Ever find yourself thinking eerily alike another? I stopped by a friend’s house not long ago to do a little tasting and cooking. For good measure I’d carried along a bottle of Domaine Tissot’s Arbois “Sélection,” one of a handful of interesting wines I’d picked up a few days earlier. As it turned out, he’d already lined up a bottle of Tissot’s Arbois Chardonnay. No advance discussion or planning, just a freak coincidence – a welcome one.
(photo courtesy of stephane-tissot.com).
When Stéphane Tissot began taking on more and more responsibility for the farming and winemaking at his parents André and Mireille Tissot’s estate in the mid-1990s, he immediately began a slow but sure conversion of the property to organic farming methods. That cycle moved to the next logical step with the first application of biodynamic principles in 2004, becoming “official” via full biodynamic certification by Demeter in 2005. Farming at the 32-hectare estate is natural and so too is the winemaking. All of the Tissots’ wines – as many as 28 different cuvées in any given vintage – are fermented spontaneously on their native yeasts, with sulfur used minimally if at all.
Arbois “Sélection,” Domaine André et Mireille Tissot (Stéphane et Bénédicte Tissot) 2004
$23. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Tissot’s Arbois “Sélection” Blanc is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Savagnin made in an intentionally oxidative style. The two varieties are barrel fermented and aged separately for nine months, with occasional topping up of the barrels. After blending, the wine undergoes a further fifteen months of aging in barrel, this time sans ouillage (without topping up). In this environment, a partial veil of flor forms, much as with Vin Jaune though to a lesser extent, and the wine is eventually finished with a very light filtration prior to bottling, with no further sulfur treatment.
The end result is delicious. The first pour opened with a typically apple-y, oxidative nose and Sherry-like brininess and savor on the palate. As it unfolded in the glass, its flavors developed greater complexity and depth. Persimmon and kumquats, dried apricots minus their sweet-fruited aspect, sour limestone and marshmallows (yes, marshmallows). The whole package is carried along on a razor’s edge of acidity. It was mouth coating in its intensity yet not at all heavy, the flavors and texture clinging to my teeth like a free-climber might cling to a sheer rock face, with sinew, grip and desperate balance. This is certainly not for everyone but it’s one of the most exciting wines I’ve had this year. And at $23, it’s a tremendous value.
Arbois Chardonnay, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot (Stéphane et Bénédicte Tissot) 2007
$24. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Quite backward – our order, that is, not the wine. In our enthusiasm to taste the “Sélection” we didn’t bother thinking about which wine to open first. It would certainly have made sense to start here but, hey, sometimes it’s more fun just to forge ahead.
This is made in a far less oxidative fashion, with spontaneous fermentation in barriques (10% new) followed by twelve months of barrel aging. Lighter and more youthful in color, as expected, it was loaded with flavors of d’Anjou pear and aromas of fresh honey and Braeburn apples, all on a taut, medium-bodied frame. Like “Sélection,” it displayed tremendous grip and energizing acidity, calling to mind Burgundian cousins such as commune level or premier cru Chablis (but with more flesh) and Viré-Clessé (but with a more intense acid and mineral profile). This could do interesting things in the cellar but it’s already drinking great. I’d love to try it with a plate of grilled scallops, completely unadorned. Definitely.
Domaine Tissot’s website, by the way, is very much worth exploring. Lots of good information about the estate as well as biodynamic farming principles, all set to a soundtrack of fermenting Savagnin.