Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

Tastings at Four Burgundy Domaines

October 2019. It’s not very far from England to Burgundy, compared to many European wine regions. But it’s a fair distance if you’re only going to visit four domaines. But when the domaines are those of Comte de Vogüé, Dujac, Rousseau, and Leflaive then – to quote the Michelin Guide – it’s “worth a special journey”.

 

But first a short stay in Dijon, whose major attractions include some wonderful mediaeval buildings, not least those in the glorious Rue de la Verrerie and Rue des Forges; the Musée des Beaux Arts; and the Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne.

 

Another is the William Frachot restaurant, which more than merits its two Michelin stars. A set menu there featured four dishes, full of flavour and light as a feather. First, plump white asparagus, cooked to perfection, with salad. The sommelier recommended a dry Vouvray with this, from that great domaine, Clos Naudin. An inspired choice. Then a delicate pike-perch (sandre) with just the kind of delicate sauce to emphasize its flavour, followed by tender and succulent lamb. With the latter, a sumptuous 2014 Saint Joseph Rouge from Domaine Gonon.

 

Now, on to the domaines.

 

DOMAINE DUJAC

 

We were received by the vivacious Diana, wife of Jeremy, who’s the eldest the three sons of owners Jacques and Rosalind Seysses. Diana is a trained oenologist from California and is involved in the wine-making at the Domaine.

 

2017 MOREY SAINT DENIS BLANC

This pale, bright wine has a crisp, incisive aroma hinting at apricot and honey, leading into a lean, lively flavour with a sustained finish. As always, very mineral, with hints of magnesium (or something like it).

 

 

2017 MOREY SAINT DENIS 1ER CRU MONTS LUISANTS BLANC

Also pale but richer in colour, with an altogether fuller aroma that conjures up apricot and lemon curd. It’s a lovely lush scent, faintly lactic, and very expressive even at this early stage, with pronounced minerality. Though aerial, it shows both body and structure on the palate, with a sustained, distinctly mineral finish. One of the best I’ve ever sampled.

 

2017 MOREY SAINT DENIS ROUGE

A vivid crimson purple, this emits a glossy scent of raspberry, wild strawberry, and blackcurrant. It’s in a light mode but (having tasted several vintages of this at their peak) I’m sure it will fill out and grow rounder. Because of its winning charm many will be tempted to drink it right away. A mistake, if you value wines when at their most expressive. In fact, it will improve for 4–5 years at least (the not-dissimilar 2014 is only just peaking).

 

2017 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU COMBOTTES

The colour is richer, likewise the aroma of black cherry, blood orange, and blackcurrant leaf, replete with Gevrey assertiveness. Ample Pinot Noir fruit on the palate, which shows both depth and structure. The tannins on the persistent aftertaste are of the ripe kind. Very good.

 

2017 CLOS DE LA ROCHE

Being a Grand Cru, it’s fuller on both nose and palate, its masterful aroma suggesting pomegranate and blood orange. In the mouth a lovely texture, with ample, slightly savage Pinot Noir fruit, which is very persistent. The slightly oaky dryness on the protracted finish should fade away in time, to reveal a wine of excellent balance. A shame to broach it in less than 8-10 years.

 

2017 CLOS SAINT DENIS

The velvety aroma is quite lovely: sweet bilberry with violet in the ascendant. The flavour is round and luscious, with a reprise of the bilberry. The flavour continues to develop on the palate, the long aftertaste promising ever-increasing complexity. Like many young wines of real depth, it shuts down after a few moments but without masking its innate excellence, clearly needing several years to unfold its full splendour.

 

2017 CHARMES CHAMBERTIN

Intensely coloured, this gives off a gorgeous aroma, round and lush with innate nobility, which quickly morphs into a dense blackberry flavour that grows denser by the second. A wine with lots of promise – a Charmes that’s not only seductive but with rigour too.

 

2017 BONNES MARES

The nose, as befits this powerhouse of a Grand Cru, is both intense and buoyant, very redolent of lingonberry (similar to cranberry but more complex). Lots of energy on the palate, with ample volume and much depth of flavour. All of a piece and destined for long life.

 

1996 BONNES MARES

At 23 years, this has the evolved look of a great wine approaching full maturity – garnet with an indian-red tinge. The bouquet is subtle and refined, plum and sweet prune in the ascendant, and with hints of almond. Cocoa enters into the palate as the aftertaste expands to give full expression to its manifold attributes, with something distinctly ferrous on the finish.

 

 

DOMAINE COMTE GEORGES DE VOGÜÉ

 

This great domaine, holder of the lion’s share of Grand Cru Musigny, was founded in 1450 and has been family-owned ever since (even during the French revolution). Unlike neighbouring communes such as Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny possesses only two Grands Crus – Musigny and Bonnes Mares – yet the first of that pair is regarded by many as the greatest of all red Burgundies. Few would deny it has the most finesse. However Chambolle’s most prestigious Premier Cru “Les Amoureuses” is regarded as a de facto Grand Cru and commands prices to match.

