When on vacation in a rented house just outside of Roanne in central France last month, I took the opportunity to visit Burgundy. My friend Lars who joined me for the tasting had spotted producer Philippe Chavy in Puligny-Montrachet. I am glad he did.
Puligny-Montrachet is a top-notch wine appellation where you are unlikely to find anything else than good producers. The top vineyard in the village of Puligny is the Montrachet, where four hectares are under vine, hence the name of the appellation. Chardonnay is almost exclusively the base for the wines in Puligny-Montrachet. The village is arguably considered one of the finest white-wine producing appellation in the world.
When arriving at the estate, Philippe guides us into his backyard, trough his garage/workshop and into la cave. Needless to say, this is a fairly small-scale operation. Nevertheless, he has prepared a basket with no less than fourteen perfectly tempered unopened bottles, which just about covers his complete range. It is obvious that this is going to be a great tasting.
His father, Monsieur Albert Chavy, sits in on the tasting at a table a couple of meters away from us. Me, Philippe and Lars are holding the tasting at the top of a turned-over wine barrel, and while Philippe is spitting the wine the whole tasting through, his father doesn’t. I don’t speak French and old man Chavy doesn’t speak English, so the opportunity of making conversation is slim, but I sure like this guy. A man just doesn’t get more French than this.We start out with the simpler Aligoté and Bourgogne appellations, which both are very good and makes a promising start for the higher appellations. All of the wines tasted in the following are 90+, possibly with a few exceptions immediately below the nineties. Philippe does not promote an overly use of oak. Not more than 30% of the barrels are new in any given wine.
First out of these is the 2009 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Murgers des Dents de Chien. The appellation of Saint-Aubin just west of Puligny-Montrachet is generally regarded as somewhat simpler than its more famous neighbor. But these can be very good, and certainly a good bang for your bucks, in particular if they are from the premier cru of Les Murgers, which is considered to be the finest vineyard in the AOC together with En Remilly. This is by no means accidental; both these vineyards are located in the south-east part of Saint-Aubin, bordering on Puligny-Montrachet. At €22, this is very good value. It is delightfully oaky on the nose, with butter, toast and nuts. And that fruit! The sensation of apples is so clean and crisp. This is what really strikes me about Chavy’s wines; the fruit is so clean! In most wines there is always something in-between the fruit and your nose, a veil of overtones covering the fruitiness of the wine. I just love the fruity nose of this wine along with the notes of minerals it carries. But it will get even better.
Second up is the 2009 Meursault. The Meursault appellation is almost as regarded as neighboring Puligny-Montrachet, even though it does not have one single grand cru vineyard. Rather, it is the generally high quality of the wines from the appellation which accounts for its reputation. Chavy’s commune level Meursault is no exception. Rich, full-bodied with almond notes, yet with a nice and good acidity. And the fruit! The sense of apples and citrus is crystal clear. Smooth, round and powerful. We also got to try the 07, which has all this but also a more meaty tone to it. There is certainly a good reason to cellar these wines for at least a couple of years. If you have the discipline.
From the commune level Meursault up to the 2009 Meursault Narvaux, the leap is nevertheless certainly detectable. The Narvaux is a so called lieu-dit, which effectively means that it is regarded as a vineyard of higher quality than those making up the commune level wines but which still has not qualified for premier cru. Promotion for these sites is possible although classification reviews are not frequent. The Narvaux is bigger and bolder but still more complex than the commune Meursault. It also displays a greater mineral tone. In my opinion, it is one of the best of Chavy’s wines. At €24, it’s a bargain.
Last of the Meursaults is the 2009 Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes from one of the most well-known premier cru vineyards in Meursault. This is from the less-esteemed lower section of the vineyard. Although showing much of the same characteristics as the previously tasted Meursaults, my personal opinion is that this is minor to the Narvaux, and perhaps even the villages.
Then it is time for 2009 Puligny-Montrachet. There is a lot to be said about the terrior in Puligny (which is the name of the village, “Le Montrachet” is its most famous vineyard), but a distinctive characteristic is that the soils around Puligny-Montrachet have a high content of limestone. Thus, the wine tasted has a very mineral sensation, in addition to the very present streak of green apple and citrus. Still a baby.
The 2009 Puligny-Montrachet Les Corvées des vignes from the vineyard of the same name is just fantastic. Not of premier cru status, this villages wine is nevertheless of high quality, and it may very well be my favorite among the Chavy wines. Slightly less oaky than any one of the previous wines, with a minerality comparable to a Champagne, it’s like smelling a granite rock. Still lots of green apples but perhaps with a hint of more tropical fruits. Balanced and elegant. Good body and a long, lingering finish. At €25, this is a bargain.
The 2009 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières and 2009 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles finishes off the Pulignys and are fantastic. They have all the characteristics of the previously tasted wines but are more mineralic. But what is really distinguishable is the floral characteristic. Nice, elegant and rich. these could be stored for many years, but they are also instantly drinkable. As a side note, the Pucelles is one of the finest premier cur vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, being a continuation of the Grand Cru sites immediately south of it. These are Philippes most expensive wines at €38 and €44
Last out, we have the 2009 Meursault-Blagny 1er Cru Sous le Dos d’Âne, which vineyard actually is located in the village of Blagny. The 09 is tight-knit and slightly austere. It certainly needs time to unfold and I personally think it may be unfair to try this wine at such an early age even though it certainly is drinkable now. Philippe suggests that we have a go at the 04 instead, and maaan is this a different ballgame: red apples, toast, almonds, spices and minerals. Balanced, contiguous, complex and long. This may be the best wine tasted. Just brilliant.
It shows that many of Chavy’s wines really should be stored for a couple of years. It’s just so damn difficult, since they are also very drinkable right now. I got away with 20 bottles purchased directly from Philippe, so I’m hoping to have at least a handful left five years away from now.
Philippe Chavy appears to be a relatively well-kept secret in Puligny. Hospitable, skillful and crafted….you should certainly try out his wines should you have the opportunity. I’m hoping for a Swedish distributor soon. These wines are just too good to be ignored.