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.”

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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

Chablis Quality Like the “Big Boys”…

Lyne Marchive, Dom des MalandesI’ve always wondered how Chablis as fine as Dom des Malandes could always remain so…well, to be blunt: cheap! It’s not like the estate is new or unknown. 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.

The wines have 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. To put that in context, 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.

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.”

But why are the prices so reasonable – even before we slash them further with our direct import savings?

… Priced With Modesty and Practicality
Malandes Chablis VineyardSpending an afternoon and evening with Lyne in Chablis last February helped me understand. Lyne’s family – the Tremblays well known in Chablis – have been living, farming and making wine here for a long time. They have always been practical business people – Lyne said her grandfather was one of the first growers in Chablis to stop selling to the co-op and bottle and sell all his own production starting in the early 1900s. Bottled wine was more of a risk, but turned a much better profit.

Entrepreneurial ambition has always been tempered by the realities of trying to make a living the cold, stony, soils of Chablis. Lyne explained that it was simply impossible for a small grower to make a living from grapes and wine in Chablis until the mid-1970s. Frost in the spring, vine-killing cold weather in winter, summer hail, and ill-timed rain near harvest conspired to wipe out nearly 100% of Chablis production in two to three years per decade. Lyne remembers the brutal stretch of 1952, ’52 and ’54 when her father had no grapes (and not much grain) for three consecutive years. In 1954 he was forced to leave home and pick grapes in Beaujolais to make enough money to feed the family.

By the mid-1970s growers in Chablis had learned frost and winter cold management techniques from their neighbors in Champagne (Chablis is closer to Champagne than Burgundy’s Beaune), opening the doors to the potential to making a living from wine. So Lyne took over from her father and, with husband Jean-Bernard Marchive, created Domaine des Malandes.

Lyne and Malandes Hail Nets

Lyne with Chablis’ First Ever Hail Nets

Innovation in Wine Growing … and Marketing
Even as she prepares to retire and hand over the estate to her son and youngest daughter, Lyne remains an innovator. Hail has been a problem in Chablis for years and seems to be intensifying with global climate change. Some of Lyne’s vines grow in what is basically a thunderstorm channel – a valley between two hills that captures storms and funnels their maximum impact right on the fragile vines.

After the disastrous 2016 storm season, Lyne decided she’d had enough. Although it took nine months of intensive studies, legal filings and lobbying, two months ago she received a permit to test Chablis first ever hail netting system. No other grower has been brave enough to step up to try it, so she’s rolling it out as a test with a mix of protected and unprotected rows. As she says, it’s very expensive – but then so is losing the entire harvest to hail.

“No one else was willing. So I decided I must go ahead by myself. I believe it’s what we must do to make good, good, good, Chablis.”

As Neal Martin of Wine Advocate said after a blind tasting of Lyne’s 2014 and 2015 Chablis last year, “I was very impressed by the consistency here. Proprietor Lyne Archive, with winemaker Guenolé Breteaudeau, crafted some really quite superb Premier Crus that shone out. It’s great to see this well-known name in Chablis doing so well – long may it continue.” We think it will.

The Extraordinary 2016 Chablis of Domaine des Malandes
Dom des MalandesAs 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.”

Once again, that’s true for Malandes’ 2016 releases, which are coming to us direct at simply unbeatable savings. The steep losses during the challenging growing season means we weren’t able to get any 2016 Grand Cru Les Clos, but we do have a tiny bit of 2015 available. The 2016 Villages cuvee is a fantastic “house white” for now and 3-4 years to come. And both 1er Crus are classic bottlings you won’t want to miss.

Below you’ll find our and critics’ notes on all four wines. Please note that Alan Meadows – aka Burghound – tasted the 2016s at a very awkward moment of their evolution, either right after pre-bottling sulfuring or, worse, right after bottling. The reduction he complains of has resolved and all of the wines are clearly even better than his reviews suggest. Happy hunting!

No Oak, No Fooling Around: Louis Michel Chablis

The Michel family has been growing and making Chablis since 1850 – six generations of family winemakers now led by young Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel with help from his uncle, fifth generation Louis Michel winemaker Jean-Loup Michel and his nephew, Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel. Always a respected Chablis house, the real revolution began here 40 years ago. As Jean-Loup explains:

“Chablis is not Meursault. We stopped using barrels for our wine-making almost forty years ago. In the past, barrels were the only containers that could be used to make wine, they were never used with the intention of imparting a woody taste: that’s why old barrels were used in preference to younger ones. Today, stainless steel tanks are perfectly suited to our wine-making: aside from their total neutrality, they allow the complexity and pureness of the aromas to come through, respecting the authentic taste of true Chablis, without any artificial wood. The only expression in our bottles comes from pure, clean and precise terroir.”

