Burgundy Focus 1: Duroché’s Clos de Bèze Grand Cru 1988-2020
BY NEAL MARTIN | APRIL 13, 2023
The Côte d’Or seems to be currently propagating fresh-out-the-box superstars
more frequently than American Idol in its heyday. Of course, like any wine
region, there are those that consumers anoint based on what they taste, and then
there are wannabes that look in the bathroom mirror each morning and exclaim, “You
da’ man!” Time will inevitably separate the wheat from the chaff, between those
genuinely creating remarkable, lip-smacking delicious wine deserving all the applause
and accolades that come their way and those more reliant on a snazzy label, an
active social media profile and some billionaire hoping to corner the market
before something else attracts their interest.
For this writer, Pierre Duroché is the real deal. Has been ever since I
first met the former mountain climber, when his wines made such an impact that
I sprinted back to my car and, before turning the ignition, began penning a
standalone piece. I needed to rhapsodize the wines as soon as possible. Since
that revelatory visit, I have become acquainted with Duroché and followed his ascent
from being an insiders’ secret to one of Gevrey-Chambertin’s most beloved
producers. The winery has been spruced up, likewise the chic but tasteful tasting
room in tandem with the piecemeal expansion of his portfolio. Nevertheless, to
the chagrin of many, quantities remain thimble-sized even by Burgundy’s
standards. Duroché’s personality has remained unchanged throughout this
elevation, unfailingly friendly and self-effacing, a winemaker patently driven
by his métier while avoiding airs and graces.
Pierre Duroché pictured in his tasting room in Gevrey-Chambertin with
his wife Marianne Cacheux looking on.
I have been fortunate to conduct a previous
vertical at the domaine in 2021, as well as taste occasional older vintages
from the regrettably depleted cellar of library bottles. What seems like eons ago,
an informal London tasting group hatched plans for a retrospective of Duroché’s
Clos de Bèze. Gallantly led by Duroché fan Phil Clark, the tasting was delayed
two or three times due to lockdowns and difficulty finding a time when all
participants could meet with Duroché himself as our star guest. Finally, a date
was found in January 2023 during the annual merchant tastings. Convening
upstairs at La
Cabotte, we assembled a dozen or so vintages that spanned both his and his
father Gilles’ tenure.
“We own 0.25-hectares in Clos de Bèze from the bottom to the top in the almost
central part of the appellation,” Pierre Duroché explained. “In the south part,
our neighbor is Bruno Clair and in the north, Gérard Peirazeau. The
vineyard was planted in 1920 with quite a high density, close to 13,000 vines
per hectare. We have eight rows, so almost all the surface is planted. There is
always millerandage and a small quantity of grapes per vine, but as the density
is high, the yields are still good, on average from 18 to 30hL/ha. Normally, we
start the harvest with Griotte, Charmes-Chambertin and Gevrey Etelois, followed
by the north part of Gevrey-Chambertin, then Clos-de-Bèze and Latricières. For
Clos-de-Bèze, we keep on average 15 to 20% of whole bunches (and 50% for the Hommage).
There is no sulfite addition during harvest. There’s only alcoholic
fermentation with some CO2 addition. It’s around two days before the fermentation
starts using natural yeast, followed by 12 days of maceration with some pigeage
and remontage. After de-vatting and pressing, with one day of settling, we
normally use old barrels, between two and seven years old, for the maturation.
Wines undergo one year without racking and two months in vat before bottling
with no fining or filtration.”
The tasting began with three whites that were served blind.
Unfortunately, Duroché does not have any whites, so we compared three Aligotés
from three renowned growers, each testifying the caliber of the variety. First
up was a 2017 Bourgogne Aligoté from Coche-Dury, sporting the
tell-tale reduction, hints of white chocolate and honeysuckle, effortless yet
intense. The 2014 Bourgogne Aligoté from Jean-Marc Roulot seems a
little simplistic on the nose and malic in style, linear and maybe just a bit too
reductive for my liking, though it does improve in the glass. Surpassing that
pair by almost unanimous consensus was Alice et Olivier de Moor’s
exquisite 2019 Bourgogne Aligoté Cuvée 1902. This bursts through on the
nose with gorgeous white flowers, peony scents and touches of Mirabelle. The palate
demonstrates exquisite balance with a slightly waxy texture on the finish. If I
were to elope with one Aligoté, this would be it.
On to the main event. We had ten vintages of the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
Grand Cru plus one mystery bottle poured blind by Duroché. I am blessed by several
Burgundy dinners and tastings, but also some mouthwatering occasions that have
left me tinged with disappointment. On this evening, Bacchus smiled down upon
us. Though there were undeniably inter-vintage differences, every bottle had its
own virtues. As a set of wines born from a single slither of precious land, this
was an absorbing retrospective from start to finish. Pinot Noir at its most irresistible!
The perceived wisdom is that wines made by Duroché’s father were
inconsistent, yet even his son confessed that the 1988 Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
Grand Cru surpassed his own expectations. Likewise, I felt that despite its
full maturity, the 1988 still has something to offer. Incidentally, in this
era, most of the fruit was sold off to the likes of négociants like Albert
Bichot or Louis Latour. The first vintage bottled entirely at the domaine was the
2010. The 2000 Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru marks a step up and is
another in a growing canon of millennial Côte de Nuits, proving that the
vintage was underrated by many at the time of release.
From the 2008 Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru onwards, it was
simply one joyful expression of the vineyard after another. That was a
difficult vintage because of the rain, according to Duroché, yet it exhibits
less greenness and/or dilution than others that I have tasted. That’s not to
imply any uniformity or variance in style since they reflect their respective
growing seasons, importing some kind of truth and honesty into each wine. The
leitmotifs of purity, transparency and complexity were clear, and the tasting
culminated with brilliant showings from the 2016, particularly
the 2019 Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Grand Cru.
Pierre Duroché snuck in one final bottle to the line-up that he served
blind. It turned out to be the one-off cuvée of Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand
Cru that was named “Hommage à Philippe” after I first tasted it at
the domaine. This single barrel comes exclusively from the vines planted a
century earlier in 1920 by Philippe Duroché, bottled en magnum save for three
bottles, one of which was sacrificed on this evening. It is an exceptional wine
underpinned by finely sculpted tannins and a cashmere sheen that belies a structure
that will ensure it ages over many years. If you own one of the 100-odd magnums,
then I am insanely jealous.
It was a fantastic evening. Expectations were high. Duroché’s wines
could easily have stumbled. Instead, they reaffirmed why they are so lauded and
coveted, why writers like me dish out superlatives. It sounds banal, but
summing up the flight at the end, I remarked that I could have polished off
each and every bottle, and I cannot say that with respect to even the most
dazzling verticals over the years. There’s no need to hold the front page
nowadays as Duroché is firmly affixed within the highest echelons of Gevrey-Chambertin.
It’s old news. But it’s good news.
(I would like to thank the organizer for persevering throughout the
pandemic and after in trying to assemble participants. It was worth it in the
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