2017 Chassagne-Montrachet, La Maltroie, 1er Cru, Domaine Michel Niellon
About this WINE
Michel Niellon operates out of two absurdly small cellars in Chassagne, producing quite simply sublime wines. He has only 6 hectares of vines, which include small holdings in Chevalier and Bâtard-Montrachet. Old vines and low yields give these wines their intensity, along with Niellon`s supreme winemaking skills.
Supply is severely rationed due to the small size of the domaine and Niellon`s huge following in the United States. But, for those lucky enough to secure some bottles, the rewards are immense.
When it comes to the world's greatest white wines, the border between Chassagne and Puligny is the ‘X’ that marks the spot, the treasure at the end of the rainbow. Within a few hundred metres lie five wonderful Grands Crus, three of which are in Chassagne. They are led by the luscious, perfumed but variable Le Montrachet, to which Chassagne gained permission in 1879, along with Puligny, to hyphenate its name.Both Montrachet and the rich, nutty, honeyed Bâtard-Montrachet are shared between Chassagne and Puligny. The fragrant, very fine and rare Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet however, lies entirely within Chassagne's borders. The Grands Crus have their own appellations, which is why Chassagne (or Puligny) does not appear on the label.
Although the most southerly of the three great names of the Côte de Beaune, Chassagne's style is often described as lying between that of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault: less fine than Puligny, less rich than Meursault but containing elements of both. Chassagne is minerally yet succulent, and often floral with hints of hazelnuts. Despite a bevy of very good Premiers Crus, it is not as good or famous, overall, as Meursault and Puligny, but it is usually extremely good value. Grands Crus should not be opened before eight years of age, and can last for 20 or more. Premiers Crus are at their best from five to 15 years of age; village wines from three to eight.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that the name ‘Montrachet’ is so synonymous with white wine, much of the soil in Chassagne is more suited to Pinot Noir than Chardonnay. Indeed it was only really in the second half of the 20th century that white wines began to dominate here. The reds have a firm tannic style that needs time to soften, with the best examples coming from the Premiers Crus Morgeot, Boudriotte and Clos-St Jean. At their best they combine the weight of the Côte de Nuits with the suppleness of the Côte de Beaune.
- 180 hectares of village Chassagne-Montrachet
- 159 hectares of Premier Cru vineyards. Several of the larger ones are subdivided and may be cited under various different names. The best include Caillerets, Ruchottes, Chaumées, La Boudriotte
- 11 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards: Le Montrachet (part), Bâtard-Montrachet (part) and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet
- Recommended producers: Ramonet, Niellon
- Recommended restaurant: Le Chassagne (good cuisine and wine list)
Chardonnay is the "Big Daddy" of white wine grapes and one of the most widely planted in the world. It is suited to a wide variety of soils, though it excels in soils with a high limestone content as found in Champagne, Chablis, and the Côte D`Or.
Burgundy is Chardonnay's spiritual home and the best White Burgundies are dry, rich, honeyed wines with marvellous poise, elegance and balance. They are unquestionably the finest dry white wines in the world. Chardonnay plays a crucial role in the Champagne blend, providing structure and finesse, and is the sole grape in Blanc de Blancs.
It is quantitatively important in California and Australia, is widely planted in Chile and South Africa, and is the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand. In warm climates Chardonnay has a tendency to develop very high sugar levels during the final stages of ripening and this can occur at the expense of acidity. Late picking is a common problem and can result in blowsy and flabby wines that lack structure and definition.
Recently in the New World, we have seen a move towards more elegant, better- balanced and less oak-driven Chardonnays, and this is to be welcomed.
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From the centre of the appellation and just south of the village, this is also on the more austere end of the scale. There are cool citrus notes and a suggestion of salinity, reminiscent of Chablis – not a fluke as this is a consistent note for this wine at this address. There is 25 percent new oak and the wine is quite intellectual. Drink 2023-2030.
Michel Niellon (b. 1934) has turned over operations to his son-in-law, Michel Coutoux, who operates out of smart new cellars between Chassagne and Chagny. They have only six hectares of vines, almost all within the confines of Chassagne-Montrachet, including a range of half a dozen different Premiers Crus. There’s a tiny amount of Chevalier-Montrachet as well. The wines are made in a classical style and are usually bottled just before the next harvest.
Harvest began here on 3rd September, relatively late in the context of the vintage. Michel Coutoux had a lot of work to build new fruiting shoots after last year’s frost, but coulure and millerandage were the main controllers of yield this year, and no vendange verte (green harvesting) was necessary. Michel says the vintage was “warm, dry and classic”, like 2014, and it’s a style he likes. The similarity with 2014 is more obvious when tasting the wines, as these have markedly less puppy fat than many of their peers, despite the slightly later harvest, but that is the nature of the domaine.
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