In Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit wrote of Chablis: “The white Burgundy that raises the hair on my back, that arouses passions ranging from teeth-gnashing outrage to utmost euphoria, is not even from the Côte d’Or. It is Chablis, northernmost Chablis.” South of Chablis, but in the same orbit relative to the Côte d’Or, lies another Burgundian satellite that is similar in ways to its more famous neighbor: Vézelay. An hour and a half northwest of Beaune, this freshly minted AOC is capable of producing distinct, world-class Chardonnay, especially in the hands of a vigneron as talented as Valentin Montanet, whose family domaine began to pioneer organic farming in the region around the turn of the twenty-first century. The climate this far north is relatively cold and is reinforced by the “Galerne,” a wind that sweeps down from the northwest across the vineyards of Vézelay, helping the grapes to stay dry, cool, and healthy. This climate, a clay-and-limestone soil, and stainless-steel vinification are the pillars of Valentin’s Galerne blanc, a divine rendition of pure, chiseled Chardonnay, bearing notes of orchard fruit, citrus, and oyster shells. Speaking of which, pair it with food as you would a Chablis: oysters, light seafood, and mild cheeses.
Domaine Montanet-Thoden was founded in 2000 by Catherine Montanet of Domaine de La Cadette in collaboration with associate Tom Thoden. Though Catherine was still very much involved with La Cadette, she created the new domaine from her family's vineyards, which express a character of their own due to slight differences in the underlying terroir. Additional planting in the early 2000s brought the total vineyard area up to eight hectares, which are now managed by Catherine's son, Valentin.
Confident in the natural, traditional approach that Catherine had established from the start, Valentin maintained the methods and standards used by both of his parents to fashion fresh, succulent wines.
In eastern central France, Burgundy is nestled between the wine regions of Champagne to the north, the Jura to the east, the Loire to the west, and the Rhône to the south. This is the terroir par excellence for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The southeast-facing hillside between Dijon in the north and Maranges in the south is known as the Côte d’Or or “golden slope.” The Côte d’Or comprises two main sections, both composed of limestone and clay soils: the Côte de Nuits in the northern sector, and the Côte de Beaune in the south. Both areas produce magnificent whites and reds, although the Côte de Beaune produces more white wine and the Côte de Nuits more red.
Chablis is Burgundy’s northern outpost, known for its flinty and age-worthy Chardonnays planted in Kimmeridgian limestone on an ancient seabed. Vézelay is a smaller area south of Chablis with similar qualities, although the limestone there is not Kimmeridgian.
To the south of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise extends from Chagny on its northern end, down past Chalon-sur-Saône and encompasses the appellations of Bouzeron in the north, followed by Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Directly south of the Chalonnaise begins the Côte Mâconnais, which extends south past Mâcon to the hamlets of Fuissé, Vinzelles, Chaintré, and Saint-Véran. The Mâconnais is prime Chardonnay country and contains an incredible diversity of soils.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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