We were most fortunate to have Laurent Ponsot and Clive Coats presiding over this extraordinary tasting of Ponsot’s Grand Cru, Clos de la Roche from 2003 back to 1976 at The 21st Annual Great Wine Seminar, in Florida three weeks ago. Laurent is a very talented winemaker to say the least. I’ve taken part in my share of impressive GC Burgundy verticals and this was one of my all-time favorites, as the superb consistency of quality and occasional superiority in some vintages, provided me with a very rare Burg experience. I was also fascinated, since I have never seen so many (at least 40) Magnums of Burgundy served at one tasting and this was quite impressive, especially since they came directly from Ponsot’s cellars and were shipped over way in advance.
Not only did we get to taste sixteen Ponsot’s which in itself would have been an amazing event, but Laurent taught us all about the soil and roots from which his wines gain their essence. For example, Vieilles Vignes for Ponsot means over 35 years old, but in reality the majority of vines used for his Clos de la Roche approach 50 years old. Additionally, the Domaine produces about 4,000 cases per year, of which only 1,000-2,000 cases of this fabulous wine is bottled. From 1980 to 2000, the yields ranged about 23 hl/ha and in 2003, obviously due to the heat, Ponsot was only able to yield 13 hl/hectare. I was fascinated to learn that although cost prohibitive at the moment, Laurent has tested (and has considered using) the technology of a Swiss scientist and may at some point insert an electronic chip in his wine labels, which would allow his clientele to see the maximum temperature the wine has been exposed to. Wouldn’t it be great if the entire wine industry went in that direction?
To be fair, it was apparent that Mr. Coates and Laurent are more than mere acquaintances, nonetheless, it was most enjoyable to hear Clive wax poetic about this particular Domaine, Laurent and his father in particular. Before heading on to my humble tasting notes that most likely won’t do the wines justice, I must add my favorite quote of the afternoon from Monsieur Ponsot (who was sitting in very close proximity to Mr. Jean-Philippe Delmas, Estate Manager of Chateau Haut Brion and La Mission HB.:
“The difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy is that you serve Bordeaux to your relatives and Burgundy to your friends.”
Onto the wines that are listed in order of service, some of the pairings were captivating:
2003 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (ONLY produced in Magnum) - Magnificent aromas of Framboise, cinnamon and dried rose petals leapt out of the glass. Extremely ripe, dark cherry and sweet plum fruit which was not only approachable, but soft and delicious to drink now. Given the heat of ’03, I am sure this was acidulated, as there was a solid core of acidity which gave grace to the overall package. For my palate, definitely has the ability and structure to improve from here. The finish is persistent and lush. It’s a very impressive youngster, although others including my brother were going absolutely gaga over this wine. 96 points
1993 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – Whoa! This beauty delivered an entirely different spectrum and I am certainly a fan. Far more on the earthy side, with a classy nose of mushrooms and dried leaves that is just beginning to show real secondary nuances. Displaying lots of textural pleasure for this camper, it is hard not to really like this balanced wine that IMO, is still quite young and will soften even more in the future. An outstanding effort that will deliver even more pleasure with another five years in the cellar. 95 points
2002 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – Going back to the 2003, this is a somewhat similar wine at this point. I prefer the younger sibling here as the fruit is more generous, the aromatics more pronounced at this point and the aftertaste lingers longer. The 2002 is no slouch though and although the nose is a bit reticent, the palate is incredibly sweet and approachable with extreme elegance and a gorgeous mouthfeel. This is a sexy Burg with a bit of tannic ‘tude that shows up on the finish. 93 points
1992 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – The vintage was fraught with quite a bit of rain and it was a large harvest to boot. Scented nicely by mushrooms, soil, bandaid and cherry notes, this shows a softer side to Ponsot. The ‘92 is more delicate than the ’93 with a sweet strawberry and spicy frame that ends with an impressive length. 92 points
2001 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – My least favorite to this point, although still quite pleasant. Floral aromas with Kirsch and raspberry. Soft on the palate until the dusty tannins kick in, the red fruit persuasion is sweet and extroverted upon entry but finishes with a dramatically drier cinnamon spice presence. 90 points
1991 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – 1992 and ’93 are much kinder Clos de la Roche vintages. This shows great Burg stink which I love with earthy, dusty and mature aromas. It delivers a flavor experience of plums and prunes that provides a distinctly tart taste and a touch of greenness that was not unpleasant, but not to my liking. This was the first Ponsot that had a coarse texture and it was only partially due to the tannic nature of this wine. 86 points
2000 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – Nothing like the other youngsters on the nose as this is more exotic with strawberry, licorice, tea and leather notes that I really enjoyed. It is also the lightest in terms of both extract and concentration of fruit. On the palate it offers very tasty black cherry fruit that was more subdued but also has a softness that I enjoyed. The tannins kick in on the finish which stayed with me for quite awhile. 92 points
1989 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – On any given evening this would be welcome at my dinner table. In the overall scheme of this lineup, it was lost in translation, when compared to many of its siblings. The significant strength of this particular Ponsot was the swirling sous bois, highlighted by mushrooms, black tea, leaves and an absolutely earthy essence that I very much enjoyed. The palate was less inspired though and although the mouthfeel was luxurious, the fruit was sweet, simple and lacking acidity with medium length to the drying finish. Nonetheless, this was a nice Burg that would be best had in the near future with the right meal to bring out its best. 89 points
