The mythology of a famous vineyard can be greater than the wines it actually produces. Our preconceived notions regarding a plot of earth often create expectations that are unrealistic and impossible for a beverage to reach. No one grape growing region is more susceptible to this than Burgundy. The best vineyards of the Cote d’Or have been written about and praised for centuries, but none more so then Montrachet. I have to confess to being obsessed with this vineyard and that my infatuation started long before I ever tasted a sip of its wine. Like many budding wine geeks, I had drooled over the descriptions of great bottles and imagined what it would be like to actually experience them. This can happen with wines from any vineyard, but Montrachet certainly is one of the most alluring. Perhaps the astronomical prices charged for bottles bearing the Montrachet label made me crave for a taste, but the same could have been true of other vineyards such as La Romanee Conti, or even Chevalier-Montrachet. More probable is that I had just become enamored with a wine that others called the best. It can be argued that several red wine producing grand crus are the crème de la crème, Musigny, La Tache and Chambertin among them, but only one stands at the top when it comesto white. Whatever the reason, I had become a Montrachet groupie.
I was nearly resigned to the fact that my relationship with Montrachet may never be consummated, when I walked into the cellar of Domaine Baron Thenard in Givry. At the time, I was ignorant enough to have no idea that the domaine was the second largest land owner in Montrachet. Just when I had almost given up hope, I found myself staring at a stack of barrels with Montrachet etched across the front. The Baron poured a tiny amount into my glass and I stared at it in disbelief. In appearance, with its deep golden color, the wine looked like a typical white Burgundy. I picked up white flowers and minerals on the nose, but it was subtle. The wine was rich and well balanced, but it did not explode in my mouth. I had tasted several grand cru whites that day and the Montrachet was indeed the most impressive. Yet, I was slightly let down. This wine was great, but it could not live up to the Montrachet of my dreams. No wine could have fulfilled the expectations that I had created. This experience illustrates one of the great problems with wine. We often get caught up with the hype and praise that others bestow on the rarest cuvees and forget a simple fact. Wine is just wine. That said, I am still obsessed, so here are some facts about LeMontrachet.
The Two Faces of Montrachet
Montrachet, 8 hectares in total, is divided almost evenly between Pulginy and Chassagne, both of which added it to their name in 1879. Of all the grand crus in the entire Cote d' Or, only Montrcahet has been claimed by two villages in such a fashion. The Puligny portion of the vineyard is refered to as Montrachet and the Chassagne as Le Montrachet. Thevineyard sits in the center of the hill of Mont Rachet on a mild slope, 10% grade, and at a height of 250-270 meters (similar to Musigny and La Romanee-Conti). Montrachet's soil is composed of thin, marly limestone and clay. Pebbles can be clearly seen in the lower portions of the vineyard and overall, Montrachet is stony. 32-36% of the soil is composed of clay, compared to 20% in Chevelier (20%) and 50% in Batard (50%). The complex soil and gentle slope combine to give both sides of the vineyard excellent drainage.
The Montrachet (4.01 hectares) portion of the vineyard faces southeast, giving it an ideal exposure. The vines are planted in rows running east to west. With 2.06 hectares, Marquis de Laguiche is the largest owner in this section. Other estates/individuals with land in Montrachet include Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils (0.89 ha), Regnault de Beaucaron/Guillaume (0.80 ha) and the Domaine Ramonet (0.26 ha). The grapes harvested from the vines owned by the Regnault de Beaucaron and Guillaumes families are sold to Maison Louis Latour.
The hill of Montrachet curves as it extends into Chassagne and the Le Montrachet (3.99 hectares) section has a slightly more southern exposure than Montrachet. In contrast to the Montrachet section, the vines in Chassagne are planted in rows heading north to south, supposedly relfectling a change in the contour of the land. With 1.86 hectares, Domaine Baron Thenard is the largest owner in Le Montrachet. Other estates/individuals with land in this portioninclude Domaine de la Romanee Conti (0.68ha), Domaine Jacques Prieur (0.59 ha), Domaine Comte Lafon (0.32 ha), Domaine Marc Colin (0.11), Domaine Guy Amiot and Mlle Monnot (0.09 ha), Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard (0.08 ha), Domaine Leflaive (0.08ha), Domaine Lamy-Pillot (0.05 ha) and Chateau de Pulingy-Montrachet (0.04 ha).
