Le Roi Chambertin Tasting
Gevrey-Chambertin 2012s, tasting in November 2013 in Gevrey
Luckily, what they decided to do instead was to move it forward by a day, to the Thursday evening, and to hold it in Gevrey-Chambertin rather than Beaune, followed by a Paulée-style dinner. The results, I can attest, were highly enjoyable for all involved. This year, 44 of the village’s producers showcased around 120 wines from the 2012 vintage. We were able to get an overview of all nine Grand Crus, 26 Premier Crus and numerous village wines, a year into their ageing process. I loved having the tasting arranged by climats – so all the 1er/grands crus etc from each climat together on one table with all the producers, not arranged by producers showing all their wines on one table. Really useful!
It’s worth pointing out that, besides being one of the oldest vineyard sites in the region, Gevrey is also the largest wine-producing village on the Côtes de Nuits, and both prices and styles vary far more than a smaller appellation such as, for example, Chambolle. It’s why these kind of wide-ranging tastings are so helpful if you are trying to get a feel for the wines, and which names to go for. There are climats here that almost approach Clos du Vougeot for the number of different producers making wines from them – Charmes-Chambertin, for example, is 28.97 hectares and has over 40 producers, while Clos de Beze has 14.67 hecatres and 18 producers.
Gevrey is famous for its ageing, for its structure and tannins in its youth (adding even more weight to the argument of showing its wines a year into the ageing process), but for me the key to the best ones is a softness behind the power, a velvety texture that cuts through the tannins and offers a subtlety that was most marked for me in Armand Rousseau’s Clos de Beze 2010, that I tasted at the estate in May of this year. A good Gevrey needs structure and power, but isn’t afraid of being immediately appealing. Some I felt were over-marked by oak, even allowing for the fact that during ageing there are bound to be moments when that happens. There was also a lot of reduction – entirely normal at this stage in the evolution, especially for wines that are being aged on the lees. The right kind of reduction will clear, and can even be a positive sign in a young wine. The wrong kind of oak less so.
Overall it was a great tasting, fascinating to see the evolution of what was at times a difficult vintage, if overpowering in the number of wines. But that's the nature of Burgundy, where no cellar visit seems to offer less than a dozen different samples! And I would say that although there is going to be some selection needed, the best 2012s look like they are shaping up to be rather fine.
Lots of these wines would be a pleasure to own, but talk throughout the evening kept returning to prices. Even Burgundy passe-tout-grains has been going up 30% in price over the past six months, so imagine how much these will have risen by the time they are bottled (especially as the 2012 vintage was 25-30% down in volume from 2011). Sadly, many of us were tasting wines that we won’t be able to buy.
As you would expect, some ups and downs in quality. Some of the highlights for me:
Geantet-Pansiot Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes – enjoyable sweetness to the fruit, a medium-term drinker that will offer real pleasure.
Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes, real persistency, a wine with ambition but one that wears it lightly.
Jean-Michel Guillon Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes - a structured, more masculine nose, and grips you right from the off. Like this very much, gorgeous nuances of charred cherry, still bright and en primeur, raspberries, woodsmoke, great persistency.
Domaine Philippe Livera En Champs Reserve Vielles Vignes, good mouth watering, clean fruit, rises vertically, good acidity, not immediately grabbing, but sits and develops well.
Less enjoyable on the village wines front for me was the rather tart Les Croisettes from Domaine Jerome Galeyrand, and the underwhelming Chateau de Marsannay Vielles Vignes. I was also a little disappointed by Pierre Labet and Hermand-Geoffroy Vieilles Vignes.
For me, Les Champeaux was the one to go for on the night. I found Domaine Maume a little tighter and more clearly marked with oak than I have in previous years, and was interested to find that it has a new winemaker (albeit a legendary one - Pascal Marchand). Definitely one to give a good long ageing window before uncorking. Easier to approach at this stage was Les Champaux Domaine Philippe Naddef 2012 (vinified by Arnaud Mortet). It has a bumpy entry, but softens and smooths. Even better was Les Champeaux Domaine Denis Mortet 2012. Vinified by Arnaud Mortet, Denis’ son, this is just a lovely wine, great flavours here, floral and elegant, mid-weight but with good persistency that builds in complexity as you sit with it. Love this in fact, one of my wines of the tasting.
