Monday, April 16, 2012

Clessé With Class

A while back on a Facebook forum organized by the always entertaining Peter Tryba, I posted that the only reason for chardonnay to exist was to make Chablis and Champagne. “All else is vanity,” I said, contentiously, thinking of the thousands of gallons of Rombauer and similar oak bombs I'd sold over the years, mostly to the sort of Republicans who spoke fondly of "freedom fries."

It was a stupid thing to say, I was just trying to get a rise out of some Cali Chard fans, and I am glad of an excuse to retract it. In this case, an excellent excuse arrived in the form of a bottle from the Viré-Clessé AOC in the Mâcon.

Domaine de Roally is a 14-acre estate owned and operated by Gautier Thévenet, whose father Jean runs Domaine de la Bongran in Clessé. The vineyard is situated on a limestone ridge, and is planted with a variety of old Chardonnay vines from different clones. No herbicides or fertilizers are employed; copper sulfate is used sparingly. There is a neck label on the bottle that says “Raisin cueilli a la main”  meaning “grapes picked by hand.” Fermentation is unusually long and slow, and the wine sees up to 16 months in vat before bottling.

Domaine de Roally Viré-Clessé 2008: On the nose, lemon zest and apple skin. In the mouth, an immediate sensation of lemon, apricot, and a Riesling-like mineral quality. With time in the glass, notes of ripe apple and honey appear.  Thévenet picks later than his neighbors, and gets a bit of residual sugar for his trouble, which in this case seems to give the wine texture rather than sweetness. It has been a very long time since I've tasted anything of this high level of quality from the Mâcon. Louis/Dressner brings it into the U.S.; it should run around $25/bottle. Thanks to Les Doss for introducing me to this superior example of Chardonnay.

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