Quick question – can you name the 8th Grand Cru of Chablis? – Sorry, you took too long to answer, but don’t worry, that and the answer to many other questions will become clear as you continue…
Maison Albert Bichot is perhaps the sleeper of the large Beaune negociants – what do I mean by that? – well, despite it’s size and the apparent quality of it’s production, it is a name that’s not on the tip of most tongues – Why? Well I can think of at least three reasons:
- Firstly, the branding has historically showcased the names of the individual domaines rather than the owner of those domaines. A recent re-design is subtly starting to make the Bichot name more prominent and I have to say that I do like the design of those labels.
- Secondly, (as commercial director Philippe de Marcilly freely admits) they have, perhaps, for a number of years ‘overlooked’ many of the English-language ‘opinion-formers’.
- Finally, the books written about Burgundy are starting to get a little long-in-the-tooth, typically being snapshots of the early 1990’s; here Bichot is clearly framed as an underachiever – so maybe it was a good strategy to avoid the journalists!
It was a bottle of Bichot’s 2001 Vosne-Romanée (see below) that got me thinking; I drank it in January ’05 together with a well-reviewed 2002 Vosne-Romanée from another producer yet I preferred the 2001 – perhaps it was time to find out more…
Past and present
By the standards of Burgundy, Maison Albert Bichot is a large producer: Perhaps smaller than Jadot but larger than Drouhin, owning over 100 hectares of vineyards and vinifying ~150 they are similar in size to Bouchard Père et Fils. Still family owned since 1831, it is now the sixth generation of Bichots at the helm – Albéric Bichot.
Albéric has had a flying start to his tenure – already in the last 12 months, three awards for winemaking (Winemaker of the Year 2004 – Le Journal de Paris, Decanter World Wine Awards 2004 – International Pinot Noir Trophy, 2004 Wine International Challenge – Red Winemaker of the Year). A conversation was overheard at a recent tasting; one of the tasters asking whether the awards might have been a fluke, a well-known journalist tasting the wines replied “one award maybe, lightening doesn’t tend to strike twice in the same place, but three…”
It was in the mid 1990’s that Maison Bichot decided to change the way they worked. They realised that if they wanted to be relevant in the future they would need to do everything they could to increase the quality of their wines – this meant taking control in the vineyard as well as the cuverie – the raw materials would be everything. Today 100% of their crus are vinified in-house and the amount of villages wines they vinify increases by the year – currently 80% is in-house. The wines are vinified locally to their vineyards by local régisseur under the watchful eye of of Bichot’s head winemaker Alain Serveau, it was he who was instrumental in the current ‘in-house’ vinification philosophy. Alain points to traditional vinification in open wooden vats, occasionally whole cluster fermentations when it fits, no pumping, the wine is only moved by gravity where possible.
To facilitate this increase in their own production they have purchased a large cuverie from Bouchard P&F – those of you familiar with the ring-road around Beaune should recollect a large BP&F facility on the left-hand-side of the road – this is what Bichot have bought and they expect that it will take around 12 months to get it into the configuration they desire.
Christophe Chauvel is responsible for the vineyards (ex of Domaine Leflaive where he worked closely with Pierre Morey) and explains that it is quite easy to vinify if the raw materials are good – it’s his job to make sure that they are. To that end, yields are restricted, aiming for ~35 hl/ha for the crus, no fertilisers (just a little compost every 5 or 6 years) and no herbicides are used – weed control is only by ploughing. They effectively produce in an organic way but don’t bother with the (considerable) effort for certification – it is enough for them to know that they work in the best way. “Just like life” says Christophe “the soil needs to be a balance”. It is, of-course, more expensive to work this way but if there is an equivalent increase in quality, then they can more than recoup that cost.
