Wines by Region / Côte de Beaune / Burgundy / Santenay / Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair
|Charles Neal Selections||
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair
Charles Neal Selections © 2020
|Charles Neal Selections||
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair
Santenay, Côte d’Or
On one of our many trips to France, our research led us northeast to the domaine of Françoise and Denis Clair in the village of Santenay. Denis Clair, quick with a laugh and a textbook bon vivant, created the domaine in 1986. The Clair family had owned parcels in the area for generations but sold most of their production to négociants. Denis set out to bottle his own wine.
His wife Françoise was born in Saint-Aubin, a neighboring AOP village 2 1/2 miles to the northwest. This is where the Clairs' winery is located. They have a son, Jean-Baptiste, who in 2000 joined the family business to work the vines, and eventually began making their white wines. Today the family owns 15 hectares, including parcels in Santenay and Saint-Aubin.
Most of the Clairs’ 9 hectares of Santenay vines are for reds. These wines, with nearly full destemming and an extended cold maceration, enable the family to achieve plenty of richness while retaining a sense of elegance. The soil here is terre blanche—limestone and crushed limestone, along with some clay, but deeper and with a higher percentage of clay than those of Saint-Aubin. The couple used proceeds from their terrain in Santenay to buy and rent Chardonnay parcels in Saint-Aubin, where they own 5 hectares.
Yields average 45 hl/ha for reds, 50 hl/ha for whites. No herbicides or pesticides are employed. The soils are worked with a plow so that they can limit their use of weed killer. An effort is made to work as organically as possible, but in very rainy years, like 2012 and 2013, some synthetic sprays are employed. The wines are fermented using only indigenous yeasts. The reds are punched down and pumped over. All of the wines go through malolactic fermentation. The whites are fined and lightly filtered. The reds are lightly filtered, if necessary. Only one bottling is done per year at the domaine, normally 15 to 18 months after the harvest. The dose of sulfur is low: 20-25 mg/l for the reds and 30-35 mg/l for the whites. The domaine sells 75,000 bottles a year, with about 75% of that going abroad.
"A very united, generous family with good taste and beautiful vines on the best terroirs of Saint-Aubin and Santenay. All of this explains the success this domaine has achieved over some twenty years." — Bettane et Desseauve Le Classement des Meilleurs Vins de France 2010
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Santenay Blanc
The parcels that go into this wine come from various clay and limestone soil vineyards around the village, with different expositions, leading to the wine's complexity. The grapes from 35-year old vines are all manually harvested. The wine goes through fermentation and malolactic in barrel, with 15% being new oak. Approximately 10 months elevage. Usually around 13% alcohol, with 3,500 bottles produced. Very rich and fruity, very open aromas. Good balance, with nice finishing acids that lift the fruit. Great with cold chicken salads, grilled fish or fish with a light sauce.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Saint-Aubin “Sur le Sentier du Clou” Blanc
This comes from a south-facing parcel of vines in the middle of the slope above Saint-Aubin. The soil is white limestone with very little clay. Grapes from the 15-year old vines are all harvested by hand. These grapes are not destemmed but are lightly crushed. They then undergo fermentation in barrel where the wine also undergoes malolactic. 15% new oak a year. The wine stays in barrel for approximately 10 months. Usually around 13% alcohol. About 6,000 bottles are made a year. Complex floral aromas along with fresh citrus (pineapple, lemon) and vanilla notes. Lovely balance with rich fruit and finishing underlying minerality. Perfect at the table with salmon tartare or a warm goat cheese salad.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Saint-Aubin “Sur Gamay”
This wine comes from a well-situated parcel on the slope above Saint-Aubin, just above Gamay and along the border of Murgers des Dents de Chien. The vineyard faces southwest. The soils are clay and limestone. One-third of the vines are 50 years old, but two-thirds were replanted 5 years ago. Harvest is by hand. This cuvée is also barrel fermented, using 25% new oak. Malolactic fermentation also happens in barrel. The élevage lasts 10 to 15 months, depending on the vintage. 13% alcohol. About 3,000 bottles are made a year. Very aromatic, where ripe fruit and bright acidity harmonize. The wine is not only complex but also very long. This makes a nice match for fish in different sauces.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Saint-Aubin “Les Murgers des Dents de Chien”
This parcel lies along the plateau that contains the grand crus and premier crus of Puligny Montrachet, facing due south. The soil is shallow and very rocky, with lots of limestone. Half of the vines are 60 years old, the other half 20 years old. Harvest is by hand. Fermentation and malolactic in barrel, 20% of which is new. 10-month élevage. 13% alcohol. 7,000 bottles produced. Notes of exotic fruit, white flowers and citrus fruit. Fine texture. Very long and refined. A good match for lobster, shrimp or rich white fish.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Saint-Aubin “Sur le Sentier du Clou” Rouge
This southern-facing parcel is located above the village in the middle of the slope. Very rocky limestone with a little clay in the soil. 45-year old vines. Harvest is by hand. 90% of the grapes are destemmed. Grapes are sorted in the vineyard during harvest, then destemmed and fermented in cement tanks. Cold maceration for 10 days to extract color, with daily punch downs and pump overs. Alcoholic fermentation takes place for 8 days. Depending on the vintage, the wine is blended with the press wine. 2/3 is aged in tank, and the rest goes into barrels, 10% of which are new. Malolactic fermentation takes place in both tank and barrel. 4,000 bottles produced. Plenty of notes of red fruits on the nose, and nice balance of fruit and tannin on the palate. Good length. A good partner for white meats, beef kebabs or mushroom dishes.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Santenay “Clos Genet” Rouge
This comes from 35-year old vines grown on brown limestone and marl buttressing the village of Santenay. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented with no stems. The wine ages in oak (20% new) for 12 months and is bottled with a very light filtration. It has a medium-ruby color, and appealing aromas of red cherries and spice. On the palate it is fruit-forward and juicy, but with good acidity and a brightness that keeps it very fresh. It finishes clean.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Santenay 1er Cru “Clos des Mouches” Rouge
From a parcel on clay-limestone soil, 1/3 of whose vines are 60 years old and 2/3 25 years old. The wine spent 15 months in oak barrels, 20% of which are new. It has a notable fruity richness, smooth tannins and great length. This is an ideal partner for turkey, beef bourguignon or grilled red meats.
Domaine Françoise et Denis Clair Santenay 1er Cru “Clos de Comme” Rouge
Clos de Comme sits on the Chassagne Montrachet border. The grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with 10-20% stems. Aging takes place in oak barrels (25% new) and the wine is bottled after 12 months. It has an intriguing nose of mushrooms, forest floor and red berries. On the palate fresh flavors of cherry and strawberry are complemented by a zippy acidity, while the finish is powerful and long.