Featured winery: Domaine Thibert
Domaine Thibert Père et Fils Winery
For wines that are a combination of "terroir, know-how and passion".
Back in the day I used to buy French wine from an importer based in North London. I can’t remember how I got to know him but tasting his wines was one of the initial sparks in my interest in good wine – and one of those wines that he used to import was Domaine Thibert’s St Véran Champ Rond.
So much do I love Domaine Thibert wines, that when I started up Wines With Attitude in 2014, that was the first winery I called to ask if I could bring some of their wines into the UK to share with my customers. Until then I must admit I didn’t know a lot about Domaine Thibert Père et Fils to give the winery its full name but as I got to know more – and I am still learning more about them - it is clear to me why they are exactly the right fit for Wines With Attitude:
- It’s a family business so not too big and there is a long history of winemaking in the family so there is a lot of experience and tradition in what it does
- They are “artisan winemakers” with a real passion for what they do and whose philosophy is “purity, elegance and freshness”
- They respect the environment and practise sustainable vine-growing with minimal intervention
- This means they produce good quality fruit from old vines (the average age of the vines is 60 years old) on exceptional plots of land in Burgundy; this and the Domaine Thibert approach to wine-making result in incredibly well-made wines that express the terroir, that keep well and that taste great
The family has wine-making in its blood; ownership of some of the vineyards dates back eight generations. Domaine Thibert itself began with a small plot in Fuissé in 1967 and now consists of 30 hectares (about 75 acres) in the Mâcon region in the south of Burgundy. Although this may not sound too small-scale, as you would expect in Burgundy each vineyard is fairly small and the extent of the vineyards across the region means that Domaine Thibert can produce wines that truly express the features of each individual plot especially as they include some exceptional plots in some of the best southern Burgundy appellations – try for example two of their wines from the same vintage e.g. Pouilly Vinzelles ‘Les Longeays’ 2015 and St Véran ‘Champ Rond’ 2015 or the two different St Vérans, ‘Champ Rond’ 2015 and ‘Bois de Fées’ 2014, (albeit from different vintages) side by side and you can really taste the difference.
If you want to know more about Burgundy wines, read my blog on the Burgundy region and how to interpret its sometimes confusing wine labels.
Currently run by brother and sister, Christophe and Sandrine Thibert, Domaine Thibert doesn’t buy in any grapes which means they have full control over how the grapes are grown (putting the vagaries of the weather aside) and this enables them to maintain a sustainable approach because, as they say themselves, “You can only bring out the best of a vineyard if you think about its long-term existence.” Grape varieties grown are Chardonnay (95%) and Gamay (5%) with annual production of around 160,000 bottles, very few of which make it over to the UK.
The care and attention paid in the vineyard extends into the winery – when we met on a very wet day in March 2018 Christophe told me how he had been trying out oak barrels from different coopers to try to find exactly the right ones he needed for each wine.
Some of the wines produced are fermented in stainless steel, some in oak and much attention is paid to the exact percentage of wine put into new barrels as the new barrels understandably have more impact on the wine's flavour and aroma profile. The aim is to be able to smell and taste the fruit, the minerality and the individual character of each wine so the percentage of wine aged in new oak used can be as small as 4%.
Given the current focus on vegan wines, I asked about fining as some producers use animal –based products in making wines as I wrote about in my vegan wine blog – Christophe said that, although it is difficult, he tries not to fine and filter the wines at all where possible. When he feels that he has to, he only uses bentonite, and as little of that as possible. So all the Domaine Thibert wines we stock are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The whole Thibert approach is minimal intervention to let the wines become an expression of their origins. Many organic practices are used and some of the vineyards are fully organic.