While anyone can make clean, crisp, Chablis in stainless steel, only elite growers and winemakers can balance Chablis classically bright acidity with mouthfilling richness without the help of oak. Louis Michel’s secret?

Great Sites – Over the decades, the Michel family has acquired prime vineyards in some of Chablis’ best terroirs. The estate’s 25 hectares of vineyard all lie in the heart of Chablis’ ancient vineyards. No fruit travels more than 2km to the winery and the Domaine’s three Grand Cru sites are mere meters away.

Meticulous, Organic, Vineyard Work – Each vineyard is managed individually, with its own regime of pruning, leaf pulling, green harvest, cover crops, and tilling designed to maximize vine health and help express the site.

Late Harvest of Fully Ripe Fruit – With no oak to hide flaws, Guillaume is willing to wait until each vineyard achieves optimal ripeness before beginning harvest. And, having risked crop loss to late season rain or rot, he harvests quickly – sometimes using multiple harvest teams to hand pick all of his 1er and Grand Cru grapes within a few days.

Natural Winemaking With Minimal Intervention – When he took the reins at Louis Michel, Guillaume took the bold step of ending use of cultured yeasts, allowing the wines to ferment only with wild yeast from the vineyards and winery. It’s a nerve wracking process, with some fermentations taking 2 months or longer to complete. But, by allowing the wines to proceed at their own pace, rest on their fine lees (8 months for Village, up to 12 for 1er and Grand Cru sites) without stirring, and never racking the wines until they are ready to bottle, Guillaume attains a rich, creamy, texture that balances the detailed acidity of Chablis.

Critical Praise for Quality and Value
Even though Domaine Louis Michel has flown “under the radar” in the US market, Burgundy insiders have lavished praise on the estate for years – and especially appreciate the no oak, all natural, philosophy. British Master of Wine Jancis Robinson says, “Those who favour stainless steel want the purest flavour of Chablis, with the firm streak of acidity and the mineral quality that the French describe as goût de pierre à fusil, or gunflint. Louis Michel’s is generally considered to be the epitome of this style.”

Burgundy expert (and MW) Clive Coates agrees: “This is a brilliant consistent estate, where there is no use of wood. The magnificently austere and steely wines keep much longer than most Chablis.” And, as Wine Advocate has reported, even though “Michel is notorious for his adherence to a stainless steel regimen of elevage, I do not find his wines lacking for depth and richness, although though they tend to be marked by refreshing, forward fruit, as well as scrupulous cleanliness. They also offer outstanding value.”

Food-friendly, honest, and very delicious wines that are also great value: that sums up why you’ve made Louis Michel our best-selling Chablis ever. The 2016 is another winner that you will not want to miss!

Through Heat, Rain, Frost and Hail … Success in Chablis

Guillaume of Louis Michel

Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel

Writing about the vintage in Chablis the past five years has been…well, for those of us who have gotten to know the women and men who grow and make these classy, dry, and mineral-laced Chardonnays, perhaps “depressing” is the best word. Frost, scorching heat, ill-timed rain, and – again and again – severe hail have struck Chablis with mind-numbing regularity.

In the words of the late, much missed, Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.”

A Rush to Harvest
Vintage 2015 started out so well! The growing season started in early April and flowering happened on schedule under clement skies in early June. Despite some very hot weather in late June (109 degrees on June 24!) and a very dry July and August, a touch of refreshing rain in mid-August got the vines going. As growers went to bed on the night of August 31, they were expecting a great harvest and Louis Michel expected to start picking on September 6.

At 1:30 am on September 1, the bottom fell out. Hail pelted almost all of Chablis for an hour or more, leaving leaves shredded and some of the fruit damaged. At Louis Michel, everything went on overdrive, with every available picker and harvesting machine (including some borrowed from growers less impacted by the hail) pressed into service to get the fruit off the vines and into the winery before rot set in. By September 4, all fruit impacted by hail was in the winery, pressed, and ready to ferment.

Then – the Magic of Doing Nothing
Louis Michel ChablisWhen you taste the Louis Michel 2015s, the question you’re going to ask is, “What magic did winemaker Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel work in the winery to make such great Chablis under such challenging conditions?” The answer: Nothing.

