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New Releases from Jean-Marc Pillot: February 2019

With his impressive array of holdings throughout Chassagne-Montrachet, complemented by parcels in Puligny-Montrachet, Santenay, and Montagny, Jean-Marc Pillot is among our most important suppliers of Burgundy. Since our first vintage together nearly twenty years ago, we have watched Jean-Marc—a fourth-generation vigneron—find his way and master his craft, and today his generous, electrifying renderings of the great terroirs of Chassagne-Montrachet sell out before they even reach us. In person, Jean-Marc is steadfastly lively and warm, his alert eyes both intense and friendly; one can sense his tireless work ethic even in the nimble and speedy way in which he navigates his cellar during our visits. And, as is so often the case, his wines mirror his personality: exuberant, expressive, and bristling with energy. Jean-Marc works his domaine’s exceedingly old vines—averaging over 50 years but reaching as high as 110—without the use of chemicals, and his fermentations always begin naturally. His use of oak is thoughtful and measured—never formulaic and always tailored to each wine in each vintage—and he has an uncanny knack for employing new wood as a skilled chef employs salt: barely enough to notice, and just enough to enhance balance.

In the tumultuous 2016 growing season, Jean-Marc was among the most affected of all of Rosenthal’s growers in Burgundy. Between the late-April frost, aggressive early-season mildew pressure, and drought conditions from July through harvest, Pillot suffered an average reduction in crop of 70%, with no wine at all produced from the premier cru of “La Maltroie” or the classic lieu-dit “Les Chaumes, and devastating losses suffered elsewhere. Despite these aggravations, Jean-Marc was able to harvest very healthy fruit which fermented cleanly and consistently, and the ultimate quality of these 2016 white wines speaks for itself. Though clearly not a “blockbuster” vintage with off-the-charts concentration, it is a supremely balanced one, and the finished wines’ sense of terroir delineation and overall equilibrium bears no trace of the difficult growing conditions under which they were birthed.

In stark contrast to 2016’s formidable travails, the famously sunny 2015 growing season yielded impressive red wines of ample fruit, notable tension, and intense concentration. The only disappointment for Jean-Marc were the relatively low yields which the near-drought conditions fostered, as thick-skinned berries of very little juice gave forth less than 30 hectoliters per hectare on average. In our frenzy for blue-chip white Burgundy, we sometimes forget that Chassagne-Montrachet used to be renowned as a red-wine terroir, and that it wasn’t until a few decades ago that the scales began to shift in an attempt to satisfy a growing market for the Cote de Beaune’s white wines. Old Pinot Noir vines in prime locations were ripped up all throughout Chassagne, and these days well over twice as much white wine as red is produced here. Ironically, the remaining red wines of the village are now among the greatest values to be found in Burgundy, as they are uniformly priced well below their white counterparts. At Pillot, we have witnessed with great pleasure Jean-Marc easing back on his extractions over the past handful of vintages, allowing his immaculately healthy fruit to speak with finer articulation—though never without an exuberant sense of juiciness at its core.

The 2016 White Wines

2017 Montagny “Les Bassets”
Pillot has a friend in the appellation of Montagny, in the Côte Chalonnaise, with some old vineyard holdings, the fruit of which he is happy to sell to Jean-Marc each year to help him round out his lineup with some accessibly priced wines of a different character. “Les Bassets” is a “split” vineyard, part of which is villages and part of which is premier cru, and this parcel is just on the villages side. Vinified and aged entirely in stainless steel, this wine—the lone 2017 in our offering—displays the racy acidity and blatantly chalky, almost Chablis-like character of Montagny at its best, but with a satisfying mid-palate richness.

