Not far from Pouilly-Fuissé but considerably smaller, Pouilly-Loché is rarely seen in the UK so doesn’t share the same renown as its close neighbour. But the wines can be fantastic. Take the single vineyard wines of Domaine du Clos des Rocs, a 7.5-hectare organic estate owned by Olivier Giroux. What they share is a piercing freshness and focus that make a real impact on the palate. His ‘En Chantone’ in particular grabbed my attention. With such a tingling lemongrass and fresh floral aroma it starts to refresh even before it hits your tongue. The fruit is relatively lean for the vintage and it has razor-sharp precision and bristling acidity. ‘Mineral’ is an over-used descriptor, but it’s hard to think of a more apt one for this brilliant wine.
Didier Defaix says he always tries to make wines with good fruit and finesse – wines that are “very Pinot”. He’s certainly succeeded in 2017, particularly with his Rully Premier Cru ‘Clos du Chapitre’ which couldn’t be from any other region in the world. It’s gently earthy, pierced with bright red berry fruits, light to medium-bodied but with some presence on the palate. A little oak spice and a patina of superfine tannins give shape and length.
The Clos du Chapitre is at the bottom of a slope with heavy clay soils that give a little extra weight to the fruit. Didier never chaptalizes his wines, only uses indigenous yeasts for the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations and is gradually dialling down use of new oak “to guard freshness and fruit.” His wines feel effortless – and that takes a lot of work.
Montagny is the only village in the Côte Chalonnaise to make exclusively white wines. Previously, all it took for the wines of Montagny to be given Premier Cru status was an alcoholic degree of 11.5% or more, but now it has fallen into line with the rest of the region, and wines can only be called Premier Cru if they’re from the top-rated vineyards.
But Montagny needn’t be Premier Cru to be delicious, particularly when it’s in the hands of talented winemakers like Jean-Marc Pillot. He has run his 12-hectare domaine for 27 years, and though he’s rightly famous for his Chassagne-Montrachets, don’t overlook the rest of his range. Montagny for me is always marked by a blade of acidity running through it, which is keenly felt in this wine. It has sharply-focussed citrus fruit matched with smart use of oak and overall the feeling is one of great tension and vibrancy. It would work well as a palate-sharpener before dinner, or with bar snacks like fried whitebait.
The Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits region covers over 700 hectares of vineyards on the higher slopes and plateaux above the Côtes de Nuits, so the terroir isn’t as neatly defined as some smaller appellations. What the vineyards have in common is elevation, with vineyards rising up to 480m altitude. And the cooler temperatures that come with elevated vineyards bring welcome freshness in warm vintages.
Domaine Bertrand Ambroise has made a brilliant example in 2017. The domaine has its roots in the 18th century, and is a genuine family affair, with Bertrand’s wife Martine and two children François and Ludivine all involved in the estate. Their Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits comes from a parcel of 25-year-old Chardonnay, aged in foudre and 400l oak barrels (20% new) which underpins the fruit without overwhelming it. What struck me was its versatility. Bourgogne blanc is famous for its food-friendliness, but thanks to its fine acidity, drinkability and balance, this is particularly adaptable, and would work by the glass, with various cuisines and drinking occasions. Delicious, great value – and an incredibly useful wine to have up your sleeve.