I used to go to dinner at a friend’s house and before the meal we would do a blind tasting.
Every time, It would either be a bottle of Macon or Guy Roulot’s Bourgogne Blanc. Whichever it was, it was always delicious, and my friend who was working for John Armit clearly knew what he was doing, the Bourgogne Blanc cost scarcely more than the Macon Village.
Unfortunately, those days are gone now and Jean-Marc Roulot is now very much a member of the ‘in-crowd’. When I mentioned to Jean-Marc that his Bourgogne Blanc was now circa £60 with all taxes paid in the UK, he looked rather downcast. He certainly hasn’t changed his pricing much.
But with this new-fame and pricing have come murmurs that his wines wear more of a vinification signature then a terroir one. That they are picked too early, and that they don’t age very well.
So, it was a great opportunity to try a wide range of vintages, spend an absolute bloody fortune, and talk to the man himself at Michael Sager’s Paradise Row restaurant last Sunday.
1990 Meursault Vireuils
Attractive but fading a bit. Bruised apple, slightly tropical. Very nice complexity, but probably should have been drunk 5 years or so ago.
1996 Meursault 1er Perrieres
The wine of the evening I think – In a wonderful place maturity wise. Very mineral inflected. No hurry to drink.
2001 Meursault 1er Perrieres
Very good, but perhaps lacking the maturity and overall length of the 96
2007 Meursault Tillets
Probably one of the wines we caught most at its peak. Very, very good.
2009 Meursault 1er Perrieres
A great wine for sure, but not one that sparked the fireworks you might expect. A touch tropical, nice length, but maybe caught a bit between youth and maturity.
2010 Monthelie Blanc
Not quite right, developing much quicker than you would expect.
Perhaps a bad bottle.
2010 Bourgogne Blanc
Very youthful and displaying the classic Roulot style.
2013 Meursault Tessons Clos de Mon Plasir
Showing really well, a sort of weightless style, really nice minerality and really very drinkable.
2014 Meursault 1er Perrieres
So tightly coiled, I’m not sure why this was poured to be honest. But will be a great wine. In passing, JM told us that his favourite vintages were 2007, 2014 and 1996.
There is clearly a house style at Roulot, and one that shares similarities with producers like PYCM and Henri Boillot. There is that green-apple, high-extract and strong sense of minerality that make the wines quite identifiable. With age the character moves into the background a little. But how much you like the wines I suppose depends on how much you like that style.
He’s doing his thing and like the wines or not, making wines as good as this is not just a matter of picking early. I think he gets unfairly maligned as if that’s all you need to do to make this style of wine. It’s not that easy unfortunately.
I also think that his wines are more compressed quality wise then some other producers. By that I mean, the difference between his entry level Bourgogne and his top wine, Perrieres, is relatively less then, say Leflaive (although they have grand crus) So – for me, the value lies in the Meursault village and the village lieux-dits.
From this tasting, we found the wines certainly do age well, or at least the ones we tried. And they put on beautiful extra complexity.
I feel for Jean-Marc. He was telling me how he wanted to print his ex-cellar prices on the bottles. He doesn’t want his Bourgogne Blanc to sell at £60 – Not when he’s releasing it at about 12 Euros. His wish is for the wines to be drunk and shared at fair prices, not traded and turned into status symbols, and you can sense his unease about where the market is placing his wines.
He gets the downside – people say his wines are too expensive, but none of the upside of making more money.
I really like the man, there is a real sense of honesty that comes through when you talk to him. He seems self-aware enough to be sanguine about his journey into the group of ‘star’ producers of Meursault. It ain’t always blessed.
The kind people at Westury Communication, who have over the years, done such a fine job promoting the wines of Beaujolais in the UK, smartly arranged to scoop up the remains the samples from a comprehensive World of Fine Wine tasting and taxi them out of central London to a tasting of thirsty gamayphiles.
2015 has always been such an extreme vintage, this was a great chance to try all of the wines together.
Well, all except for Morgon. I was about to move onto that flight, when I realised I was 30 mins late for a meeting so I had to shoot out of the door. What a shame, as there is so much winemaking talent in Morgon. So, no notes on Foillard, Lapierre, etc. Guess I’ll have to buy a copy of the World of Fine Wine for those.
A very heterogenous vintage. The wines can tend towards the extreme. There are some great wines, and some stinkers. 2014 is much more classical, consistant, and to my taste superior. Alcohol levels range from 13.5% to 14.8%. Whether a Beaujolais should be nearly 15% is up for discussion.
It’s a vintage where tannins and structure are very pronounced. The warm weather and thick skins have made wine that look like they will age very well indeed.
The wines are showing more stability in bottle then they did en cuvee. Last year I spoke to many French importers who were concerned about high levels of VA in the wines, I didn’t detect much in this tasting.
There were rather a lot of wines, so in the interest of brevity, I’m going to cut out the middle and focus on the best and worst, to seek / avoid accordingly.
2015 Fleurie Anne-Sophie Dubois + 4
A new producer to me, and one I gazed lovingly at. A little toasty, but just a great structure and juicy character. Available from The Winery. A name, I’ll be looking out for in the future.
