Jean-Noël Gagnard

Burgundy, France
Caroline Lestimé

The Story

In 1989, after returning from business school in Paris, Caroline L’Estimé took over the winemaking and vineyard direction from her father, Jean-Noël Gagnard. The style at this Chardonnay focused domaine is one of subtlety led with gentle sweet golden earth tones. Often found in Caroline’s range of whites are beautiful wild mushrooms scents of chanterelles and porcinis, brown butter, dried herbs and always some kind of citrus tones, often like a Meyer lemon or the unique purity of an Amalfi Coast lemon grown on steep limestone terraces overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s hard to know exactly why her style is unique in this way—in fact I can’t find one that I would say is a mirror image—and even to ask her why her wines are the way they are brings her to a full smile, often bursts of laughter, followed by little explanation except that it’s just the way she does it.

Within our group of restaurant sommeliers, Gagnard has some seriously devout fans that hoard our minuscule supply for their restaurant programs since we began to import her wines a decade ago, starting with the 2008 vintage. Perhaps it’s because the range is a match made for classical French countryside cooking that doesn’t stray too far off the path into trendy winemaking. While they drink beautifully without an accompaniment of food, it’s a pity not to pair them up with something like a slow roasted chicken, or even a richer presentation of a French classic involving fish, like sole à la meunière—a dish I think could be a top choice of fish preparations with the aromatic and taste profile of her Chardonnay wines.

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Lay of the Land

The range of whites chez Jean-Noël Gagnard principally comes from Chassagne-Montrachet, a commune whose fame is its shared grand cru vineyards with neighboring commune, Puligny-Montrachet: in this case, the vineyards Le Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, and the tiny Criots-Batard-Montrachet. Despite being the most expensive and famous zone for white wines in Burgundy, these grand crus bear more resemblance to the wines of Puligny-Montrachet and less to Chassagne-Montrachet, save one wine in her range, the premier cru Blanchots-Dessus, which abuts both Montrachet and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet to the east.

As many Burgundy junkies have likely read numerous times (but why not just once more), Chassagne-Montrachet was historically know for its red wines and not for Chardonnay. But, as trends do have their place even within Burgundy, red vines were replaced by Chardonnay quite heavily in the 20th century because of the demand and price the wines could bear. It seems it was a good idea because few red Burgundy wines south of Volnay garner much praise, nor as high prices as other communes, while with Chardonnay the prices find their way to the top of the class of premier crus, both white and red, within the Côte de Beaune.

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