I attended a wine tasting in a retail store — Great Wines and Spirits — in Memphis two nights ago, and while that event may not seem worth celebrating in some other states and cities across The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, it marked a significant change hereabouts. The state legislature recently passed a bill that permitted, for the first time, retail stores to offer customers samples of wine inside the establishments, beginning in July. Yes, friends, Tennessee grew up a little bit today. Now if we could catch up to some other parts of the country where Higher Civilization is represented by the fact that wine and liquor stores can also sell corkscrews and glasses and selections of appropriate food items. That may take a while though. Even longer to accomplish will be grocery-store wine sales. Year after year polls reveal that a majority of Tennesseans desire wine in grocery stores, but the legislature will not be persuaded; too many special interests are arrayed against the notion.
Anyway, this was a great way to begin wine-store tasting in Memphis because the featured wines at this event were four pinot noirs and two chardonnays from the Domaine de la Vougeraie. What was extraordinary, aside from the high quality of the wines, was the fact that four of them were from the 2006 vintage and two from 2003; current releases on the market are the 2009s and ’08s. (Domaine image, much cropped, from jockovino.com)
Jean-Claude Boisset founded his negociant firm in Burgundy in 1961, at the advanced age of 18. He and his wife Claudine purchased their first vineyard, Les Evocelles in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1964, and from that point there was, apparently, no going back. In 1980, the family launched Boisset Family Estates, now the third largest supplier of wine in France. Run by Jean-Claude and Claudine’s son, Jean-Charles Boisset, the company has seen huge expansion over the past 20 years, including in California, where it owns DeLoach, Raymond and Lyeth, among other properties. The most recent acquisition, in April 2011, was Buena Vista Carneros, a descendent of California’s oldest winery, founded in 1857.
Our concern, however, is Domaine de la Vougeraie, founded in 1999 by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie (pictured here); founded in the sense of producing a first vintage of wines. Actually the brother and sister had spent a decade consolidating all the family’s superb vineyards or parcels of vineyards in Burgundy — about 86 hectares or 221 acres — under the name and operation of one domaine named for their parents’ home. The vineyards, many of which harbor very old vines, are farmed organically or increasingly along biodynamic principles. For the Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines, indigenous yeast is allowed to start fermentation. New oak is employed judiciously or not at all. Winemaker is Pierre Vincent, who in 2006 replaced Pascal Marchand, so it was Marchard’s wines we tasted.
If you’re used to drinking pinot noirs from California and Oregon — and yes many of those wines are fine indeed — these four pinots from Burgundy may seem alien to you. Whereas many West Coast pinots are often made from very ripe grapes, are deeply extracted for dark colors, heavy fruit flavors and tannins and see a lot of oak, these Burgundian models are delicate, cleanly layered, finely chiseled, elegant and yet intensely varietal. Of course one could cite differences in climate, geography and philosophy for such discrepancies, yet a pinot noir that looks, smells, tastes and feels like a syrah is a betrayal of the character of the grape.
The domaine’s website, by the way, is the best winery site I have ever seen in its thoroughness and attention to detail in describing its wines and how they are made.
Friends, I am but an ink-stain’d wretch and proud to be counted amongst that company, though the financial rewards are not great, especially in the freelance cadre. I do not, as you can imagine, actually buy wine often, but, yes, I dipped into the credit card zone and bought three bottles of these Domaine de la Vougeraie wines, one each of the Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006, the Beaune Blanc 2006 and Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. Here follow reviews of all six wines.
Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006. The chardonnay grapes for this wine derive from vines planted in 1989 and 1990, among the youngest in the domaine. The wine aged 10 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Lovely, lively; spiced pear and quince, touch of ginger and cloves, honeysuckle, acacia and — how to say this? — old-fashioned face powder. Smooth, supple, subtly earthy over a mantle of scintillating limestone; squinching acidity cuts a swath on the palate; citrus and pear flavors; gets deeper, spicier. A few minutes in the glass bring in lilac and a hint of mango and yellow plum. Incredibly fresh and inviting but with a slight tinge of smoky maturity. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Production was 457 cases. Excellent. About $50.
