My visit to Domaine Saint Germain in Irancy, Burgundy
As discussed before in these pages, I am often attracted to more unusual wines, the less familiar, the less famous. I suppose that I always live in hope that these will prove to be undiscovered gems whose time has come – and sometimes that is the case.
Last week I was on a very interesting tour of Burgundy as a guest of the ever generous Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB). We saw many lovely places and tried some great wines, more of which later, but I was excited about a visit to the far North of the region, the Grand Auxerrois. These are vineyards around the town of Auxerre, just 20 km from Chablis, home to the areas’ most famous wine.
The wines of Auxerre include the underated, in my opinion, Bourgogne Côte d’Auxerre, the famous St Bris that makes Burgundy’s sole Sauvignon Blanc and Irancy – the only communal red wine in the area and in fact it was a lowly Bourgogne-Irancy until promotion in 1998.
This is a strange, rather beautiful part of the world, quite cut off from the rest of Burgundy and is actually closer to Champagne and Pouilly-sur-Loire than Beaune. The area has more of a rustic feel, akin to Beaujolais than the wealthy rural ambience of the Côte d’Or villages.
The countryside is very beautiful and as you drive over the hills from Chablis you are put in mind of the dramatic, but localised slopes of the Chianti Classico. Once you leave St Cyr-les-Colons it becomes apparent why they have clung to red wine production here against all the odds. The slopes are South facing, forming a sort of bowl that can hopefully coax a little extra ripeness and colour out of the grapes.
We duly arrived at Domaine Saint Germain which is owned and managed by Christophe Ferrari and his wife Isabelle. This is a family winery, like a home with an oversized garage where the wine is made and a chais and a cave below the house.
The Ferraris farm 12 hectares in Irancy and Chablis. We did not get to try his Chablis or his Crémant de Bourgogne as he sees himself as an Irancy specialist and flies the flag of his home village appellation with passion.
The vineyards contain Chardonnay, in Chablis, Aligoté (which he sends to the cave co-op Crèmant producer in the next village), Pinot Noir and the local secret weapon – César.
César is not grown anywhere else in France, Morandé had some in Chile, but I think it has gone now, and Irancy is the only Burgundy wine that is allowed to contain any. Isabelle told me that only a maximum of 10% César is allowed, but until recently much more was permitted. Traditionally the village made wines purely from the low yielding somewhat tannic and dark César, but in recent times Pinot Noir has become the dominant grape with César being used to add some richness, colour, tannin and depth. Out of total plantings for the appellation of 156 hectares, only 5 are now César. As you might assume from the name, folklore would have us believe that the César grape arrived with the Roman legions.
Domaine Saint Germain Bourgogne Rosé 2008 (Pinot Noir)
A very pale rosé, just a hint of pink, the nose is fragrant and perfumed with sweet redcurrant aromas.
The palate is very light and very acidic with little touches of fruit.
It is bone dry, clean, fresh and honest. I would enjoy this in the right sun-drenched setting with a salad. 84 points.
The red wines from Domaine Saint Germain:
These were fascinating wines that were all made in the same way; de-stemmed, aged on the lees over the winter and matured in 600 litre demi-muid barrels for 8-10 months.
Domaine Saint Germain Irancy 2007 (Pinot Noir + 1 or 2% César)
Very pale colour.
The aromas are attractive red fruit tinged with earthy notes.
This is a very light-bodied wine, very fresh in the mouth as it boasts very high acidity and light but firm tannins that give a somewhat hard finish.
This is an honest well made wine, but it would be a hard wine to love or to sell. 84 points.
Domaine Saint Germain Irancy Le Paradis 2007 (Pinot Noir + 5% César)
This single vineyard wine grown on a South facing slope just to the North West of the village has a slightly deeper colour.
The nose gives more of the earthy notes with just a touch of red fruit.
The flavour is quite rich, but the wine is amazingly light-bodied with fresh acidity and drying tannins. The middle palate is very dry and hard, giving way to some good fruit, which in turn yields to a slate-like flavour on the finish. It struck me that this is how a red Riesling would taste! 84 points.
Domaine Saint Germain Irancy 2006 (Pinot Noir + 1 or 2% César)
Very pale colour.
More richly perfumed with violets and red berries.
This wine showed a little more fat than the 2007 as well as less acidity and more balance.
Acidity and chalky tannins vie with each other for your attention on the finish. 83 points.
Domaine Saint Germain Irancy Le Paradis 1999 (Pinot Noir + 5% César)
Age had given this wine a slightly tawny colour.
The nose was earthy, gamey and savoury with sweaty and meaty notes.
The palate seemed somewhat fragile and light-bodied while the flavour was weightier than any of the others with meaty characters, leather, mushrooms and some raspberry-like fruit.
The tannins were supple with some sweet fruit on the finish.
This was quite an exciting wine which showed that Irancy wines probably need some time in bottle to tame them and for them to come round. 87 points.
This was a terrific visit, because it gave a glimpse into the rural wines of France. However, to my very British eye it appears strange and almost perverse that people carry on making wines that are so hard to love in a landscape that clearly finds ripening red grapes difficult.
Surely the climate here would produce far more lovable white wines? We know for a fact that the soils can produce good white wines as they are fundamentally the same as in Chablis – Kimmeridgian limestone. These are not modern wines, they are local wines to be drunk in situ with local food by people who have been brought up with them and understand their flavours.
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