One of the most incredible wines I’ve ever had. My partner just came home from a trip to France, and within minutes of arriving she sent her suitcase flying and pulled this bottle out with a wildly excited look in her eyes. “What is it?” I asked. I recognized Chateau Chalon (having enjoyed many glasses of vin jaune in the past) but “N•12” indicated some special cuvée or something, bottled in 2000, plus the cork had a funny cap pinned on it and I could tell the color was insanely deep yellow even through the green-tinted glass…
It didn’t last long. It was probably only 2 weeks later that we made an excuse to spend the night in and cook and open the mysterious N•12.
I knew this was a wine that could be challenging (and that wanted to be challenged), so I was careful to try it at varying temperatures (started chilled and let it warm in the bottle through the evening). Maybe challenging isn’t the right word, I mean that it deserved respect and focus, otherwise the subtle flavours and texture might go unappreciated. It was like a Pierre Bonard painting: instant gratification from lush, vibrant colours but on second glance give way to a subtle, permeating depth and a surprising amount of movement. Guess it helps that I usually hear the colors and they reverberate at different intensities, guiding me into the layers and peaking my curiosity as to if I can string together a whole melody…
It was like that with this wine. Epic. Romantic. Historic. Almonds and honey and second cutting hay* and some kind of incense, maybe turmeric, chamomile and genet. Incredible finesse.
The wine rests for an extended élevage in barrels of 228 liters (Burgundy barrels) in ancient cellars, for a period of 6 years without topping off before bottling. The “voile” refers to the veil of yeast that forms along the top of the wine as it sits in the barrel, slowly building the character of what are considered some of the best wines in France. In order to adhere to the regulations of the Chateau Chalon AOC (subregion of Jura made up of 4 parts: Ménétru-le-Vignoble, Domblans, Château-Chalon et Nevy-sur-Seille), there are several other strict requirements, including that the wine must bottle at a minimum of 12% ABV, it must be 100% Savagnin, and if the weather is deemed unfit or subpar, it is recoiled and no wine can be made/sold under the AOC from that vintage. The bottle itself is called a “clavelin”, and is a particular weight, shape and volume that dates back to 1506 under the law of Marguerite de Bourgogne.
Given the nature of the restrictions and history surrounding the appellation, it’s no wonder the vignerons of Chateau Chalon are referred to as auteurs (like Avant Garde film makers). It really gives you a sense of the expectation that each wine grower is an artist, cultivating wine with unique and intelligently expressive character.
Turns out this bottle was from a special harvest from grower François Rousset-Martin, who has been working with Chateau Chalon more recently on vins ouillés (topped off, non-oxidative wines) previously unheard of for this AOC. As I understand it, this N•12 adheres to the traditional method of extended élevage with flor, or voile, allowed. Does it make me enjoy the wine more knowing that it’s extremely rare and almost impossible to find information on? Yes, yes it does. I still don’t know why it’s called N•12; it could be the 12th harvest or the barrel name, or maybe it’s the minimum ABV but that doesn’t fit with the nuance of the rest of it so…still no clue.
*for anyone wondering “why is she throwing around annoying references to second cutting hay?”, I grew up working on horse farms and this, among other barnyard scents, remains a very, very intense smell memory for me.