‘Cuvee Maison’ – How a ‘House Burgundy’ Came to Be

Cuvee de la MaisonBack in April 2011, when we asked your suggestions for a new name for the store, the most frequent suggestion was some variation on “House Wine” – a play on Doug’s last name. We went another direction in naming the store, but even then we knew that we’d have a “House wine” for you to try soon.

Here’s the story of how Bzikot Puligny Montrachet Cuvee de la Maison came to be, as told by Doug …

The “New Oak” Puzzle
Cuvee Maison Wine BarrelThe story starts when I first began working with Olivier Daubresse and learning about Burgundy. Over the years, I’d frequently hear Olivier comment that a wine would have been better if it had been raised with more new oak. I’d smile and nod, but not really understand. I’d been losing my taste for oaky reds for years and have never liked super-oaky whites. So his “more new oak” refrain puzzled me.

I remember clearly the moment I finally understood what Olivier was talking about. It was late on a bright and chilly January afternoon in 2010 in the small cellar at Domaine Bzikot. We’d been doing our annual barrel tasting with Sylvain – a marathon that often covers 30 to 40 different barrels – and were finally starting to taste his premier crus from the powerful, ripe, and muscular 2009 vintage.

Sylvain is one of the best “under the radar” winemakers in all of Puligny Montrachet, in large part because of his passion for letting every wine speak clearly to its site and vintage. He values purity and minerality highly, and abhors the thought of letting oak flavors dominate his wines. So he’s always made his two 1er cru wines – from Perrieres and Folatieres – in about half new oak and half second use barrels plus a little in tank.

Sharp Focus and Definition
When we tasted the 2009 Perrieres from the small tank and used barrels, I was struck by the size, ripeness, and power of the young wine. Not surprisingly for a young wine beginning its maturation, the flavors were a touch indistinct and texture a bit “fuzzy,” but I know from experience that this is something that improves with time in Sylvain’s wines.

Then we tasted Perrieres from the new oak barrel – and the difference was profound. Yes, there was a touch more oaky character, but more importantly the new oak barrel wine was brighter, more defined, more mineral, and much, much, more elegant. It was as if this bulky young wine had been battling the new oak barrel to achieve balance, and in doing so had developed the “cut” or “ripped” physique of a body builder. Far from overwhelming the wine, the new oak barrel had allowed it to sharpen its own focus and definition. And for the first time, I understood why Olivier had been nudging Sylvain to use only new oak for this cuvee for years.

Getting This Experience to You
Over the next few months, I tried to figure out how we could get a 100% new oak cuvee from Sylvain for you. I tried to buy the new oak barrel of Perrieres, but Sylvain needed it to keep his entire cuvee in balance. I even explored the option of having Sylvain buy us a new barrel of wine at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction, but that proved too complicated to achieve. So there things sat for a year. When I returned to Sylvain’s cellars in January of 2011, both Olivier and Sylvain gleefully promised something special for me when we got to the cellar. There I discovered that Sylvain had acquired the rights to the portion of the Puligny Montrachet lieu-dit Les Petites Nosroyes that had formerly been held by Dujac. Sylvain had made nine barrels of wine here in 2010. “Would you like to taste and see if you’d like to select a cuvee?” Olivier asked.

We tasted all nine barrels on Tuesday night and then returned on Wednesday morning to make a selection. The young wine had been in barrel for four months or so and had not even started its secondary malolactic fermentation yet, so it took some concentration and effort to imagine how it would develop over the next 18 months before release.

The First All New Oak Wine for Sylvain
I quickly narrowed my choice down to three barrels – the three wines that were resting in new French oak – and then went back and forth between them with Sylvain and Olivier. Each had something special to say, but none completely captivated me. It was when Sylvain suggested that we try blending the barrel samples that things got interesting. We tried every combination imaginable, but I knew the right one as soon as I tasted it – a blend of one normal size barrique and one slightly larger 350 liter cask. When I told Olivier and Sylvain my choice, they laughed – it was the same cuvee they’d preferred as well.

Sylvain allowed our wine to remain in barrel until August 2011, when he moved it into a small tank for six months. I tasted it again with Sylvain after the move to bottling tank, and was very pleased by how the new oak flavors were integrating into the wine. When I tasted it again in January 2012, I was delighted to see the oak levels continuing to drop and the flavors and precision intensify. And when we finally presented the wine to you in October of 2012, the oak had mellowed still more and the fresh, vibrant fruit was starting to shine.

Now, some 40 months after I selected our wine, it keeps getting better and better. It’s an outstanding 2010 Puligny-Montrachet that still has 10 to 15 years life in front of it, matches top 1er Cru whites for quality, and is well-priced even compared to other village wines. Only 17 cases remain. If  you’d like to try some, stop by the store this weekend (Friday, 3-7, Saturday, 12-4) for a sip.

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