Chevalier-Montrachet is one of the five Grands Crus of the Montrachet areas. Its 18.5 acres of vineyard surface are located entirely within Puligny-Montrachet. The wine produced is often compared to Montrachet, and is very similar in style, but is often slightly leaner in its youth and as a result less famous. But with age, these wines become quite intriguing and show their own complex character.
Chevalier-Montrachet wines possess many characteristics common to the Montrachet areas in general: a layered richness that is only slightly sweet, if not completely dry; a powerful but elegant style in which the wine is produced; and excellent aging potential. In fact, some Chevaliers may have better aging potential than standard Montrachets, as they evolve more and become highly refined while aging.
Aside from the leaner character imparted by the steeper slopes of Chevalier-Montrachet vineyards, Chevalier-Montrachet wines are very similar to those of the genuine Montrachet appellation. And for many people the greater complexity and backwardness of the Chevalier-Montrachets make them more intriguing. As a result, despite its less famous reputation, Chevalier-Montrachet is worth Grand Cru level and its place among the greatest white wine designations of the world.
Like the other Montrachet Grand Crus, Chevalier-Montrachet was given recognition as such in 1937. Unfairly, it has always been somewhat in the shadow of Montrachet; this is largely because the white wines produced there are slightly less exciting in their youth and in general have to be aged more for the Montrachet character to come out.
Wine buyers soon figured out, however, that the slightly less expensive wines of Chevalier-Montrachet were worth just as much as Montrachets, and as a result Chevalier-Montrachet now commands prices nearly as high. In 1976, at the landmark Judgement of Paris, both Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet were snubbed in favor of a 1973 California Chardonnay, and Chevalier-Montrachet was dragged down along with all white Burgundy. As a result, producers have improved their game and recent Chevalier-Montrachet vintages have been getting increasingly better.
Climate and Viticulture
The outstanding weather conditions in Chevalier-Montrachet, as well as the protection from the wind afforded by the hill, make for wine almost as excellent as that of the neighboring Montrachet. The main difference between the two is apparently the slope of the hill that they are situated on. Montrachet has perfect slopes that make for wine of just the right richness and character, but Chevalier-Montrachet's slopes are more acute, meaning that the wine is less explosively rich.
During their youth, Chevalier-Montrachets are for this reason much more powerful and intense. But soon enough the sense of terroir will come through in the wine, making for a character of fruit equally fascinating to the more famous Montrachet. While it never really has as much richness or power as Montrachet, the difference in Chevalier-Montrachet is slight, and the wine produced is usually of an extremely similar style.
- Chardonnay: Just like the rest of the Montrachet Grands Crus, there's no Pinot Noir allowed in Chevalier-Montrachet, and every wine produced will be 100% made up of Chardonnay. As a result, this area is another showcase for pure Chardonnay in a classic white Burgundy style. Along with the other Montrachet areas, Chevalier-Montrachet makes wine of great richness and concentration, with a silky, creamy-sweet texture brought on by fermentation in old oak barrels. But in contrast to Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet wine is leaner and less explosively powerful, with an intense, concentrated quality that is sometimes inaccurately interpreted as permanent austerity. In reality, due to the high elevation of the Chevalier-Montrachet vineyard, this characteristic is really youthful backwardness which will reverse with time. The flavors will also mellow out, making for some of the most intriguing Chardonnay in the world. Chevalier-Montrachet must take its place as one of the best Chardonnay areas, and it's certainly unique in the fact that 15 years after vintage the wine has only started evolving.
There are several outstanding boutique producers in Chevalier-Montrachet, notably Domaine d'Auvenay, but we choose to list here the producers that are available, rather than wines prized mostly for their collectibility. Since there is much great Chevalier-Montrachet, it is an appellation that can be relied upon most of the time. But here is a list of eight Chevalier-Montrachet producers that we consider to be world-class.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils: Bouchard Pere et Fils produces two Chevalier-Montrachets: the basic Chevalier-Montrachet, and Chevalier-Montrachet La Cabotte. Both world-class, they are generally similar in their style. The Chevalier-Montrachet is generally quite dry, and with very firm flavors, but its appley, stony richness is nonetheless classic of white Burgundy. The La Cabotte is more powerful and sweet with more feminine creamy flavors, but a good mineral backbone to back up the flavors. In general, the wines are rated fairly similarly by experts. La Cabottes do, however, cost a good bit more: one example is the 2004 vintage, where it comes in at $300 versus $230 for the similarly rated basic wine.
