Sun 29 Apr 2012
Domaine Michel Lafarge is one of the great producers of the wines of Burgundy’s Volnay appellation. The domaine is small, owning just under 25 acres of vines, and producing only about 4,000 cases annually, but the wines are models of their genres. The family has been cultivating grapes in Volnay since the early 19th Century and possibly back to the late 18th Century. Very gradually did the Lafarges accumulate, piece by piece, the portions of vineyards that comprise their domaine; these include Volnay Clos des Chênes and the wholly owned Clos du Chateau des Ducs, Beaune Grêves, Pommard Pezerolles (all Premier Cru) and parcels of Volnay village and Premier Cru, as well as Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Passetoutgrains and a village Meursault.
Lafarge was a pioneer in bottling its own wine, rather than selling the wine to a negociant, beginning with the harvest of 1934. The wines see only about 25 percent new oak, typically aging for 15 to 20 months, depending on the vintage and the vineyard. The entire domaine has been farmed on biodynamic principles since 2000. Does that mean that the wines are better than they were before the domaine’s steps toward biodynamic methods were instituted in 1997? And what would “better” mean? My experience with the wines goes back only to the Meursault 2002, Volnay Clos-des-Chênes 2003 and Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs 2004, so I have no standard of comparison, though these wines were superb and a little challenging — of the Clos du Chateau des Ducs 2004 my first note was “a chill comes off this.”
The literature, however, is primarily unstinting in regard for the classically proportioned and detailed pre-biodynamic wines — read Clive Coates on the Volnay Clos des Chênes 1990, 1983 and 1952 — so is it possible that the post-2000 wines are in some sense truer, more authentic, more reflective of the vineyards than they were for all those decades? The domaine’s philosophy has always been to pay close and careful attention in the vineyard and to leave the wine as undisturbed as possible during its making. What more could grapes or wine ask for?
Tasted at “Return to Terroir: La Renaissance des Appellations” in New York, February 27, 2012. Becky Wasserman Selection for Martin Scott, Lake Success, N.Y., and other importers around the country.
Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2009. Aligoté is Burgundy’s “other” white grape, grown usually in the highest or lowest sites, that is, not in the areas of the superior vineyards in the middle of the slopes. The wine is bottled as Bourgogne Aligoté; only in Bouzeron, in the Chalonnaise, does it get its own appellation. We expect aligoté to be immensely crisp with acidity — which is why it’s essential in a Kir, combined with cassis — even sometimes fairly arid with acidity’s drying quality, but this example leavens the intense vibrancy and nervosity with a lovely supple, moderately dense texture and tasty flavors of lemon curd and roasted lemon, subtly wedded to cloves, dried rosemary and limestone. A beguiling jasmine and honeysuckle aspect gets matters off to a good start. 14 percent alcohol. Seductive harmony and balance. Very Good+. About $23, but prices range from $18 to $28.
Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009. I’ll repeat the phrase from the previous note — “seductive harmony and balance” — but add something individual, almost feral that lifts this commune wine above its counterparts. It opens with notes of jasmine and lilac, cloves and orange rind, wedded to roasted lemon and lemon balm. The wine feels fleet, transparent, luminous, with lovely depths of spice and limestone, light citrus and quince-like fruit and a sort of crystalline distillation of chardonnay character, enrobed in a texture of ethereal silkiness and enlivened by bright acidity. This is chardonnay that I could drink every day, if I could afford it. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44 to $48.
Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain “L’Exception” 2009. We rarely see the quaffer Passetoutgrains outside Burgundy — Lafarge spells this without the “s” — where it’s often consumed with simple meals. The wine is made from a minimum of one-third pinot noir with the rest gamay. This example offers a light ruby-cherry color and delicate aromas of red currants and black and red cherries supported by modest brambly tannins and shimmering acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. More character and less rusticity than most Passetoutgrains I have encountered. Very Good+. About $25 to $28. (Can that be right? Passetoutgrains used to sell for $15 to $18.)
Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay “Vendages Selectionnes” 2009. Classic Volnay, made from a selection of older vines. The color ranges from mild cherry at the rim to a slightly darker ruby-cherry in the center; the bouquet is a subtle weaving of dried spice and flowers with red currants and black cherries and a touch of plum and, at the heart, an almost ethereal gamy, slightly earthy aspect. The texture feels like the most delicate and ineffable of satin draperies, yet you sense, also, the structure of stones and bones and the clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There is fruit, of course, red and black, a little spiced, macerated and stewed, yet nothing forward or blatant. The wine is elegant and graceful but very dry and draws out a line of spareness and austerity through the finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Wonderful quality for a village wine. Excellent. About $68 to $75.