Wines from the Mâconnais region are not necessarily the best-known Burgundy wines and Domaine Thibert recognises that in the past some wines produced in the region were not as good as they could have been. Now winemakers are stepping up and making the most of the excellent terroir at their disposal to produce and market wines that can compete with other great Burgundy wines. Christophe and Sandrine are at the forefront of this movement, having been involved in and developed the family business for over 20 years, and they are proponents of the move to award some of the vineyards in the region Premier Cru status.
It has already been agreed that both the Pouilly Vinzelles 'Les Longeays' and Saint Véran 'Champ Rond' will be Premier Cru sites - see my Burgundy blog for the Burgundy wine hierarchy - though the date for that has not yet been set. Approval of the change in status takes a long time - the Saint Véran 'Bois de Fée' has not yet been agreed because they only started the process from the 2009 vintage but I agree with Sandrine that "it is worthy of a premier cru".
Domaine Thibert wines
Domaine Thibert produces about 20 different wines and Wines With Attitude stock 7 of them currently. Most are still white wines from the main appellations of the Mâconnais, like Saint-Véran and Pouilly Vinzelles which is close to the slightly better-known Pouilly-Fuissé.
The Exceptional Terroirs range, the "high-end" wines, are described as “haute couture wines made to complement gastronomic dishes. They are complex and produced in small batches, designed to age gracefully". They come from the best plots and Domaine Thibert draws out the best from each of them so that they each have their own unique style:
Pouilly-Vinzelles 'Les Longeays' - a well-rounded wine with good structure and a velvety texture. It has a touch of minerality (like a Pouilly-Fuissé) from the limestone soils. Vanilla and toast from the subtle oak ageing and the complexity make this wine quite rich but the citrus flavours make sure the wine is not too heavy and give it a lighter, fresh finish.
Saint-Véran 'Bois de fée' - an elegant wine with complexity, aromas of wood used in the ageing process (toasted bread and a slight touch of hazelnut) and of the grape variety (pear and lemon). Quite full bodied; the wood and fruit flavours are balanced with a slightly saline minerality. I was actually quite blown away by how good this wine is when I tasted it in March 2018.
Saint-Véran 'Champ Rond' - this plot is on a slight slope allowing for better drainage which helps to give the grapes more concentrated aromas and flavours. The wine has all the typical opulence and elegance of a Saint-Véran, with a back taste of fresh citrus and fine minerality.
Saint-Véran is generally a little less rich than Pouilly Vinzelles and that is certainly the case with the Champ Rond which remains one of my personal favourites. However I had not tasted the Bois de Fée before – the 2014 is superb and has edged into first place in my book. Nevertheless the Champ Rond is still fantastic; it will develop and become a little richer over the next few years.
The Grands Classiques range includes
Mâcon-Verzé - a very fine wine featuring ripe citrus and fresh fruit aromas. The rich well-rounded palate is balanced by a fine mineral undertone. Just 10% is aged in barrels and 90% in stainless steel so the wine is slightly lighter and fresher in style. Though it won't keep quite as long as the Exceptional Terroirs wines, it will still keep for five to seven years.
Coteaux Bourguignons Rosé - rosé from Burgundy is quite unusual so this is a real treat - also a treat because it is quite exceptional. Produced from Gamay grapes, it has a fine aromatic freshness and a lovely elegant full-bodied yet fruity taste.
And not forgetting the bubbles... Crémants are wines made by the Champagne method in French regions other than Champagne. In fact good examples of Crémants de Bourgogne in particular, like Domaine Thibert's, can be mistaken for Champagne:
Crémant de Bourgogne - a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Gamay grapes grown at altitude which contributes to a fine and elegant bouquet. The Gamay and Chardonnay blend during the long ageing process to produce a rich Crémant with fine and persistent effervescence.
Crémant de Bourgogne rosé - this sparkling rosé is from the 2012 vintage and is still drinking beautifully now which goes to prove the longevity of these wines.
You could try a bottle of each of the first six of these wines in my Thibert Taster Case.
Domaine Thibert's wines are truly great wines and a combination of "terroir, know-how and passion".
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