Daniel-Etienne Defaix makes some of the most remarkable wines of Chablis. And, yet, whether it’s the Domaine’s estimable age or it’s habit of releasing library vintages, rather than whatever is current, the Domaine seems to fly just below the radar. Those in the know snap up what hits the market, glad to have let the Domaine do the aging for them, but too many seem to know too little about this jewel of an estate that Neal Rosenthal has been bringing in for decades now.
But, at Gordon’s, we don’t let anything fly below the radar!
Daniel-Etienne Defaix, for all his idiosyncrasies, remains among my favorite producers and his Vieilles Vignes Village bottling one of my favorite wines from the region. Always incredibly well balanced, the perfect blend between ripeness and minerality, elegance and concentration, there is something, somehow Zen about this wine. There’s a lactic quality that pairs fantastically with its intense minerality, searing your palate with chalk, rocks and salt. The nose emerges subtly smoky, absolutely salty, with lemon peel and underripe peach, and the suggestion of something tropical. The whole seaside emerges, soon, with tidal pools, iodine and oyster shell. Still youthful, the palate is creamy, but finishes with unrelenting drive, scoring your tongue with briny oyster notes, more citrus and plenty of chalk. Of course, the finish is loooong. In sum, this wine is très Chablisienne.
“Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix is one of the oldest domaines in Chablis and certainly one of the finest.” – Jasper Morris
Defaix hails from ancient winegrowing stock, stretching back to the 1500s, so it’s fair to say he’s a practiced hand. The regimen at the winery is de rigueur for quality winemaking this far north: lutte raisonnée in the vineyards; hand harvesting; long natural yeast fermentations, which can stretch for months in the cold cellars of Chablis. However, Defaix employs an unusual method for élevage: for 18 months the wines are kept on their fine lees in stainless steel, without added sulphur, as the trapped CO2 serves as protection enough, and natural protection at that, from oxidization. During this time, he performs a type of oxygen-less bâtonnage, as the fine lees are drawn from the bottom of the tank with a small vacuum-like tube and sent to the top of the tank where they are spread with a small fan. The lees can take another 4-6 weeks before settling at the bottom again.
Defaix’s style is indeed concentrated, but never cloyingly so, and the generosity of the wines is impressive, betraying its humble village appellation. Nonetheless, like all great Chablis, Defaix’s wines leave you with a lipsmacking sense of minerality, of oyster shell and sea salt. We could all use that this time of year … or any time really!
2014 Chablis Vieilles Vignes
Neal Rosenthal: “This cuvée is sourced from vines the age of which is between 45 and 70 years. A wine of exceptional concentration for a village level appellation, this wine is always a true expression of the kimmeridgian soils that make Chablis so distinctive. Aged for thirty months before release, Defaix’s old vines Chablis is richly dense with a classic “pierre a fusil” bouquet and long mineral-infused finish.”
2005 Chablis 1er Les Lys
2005 Chablis 1er Vaillons
2005 Chablis 1er Côte de Léchet
Les Lys: “Dramatic aromas of blanched almonds, beeswax, honey and preserved lemon introduce the 2005 Chablis 1er Cru Les Lys, a full-bodied, textural wine that's rich, concentrated and structured, with a tight-knit core, tangy acids and a stony finish. Like Defaix's other 2005s, it's very much in its prime and will be well worth seeking out when it reaches the marketplace.” 93 pts. - William Kelley, Wine Advocate
Vaillons: “The 2005 Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon is drinking beautifully, wafting from the glass with a pretty bouquet of honey, buttered citrus and confit lemon. On the palate, it's medium to full-bodied, satiny and bright, with a generous, textural attack, vibrant acids and a charming, open-knit profile that belies its evident capacity to age. It will be well worth seeking out when it's released.” 92 pts. - William Kelley, Wine Advocate
Côte de Léchet: “The 2005 Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet is more complex than the Vaillon, unfurling with complex aromas of honeycomb, mandarin oil, fresh mushroom, almond paste and oyster shell. On the palate, it's full-bodied, rich and gourmand, with a satiny attack, a deep, concentrated core and tangy balancing acids. It's a textural, sapid Chablis that will work well at the table.” 93 pts. - William Kelley, Wine Advocate