Chandon de Briailles: Still Under the Radar
And thank goodness. These are wines you want to be able to find and afford. Burgundy has a reputation for not only exorbitant prices, but also exasperating scarcity. It doesn't matter if you have the cash, some Burgundy will not be available. These rare birds are special wines, no doubt, but one must account for hype and assure oneself that there are excellent alternatives aplenty, because the truth is on our side: Burgundy is for everyone! We have quite a few wonderful wines from Burgundy in the $20s, but if you want an expression from a well exposed site in the Cote d'Or, you should typically expect to pay more than that, maybe a lot more, and if big names get involved, things might just start to get a little scary. There are, however, talented growers throughout Burgundy who deserve way more attention and remain reasonably priced.
Enter Chandon de Briailles, one of the benchmark producers in the Cote d'Or, representing the some of the finest wines made from the sprawling cluster of vineyards around the towns of Savigny-les-Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton. Chandon de Briailles is a well known name in Burgundy, but their prices are not high and they are not too hard to find; one wonders how long that will last. Organic starting in the 80s, biodynamic since 2005, the goal at Chandon de Briailles is to express their individual vineyard sites in the bottle, and healthy land yielding limited quantities of perfect grapes is paramount in this endeavor. The wines are never oaky nor heavily extracted, and for us they represent a most pure expression of Pinot Noir. Use of whole clusters of grapes (not destemmed) is frequent, though judicious. I remember tasting a raft of 2008s with Claude de Nicolay many years ago, asking her the percentage of stems and new oak for each cuvee, and she would rattle the numbers off and comment on the state of the fruit in the individual vineyard parcels for the vintage. Meeting Claude, you know you've met someone who loves their work. She started working with her mother at the domaine in the 90s, and by 2001 she and her brother Francois took over completely. Since I've been tasting the wines, starting with the 2004 vintage, the house style has been consistent: ethereal and fresh, sometimes very light in color, often very tart, sometimes rather stark and lean. The style is not for everyone, but it seems to me that warmer vintages like 2009, 2012 and 2015 resulted in wines that should open the eyes of any Pinot lover. I love Chandon de Briailles every year, and I relish the aromatics that only cold years yield, but it's the warm years that I'm more confident to introduce widely. After a tiny crop in 2016, the 2017 vintage was clement and generous; it was warm, the grapes were plenty ripe and the best wines are among the most juicy and friendly I've ever had from Burgundy.
The 2017s of Chandons de Briailles are brilliant. They acquired a new vertical press for the 2017 vintage and I have to wonder how much it contributed to the plush tannins that the wines exhibited when I tasted them this spring at the domaine. The lively, fresh and airy house style was as present as ever, but the fruit was more pronounced and tannins were softer. The best of their 2017's will last for decades, and I expect a few will stay friendly and open-knit through their evolutions. A 2017 Les Lavieres tasted last week was spicy and extroverted, with an incredibly pure floral and fruit character, and silky tannins.
2016 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er cru Blanc Ile de Vergelesses
This is a wine that seems like it shouldn't exist. Chandon de Briailles typically makes a lot of red from Ile de Vergelesses, and a small amount of white. In 2016, however, there was no red. The domaine's holdings in Pernand and Savigny were decimated by a late spring frost, and the paltry crop of Pinot from Ile de Vergelesses got thrown into a single cuvee composed of grapes that would have, in a typical vintage, made five different red bottlings. They did make a white wine from the great premier cru Ile de Vergelesses. Super (super) rare.
Pure friendly Pinot of the earth. Made from vines at the bottom of the Fournaux premier cru. Notes of juicy crushed red berries, raspberry in particular. High notes of citrus and pine needles. Tart, fresh, vivacious and concentrated enough to evolve for at least another 5 years.
2017 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er cru Aux Fournaux
Lots of red berry notes. Poised and concentrated. All about layers of fruit and fresh acidity to carry it long. This has the structure to evolve positively for more than a decade, but today it would be a perfect match for a juicy roasted bird.
2017 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er cru Les Lavieres
A pure joy to sniff and swirl and sip. Roses, violets, diverse spices, raspberries and strawberries. Lifted and ethereal, with suspicions of wood, mushrooms, soil and stones, classic Pinot characteristics that offset its ripe fruit and sweet flowers. The tannins are already silky smooth, but it is balanced, focused and wound tight, so it should cruise beautifully for many years. In a cool cellar you could hold this for 15 to 20 years.
2015 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er cru Les Lavieres
This is a big bad Savigny. The 2015 growing season produced some of the most powerful wines in the domaine's history. Rich and ripe, with notes of red and black fruits, dark chocolate, pine forest and mushrooms. It might be better when some of the fruit has faded, but it is a lot of fun to drink today
2016 Bourgogne 'Gelee Royale'
Chandon de Briailles got hit hard by frost in 2016 and lost over 90% of their Pinot crop in Pernand and Savigny. The resulting wines is the most luxurious and exotic Bourgogne I've ever tasted. It has a thick texture and a wide spectrum of fruit flavors. Borderline jammy, it also has a slightly roasted quality. It may seem to stray from the house style, but it keeps fresh and mineral through the finish. It should evolve in a positive and most singular manner for at least another 5 years, but if I had a cold cellar I'd save it longer. $75 now $61.50
2016 Corton Grand Cru Les Marechaudes
The vintage produced powerful and concentrated wines, so one should expect a structured and tannic beast today, something meaty and spicy in 10 or more years. It is undoubtedly a wine for the cellar.
2015 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er cru Ile de Vergelesses
A rich and powerful style for the domaine, this has notes of meat alongside its pure red and black fruit notes. Chocolatey like the 2015 Les Lavieres, but with more vegetal, fungal and earthy notes. Firm tannins beg aging for another 5 or more years before trying again. This wine is not inexpensive, but we think it competes with grand crus, which makes it a superb value.
2011 Pernand-Vergelesses 1er cru Ile de Vergelesses 1.5L magnum
Chandon de Briailles offered some of their library wines a couples months back and we jumped on three magnums of this gem. Needless to say, there are only two available now.