Big and beautiful. Albéric Bichot’s tireless quest for quality.
When I was novice wine student living in Burgundy, my viticulture professors (all local growers) insisted that serious wines could only come from small estates and never from the big, bad négociant firms. To my teachers, wineries that produced large quantities and largely worked with grapes bought from other growers could never attain the same heights of elegance, aromatic complexity or precision as the small farmer working his own plot of land. As time went on, I learnt that the lines were rather more blurry than I was led to believe. First of all, many large Burgundian négociants have significant vineyard holdings, and a growing number of small domaines are starting to buy in additional fruit to grow their sales. Secondly, quality-oriented négociants are so meticulous in their choice of grower partners and the winemaking techniques employed that exceptional wines are regularly being made by wineries with little or no vineyards. Lastly, many small growers make poor wines. Good things, it would seem, do not always come in small packages.
This subject came to mind after a tasting I attended last week with the charming Albéric Bichot. The very definition of this hybrid of grower/ négociant, Maison Albert Bichot owns a whopping 100 hectares of vines. Their estates are spread out across the entire region, from Chablis, to Nuits-St-Georges, to Pommard and Mercurey. They also buy significant quantities from growers to meet the demands of their large clientèle world-wide. I asked Albéric what he thought about this rivalry between small growers and big négociant firms, and he responded with a wry smile and a typically Gallic shrug. His philosophy is simple: make the best wines possible, and let the quality speak for itself.
His philosophy is simple: make the best wines possible, and let the quality speak for itself.
Albéric took up the reins of the (then) 165 year-old family firm in 1996. Before settling down to the business of managing such a vast empire, it is said that Albéric was a great adventurer, travelling through the wilds of northern Canada and Patagonia. He dreamed of being an astronaut so the stories go. But after just 5 minutes of hearing him talk about his vines, it is obvious that he is where he is meant to be. Over the past 20 years, he has worked tirelessly to raise the image of Maison Bichot. The vineyards are all sustainably or organically farmed, the yields have been sharply reduced and the majority of sourced fruit is now purchased as grapes rather than finished wine. A spokesman for Burgundy in their successful bid to obtain UNESCO world heritage status for their 1247 climats (vineyard parcels), Albéric is passionate about crafting wines that express their terroir and vintage.
The proof is definitely in the glass. We tasted through a selection of mainly 2012 Chablis and Côte d’Or wines. “Une grande année” (an excellent vintage) according to Albéric, with fantastic ageing potential. The wines were consistently pleasant throughout, showing vibrant fruit, lifted acidity and smooth textures. Stand outs in terms of value and quality included the following:
Maison Bichot “Secret de famille” Chardonnay 2012 – 90pts. PW
Albéric kindly shared the family secret here, which is that the grapes are sourced from just outside the boundaries of top Côte d’Or villages and vinified with all the care given to the crus. An intriguing nose of spiced apricot with undertones of licorice and subtle minerality. Lifted acidity gives way to a medium bodied, smooth textured mid-palate with a soft, toasty oak finish. Great value.
Where to Buy: Coming in 2016 to an SAQ near you… (23.95$)
Maison Bichot Chablis 2012 – 87pts PW
Bright lemony fruit. Lively and refreshing with nice depth of flavour through the mid-palate and a lifted, mineral finish. Fairly simple on the nose, but still very enjoyable for a week day wine.
Where to Buy: SAQ (22.40$)
Domaine Long-Depaguit Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2010 – 92pts. LW
This 63 hectare estate covers 10% of the total surface areas of Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis. The 2010 “Les Clos” is redolent with sweet, baked apricots, honey, lemon and subtle floral and mineral notes. Searing acidity leads into a richly textured, juicy core followed by a lingering, toasted finish.
Where to Buy: SAQ Signature (68.00$)
Maison Bichot “Secret de famille” Pinot Noir 2012 – 90pts. PW
As per the white, the red “Secret de Famille” cuvée is a serious step up from your average AOC Bourgogne. Seductive aromas of strawberry, cherry and violets are underscored by a pleasing earthiness. The tart acidity is balanced by a plush texture, smooth oak and firm, dusty tannins. Like the white, excellent for the price.
Where to Buy: SAQ (22.00$)
Maison Bichot Vosne-Romanée 2012 – 89pts. LW
Slightly closed on the nose, showing black and red berry fruit, rose petals, earthy notes and subtle spice upon aeration. Bracing acidity, showing power and concentration, with firm, ripe tannins and measured use of oak. A little austere at present. Good potential, needs time to unwind.
Where to Buy: SAQ (67.25$)
Domaine du Clos Frantin Gevrey Chambertin “Les Murots ” 2012 – 93pts. LW
The star of the tasting! This high quality 13-hectare estate counts 8-hectares of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Rustic and earthy on the nose, with mixed red berries, soft floral notes and lots of minerality. This wine really comes alive on the palate with vibrant acidity, bold fruit flavours, a silky texture and pronounced yet smooth tannins. Drinking well now, but will definitely improve with age.
Where to Buy: SAQ (65.25$)