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Montrachet


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Montrachet is one of the five Grand Cru vineyards that includes the Montrachet designation. Montrachet itself is so famous that the others are all named for it. The vineyard, considered one of the best in the world for white wine, is situated roughly evenly between the two villages Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. The wine is usually titled Le Montrachet when from the Chassagne-Montrachet side and simply Montrachet when grown on the Puligny-Montrachet side.

The appellation system of the Montrachet areas is fairly confusing, but wine labeled as Montrachet automatically brings a guarantee of a very highly pedigreed, luxurious Chardonnay. They win out over Bâtard-Montrachet and, in fact, just about every other competitor, with their sleek combination of richness with great flavors, complex but without any hard edges. There are certainly enough Montrachet fans to drive the prices to preposterous levels. Production is low, the Grand Cru vineyard's 19.7 acres turning out less than 4,000 cases annually. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, with its ownership of about a tenth of the vineyard, makes slightly less than 300 cases each year.

As a result, the wines become collectible as soon as they are released to the market, and limited imports in America means that these wines are often bought up as soon as they are brought in. The new vintages of Romanée-Conti's Montrachet tends to be about $2500-$4000 for new bottles, and potentially over $6000 for old bottles from great vintages. Even négociant-bottled wines such as those from Drouhin tend to cost $600+.

A number of fans of California Chardonnay would argue that Montrachet's wines are not powerful enough for their taste. And certainly some Sonoma County Chardonnays, such as Kistler and Marcassin, can offer flavors that are in some ways greater. But that does not stand in the way of the fact that the Grand Cru vineyard of Montrachet has for years produced amazingly consistent wine that has often outdone most Californian offerings. With this considered, Montrachet has to be considered the world's best dry white wine area.

History

Montrachet was recognized as a Grand Cru AOC in 1937, as was its neighbor Bâtard-Montrachet. The rules changed little that producers did not already have in place; yields, minimum alcohol (12%) and the grape variety (100% Chardonnay only) were regulated. Even before then, the limited production numbers and sheer outstanding brilliance of the wines had made Montrachets popular among those few people who could afford them. During the mid-20th century Montrachet cemented its reputation with a number of great Burgundian vintages.

Buying into a Montrachet plot of land was something that only the most wealthy and ambitious producers attempted. A Montrachet belonged in the cellar of every ambitious (or affluent) wine collector. Certainly Montrachet never had a monopoly on dry white wine, but it's clear that into the 1970s no area could be considered clearly superior. Therefore it is a baffling error that no Montrachet was included in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Instead, a Bâtard-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru were selected to represent the Montrachet wines. Certainly, Bâtard-Montrachet is one of the leading Burgundy Grand Crus, but then and now Montrachet is considered clearly superior.

As a result of Burgundy's loss to California in the Judgement, the prices and reputation of Montrachet were dragged down along with the rest of white Burgundies. And as with all white Burgundies, Montrachet producers took the opportunity to up the ante and improve the quality of their wine. Nowadays, many California fans continue to discredit Montrachet, but the many diehard fans still consider it to be the best place for dry white wine in the world.

Climate and Viticulture

Clearly, there are no inferior weather conditions on the Montrachet slope that contains no less than five Grand Cru vineyards. The weather is perfect, as is the concentration of limestone in the soil. Yields are low, and the whole slope is sheltered enough from wind to prevent the wine from getting unpleasantly lean or unripe. But what makes Montrachet the best of all the Montrachet Grand Crus?

This is a difficult question with an uncertain answer. One guess is that the secret is in the steepness of the slopes. The Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet Premiers Crus, as well as the village land, are somewhat flat. Bâtard-Montrachet is sloped, but Montrachet has a more natural, even slope that lends character and elegance to the wine. Chevalier-Montrachet's slope is more acute, meaning that the wine is slightly more austere. Viticulturists can't be completely sure, but they believe it's no coincidence the world's best white wines (as well as many of the best reds) are made from grapes that grow on hills.

Grape Varieties

Major Producers

Here is a list of the Montrachets that are generally considered to be world-class. This does not include certain very limited-production wines that are highly rated, but almost impossible for anyone to obtain outside Europe. A prime example of this is Domaine Leroy, whose very rare--although certainly excellent--wines are a true feat to find and purchase.

A note on price: $200 in Montrachet or Le Montrachet is almost suspiciously below-par. In fact, one should expect to pay at least $350 for an entry-level Montrachet, and $600 for a world-class bottle. More limited-production, "boutique" domaines such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti will charge well into the thousands for a bottle, but these prices are based on collectibility more than actual quality. Here is a list of nine wines to note here.

Subregions

Montrachet does not have any subregions. Confusingly, the several other appellations with Montrachet in their name are so titled not because they are part of Montrachet, but because their producers wanted their wine associated with this Cadillac of white Burgundies.