Amidst the lush, verdant, rolling hills of the Jura, surrounded by plentiful cattle, occasional vineyards, and little else, one can still profoundly feel the ancient agrarian heartbeat of old France. Here, unlike almost anywhere else in the Old World, persists a robust winemaking tradition of careful, intuitive vineyard management, confidently unobtrusive cellar work, and a pervasive spirit of experimentation that nonetheless prizes terroir over fashion. We at Rosenthal Wine Merchant have delighted in these raw, unschooled, viscerally expressive voices of the Jura for decades now, and although Michel Gahier still feels somewhat like a new singer in our choir, we are preparing to receive our eighth vintage from this immensely talented man in mid-January.
Gahier tends six and a half hectares of old vines in Montigny-les-Arsures—a village in Arbois known locally as “the capital of Trousseau,” and known also by long-time devotees of our portfolio as the home of the legendary Jacques Puffeney, with whom Michel has a deep and long-lasting relationship. Without bluster or fanfare, Michel works his vineyards completely organically, and he vinifies, ages, and bottles his wines without any additions whatsoever—no yeasts, no sulfur, no nothing. While his wines can be somewhat ornery soon after bottling—their wild spirits lashing out at the artificial prison of 750 milliliters, perhaps—they transform within six or eight months into some of the most pure, aesthetically electrifying expressions of Jurassien soils as can be found. And they improve for years in bottle, as a multitude of older wines consumed over the years chez Gahier can attest.
We will receive a collection of spellbinding wines from Gahier in a few weeks, encompassing the breadth of his single-vineyard 2016 Trousseaux, plus a smattering of longer-aged white wines. An image of Michel, captured in a photograph from a recent trip (see above), persists. The preternaturally calm vigneron, stands in front of a century-old Vin Jaune barrel he inherited from Puffeney. He is wholly conscious of his position within this ancient winegrowing culture, yet unafraid to craft wines according to his own personal vision. We are fortunate to work with such a brave and sensitive grower as Michel, and equally fortunate that a ravenous audience awaits each new wine that emerges from his modest cellar.
2015 Cremant du Jura: Michel produces painfully small quantities of a delicious and wildly expressive Cremant du Jura, made entirely from Chardonnay and given no dosage whatsoever. Not your typical straitjacketed bubbly wine, Gahier Cremant gushes forth with almond cream, brassy limestone twang, and salty citrus, offering a breadth of texture that is nonetheless reined in by vigorous acidity. A rare and impressive sparkling wine from a real master.
2016 Cotes du Jura Rouge “Vigne de Fort”: A blend of primarily younger-vine Trousseau with a splash of Pinot Noir (around ten percent), Gahier’s “Vigne de Fort” is an exuberant and succulent wine begging to be enjoyed in its youth—on the fruit and with abandon. This 2016 displays a concentrated core of bright cherry fruit framed by gently funky sous-bois accents and a rattling hum of high-toned acidity. A touch of trapped carbon dioxide (reflecting Gahier’s no-sulfur cellar methodology) dissipates rapidly with aeration.
2016 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “Le Clousot”: “Le Clousot” encompasses Michel’s youngest Trousseau vines (27 years old as of the 2016 vinage), and as such it offers perhaps the least concentration but the most lift of his three pure-Trousseau bottlings. This 2016 puts the lifted expressiveness of the vintage front and center, with a soft, luscious nose of jammy cherries, and a dense but ethereal palate of many delicate layers: black cherry, stony minerality, smoky herbs, and more. This cuvee continues to improve with each passing vintage as the vines gain more and more subterranean fluency, and this 2016 is indeed perhaps the best version we’ve yet seen.
2016 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “Vigne du Louis”: These somewhat older vines with a warmer exposition speak in a louder, more authoritative voice than “Clousot” above, with a glowing layer of savory funk beneath its gentle yet concentrated core of mentholated cherries and peppery soil. The acidity is vibrant—perky, even—and the effortlessly complex country flavors are carried weightlessly by its snappy and persistent energy. A wine this tangy and delicious doesn’t often put one in the mind of cellaring, but the patient drinker will reap huge dividends after four or five years of bottle age.
2016 Arbois Rouge Trousseau “Les Grands Vergers”: “Les Grands Vergers” represents Gahier’s oldest holdings of Trousseau: 80-year-old vines in a south-facing parcel contiguous with Puffeney’s legendary “Les Berangeres” vineyard. The 2016 is a tour de force, a layer cake that fills the palate both vertically and horizontally: rhubarb, strawberry jam, black cherries, and Alpine flowers dance around a core of warm earth and punchy limestone. All this voluptuous wildness aside, a searchlight of gleaming acidity provides focus and contributes elegance. This is a dancing, vibrant wine that should age effortlessly for years.
2016 Arbois Blanc “Les Follasses”: “Follasses” is topped up in cask, but it nonetheless delivers an unhinged expression of the hard limestone soils of Arbois. Direct and blatantly mineral, the 2016 suggests a transmission of pure crushed grapes: skins, gently bitter and alive, with a floral underlay and plenty of apple-tinged, salty fruit. Wine this raw is not often this harmonious—if only there were more bottles to go around…
2014 Arbois Blanc “Les Crets”: “Les Crets” smells and tastes of the same basic structural elements as “Follasses” above, but with a deeper and more saline personality, as fostered by its less-topped-up elevage. It encompasses more layers—ringingly bright yet with more punch, and slightly wilder. Above all, this wine encapsulates Gahier’s uncanny ability to harness vinous energy, as it is both irrepressibly vibrant yet clear and articulate in its presentation of flavors.
2013 Arbois Blanc “La Fauquette”: Always the grandest of Michel’s white wines, “Fauquette” spends nearly four years in barrel without topping up. It is somehow the most marked by voile yet the most elegant: viscerally salty, with the finesse and heft of great Corton-Charlemagne, but speaking that honest and particular tongue of the Jura—adamantly not a wine of ambition or identity crisis. It is a wine both brash and poised, both aggressive and articulate, and it will provide years of positive development for those lucky enough to obtain it and patient enough to cellar it.
2009 Arbois Vin Jaune: Michel’s Vin Jaune is utterly distinctive–a maelstrom of wild Indian spices, assertive minerality, a vivid blast of fruits both candied and fresh (preserved lemons, tart cherries, grilled apples), and what feels like a bucketful of Maldon sea salt. The wine takes off like a rocketship on the palate, with a lift and energy that only a wine whose creator is unafraid to flirt with subtle volatility can achieve. Gahier Vin Jaune is a rare bird, and those truly interested in the Jura or in natural wine in general owe it to themselves to check out this wine.