Finding Burgundies that over deliver for their price has become a feat that is next to impossible. But if you avoid the pitfalls of many Burgundy drinkers - seeking fancy labels and not focusing on the wine within – there are still treasures to be found, especially if you travel a bit off the beaten path. As any astute Burgundy lover knows, the single most important factor is of course, the vigneron. More than vintage or vineyard, a great grower will deliver a wine of quality and pedigree year in and year out, and from the lowest level to the highest Grand Cru.
Such is the case with Antoine Lienhardt, a rising star and humble overachiever in the appellation of Cote de Nuits Villages. As a child, Antoine begged his grandmother to give him a section of her garden so he could tend to his own plants and vegetables. He was a dedicated green-thumb and loved every stage of the process from seed to harvest. He eagerly awaited the day when he would inherit the Comblanchien vines planted by his grandfather in the 1960s.
In the 2011 vintage Antoine took over the 4.2 hectares of family vineyards that had been in long-term lease since his grandfather's retirement in 1992. Antoine had previously cut his teeth working for 4 years at Domaine Amiot-Servelle in Chambolle-Musigny, with shorter stints in Chablis and in South Africa. Gifted with family vines, but unhaunted by the pressures of tradition and heritage, Antoine set out to be the first in his family to make wine.
“I make my wines as if I were making a Grand Cru”, said Antoine the first time I met with him. Like any accomplished Burgundian, he understands that the key to great wines begins in the vineyards. He believes that the vineyards of Comblanchien are hugely undervalued and that if they were to ever to re-classify the hierarchy of Burgundy, there would most certainly be Premier Cru if not Grand Cru vineyards amongst the village’s choicest sectors. Like other top Cru vineyards in the Cote de Nuits, his two lieu-dits in Comblanchien – “Les Essards” and “Les Plantes Aux Bois” – have a mere 30-40 cm of topsoil before passing directly into the Mother Rock of limestone. The vines ins both sites are now well established at over 50 years of age. In the vineyards, pruning is severe, with a goal of about 40 hl/h, though in his first two vintages yields were closer to 27 hl/h! Antoine began organic conversion in the 2014 vintage and the soils are now worked with a horse and plow.
At harvest, the Grand Cru-level care is evident. The grapes are, of course, harvested by hand and sorted both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Great attention is paid to harvest fruit that is physiologically ripe but also maintains an energy and vibrancy that carries into the final wine. Once the grapes arrive at the chais, Antoine feels that most of the potential has been established. So, during the fermentation, macerations are fairly gentle and without exaggerated extraction, lasting for about 15 days. The wines then go into barrel for 12 months and are bottled to capture the purity and exuberance of the fruit.
The endlessly delicious Aligote and Bourgogne Blanc are electric, mineral driven and almost tonic in nature. Both cuvées of Cote de Nuits Villages drink well beyond their humble appellations. The “Plantes aux Bois” tends to be a bit more red fruited and floral, while the “Essards” is a bit darker with mineral undertones. For both wines, there is a drive and energy that commands your attention immediately. Lienhardt recommends decanting the wines if you drink them young. Though, he also feels that they will have a positive evolution for 20 years, and perhaps more. less