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Jérôme Chezeaux’s 2016s: Quality Over Quantity

A rock-solid source of pure, chiseled red Burgundy for us for over 25 years now, Domaine Jérôme Chezeaux is undergoing a particularly exciting phase right now. While the wines have always been honest and delicious, the last few vintages show a level of finesse and precision which—in a just world—would vault them into the top ranks of the Côte d’Or’s elite. Furthermore, Jérôme’s daughter Lyse, having completed a series of international internships, has now joined her father full-time, her brightness and enthusiasm adding a wonderful dimension to our visits to the family cellar.

Jérôme’s style is quite difficult to pin down, and in fact even to call it a “style” suggests a certain presence of ego that is adamantly not there. Always fully ripe, his wines nonetheless never display a wisp of flab or surmaturité even in the warmest of vintages; they offer the distinct impression that the grapes were harvested at the most exactly perfect possible moment. They are graceful yet not exactly polite, always thoroughly extracted but never pushed. Jérôme allows the Pinot Noir’s innate silkiness to carry the day, without that “buffed to a shine” impression that occasionally accompanies Burgundies to which the adjective “elegant” is readily applied. And, again even in the ripest years, they carry an acidity which is noble and true, never masked by undue richness and always lending the fruit mouthwatering crunch. Certainly, Jérôme’s cellar practices serve to enhance this sense of purity: fully de-stemming his crop; fermenting naturally, with malolactic occurring in barrel; racking only once during the élevage; and employing exceedingly modest levels of new oak, from 10% on the villages wines to 30% for the Vaucrains, Suchots, and Clos de Vougeot. But, as with all great Burgundy, the explanation for their singular character resides in that magical, irreducible interzone of man, land, and process. All in all, Chezeaux’s are wines utterly devoid of pretense yet riveting in their precise articulation of site and vintage—and they only keep getting better.

The infamous frost of April 2016 was not particularly kind to Jérôme, and his villages-level wines, as well as those crus in the southern sector of Nuits-Saint-Georges, suffered particularly devastating losses of quantity. However, the finished wines show all the purity and clarity we have come to cherish here, with a particularly notable sense of concentration and lurking mineral heft. At last pass, Chezeaux’s 2016s showed surprising openness for their relatively youthful state, with fresh, lifted tannins and gorgeously silken fruit. Worth emphasizing is the almost shockingly sane pricing in effect at this domaine—a testament to Jérôme’s lovable modesty—which makes these wines irresistible for the prudent collector, especially given their current level of quality.

2017 Bourgogne Aligoté
Chezeaux owns a small 0.8-hectare parcel of Aligoté in the village of Premeaux-Prissey. Never one to overemphasize richness in his wines, Jérôme’s Aligoté always offers ample cut and notable dryness, its flinty core laced with subtle white-flower accents and bright citrus fruit. Only stainless steel is employed in the vinification and ageing of this delightfully zesty cuvée.

2017 Bourgogne Blanc
Chezeaux’s Bourgogne Blanc, from a third of a hectare of old vines in Premeaux-Prissey, speaks of its origins in this specific sector of the southern Côte de Nuits in its unusual encépagement. Comprised of 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Chardonnay, the grapes are harvested and fermented together, partly in steel and partly in used barrels. Though clearly expressing the underlying limestone, its fruit tends to be more pit-fruit-driven, slightly waxier, and with a whiff of exotic flowers not typically associated with Côte d’Or Chardonnay.

2016 Bourgogne Rouge
Jérôme’s exemplary Bourgogne Rouge comes from a smattering of parcels in Premeaux-Prissey and Nuits-Saint-Georges totaling 2.8 hectares. A wonderful representative of both the house style and the classic character of Nuits-Saint-Georges and environs, it emphasizes fresh, lively fruit buttressed by firm minerality and a dusty spice element. This is a sleek Bourgogne Rouge unencumbered by oak influence, as Chezeaux employs no new barrels in its élevage. Sadly, the late-April frost reduced yields here by 80%.

