I was still on the aligoté hunt when I returned to Burgundy in October. One name that kept on coming up; Claire Naudin.
Here is only a partial list of people who told me to go to see her: Anne Morey, Pierre de Benoist, Alice et Olivier deMoor and Philippe Pacalet. I'm sure there was someone else. And did I book a meeting? No. I did not. Why? Well, I forgot.
That is...I forgot, or rather I had a tight schedule and thought I didn't have time to see her until I was trapped in a sterile lab room in the offices of the BIVB, just like a real wine critic, tasting blind through 60 aligotés which were stuffed into tight socks so I couldn't peek at the labels. Most of the wines sucked. They were real life examples of why aligoté, the Ishmael grape of the region had a plonky reputation. Some of the descriptors that kept on surfacing were: dirt nose, yeast, ick, enzymatic texture, gum arabic, help,vile, vomit, and ‘I have no idea what this is."
But a quarter of the wines were passable and out of those eight were terrific (when I saw who they were among them were some old favorites such as Lafarge and Didier Montchovet.) That's when I looked at these words: Sulfur! Then calms down and then angular, focus, apple, lemon. Nice! ...and I matched them to its vigneron.
There was no choice. I had to go, even though I was officially off of aligoté duty. However on a frosty Friday morning I squeezed in a meeting. Had to. I was staying with Becky and Russell and as I headed off to the Haute Cotes to see Ms. Naudin, Becky told me, don't be late for your visit with Jean Charles of Bonneau de Martray. And whatever you do, don't ask him about aligoté!
On a frosty morning I made my way there through the twisty village of Pernand Vergelesses where I was to return, under strict instruction not to bring up Aligoté. Becky was so tired of my Aligoté talk and didn't want me to bore Jean Charles. With this thought I entered the town of Magny-lés-Villers in the Hautes Cote, once celebrated for its Aligoté and where Claire works on 22 hectares.
Claire is a very pretty, feminine vigneronne. Thoughtful and earnest. She took over the estate in 1994 and her father didn't give her a hard time converting it to minimal intervention farming.Working on 22 hectares, quite a bit, she makes three different versions from vines that are at youngest 45 years of age. She used to make five, but she, like Sylvain Pataille, Domaine Morey, and really just about everyone else other than Lafarge and A&O DeMoor have had to reduce holding because it is a pain in the ass to sell. As was said to me up at Goisot in St. Bris, "If I labeled my aligoté, chardonnay, I'd sell every bottle." (and the drinkers would be much happier.)
When we came back from the vines she said to me that chardonnay didn't even exist up there in her part of the Haute Cotes until the 60's. And as far as the aligoté she said, "There are only a few crazy people who are intersested."
She is a strict non-dogmatist (there's a contrast in terms for you) but she certainly has her way with out SO2. This was deep, almost chenin like, complex, hay and juicy with a lemon-organge thing going on. She machine picks for the usual haute cotes wines, but for the SO2-free wines, she hand picks. "People get upset with me when they taste the unsulfured wines, they say, it's not wine."
Well, I took it back in a few hours to Russell who was making endive bechamel. He was frying the fat off of bacon when I hit the kitchen. I poured him a glass, and I know he saw how excited I was and I could tell that he was rolling his eyes, oh what does she have for me now?"
But he was intrigued. He liked the wine. He even had another glass before he cracked the chablis, and from Russell, who raises his eyebrow suspiciously at these wines, that is high praise.
In the end, just damned fine wine.