1999 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – Herein lays my Ponsot epiphany! Anybody holding stocks of this Burg should be most pleased with their foresight. Describing this is nearly futile, as this was one brooding, powerful Burg that is unlike anything we’ve tasted since the 2003. I can not repeat the expletives that were shooting out of my brothers’ mouth. He also loved this one and so did everyone in the room. 75 people were dead silent as we sniffed and tasted and repeated both processes, over and over and over again. There was exuberance while snorting the purity of plum and the essence of Burgundy in this glass. If I did not know better, I’d have guessed this was a 2004. Chewy, dense and massively concentrated with delectable sweet red fruit which was delivered in such an old-world style, that there was never any jammy or clunky ness to the wine. A stunning vinous vixen! I was literally speechless. One of the truly great young Burgs I have tasted. Somebody please open one of these for me in 20 years! 99 points
1990 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – Poor 1990; how the heck do you follow that ’99, even a fabulous vintage like this? I had to laugh when Laurent Ponsot stated that his ’90 “lacks the transparency of the terroir, but it is a good La Turque.” I liked this more than others did as this was the first Ponsot (so far) to really provide the combination of elegance and mature nuances that I greatly appreciate in Burgundy. So fundamentally different than the prior wine, I could not go back to the ’99 at this point. The 1990 channeled lots of smoky and earthy notes, which delivered a sensual complexity to the nose. God this was gorgeous. Their were waves of flavor here although this was far more about sumptuous, round, rich and smooth textural pleasure even though the flavors were intense and the finish was long. I loved the way this rolled around my mouth, and from a hedonistic standpoint, which for me is calibrated by texture, this was simply outstanding. 95 points
1998 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – The last two wines spoiled me and the benchmark has been set and the bar is very high. This can not compete. It was not disqualified from the race though, as it did deliver some pleasure. Although tasty black cherry and soft red berry fruit was supported by a light cinnamon backdrop, there was a slight touch of heat on the palate that followed on the aftertaste, along with some ripe tannin. Regardless, the ’98 was a gentle and generous wine and judged on its own merits, would be a welcome visitor. 91 points
1988 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – This wine is very lightly extracted and there was almost no visible sign of age to the pink-ruby hue. This offered a unique nose and it was a bit skunky with a medicinal note, smoky, leather, sun-dried tomatoes, and a green note that I could not place. Fortunately, the palate was a little better than the nose with a bit of lean if not angular cranberry driven flavors that were soft and friendly, yet somewhat simple. Better than many ‘88s I’ve had as this did not show the tannins that I frequently encounter. Simply put, it’s not my cup of Burg. 85 points
1997 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – Expectations were not high as I am not a fan of the vintage and have rarely been impressed with any Burgs from this vintage. This Clos de la Roche was very approachable and extremely smooth with primary plum that was lacking a mid-palate presence. Not a lot to lover here, yet this was “serviceable” and would do in a pinch. But it was exemplary of the vintage and did provide a glimpse into the terroir. 88 points
1985 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes (Magnum) – After we individually evaluated this wine, Clive Coates had nothing nice to say about it and in fact panned it saying it tasted like “grapefruit”. I absolutely LOVED it. His dismissal of this wine was like being told by your father that the woman you were about to marry, is ugly and ignorant too. I politely raised my hand and challenged him to please ask the group for a show of hands, who disliked this wine or who loved it. When 90+% of the room (including Monsieur Ponsot next to him) showed their infatuation by their show of hands, it was interesting to watch and listen to Mr. Coates, but I’ll leave it at that. The nose was perfection and I could not take mine out of the glass long enough to sip it at first. A sophisticated profile encapsulated by gamey, rose petal, cherry, Asian spices and chocolate/mocha nuances which rounded out the plethora of descriptors that raced to my brain. This had the singular best mouthfeel of any wine we’ve tried so far. I wanted to sing out, “she wore red velvet.” I’ll long remember the gentle and generous ‘85, with a mid-palate to die for and a long classy aftertaste that finally ended when the waves stopped crashing in my ears. 98 points
1980 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – I’ve had one or two great bottles from 1980 thanks to my brother Mitch, back when he first developed his serious penchant for Burgundy and owned many older bottles from Domaine Leroy. This Ponsot was reminiscent of the greatness of those bottles. A wild nose of Prosciutto, game meats and cinnamon keep my nose happy after the ‘85. It was equally as superb on the seamless, juicy, raspberry laden delicate palate, which was lively in both flavor & acidity and zinged a bullseye in my Burgundy pleasure zone. I was a bit surprised by some round tannins that came out to play on the opulent, complex and persistent finish. I see no reason why this can’t dance for another decade or more. 95+ points
1976 Clos de la Roche Cuvee Vieilles Vignes – Before we headed to Florida for this event, Mitch told me that the wine he was most looking forward to try was the 1978 Ponsot. Sadly it was not a part of this tasting and I hope to get to try it someday. That said, the 1976 had an off-putting nose that was weird and oxidized at best and awful at worst. The palate was no better to me although there was certainly some fruit hanging on. I assume this was an off bottle because Clive loved it, noting a “fully mature and complex wine.” n/r
What a great experience and this was my favorite vertical of the weekend, which included Graham’s Vintage Port back to 1945, Chateau Haut Brion back to 1945 and La Mission Haut Brion back to 1959, and not to forget Dom Perignon going back to 1976. So alongside some excellent company, this was the vertical that had the highest highs for me.