Bâtard-Montrachet is one of the five Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards that, through all the turmoil of French wine, has remained one of the best places to find white Chardonnay in the world. It encompasses only about 27.8 acres, and yields are so low that many of the wines are collectible as soon as they begin to be sold on the market.
Many critics might describe Bâtard-Montrachet wines as "perfect." And indeed, several of them do approach the perfect balance between fruit and minerals, as well as between power and elegance. There is very little difference in flavor from Montrachet, but most wines emphasize the minerally end of things more on Bâtard-Montrachet, giving the wines an incredible earthy, stony core. They probably peak a bit sooner than Montrachet's own wines.
Bâtard-Montrachet retains its reputation as one of Burgundy's best Grands Crus, and within Burgundy is second only to Montrachet in the amount of world-class Chardonnay produced. Comparing the wines to California Chardonnay is a tough call, but a number of sticklers believe the purity of the Bâtard-Montrachet minerals exceeds many Californian offerings.
Along with many other Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, Bâtard-Montrachet was officially granted recognition in 1937. Even before then, the limited-production wines issuing from these rows of vines commanded high prices and symbolized greatly refined wine. After the AOC, Bâtard-Montrachet enjoyed a very high reputation, although it may never have been more famous than Montrachet itself. A shake-up occurred in 1976, when a 1973 Domaine Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet failed to prove itself superior to Californian Chardonnays in the 1976 Judgement of Paris.
Various challenges to the credibility of the contest were made, a number of them quite reasonable, but the damage was already done: Burgundy was no longer the certain best place to find white wine. Then, of course, came the "California wine bubble", after which a lot of buyers rushed back to Burgundy even despite its higher prices. Nowadays competition between the two regions has kept the wine of an excellent general quality.
Climate and Viticulture
The Chardonnay grape thrives in the high hills of Bâtard-Montrachet. Montrachet itself is higher on the slope of the Côte de Beaune, which for whatever reason makes wine of greater fruit and purity. But Bâtard-Montrachet is good enough, with great weather conditions and rainfall patterns. The gentle but firm slope helps to bring a strictly defined core to the wine whilst intensifying its minerally flavors.
The really defining factor, however, is the same as all the Montrachet areas: they are sheltered from the wind. Since there are hills on 3 sides of all the Montrachet areas, Bâtard-Montrachet is kept from that leanness and austerity that some of the more exposed vineyards' wine can take on. Instead, they are greatly approachable at any age whilst maintaining a mineral center that preserves the wine for decades if desired.
- Chardonnay: Since there is absolutely no red Bâtard-Montrachet, the only star of these vineyards is Chardonnay. They show a purity of fruit and a refined elegance that is altogether rare in Chardonnays from other parts of the world. Especially in Bâtard-Montrachet, a strong mineral core shows up that stands in contrast to the usual Chardonnay notes of round, ripe peach. Although Bâtard-Montrachet wines aren't for everyone, they're a different world of Chardonnay. The dead giveaway of the difference is the ageability of the wine--rather than keeping for an unimpressive 5 years like some middle-market Sonoma examples, the great Bâtard-Montrachets will still be developing after 10 years and can be cellared for 20. In addition, Bâtard-Montrachet has many of the same yellow tropical fruit flavors that Chardonnay is typically known for, but the mineral overhang is the important distinguishing factor of this vineyard.
The best Bâtard-Montrachet producer is hard to specify, as a number of them produce wines of a general quality so high that comparison would be hairsplitting. Indeed there are so many great producers that a list of bad producers would be far shorter, and in fact may not have any members whatsoever. A solid dozen producers made our list of the best.
- Domaine Bachelet-Monnot: Domaine Bachelet-Monnot's admittedly few available vintages of Bâtard-Montrachet often lead the field in elegance and power. Expert notes from several vintages indicate that power is this wine's main attraction; long aging will be required before it shows its more elegant side. But the intensity of the fruit flavors is impressive, and the richness of the minerals as well as spices makes this a very precise and refined wine. Bachelet-Monnot tends to underprice the market, and this wine is no exception: most vintages are less than $200. A long laydown period, though, is necessary for the wine to show its best flavors, so expect to age the wines for at least six years.
- Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard: During the late 1990s and early 2000s, J-N Gagnard produced some of the most outstanding Bâtard-Montrachets ever. With their powerful style of silky, soft fruit flavors, these Bâtard-Montrachets had a more nutty, round flavor reminiscent of Montrachet or even Meursault rather than the usually more minerally Bâtard-Montrachet. Nowadays, though, Gagnard's wines are more obscure, and it might be preferable to simply buy an old bottle and drink it immediately rather than gamble on a new one and lay it down for 6-8 years. The prices have remained around about $300.
- Girardin: These classically dry and austere Bâtard-Montrachets derive their character from the age of the vines used to grow them, but with a few years of age show a round combination of both stony minerals and soft fruits. Some vintages are less intense earlier on; the richness of these wines generally will preserve them for up to 10 years. The greatly elegant wines deserve their reputation as well as their Grand Cru status, and so rarely fall under $200 in price. The par cost for a bottle tends to be about $280.