- Domaine Colin-Deleger: This domaine makes some of the best Chevalier-Montrachet with few stumbles; since the late 1990s the domaine has been unflinchingly consistent in the bottlings. This is a pure but deeply powered wine in style, with earthy aromas of peach and mineral. Most of the wines are backward in their youth, as typical Chevalier-Montrachet is, but with age they become more rounded and compelling. Don't expect any sweetness; these are austerely dry in their richness. It wouldn't be right to call it inexpensive, but at $300 this compares favorably to many more expensive boutique examples.
- Girardin: Girardin has some of the leading Chevalier-Montrachet land, unlike Montrachet, in which the land it does have isn't quite major. The wines are spicy in style, but the main flavors are firm earthy ones of stone, crushed minerals, and even exotic tinges like iodine. There's a firm mineral backbone to this; there's no Montrachet-like elegance in it, but it mostly relies on power. It proves its Grand Cru worth mainly in the amazing concentration of the flavor. Very precise. Prices range from $250 to the low $300s.
- Jadot: Like Bouchard, there's more than one Jadot in Chevalier-Montrachet. In fact, the négociant produces several different Chevalier-Montrachets, all with their own flavor sets. The basic wine is good, but it's worth paying more for either of the two cuvées: the Heritiers property can be among the leading wines of the Grand Cru, with dense citrus aromas and a backbone of powerful minerals. Its latent richness should become more apparent with aging. The Demoiselles is the third property, offering more purity and an even longer finish. Generally, the Demoiselles is less austere and can be drunk young, but that would be to lose the great complexity that would be acquired with age. The wines range from mid-$200s to $400.
- Domaine Leflaive: Due to ageability, Leflaive's Chevaliers are likely better than the actual Montrachets. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, certain vintages took their place among the best white wines in history, for example the stunning 1989, 1992, 1995, and 1996. In the new millennium the wines have remained stellar, offering great citrusy, minerally elegance. There's great concentration in the fruit flavors, but at the same time the wine doesn't really rely on heaviness in order to make its statement. Still, aging is strongly recommended. Prices vary between $450 and $600, but the old ones can often command $1000 or more.
- Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot: Since the 1990s Pillot has produced some of the best Chevalier-Montrachet; the 2002 was potentially a perfect wine and almost certainly Pillot's best wine ever. Its smoky burnt oak flavors were complemented by typically Chevalier-Montrachet aromas of minerally stone, as well as diverse exotic fruit. Other vintages are similar, albeit less divine. As well as an unbelievably long finish, they boast tremendous ageability. The 2002 is extremely expensive where it can be found, and even regular vintages are $350-$400.
- Domaine Ramonet: Solid and consistent, although not nearly as good as the Bâtards or Montrachets, the wines here are quite distinct. They are more Ramonet than Chevalier-Montrachet in style, offering citrus and pear flavors up as well as a lesser note of stone and mineral. Although intense, they are often upfront and broad enough to make them extremely approachable. They cost between $250 and $400, although the outstanding older vintages such as 2001 might cost much more.
- Domaine Sauzet: Some of the world's best Chevalier-Montrachets have been produced at this domaine, with quality comparable to that of their Bâtard-Montrachet and Montrachet offerings. The Grand Cru worth is proven in the flavor, which is unique but at the same time identifiable as Chevalier-Montrachet. Yellow fruits include lemon and apple, as well as more exotic scents such as pear and pineapple. But there's a mineral concentration that also shines through, giving the wines tremendous aging potential. They cost between $300 and $400.
There are no Chevalier-Montrachet "satellites". In fact, Chevalier-Montrachet has no subregions of any kind. However, there are certain producers that label their wines with what are apparently further distinguishing names, perhaps so that they can produce several different Chevalier-Montrachets from different parts of the vineyard or using different styles of production. These names are fairly generic, and the Chevalier-Montrachet name is what is really important. An explanation of the names and what producers use them can be found in the producers section.