2012 Mâcon-Chaintré ‘Vielles Vignes’ – This is spectacular and complex and, in my opinion, almost unmatched at the table. It smells of ripe apple, honey and lemon – subtle mineral hints all come together in a distinctly classy, vinous nose. Clarity of fruit and bright refreshing acidity feature in the mouth, with a long, almost crystalline finish. Pin point.
The Valette’s are known for their specific style, wines raised with thorough lees-contact and without racking. They have remained true to this style of winemaking since the 1950s. It is a sort of family-tradition that requires accuracy as well as painstaking detail knowledge of the indigenous yeasts and the wine’s proneness to develop reductive flavors. Again, an art.
When working their vineyards, the Valettes respect long standing local traditions. In every second row of vines there is dense ground vegetation that protects microorganisms living in the upper soil-layers. It also naturally rivals the vines’ top-soil roots for nutrition. This way, the vines are forced to quickly root into deeper soil layers in order to secure a steady supply of minerals and nutrients.
During the summer months, workers constantly attend the upper layers of the vineyard soil. They use a self-constructed machine that rearranges the top 5 cm without actually plowing the ground. By doing so, a sufficient amount of oxygen is introduced into the soil, without affecting the microorganisms living deeper down. This procedure is repeated 3 to 4 times a year in all of Domaine Valette’s vineyards. Philippe explains the advantage of this approach by showing that the soil becomes more resistant to erosion. It can compensate much larger volumes of rainfall than conventionally treated soils.
Grapes are harvested during a descending moon at optimum ripeness (I can vouch or that as I ate plenty off the vine!) by hand into 5kg cagettes and taken to the winery where they are whole bunch pressed and fermented using ambient yeast in either tank (Macon-Villages) barrique or demi-muid of various ages. Depending on the origin of the grapes the élevage can be anywhere from 2 years to 6 years and the wines are kept on the fine lees and bottled with just a dab of S02.
Like the top wines of Raveneau or Ganevat, these wines have a level of concentration that gives the wines an extraordinary intensity, levity and persistence, and it also goes some way to protecting them in bottle.
This year I asked Philippe about his wines concentration and he told me that originally his idea was to make sweeter wines; he was influenced initially by Jean Thevenet (Domaine de la Bongran) as were many young Mâconnais but did not want to use sulfur in the winemaking or filter so he harvests late at the limit where he can make dry wines.
It is important to note that all the wines show the clear mark of the very slow oxidation that time in barrel adds, that is to say it adds considerably to the dimension of the wines.
These are wines that can and do age brilliantly, in fact a 1993 Pouilly-Fuissé tasted a few years ago was spectacularly fresh and vigorous. Needless to say, these are very special wines that are cherished for their multi-dimension, refinement and most of all for the pleasurable sensations they provide – they are stimulating to drink!