2003 Maison Albert Bichot, Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes
Medium cherry-red colour. High-toned with kirsch on the nose, swirling reveals red fruit and a green note. The palate shows quite a vegetal mid-palate – not quite right. The replacement bottle is completely different, deeper coloured, sweeter nose and nothing green on the palate. Almost good structure. This is a well-made wine that would make a good house red, but leave it for another year first.
2003 Maison Albert Bichot, Mercurey 1er, Champs Martin
The land (1.0 ha) was only purchased recently. Medium-plus cherry-red. It’s a ripe nose that is both fresh and a little earthy though tighter than the last wine. Good breadth to the fruit and harmonious acidity and tannin. This is a young, fresh and quite explosive package that has a good shot at elegance as the structure softens – very interesting.
2003 Maison Albert Bichot, Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge
Deep cherry-red. The nose is deep, interesting and covered by a higher-toned layer. Big though not burly, there is more fat and grainy tannin, but there’s plenty of balancing acidity. Successfully avoids being ‘rustic’. Reasonable length too – good wine.
And the wine that started it all:
2001 Maison Albert Bichot, Vosne-Romanée
I’ve usually shied away from the Bichot wines, not sure why, I’ve rarely seen them reviewed, maybe it was a hangover of Anthony Hanson’s assessment in his book! Certainly the label is nice and attractive but what about the wine? Medium, medium-plus cherry-red. The high-toned nose instantly betrays a little toasty oak but then it’s gone leaving predominantly red fruit with a little white pepper. Fresh palate with sufficiently intense red fruit for the appellation and much finer tannins than the Chevigny V-R that follows it. Super acidity and creamy length. Not as robust as the Chevigny and perhaps not quite as concentrated but there’s a really lovely mouthfeel here. Obviously quite young but pure and not obviously oaky either. Next time the co-op has a sale I will certainly buy a few more – a success – maybe I should arrange a visit!
As alluded to earlier, despite a strong family identity to the labeling across many of the owned domaines, these separate brands are more obvious than their ownership – here’s a selection of what they own:
Owned by Bichot since 1968 this is perhaps the most important of their domaines at close to 70 hectares. Based entirely in Chablis, Domaine Long-Depaquit is very important to the region as they own fully 10% of all the Chablis Grand Cru vineyards and much of the rest of their holdings are 1er Cru rated. It is here that you will meet the 8th Grand Cru – Moutonne. Whilst the wine is itself undoubtedly Grand Cru, Allen Meadows suggests that the name Moutonne is actually more of a brand despite it’s first (it is said) use by monks over 800 years ago, it’s true, however, that the name was resurrected by the new owners when church lands were sold around 1790. Moutonne is a 2.35 hectare block of vines that is predominantly in the Grand Cru of Vaudésir but also includes a small piece of Les Preuses. All the vines are on the same Kimmeridgian soil (tiny fossilised shellfish bound in clay) and was granted the right by the INAO to use the name ‘La Moutonne’ instead of Vaudésir in 1952.
Winemaking at this domaine is slowly evolving, like the rest of Bichot’s domaines they are now aiming for 35hl/ha for their top wines – before it was 50. The Grand Crus receive around 20% oak aging and only natural yeasts are used for vinification. Régisseur Gérard Vullien, who was with the domain for 30 years retired after releasing the 2002 vintage to be replaced by Jean-Didier Basch in April 2004. Jean-Didier was formerly the estate manager for Domaine Ott in the Var. Although not yet quite on the same level as William Fevre, it seems they are catching up very fast and according to the Burghound their 2003’s are better than their 2002’s when one factors-in the vintage.
1999 Chablis Grand Cru La Moutonne
Medium-plus yellow. The nose is waxy and smooth. The concentrated palate gives quite a dense showing – there’s lot’s of material here – good acidity and nice length. For me this wine is in that area where I wouldn’t drink – old enough to have lost it’s youthful zest and still too young for serious complexity.