2016 Montagny 1er Cru “Les Gouresses”
From his friend’s parcel of 110-year-old vines in this well-situated premier cru, Jean-Marc renders a wine of intensity and depth, aging it entirely in wood (albeit none new) in contrast with the “Bassets” above. The 2016 offers quinine and mint leaf on the nose, with a similarly driving palate to the “Bassets” but with markedly greater density (courtesy of the ancient vines) and length.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet “Les Noyers Bret”
The lone Puligny-Montrachet in Pillot’s cellar, “Les Noyers Bret” lies just downslope of Le Montrachet and its assorted hyphenations, and Jean-Marc owns a small parcel of 45-year-old vines here. Often among the most elegant of his wines (as befits the appellation), the 2016 is saline, floral, and quite refined, with an exceptionally chiseled palate of sizzling tension.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc
While Jean-Marc’s villages-level Chassagne-Montrachet typically comes from the lieu-dit “Les Chaumes,” frost decimated that parcel in 2016, so he ended up with a cuvée based on fruit from the nearby “Les Mazures” vineyard. This is a classically rendered Chassagne-Montrachet, with notes of white pepper, grapefruit zest, and greengage plum, and a focused, linear palate of solid length. There’s a deft balancing of richness and drive here that characterizes Jean-Marc’s style in general.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Les Macherelles”
“Les Macherelles” sits just to the south of the premier cru “Les Chenevottes” in the northern sector of Chassagne-Montrachet, just north of the village itself. Pillot’s 0.28 hectares of vines were planted in 1951, and while this wine is often one of the more straightforward crus in his lineup, the 2016 is stony, with noteworthy cut to counterbalance its typically rich, sappy core of pit fruits and almond paste.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Les Vergers”
Jean-Marc farms half a hectare of vines planted in the late 1940s in this premier cru, which sits immediately above “Chenevottes” and “Macherelles” on the slope, flanking them both. Always a stunner in the lineup, this 2016 is dazzling, both richer and more tensile than the “Macherelles.” The nose is striking in its clarity, with a real limestone-driven nobility, and the palate displays intense dry extract and an ultra-long, saline finish.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Morgeot – Les Fairendes”
“Les Fairendes” is the prime filet of the southern-Chassagne premier cru of “Morgeot,” with a poorer topsoil that facilitates a more profound mineral expression than its neighboring surface, and Pillot owns a quarter-hectare of 45-year-old-vines here. The 2016, in keeping with the character of the vineyard, is slightly less bracing and driving than “Vergers,” with more mid-palate fat and a thicker, more opulent texture. Quite structured and concentrated, it will certainly repay a few years of cellaring.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Les Caillerets”
Among the most coveted of Chassagne’s premier crus, “Caillerets” is situated high on the slope, roughly equidistant between the village’s northern and southern borders. Pillot’s tiny holding here—a mere 0.18 hectares—yields what is often the most complex, full-spectrum premier cru in his cellar. Like the “Vergers” above, this combines sappy richness and pointillistic precision, but with a bit more intensity on the palate and a thicker overall texture—a supremely impressive effort.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Les Baudines”
“Les Baudines” occupies a unique position within Chassagne-Montrachet, lying at the extreme south of the appellation (adjacent to Santenay) at the very highest point on the slope. Jean-Marc owns a 0.15-hectare sliver in this well-drained, less sun-soaked vineyard, and the wine he produces from here is always his most scintillatingly mineral. The 2016 is like a ski luge, with a breathtakingly sleek profile of pure chalk and citrus zest, and an almost aggressively driving finish.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc 1er Cru “Vergers – Clos Saint Marc”
Jean-Marc is one of only three owners of this walled-in vineyard located in the heart of “Les Vergers” (see above), and his vines here are an astonishing 106 years old. Always a standout in Pillot’s cellar, “Clos Saint Marc” offers grand-cru-like density and depth, and this 2016—though extremely young and unevolved right now—is hyper-concentrated and multilayered, with a profound mineral character and a staggering amount of dry extract.

2016 Corton-Charlemagne
Jean-Marc was able to produce a mere two barrels of Corton-Charlemagne in 2016, from fruit he purchased from his friend Blair Pethel of Domaine Dublere—a parcel, in fact, which used to be worked by the Rollin family and included in their own Corton-Charlemagne before the previous owner sold it to Mr. Pethel. As befits the character of this cru, the 2016 is a much richer, more backward wine than anything prior in the lineup, with a forcefully mineral, almost tannic presence on the palate. The 50% new oak is all but swallowed by the wine’s massive structure, even at this early stage.

2016 Chevalier-Montrachet
Given its higher (and thus slightly cooler) position on the slope, Chevalier-Montrachet sometimes rivals even Le Montrachet itself in quality. Certainly, Jean-Marc’s is the star of his cellar, and those fortunate enough to access the painfully minuscule quantities we are allocated will be thrilled with its multidimensionality and presence. The 2016 saw no new oak, and it offers a dazzling, slightly exotic fruit character, with an intense spice element and a sense of glyercol on the palate. It finishes like an avalanche, imposing and powerful, and promising a long life ahead of it.

The 2015 Red Wines

2015 Santenay Rouge “Les Champs Claude”
Pillot owns a sizable 1.4-hectare parcel of 45-year-old Pinot Noir in this Santenay lieu-dit, and his gentle extraction (remontage only) and no-new-oak elevage allows the friendly, juicy red fruit to take center stage. This 2015 is especially satisfying, with a classic note of freshly turned earth and plenty of tangy acidity to balance the palate’s succulence.

2015 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge “Mes Vieilles Vignes”
Jean-Marc produces a remarkable red Chassagne-Montrachet from a hectare of 55-year-old vines, and the 2015 is noteworthy in its complexity—particularly for a villages-level wine. As with all of Pillot’s 2015 reds, there is an interplay of contrasting elements here: smoky earth, up-front minerality, and ripe, energetic fruit. The palate is rich and friendly enough to mask the ample underlying structure, and this should evolve in a very positive manner.

2015 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Les Macherelles”
Pillot’s Pinot Noir in the premier cru of “Les Macherelles” was planted in 1954, and the 2015 presents a riper, thicker profile than the “Vieilles Vignes” above, with a darker cast to the fruit. Sappy and powerful, this possesses an almost chewy mouthfeel, with a dry and tightly mineral impression on the concentrated finish.

2015 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Morgeot – Les Fairendes”
Pillot owns two-thirds of a hectare of Pinot Noir in “Morgeot”—again in the “Fairendes” climat—and this 2015 echoes the “Macherelles” above in its super-ripe character, but with a brisker, more driving sense of kinetic energy on the palate. The fruit and mineral elements are a bit more interwoven here than above, and the overall impression is slightly gentler.

2015 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru “Clos Saint Jean”
Considered by many to be the greatest terroir for red wine in the entire appellation, “Clos Saint Jean” sits high up on the slope, overlooking the village itself. Pillot owns just under half a hectare of staggeringly old Pinot Noir here—105 years old as of the 2015 vintage—and produces what is unquestionably his grandest red from this site. While no riper than the above wines, there is a greater sense of depth here, and a layered character to the fruit which makes it feel at once more nuanced and more intense.