Worth looking out for also Heresztyn Mazzini, Les Goulots 1er Cru. A nasty modern label, but the nose is attractive, and the palate – once the touch of brett cleared – is rich and well fruited. I was also very impressed by the monopole Domaine des Varoilles, Gevrey-Chambertin La Romanee 1er Cru. Very smoky at the end, lovely flavours, this is distinctive with medium weight charred redcurrants, and a flinty edge that pulls the wine into line.
Also worth mentioning is Domaine Denis Mortet’s Lavaux Saint Jacques 1er Cru. It has a touch of reduction on the nose, definitely needs to be swirled and open (his father was known for using 100% new oak from Francois Freres cooperage, and I am guessing this policy is being continued). But the fruit comes through confidently on the palate, and again underlined for me just what good work is going on at this property.
The nine are Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Beze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin/Mazoyeres-Chambertin (most Mazoyeres is labeled Charmes), Griotte-Chambertin, Latricieres Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin and Ruchottes-Chambertin. I have focused here on the ones I found particularly interesting (and I may well have missed some – there were well over 100 wines at the tasting, and I did not attack them all).
Chateau de Marsannay Ruchottes Chambertin 2012
I have not been hugely bowled over by any of the Chateau de Marsannay wines in this line-up this evening, although certainly here you can feel that spiraling, floral-tinged fruit taking flight, and it is charming.
Charmes is a big grand cru, and includes some Mazoyeres-Chambertins who bottle under their neighbours name, so quality is not always as stable as the prices might suggest, but when they’re good, they’re very very good. My favourites was Domaine de Varoilles, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012. Just love this. Here have some real liquorice and fresh raspberry expression with that texture of almost crunchy fruit, feels very taut, real terroir expression, barely get the oak. Frederic Mangien Charmes Chambertin 2012 also impressed me, although more for its Burgundian typicity, lovely not rustic but honest feel, medium-weight, good pinot expression. Two others that I enjoyed were Réné Bouvier Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2012 (again on a touch of reduction on the nose, these are almost certainly still on the lees, but again hugely promising. Really like this, it unfurls nicely) and Domaine Humbert Freres Charmes Chambertin GC 2012 (understated, appellation conscious, but with an appeal that should see relatively early drinking compared to some others in this line-up. Flattering).
Less impressive was Domaine Perrot Minot Charmes Chambertin 2012, which had a good attack, but veered off into slightly ‘sour mouse’ territory for me, suggesting a bacterial issue. Christophe Perot-Minot is a practisioner of non-interventionist winemaking, and I’d love to taste more of these at the estate, as this may simply have been a bottle problem.
Very different flavour profile from charmes chambertin, much tighter, more masculine, acidity higher, blacker fruit, imagine if you want ageing, here you are. This comes from the colder terroir of this Grand Cru. I really enjoyed the three of these that I tasted Domaine Harmand Geoffroy Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru 2012, Domaine Jean Michel Guillon et Fils Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru 2012 (a tight, angular expression of Gevrey, barely budging from its youth). My favourite, hands down, was Domaine Tortochot Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru 2012 (tasting note, word for word: Mmmm, this is gorgeous, has a wonderfully earthy, sensual immediacy to it that reminds you how bloody tasty good pinot can be, and also builds slowly in your mouth. A really great terroir wine, one in the eye for the super smooth versions).
Later this evening, after the tasting, I would have a Latricieres Chambertin from Trapet Rossignol 2002 that was mind-blowingly good, can’t emphasise enough how you should all try to get hold of this wine (it’s not cheap, so think of it as a Christmas present to yourself). Among the 2012s, I only tasted two, and they were very different in style. First up Domaine Chantal Remy Latricieres Chambertin 2012, which was majored more on soft red fruit and delicate white pepper spices, highly perfumed, light on oak influence, and then Domaine Trapet Latricieres Chambertin 2012, which could not have been more different; tight, oaked, not liqourice but tar, fruit is far from being the dominant flavour characteristic here. These have a very clear house style that for me overtakes the terroir at this early stage, but they often develop into explosive, highly-sought after bottles that can be among the most expensive in Gevrey. The family have described their 1904 vintage (on a recent tasting) as ‘so dense, so powerful but also so fragile that it makes us believe in immortality’. Would love to track this bottle in 2112, but not sure I’ll be around to do so.