2001 Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons
Medium yellow. The nose has depth, high-toned citrus and an initial impression of oak – but it blows off. Wow, after a recent diet of 2003 Côte de Beaune this is brilliant; not fat but lovely, lovely acidity. Just a little harshness and grain at the back of the palate that is reminiscent of oak. Medium length. You need to wait a while for this wine – given two hours there is no impression of oak on either the palate or the nose – in fact you have an effect like biting into a grapefruit – lovely. It was 22°C today (March!) – so now it’s white wine season – and this works just fine.
Domaine du Clos Frantin
Acquired in 1969 from Grivelet, this thirteen hectare estate enjoys a roll-call of Côte de Nuits Grand Crus; Richebourg, Chambertin, Grands-Echézeaux, Echézeaux, Clos de Vougeot plus the second largest holding of Vosne-Romanée 1er Malconsorts. They also produce villages Nuits, Vosne and Gevrey from their own vines.
The wines from this estate were never very well reviewed but the Bichot management have been working to change that, indeed it was here that Alain Serveau piloted his approach, an approach that brought gold for three of Clos du Frantin’s wines in the IWC 2004, with their Grands-Echézeaux taking both the Pinot Noir and the Red Burgundy trophy. Everything is now vinified in Nuits as the old cuverie had neither the space nor the configuration to produce wines in the manner sought by Alain.
The domaine was founded by one of Napoleon 1st’s commanders – Field-Marshall Antoine Vincent Legrand, the name Clos du Frantin coming from a small plot of villages Vosne at the edge of the village and across the road from both La Tâche and Les Chaumes. The Clos du Frantin was bottled by Grivelet (and also for a while Bichot) as a monopole but today is a blend with another block of vines above Malconsorts in Damaudes. I tasted four of their 2004 pre-malo Grand Crus, their villages Vosne and their Malconsorts – things look very interesting.
2001 Domaine du Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanée Les Malconsorts
Medium colour. The nose is a little spicy, eventually giving up it’s red creamy-edged fruit – very understated. Like the nose, the palate is also quite understated, everything is in the right place, a little red fruit here and a little black fruit there. Well put together and quite elegant, but also quite primary. Reminds me very much of the Camille-Giroud ’01 Malconsorts tasted 6-7 months ago, no real excitement today but hope for the future.
2003 Domaine du Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanée< A later harvest for this wine - another 10 days after the ban des vendanges to allow the phenolics to ripen. Medium, medium-plus cherry red. The nose is sweet and starts a little heavy, slowly becomes a little higher toned over vanilla notes. The palate is fat, ripe and sweet, just a little purer cherry fruit at the back of the palate that follows into the vanilla driven finish. Tannins and acidity are conspicuous by their absence - actually everyone loved this, but I suspect it will be at it's apogee over the next 5 or 6 years, rather than 15-16, not too much obvious 'Vosne character' either at this pre-release stage. 2002 Domaine Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanée
Medium cherry-red. The nose takes a little while to lose a dense woody note, but once gone there’s a slightly heavy and quite ripe morello cherry, becomes purer still and higher-toned with time. The palate is medium density and also needs a few minutes to iron-out the oak, but it’s well balanced and shows good length. The style is of a light to middle-weight with an extra, slightly vanilla tinged dimension on the finish. Like the nose there’s an ever improving impression to this wine, particularly the finish and the nose – I’d give this at least 3 or 4 years before returning – should be more than worthwhile.
2001 Domaine Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanée
Medium, medium-plus colour. Instantly deep, oak inflected nose – behind lies a red and black confit, spicily edged with ginger. Lovely mouthfeel; the entry is soft and the mid palate bursts into life. Silky smooth with juicy acidity, sweet, but not too sweet fruit and a lingering creamy note. The oak recedes and the quality of the fruit on the finish reminds me very much of a 1993… Very impressive.
