Jean-Marie Guffens, always quotable, told me there were two ways to ruin the 2006 harvest in Chablis. "You could pick before the 17th, or you could start on the 18th," he said. He began on the 17th and picked quickly in good weather conditions. (Although Verget is a negociant operation with a huge number of bottlings from the Maconnais, Cote de Beaune and Chablis, Guffens purchases fruit rather than must and does most of the harvesting with his own team.) Alcohol levels in the Verget '06s typically range from 12.5% to 13.5%, but at 13.5% the wines are "almost undrinkable," says Guffens, owing to the low acidity of the vintage. In order to make vibrant wines with maximum Chablis character, Guffens sold off nearly 20% of his premier cru juice, most of it press wine with acidity levels that Guffens considered dangerously low. Incidentally, due to a complicated dispute with the local authorities, Guffens did not make Chablis in 2005. He sold his winery in the village to Latour in 2005 (he had bought out ex-partner Olivier Leflaive's share of this facility just a year earlier). Guffens pressed the 2006 fruit in Chablis, and then brought the juice down to the Verget winery in the Maconnais. (A Peter Vezan Selection; importers include The Stacole Company, Boca Raton, FL; North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, CA; and Ideal Wines, Medford, MA)
($30) Aroma of honeyed apple. Supple but with an edge of acidity giving shape to the apple, spice and mineral flavors.
($35) Pale yellow-gold color. Ripe apple, menthol and a whiff of spearmint on the nose, with more minty lift than the basic village offering. Fresh and spicy, with some minerality showing. Unlike the regular village wine this was not acidified, as Guffens used very little of the high-pH press wine.
($35; from the Montmain neighborhood; 20% fermented in barrel) Vibrant, mineral-driven aromas of chalk, white peach and mint. Stony and refreshing, with very good cut to the flavors of powdered stone and mint. Finishes lively and dry, with classic Chablis minerality. "Here's proof that you could make almost normal Chablis in 2006," says Guffens.
($40; from severely pruned vines on a steep slope near Butteaux) Brisk aromas of pineapple, lime, grapefruit and ginger, with a floral topnote. Dense and rich, with harmonious natural acidity framing the bright fruit and floral flavors. The crop level here was just 42 hectoliters per hectare, and this wine is all free-run juice. The acid level here is a healthy 4.06, according to Guffens, or a good half-gram per liter higher than most of his other 2006 cuvees
($49; aged in a combination of concrete and one large old cask; bottled on the morning of my visit) Fresh but with an almost exotic ripeness to the nose, with hints of lichee and spice. Fat with fruits and spices but a bit inexpressive today, owing to its impression of alcohol and the sulfur added for the mise The finishing flavors reminded me of a Chinese dessert.
($45; bottled today) Pale, green-tinged color. Lively aromas of powdered stone, quinine, lime and mint. Bright, rich and spicy, with good grip and acidity leavening the impression of sweetness. Captivating flavors of apple and ginger. This tactile wine really dusts the palate with flavor on the back end. Guffens sold off 40% of his Vaillons juice in order to make this.
($45; just bottled) Good pale color. Highly nuanced nose offers minerals, spearmint, quinine, tarragon, rosemary and pepper. Rich, fat and supple, conveying a sweeter impression than the Vaillons but with the wine's gruner veltliner-like peppery quality keeping it fresh. This silky premier cru has the volume to reward aging.
($55; this and the subsequent wines were tasted from concrete tanks, where they were still aging with their fine lees) Pungent aromas of citrus peel, pepper and licorice, along with a buttery nuance. Rich, fat, sweet and smooth, with a note of clementine that continues the Meursault theme. This big boy boasts excellent balancing acidity and an alcohol level of around 13%. Finishes surprisingly tight and brisk, with excellent length.
($59; as with the Minots, the vines here are about 65 years of age) Soil-inflected aromas of flint, smoke, wet match and piquillo pepper. Fat, broad and quite dry, with a glyceral texture leavened by a suggestion of new wood. Finishes long, with a faint youthful bitterness.
($58) Yellow peach and ginger spice on the showy nose. Big, ripe and rich, with impressive volume and rather low acidity. The wine's peachy sweetness gives it an almost exotic quality. Full and impressive, if in a rich, softer style. Guffens fermented this in barrel, then racked it into concrete in February.
($55) Pale, green-tinged color. Lively, subtly complex aromas of crushed stone, lime blossom and spearmint. The palate offers an intriguing combination of austere pineapple and mineral flavors with a fat, broad texture. Finishes brisk, very long and light on its feet, with perfumed nuances of lemon, mint and powdered stone. A superb wine in the making.
($80; just racked; a moderate 12.7% alcohol) Cloudy appearance. Pineapple, spiced apple and mint on the nose; more exotic than the Montee de Tonnerre. Sweet on entry, then dense and firmly structured in the middle palate, even a bit youthfully hard despite the fact that this is entirely free-run juice. The sweetness returns on the finish, which features lovely lingering pineapple and floral perfume.
($90; fermented and aged in barrels, one of seven of which was new; 13.1% alcohol) Minerals, peppermint and oak spice on the nose. Fat and dense, with a somewhat aggressive character to the pineapple and peppermint flavors. With a liqueur-like quality and obvious wood element, this is in an awkward stage today.
($98) Wonderfully pure nose hints at pungent crushed stone, white pepper and lime. Rich, ripe, dense and fine-grained, with highly complex flavors of pear, Granny Smith apple, underripe pineapple and wet stone. The minerality and piquant fruit character cut the richness of the wine. This is superb.