2016 Domaine Coche-Dury Bourgogne Chardonnay

Year: 2016
Appellation: Cote de Beaune
Country: France
Wine Advocate: 88
Vinous Media: 88
White Wine
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"Fully two-thirds of the Coche-Dury 2016 Bourgogne Chardonnay cuvée is declassified Mâcon-Villages this year, as Raphaël Coche was anxious to make up the volume that he had lost to frost, both to keep the domaine's long-time clients happy and to maintain the domaine's used barrels in good condition for the following vintage. Only two lots were deemed up to standard, one from the extreme north of the Mâconnais and the other from the south, so these were included in the blend while the others were sold in bulk. Offering up aromas of green orchard fruit, mint and almond paste, it's medium to full-bodied, satiny textured and tangy, concluding with an attractively stony finish. While the wine displays somewhat more flesh on its bones than is typical of this cuvée in a cool vintage such as 2016, it carries its producer's signature and will deliver a great deal of pleasure over the coming decade.

This was a fascinating visit to Domaine Coche-Dury, where Raphaël Coche is now firmly established, having taken over direction of the estate in 2010 after working alongside his father Jean-François full-time since 1999. I tasted the domaine's current releases, which derive from the 2016 vintage—with the exception of the 2013 Corton-Charlemagne, as Raphaël is now holding back his sole grand cru for five years after the vintage. Readers should note that the 2015 Meursault Perrières, reviewed here, hasn't yet been released, as it is also being retained for additional aging. In the future, Raphaël hopes to systematically releases the Perrières, like the Corton-Charlemagne, five years after the vintage.

The last few vintages have witnessed a stylistic evolution at Domaine Coche-Dury that I took the opportunity to discuss with Raphaël. In Raphaël's words, the domaine now works with "less new oak, less bâtonnage and less lees." The distinctively toasty, reductive signature that marked out the Coche-Dury wines of yesteryear is no more. But, as Raphaël emphasizes, that has been the case for some time. "The last vintages marked by pronounced reduction were 1999 and 2007," he observes. "And I didn't initiate the move toward a purer, less stylized approach alone: Jean-François and I agreed on the change of direction together." Some clients, Raphaël says, have complained, but his response is uncompromising. "They may want the vinification [techniques] in the glass, but I want to taste the terroir."

The fundamentals of Domaine Coche-Dury's greatness, it's important to emphasize, remain the same: high-quality viticulture, a rare aptitude—which seems to have been passed down from father to son—for knowing how hard to press and for how long, careful choice of barrels and long, meticulously supervised élevage. The wines continue to be distinguished by their incisive acids, striking intensity and frequently appreciable presence of dry extract—the latter is something Raphaël argues can bring structure and freshness to wines from the warm vintages that Burgundy is witnessing more and more frequently. There isn't a Coche formula, rather there is a Coche palate, for decisions are made by tasting. "When my grandfather used to say winemaking was an art, sometimes I wondered what he had been smoking, but more and more I agree—it's all a question of feeling," says Raphaël. Jean-François, I should add, is also very much a continuing presence at the domaine. "My father comes by every day and gives his opinion," Raphaël confirms.

Tasting Coche-Dury's 2015 Meursault Perrières—pure, searingly intense and structured like a red wine—it was impossible to argue with the domaine's evolution. It's a magical wine that represents the essence of this great vineyard. The 2016 portfolio is also very compelling. After the year's frosts, Jean-François advised his son to "sell everything in bulk and buy nothing—the wines will never be good." Raphaël, however, opted to persevere, harvesting only first-generation grapes (and not the second- and third-generation fruit included in many of the year's less successful white Burgundies) and purchasing some fruit to supplement some of the domaine's more depleted cuvées, notably the Bourgogne Blanc and Meursault Rouge. The result is a set of wines that rank among the vintage's best and that I suspect may give the Domaine's 2014s stiff competition. Our tasting concluded with the 2013 Corton-Charlemagne, a wine that hails from what Raphaël calls the most challenging vintage of his career." (WA)

"(there was significant frost here, as well as a lot of millerandage in the south-facing vines): Pale, bright yellow. Good lift to the aromas and flavors of citrus fruits and spices. Juicy, tactile and concentrated; a rather powerful Bourgogne blanc that displays both pliancy and cut. A fairly fleshy but restrained wine with a touch of oak and easy drinkability. Coche blended in some wine from both the southern and northern Mâconnais "because we needed to fill our barrels with good fruit." (VM)

Winery Notes:
One need only speak of Meursault to evoke a myriad of questions regarding the village’s resident icon, Jean-François Coche. He began working in the family vineyards alongside his father, Georges, at the age of fourteen, becoming the third generation of Coches to tend these vines. His marriage to Odile Dury in 1975 added to the family holdings, which lead to the formation of Domaine Coche-Dury. Since then, the enigmatic, modest, Jean-François has only reluctantly accepted the celebrity status of his wines. When asked, he would be most likely say that it is rigor, constant vigilance, and adherence to old-school tradition that makes the wines so special. Jean-François’ heritage seems more closely linked to the studious, farmer-monks that once propagated this area of Burgundy during the Middle Ages than to the stocky Gauls of lore, as his work style is almost hermetical. When Kermit, Coche’s biggest single client, calls for a rendezvous, he is always told, “Only in the evening when I come back from the vines.” Today, his son, Raphaël, has taken the reins with his wife, Charline, and the two continue the family tradition with great reverence.

The Coches farm almost nine hectares of vineyards on minuscule parcels over six communes: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, and Volnay. Approximately half of their holdings are situated around their hometown of Meursault, with their parcels of Bourgogne surrounding the home and winery. Though they are best known for their Chardonnay, they also bottle six exquisite Pinot Noirs. No clones of any kind are planted—an absolute rarity in Burgundy, where cold, humid winters, spontaneous springtime hail storms, and harvest rains all make farming a challenge. Once in the cellar, vinifications are long and traditional, with extended lees contact. This extra time on the lees prevents oxidation and works in tandem with the terrific freshness his grapes achieve. A good proportion of new wood is used, not to influence the taste of the wine, but rather to extend the cellar-aging potential of these pedigreed wines and to serve as a clean slate for perfect fruit. Coche believes strongly that the white wines of Burgundy should have nerve, and his are never among the ripest or highest in alcohol of his colleagues. It is their vibrant acidity, often hidden in the opulence that helps them to age so successfully and predictably. Though their bottlings are extremely limited, any chance to taste the wines of Coche-Dury promises a rare glimpse into some of the greatest vineyard management and winemaking in the world.