This year we have visited Spain once, France three times, and toured around a number of vineyards in England. In France we visited the wine regions of Alsace, Chablis, Cote de Beaune, Cote de Nuits, Chinon, Saumur, Savennieres, and Menetou Salon and met 16 winemakers of which 10 were new to us.
As usual all of our visits are much wider than merely wine tasting, meeting the actual winemaker is an essential highlight of any visit as they speak with enthusiasm about the terroir, their history, their philosophy of winemaking …. as well as a little about the specifics of a particular wine being tasted such as the weather of that year, the crop yield, the grape ripeness and so on. I can’t remember EVER getting into a discussion with a winemaker along the lines of the classic “fruit salad bingo” as to whether there are notes of red fruit or citrus, cigar box or sweaty saddle! Usually their language centres on fruitiness generally, acidity, tannin and balance across all three. This then leads on to the ageing potential of the wine. Why oh why, I constantly ask, do the wine judges, writers, journalists etc persist in this personal, idiosyncratic description of the aromas and tastes that THEY perceive in a wine that many of us have no concept of? (Sorry Danell, I’ll save it for a later post).
And so, let’s reveal our Two Doctors Best Winemaker Award 2018 which goes to …….. Richard Rottiers the owner/winemaker at Domaine des Malandes in Chablis.
We wrote about our visit to Chablis last July and described Richard’s approach to winemaking, the extremely high quality of his wines, and his engaging nature on meeting us for the first time. As an aside, on the day he had arranged to meet us he was slightly late arriving at around 5pm …… because he’d been working in the vines all day before keeping his appointment with us. Contrast that with our late November visit to Burgundy where I had arranged visits to winemakers in Volnay and Vosne Romanee BOTH cancelled on the appointed days! So well done Richard, we’re sure there are far more prestigious awards coming your way. And now here is a replay of the blog article we wrote at the time of our visit:
A Visit to a Flying Winemaker
Arriving in a wine region for a holiday is usually shrouded in such anticipation that wine tastings begin before unpacking our cases in our hotel! And so it was in Chablis a couple of days ago, check in, drop off bags, out the front door, turn right and onwards to Domaine des Malandes where I had an appointment with Richard Rottiers the owner. Richard can rightly be called a “flying winemaker” having zoomed off to New Zealand and South Africa a few years back to oversee development of a couple of vineyards and wineries. A recent article in the July issue of Decanter magazine described him as one of the “young up and coming winemakers of ….. Beaujolais”! Eh, strange, we’re going to Chablis! Richard actually owns vineyards in both Chablis and Beaujolais so it’s possible to have a tasting of BOTH in his Chablis cellars ……. so we did!
Richard is an enthusiastic and engaging young man who clearly has vast knowledge of winemaking and infinite patience and generosity towards visitors for a wine tasting. After walking us around his production facilities we descended into his tasting room, brilliantly decorated with wall murals painted by his mother, where 9 different Chablis were ready and waiting for us.
We began however with a Sauvignon Blanc, a grape permitted to be grown in the area around the village of St Bris just outside Chablis, so simply known as Sauvignon St Bris. Now, Michael, Sharon’s husband detests Sauvignon Blanc so was not best pleased …. but he tried it and was staggered! Clearly the terroir of this area plus Richard’s biologique approach transforms the wine into something of lower acidity and no cats pee aromas! As he said, this wine should give aromas of “cassis/blackcurrant Flowers” without the heavy gooseberry normally associated with it, and it sure did. One case, straight into the car. Bargain at €7.50 per bottle.
Next up was the full range of Chablis grades, starting with Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Crus, and finally Chablis Grand Crus. The determining factor of each of the four grades is WHERE the vines are grown and whether the soil is Kimmeridgean, and I have written about this earlier …. The Four Grades of Chablis
All of Richard’s wines flex between being of high or low minerality, moderate or high complexity, medium or long finish so it becomes a question of personal taste for all of his wines made from a single grape …. the noble Chardonnay. However as you climb the grades the complexity and depth of each wine increases, as does the price, but at €13 per bottle of his “standard” Chablis 2017 this is an absolute bargain ….. another case straight into the car. Daughter now worried as she hasn’t bought any yet and I’m slowly filling the boot space! Now we entered the realm of the Chablis Premier Crus and Richard opened a Vau de Vey and a Fourchaume. Absolute nectar, both of them, each different in style with the Vau de Vey having a greater minerality than the deeper flavoured Fourchaume. All a question of personal taste again, but the garbage “fruit salad” approach of many professional wine writers just doesn’t interest us. These two Chablis Premier Cru are both full throttle, classy, clean-fresh, long finish highly flavoursome wines. Not even a hint of oak thank goodness, just Chardonnay in its purest form. Another case for me into the car: daughter looking more worried, I tell her to start flexing her own credit card before it’s too late!
Richard now walked across to his racks and brought back one more bottle to open and taste …. my goodness, a Chablis Grand Cru, Les Clos … the wine I had as #1 on my Wines 101 Bucket List but from a different producer. If we thought the Premier Cru were nectar this was the Queen of Nectars, the initial aroma was an absolute explosion of lemony fruit, floral notes and stone …. sorry that’s close to a fruit salad bingo approach, but it’s what happened. Flavour was a similar experience. But I only bought a single bottle for reasons I will reveal in my next Chablis tasting post, but still a bargain at €40.
Across all of these wines Richard had carefully explained precisely where the grapes had been grown, the associated terroir, how quality and flavour was affected by it, and it’s comparison to previous vintages as all of these were 2017. But now it was time for a Beaujolais tasting of his Villages, Brouilly and Moulin a Vent. Quite brilliant again, so …. a case of Brouilly into the car!
Clearly we cannot recommend Richard and his Domaine des Malandes highly enough, almost certainly the best all round wine tasting we have ever experienced over 30+ years of visits to vineyards in France. Go and try it for yourself as the first thing you do before unpacking your bags. Richard will welcome you for sure.