Hubert & Laurent Lignier’s Triumphant 2015s

Posted on Posted in Articles, Domaine Hubert Lignier, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

We look with great anticipation toward the end of April, when we will receive the 2015s (plus three 2016 regional-level wines) from the domaine of Hubert and Laurent Lignier—the source of perhaps our greatest and most awe-inspiring red Burgundy since the 1978 vintage. Last year, there was much to celebrate with the arrival of Lignier’s ravishing 2014s, as it was the first vintage since Hubert’s son Romain’s untimely passing in 2004 (and the subsequent legal struggle with Romain’s widow) that the family had full access to their historical holdings. And, with these 2015s, nature gave the Ligniers one of the most beautiful, problem-free growing seasons in modern history—one that really allowed Laurent’s growing mastery of his craft to shine forth, as the slow torch-pass continues from father to son at this storied domaine.

Laurent’s wines possess the same deep sense of classicism as his father’s—a sense of honesty and power, depth and structure rarely achieved outside these hallowed vineyards. They are the wines of a family whose unflagging respect and intimate knowledge of their vineyards are bred into the bone. Since Laurent’s return to the domaine following his brother’s death, he has steered the always-impeccable vineyard work toward fully organic management (certified as such), thereby bringing an even greater sense of energy to the wines—a sense felt especially strongly in the tannins, which in a thick-skinned, structured vintage like 2015 contributes welcome lift and enhances balance. Additionally, Laurent has introduced partial whole-cluster fermentations—between one-quarter and one-third for these 2015s—a practice that spotlights the wines’ already spice-marked aromatic profiles without changing their essential character. As has always been the case, the wines under Laurent’s care are handled naturally and respectfully from harvest through bottling: fermentations begin spontaneously in all instances; only gravity is employed when moving the wines in the cellar; wines are left in barrel for nearly two full years (displaying a patience and respect that is vanishing in an era when producers tend to rush their wines into bottle for a ravenous global market); no fining or filtration is ever employed; and new oak ranges from a modest 20% on the villages-level wines to 25-30% on the premier and grand crus.

Lignier’s 2015s are characterized by an uncanny combination of immense concentration and finely wrought detail. There is plenty of power in reserve among these 2015s, reflecting the solar, extremely warm character of the growing season, yet the acidity is significantly more pronounced and electric than in other similarly sunny recent vintages such as 2009 and 2005. Though the wines are dense and ripe, the overriding impression is one of tension, as the wines are bursting at the seams with energy. Each shows its pedigree even at this early stage, but they will more than reward the patient among us, and those fortunate enough to gain access to them will revel in these blossoming treasures for years to come.

2016 Bourgogne Aligote
The Lignier family owns a small parcel of 75-year-old Aligote in Gevrey-Chambertin proper, and this wine—which includes 15% inter-planted Chardonnay—offers a salty, racy profile of blasted chalk and crunchy golden fruit. It is a restrained, finesse-driven Aligote that avoids some of the variety’s occasionally coarse notes in favor of a finely etched mineral character.

2015 Saint-Romain Blanc
Hubert and Laurent began producing a Saint-Romain Blanc in 2004, the year Romain passed away, and they continue to make it in his honor today, sourcing the fruit from a 0.3-hectare parcel in the south-facing “Sous le Chateau” vineyard. This 2015 weds the succulent fruit of the vintage with the pert acidity that characterizes this underappreciated appellation—one which certainly tends to over-perform in warm years. A whisper of well-judged wood enhances rather than dominates the wine’s profile.

2016 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain
Lignier’s Passetoutgrain has long been a benchmark of its category, offering the finesse of far loftier appellations and embodying the authoritative depth of the house style in miniature form. The wine comprises 0.4 hectares worth of vines: roughly two-thirds Gamay (from 1960) and one-third Pinot Noir (from 1998), both planted within the confines of Morey-Saint-Denis proper. This 2016 displays striking concentration, coming as it does from a severely frost-reduced harvest, and the red-fruit-dominated palate is taut, kinetic, and very delicious.

2016 Bourgogne Rouge “Grand Chaliot”
The “Grand Chaliot” lieu-dit is situated just south of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the Ligniers work 1.25 hectares of 30-year-old vines there. Given its proximity to Nuits-Saint-Georges, this wine possesses a seriousness rare for a Bourgogne, and the 2016 is unabashedly earth-driven, with notes of iron and smoke counterbalancing a generous endowment of fruit. A mere 10% new wood, coupled with a zesty, dynamic acidity , allows the wine to really take off on the palate.

