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.
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.
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.