Beaune Blanc 2006. Just under two acres (.74 hectares) includes vines planted in 1973 and ’74 and vines planted in 1994 and ’95. The wine aged 14 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Wow, what a chardonnay, and what a great price (relatively speaking, n’est-ce pas?). Gorgeous pineapple-grapefruit strung across serious depths of stones and bones; cool and clean, yet seductively spicy, seemingly infused with Parmesan rind and bacon fat, cloves, quince marmalade and ginger scones, Bit O’ Honey; yet very dry, austere even, with swingeing acidity and a huge component of river rock and limestone; gets increasingly spicy and savory and floral; thoroughly compelling but a little daunting. Drink through 2015 or ’16 (well-stored, I mean). 13 percent alcohol. 290 cases. Excellent. About $50
Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. The vineyard is a hair under nine acres (3.46 hectares); the pinot noir grapes for this wine are drawn from several small parcels planted in 1964 and ’65 and 1985 and ’86. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. Here’s what we want from classic pinot noir: a pale but radiant ruby-brick red color with a hint of garnet at the rim; a delicate and impeccably knit congeries of dried red currants and plums, cloves and a touch of cola with a slight earthy/mossy/mushroomy cast; a supple, suave and satiny texture that entices the tongue while plangent acidity plows the palate; this is quite dry, a little brambly, slightly austere and woody on the finish, nothing that a roasted chicken wouldn’t cure. Drink through 2014 to ’15. 13 percent alcohol. 270 cases. Very Good+. About $50.
Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Corvée Paget Premier Cru 2006. From vines planted in 1987/’88, so fewer than 20 years old at harvest; the parcel is miniscule, about .85 acres (not much larger than my backyard). The wine aged 15 months in oak barrels, 50 percent new, though, interestingly, after 2006 this wine sees no new oak. Light ruby-mulberry color, faint blush of garnet; beautiful aromas of slightly spiced and macerated red cherries, red currants, mulberries and cloves, just a hint of smoke and cola; a few minutes swirling and sniffing unfold delicate tissues of plum pudding, fruitcake and roses; supple and satiny in the mouth, impeccable layering of red fruit flavors (including dried currants), vibrant acidity, a burgeoning spicy element and just a touch of briery, tannic austerity on the finish. Just freakin’ pretty. Drink through 2015 or ’16. 13 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Excellent. About $85.
Savigny-lès-Beaune Les Marconnets Premier Cru 2003. The name “Marconnets” is found on documents going back to the 13th Century. The vineyard parcel is about 4.7 acres and has been farmed on biodynamic principles since 2001. The wine aged 12 months in oak barrels, 45 percent new, but after 2006 will see no new oak. A beautiful but vivid faded ruby-garnet color, almost transparent at the rim; spiced and macerated plums and red cherries, touch of fruitcake, hints of roots, moss and leather; light, elegant, wonderfully knit, spare, tends toward dryness and austerity, especially on the slightly earthy, slightly woody finish; a diminishing beauty though still with power to provoke. Drink through 2013. Alcohol is 13 percent. 564 cases. Very Good+. About $50.
Vougeot Le Clos du Prieuré Rouge Monopole 2003. A monopole, a vineyard owned solely by one person, family or house, is rare in Burgundy, where vineyards tend to have been fragmented by marriage and inheritance over two centuries. Le Clos du Prieuré — the wall of the priory — is a small vineyard, a whisper over one hectare, meaning that it’s close to 2.57 acres. The vineyard has been carefully maintained — now on biodynamic principles — with plantings that go back to 1901/’02; the last planting was in 1982 and ’83. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. The color is a gently faded ruby-garnet with a flush of ruddy brick-red; the aromas are smoky, a little roasted and fleshy, spicy and macerated, with hints of plum pudding and fruitcake; it’s a grand wine, dignified, supple and subtle, seductively satiny in texture yet spare, graceful, polished; a few minutes in the glass bring out notes of smoldering potpourri and sandalwood, incense, forest floor, mildly woody tannins. What a beauty! Drink through 2015. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 261 cases. Excellent. About $75.