Profile: Domaine Denis et Vincent Berthaut (Fixin)

Update 7.10.2009(27.10.2007)billn

vincent et denis berthaut
I’ll make a bold statement here: Denis Berthaut provides some of the finest and most ‘elegant’ of wines from the Fixin / Gevrey area; as l’Arlot are a style understudy to Dujac so Berthaut can be similarly be compared with the loftier elegance of J-F Mugnier – there I said it! The normal and indeed widely accepted face of Fixin is for robust wines, often with more than a hint of rusticity, this address is the closest you will get to real elegance from Fixin – of-course the Gevreys’ are even a notch finer!

Denis Berthaut, a young, friendly, handsome, and open-minded man, has 28.8 acres of vineyards from which he produces a range of rather robust, tannic, old-style wines.
Robert M Parker 1989

After meeting Denis in October, I can confirm that he’s a friendly guy and perhaps handsome too – I’ll leave that confirmation to the ladies – as for the rest, it seems there has been some evolution in the last 18 years!

The domaine

From the crossroads in the centre of Fixin take the turn up the hill towards the Parc Noisot in the direction of the Clos des Perrières. On your left-hand side you will find the home of Domaine Vincent et Denis Berthaut and just a little further up on your right you will find their working centre which adjoins the ‘Caveau Napoleon’. The ‘Caveau’ is a tiny shop selling a small selection of of wines from different Fixin producers – this is also owned by the domaine and an outlet for their wines – you can also find here the wines of Domaine Gerbet (of Vosne-Romanée) as Denis is married to one of the Gerbet sisters.

Denis is the 6th generation of his family to make wine in Fixin, since 1975 he and his brother Vincent carried on from where his father left off, exploiting 14 hectares of vines centred on Fixin. There is a mix of Gevrey-Chambertin too, for Denis is the metayeur for the Mercier family of Domaine des Chézeaux, tending all of their Gevrey vines – excepting of the Grand Crus – and making the wines.

Of vines and winemaking

clos des chezeauxThe clear focus of the domaine is Fixin. There are 8 hectares of villages-rated Fixin including a small lieu-dit called Le Clos of which they are the majority owner and the villages lieu-dit of Les Crais. Fixin Les Arvelets is a premier cru with a very strong standing in this cellar – Denis even likes to seal these bottle with wax – the wine is made from just over 1 hectare of vines.

As for Gevrey-Chambertin, there is a basic villages cuvée, the named lieu-dit of Clos des Chézeaux and some Lavaux St.Jacques and Cazetiers vines. In terms of these Gevrey-Chambertin 1ers, what is produced is vintage dependant because both the Lavaux and the Cazetiers are small plots, all-told there is only 0.3 hectares, so it’s not uncommon to combine them into a single 1er Cru cuvée. Of particular interest for label spotters, Berthaut is the only source of the Mercier owned Gevrey villages, Clos des Chézeaux – in effect the Clos des Chézeaux is a well-sited monopole, though that word never appears on the label. Currently planted to 0.46 hectares, the vines lie at the same elevation as many 1er crus and are sited in the garden of a house close to the Château in Gevrey.

berthaut fixinRounding off the portfolio is a Bourgogne rouge from Fixin vines and finally some Côte de Nuits Villages from vines sited between Fixin and Gevrey in the commune of Brochon.

The domaine’s particular rootstocks, coupled to their age – 30-40 years – are low enough yielding that they require no green harvesting to produce somewhere between 30 and 40 hl/ha. Denis doesn’t attach any labels such as bio or lutte raisonée to his vineyard work, rather he says he tries to work in the most ‘sympathetic’ way, and has not used any herbicides in the last 12 years.

Once the grapes are sorted, Denis makes the fermentation in concrete vats of the same type used by, amongst others, Domaine Fourrier and Domaine Denis Mortet. Usually the cuvées stay at 14°C for a few days until they march onto a preferred maximum of 30°C. Denis aims for 1 pigeage per day, vintage dependant. Now we have a departure from the norm; Denis prefers to put his pre-malo wines into large (1,000 to 2,000 litre) wooden foudres until the malolactic fermentation is completed – only then do they go into the usual barrels – typically with about 20% new oak. Denis’ aim with the foudres is that all the barrels in the cellar are then at the same stage in malo – rather than some barrels being 80% completed, some only 60% completed etc., etc.