Because “nothing” is what Guillaume does. The pressed juice went into stainless steel tanks and then…sat there until the yeast living in the winery air decided to start bubbling away. The only two winemaking decision Guillaume made was a) to keep things cool (as always) and b) to rack the finished wine off the fine lees a bit earlier than usual.

Louis Michel Montee de Tonnerre BottleWas acid added? Nope – correctly grown grapes keep their acid even in hot seasons. Sugar added to increase alcohol? Nope – the fruit came in at a just-right 12-13%. Lees stirred to add richness? Nope – older vines and warm weather gave all the richness you’d want. Oak used to shape or intensify the wines? Nope again – the only oak barrels in this winery have been cut in half and have flowers growing in them!

As in the past few harvests, the hardest part of Guillaume job after the grapes came into the winery was calling customers around the world to tell them they couldn’t have all the cases they wanted, because the hail and heat reduced the crop by 20-30%. Next year, we’ll tell you how even more severe hail brought yields down 30-40%. The year after, we’ll have to talk about how 2017’s bitter spring frosts cost the Domaine half its fruit.

For now, though, we have once again secured an above average allocation of these very much above average wines. Enjoy them while you can!

Chablis: The Home of Fine White Wine Values

Dom des Malandes“Values” probably isn’t quite the right word here. What we really mean is “QPR” – Quality to Price Ratio. But either way, the region of Chablis is currently the best source we know for white wines that give complexity, richness, and refreshment, not only for lovers of White Burgundy, but also for fans of white wines from anywhere in the world.

And this week, we are offering four great 2014 Chablis from Dom des Malandes an excellent “QPR” prices.

Changes in Chablis. The wines from the chalk and Kimmeridgian clay (found also in Sancerre) in this northernmost outpost of Burgundy (only Champagne and Alsace are farther North) have historically been thought of as “steely,” “flinty,” and “saline” – brisk, high-acid wines built for shellfish and lacking the richness, depth, and power found further south.

Chablis_Grand_Cru_vineyardsBut the combination of climate change (warmer weather) and rapid improvement in viticulture (lower yields and waiting for ripeness) mean that modern Chablis has elevated its quality to new heights even as its style has changed. And Chablis continues to mature earlier than wines of the regions further south in Burgundy – no bad thing for folks who don’t want to cellar wines for decades or who worry about premature oxidization. In fact, more and more, experienced Burgundy lovers are heading north for great white Burgundy at surprising value prices.

Lyne Marchive, Dom des MalandesMalandes: Wines You Need to Try. Domaine des Malandes has been in the Tremblay family for generations and has been run by Lyne Marchive since 1972. The wines have always been “solid,” but as winemaker Guénolé Breteaudeau has asserted himself since joining the Domaine in 2006, the wines have moved up the scale to “outstanding”! As Allen Meadows, who writes as Burghound, said after tasting the Domaine’s 2014s:

“I have said this before but it’s worth repeating that [these winemakers] continue to drive the quality … 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.” – Allen Meadows, Burghound

But, your window is closing. As Decanter magazine reported last week, “Chablis prices to rise as weather hits 2016 vintage.” Overall production will be off 50% and Malandes lost its entire crop.

Malandes’ 2014 releases are coming to us direct at simply unbeatable savings. From a Village Chablis to drink as a “house white” to two different majestic 1er Crus and the profound Grand Cru Les Clos, all of Malandes’ 2014s are compelling, captivating, and available to you while they last at substantial savings.

Chablis: Home of Great Chardonnay Value

Great wines from Chardonnay’s home, the chalk and limestone hills of Burgundy, have never been cheap. But the combination of soaring global demand (think China) and brutally short crops – most producers have averaged 30+% losses the past few years – are making it harder than ever to find white Burgundy value.

Which is why the most savvy white Burgundy drinkers have been migrating north from the Meursault, Chassagne, and Puligny-Montrachet to the little village at the top of Burgundy, Chablis.

Chablis_Grand_Cru_vineyardsMigrating North. The wines from the chalk and Kimmeridgian clay (found also in Sancerre) in this northernmost outpost of Burgundy (only Champagne and Alsace are farther North) have historically be thought of as “steely,” “flinty,” and “saline” – brisk, high-acid, wines built for shellfish and lacking the richness, depth, and power found further south.

