Jean-Noël Gagnard

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.

In the cellar, the wines are made in a straightforward style, and thankfully gimmick-free within a white Burgundy world of too much of one thing, or not enough of another. There are no games with reduction, so the perception of mineral nuances is textured and aromatically present and finely tuned. Flashy wood techniques and other fooling about simply aren’t her style either, just a confidently crafted set of wines that demonstrates—and concedes to—the differences between their terroirs with striking clarity. When one does organic farming like she does (along with certification for it), as well as following many biodynamic principals and treatments, a soft touch in the cellar seems the logical approach.

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.

One of the obvious reasons why Pinot Noir was—and still quietly remains—a star within Chassagne-Montrachet is because of the iron-rich, red clay topsoil found in many of its premier cru vineyards. There is indeed limestone bedrock and limestone rocks in the topsoil mix just as much here as any other appellation in the Côte. However, it is widely accepted that this red soil gives preferential attributes to Pinot Noir, while more white soils are often considered better for Chardonnay. I tend to agree (but I think it should be stated that this is a preference of taste, not specifically of any empirical evidence I’m aware of that makes this true), and despite the obvious quality of her Chassagne-Montrachet whites grown lower down on the slope in redder soil, we normally try to stick with her Chardonnay’s grown further upslope on less profoundly deep soils that are more white in color. The two premier crus we import on the upper sections of the slope are Les Chaumées and Les Caillerets, with the latter considered the top premier cru within the appellation. Further downslope, but in a privileged spot next to the grand crus, is the premier cru Blanchot-Dessus.

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Jean-Noël Gagnard - 2017 Chassagne Montrachet Blanc, 1er Cru Blanchot-Dessus

Price: $208.00
Size: 750ml
Availability:

Out of stock

Type of Wine: White
Style: Rich, Medium Body

The Wine

Blanchot-Dessus is one of Gagnard’s best wines. It’s grandiose in a grand cru way with its heavyweight body and richness. However the balance of fine-grained angles and freshness expected from a vineyard classified as a grand cru falls a touch short with this premier cru. But as a premier cru, this is a true standout and a near grand cru experience for a mid- to top premier cru price.

The premier cru, Blanchot-Dessus, (not the village-level lieu-dit close by), is the story of seemingly an unlucky fault break and the erosional valley that comes out from Saint-Aubin and into the Saone plain. These likely culprits did the damage that led to this vineyard ultimately stripped from being named, Blanchot-Batard-Montrachet, and catapulted into eternal glory as the sixth Montrachet grand cru. Now it’s nothing more than one of the best secrets in white Burgundy. There’s a lot of story behind this parcel that was once considered part of the Montrachet elite, but the reasons for its exclusion and modern day classification as a premier cru may be one of easy to understand logic. Believe me, I want to tell you that it should be a grand cru, but if you believe in the merits of terroir, it seems that it was more right than wrong to be excluded from the grand crus and classified as a premier cru. Perhaps wines rendered from it can be as good as many Batard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet sections within these two grand crus, but surely not Le Montrachet or Chevaliar-Montrachet, and even Criots-Batard-Montrachet, which carries in some parts of the vineyard suspect downside as Blanchot-Dessus.

From a physical standpoint, the differences between the grand crus and Blanchot-Dessus are simple. There is almost no slope in Blanchot-Dessus—except a tiny one extending from the north side—and it sits on a significant fault (presumably, if not a former quarry) in the bedrock with a reasonably unfavorable dip in the center of the vineyard and then a slight upward tilt facing toward the north on the south side. There’s a ten feet or more difference between the highest section (while much of it is even significantly lower) of Blanchot-Dessus and Le Montrachet above it; and Criots has a slope that starts up as the same height as Batard-Montrachet and slopes downward, and also has a bit of a dip in the center like Blanchots-Dessus. These reasons alone should compel one to agree with its classification outside of a grand cru level. And then there’s the proof in the glass, which to me takes a back seat to Gagnard’s Les Caillerets in almost every aspect, except perhaps its more immediate charm due to its deeper clay topsoil before the limestone bedrock.

About The Wine

Blanchot-Dessus is one of Gagnard’s best wines. It’s grandiose in a grand cru way with its heavyweight body and richness. However the balance of fine-grained angles and freshness expected from a vineyard classified as a grand cru falls a touch short with this premier cru. But as a premier cru, this is a true standout and a near grand cru experience for a mid- to top premier cru price.

The premier cru, Blanchot-Dessus, (not the village-level lieu-dit close by), is the story of seemingly an unlucky fault break and the erosional valley that comes out from Saint-Aubin and into the Saone plain. These likely culprits did the damage that led to this vineyard ultimately stripped from being named, Blanchot-Batard-Montrachet, and catapulted into eternal glory as the sixth Montrachet grand cru. Now it’s nothing more than one of the best secrets in white Burgundy. There’s a lot of story behind this parcel that was once considered part of the Montrachet elite, but the reasons for its exclusion and modern day classification as a premier cru may be one of easy to understand logic. Believe me, I want to tell you that it should be a grand cru, but if you believe in the merits of terroir, it seems that it was more right than wrong to be excluded from the grand crus and classified as a premier cru. Perhaps wines rendered from it can be as good as many Batard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet sections within these two grand crus, but surely not Le Montrachet or Chevaliar-Montrachet, and even Criots-Batard-Montrachet, which carries in some parts of the vineyard suspect downside as Blanchot-Dessus.

From a physical standpoint, the differences between the grand crus and Blanchot-Dessus are simple. There is almost no slope in Blanchot-Dessus—except a tiny one extending from the north side—and it sits on a significant fault (presumably, if not a former quarry) in the bedrock with a reasonably unfavorable dip in the center of the vineyard and then a slight upward tilt facing toward the north on the south side. There’s a ten feet or more difference between the highest section (while much of it is even significantly lower) of Blanchot-Dessus and Le Montrachet above it; and Criots has a slope that starts up as the same height as Batard-Montrachet and slopes downward, and also has a bit of a dip in the center like Blanchots-Dessus. These reasons alone should compel one to agree with its classification outside of a grand cru level. And then there’s the proof in the glass, which to me takes a back seat to Gagnard’s Les Caillerets in almost every aspect, except perhaps its more immediate charm due to its deeper clay topsoil before the limestone bedrock.