CHAMBERTIN GRAND CRU
Again, it was the Domaine Tortochot Chambertin Grand Cru 2012 that got me the most excited This lives up to billing, sweet, seductive, totally thrilling, great persistency, clearly young but already singing. The Trapet Chambertin GC 2012 again had that tight, curled, poised delivery that spoke of a very very young wine, hugely interesting, a herbal undertone, this was barely starting out, even a year after harvest.
Domaine Chantal Remy Chambertin 2012, as with her Latricieres, was more in the style of elegance, younger drinking, heady fragrance and delicate redcurrant low-hanging fruits. The Rossignol-Trapet Chambertin GC 2012 had some reduction interfering with the flavours, but after some serious air time the fruit came bouncing through, clinging to the glass, dark colour in spectrum. A beauty, that is going to be utterly delicious in eight to ten years.
The least successful of these amazing Chambertins for me was Pierre Damoy Chambertin 2012, the only one where I felt the oak was really too intrusive. Pierre Gelin Chambertin was softer, more delicate, but still not my favourite.
CHAMBERTIN CLOS DE BEZE
‘The other truly great Grand Cru (and the only wine allowed to put the Chambertin name before, rather than after, its own). Often a little less powerful than Chambertin, as you can see with the beautiful Bruno Clair Clos de Beze 2012. Just get ready to drink in the nose – it is perfumed, nuanced, delicate, deceptively so when you get to the power that pushes through on the palate, love it. The definition of sexy Burgundy.
Just in case this tasting wasn’t unbelievable enough, Gevrey shipped in a few of their favourite producers from Cote Rotie (‘Because as syrah ages, it gets pinot-ised’ as we were told at the dinner later!!). These certainly took a moment to adjust to after the pinots, but this is one of my very favourite appellations in France (along with Cornas, Corton Charlemagne and Saint Julien, if you’re asking) and I was so happy to get a chance to taste a few of the 2012s.
Francois Villard, Le Galet Blanc 2012
This is ferocious after the Burgundy, we have coffee grounds, the purity and richness of syrah, feels genuinely ferocious after pinot noir. But such length, such towering verticality. Sit down, pull up a chair, get ready for a long night.
Yves Cuilleron, Cote Rotie Terres Sombres 2012
As with the Francois Villard, this is a wine that takes hold almost immediately – none of the stealing up for a kiss that you get with a delicate Burgundy, this is all about power. It is still deep, textured, grabbing you physically, an unquestionably urgent wine at this young stage of its life.
JM Gerin Cote Rotie 2012
Reduction on the nose, but on the palate we have again all that you look for in a young northern Rhone, brute physicality with a sense of knowing where to stop. This is why wines were Hermitaged in the 19c. A long life ahead of this one – but it’s easy to miss the fact that, after the first moment of syrah joie de vivre, you get a more delicate, floral-teased aftertaste. This is why syrah gets pinot-ised as it ages, because syrah has an elegance to it when grown in the northern Rhone. Beautiful.
La Barbarine Cote Rotie 2012
My least favourite, here I have a puckering, over-powering eugenol (cloves) on the oak, not so subtle as the others. I need a little water, a little air, after this one.
The organizers of Le Roi Chambertin could be forgiven for having had a wobble last year. November 2012 was the second time that they had held a tasting of their 'en primeur' wines a year on from the harvest (instead of the more usual Burgundy timing of a few months after harvest, when many are still undergoing malolactic fermentation). The change had been voted for by over 80% of the producers in the syndicate, and they were showcasing the 2011 wines in Beaune, the Friday of the Hospices de Beaune auction weekend. Clearly minds were elsewhere, as a pretty measly handful of journalists turned up, and the number of wines showcased had taken a vertiginous drop from the same event the year before – 59 down from 83. The organizers seriously questioned whether to hold the tasting again.