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“Chablis fans should add the Defaix brothers to their short list of rising stars”

Posted on: 08/16/22 7:00 PM



It was a delight to again see the Defaix in Burgundy last year, after so long away due to COVID. It was equally delightful to taste the young wines again: mineral, taut, fresh and long – 2020 suited the house style here well. This is a remarkable year for white Burgundy, and as I have suggested before, perhaps one of the last hurrahs for the old-school tensile Chablis of years past.

Don’t let the vintage pass you by!

From previous offers: Yes, we all know about Raveneau and Dauvissat; Fèvre gets a good amount of attention too – and deservedly so. But there’s a whole tier of Domaines producing excellent, even profound wines that the market seems to overlook. Jean & Sebastein Dauvissat, D.E. Defaix and Pinson all come to mind. Add Bernard Defaix to the list.

I’ve been tasting with Héléne Defaix for several vintages now, as I feel the Domaine offers a classic representation of Chablis, something even quintessential. If your tastes run to the tangy, citrus-inflected gunsmoke side of Chablis, this is the Domaine for you. The wines have incredible energy and deliver a stinging saline kiss with every sip.

Bernard Defaix founded the Domaine in 1959 with 2 hA. Today, the work is very much a family affair and the Domaine has grown significantly, with over 25 hA in the region. Defaix brothers Sylvain and Didier split work in the vineyards and cellars, while Didier’s wife Héléne handles the logistics and marketing.

The Domaine has made great strides in recent vintages. As of 2009, the vineyards are all organic, while some experimentation with Biodynamics has been undertaken too. In the cellar, the work is very traditional, with fermentation and aging taking place in steel tank and a mixture of older oak. Fermentations happen spontaneously, and the wines receive only a light fining before bottling.

“The improvement at this estate has been nothing short of phenomenal and as the scores and individual wine reviews suggest, this is a flat out spectacular group of wines … . Chablis fans should add the Defaix brothers to their short list of rising stars.” – Burghound

One of the great advantages of the Domaine is that many holdings are quite old, giving the wines a depth and complexity worth well more than the price the wines command. The 2017s are indeed impressive chez Defaix and, while we enjoyed the entire range, I picked out 2 bottlings I feel offer the most bang for the buck.

The Chablis Vieilles Vignes hails from very well situated vines (between Vaillons and Montmains) 50 years old and older. 25% of the wine is fermented and raised in neutral oak barrel and battonage is practiced to give the wine more depth. The power, intensity and complexity of this “humble” Village wine is quite remarkable and a stunning value for the money.

The 1er Cru Côte de Léchet Réserve is similar in spirit. This plot represents the oldest vines at the Domaine, those originally planted by Bernard Defaix in 1955. Like the Chablis VV, the wine is raised in 50% neutral barrel, with batonnage. While the Chablis VV remains a stunning value offering complexity of flavor and structure, the Léchet Réserve takes this to another dimension. Almost chewy, the wine has extract and fruit to spare, with a density and power of presence uncommon for most Chablis 1ers. This offers tremendous bang for the buck and I do not see why this wouldn’t age 10-20 years, with tremendous upside.

I really cannot say enough about this humble and exceptional small family Domaine. I am excited to be working directly with them and urge you snap up what you can. These are really worth the effort.

2020 B. Defaix Chablis 1er Vaillons

91-94 pts. (4-star wine): “This is a blend of Séchet and Chatains and Vaillons itself. Attractive pale primrose colour. A little less austere in 2020 than it used to be in cooler times, but recognisably the same stony animal. Attractive savoury lemony notes, much drier finish, and excellent persistence. Very good.” – Jasper Morris

2020 B. Defaix Chablis 1er Cote de Lechet Reserve

92-95 pts. (5-stars): “Clear yellow colour here, bright bouquet with a slightly savoury touch, this is in a more backward state. But what a volume of fruit on the palate, with a concentration of marine salinity as well as fruit. Powerful yet direct with plenty of flesh. 50% wood in the blend.” – Jasper Morris


Posted in Burgundy List By Ian Halbert