Spring calls for a certain type of wine. We’re not quite in the raging hot months of summer, where we want to pound a bunch of Day-Glo chillable glous or to, you know, “rosé all day” by the pool. This shoulder season calls for wines that are sophisticated. Pretty, even. Something we can sip on and contemplate as we watch the flowers in our window box finally get going.
The wines of Lillian Duplessis ask you to do exactly that. Which is why we need to talk about them.
Lilian Duplessis produces otherworldly and sheer wines that capture Chablis’ terroir like a liquid photograph. They gently ask you to sit with them, give them a little of your time. And you’re always glad you did.
THE MAN & THE DOMAINE
Domaine Gérard Duplessis spans five generations, and dates back to 1895. Lilian took over for his father in 1999; ever the tried and true Burgundy guy, he bleeds Chablis. Lilian had plenty of opportunities to travel the world and study different winemaking techniques, but as he puts it, “there was no point in making Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, I needed to know how to work Chardonnay in Burgundy.” After partnering with his father for several years, Lilian began to oversee the domaine in 2007, and converted to organics in 2010. The eight-hectare property is divided into 20 different plots. Several of the Premier Crus vineyards bear fruit that punches well above their weight in terms of quality, and will have you asking why these wines don’t cost twice as much.
IN THE VINEYARD
Lilian operates in the vineyard with a light but determined touch. He’s singularly focused on showcasing the best raw material that his plots can offer. It makes sense; soils in Chablis are some of the most unique in the world, teeming with life and character. Here you’ll find Kimmeridgian Clay, a rare type of marl with elements of limestone, packed with fossilized Exogyra Virgula, a small comma-like oyster shell that litters the ground like jewels. It’s one of the primary sources for that famed Chablis knife-edge minerality.
The winemaking process is careful but highly restrained – he uses barely any sulfur and in some knockout vintages, like the 2018, none is used at all. For some of the crus, like the Vaugiraut, stainless steel is where the wine lives until bottling. Others spend a minimum of six months in neutral French oak with extended lees contact to add weight and texture.
It’s nothing new to talk about how the wines of Chablis are “alive” and “seductive,” but the different cuvees of Duplessis are a masterclass in those concepts, at perhaps the best quality-to-price ratio in the region. They’re wines you can sit with for hours, watching them shapeshift and bloom. Maybe the first sip is a bright spark; twenty minutes later that bright spark evolves into a waft of powdery gardenia. The powdery gardenia turns into a delicate hint of lemon curd, and twenty minutes after that gradually fades away to a wisp of marshmallow. Time seems to stop with these wines, or at least slow way down.
One of Lilian’s personal favorite crus, the “Fourchaume” is for the cerebral types. A little shy at first, but well worth hanging around for it, the Fourchaume is a complicated wine. The wines are flinty, mineral-driven, and don’t mess around. The 2016 and 2018 vintages are both years of extremes. 2016 was one of Chablis’ most difficult years as a region in recent memory and 2018 is currently considered “a vintage for the ages.” This pack is a testament to Lilian Duplessis’ talents at this very special site.
Montmains produces the most powerful wine in the entire domaine, and is considered Lilian’s signature cru. The wines of Montmains are almost flamboyant, with tons of powdered gardenia, whirls of delicate lemon curd, and even a little bit of baby petrichor in younger years. Observe the journey through the beauty wrought from the devastating hailstorms of 2016 to 2017, a year of intensity, with bone-chilling frosts mixed with plenty of sunshine. And 2018 is considered one of the most monumental vintages of the region, producing a wine well worth hanging onto for a bit.
One way to tell if a vigneron is talented: taste the same wine back to back, one from one of the region’s most notoriously tough years and one from one of its greatest. The 2016 Montmains and 2018 Montmains are radically different, but like puzzle pieces, they fit together perfectly.
2016 was the year Chablis was plagued with horrendous hailstorms, and yet Lilian Duplessis was still able to masterfully craft an elegant Chablis that will actually make you stop and wonder, “wow did this happen?” It’s a charmingly defiant act of nature. Who would have known this gentle wine was made during a year when literal chunks of ice were falling from the sky? This delicious contradiction is a dainty hand in white garden gloves, shaking its fist up at angry, blackened clouds overhead.
Conversely, 2018 was considered one of the greatest vintages of all time, and this wine is a force to be reckoned with. An incredibly powerful Chablis that requires some time to fully express itself - but trust us, it’s definitely worth the wait. This is one of those wines where after tasting it, you will write expletives in all caps in your tasting notes.This crystalline brilliance has one heck of a story to tell, and it goes on and on and on…you can either drink now or let it hang for ten years or more.
Vaillons is sourced from four parcels: Minot, Epinottes, Séchet, and Chatain. Definitely the “glamour queen” of the bunch, the Vaillons wines are the most decadent of the offerings, with their flavorful fruit-driven characteristics. This triptych begins with the sunny, friendly 2015 vintage, followed by the real doozy that was 2016. Like the best winemakers, Lilian was able to really show his stuff during that challenging year, and make truly tremendous wine amidst adversity. The pack culminates with the 2017, an enigma of a vintage with extreme weather patterns of heavy frosts and plenty of sun.
Experience grace under pressure. The fruit-driven wines from the four parcels of Vaillons have been called “exotic,” “luxurious,” and “satiny.” Now take those qualities and put them under extreme weather conditions like frost and hail. Both 2016 and 2017 had their own challenges, with 2017 being a bit more of a forgiving year. After winter’s destructive frosts came eventual sunshine. A vertical pack that’s perfect for those who love happy endings.
The baby of the Premier Crus, wines from Vaugiraut are unique. They are the only wines in Lilian’s entire portfolio that he believes don’t need to be raised in wood. There’s a sprightly, ready-to-drink, green apple goodness in this open and friendly cuvee. Interestingly enough, these wines have an impressively long finish for being aged in stainless steel. Vaugirault is a silvery, steely wine during 2017 - a rollercoaster ride of a year - and picture-perfect from breezy 2018.
Written by Cynthia Mersten, from her patio in Los Angeles.