But the combination of climate change (warmer weather) and rapid improvement in viticulture (lower yields and waiting for ripeness) mean that modern Chablis has elevated its quality to new heights even as its style has come to more closely resemble Chassagne or Puligny-Montrachet of old. And, while the quality has soared, Chablis continues to mature earlier than wines of the South – no bad thing for folks who don’t want to cellar wines for decades are who worry about premature oxidization. So, while most casual white Burgundy drinkers have stayed focused on the more famous Chardonnay villages of the Cote d’Or, more and more experienced Burgundy lovers have headed North for great white Burgundy at surprising value prices.

Your Window Is Closing. Now’s the time for you to discover the great Chardonnay values of Chablis – before they are gone forever. Because the dreadfully short Burgundy harvests of 2011, 2012 and 2013 means that almost everyone who loves white Burgundy is starting to look to Chablis.

Allen Meadows QuoteAs Antonio Galloni, former Wine Advocate Italian and Burgundy critic, explains:

“We are about to see a massive lack of supply of high-end white Burgundy that will last for at least several years. Most of that void is going to be filled by Chablis, where weather has also presented its share of challenges over the last few vintages, but nothing like we have seen in the Côte de Beaune. My advice to Chablis lovers is simple. If you see a wine you like, buy it. There are not going to be too many second chances given the global shortage of fine white Burgundy we will soon witness. This is especially true for the 2012s, the best of which are fabulous and will be in the market when the lack of top-notch white Burgundy will be at its most pronounced.”

Malandes: Wines You Need to Try.  Domaine des Malandes has been in the Tremblay family for generations and has been run by Lyne Marchive since 1972. The wines have always been “solid”, but as winemaker Guénolé Breteaudeau has asserted himself since joining the Domaine in 2006, the wines have moved up the scale to “outstanding”! As Allen Meadows, who writes as Burghound, said after tasting the Domaine’s 2011s, “Marchive and Breteaudeau continue to drive the quality of the Malandes wines to new heights and 2011 represents the best that I have ever seen from them at least when taken as a whole. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles.”

The 2012s are better still. Owner Lyne Marchive and her winemaker/cellar master Guénolé Breteaudeau had to work hard to triumph over the extraordinarily difficult 2012 growing season. Frost in April, a long, unsettled, flowering (Marchive called it “lousy”), hail in May, and then a few baking hot weeks in August all conspired to drive down yields and deprive vineyard workers of sleep. But a moderate, sunny, September allowed the harvest to slide to September 21 when the grapes had fully ripened without losing acidity or building up too much sugar.

The results are pretty, delicious, wines with plenty of Chablis character – green fruit, mouthwatering acidity, and loads of salty stone and mineral notes – married with some of the richness normally found further South in Puligny or Chassagne-Montrachet. As Allan Meadows (Burghound”) said after tasting the Malandes 2012s, anyone “not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles,” and added, “moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.” We couldn’t agree more – especially at these mix/match case price savings. Get ‘em while you can!

Peas, Mint, and the Importance of Sniffing Your Glass

Some groups of coworkers discuss their fantasy football teams, the latest episode of Dance Moms, the weather, or each other.  We tend to talk almost exclusively about food – what restaurant we went to or plan on going to, what we served to our friends on Saturday night and what we drank with it, what we drank with nachos while watching the new Arrested Development episodes – it’s all fair game.

Before he left Saturday afternoon, Randy said that he was in the mood for Chablis.  Though rose is often our default wine this time of year, Dom Louis Michel’s delicious, unoaked Chablis sounded perfect for the warm summer evening we were about to have.

Farmers-Market-Snap-Peas

He chose an unexpected, but very seasonally appropriate accompaniment: farmers’ market peas with mint and spring onions in a cream sauce.  The peas and spring onions were braised until just tender, with heavy cream, mint and lemon zest added at the last minute.  It’s a combination that hits all the wine pairing high notes.  The rich cream sauce is cut by the tart, flinty wine – a wonderful contrast of textures and flavors.  At the same time, the bright, clean flavors of all that fresh produce are complemented by the bracing citrus flavors in the wine.  Chablis can also have a wonderful mossy, almost vegetal aroma and flavor on the finish, so pairing it with green vegetables makes perfect sense.

One thing you’ll often notice wine geeks doing is sniffing their empty glass after tasting.  The scent left behind by a wine can give you yet another dimension of its aromas.  In great Burgundy, that ghost of an aroma often smells like the soft herbs we love so much in summer: tarragon or mint.  The mint in this dish did a great job of pulling out that quality in the Chablis.  Though Dom Louis Michel’s 2011 village Chablis was a great pairing with this dish, Dom Vincent Dampt’s slightly rounder style would be great with a farmers’ market meal like this as well.

So, how about you?  What are you pairing with summers’ bounty?