Thinned-Skinned II – Chardonnay too has a Soul?

Continuing on now with this journey, this quest to expose the willing to these wines of ebullient character, character derived from decades making wine with nature as a wine-maker’s guide, I find myself ever eager to hold your interest.  Straying too far off course as I speak of the virtues of a wine that many folks may have little interest in often results in the shutting down of the initially opened minds.  In other words, let’s discuss something even dear old Mom likes to drink, shall we? 

As with many people in my life, this taste for the golden white wine came late in life for her, actually only recently, as I never recall a glass in her hand in my youth.  So as dear Mom acquired a taste for wine, naturally that taste was satiated by the most successful and popular grape type in America today.  Chardonnay, in all its many and varied styles had smitten dear old Mom, and it had been the Chardonnay of Burgundy that captured my tongue, many moons ago.

I recall the first time I sat through one of those ethereal White Burgundy events.  Ramonet was on full display that day, practically every Cru and with absolutely no regard for price.  This was one of those events hosted by the supplier and taking place at a grand location in the heart of Highland Park, THE zip code for the rich and elite in those days of the giddy and Rolls Royce as the family car days.  I was still in my vinous infancy and had yet to discover the “Thinned Skinned” style I would soon call my own. 

Until this tasting, my exposure to Chardonnay had been mostly at the hands of the West Coast offers so often requested at my place of employ.  Beringer was a big call, so too was the proverbial Mondavi Reserve.  I recall tasting the dregs from the ends of the bottles as these wines made their way back to my bar, thinking to myself how sweet they were; not sweet in the “Oh wow that was sweet man, let’s have more…” kind of way either.  No, my thoughts were more, “Is that sugar in the wine, it’s as sweet as the old man’s Galiano, strange…”, kind of way.

Back to the Rolls Royce and Ramonet event.  The wines in attendance, opened for all to taste, no matter the guest’s history nor experience, were the stuff of legends.  These were the Domaine Ramonet 1985s, a group of wines that encompassed every major Grand Cru I’d read about and was dying to taste, and just about every 1er Cru I had gathered a yearning for too.  I had started really reading by that point, sopping up knowledge like my life depended on it.  I knew how the classification system worked and I wanted to see if my feeble palate could render a judgement.  Is there really a difference between not only these Grand and 1er Crus, but also these French Chardonnays and the half dozen or so California versions I’d been exposed to? 

My palate was forever sealed.  I had discovered my soul-mate, speaking expressly in terms of white wines of the Chardonnay version that is.  Those White Burgundies, and so many others that I have experienced through my career – as well as an ever increasing number of “Thinned-Skinned” leaning producers out West – continue to set the bar for others to reach.  Allowing the minerality and soul-clutching depth of complexity to shine through, using Chardonnay as the vessel and absolutely no overt intervention, my self described “Thinned-Skinned” way of making wine – without trying to make the wine a block of muscle – produces in Burgundy the most exquisite example of that grape type one will encounter.

My hero, Kermit, has always strutted his stuff in this region too.  Kermit, like another of my heros, Allen Meadows, is a long-time friend to Aubert de Villaine, the man behind Domaine de la Romanee Conti.  I’ve visited DRC on far fewer occasions than my two aforementioned heros, a story for another day, so I can personally vouch for de Villaine’s perfectionist ways and absolute “Thinned-Skinned” approach and personality.  To see him produce White Burgundy is to know that MY kind of wine is going to be in the bottle.

De Villaine owns a Domaine just south of Chassagne Montrachet, south of the Cote D’Or proper, in the land known as the Cote Chalonnaise.  Specifically located in Bouzeron, just a few miles north of Rully, Domaine Villaine is run with the same zealous care as DRC, as one would expect with the name of the man himself so elegantly displayed right across every label.  The vineyards are planted exclusively on the slopes overlooking the valley in a nutrient poor soil rich with limestone; the perfect environment for producing “Thinned-Skinned”, terroir driven White Burgundy. 

Kermit solidified a friendship with de Villaine many years ago resulting in the importation of de Villaine’s Domaine wines to the States by Kermit and not the team behind the DRC label.  All the better for you and I, too, as the other team firmly controls allocations and would probably cause these fabulous White Burgundies to either end up tied up in allocation arguments or be priced out of reach.  And then how would we as “Thinned-Skinned” wine lovers ever see these amazing, mineral driven specimens on our dinner tables?

As a word of interest on the first wine I’m going to expose you to from this Domaine, made very much in the style I love, this is actually the ancient grape of the region called Aligote.  First critically acclaimed in this region as far back as 1730, in de Villaine’s hands it produces a wine so full of verve and minerality one has the sense they are drinking a wine from the “sea-shell-infused” land of Chablis…

2006 Domaine A. et P. De Villaine
Domaine de Villaine
Aligote Dry White Table Wine
Bouzeron, Cote Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France

Review by Cepage Noir
E*Newsletter Winter 2009
Rating: 89
Excellent wine with all the qualities expected of a near-outstanding rated wine.”
Drink: 2009 – 2012

        “Medium straw gold color, with great clarity and clear rim, indicating that while we’re in the drinking window, we have some good drinking years ahead of us.  Aromas of sea shells, sea breezes and an almost Chablis like nuance are beguiling and stand head and shoulders above any I’ve engaged from this region or type.  While we have fruits of a semi-exotic nature, almost tropical and honeydew, there is no denying the purity of mineral and total terroir here; just a joy to smell.  The palate mirrors the nose, to include the stony minerality, yet there is more fruit than the nose lets on, with the semi-tropical nuances and a richness coming through on the palate that suggests an almost Cote D’Or complexity.  This is just delicious and the fruit, the minerality and the terroir notes are very alluring.  What a fantastic glass of wine.”
                — Cepage Noir

a wine of limited nature, as all Kermit’s private selections tend to be…

and one of the wine-makers who started it all for me…

if this or any of the Kermit selections are of interest, give me a call 713-524-9144…

or drop me a return email, I’ll be happy to share the details…