 

I’m received by Francois Millet, who has been making the de Vogüé wines ever since 1986. I’ve tasted at least 25 vintages with him, including those very 1986s. I know of no winemaker closer to his wines than Francois, who speaks about each of the wines the way loving parents speak about their children. More fancifully, he prompts thoughts of a mediaeval monk working, with total dedication, on sumptuous illuminated manuscripts, regardless of the vicissitudes of life around him.

 

He imparts a vital piece of information before we start to taste. “The malo [malolactic fermentation] hasn’t occurred yet. As you know, I like to postpone it as long as possible, so we have to make sure the temperature inside the chai is very low, to stop it starting up too soon. For that reason in this vintage, 2018, we had to drop the temperature in the cellar to only plus 5 degrees Centigrade!”.

 

(The malolactic fermentation normally follows the alcoholic one, and causes the wine’s powerful malic acidity to be transformed into mild lactic acid, resulting in a rounder, fuller, more stable wine; most reds go through this process, but some producers of whites prefer to retain that sharper acidity.)

 

Knowing that the malo hasn’t occurred is an essential piece of information. Such wines have a sharper cutting edge, due to the almost ferocious type of acidity with which they are infused. The experienced taster therefore has to make allowance for this state of affairs. Where he or she fails to do so, the wine could be judged overly acidic. The challenge is to divine how the wines will taste when the process has been completed.

 

I’m instantly struck by the extraordinary colour of all five of the wines we taste: a blackish blue-purple so deep as to be almost opaque: a pigment more typical of the Syrah grape than of the Pinot Noir. Francois himself declares: “This is the deepest colour I’ve ever seen!” He added: “We had some drought, and not a lot of juice. The berries had very thick skins.”

 

2018 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY

Nearly black, it gives off wafts of violet and bilberry liqueur, with a distinctly saline accent. Though very juicy it’s also noticeably tannic and may stay closed up for quite some time. Will probably need a decade to round out. It may stay a bit harsh.

 

2018 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY PREMIER CRU (made entirely from young vines – 10 to 25 years – from the great Grand Cru Musigny vineyard).

Similar in colour, this smells like a meld of black fruits and berries, with elderberry to the fore and with hints of liquorice. It’s a broad, noble aroma, swiftly expanding to include damson and blackcurrant. It’s distinctly mineral and very long, clearly needing at least a dozen years to open up. It should live a further decade or more.

 

2018 CHAMBOLLE MUSIGNY 1ER CRU LES AMOUREUSES

 

The nose has a denseness and voluptuousness reminiscent of a Vosne Romanée. Crème de myrtille is the dominant scent and, as with the Chambolle, there’s a touch of salinity. It’s fresh and vital on the palate, with seductively juicy Pinot Noir fruit. The markedly fresh aftertaste is stippled with fine tannins. A wine with great lift, which should astonish in 15-25 years’ time.

 

2018 BONNES MARES

This Grand Cru is always the least Chambolle-like of the domaine’s wines, being naturally beefy and assertive. It’s even blacker than the preceding wines, its nose suggesting crème de cassis, blackberry, peony, and liquorice. The aftertaste is forceful but harmonious, with lots of what the French call matière. A 40-year wine for sure.

 

2018 MUSIGNY

The aroma is simply huge, yet with underlying subtlety, sending off wafts of black cherry, purple rose, and bilberry liqueur. As usual, it’s more precise, with more lift, than the Bonnes Mares, with a more nuanced aftertaste. There’s a pronounced juiciness, an intense succulence, to this wine, with a surge of pomegranate on a finish, which, though closed up, nonetheless sends out multiple clues, both aromatic and savoury, pointing to future greatness. Though untypical in one sense – richer, fuller, denser than normal at this stage – it nonetheless exhibits all the classic Musigny traits, most notably finesse – or rather an unmistakeable promise thereof. It will evolve over several decades.

 

 

DOMAINE LEFLAIVE

 

Tasting with Brice de la Morindiere and wine maker Pierre Vincent.

 

2017 PULIGNY MONTRACHET

Any good “village” Puligny from Leflaive will impress; but this could easily pass for a Premier Cru. It exhales a composite scent of orange, apricot, and honey, with an aftertaste suffused with fine minerality.

Many restaurants will list this the moment they get their hands on it. The wise collector, by contrast, will make sure to follow its development over the coming 5-8 years.

 

2017 MEURSAULT “DOS D’ANE”

A bright yellow, it has a full, fleshy aroma, with a clayey accent behind the succulent Meursault flavour. It has ”presence” and a degree of body but, being temporarily closed up, it doesn’t reveal a great deal about itself on the day other than that it’s clearly well constituted.

 

2017 PULIGNY 1ER CRU CLAVOILLON

Clavoillon has heavy red soil and the wine used to be a bit rustic. Anne-Claude Leflaive converted to biodynamic methods a couple of decades ago and this gave the wine an altogether shapelier and more elegant structure, as witness the ’17 being both facetted and weighty but without ponderousness. Aromatic suggestions include orange and orange peel, honey, and russet apple. Very promising.

