by Robert Giorgione, http://robertfoodwinetravel.blogspot.com
Why is it that over the years wines produced from Chardonnay have got a bit of a bad rep? Why is it that we consider more positively and ‘affectionately’ enjoying a bottle of white Burgundy, as opposed to a ‘New World’ Chardonnay? Perhaps you have not realised it yet, but when you are enjoying a bottle of Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet, you are in fact drinking Chardonnay. Chablis is made from Chardonnay too. But where does it say the varietal on the label? French vignerons, being very mysterious and due to their appellation controlee system prefer to put the region, village and vineyard name on the label. This, of course, is known as ‘Old World’ nomenclature. However, does this more traditional approach actually assist you in your vinous education and learning about grape varieties? Does it help you understand the individual personality of the wines and the locations from where they are produced. We have not even got started yet on the controversial topic of ‘terroir’.
I frequent many wine tastings and the followers of this blog will know that I have travelled all over the world and have visited many vineyards. For instance, a talented winemaker in Australia or New Zealand may remark that his Chardonnay is ‘Burgundy-style’ or has a similar mineral expression to Chablis. Burgundy has always been the ‘benchmark’ for most winemakers wish to aspire. What does all this mean? I have much admiration for the likes of Michael Brajkovich MW at Kumeu River, Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf, Blair Walter at Felton Road, the Cullen family or Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River, Western Australia, Rick Kinzbrunner at Giaconda in Beechworth, Victoria or Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara or Flowers, Kistler, Chalk Hill and Dehlinger in Sonoma for their wonderfully-crafted Chardonnays. In the very same (highest) regard, I consider Anne-Claude Leflaive, Dominique Lafon, the Ramonets, the Gagnards and Niellons with equal proportions of high esteem and genuine affection. Why is it that most of these so-called ‘iconic’ New World wines have embraced the screw cap closure, even for their single vineyard and most premium wines, even for their entire selections, whereby in the same breath it would be considered unacceptable for a white Burgundy? Screw caps in Burgundy – perish the thought…
Recently, I was invited to a wine tasting at Bibendum Wine Merchants to taste a range of wines from Thierry Matrot. In addition, Thierry himself was there to host the masterclass and present six of his wines.
The village of Meursault is situated in the wine region of Cote d’Or in Burgundy to the south of the town of Dijon. The village is in the heart of the Cote de Beaune, reputed for its great white wines (e.g Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet) and also for its supple and elegant reds (e.g Beaune and Volnay).
The Matrot family has owned vineyards in Meursault for three generations. Their domain now extends to 19.35 hectares in the communes of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Monthelie and Auxey-Duresses. 1983 was Thierry Matrot’s first vintage.
Thierry Matrot has used every possible organic techniques in the cultivation of his vines. The soil has benefitted from organic manure and ploughing. In addition, the vines are never treated with insecticides or pesticides. As a result, the domain’s wines have a purity, character and a genuine sense of terroir.
In general, the wines are aged in oak casks for around 11 to 12 months to develop the full character of the vintage. It is this rigorous work in the vineyard and the cellar that gives the wines of Domaine Matrot their uniqueness. Thierry normally prefers not to use new oak. However, he does make four exceptions for this rule. He believes that new oak is essential for the structure, expression and character of his Bourgogne Blanc, St Romain, St Aubin and prestigious “Quintessence” Puligny-Montrachet. The latter is a blend of two Puligny premier cru vineyards – Garenne (noted for its minerality) and Chalumeaux (known for its elegance and delicacy) framed in new oak. The first vintage of the “Quintessence” was in 2003.
Thus, apart from these ‘cuvees’, he likes the purity of (old) Alliers oak and a soft toast, as it does not impart the vanilla flavours often present in other Chardonnays, especially those from the New World. After all, he wants to make beautiful, well-integrated and elegant wines not vanilla ice cream!
The average age of his vines are 35 years old. With his Chardonnays, all of them display their own individuality, not only of the varietal, but genuinely of the appellation. For instance – his village Meursault ( a blend of 11 parcels) has classic nuances of honey and beeswax, which develop beautifully between three to five years in bottle. The Meursault-Blagny 1er Cru is delicious, more tense and nervous, and has a Puligny-like minerality. The Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru is known for its fat richness and power while the Meursault-Perrieres 1er Cru is noted for its finesse and vinosity. Thierry’s various Puligny’s are more delicate, floral and mineral and the ‘simpler, less noble’ of appellations such as St Romain and St Aubin are noted for their freshness, minerality with hints of spice and almonds.
Moreover, he sincerely believes that screw cap closures and the use of a little new oak is very appropriate for this more delicate style of earlier-drinking Chardonnay wines. I used to serve his St Romain (screw cap) by the glass whilst at Orrery restaurant. Not only did I get a positive response from my guests, because the wine delivered on every level (taste, quality and price), but the screw cap obviously has its advantages. According to Thierry Matrot: “Screw caps are the future”.
Now working for Bibendum Wine Merchants, sommelier James Lloyd (formerly of Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road) co-hosted the tasting and masterclass. We tasted the following six white wines:
2006 Meursault Thierry Matrot – dry, tight-knit structure, needs time, yet should develop beautifully. Powerful elegance
2004 Meursault 1er Cru Blagny – had evolved wonderfully in the bottle. Displayed all the characteristics of the 2004 vintage, delicate, delicious, very well-balanced, expressive floral notes and minerality.
2002 Meursault 1er Cru Blagny – a wine really in its prime, slightly tense, yet you still feel that there is something left in the tank in reserve. Will age for a further five years no probs…
1999 Meursault 1er Cru Blagny – a delicious example of a mature Meursault, yet still with plenty of freshness, elegance, balance and acidity. Spot on and ticked all my boxes.
1996 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chalumeaux – had evolved very well into maturity and displayed all the typical nuances and charm of a top-class Puligny. Floral and mineral notes beautifully pronounced.
1992 Meursault 1er Cru Blagny – exotic, complex, mature, nutty with that ‘quintessential’ Meursault beeswax character.
To summarise, in my opinion, Meursaults such as these and in particular the wines of Thierry Matrot will always be amongst my favourites and will go on to be regarded as the epitome of white Burgundy. Many thanks to all concerned.
With experience as a sommelier, wine buyer, photographer and traveller Robert is a complete blogger. You can check his food and wine journeys at http://robertfoodwinetravel.blogspot.com