Frantz Chagnoleau, Maconnais
“…stunningly good Saint-Véran that transcends its category.” Stephen Tanzer
“ You expect the wines to deliver and they do …some of the best I encountered …this is surely a rising star for the future.” Neal Martin
Earlier this spring we finally visited the sleepy village of Pierreclos in the Maconnais – on a sort of pilgrimage if you like. It was to see the small domaine of a true star in the making – Frantz Chagnoleau. It was one of those occasions that make us smile a little in the wine game, as there was not, in truth, much to see. Just a tiny, cool cellar with barely enough room to swing a cat – we almost had to taste the wines in single file! But a pilgrimage is a pilgrimage and we were duly stunned, inspired and by the time we said our goodbyes to Frantz and Caroline it was with the tell-tale gleam of the true believer in our eyes!
For those of you not quite in the know just yet you are not going to believe you are tasting St Verans and Pouilly Fuisses when you sip these wines. The quality here would put many Meursault and Chassagne producers to shame. In this southern part of the Burgundy region new developments are springing up from various young bloods of the area but the wines of Frantz and Caroline are blazing a trail no others can match. On our second visit to Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, in a tasting of well over 100 producers, this young couple’s range simply stood out above all others. Each example shone like a beacon possessing a cool, bright minerality that outpointed the many producers in attendance. Frantz and Caroline’s wines were startlingly good: tremendous definition and a retention of mouth-watering salinity allied to clean, generous well-honed fruit. We promptly jumped at the chance to make the range a UK exclusive for Brunswick FW.
Why so special? Well the first point is the pedigree, energy and single-minded commitment to quality of the two people involved. Frantz’s first hands-on tutelage, post-oenology degree, was under the truly late, great Anne-Claude Leflaive no less, before he started getting to grips with the Maconnais terroirs with the well-established, revered Oliver Merlin. Frantz is now taking all this fine education that bit further, relentlessly perfecting his craft at his own small domaine. Caroline’s path is no less blue-blooded and she remains closely tied to her friend and mentor Dominique ‘Comte’ Lafon. She is still head winemaker at Domique’s Héritiers du Comte Lafon operation in nearby Milly-Lamartine, in fact, but continues to help Frantz in developing their tiny Pierreclos operation. Together they are successfully pursuing their dream of producing pure, mineral-driven wines exemplifying the terroirs of the Maconnais under their own steam. The ethos and techniques gained from their experience working with the greats have stood the couple in great stead and the results are consistently spectacular in their 5 vintages to date. Organic, strictly-managed vineyards; hand-harvesting on a plot by plot basis; use of indigenous yeasts and very limited use of large, used French oak are the basic principles. And the wines – available in micro-quantities only – benefit markedly from this TLC. All of the cuvees below are compelling in their own right and should be snapped-up before the domaine hits the big time. Press coverage until now has been relatively limited although Neal Martin on his first visit noted the pedigree of the partnership and wrote afterwards “You expect the wines to deliver and they do …some of the best I encountered …this is surely a rising star for the future ” and Stephen Tanzer, not a man given to senseless hype or high scores, placed a whopping mark on the St Veran Roche last year, describing how it was “stunningly good…transcends its category.”
2015 Macon Villages Clos Saint-Pancras
GBP 59 per case under bond (6*75cl)
Limpid look as it is swirled and not too deep – light-mid lemon colour. Terrific intensity on the nose for the first wine. Orange and lemon with a subtle and ever-so-gentle note of oatmeal coming through. On the palate a beautiful feel and has the sense of freshness from partial stainless steel ferment along with the harmony associated with an elevage in large foudres (75%.) Like the nose it features ripe lemon and orange like a good Meursault and is shot through with a bright and unmistakable saline component. Very impressive – beautifully made allying generosity to a real fresh tangy cut. I can scarcely believe this is a Macon Villages although Frantz says it is a prime, cool walled site. An absolutely tremendous start. Buy what you can get of this. *
2015 St Veran La Fournaise
GBP 107 per case under bond (6*75cl)
A little deeper in colour. Frantz says from pure white calcaire soil like Chablis. This wine is aged in Stockinger demi-muids before a period of rest in tank prior to bottling. The nose has some yellow plum ripeness in 2015 along with a dash of citrus and lemon pith. There is a hint of chalk and rock dust too. The palate combines a ripe yet contained fruit profile with simply astounding minerality. There is a notable step up in concentration here but it is not overpowering. A wonderful St Veran that transcends the norms of the appellation and exemplifies the approach Chagnoleau has to attaining maximum mineral expression from his vineyard sites. Tremendous – it blends a generous sappy fruit with an electric edge that tingles on the tongue and lips. Hugely impressive and a wine that resonates with a nicely controlled long finish.
2015 St Veran A La Cote
GBP 107 per case under bond (6*75cl)
Quite a depth of colour this time and a richer nose to the wine. This comes from stonier and red soils imparting a Batard Montrachet like richness to proceedings. Some crème brulee notes, a touch of melted toffee it is already open for business and the palate too with a gentle florality on the inner mouth. Exuberant wine with the tangerine signature of the vintage and a buttery element in keeping with the nose this is more powerful and has an almost Californian profile. That is until the blast of mineral salts almost floor the taster. The tension is maintained in spite of the overt power and Frantz just about pulls off a masterstroke in combining the lush fruit with striking saline length again.
2015 St Veran La Roche
GBP 107 per case under bond (6*75cl)
This is made using older barriques and demi muids and like all the wines from natural yeast. The dynamic, complex nose shows aspects of white fruit, with candied lemons and orange and also an alluring toffee apple nougatine richness. Plus an inescapable chalk dust mineral burst. This is arguably even more harmonious than the La Cote on the palate and tingles like the Fournaise earlier – it may be even more explosive and combines well with the richness of the entry. An absolute corker really – hard to be too formal taking notes with this wine – as it delivers masses of pleasure and offers such a salvo of fresh vibrant acidity and tangy mineral complexity. On top of orange oils there is a trace of lemon or grapefruit zest and an all-round blend of mouth-filling harmony allied to uncanny tension. This is the wine that startled us 2 years ago and it still does.
2015 Pouilly Fuisse Pastoral
GBP 119 per case under bond (6*75cl)
Paler straw colour and a more refined nose some cool green apple and gentle citrus nose. A blend of open knit impressiveness and the more restrained aspects that come with a superior terroir. Underlyingly complex with a touches of cool stone and freshly hewn chalk dust. The palate too is one that shows a clear step up in refinement, flowing with clean lines and a fresher core than the St Veran wines. This is all class and miles apart from any number of run of the mill Pouilly Fuisses you might encounter elsewhere. Gorgeous cool grapefruit and lemon and lime zest are the main notes on this and the wine positively buzzes with energy yet still retains a classical poise. It is a superb wine and has supreme line and length with a potential for the core to become expansive with time. Tense, almost dramatic but ultimately very classy wine. Even better.
2015 Pouilly Fuisse Madrigal
GBP 135 per case under bond (6*75cl)
A selection of only 3 barrels with the selction based on finesse and longevity not power. None of the barrels are new and the wine is still lightish in colour and limpid at this stage. Ultimately this is a higher tones wine and one can sense the greater tension to come on the nose alone. Has a purity showing lemon crushed rocks and is rippling with intent! Underneath there is trace of melted butter but it is more alluring still. On the palate the lively lemon is joined with some clementine but it is the bristling energy and salinity that grabs the senses and the tactile dimension and tension is raised further on this closing wine. No question this is a step up again although you would not want to discard any of the range. Very long – it is something special and a glorious wine from this vintage to end the tasting.
Offered subject to remaining unsold and final confirmation