Valuable Real Estate
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Producers of Montrachet
Montrachet and Le Montrachet produce a combined annual average yield of 324 hectoliters and a total of 3,500 cases (42,000 bottles). 36 different producers bottled a Montrachet in 2002 vintage. Listed below are the wines that I have had the privilege of tasting.
Domaine Drouhin, Marquis de Laquiche
The Marquis Laquiche family owns 2.06 hectares in Montrachet, making them the largest owner of the vineyard. A single parcel located in Puligny-Montrachet, it is the largest continuously owned plot in Montrachet. The family has owned land in the vineyard since the 18th century, but their property was confiscated during the revolution. In 1810, after the political climate had calmed down, the family was able to reacquire a piece of their former holding in Montrachet. Since 1947, Domaine Joseph Drouhin has marketed the wines made from the Laguiche holdings, which also include village and premier vineyards in Chassagne. The Laguiche estate cares for the vines, but the work is shared with Drouhin, who harvests the grapes and makes the wine at their facility in Beaune. Although the wines are bottled under the Drouhin label, Marguis de Laguiche is prominently noted. The current vines in the Laguiche Montrachet plot were planted in 1961, 1969 and 1984.
1999: Tragically, this bottled was oxidized
Domaine Baron Theanard
Baron Paul Thenard purchased two large parcels of Le Montrachet, totaling 1.86 hectares, from the Godard family of Saint-Aubin in 1872 and this acquisition made Domaine Thenard the second largest owner in the vineyard. Both parcels were planted between 1931-1972. The estate has always bottled some wine under the Thenard label for private clients like Charles de Gaulle or the Pope, but most of its production was sold off to negociants. Maison Roland Remoissenet has been the main buyer of Thenard's Montrachet and they have labeled their bottling "du Domaine Thenard." Other recipients of Thenard's Montrachet have included Maison Louis Latour and Maison Entienne Sauzet. The estate is now bottling more wine under the Thenard label for export. Roughly, 625 cases are produced annually.
2010: Tasted from barrel 7/4/2011: New wood on nose, fruitis peeping through. Full-bodied. Persistent in mouth. Long mineral finish.
2009: Tasted from bottle in Thenard's cellar 7/4/2011: Closed on the nose. Lush and powerful in the mouth. Riper fruit, but not as intensely mineral as 2010. 2008: Tasted barrel sample in NYC on 6/4/2010 with owner/winemaker Baron Jean-Baptiste Bordeaux-Montrieux and from bottle in Thenar's cellar 7/4/2011. Big nose of white flowers. Rich and powerful on the palate with peach fruit. Nice mineral finish. Powerful wine with outstanding potential.
2007: Tasted on 7/16/2011. Full-bodied and concentrated. No showing a lot, but packed with potential.
2006: Tasted from barrel on 3/19/08 and from bottle on five occasions (9/17/2008, 3/18/2009, 9/16/2009, 10/11/2009, 7/4/2011): I have similar notes from all occasions. Golden in color, the wine had a strong flowery bouquet and was powerful on the palate. While obviously young and tightly wound, it clearly had great potential.
1999: Tasted three times, 3/18/2009, 7/25/2009, 7/16/2011: No signs of premature oxidation. 1999, however, was a warm vintage and the wine revealed some alcohol on the palate. The bouquet was subtle, but interesting. While not a profound wine, it was a good example of a Montrachet from this vintage.
1997: Tasted in Thenard's cellar 7/4/2011. Golden color. Long flavors. Full-bodied. Fruit is ripe and has the wine has moved toward secondary flavors. Oxidization is not an issue. Beautiful.