2015 Pommard “En Brescul”
Although the Lignier domaine is historically associated with the Cote de Nuits, their firmly classical house style melds beautifully with the mineral sternness of Pommard. Hubert and Laurent ventured into this sector of the Cote de Beaune during the period of uncertainly following Romain’s death (when their old family holdings were fractured), and this “En Brescul” comes from a 0.4-hectare parcel farmed by a friend but harvested and vinified by the Ligniers. The 2015 is generously broad, with dark red fruits and a hearty dollop of that classic Pommard earth-tinged iron. A high-toned overlay of spice provides lift to the wine’s otherwise dense and powerful carriage.

2015 Gevrey-Chambertin
The Ligniers purchased the fruit for this wine, but they oversaw the vineyard work from July onward, as well as the harvest itself. Produced from parcels in two lieux-dits—15-year-old vines in “Epointures” and 60-year-old vines in “Reniard”—the 2015 emphasizes the savory, meaty qualities of Gevrey, its darkly pitched fruit taking a secondary role to the brooding sous-bois. As with all of Lignier’s 2015s, a crackling acidity battles its way through the earthy depths and keeps everything energized.

2015 Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Seuvrees”
“Les Seuvrees” sits just below the grand cru Mazoyeres-Chambertin on the slope, bordering the northern edge of Morey-Saint-Denis. The Ligniers own a hectare of very old vines here, planted between 1938 and 1966. Like the Gevrey-Chambertin above, this emphasizes gamy muscle over juicy fruit, but a beguiling dusting of exotic spice contributes aromatic intrigue. While the tannins are firm at present, they are also eye-poppingly fresh—a thread that runs through the entire lineup of 2015s here.

2015 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Aux Combottes”
“Aux Combottes” is one of the more enviably situated premier crus in the Cote de Nuits, flanked on three of its four borders by grand crus, and perched just north of Clos de la Roche on the slope. The Ligniers own a 0.15-hectare sliver, with vines planted in 1957, and this wine is a perennial standout in their cellar. As one would expect, the 2015 is the most complete Gevrey of the lineup, both elegantly spicy and powerfully earthy, and with more succulent fruit than its villages-level brethren. The finish is a slow, controlled decrescendo, full of breed and vivacity.

2015 Morey-Saint-Denis “Tres Girard”
Since 2009, the Lignier family has purchased grapes from a half-hectare parcel in this well-positioned cru just below premier cru “Clos Sorbé” on the slope in southern Morey-Saint-Denis. The 2015 is an exceptionally lifted and energetic Morey, with elegance winning over power despite the wine’s undeniable heft. Floral notes and spice-tinged red fruits accentuate the wine’s beauty, but an undertone of coiled tension speaks to its potential longevity.

2015 Morey-Saint-Denis “Trilogie”
Lignier’s “Trilogie” is produced from small holdings of very old plantings in three different Morey-Saint-Denis lieux-dits: “Chenevery,” “Clos Solon,” and “Porroux,” with vines planted between 1936 and 1972. This 2015 is richer and riper than “Tres Girard” above, with a more typically savory Morey personality and gutsier tannins. Sappy black cherry and blackberry fruits coat a slightly dusty, sous-bois-inflected palate, and the finish is firm and boisterous.

2015 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “La Riotte”
Situated at the foot of Clos-Saint-Denis, “La Riotte” is a cru full of small stones, and in every vintage it possesses a distinctively firm, tight-grained minerality from which all other elements of the wine seem to flow. The 2015 offers an abundance of Morey spice atop a powerfully mineral core—a sense of warm stones buffered by massive fruit that is both dense and supple. Although they are well-coated, the tannins here verge on imposing, and only time will allow its charms to fully surface.

2015 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Les Chaffots”
The Ligniers own just under half a hectare of 50-year-old vines in this great premier cru, which sits just above Clos-Saint-Denis on the slope. In comparison to the Riotte above, “Les Chaffots” is typically broader, and brasher, and this 2015 holds true to form in flamboyant fashion. Riotte is no slouch in the spice department, but Chaffots is positively kaleidoscopic, a swirling cloud of garam masala liable to induce vertigo in the unprepared taster. The palate’s ample fruit is reined in just short of surmaturite, its black-cherry core subtly medicinal and liqueur-like, and while it isn’t noticeably bigger than the Riotte, it is a fair measure more gamy and wild—and equally structured.

