-Mox

I asked Mounir Saouma, the winemaker and owner of Lucien Le Moine, about the ongoing problem of  premature oxidation in white Burgundy, commonly referred to as pre-mox. This is question I routinely trot-out to any producer of white Burgundy. Every time the answer is different.

He said he believed there were several culprits. The first being pneumatic presses. He said he thinks the common use of pneumatic presses causes wines to not have enough structure. In 2004 he made two barrels of wine from the same parcel, made the same way, barrel aged the same way, except how they were pressed. One was pressed in a pneumatic press, the other was pressed in a traditional mechanical press. He said the amount of dry extract in the wine pressed from the mechanical press was much higher than from the wine pressed with the pneumatic press, even pressed at the same bar (measure of pressure). He believes this dry extract protects the wine and gives it strength.

The second issue says Mounir, is it is much warmer now. He said that in the past, grapes picked in October would have a potential alcohol of 11% when picked. To this the wine would be chapitalized to 13% and the pH would be very low. Now, the grapes are picked at 14%, no chapitalization is needed, and the pH is quite high. To add acid is disastrous  says Mounir. He believes adding acidity throws everything off, and causes a wine not to age. He said he has learned his lessons about adding acidity. He said white Burgundies are losing their ability to age because Chardonnay, is first picked late, with high potential alcohol, and low pH  then they are pressed using pneumatic presses which don’t extract enough dry extract. Because of these things, the wines are weak. He says now there are four, maybe six wines out of a case that will succumb to prem-ox, but he feels this percentage will increase over time.

The answer to many of the Burgundian winemaker’s problems, (my words, not his) he believes, lies in five factors.

1) The first is to use a mechanical press – at least with Chardonnay.

2) leave the wine on the lees for 2 years, to not add SO2 until the wine has been on the lees for 18 months.

3) Wine must be made in a cold cellar.

4) Wine should rest on their lees, and not be racked for an extended period of time. His prescription 18 months to two years.

5) Barrels must be topped every week.

Yet, Mounier says the biggest mistake, is often the little mistakes that compound upon one another, like not topping up the barrels often enough. He said to me:
“In difficult years, a lot of time you will see some of winemakers best wines. Why? Because they are diligent and they are doing everything they can to make the wine be as good as it can be. But in great years, winemakers feel the wines are strong, and don’t think their wines need to be topped as regularly, so instead of topping every other week, they top every three weeks, and sometimes once a month. It is these little mistakes that build upon one another, slowly robbing the wine of its freshness.”

Leaving the wine in barrel, on the lees for two years is a re-occurring theme with Mounir. He believes that the lees naturally protect the wine, and give it strength for the future. He does not add SO2 for the first 18 months, because he wants the wine to protect itself, and living and dead yeast does that. Adding SO2 kills living organisms in wine, which of course is why it is added. To add SO2 would inhibit the wines interaction with the lees. Which brings me to his new property in Chateauneuf-du-pape.

Mounir and Rotem have in the past few years purchased a small property in Chateauneuf. He makes a white and a red. The vineyard had a small parcel of old vine Grenache Blanc, which is a lesser varietal in Chateauneuf, because it oxidizes very easily. Most producers have long since grafted over their Grenache Blanc to Roussanne or Marsanne. He says in addition to the lack of popularity of Grenache Blanc, everybody in the region leaves the whites in barrel no more than 6 months. What would he do with these Grenache Blanc grapes?

“I decided to make the wine like we do in Burgundy.” He  said.  “I leave the white on the lees for two years, not adding SO2 for the first 18 months.” The wine turned copper in color at first, and he thought, “well, lets just see what happens,” and after around six months the lees pulled the color out of the wine, and it was clear, and creamy and rich. Most importantly, it was not oxidized. Instead, it was strong and powerful with a creamy honeyed mid-palate.