2000 Domaine Clos Frantin, Vosne-Romanée
Medium cherry red, perhaps shading to a more ruby hue at the rim. The nose starts more oaky and with disappointingly thin fruit – it needs the oak to dissipate to give a more interesting balance, and dissipate it does leaving a nice high-toned expression. Eventually it’s a sweet mix of slightly caramel-tinged red fruit. Nice mouthfeel, less apparent concentration and not such a long finish, though the acidity is almost good. Tasty, very well balanced and serious but ultimately less serious than the excellent 2001.
Domaine Clos du Pavillon
Now that Alain and Christophe are happier with Clos du Frantin, together they are turning their attention to another Bichot domaine in Pommard, the 17 hectare, 90,000 bottle Domaine du Pavillon.
Purchased in 1993 this has become the site for vinifying all of Bichot’s Côte de Beaunes, wines that range from Meursault to Corton-Charlemagne and red Meursault to Corton – 12 appellations in all – including 3 interesting monopoles; the Pommard Clos des Ursulines and a novelty in Corton, purchased in 1997, a clos that has two distinct appellations; Corton Clos des Maréchaudes Grand Cru, and separated by a pathway within the Clos, Aloxe-Corton 1er Clos des Maréchaudes.
2003 Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard Clos des Ursulines
High-toned nose. Real density without too much fat. Ripe, but in the best sense. Well structured with just a little earth on the tannic finish. Very, very young, I’d buy.
2002 Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard Clos des Ursulines
A little ashy earth and minerality on the nose, less forward than the 2003. Very good, wide fruity character, good length and well managed structure. Another good wine.
2003 Domaine du Pavillon, Aloxe-Corton 1er Clos des Maréchaudes
A deeply coloured wine. The nose is rather closed, but the palate has a lovely covering of ripe, black-shaded fruit that has an extra burst on the finish.
2003 Domaine du Pavillon, Corton Clos des Maréchaudes
Evident extra structure. Also more depth and length. Has more of everything, though not quite the little burst of the 1er.
2002 Domaine du Pavillon, Aloxe-Corton 1er Clos des Maréchaudes
The nose is a little alcoholic. Very nice satin texture, complex fruit, good acidity – well structured.
2002 Domaine du Pavillon, Corton Clos des Maréchaudes
Denser fruit, though not fatter. There’s a little extra shade of black, if not quite the satin. Still a sleeker wine.
So despite being a clos, it is the slightly higher vines that show the extra depth and these are the Corton vines.
Purchased in 1978, it is only recently that the domaine has become fully available for development. There is the Domaine du Château Gris in Nuits-Saint Georges, Château de Viviers in Chablis and a negociant business. It is at the beautifully restored Lupé-Cholet buildings in Nuits that all the Bichot wines from the Côte de Nuits are vinified, but on the other side of the main rod and up on the hillside is the Château Gris – and it is a site to see. Named after the grey roof-tiles – unlike most of the rest of the Côte d’Or it is surrounded by terraced vineyards – all Nuits 1er Cru. Domaine Château Gris also owns the only vineyard actually in Nuits – the Monopole Clos de Lupé, which is back where we started in the ‘garden of the Lupé-Cholet house.
2003 Domaine du Château Gris, Bourgogne Clos de Lupé
Medium-plus colour. Sweet, ripe fruit – really good balance and length – surprisingly good length. Fresh and very interesting.
2002 Domaine du Château Gris, Bourgogne Clos de Lupé
High-toned red-fruity nose. Once more there’s good concentration and texture balanced by grippy tannin and good acidity. Another nice wine.
2003 Domaine du Château Gris, Nuits-St.Georges 1er Château Gris
A lovely nose, sweet and ripe fruit that becomes a little powdery with swirling. Good fat but really excellent fruit and a nice texture to boot. Good-plus length – another very nice wine.
2002 Domaine du Château Gris, Nuits-St.Georges 1er Château Gris
Nice sweet fruit on the nose. Broad and interesting palate with good length. Not as ‘showy’ as the ’03 but that’s not to it’s detriment – good wine.