2015 Fleurie Julian Sunier +4
Sunier is one of the most accomplanished vignerons, and his wines have showed constant improvement since his first vintage (10?) – Gently toasty, more subtle than his brother’s version. Very seamless and cool.
2015 Cote-de-Brouilly Domaine Joncy +3
A new name to me, a bit reduced to begin with, but opens up to clear, deep and complex cherry notes.
2015 Regnie Guy Breton: +3
13.5% very nicely integrated, stylish and silky.
Cote-de-Brouilly Chateau Thivin +2
Not showy, but really nicely balanced, very classy wine that should age very well indeed.
2015 Brouilly Domaine Rochette + 2
At 14.5%, one of the more beefy wines, but bear’s it’s high alcohol well.
2015 St-Amour Chrisophe Pacalet +1
Honourable mention as these are very well priced wines from an appellation still in the grip of the big negociants. This tastes like Punt-e-Mes, which if you like Punt-e-Mes, is great.
2015 Brouilly Lapalu -3
Really pretty horrible, unbalanced, tasting both under and over-ripe and generally pretty unpleasant –
2015 Fleurie Chateau du Chatelard -5
Like a drunk departing a nightclub, this staggers all over the place and leaves an unpleasant taste in the air. Taxi!
Anything by Louis Tete. Why was I tasting their wines when I could have been on the Morgon flight. Sad!
I overheard many conversations that started like this when I was working with Paul. I would thank the lord I wasn’t the person trying to move a case of Champagne to a client in Barcelona the next morning. It’s not easy.
And when complications happened, as they always do, he was there to agitate, push along, and make sure the customer got what they wanted, when they wanted it.
Now I don’t know who’s going to deliver that uncompromising service because Paul has left Roberson Wine for new horizons.
We duly battled our way through the freezing London cold to Noble Rot restaurant, so we could drink some wine and toast his departure.
1996 Pouilly-Fume ‘Baron de L’ Ladoucette
One of mine. Strangely, it seems 1996 Pouilly-Fume is not as popular in the general marketplace as I thought. I just remembered a 1981 bottle of Baron de L I had a few years back that was super. The wines stay so fresh and age incredibly. This was lovely.
2012 Bourgogne Blanc Pierre Morey
Very nice, clearly outperforming village wine. Super stuff.
1995 Madiran Montus Prestige
Montus is always lovely, and always seems to be about 2 years from it’s peak, whatever vintage you’re drinking.
1983 Hermitage La Chapelle Jaboulet
I’ve a big soft spot for early 80s La Chapelle, and loved the 1980 and 1982, but this was a little too open-knit for me. Very soft, very nice, but a bit more stuffing would have improved things.
1999 Matriarch Bond
Didn’t try as at the other end of the table. Smelled oaky though..
2007 Nuits-St-George 1er Clos de la Marechale JF Mugnier
This is a much superior wine to the 2005 and 2006, in my opinion. Really soft and elegant. Think he must be turning the vineyard around. A long way away from the sturdy, rustic wines of Francois Faiverley.
2014 Sancerre Mont-Damnee Francoise Cotat
Effortlessly good, you could drink this all night.
1991 Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude Graillot
The open-knit nature of the La Chapelle as really put into focus by the superiority of this excellent wine. Roasted, smokey flavour. Perfect now.
I’ve a soft-spot for this vintage, I think the wines are really easy-going, very good value and appealing. This was great. Not one for the ages, but enjoyed.
With those duly dispatched, we bid Paul good luck and watched him tap-dance into the night.
As I finalised my order last week, taking wines from the cellar of a winery that are never going to be replenished, I thought about scarcity, and just what happens when a wine region simply runs out of wine.
Usually, it’s not a problem, as older vintages disappear, the constant stream of new ones starts the cycle again. Prices go up, prompting new players in the market, or they fall and the region suffers.
In Colares, a tiny wine region on the far west, windy and wild edge of Portugal faces a different problem. The vines dug deep into the sand, that have resisted phylloxera, face a much more ruthless existential threat. Property developers.
The cost, both financial and physical of cultivating these ancient vines, ageing the wines and selling them just became more and more difficult, and although the old-timers persevered, producing great vintages and remaining true to the classic style, when they reached retirement, there was simply no-one to take over, so one by one, the vineyards got sold off to the much more lucrative business of holiday homes for wealthy Lisboans.
Now, the entire production is about the same as that of Clos Vougeot, less then twenty times what it was at it’s peak when it was regarded as Portugal’s Bordeaux for its ability to create very long lived, pale, intellectual wines.
I think there are many ways to evaluate wines, and we do ourselves a disservice if we remove the cultural context from what’s in the glass. For me, it’s what endlessly draws me back to wine, the complex, ever shifting relationship to the structures that created it. Which is why, as much as I love the taste of these old soldiers from Colares, the rise and fall off the place that gave birth to them, is every bit as compelling and well worth thinking over as one sips the salty, fresh Ramisco that like the contents of your glass is slowly fading away.
Looking towards the future, the production seems to have steadied over the last ten years. The reaming producers, Adega Regional, Viuva Gomes, Paulo da Silva-Chitas and Fundação have been making efforts to expand a little but production will probably continue to be pretty miniscule. I wish them luck.