Christmas is for the young; so it was with perfect propriety that I sat with eternally young wine merchant Elie Boudt over a couple of French classics as re-interpreted by a new generation of winemaker.
The techniques employed were not an overhaul of soul, but a redefined focus on the specifics that have affixed these names to the panoply of paradigms.
First, Meursault; the Henry VIII of Burgundy: White, fat, impassioned and acidic. Meursault is an old line Côte de Beaune aristocrat, nurtured by the hard Comblanchian limestone that resurfacing here after having burrowed beneath the red wines districts of Nuits-Saint-Georges. The monks of Cîteaux recognized these chalky soils as a white wine wonderland as early as 1098; a little red is produced in Meursault, but it is often used in adjacent Volnay under the climat Volnay Santenots. No, Meursault is white power in a Burgundy bottle—although the appellation contains no Grand Cru vineyards, that’s mostly wine politics; some of the Premier Cru labels can rival the best of the hyphenated Montrachets.
Domaine Michel Caillot Meursault, 2010, around $50
Domaine Caillot is one such propriété. Founded in 1961 by Roger Caillot and covering approximately 32 acres, vine age averages around 40 years. Michel Caillot took over the reins from his father in the nineties and has nudged the estate into modern, eco-friendly practices. He considers himself of the non-interventionalist school of winemaking, relying on indigenous yeasts and minimalist—if any—sulphur introduction, but a trademark bâtonnage, through which the lees (deposits of dead yeast at the bottom of the aging vessel) are regularly stirred into the wine, give it its characteristic, Rubinesque heft. Caillot consistently allows this lees-time for two full years, although he transfers the wine to stainless tanks at the midway point, thus preserving the fresh-fruit backbone.
The wine opens with an intense aroma of yeasty bread dough; the scent dissipates, replaced by whiffs of spice. I note ginger, but Elie—who grew up in a Moroccan spice-trading family—suggests jasmine, and that is spectacularly accurate. There’s an appealing fattiness in the mouth, punctuated by a shaft of acid and a base of minerality that fills sensory crevices; for lovers of thick, oak-dominated Napa Chardonnays, this wine is a reminder that the grape is capable of producing buttery-plump and forcefully explosive flavors on its own merits.
Domaine La Barouche Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘Signature’, 2011, around $70
2002 was to Southern Rhône was 1929 was Wall Street—a Biblical-grade bust. Poor flowering was followed by savage hail, subsequent rot and decimated yields capped by torrential rains in September. That disastrous vintage was Julien Barrot’s first; that was the year he went to work at Domaine La Barroche. It was a family affair; his great-something grandfather bought the La Barocche acres in the village de Châteauneuf du Pape in 1703, but the property had been known primarily as a custom crush facilitator with a couple of presses that would move between estates. Julien’s father, Christian Barrot, cites the wine crisis of the 1970s, when the focus of the industry had switched to high yields and low prices to his decision to take the road less traveled: He began to nurture his plots, vineyard by vineyard, until he began to understand what a truly world class terroir he sat upon. He sold most of his wine to prestigious estates in the north, but bottled a small portion himself under the label Lou Destré D’Antan, which means ‘The Winepress of Days Gone By’ in Provençal in honor of the family tradition.
His children have taken these traditions and turned La Barocche into a consistently producer of estate-bottled Châteauneuf-du-Pape—at least, since 2002. Julien represents the new generation of winemaker in this consecrated commune in southeast France, both open to experimentation and beholden to historical praxis. It’s a narrow rope to walk, but Julien proves his agility unquestionably in ‘Signature’ 2011.
The wine shows a majestic nose of fresh blackberry jam with an appealing touch of menthol; deep, ample and warming with a jaunty, full-bore cherry/berry palate underscored with botanicals like lavender and garrigue. Tannins are soft, but still a bit youthful; they coat the mouth and form a framework of wood that should meld seamlessly into the fruit in coming years.
Both wines are a nice nod to the special quality of season; somewhat pricey at a time when we’re known to splurge; ardent, alive, accessible, forward-thinking while remaining true to the spiritual roots of their lineage.