By this point, most of you know that Jean-Michel Guillon and his son, Alexis, are the hardest working, most talented, and least compromising winegrowers in all of Burgundy.
Now more than 30 years since he stepped off a train in Burgundy with no vines and no winemaking experience, Jean-Michel and his son Alexis work the vineyards themselves (especially in August, when other winemakers take vacation just as the vines reach their most critical stage). They demand nothing less that perfectly ripe fruit, which allows them to make long, slow, intense fermentations running 3-5 weeks – extracting tons of flavor and only the most suave, ripe tannins.
Then they age their wines in the finest French oak money can buy. After Domaine Romanee-Conti and the Hospices de Beaune, Jean-Michel and Alexis are the single biggest buyers of new French oak in Burgundy ever year. Where growers who pick less ripe fruit and extract less during fermentation can find new oak overwhelm their wines, Guillon’s juice is so intense and deep that it needs the softening only new oak can give and absorbs the woody flavors with ease.
It seems to me that sometime around vintage 2011 or 2012, Jean-Michel and Alexis found the perfect match of forest, cooper, and toast level for each vineyard and cuvee they make. And vintage 2016 shows them at the height of their powers. I’ve already showed a few of the 2016s to colleagues in the wine trade. Their most common remark after tasting? “Wait, what? 100% new oak? No way!”
What Are The Wines Like?
Jean-Michel and Alexis have decided to no longer present their wines to critic Alan Meadows (“Burghound”), but his comments on the 2016 vintage overall are spot on for these wines. He writes:
“So, as with every vintage, the two questions for you as consumers that take precedence over everything else always are: should I buy the wines and if so, how much of them? The best wines are wonderfully refreshing, transparent and graceful with moderately firm tannic spines where the all-important element of balance is supplemented by good but not high acidities. They are balanced wines built for medium to sometimes longer-term aging yet they should also be reasonably approachable young if youthful fruit is your preference. Before I offer more detail, the short answer is yes on both accounts that the 2016s deserve a place in your cellars and there is no reason not to go heavy – I for one will be buying all that I can afford and find.”
Vintage comparisons are always imprecise and, possibly, especially unhelpful in framing the 2016s from Guillon. Speaking of the vintage overall, some have suggested they are like the 2008s, but with more ripeness. Others speak of 2012, but with better purity or 2014 with more density and grip. Meadows went with, “a combination of the transparency and vibrancy of 2010 with the suppleness and roundness of 2009 in a proportion of two-thirds of the former with one-third of the latter.”
Ripe, Deep … and Silky
For me, though, the word that keeps coming up in my notes is “silky.” While there’s plenty of ripeness and – especially in the 1er and Grand Cru wines – powerful grip, even the most dark and brooding of the 2016 Guillon cuvees feel and smell cool and fresh. And as they flow across your palate, show their fine tannins, and linger on and on and on, the best way to describe how they feel is “silk.”
Please don’t think notes like cool, elegant, pure and silky mean that these wines are light. Jean-Michel and Alexis do not work hundreds of hours in their vineyards to achieve optimal ripeness and then day upon day in the cellar to make “light” wines. All are deep, show excellent density, fine concentration and – where the site has it to offer – real power.
But, at the end of the day, these are the most beautiful wines I’ve ever tasted here. Don’t miss them.
A Word on Drinking the 2016s Now
Come to the store Saturday from noon-4pm and we’ll prove something conclusively: the 2016 Guillon wines are easy to taste and are already wonderfully expressive. But here’s how I’d approach actually drinking them at home.
If you want to taste any of the wines – or drink the Fixin or Cote de Nuits, both of which will give loads of pleasure tonight – then decant them for two full hours. The lovely puppy fat of fruit that you’ll experience when you first open the 2016s fades in about 30 minutes, and for the next hour and a half oak, earth, and angular feeling tannins can dominate. Just wait, though. Within two hours, the oak recedes and the fruit reemerges to create lovely balance and deliciousness.