The Domaine de Montille is one of those wineries whose wines tend to polarize people. Their wines make no concessions to the immediately drinkable, lush, and rich wines that are favored by many critics these days. Instead the de Montilles continue to make wines that speak of their place and season. Traditions begun by the father, Hubert de Montille, are now faithfully carried out (since 2001) by the son, Etienne,, who continues to create Terroirist Burgundies of the highest order.
And therein lies the rubs, well just a little bit of it. Many people heap acclaim on the wines of de Montille based more on philosophy, as opposed to the wines themselves.
What to expect: BurgundyThe incredibly complex and elegant expression of Pinot Noir is Burgundy's grand allure. No other wine region has been able to coax so much from this fickle grape. With its gentle structure cloaked in wonderfully precise yet transparent fruit tones that range from cranberry to black cherry, Burgundy is a wine that reveals itself slowly. Traditional techniques used in the region, such as including stems in the fermentation and utilizing neutral wood barrels for aging, allow the wine to achieve a level of complexity that few can match.Now don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not knocking the wines. I am knocking some of the reviews and comments on the wines in their youth. In our rush to embrace the “right” way of doings thing, to our minds, sometimes we loose sight of what is being done.
If you’re going to be telling everyone how good they are the least you can do is prepare people for the de Montille experience. I was fortunate to be able to catch up with Etienne at the recent Montreal Passion Vin and spoke with him briefly about the world of wine, of of course Burgundy.
Now about what is being done at de Montille in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. The wines are being produced in an idiosyncratic style. These are wines that are never chapalized (sugar added to increase alcohol) not are they particularly heavily oaked, 25% new wood in any given being the norm. In fact these are wines that combine a delicacy and gentle demeanor with the stony, sometimes aggressively mineral quality that many of the great Côte de Beaune vineyards exhibit, particularly in their youth.
These are wines whose charms emerge with age. There is no impression of sweetness from toasty oak, nor elevated alcohol, to seduce the palate when these wines are young, and the truth is even when mature these are wines that require participation for the consumer. And here is the crux of my complaint.
Many people whom report favorably about the new releases of these wines fail to grasp who involved tasting them young can be. These are not hedonistic wines in their youth; hell some never become remotely hedonistic. They are wines of detail, wines of balance, wines of finesse. Never destined to win blind tastings, these are wines you look forward to enjoying through a long meal, or sharing with like-minded friends.
The Domaine de Montille is renowned for their production of wines from the Côte de Beaune, a region generally more highly thought of for white wines than reds, though the great reds of the region offer some of the most compelling values in Burgundy. There is also the firm of Deux Montille Soeur Frère, owned by the same family but created to produce negociant wines, that is wine made from purchased fruit and must, under the somewhat confusing label Deux Montille.
While these are fine wines they don’t approach, yet, the wines that come from the de Montille’s own vineyards. Some 11 hectares (about 30 acres) are under vine, with only three hectare being white grapes, Chardonnay of course. Most of the vines enjoy some of the prime positions in the great vineyards of the Côte de Beaune; Les Rugiens and Les Pezerolles in Pommard, Clos Du Roi in Corton, Le Cailleret in Puligny-Montrachet, and Les Taillepieds, Les Champans, and Les Mitans in Volnay.
This tasting was split, with three vintages each of the fine Le Cailleret and the imposing Les Mitans. My notes are below. Oh and by the way, the wines are Biodynamic, not that anybody needs to mention that.
Domaine de Montille Produces both White and Red BurgundyPuligny – Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret
Le Cailleret has some very fine, and famous, neighbors. In fact Le Cailleret shares borders with Chevalier-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, and Montrachet itself. With such esteemed company it's not surprising that the wines from this slighty pebbly, Le Cailleret is derived from the French word for pebble, captures the mineral rich, elegant yet not fruit driven style that defines the finest wines of Puligny. Find my tasting notes here.
Volnay 1er Cru Les Mitans
Les Mitans lies atop a rather clay rich part of Volnay, and thus produces fruit that is a bit richer than some of the more assertively minerally wines from neighboring parcels. In some ways Mitans straddles the line that separates the power of Pommard from the silk of Volany. Nonetheless, in the hands of de Montille this is classic Volnay with floral overtones on the nose and a delicacy and transparency on the palate that few wines can match. Find my tasting notes here.
Puligny – Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret2002 - Sweet Asian pair backed up with integrated wood spice greets the nose. Notes of buttered almonds, honeycomb, pressed flowers and a hint of anise all add nuanced complexities. This has tremendous acidity and richness in the mouth but exhibits such harmony and wonderful balance that one barely notices the power. This already is exhibiting rich, fresh fruit on the palate with a slightly creamy edge to the Asian pear and Fuji apple toned fruit of the mid-palate that is followed by a long mineral and earth laden finish that leads to a fantastically ripe fruit tone on the finale. This has just brilliant tension in the mouth. 95pts
2001 - In comparison to the brilliant 2002 this vintage exhibits a more soil driven nose with less freshness. The fruit aromas veer off slightly to the dried orchard fruit end of the spectrum and are joined by tremendous spice notes that recall gingerbread with undertones of lemon verbena and hot iron. In the mouth this is rich and bright with a hint of tannin and very bright acids. Powerful with a muscular finish rich in glycerin, this trades some of the purity and elegance found in the 2002 for richness. This remains quite youthful, certainly less giving than the 2002, but shows promise for the future. 92pts
1998 - This offers up a huge bouquet of funky notes that range from sulfury tones of spicy greens to dirt, earth, and nutty, brittle tones. Crisp, with a noticeable touch of wood still on entry and brilliant acids helping to drive the toast, dried pear and mineral flavors across the palate but then this drops off quite quickly. The inner mouth perfume is very complex and intruding, mirroring the aromas, but all in all this bottle is disappointing and most likely a victim of the vintage. 87pts
Volnay 1er Cru Les Mitans2003 - Very sweetly fruited on the nose with a pronounced floral character and bright mineral underpinnings to the lightly roasted fruit. This smells like a bowl of warm cherries with subtle spice and ginger tones. Slightly chewy in the mouth this is full of ripe tannins balanced by slightly soft acids that allow the sweetness of the fruit to be revealed. There is surprising freshness to the curranty and apricot glaze tinged fruit on the mid-palate but this shows it’s youth on the backend, which is lean and compressed ending with a somewhat abrupt finish. A very successful 2003. 91pts
1998 - Very ripe fruits on the nose with a distinct roasted character and fleshy tones. This has a nice tight floral tone over a base of ash and blue clay. With air a fine very ripe stem tone adds freshness to the fruit. In the mouth this shows nice ripeness, though the tannins feel just a touch green. The acids are a touch soft giving a fairly rich feel to the spicy, wild berry fruit. The finish reveals a wash of minerality but ends with some drying, raw tannins. 90pts
1995 - Still very tight on the nose, one has to coax out the slightly stemmy wild cherry toned fruit. With air a more sunburned fruit tone emerges with very fine soisbois and floral, almost rose, accents. In the mouth this is very acid driven with burnished cherry fruit and a touch of dried strawberry but the palate remains a fairly tight ball of fruit and fine tannins. The finish reveals mineral and sousbois notes with emerging length and a subtle finale. 93pts