Tasting with Benoit Riffault, we discussed how lucky they had been in avoiding the frost which ravaged the 2016 crop and almost made a return in 2017. Spring and early summer were easy bringing only a bit of mildew. Temperatures during the high summer were warm, up to 35°C, the weather was dry, and it ended with a south wind with no grapes being sunburnt. Benoit’s main problem was picking the best date to start the harvest, which ended up as 28th August. “Vintages are generally getting earlier,” observed Benoit. “It’s a special vintage for me,” he said with “big structure, ripeness and energy.” To him the vintage is a combination of 2009 for its ripe aromas, 2010 for its density and 2014 for its vivacity. “It has a top equilibrium, which isn’t usual for Burgundy,” he said, adding “you might wait for 15 years to see how they develop!” Amongst other news, the Boudots have recently bought 5 ha of vines at Cormot-le-Grand near Nolay in the Hautes Côtes de Beaune which they are currently regenerating.
Slow generational change is the policy at Etienne Sauzet with Benoit Riffault, son-in-law of Gérard Boudot, now making the wines with Gérard only getting involved in the major decisions. He himself ran the estate from 1975 onwards, assuming the mantle from Etienne Sauzet, grandfather of his wife Jeannine. So it has passed through the female line twice, and Benoit’s wife Emilie née Boudot is very involved in the commercial side of the business. This operates from their dovecote-like office from which there are panoramic views over Puligny-Montrachet’s finest slopes. The estate extends to 10 ha with a small number of grapes bought in to replace production from vines lost some years ago due to a split inheritance, some vines going to the Boillot family. The Chassagne-Montrachet comes from a single 50 year-old parcel situated just by Bâtard-Montrachet, while the village Puligny wine is from nine different parcels. There are nine different Puligny-Montachet premier crus in the portfolio including Champ-Canet, Combettes and Referts which border Meursault Perrières and Charmes. Four out of five of the Montrachet grand crus are represented with, from top slope to bottom, Chevalier-Montrachet, Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet. Reduction of yields through short pruning and de-budding is extremely important. Top quality oak is used in the spotless cellars, the proportion of new wood varying from 20% to 40% on the premier and grand crus. A tasting with either Gérard or Benoit in their immaculately swish, new tasting room is an education in the effect of terroir, particularly the effects of altitude and the proportions of clay versus limestone, on the wines of Puligny and Chassagne-Montrachet. The fruit flavours vary from citrus through to yellow fruit, the weight changing between elegance and sublime power. For a taste at a more affordable price we always recommend their Bourgogne ‘La Tufera’ which is made in a combination of wooden vats and aged barrels.