December 28, 2012
The Best Bottles I’ve Opened in 2012 #4: 1978 Chablis 1er Cru “Montee de Tonnerre” Domaine Raveneau

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We visited Domaine Raveneau this past January. It was our first stop of a week of domaine visits in Chablis and Burgundy. We arrived in Paris via JFK early Sunday morning.  We unloaded our bags at the hotel and then spent the afternoon kicking it around Paris.  We had dinner that evening at Le Comptoir in the 6th arrondissement where we ate very well and ordered a bottle of ‘08 Chablis Sechet from Dauvissat which was smoking good. Then discussion ensued.  Who is the best winemaker in Chablis? If you asked 100 wine geeks, most likely the consensus would be Raveneau as king and Dauvissat as crown prince. My two friends at the table felt this way but I didn’t agree. My experiences tasting Dauvissat were much more consistent than Raveneau.  I once had a bottle of ‘96 Preuses that was so good it had me doing jumping jacks.  I’ve had great bottles of Raveneau too but they always seemed difficult to interpret. Like they were made in an alien winemaking code and I wasn’t given the decoder ring. Most of the bottles of Raveneau I tasted were less than 10 years old and often had these aromas of horseradish and cabbage and I didn’t really understand them. That was to change after this visit.

We left Paris at 8am and got on the road to Chablis.  Our appointment was at 11am and we didn’t want to be late. I’ve made attempts to visit Raveneau before and was always refused.  Its a seriously tough ticket and an opportunity that I didn’t want to squander by being late. We eventually turned onto the Rue de Chichee at precisely 10:55am. Once we got inside we were met by Monsieur Raveneau who was so kind and gracious toward us.  We tasted though the lineup of 2010’s which were still in barrel and very charming from the get-go. We chatted with M. Raveneau throughout the barrel tasting about the Raveneau style, the difference between the Grand Crus of Valmur and Clos, etc.  This was all done in our broken French and line of communication seemed to be wide open. Then we went to different quadrant of the cellar and M. Raveneau asked if we’d like to taste some older vintages in bottle.  “Avec plaisir” we said, or in english, “Uh, yeah.”  We had reached the bonus round. M. Raveneau opened some great older bottles of wine for us.  All of them were poured blind.  We fared ok with our guesses and the interaction between us was warm and light hearted.  The three of us from time to time would look at one another and would mouth “wow”. How lucky we felt to be there. 

As we were finishing up and walking up the wooden steps of the cellar to the outside, C asked M. Raveneau if he’d like to join us for lunch. He told us maybe and that he’d have to call his wife first. He pulled out his red vodaphone and dialed her up.  We overheard him greeting his wife and asking her if it was cool if he came with us.  “Oui, oui, ok, oui, d’accord, je t’embrasse” he said and then hung up.  He smiled and let us know that it was ok and he could come.  He told us to go ahead to the restaurant and he’d meet us in 5 minutes because he wanted to pull a bottle to bring with him.  Jesus, what luck we had! We made it to the restaurant and sat down, M. Raveneau came by a few minutes later with a labeless crusty and dusty bottle.  It looked seriously old.  We were giddy as children.  He brought his own corkscrew and popped it himself.  Poured himself a taste and said “merde.” It was corked.  Damn.  It was too good to be true. This visit was just too perfect I thought to myself. The bottle had to be corked so the universe would re-align.  All good, we asked the waiter for the winelist and were just going to order something to go with lunch. Then M. Raveneau got up and said he was going back home to get another bottle. We were stunned.  I asked him as he was putting on his coat what the corked bottle was, “78 Les Clos” he said. Unbelievable.

He returned a few minutes later with another bottle of wine.  It also had that grey and crusty moldy look to it.  No label as well.  This time he told us what it was, “1978 Montee de Tonnerre.” I got choked up by this act of generosity. I felt so fortunate. He popped and poured it and it was brilliant.  It had this car exhaust type smoke that just screamed out of the glass. The palate was flinty and salty and absolutely delicious. It was the greatest Chablis I had ever tasted.  It also had some years still ahead of it.  Then I figured out the code.  Raveneau must be aged.  I repeat, Raveneau must be aged.  I’m talking, 15-30 years of age for good vintages. 

We finished up lunch and we’re walking M. Raveneau back to the domaine and chatting while we strolled.  I asked him his thoughts of Dauvissat and he said he loved the wines they made.  He also said that the Dauvissat and Raveneau family were cousins. That made perfect sense. 

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