- Jadot: These wines have gained recognition since the early 1990s, with vintages such as 2006 competing with much more expensive bottles for concentration and refinement. Recent vintages have been more approachable, but most of them still need a few years to balance out. In general, they are more fruity, nutty, and buttery than most Bâtard-Montrachets, but still have the stony underlying minerality that distinguishes the appellation. Prices range from $150 at the very low end to well over $200 in certain vintages.
- Domaine Leflaive: Leflaive's are impressive wines, showcasing a richness and layered complexity that refrains from any sweetness whatsoever. Although powerful, they stress a softer, more appley note than the more minerally-oriented Bâtard-Montrachets. In most vintages the intensity is not at all too strong, and some of these wines are rather approachable early on for what they are. A classic but distinct style of Bâtard-Montrachet is clearly being produced here. Prices start at around $250 and are usually about $350, although they have been known to range much higher.
- Chateau de la Maltroye: It was only recently that this estate upped the quality of its Bâtard-Montrachets to compete with the very best domaines. They have always been complex wines, filled with richness of fruit and the usual oak tinges as well as an underlying minerality. Starting with the 2000 vintage, they became more precise and aromatic while upping the ante on the concentration and power fronts as well. Very layered and classy, they are now classic Bâtard-Montrachet with just as much sophistication as any domaine from there. Prices have been rising accordingly, now closing in on $300.
- Lucien Le Moine: Although over $400 in general, many of these wines lead the Bâtard-Montrachet appellation on a number of fronts. The wines are firm and earthy and definitely stress the stony, earthy mineral side rather than elegant yellow fruit. At the same time they are rich and slightly sweet with no austerity at all. They are drinkable early for their intriguing flavors but probably will mellow and broaden with age.
- Domaine Marc Morey: Back in the early 2000s especially, Marc Morey was one of the best producers of Bâtard-Montrachet. This is not an intensely styled Bâtard-Montrachet, and it stresses honey, apricot, and the creamy-sweet vanilla and toast flavors brought on by long oak aging. Recent vintages have erred more on the side of power and less on elegance. Prices average about $250.
- Domaine Pierre Morey: These wines are deep in style, with a number of flavors, but they close down in the bottle for up to 10 years before showing their sweeter, more gentle and less austere side. They are quite ambitious and when successful can be some of the most concentrated and well-layered wines of Bâtard-Montrachet. Flavors are generally more buttery and creamy and less minerally than Bâtard-Montrachet might be figured for. Prices range from $200 to $300.
- Domaine Michel Niellon: Since the late 1980s Niellon has enjoyed a reputation for producing world-class Bâtard-Montrachet, and into the 2000s it has proved that the reputation continues to be accurate. Since the landmark 1996 vintage, the wines have become excellent, and are greatly powerful with a mineral core but some sweet, delicious fruit flavors. Availability for the 1996 has become rather low, but several more recent vintages are available. Prices generally range from $250 to $500 or more.
- Domaine Ramonet: Ramonet is one of the best producers in the Côte de Beaune, and their Bâtard-Montrachet holdings are definitely no exception. Like most of the best Burgundies, the wines are extraordinarily powerful and concentrated with layer after layer of ripe but very dry fruit. For an appellation which is generally considered to concentrate on minerally intensity and concentrated fruit rather than purity, the wines are also amazingly elegant. Still, the smoky minerality is there to mesh with the buttery fruit notes. This is a great wine and it usually costs more than $300.
- Domaine Sauzet: Sauzet is one of the most important producers of this area, and although back into the 1980s and before the wines were always leading the appellation, recently the domaine has upped the ante even more. These are intense wines, and they often are thought of as needing to be aged for a long time in order to show the best of their flavor. The richness mainly derives from fruit flavors, and the mineral backbone mainly serves to preserve the wine for the 8-10 years of aging it often needs. Some vintages are a bit under $200 but the best are usually about $250.
While they are in fact separate Grands Crus lying within the Montrachet areas, the two Grands Crus that attach their name to the Bâtard-Montrachet suffix produce wine of a similar enough style to be considered satellites of Bâtard-Montrachet itself.
- Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet: Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet is very similar to Bâtard-Montrachet and as a result, despite the fact that it is a separate Grand Cru entirely, has to be considered a "satellite" appellation. Unlike satellite appellations such as Lussac-St-Émilion in Bordeaux, the wine is not necessarily less famous or flavorful. Just like Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues was recognized as Grand Cru in 1937. It encompasses about 8.7 acres of vineyards, an area less than 1/3 the size of the already spare Bâtard-Montrachet. Of course, only white wine from Chardonnay is allowed. The vineyard is located entirely within Puligny-Montrachet. Styles tend to be similar to Bâtard-Montrachet, both because the viticultural conditions are almost identical and because many of the same producers are there. A list of the best producers follows.