 

2017 PULIGNY 1ER CRU FOLATIÈRES

The aroma is more refined – chiselled as the French say – and quite different in mode: white peach, honey, orange. Very precise on the palate, with the sort of contours and intricacies that could have been designed by a great artist. Long finish. Should develop beautifully.

 

2017 PULIGNY 1ER CRU COMBETTES

The nose is firm and full, suggesting apricot and honey. It presages a wine that’s round and sumptuous. That impression is confirmed by a full, almost chewy flavour that’s very expressive. Combettes is on the border of Meursault and often represents a fusion of Puligny minerality and Meursault succulence. That’s emphatically the case here.

 

2017 BIENVENUES BÂTARD MONTRACHET

The nose is firm and full, conjuring up apricot and honey. It’s a soaring, intense scent, very mineral, with great subtlety. BBM, entirely within Puligny, is one of the lighter white Grands Crus but has great tensile strength and much refinement. This shows in the incisive, precisely delineated flavour which is protracted and full of nuances. A great wine.

 

2017 BÂTARD MONTRACHET

As usual, this growth is fuller, richer, and more dynamic, its nose an enticing fusion of orange blossom, apricot, and honey, with a fugitive suggestion of fennel. As usual with this growth, it’s full and forceful on the palate, with ample viscosity, and is borne up by intense but harmonious orangey acidity.

 

2107 CHEVALIER MONTRACHET

Though generally lighter in constitution than the Bâtard, this superlative growth is usually poured after its weightier sibling because of its exceptional complexity and finesse. Lighter in constitution yes; but, as usual, it shows exceptional tensile strength on a lovely, sustained middle palate that leads into a finish, characterised by a tangerine-like intensity, fine minerality, and exceptional length.

 

Later, at table, we tasted 2002 Bienvenues Bâtard Montrachet and 1995 Chevalier Montrachet.

 

 

DOMAINE ARMAND ROUSSEAU

 

The lively and charming Cyrielle Rousseau told me that 2018 had been an early harvest at Domaine Rousseau too. “The first of September. Only seven days!” Earlier in the summer they’d carried out green harvest.

 

2018 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN

A clear purple, this “village” Gevrey had a fine grapy nose (plum, damson, and graphite) with ample tannins giving a gritty finish. Will need time.

 

2018 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1er CRU LAVAUX SAINT JACQUES

The “robe” is intense and the rich aroma conjures up wild cherry, raspberry, and cinnamon. The tannins make their presence felt but will surely recede in the years to come. Slight drag on the finish. Will round out in time (Rousseau is a genius, in very hot years, at avoiding greenness and rough tannins).

 

2018 CHARMES CHAMBERTIN

This lustrous wine possesses a noble, complex aroma suggestive of black cherry and damson, with something sloe-like emerging on the palate, which is both well-structured and harmonious. Very good. This growth, usually the first to open up, seems to grow in complexity as the years roll by (the 2012, still far short of maturity, is nonetheless lovely to drink already).

 

2018 CLOS DE LA ROCHE

A vivid blue-purple, this emits a typically firm, muscular scent of plum and plum-stone, blackberry, and cinnamon. Rich and concentrated in the mouth, it expands to include black cherry and raspberry notes. A forceful wine from neighbouring Morey Saint Denis, that will evolve over 2-3 decades at least. Excellent.

 

2018 2018 CLOS DES RUCHOTTES

A vivid purple, this gorgeous wine gives off a composite scent of lingonberry, blackberry, and damson. In the mouth, the sheer volume and expansiveness promised by the nose is delivered in full; the rich, concentrated aftertaste promises true splendour in time. This is confirmed on a finish that possesses all the elements (concentration, depth, minerality, fine tannins) required for greatness. Outstanding.

 

2018 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN 1ER CRU CLOS SAINT JACQUES

A Premier Cru that’s a de facto Grand Cru, it’s faintly lighter in colour than the Ruchottes. It has a lovely refined aroma that’s simultaneously floral (peony) and fruity : raspberry and cherry. The lovely flavour, packed with silky Pinot Noir fruit, is long and full of that most elusive of qualities, finesse. A fusion of intensity and harmony.

 

2018 CHAMBERTIN

Lustrous in appearance, this masterful wine is both complex and refined, the nose suggestive of cherry, plum, and peony. The flavour is streamlined, giving this Chambertin, in this vintage, an affinity with its sibling Clos de Bèze. This is confirmed in the mouth, with a multi-facetted flavour that leads into a finish of great length and complexity. Great.

 

2018 CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BÈZE

This is a bit harder to analyse because it’s still a bit sulphury, but one soon discerns a rich scent of pomegranate and ripe plum, with a damson note carrying an emphatic suggestion of solidity and weight. There’s a pronounced minerality on the finish that shows fresh nuances every few seconds.

 

© Frank Ward 2019

 

 
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