2016 Vosne-Romanée
Chezeaux owns a half-hectare’s worth of villages-level Vosne-Romanée, spread among three lieux-dits: Aux Réas, Bossières, and Mezière. His remarkably deft, light touch allows that classic Vosne-Romanée spice and silk to shine through brilliantly, its dark, seductive fruit contrasting the gutsier, more forcefully mineral carriage of its Nuits-Saint-Georges cousins. In 2016, Jérôme produced only 10% of his normal quantity here due to the frost.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges
Chezeaux’s holdings of villages-level Nuits-Saint-Georges encompass 3.3 hectares spread throughout the appellation, with a significant proportion from the vineyards of Aux Saint Julien and Chaliots. In keeping with the spirit of the underlying terroir, this is wilder in character than the Vosne-Romanée above—marked by notes of iron, and with a subtle rowdiness to its tannins. Never deficient in fruit, it offers plenty of earth and sous-bois elements as well, all in an invigoratingly driving fashion. Production of this cuvée suffered a staggering 90% loss in 2016 due to frost.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Charbonnières – Vieilles Vignes”
With the 2011 vintage (and with our encouragement), Jérôme began separating out his oldest villages-level parcel—a 0.67-hectare holding of 80-year-old vines in Les Charbonnières, situated just below the premier cru Aux Corvées on the slope in the appellation’s southern sector. Boasting true old-vines power, this is always more thickly fruited and more exuberantly spicy than its counterpart above, with greater generosity and length. Its lusciousness, however, does nothing to mask the underlying complexity that sets this cuvée apart. Unfortunately, Jérôme produced only five of his usual fifteen barrels in 2016 due to the late-April frost.

2016 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes”
Les Chaumes lies at the southern edge of Vosne-Romanée, immediately below the hallowed premier cru Aux Malconsorts and the Grand Cru La Tache on a vein of limestone and marl. Chezeaux owns four-tenths of a hectare here, producing a wine that marries the exotic spice and succulent fruit of Vosne-Romanée with the mineral force of Nuits-Saint-Georges in hugely appealing fashion.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Aux Boudots”
Always a standout in Chezeaux’s cellar, Aux Boudots is perched at the northern limit of Nuits-Saint-Georges, on the border of Vosne-Romanée. As one might expect given its location, this wine combines classically Nuits-Saint-Georges iron and sous-bois with fruit a bit more caressing and Vosne-Romanée-like than its more southerly situated counterparts. Chezeaux owns a very small 0.34-hectare parcel in this steeply sloping premier cru.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Rue de Chaux”
Located almost dead-center in the appellation, Rue de Chaux is perhaps the most quintessentially “Nuits-Saint-Georges” among Chezeaux’s premier crus. Jerome owns a mere 0.29 hectares in this steep, topsoil-deficient vineyard, and his ever-elegant touch yields a wine of both grace and power. Darkly fruited, dense, and ever-so-slightly brooding, it also offers an enchanting savory-spicy perfume.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Les Pruliers”
The smallest-production premier cru in Chezeaux’s cellar, Les Pruliers lies near the border of Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux-Prissey in the southern part of the appellation. Jerome works a mere tenth of a hectare here—a parcel of extremely old vines that produce a wine of warmth and generosity. More full-bodied than the Rue de Chaux above, its fruit is pitched toward the deep-purple and the black, and, while not heavy-handed in the slightest, it emphasizes robustness over sleekness.

2016 Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains”
Nuits-Saint-Georges famously possesses no grand cru vineyards, but Les Vaucrains is widely considered one in all but name. Always the most complete of Chezeaux’s premier crus, Vaucrains rumbles with tension—an authoritative wine that exudes an impression of depth and solidity. Here, the fruit, mineral, and savory elements bind together more tightly, more seamlessly. Jérôme owns just over a quarter-hectare of east-facing vines in Vaucrains, and his conservative oak regimen—never more than one-third of the barrels are new—allows one to admire the power of the terroir with great clarity.

2016 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Les Suchots”
With grand crus Romanée-Saint-Vivant and Richebourg right next door, premier cru Les Suchots lies in one of the most elite neighborhoods in the Cote d’Or. Chezeaux owns a third of a hectare here, and this is often the greatest wine in his cellar. A tsunami of swoon-worthy Vosne spice ushers in fruit both impressively broad and sumptuously precise, yet somehow everything remains focused and fine—a tour de force, vintage after vintage.

2016 Clos de Vougeot
Chezeaux owns a 0.17-hectare sliver of this outsized grand cru, in the prime sector just above and next to the castle. From these old vines, Jérôme produces a wine that does justice to the immense power and complexity this site is capable of at its best. Rivetingly wild, gamy, and structured, it presents a forceful, iron-dominated mineral core flanked by dark fruit and shot through with muscular tannins. Always the most impenetrable wine in the cellar in its youth, it demands significant cellaring but pays enormous dividends in time.