- Domaine Louis Carillon et Fils: Carillon apparently has no holdings in Bâtard-Montrachet, making it one of the few producers that is devoted solely to Bienvenues. The result is some of the leading Bienvenues wine, displaying a character that is on the level with Bâtard-Montrachet and proving that the Bienvenues appellation doesn't necessarily make for wine even slightly less refined. Since the 1996 vintage, these wines have become remarkable, showing a distinctly oaked flavor, and a creamy, buttery, almost toasted texture. But they also serve up concentrated minerals and very precise sweet fruit, making for a wine of great balance and refinement. It seems that Carillon is very limited production and few of the wines ever arrive in America; as a result, prices ranging from $350 up to $550 and even more are often commanded.
- Girardin: Girardin's offerings in Bâtard-Montrachet are generally world-class; in Bienvenues, the wines are equal in refinement. The main difference lies in intensity; while the fruit flavors are certainly just as elegant in the Bienvenues offerings, they are less layered and concentrated, and more rich and luscious. Prices are usually about $50 less than the Bâtards each vintage.
- Jadot: Jadot's Bienvenues share the same nutty, buttery quality that is imparted as a result of much intense oaking. Sometimes they are accused of being oaked to the point of being almost blandly rich, but more often than not the wines are as precise and elegant as the Bâtard-Montrachets, if not equally concentrated. Long aging is not a requirement here. Oddly, the Bienvenues seems to be even more expensive than the Bâtard.
- Domaine Leflaive: Leflaive is a great domaine, and the Bienvenues appellation certainly doesn't offer any compromises. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint any way in which they are inferior to the main Bâtard-Montrachet offering. They are firm but rich and approachable, making for the same unusual nature that the Bâtard has. They are drinkable early on, although the flavors are likely to become more elegant and mellow with time in the bottle. As with the Bâtard, fruits are emphasized more than minerals. Expect to pay slightly more than the Bâtard, presumably because of lower production.
- Domaine Paul Pernot: Since the late 1990s Pernot has emerged as one of the leading Bienvenues producers; this wine is much more distinguished than his own Bâtard-Montrachet. It avoids most of the intensity that these wines tend to have, offering a more open, forward, exotically-tinged nature. But the firm core of structured mineral flavors is there to back it up. A good balance is struck between intensity and perfume. Pleasantly, the wine doesn't often cost more than $200.
- Domaine Ramonet: Ramonet is not quite as leading in its Bienvenues offering as with the regular old Bâtard-Montrachet, but it is enviably consistent in both its style and the reliability of the wine. The wines are much more juicy, rich and approachable than the Bâtard, although the better vintages showcase a certain intensity that should probably go away within five years or so. The prices are less, with some of them as "reasonable" as $200.
- Domaine Sauzet: While mainly known for its Bâtard-Montrachet, Sauzet also makes a Bienvenues offering that is not far behind in terms of elegance and refinement. Starting with the 2003, which was a bad vintage for most of Bâtard-Montrachet, Sauzet has proved itself to be one of the leading domaines for this particular Grand Cru. Like the Bâtards, they are pure and intense and often are in need of long aging, but after five years they should be wonderfully ripe and sweet. Some vintages are even more immediately upfront. Prices range from $150 to $200.
- Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet: The tiny Grand Cru of Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, located entirely within the vineyards of Chassagne-Montrachet, is nowhere near as famous as Bâtard-Montrachet or even the larger satellite appellation of Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet. Indeed, the Criots is only 3.9 acres. Around 1,000 cases of wine are produced each year. Most everything is the same as the other Bâtards; AOC status in 1937, white wine from Chardonnay only. Production is low, but in the few examples that exist, Criots shows that it is worthy and, more importantly, differentiates itself from the appellation of Bâtard-Montrachet which it might wrongly be considered an inferior version of.
- Domaine d'Auvenay: Probably the best Criots. These are some seriously intense wines, bursting with richness from the fruit character but also having a slightly austere character brought on by the mineral undertones. This is something completely different from any Bâtard-Montrachet; indeed, many reviewers say that it is closer to a Chevalier-Montrachet in style. Most of the time, the wines are enjoyable early on for their sheer boldness; it's not often that one finds a white wine this concentrated and sheerly powerful. But the good vintages will develop further in bottle and become more elegant. A cult following has driven prices over $1,000!
- Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard: Fontaine-Gagnard doesn't lead the Bâtard-Montrachet field, but in the Criots satellite the wines are consistently good enough to be worthy of mention. These are highly concentrated wines, with enough intensity to age for years and eventually show great richness of flavor. Fruity, almost spicily exotic, they lack Bâtards' typical mineral intensity. Certain vintages are approachable at a young age due to their pleasant roundness brought on by the oaking, but they are surer to be good five years in. They tend to cost in between $100 and $200 a bottle, not a bad value for a good vintage of Grand Cru wine.
- Jadot: Jadot makes a straightforward, good-value style here that may not match up to its powerhouse competitors, but is nonetheless a well-rounded wine capable of developing for several years in bottle.