Spent: Domaine de L’Arlot: 1959-2019
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 07, 2023
first trip to Burgundy…It must have been around April or May 1997. The
itinerary is vague, but one evening remains crystal clear. I had dinner in
Beaune’s best restaurant, Ma Cuisine. Unlike today, when gourmands are
spoiled for choices, Ma Cuisine was essentially the only decent place to load
up on rabbit terrine or coq au vin. Its wine list was renowned, overflowing
with mature vintages with prices scarcely believable in today’s inflationary
climate. I chose the wine. I wasn’t sure who would be paying, so erring on
caution, I skipped the DRC and plumped for the 1990 Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos de
L’Arlot. It was my epiphany. It was the moment that Burgundy clicked. Now I
understood why people liked Bordeaux but loved Burgundy. I didn’t
taste that wine again for 18 years before a friend kindly proffered another
bottle, and memories flooded back.
Three buildings surround the courtyard that opens onto the busy RN74. I don’t know what is in this one! At the rear, gardens confine them with even a small maze.
have always had an attachment to Domaine de L’Arlot and have visited countless
times over the years. It is a relatively recent arrival compared to stalwarts
like Gouges or Rousseau. Its origin lies with the Vienot family, who owned
parcels around Nuits-Saint-Georges, plus the “château” in Prémeaux directly
overlooking the RN74 artery that dates from Louis XIV. In 1891, it was sold to
a négociant, Jules Belin. Tragically in 1933, after a successful first few
decades, members of the Belin family died in a car accident at a level-crossing,
and after that, the domaine struggled. Bottles are rarely seen, but curiosity
got the better of me a few years ago when I chanced upon a 1959 Clos de L’Arlot
on a merchant list for under £100. Those were the days. It was an absolute gem,
and I reproduced the note for this piece.
1977, former accountant and keen yachtsman Jean-Pierre de Smet worked with his
friend Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. Predictably, he was bitten by the wine
bug. Cue late career change. Having studied at the University of Dijon, in
1987, de Smet caught wind that French insurance company AXA was seeking to move
into Burgundy, after buying Château Pichon-Baron. De Smet ended up mediating
the acquisition of Jules Belin. AXA would own the building and vineyard, while
de Smet would jointly own a new company named AXA-Millésimes assigned to manage
the estate, thereby giving de Smet autonomy over decision making.
At the time,
AXA owned the monopole of Clos-des-Forêts-Saint-Georges (7.2-hectares), the
monopole Clos-de-L’Arlot (4.0-hectares, 50% red and 50% white) and Côtes
de Nuits-Villages Clos du Chapeau (1.55-hectares) a monopole located in
Comblanchien. Clive Coates makes an interesting remark in Grand Vin,
suggesting that AXA tried to buy Charles Noëllat and Philippe Remy, only to be out-maneuvered
by the wily Lalou Bize-Leroy, who was then setting up her namesake domaine. In
1991, AXA did succeed in acquiring 0.25-hectares of Romanée-Saint-Vivant
from Henri Poisot for 800,000 Francs per oeuvre after Louis Latour turned down Poisot’s
offer for the conjoining plot that Latour deemed too expensive. Insert your
Homer Simpson “Doh!” here. AXA holdings were further enlarged by 0.85 hectares
of Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots in 1993.
out onto Clos de L’Arlot from the tasting room window.
was clearly influenced by Seysses and introduced whole bunches into the blend
at a time when the practice was not in vogue. It singled out Domaine de L’Arlot
from many others, though he did not necessarily de-stem 100% by rote. For
example, in 2005, not a bunch was de-stemmed, whereas in 2008, up to 60% passed
through an egrappoir. They also pruned early in the season instead of
green harvesting to limit yields and employed slightly lower fermentation
temperatures. De Smet received me during my first visits, though to be honest,
once again, memories are hazy! Under de Smet, organic farming was trialed from
2000 and applied across their entire holdings three years later (AB certified);
the same year, biodynamics was introduced before all 14 hectares were
retired in 2006 and sold his half-share back to AXA-Millésimes. In January 2007,
the running of the estate passed to Christian Seely, who oversees all of
AXA-Millésimes' properties and the day-to-day management was entrusted to
Olivier Leriche, who had worked his way up from a stagiere. Jacques
Devauges succeeded Leriche in August 2011, which gave the domaine a new
impetus. Géraldine Godot took over in September 2014 when Devauges was
headhunted to run Clos de Tart (he is now at Domaine des Lambrays) and remains
at the helm to the present day.
did snap Géraldine Godot at the tasting, but I prefer this photo in her natural
environment, which is either out in the vines or here in the barrel cellar.
Godot certainly has an impressive CV. She earned a Master’s degree in Cellular
Biology and Oenology before joining Alex Gambal in Beaune. I have always found
her to be one of the Burgundy’s more quietly-spoken, contemplative vignerons
who does not stick to a formula but treats each vintage on its own merits. For
example, during my previous visit in November 2022, she mentioned how she might
not use any whole clusters in the future having not used any in 2021 and 2022.
If that is adopted as their new approach across the range, then it represents a
complete reversal from de Smet’s era, though Godot is the kind of person to see
what 2023 offers before making any decision.
tasting was held at La Cabotte restaurant in the heart of the City in
London in October 2021 – apologies for not writing it up sooner. I found plenty
of consistency across the five vintages from 2015 to 2019. I always find the
wines open and expressive, “honest” perhaps, unafraid to show shortcomings and
their strengths. Clos-de-L’Arlot is generally regarded as having the edge over
Clos des Forêts St.-George. It is a remarkable vineyard, a rather dramatic amphitheater
made steeper by quarrying before vines took root. That can be problematic if
there is intense rainfall, Godot watching helplessly as torrents washed soils
to the bottom of the slope in August 2020. The earth had to be carried back up afterward.
Perhaps Clos-de-L’Arlot can possess a little more structure, though I found the
wines evenly matched here. I was certainly taken by the 2017s from these monopoles,
full of freshness that made them preferable to the more opulent 2018s.
de L’Arlot is associated with the appellation of Nuits Saint-Georges, and
perhaps as a consequence the two Vosne-based cuvées are sometimes overlooked.
That should not be the case when discussing Les Suchots and
Romanée-Saint-Vivant. I have always appreciated the former, and it was
remarkably consistent over the five vintages examined, shoulder-to-shoulder
with some of the big names that farm that climat. As one of ten
landowners in Romanée-Saint-Vivant, de L’Arlot holding in the Grand Cru's
southern sector is larger than Cathiard’s, but still smaller compared to say
Hudelot-Noëllat or Leroy. Usually, around two to four barrels are produced
depending on the vintage, Godot having reduced the level of new oak in recent
years. Here, the 2015 Romanée-Saint-Vivant really stood out and has its nose in
front of the 2016, if you asked me to commit infanticide, then I would choose
the sapid 2017, the 2019 I would choose to cellar.
was a very useful overview of one of Nuits-Saint-George’s most important
producers. There is more consistency nowadays compared to a decade ago. Perhaps
they have not yet created a transcendental wine that would make others take
notice but never say never. Returning to that fateful dinner back in 1997 at that
culinary institution, still standing if sadly without the same stellar list,
after an awkward silence, I pulled out my wallet. “My pleasure,” I said. “That
was money well spent.”
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