Julien Altaber has worked in Saint Aubin just south of the city of Beaune for a number of years. We met him because he worked for the redoubtable Dominique Derain who we also import.
Julien is a thoughtful person who has absorbed the art and the science of winemaking and decided to branch out with his own wines made from grapes sourced from some very good terroirs in the area.
We first tasted his wines at an event in Avallon near Chablis and we were entranced by their purity and charm. So we asked if we could import his wines as well.
Julien and Carole Schwab have now bought the Domaine Derain business in addition to their commitments to the Sextant domaine and will be making the Derain wines from now on (with Dominique still in the background!).
Sextant – Julien Altaber Vin de France Po à Po 2018
We love the fact that Julien is quite restless and is always searching for new challenges. It was therefore inevitable that he would make a skin contact wine using white grapes to produce an orange wine as they are known.
The wine is made from the wonderful Aligoté grape variety from a four hectare plot in the Cote Challonaisse. The grapes (50% destemmed and 50% whole bunches) were crushed and then, instead of the juice being run off, it was left in contact with the skins for an nine day period allowing the anthocyanins and other polyphenols in the skins and pips to leach into the juice. The presence of the anthocyanins from the skins turns the wine a light orange colour and some of the other polyphenols extracted during the maceration give the wine a lovely rounded mouth feel.
Because the fermentation moved quickly in 2018, Julien pressed the grapes after 9 days because he wanted some sugar left.
This is a very complex wine that is only available in tiny quantities, but we have been lucky enough to obtain a few cases for the Australian market.
Sextant – Julien Altaber – Clin d’Oeil
Every year Julien Altaber seems to find new things to invent, depending upon the grapes that his biodynamic friends have to sell him.
This year he has again made a cuvée which is macerated whole bunch Viognier (for around ten days) with some (25%) direct press Gamay (so the juice from the Gamay is clear juice, not red). The grapes are grown in calcareous clay soils. The wine is stored in fibreglass tanks for around 5 months.
The result is an orange beauty which has lots of personality.
RRP: $58 for 2017, $70 for 2018
Sextant – Julien Altaber – Ma Ma Mia 2018
We really like wines that are made from macerated Pinot Gris (the grapes purchased from Patrick Besson and grown on granitic soil) and this one is no exception. The skin of the Pinot Gris grape variety is flecked with red/pink spots which, when the skin is left in contact with the juice for 12 days, gives up the colour to the juice.
Julien Altaber transfers the juice to old wooden barrels to mature for 8 months prior to bottling. The fermentation happened very quickly this year. This wine can accompany just about any type of food including spicy dishes.
This is a lovely, lovely drink. The level of tannins is just right for a wide range of foods and the complexity of the wine shines through and lasts and lasts.
Note that this wine is closed with a glass stopper, so no chance of cork taint. The alcohol level is delightfully low at 11%.
Sextant – Julien Altaber – Vin de France Métisse 2018
The first time Julien Altaber produced this cuvée he gave it the name Métisse (mixed) because it was a mix of both white and red grapes, namely Gamay and Chardonnay. Two years later we saw that there was only Gamay on the label, so we pointed out to Julien that the name was no longer reflective of how he was making the wine. He just gave us one of his cheeky smiles!
He went on to explain that he purchases the Gamay from two parcels of his friend Patrick Besson. Two thirds of the grapes are from older vines which he partially destems and then macerates (leaves the skins in the tank) for ten days. The other third of the Gamay is from younger vines and with these grapes he direct presses them to produce a white wine! Hence the wine is still a mix of white and red wine and the name is still valid!!
The juice is matured in fibreglass vats and the resultant wine is a stunner – it is one of the best examples of Gamay that we have ever tried!!!
It is a bright, lively and delicious (and very smashable) wine at a very good price for such a thrilling wine.
Sextant – Vin de France Skinbull Pétillant Naturel 2018
Julien has taken his skin contact wines one step further this year with the release of a sparkling skin contact wine made from the Aligoté grape variety.
