Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Clos de Vougeot vertical tasting proves producer trumps terroir

The wall around Clos de Vougeot was completed in 1336
Sitting in a former chapel that is now home to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, I had practically blasphemous thoughts about the importance of terroir.

For the second time in three years, I was privileged to attend a 20-wine vertical from Clos de Vougeot, a Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy that was created by monks about 900 years ago.

If terroir were the most important element in great wine, one would think the wines from this walled 125-acre vineyard ("clos" means enclosed) would be pretty similar. But there are scores of vineyard owners and dozens of producers, and even if they all claim that "the wine is made in the vineyard," wine doesn't make itself. Everything matters: how the vines are trained, pruned, sprayed, etc. What barrels are used. And most important of all, when the grapes are picked. Even the most low-impact winemakers can change everything by picking three days earlier or later.

I'm not saying terroir isn't important. Geez, if I believed that, I wouldn't be in Burgundy, which I like to think of as one of God's greatest gifts to the planet.
Guess what this is! Answer below
But think of the chef analogy: You can give me a basket of the best organic vegetables available from Sonoma County, and Cyrus chef Doug Keane a basket of plastic-wrapped veggies from Costco. Whose meal do you think ends up being tastier?

Ideally, you want to give the great veggies to the great chef: that's when you have Grand Cru magic. Of the 20 wines we tasted today, here's where the magic happened.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Clos de Vougeot 2008: The youngest wine in the tasting was one of my favorites: spicy and light-bodied with nice red plum fruit and great vibrancy, length and finesse. 94

Domaine Daniel Rion Clos de Vougeot 2002: Youthful with plenty of ripe cherry fruit and notes of cinnamon and leather on the nose. A lively wine with a supple mouthfeel. 90

Domaine Michel Gros Clos de Vougeot 2000: Intense red cherry flavors play loudly over funky notes that I want to grasp, but can't quite. It's a complex wine that has some darkness to it, and I wish I had had more time to spend with it. 92

Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot 1999: Fresh and lively cherry fruit, with a little spiciness on the finish. 90

Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg Clos de Vougeot 1998: Still fairly tannic, this wine opens with salted licorice before bringing in some dark cherry fruit. Finishes salty. Another wine that needed more than the 90 seconds or so we had with each wine to evaluate; I kept moving my score up and down and settled on 91.

Three great wines, each very different
Domaine Méo-Camuzet Clos de Vougeot 1993: This has pretty much everything I want in a wine. There's plenty of juicy cherry, with some savory notes on the palate and mushroom notes on the nose. It's just delightful, a real pleasure to drink, and seems to be at peak right now. 98

Maison Louis Jadot Clos de Vougeot 1991: A Burgundy for Cabernet drinkers. You can tell this wine needed the 20 years because it's so tannic that it's almost chewy and the fruit, while cherry, is very dark. Louis Jadot clearly was on a different mission at this vineyard than many producers, but I not only admired it, I wanted to send out for a steak. 93

Domaine Armelle et Bernard Rion 1987 Clos de Vougeot 1987: This is why people drink older Burgundy: a mushroomy nose stimulates the appetite, there's still some fresh cherry fruit but much more dried cherry, the tannins give it a frame, but no grip at all in the mouth, and it's light but long. A graceful wine that I swallowed the end of, rather than leave behind. 95

Domaine Hudelot-Noellat Clos de Vougeot 1985: It smells like a liqueur, very floral with notes of Campari, but has dark cherry fruit and some cherry tobacco on the palate. A fascinating wine and another that I regret not having an hour to devote to. 90

Sterling silver spit bucket!
Don't those sound pretty different, despite coming from the same vineyard? And those were just the hits. The misses from Clos de Vougeot often failed because of drying tannins on the finish, but we had one wine that tasted medicinal, one that was so funky that my notes sound really interesting, but the wine delivered no pleasure, and one where the fruit was too tart.

After the tasting we headed upstairs for lunch, where I reinforced my terroir-is-secondary thinking in the heart of terroir-exaltation. There were three bottles in front of me: two village wines and a 1er cru from Nuit-St. Georges, so naturally I grabbed the latter. It was awful. Then I had a Vosne Romanée village wine from a big producer, and while it wasn't exciting enough for me to write about here, it was decent; that producer is professional, which is usually the advantage of buying brand name wines, so the wine was safe. Safe is better than bad.
Snail cheese pies AND snail cannelles!

I wish I had exciting food notes from today, but at first all we had were sandwiches, albeit very good sandwiches. Then servers brought out trays that included these pastries. Good thing my wife isn't here. She would have grabbed one of those cannelles. Last time I was here I had (in fact, I ordered) snail pizza, but I really didn't expect a snail cannelle. I guess snails are for French diners what ketchup is in parts of the US: good on everything.

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Mina said...

Silver spit bucket!
It must be fun using it.

I'd like to try snail cannelle.
(Escargot cannelle sounds better.)

Glad you are having fun.

Lee Newby said...

The terrior issue of Clos De Vougeot is well covered by Benjamin Lewin MW in his book “In Search of Pinot Noir”, he does tastings of two producers growing within meters of each other and the wines are very different. Hand of God????
Well I guess God produced the men that produced the wine.

Steven Mirassou said...

Terroir is so easily deified when you know what ground it is. Tasted truly blind, would these wines bespeak of a specific place (meters from the neighbor) or would they "just" be really good wines? Achievement enough in my mind.