Domaine de la Romanee Conti
Domaine de la Romanee Conti owns three parcels totaling 0.68 hectares in Le Montrachet. The first parcel (0.34 ha) was acquired in 1963 from Comte de Moucheron in Meursault (former Serre-Bernard estate) and the second (0.17 ha) in 1965 from Monsieur Roizot of the former Draper estate. In 1980, the third plot (0.17 ha) was acquired from Roland Thevenin. All the vines are located in Chassagne. Straddling the Pulingy/Chassagne border, the first plot is sandwiched between those of Bouchard and Domaine Baron Thenard. The remaining two parcels adjoin the property of Domaine des Comtes Lafon. The average age of the vines is 62 years, as two of the sections were planted in the 1930’s and the third in the 1960’s. On average, 250 cases are produced annually.
1993: Tasted at the NYC La Paulee (3/7/2009): The wine was very mineral and bright. Not as rich as I expected, but this was not a ripe vintage. This was a wine of great class and sophistication.
Domaine des Comtes Lafon
On November 14, 1918 a large parcel of Le Montrachet belonging to Charles Draper of Puligny was sold at auction. The nearly hectare of vines was divided up equally amongst three bidders, Auguste Fleurot of Santenay, Leon Rizot, and Jules Lafon of Meursault. The estate of Monsieur Lafon, known today as the Domaine des Comtes Lafon, still retains this plot (0.32 ha). Located in Chassagne, it occupies the southeastern corner of the vineyard, surrounded by the vines of Domaine Baron Thenard and Domaine de la Romanee Conti. For many years, Pierre Morey cultivated Lafon’s Montrachet in a metayage agreement. The contract expired in 1994 and Domaine des Comtes Lafon took back control of the parcel. A portion of the domaine’s vines are 25+ years of age and the rest 45+.
2000: Tasted at the NYC La Paulee (3/7/2009). Domique Lafon brought this bottle from the domaine for the gala dinner. Very rich and seamless on the palate.The flavors were ripe and concentrated. The wine lingered on palate and the finish seemed endless. Terrific wine.
Pierre Ramonet purchased 0.26 hectares of Montrachet from the Milan and Mathey-Bachelet families in the spring of 1978. The parcel sits in Pulingy, between that of Bouchard and Regnault de Beaucaron. Average procuction is around 100 cases.
2001: Tasted at the David Bowler Wine holiday party at Black Forty Restaurant, NYC (12/11/2009). Very refined on the nose, with white flowers and a touch of oak. Medium-bodied and elegant on the palate with strong presence of mineral. Distinct herbal/mint flavors. Tight when first opened, but developed after a couple hours. Beautiful wine. Tasted again from 1.5ml at the NYC La Paulee (2/12/11) with similar notes.
1985: Tasted at the NYC La Paulee (2/12/2011). Full-bodied, yet elegant. The flavors are still youthful and fresh. Wonderful wine.
1983: Tasted at the NYC La Paulee (3/7/2009). The nose was mature, but not tired. In the mouth, the wine was very elegant and refined. Simply beautiful.
Maison Leroy, based in Auxey-Duresses, does not currently produce a Montrachet, but they have in years past.
1982: Tasted at the NYC La Paulee (3/7/2009). Birght acidity makes the wine seem very fresh tasting. Lime is the primary fruit. Extremely long the finish. Awesome wine.
Maison Roche de Bellene
Nicolas Potel, formerly of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or and SAS Nicolas Potel company, started this negociant business in 2009. I am not sure of the source for the Montrachet, but Domaine Thenard would be a good guess.
2008: Tasted a sample shipped from estate in NYC 11/5/2010. Fresh, but tight nose. Immense weight in the mouth. One dimensional, but some mineral comes through on the finish. This might be turn out to be really good, but it is showing little at the moment.
Domaine Etienne Sauzet, based in Puligny-Montachet, does not own land in Montrachet, but purchases the wine barrel from Domaine Thenard (Le Montrachet). The wine is aged in 67% new wood.
2007: Tasted 7/16/2001. Floral nose of white flowers. Rich in the mouth, but also mineral and well defined. Beautiful wine.