Wines to Seek Out
While he is a devoted practitioner of biodynamics, de Benoist is not a natural wine evangelist, particularly when it comes to use of sulfur at bottling. "Volcanic sulfur is a gift from nature," he reasoned on its use during my visit, explaining why he feels no shame in relying on the preservative to help keep his wines intact. Élevage for the Bouzeron takes place in large oak casks, while the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are reared in a more Burgundian French oak barrique.
Domaine de Villaine Bouzeron
Seeking a first taste of Aligoté? Start here. This blend of multiple parcels from around the Bouzeron Village AOC comes from only Aligoté Doré, the golden biotype that yields the most characterful wines. At an average age of 65-years-old, Domaine de Villaine's vines also yield remarkable concentration. There is a fascinating similarity to Riesling at play here — lime zest, stonefruit and flowers, mostly — but a rounded and silky texture that is all-together different. I love how open and engaging this wine is from the start, a by product of its patient élevage in foudres.
Domaine de Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise “Les Clous Aimé” Blanc
An anomaly in Burgundy: a Chardonnay raised mostly in foudre. For this Côte Chalonnaise, de Benoist sources grapes from Bouzeron and Rully, then allows them the space to navigate new terrain inside the large oak casks. The result is an elegant and supple Chardonnay with ease and depth.
Domaine de Villaine Rully 1er Cru Margotés Blanc
In 2015 and 2017, Domaine de Villaine purchased two Rully domaines and their Premier Cru holdings, and from one of these wineries, they vinify their Rully wines. One such Premier Cru is Margotés, the southern-most of Rully's 23 Premier Cru, which is a colder site defined by exposure to wind. Even here, de Benoist embraces the foudre to deliver a wine of remarkable focus and complexity. Despite Chardonnay's neutrality, it takes well to the delicate imprint of the foudre, with a subtle fruitiness defined by ripe apples and grapefruit, and walnut-like edges to round and lend depth. "Bitterness is important in Chardonnay because it is the beginning of freshness," notes de Benoist.
Domaine de Villaine Rully 1er Cru Cloux Blanc
Such a lovely wine, and probably my favorite from the domaine. The vineyard lies in the heart of Rully, and because of its terroir, the wine demands a different approach from de Benoist with vinification occurring in demi-muid and small barrels. Sunny and radiant through the middle, this wine nonetheless suspends the typical primary notes of Chardonnay and leads with a more roasted nut-like character to start. Rounded, juicy, generous and just a bit creamy, it reveals a sense of place as well as a sense of craft.
Domaine de Villaine Rully 1er Cru Rabourcé Blanc
Of the domaine's vineyard holdings, Rabourcé is the most solar site for Chardonnay, and you can feel that difference on the palate with this, the richest of the domaine's white wines. Yet there is a silkiness to the texture that is maintained, and which prevents this wine from feeling full of itself. This wine, too, is raised and aged in foudre.
Domaine de Villaine Rully 1er Cru Les Champs Cloux Rouge
De Benoist admits that transitioning into Pinot Noir years ago forced him to challenge his assumptions about winemaking. He was even tempted to transition this particular plot to Chardonnay, but "the vines were very old and beautiful" and he couldn't bring himself to do it. We should be glad for that, as this wine hums with fine lines of acidity, forest fruit and earthiness in lovely harmony. Interestingly enough, it is every bit as mineral as the white wines featured above.
Because Domaine de Villaine's Pinot Noir vineyard holdings are so small, they are sometimes blended into a general Bourgogne Rouge (as they were in 2021) due to low yields. If you see such a wine in the future, know that it is backed up by Premier Cru fruit.