The wine is made from the wonderful Aligoté grape variety from a north-facing vineyard in excellent terroir near the famous village of Pommard. The grapes (50% destemmed and 50% whole bunches) were crushed and then, instead of the juice being run off, it was left in contact with the skins for a ten day period allowing the anthocyanins and other polyphenols in the skins and pips to leach into the juice.
It was bottled with residual sugar to allow the fermentation to continue to produce a nicely sparkling pet nat!
RRP: $57 (SOLD OUT)
Sextant – Julien Altaber Bourgogne Aligoté 2018
We love Aligoté, especially when it is grown in great terroir.
Unfortunately in Burgundy this grape is often relegated to lesser areas and Chardonnay is given priority.
However we have been lucky with our suppliers because they have either been handed down great vineyards or they have found them.
Fanny Sabre’s father loved drinking Aligoté so he planted some in the rich, red soils of the famous Pommard commune, Alice and Olivier de Moor have their old-vine Aligoté in the emerging Saint Bris area, Yann Durieux found a vineyard quite close to that of DRC in the hills behind Beaune, Dominique Derain has his almost adjacent to the famous slopes of Puligny-Montrachet.
Julien Altaber has bought an old (60-70 years old) vineyard in the village of Puligny-Montrachet on alluvial limestone soils as well as a small parcel in the La Combe lieu dit in Saint Aubin which is actually a specific clone of the grape variety called Aligoté Doré.
This is a very, very good example of an Aligoté with a nice backbone of acidity that allows it to be used with a wide range of foods. It is lip-smackingly delicious.
RRP: $60 (SOLD OUT)
Sextant – Julien Altaber Pét Nat Écume
This is a Vin Mousseux made in the same style as a Pet Nat which we have written about many times before.
In 2017 he made the wine from a mix of Gamay and Aligoté to create a delicious sparkling pét nat and he has repeated the same formula in 2018 and it is even more delicious than before!
What he has come up with is a bright, juicy, lively, pink wine with a lovely mouth-feel and lingering flavour. It is very smashable.
Here is what the Ordinaire Wine Bar in Oakland, California had to say about tasting this wine in Julien’s cellar.
We all swirl, taste, and then swallow. When no one spits a little smile cracks in the side of Julien’s mouth. The wine is showing well—full of energy and irrepressible fruit, but unlike any of his other cuvées.
Just the thing to have around for an impromptu toast to a friend, or for a cheese plate oozing with Epoisses. Take it home and put it in the fridge. You’ll be thankful you have one cold.
Sextant – Julien Altaber Bourgogne Blanc 2018
We were delighted when this wine arrived in Australia because it had not suffered from the journey at all. The first bottle of this 100% Chardonnay was alive and vibrant. The taste lingered on the tongue and the length was very pleasing. Although it is labelled as a humble Bourgogne Blanc, the vineyards that Julien maintains around Saint Aubin and in the Cote Chalonnaise (near the village of Montbellet, are on very good terroir, similar to the nearby Puligny Montrachet where outstanding white wines are produced. We look forward to the evolution of this wine.
Lou Amdur from Lou Wine Shop in Los Angeles put this wine in a tasting recently because, as he said:
nothing fancy pants or extortionate, just beautifully grown, traditional wines from the heartland of chardonnay.
RRP: $72 (SOLD OUT)
Sextant – Julien Altaber Bourgogne Rouge 2018
This wine belies its humble Bourgogne Rouge tag. It is made from grapes picked from his vineyards around the village of Saint Aubin which is one of the emerging villages for both white and red Burgundy. About half of the grapes for this 2014 vintage were destemmed and there was less pigeage this year as Julien is becoming more confident about letting the grapes do the talking. It is a silky Pinot with elegance and structure. We like it a lot!.
RRP: $71 (SOLD OUT)
Sextant – Julien Altaber Saint-Aubin Blanc 1er Cru
This silky premier cru Chardonnay is a new line from Julien and a very good one it is. It once again shows that the Saint Aubin appellation is capable of producing outstanding white wines due to the quality of the limestone soils here.
