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2001 Domaine Faively "Les Joncs" Chardonnay, Montagny (Burgundy), France

I was at a party the other day with someone who swore up and down that all California Chardonnay was crap, and that no one was making wines to equal the best whites of Bordeaux or Burgundy. I begged to differ, but embedded in his point was that there are very few winemakers, indeed, who are doing Chardonnay in a true European style, which I would characterize as high acidity, stronger mineral component, lighter fruit flavors, and less oak -- not to mention no trace of the buttery malolactic fermentation that is so Californian. While there are exceptions, I have to say that he's mostly right.

This wine, from one of the largest producers in Burgundy is a great example of that European style. I'm not sure why more California producers don't make wine this way.

Domaine Faiveley, run by millionaire François Faiveley, produces 60,000 cases of wine from its own vineyards and another 20,000 as a negociant (buying grapes from others to make wine). Despite the fact that they are large, and despite the fact that Faiveley is the CEO of a large conglomerate of which the winery happens to be a tiny part, Domaine Faiveley consistently produces some of the highest rated Burgundies on the market. This is in part because Faiveley, who is the sixth generation in his family to run the estate since its founding in 1825, ensures that his estate wines are still made artisanally. From insisting that nearly all new vines are reproduced from his own existing rootstock (very few clones here) to hand sorting, bottling, and eschewing filtration of any kind, Faiveley manages to create a product of unusually high quality for the volume in which they are produced.

Montagny is the southernmost AOC wine growing region in the Côte Chalonnaise, and its designation restricts winegrowers to only one varietal: Chardonnay. This area is about 6 miles wide by 3.5 miles long and centers around the small village of Montagny-les-Buxy. Robert M. Parker, Jr. describes the best of the wines from this area as having "a delicious buttery, nutty, applelike Chardonnay fruitiness, crisp acidity...." One interesting fact about this appellation is that any wine that reaches the minimum 11.5% alcohol is entitled to be called "Premier Cru."

This wine is made from a very small vineyard on the Faiveley estate called "Les Joncs" (the bulrushes) for the spiky plants that grow around a spring that sits at the bottom of the property.

Tasting Notes:
The color of light straw, this wine has a bit of a "shy" nose at first -- right out of the bottle it may not seem like much. But give it some time and it will blossom into a rich tropical bouquet of pineapple, citrus zest, wet slate, and oddly, white chocolate. In the mouth it is cool and bright with excellent acidity underlying flavors of unripe apples and earthy minerals with a distinct pineapple flavor which hits on the rear palate and carries through to the finish.

Food Pairing:
Like most European Chardonnays the high acidity makes this a great wine to have with dairy or buttery dishes. Try this one with a classic linguini with white clam sauce.

Overall Score: 8.5

How Much?: $18

This wine is fairly easy to find on the Internet, as it has a major US Distributor. It is also sold in the Bay Area at K&L and several other merchants.

Comments (5)

enoch choi wrote:
08.18.04 at 7:47 PM

whaddya think about co-hosting a pre-bloggercon III wine tasting brown bag luncheon 11/5 at my home in palo alto? bloggercon III is at stanford on 11/6/04 and there'll be parties 11/5 in the evening. perhaps we could host a lunch where we talk up wine and bloggers bring their own lunch?

08.18.04 at 9:12 PM

You might look into snagging a bottle of Tablas Creek's Antithesis. Probably only available from their website, this is a Chardonnay made from grapes grown on very chalky soil, with no oak, and little to no malolactic. I thought it had a steely minerality. Of course, Paso Robles gets a lot warmer than Chablis, so you're still going to get riper fruit. But it's at least closer.

Alder wrote:
08.18.04 at 10:43 PM

I had never heard of Bloggercon until now, but it sounds interesting. The wine tasting is a great idea, but the 5th is my Dad's birthday and I have plans to spend it with him. If I do go to bloggercon it would be great to put a face to the name.

Ryan at Vinesugar.com may be interested as well.

Ryan wrote:
08.19.04 at 7:41 AM

Sounds interesting. I'm always game to explore wine in new ways and it would be great to put a face to the GUI...

Regarding your post:
I have an issue with your friend's perspective on CA Chard. If he's looking for the burgundy style than why is he looking California- just drink Burgundy! The classic CA style of chard IS those big, round, oak-lick, buttery chards... thats our style.

Its like saying "I love bordeaux wines but no one in Washington state makes a similar wine."

Well of course not! Why should they? Chardonnay seems to be making a slow transition into less ML influence and showcasing the fruit more so than oak notes and ML fermentation. Its a versatile grape that is being done in many styles but if you know you like the burgundy style, then why not drink burgundy wines...

Alder wrote:
08.19.04 at 9:02 AM

Ryan, I completely agree with you, and said much the same to this gentleman, whereupon he started ranting about how hard it is to actually get good white Burgundy in California and the choices being so limited, etc. I made sure he knew about the places in San Francisco that carried a decent selection, and after that, well, he's going to be on his own.

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