A tour of the cave

We started with a couple of one-month-old 2007 cuvées – plenty of colour and lovely pre-malo aromas – let’s see what they become. The tariff from the domaine is very reasonable, and I have already ordered some wines…

2006 Fixin Le Crais
Wide and wild – just a little pot-pourri. There’s good width in the mouth, it’s quite athletic in shape with tannins that are reasonably well cultured. Still Just a little prickly acidity but the length is good. This will be a good value wine. This vintage there are 11 barrels – 2 new, 2 one year-old, 2 two year-old etc. – the average is abot 20% new.

2006 Fixin 1er Les Arvelets
The nose is deeper and redder than the ‘Crais’, also showing width and nicely precise fruit notes. It’s rounder in the mouth too, it’s less wild and shows more dimension. Lovely nose, lovely wine.

2006 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos des Chézeaux
Understated nose of cherry with some coffee depth. Wide in the mouth, this shows plenty of ripe and furry tannin – it’s a nice texture. The fruit is high-toned and dovetails into a mouth-watering, very well balanced whole. Nice wine.

2005 Fixin Le Craistry to find this wine...
A very tidy and smooth red nose. Tannin is the first thought though it’s soft and not overly pronounced, it’s also coupled to red fruit that shows an additional creamy depth. Well balanced acidity and a reasonable length. High quality villages Fixin.

2005 Fixin 1er Les Arveletstry to find this wine...
A deeper and tighter nose – faint spice too. Balance coupled to super texture, excellent width, depth and dimension. The size of this tasting note is inversely proportional to the quality – excellent.

2005 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos des Chézeauxtry to find this wine...
Delicate, fragrant and focused, it’s a lovely nose though not what I would guess to be Gevrey. Some fat, this nicely textured wine again shows an additional creamy edge to the fruit. The tannin is less transparent than the previous ‘Arvelets’, but it’s fine and ripe. Finishes long and fresh. Excellent villages.

2003 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos des Chézeauxtry to find this wine...
Medium-plus ruby-red, still with a cherry-hued rim. The nose is understated, deep and just a little tight. The palate is concentrated, ripe, sweet and by a hairs-breadth avoids being ‘porty’. The flavour clings to the inside of your mouth with understated, faintly bitter but relatively fine tannins and little dried fruits as a background – it hangs around quite long. Sumptuous if not elegant. A pleasant enough 2003.

2002 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos des Chézeauxtry to find this wine...
Medium cherry-red colour. The nose starts with just a twist of dark and spicy oak. The palate has ebullient acidity, the classic 2002 grainy tannin and a narrow but quite long finish. The acidity is really a key part of the expansion in the mid-palate which brings quite some character to the wine. Perhaps not quite 1er cru level of intensity or, today, complexity, but certainly engagement. Nice wine, even in a 2002 context.

2001 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos des Chézeauxtry to find this wine...
Medium cherry-red colour. The wide nose mixes high tones, powdery red fruit and an interesting depth. The palate is lovely; ripe, sweet fruit, perfectly balancing acidity, melting tannins and a burst of intensity in the mid-palate that leads you to the mouth-watering finish. The finish is medium-plus length with a hint of chocolate. Young but I have to say drinking beautifully today!

2003 Fixin Le Craistry to find this wine...
Only 20 hl/ha in this vintage – normally it’s 40. Ripe red/orange fruit on the nose. The palate is soft, ripe and enveloping – just slightly decadent. For my own taste it could do with a little more acidity, but the balance is not so bad, just a hint of anise to go with the fruit. If you like the vintage you’ll like this wine.

2000 Fixin Les Clostry to find this wine...
A little paler. Ripe, baked fruit with some pot-pourri spice background. A sweet palate that avoids being cloying – plenty of red confiture. Soft, with good apparent concentration. Not quite so decadent as the 2003 ‘Crais’ but still with a twist of hedonism! I’d say that this would still benefit from 1-3 years more in the cellar.

1988 Fixin 1er Les Arveletstry to find this wine...
A treat! A deep, dusky and musky nose – in the short time we’re together the fruit slowly comes more to the fore. Very soft entry, it’s wide and and interesting with plenty of dimension, power and is quite ripe. There’s a little more grain to the tannins than the previous wines, but this is long and lovely – à point!

Vincent et Denis Berthaut
9 Rue Noisot
21220, Gevrey-Chambertin
tel: +33 (0)3 80 52 45 48
fax: +33 (0)3 80 51 31 05

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