The plot is from one of the very best areas (La Chateniaire and La Combe au Sud) of this very good appellation and the careful handling of this cru wine shines through. Once the wine is pressed the wine is transferred into two old wooden barrels where it is left to mature until bottling.
We are amazed at the finesse and depth of this outstanding wine and we think it can give many of the nearby Puligny wines a run for their money!
RRP: $106 for 2015 750 mls
Sextant – Julien Altaber Puligny-Montrachet les Reuchaux Blanc 2015
The famed vineyards of Puligny-Montrachet lie south of the town of Beaune. In this region some of the most famous white wines in the world are produced. Les Reuchaux is a very good site with good exposure and excellent soil. This village-level appellation is emerging as a site for excellent white wines yet at prices that are around 25% of their more famous nearby cousins. The soils here are brown limestone alternating with marl and clay. We only received a very small allocation of these wines and we expect them to sell quickly to savvy buyers.
RRP: $119 (SOLD OUT)
Sextant – Julien Altaber Cote de Nuits Villages Rouge 2017
This delightful Pinot Noir is a village level appellation wine from the northern part of the Cote d’Or. Remember that the Cote d’Or is divided into the Cote de Nuits in the north running from just below the outskirts of Dijon down to, but not including the village of Pernand-Verglesses. It is in this area that you find such famous wines as Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny to name a couple of appellations where you don’t have to sell your house to buy a bottle!
It is a beautifully structured wine showing notes of red berries and cherries with finely integrated tannins. You might even detect some of the characteristic Gevrey flavour in this wine!
There has been no sulphite added to this wine and the alcohol level is a sensible 12%.
RRP: SOLD OUT
Sextant – Julien Altaber Monthélie 1er Cru Sur La Velle Rouge 2018
If you drive south out of Beaune on the D973 you very soon pass through the famous wine villages of Pommard and Volnay and then arrive at Meursault on the left side of the road and Monthélie on the right. The Monthélie vineyards are, in fact, very close to some of the finest vineyards of Volnay! It is definitely an appellation to watch. The soils are excellent, the exposure good and the proximity to the other fine appellations means that great wines are possible here.
This is a very fresh and lively wine with good tannin structure, lively acidity and flavours of cherries and red berries. If you are looking for a wine from an emerging and exciting appellation then you should give this one a try!
Sextant – Julien Altaber Foufou’nette 2018
This is the second year that Julien has made this amazing pétillant naturel with a difference. And the difference is that it is made primarily from the Aligoté grape variety which has had an infusion of apricots!
Julien puts a large “tea bag” of apricots in with the fermenting wine and it develops undertones of the apricots without dominating the resultant sparkling wine.
Why did he do such a radical thing for this wine. Well, it is all rather simple. The famous Belgian brewer of lambic beers, Cantillon, has a beer called Fou’Foune and guess what they do. You guessed, they add 300 grams of apricots for every one litre of beer and leave it to macerate for 5 weeks. So this is an homage to a beer that Julien likes very much.
You will notice that this sparkling wine is labelled as “Extra Brut” which indicates that there has been no dosage, that is no sugar added to this cuvée.
Last year we had very limited quantities of this wine and we have to admit that we drank most of it ourselves! This year there is still a limited number of bottles available but we are offering them to whoever gets in first.
Sextant – Julien Altaber Coteaux Bourguignons 2018
Coteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation in Burgundy and wines can be made under this appellation from the sothernmost part at the bottom of Beaujolais to the northernmost part up near Chablis.
This wine is made from 65% Gamay and 35% Pinot Noir grapes which were grown on calcareous clay soils. Julien left 80% of the grapes as whole clusters and the skins were left with the juice for 15 days to extract some colour.
After the maceration 75% was transferred to a 15 hectolitre wooden foudre and the rest was stored in oak barrels that were between 5 to 10 years old. The wine was matured for 8 months in these vessels before being bottled.
The result is an extraordinary wine where the two grape varieties sing together to present an harmonious wine that provides great drinking pleasure. We are delighted with this wine and we are sure you will be too.