2015 Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Vieilles Vignes”
Perhaps the most iconic wine from the Lignier cellar, the Morey-Saint-Denis premier cru “Vieilles Vignes” encompasses tiny holdings in two different premier crus: 0.33 hectares in “Les Faconnieres” planted between 1947 and 1960, and 0.2 hectares in “Les Chenevery” planted between 1936 and 1942. Both of these crus are situated just beneath Clos de la Roche on the slope, and the wine always possesses that ineffable grand-cru “x-factor.” Indeed, the 2015 ratchets up the complexity of its two premier-cru siblings above, with greater depth of fruit and a more commanding presence on the palate. A trace of smoke tilts the balance toward the earthy and savory end of the spectrum, but its wildness is more controlled than that of the Chaffots—more noble.

2015 Chambolle-Musigny “Les Bussieres”
“Les Bussieres” sits just below the premier cru “Les Sentiers” (and just down-slope from grand cru Bonnes-Mares), hard on the border of Morey-Saint-Denis. The Ligniers exploit just under a half-hectare of vines here—a total of four parcels, planted between 1948 and 1988. The 2015 is soaring and exuberant on the nose, full of tangy red fruits and cool spice, and the palate bristles with energy despite its firm structure. Minerality plays a leading role here, with a combination of prettiness and chiseled austerity that is very Chambolle.

2015 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Chabiots”
“Les Chabiots” is a dreamily situated premier cru that sits just north of Musigny, perched immediately above “Les Amoureuses” on the slope in the southern sector of Chambolle. Hubert and Laurent began purchasing grapes from a parcel of 20-year-old vines here during their recent inheritance battle, and they have continued to produce wine from this great but miniscule cru ever since. The 2015 is a bit more ethereal and restrained than the Bussieres above—less outwardly expressive in its current state but possessing a profound sense of coiled energy.

2015 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru “Les Baudes”
Located at the foot of the legendary grand cru Bonnes-Mares just south of the Morey-Saint-Denis border, “Les Baudes” is the classic Chambolle premier cru of the domaine. The Ligniers own a miniscule 0.18-hectare parcel of 55-year-old Pinot Noir here, and the wine is always incendiary and majestic, capable of very long aging. This 2015 is aromatically dazzling, a blast of warm chalk and tingly spices grounded by ripe, dense fruit. While it is markedly bigger than the Chabiots on the palate, it displays even greater tension and a more electrifying finish—the skydiver to Chabiots’ hang glider.

2015 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Poisets”
In 2010, the Ligniers purchased a third of a hectare of old vines (circa 1947) in this lieu-dit that sits just below the great premier cru “Les Cailles” in the southern part of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This 2015 shows remarkably pure fruit beneath a canopy of earthy spices and punchy minerality, and the firmly tannic palate still has plenty of life and snap. Dark in character without being somber, it is classically Nuits-Saint-Georges in spirit yet with a very Lignier-esque sense of poise.

2015 Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru
Beginning with the 2014 vintage, Hubert and Laurent have sourced grapes from a 50-year-old plot in this tiny grand cru—a total of only two barrels of wine. Of the three grand crus issuing forth from Lignier’s cellar, this is the most airy and feminine, emphasizing higher-toned spices and floral elements in its aromatics, and with a mineral-drenched, vibrant palate full of lift and energy. There is no dearth of power here, especially in such a concentrated vintage as 2015, but the overwhelming impression is one of cool elegance.

2015 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru
The Lignier family owns a mere tenth of a hectare in the Mazoyeres-Haut climat of this Gevrey-Chambertin grand cru. From their old vines (planted in 1948), they render a wine of immense power and concentration, yet always with a sense of underlying refinement. This 2015 is a showstopper, embodying the interplay of opposing forces that characterizes the best wines of the vintage: powerful yet graceful; rife with healthy acidity yet sappy and juicy; tannic but energetic. A regal nose offers intense verticality—invigoratingly high-toned spices and murmuring earthy depths, with layer after layer in between. The tannins are characteristically robust, yet even better integrated at this early stage than in some of the premier crus.

2015 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
The Ligniers own just under a hectare of 50 to 60-year-old vines in this hallowed grand cru, split among two holdings: 0.62 hectares in the climat of “Monts Luisants,” and 0.28 hectares in “Les Fremieres.” Clos de la Roche possesses an unusually broad variety of soil types, and Lignier’s always expresses this complexity of micro-terroirs in its endlessly layered mineral core. It is a wine of imposing power and density, massive in scale but also incredibly nuanced—in fact, it is almost paradoxical in its ability to express such size but also render such fine detail. As one might expect, this 2015 is a legend in the making. A nose of imposing solidity and visceral savory swagger introduces a palate that is neutron-star dense and almost completely impenetrable at this early stage of its life. Still, the wine almost glows with energy, and those willing to exercise the patience this wine demands will be in for an aesthetically ravishing, spiritually affirming experience down the road.

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