The 2016 Guillon Burgudies: Intense Wines from Intense Men

Jean Michel and Alexis GuillonBy 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?
guillon bottlesJean-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.

You’ll see all the wines listed here with descriptions and pricing. Mix/match among these bottling for best six- and twelve-bottle savings.

Three Times Good, not Three Times the Price – Malandes Chablis

“What is important every year no matter what the weather or challenges is for us to make good, good, good Chablis.”


Dom des Malandes Chablis Vineyards

That’s what Domaine des Malandes founder/owner Lyne Marchive told me two Februaries ago as we discussed the wet 2014, warm 2015, and super challenging 2016 vintages and prepared to taste barrel and tank samples. And, as Lynn said, these wines are at least “Good times three!”

In a Class with Fevre and Dauvissat
Lyne and husband Jean-Bernard Marchive formed Malandes in 1986 with vines farmed by her father and grandfather making up the core of the estate. Their wines earned critical praise from the outset, with Master of Wine and Burgundy expert Clive Coates awarding Malandes a two-star rating in his landmark book The Wines of Burgundy.

That’s the very top rating for any Chablis estate, the same awarded to William Fevre, Vincent Dauvissat, and Domaine Raveneau. And yet wines from those three estates sell for at least three-times the prices of Malandes.

Driving Quality to new Heights
What’s more, the wines have gotten even better over the past decade under oenologist/winemaker Guenolé Breteaudeau. As the leading Burgundy critic working today, Allan Meadows (Burghound), said last year, the team at Chablis-based Domaine des Malandes

“continue to drive the quality of the Malandes wines to new heights. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles; moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.”

Amandine Marchive

Lyne’s daughter, Amandine Marchive is now co-manager with her brother

Vintage 2017 marks a transition at Dom des Malandes, as Lyne retired and handed over management of the estate to her three children: Richard (who has his own winery in Beujolais), Amandine and Marion. Winemaker Guénolé Breteaudeau remains in charge of the cellar, though, and the style, quality and value continues to shine through!

Another Difficult Growing Season …
In February of 2017, as we stood in a village Chablis vineyard admiring the experimental hail netting Lyne had just installed, I asked her whether frost was a concern. “No, no, no,” said Lyne. “We learned how to deal with from the Champenoise in the 1970s.”

Lyne and Malandes Hail Nets

Lyne Marchive and her experimental hail netting.

But nothing could prepare anyone for the disaster of April 18-27. For 10 nights in a row, temperatures dropped below freezing, bottoming out at 19 degrees one night. With humidity levels fairly high, frost spread across the vineyards even as Malandes and others used fans and burned hay and smudge pots in a futile attempt to hold the ice at bay.

By the time the cold spell broke, Dom des Malandes had lost about 50% of their grapes – the same loses they experienced in 2016 from hail. Fortunately, the rest of the 2017 growing season was pretty much perfect, and while the grapes were ready early – Malandes began picking on Sept.r 4 – the fine weather allowed plenty of time to pick each site as it was ready.

… Yields Tiny Amounts of Brilliant Chablis
There is a strong critical consensus that vintage 2017 overall is the finest Chablis harvest since 2014, giving wines of attractive richness and early appeal with much better zip and zing than either 2015 or 2016. As winemaker Breteaudeau told Burghound, at Malandes, “We chose to begin picking on the 4th of September and brought in clean and ripe fruit that averaged between 12 and 13% in potential alcohols with good acidities and post-malo pHs of 3.2 to 3.3. As to the wines, our take is that they offer the purity of 2014 with the fleshiness and concentration of say 2012 or 2015.”

While many purists would disagree with me, I actually prefer Malandes’ 2017s to 2014 and every other vintage tasted since the 2011 vintage (the year we first tried these wines). Yes, the 2014s were a bit more vivid and pure and offered even greater transparency of site. But the extra dose of richness and lightly fleshy mouthfeel of the 2017s is simply delightful. The wines are delicious, fun to drink, and priced very, very well.

These Malandes’ 2017 releases come to us direct at simply unbeatable savings, especially if you mix/match your way to a case or more! Note that mix/match pricing will not display on your online order form or confirmation email but will be applied before your card is charged.

Malandes Chablis Bottles.png

Who is Xavier Vignon?

Xavier VignonIf you don’t already know the name Xavier Vignon, that’s because Xavier’s day job keeps him behind the scenes. Since completing studies in the art of winemaking and blending in Australia, Champagne and Bordeaux in the 1990s, Xavier’s consulting advice has been the “secret sauce” for more than 250 Rhone wineries, including Chateauneuf producers like La Nerthe, La Vieille Julienne, Beaurenard, La Mordorée, and more.

In 1999, he decided to try winemaking on his own, setting up shop in a small garage and asking his consulting clients to pay part of his fees with lots of wine he chose from their cellars. It was a just for fun experiment – until one of his friends (without telling Xavier) sent some bottles to France’s wine bible, Guide Hachette. All earned the Guide’s top rating and soon his phone was ringing off the hook!

Today, Xavier continues to consult and he continues to take part of his fees in the form of selected barrels of wines from clients’ cellars. Then, he blends those selections into glorious, rich, and nicely mineral wines. We have one on sale this week from $24.98 on a case, and it certainly displays Xavier’s talents. For this wine, Xavier blends fruit from Gigondas, a region of hillside limestone-covered vineyards that marries Rhone richness with unique levels of perfume, minerality, and power, with the great 2015 vintage, which Vinous says gave “monumental, soon-to-be-legendary” wines and “one of the most consistently excellent sets of Gigondas that I’ve ever had the chance to taste.”

xavier-vignon-gigondas_1.jpgBlend site and vintage and Xavier’s talent together, and you get a ripe, fleshy, and fruit-filled composition of 95% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre that explodes with rich plum, black raspberry and blueberry fruits framed by classic Gigondas accents of fresh violets, exotic spice and cracked black pepper. With its smooth and lightly mineral finish, this is a joy to drink right now. But there’s enough structure down under the fleshy fruit to reward five to seven years of cellaring if you prefer.

In short, Xavier Vignon Gigondas 2015 is a big, fat yum, and – at our $24.98 best in the USA case price, a 37% off must buy red for fall, winter, and beyond. Heck, our $27.98/ea bottle and $26.98/ea six-pack prices are the best in the USA, too. You really can’t go wrong here!