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January 7, 2010
Such Chardonnays have challenged many preconceptions about popular taste. They revel in their touch of austerity, not having been made from grapes stripped of acidity by climate, late harvest, or deacidification.
They’re slender of body, without the Rubenesque size we’re supposed to covet. And they lack the toasty new wood that, we’re told, no wine drinker can resist. In fact, the magic of these wines is not easily found, but once discovered it will grip a wine lover’s soul and never let it go.
A quarter century ago, about the only place you could find Chardonnay of great minerality was in France. There were pockets of such wine in the Côte d’Or, but opulence was still the cardinal virtue of a fine Côte d’Or white. You were far better off looking in Chablis, where a few old-fashioned producers were content to let the grape and soil speak with minimal translation. Today, this philosophy is flourishing in Chablis, as more of its top producers strive for site expression unmasked by extract or the taste of wood. Such thinking is also spreading through the Côte d’Or, especially in Meursault, where a handful of growers are making some of the world’s most thrillingly complex, and profoundly mineral, Chardonnay. These wines are made possible by a very low water table, which forces the vine roots deep underground, magnifying the intense stoniness of the village's soils. Not that long ago, growers in Meursault dared not emphasize their wines’ natural stoniness; they were more interested in making classic “buttery” Meursault. It wasn’t until the 1990s when-building on the earlier work of Coche-Dury and Comte Lafon-Jean-Marc Roulot perfected the idea of crafting intensely mineral Meursault. Ever since, Roulot’s wines have been benchmarks for those who love Chardonnay of blinding clarity, complex minerality, and laser-guided acidity.
Until recently, no lover of Roulot’s mineral style of Meursault would question that he makes the best examples. But with the emergence of the equally gifted Jean-Philippe Fichet, Roulot is no longer necessarily the clear leader. Little-known outside Burgundy until recently, Fichet’s pedigree is well-established, with a track record of stunning Meursaults since the 2000 vintage. And he has achieved this primarily with village level lieu-dit (non-premier cru) vineyards. In fact, if I had to choose just one grower’s lieu-dit Meursaults to drink from the past decade, I would have a very hard time choosing between those of Roulot and Fichet. And if cost were a consideration, Fichet wins hands-down, since his wines can be had for about two-thirds the price of Roulot’s comparable cuvées (not to mention those of Lafon and Coche!).
As good as Fichet’s wines have been since 2000, the greatest measure of his talents can be found in his newly released 2007s. It’s a vintage made for his style of winemaking, and he took full advantage, producing wines that are breathtaking for their purity and the way they reveal the soil. Next week you can find out for yourself, as Fichet’s 2007s are featured in The Rare Wine Co. newsletter. Showcased are his overachieving Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes, made from a high proportion of vines a stone’s throw from the premier cru Meursault-Charmes; his thrillingly diverse Meursault Tesson, Chevalières, Gruyaches and Meix Sous le Chateau lieux dits; and his lone Meursault premier cru, Genevrières, of which just two barrels were made.
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