Both the Sancerre/Pouilly Fumé and the Chablis areas are of course famous for their white wines, made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay respectively. But even in modern times, when the money follows the high value wines, some red wines are produced from these areas. I have already commented on the clean, pleasantly fruity if rather expensive Pinot Noir wines from Sancerre in the posts on Joseph Mellot and Henri Bourgeois. In the Chablis area, Pinot Noir is in production in the outlying villages in ACs such as Irancy, in the Côte d’Auxerre or as just plain old Bourgogne rouge. Our stay in Chablis enabled us to visit a number of producers who alongside their whites also offer reds, and the occasional rosé.
Even if there had been a muddle about dates, we were – of course – warmly welcomed at Bienvenu, a smallish, quite rustic looking winery in Irancy. On the wall there is a poster for the ‘baptism’ ceremony for the baby Appellation Contrôllée dated 7 May 2000, so this red AC is now a lively ten year old. There were just 10 family firms in the AC, so no co-operative or négociants (though the AC’s website shows a good growth in numbers since the AC was founded), so the contrast with the red Burgundy production on the Côte d’Or is marked.
We tasted the wines in the rather dim, sunken tasting room – some will find it atmospheric, others just a bit dark for seeing the wine in the glass. It certainly makes photography a challenge, especially if you have not recharged your camera and are relying on (the remarkably competent) iPhone 4. The point of interest here are the reds which start life as quite tough and rustic and then develop and mellow with time in the bottle.
AC Irancy 2008 – with ten years ageing capacity, this currently shows a moderately powerful nose of cherries and some spice from old wood, fair
Les Mazelots, AC Irancy 2009 – single vineyard Pinot Noir, the vineyard being visible on a South facing slope opposite the winery. The wine is currently tannic with a slightly muzzy cherry nose and some depth of fruit. It is said to take five years to get into its prime and have a further seven years in it. However, this type will have a following as there are not many single vineyard, ageable red Burgundies in a slightly rustic style at €12.50.
La Palotte AC Irancy 2009 – basically Pinot Noir but the AC allows small amounts of the César grape in the blend, here 3%. César, shown to be a cross between Pinot and the Spanish variety, Arant, was said on its own to be ‘grumpy’ (!) and rather fierce; or in winespeak, it makes dark, tannic wine. In general the wines are aged in barrels which can be up to 15 years old, so there are no easy vanilla and toast notes here. It takes about six years to develop fully with a total of about 20 years of life. Quite dense fruit, there is some real character here, but quite aggressive tannins.
If you like slow developing wines made from Pinot Noir in a slightly rustic style, you could do a lot worse than in Bienvenu in Irancy. They also do a rosé in a very pale salmon pink.
While based in the prosperous looking village of St Bris de Vineux, Domaine Bersan has vineyards in St Bris, Chablis and Irancy. This results in a comprehensive offer of white, rosé and red wines, sparkling wine and even some liqueurs. In St Bris Sauvignon Blanc is grown, which is very unusually for Burgundy in general. The winery is in conversion and will be able to call itself organic from 2011. Some of the old practices are followed (eg observing the lunar calendar) but not the whole biodynamic gospel. Viticulture is an old and continuous pursuit here – in the middle ages the monks established that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would succeed and that they would do best on the slopes. Consequently, the hill tops and the beginning of the slopes are used for Sauvignon Blanc. Continuing the theme of tasting in dimly lit cellars, here we had the fairly rare experience of tasting in a cellar parts of which go back to the tenth century.
Aligoté 2009 – a first chance to taste the much maligned ‘other’ white grape of Burgundy. This example – which was probably as good as it gets – was dry, quite fruity, with some grapefruit and gingerbread notes, sharp and quite forceful.
Sauvignon de St Bris 2009, Cuvée Mont Embrasé, 2009 – 20% aged in demi-muid (big barrels); fragrant and even perfumed nose; some butteriness perhaps due to partially allowing malolactic to take place. Good.
Sauvignon de St Bris 2008, Cuvée Mont Embrasé, 2008 – a riper year than 2008 but with higher acidity and so the full malolactic was allowed. A good example of the individual decisions which wine makers make on a year to year basis. Some gooseberry notes but mainly just vinous (if that’s not too pretentious).
Chablis 2008 - from Préhy and the next village; good green apple fruit, quite sharp, some yeastiness, though no battonage practiced
Côte d’Auxerre Blanc 2008 – being Chardonnay from the St Bris area; good fruit, fine apple aroma, 50% aged in older wood, medium length
Côte d’Auxerre Blanc, Cuvée Louis Bersan 2008 – from 45-65 year old vines with low yields, the wine being aged in oak for a year, a small portion of which is new. A forward fruit and pleasantly oaky nose, good complexity, with good mouth feel
Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Rouge Cuvée Louis Bersan 2008 – again this Cuvée from much older vines (65 years old), with noticeably greater minerality
Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Rouge Cuvée Louis Bersan 2006 – fruit more prominent the wine having had a chance to settle down from youthful sulkiness, still tannic, so quite a few more years of development possible.
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