Last night we were fortunate enough to host an intimate wine dinner at Ransome’s Dock featuring Domaine Ponsot for approximately 40 clients. Laurent has been a great friend of ours for many years, so we were delighted when he agreed.
Four vintages of his Morey St. Dénis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants were lined up. This wine comes from the Côte de Nuits, the more northern section of the Côte d’Or. Only a handful of white wines are produced in this part of the world making it indeed a rarity. Laurent’s version is produced from only 20% Chardonnay the rest being Bourgogne Aligoté from vines dating back to 1911 – another unusual characteristic. He explained that since phylloxera struck Burgundy in the late 19th century very few people bothered to replant this more unusual grape variety. Many winemakers do not give it the respect that it deserves as there are too many versions that are acidic and which lack concentration and complexity. But he feels that if handled with care, is planted in the right terroir and is harvested at lows yields, it can produce excellent results. His determination has proved strong as he had re-planted his Chardonnay with Aligoté so that from the 2005 vintage, this wine will be 100% Aligoté.
His instinct for this variety seems to have been proven right. His whites are wonderfully aromatic, refined yet powerful and with incredible freshness. We started with his 1997 which was paired with his 1999 for the first course. Two very different wines, the 1997 was expansive, broad with lots of richness and more acidity than the 1999. It finished very long – almost Grand Cru quality in length. The 1999 was a much more tender version offering profuse notes of toasted hazelnut and a slight petrol quality that is often present in Corton Charlemagne. We followed these two wines with the 1989 which has held up immensely well. Penetrating, silky and pure, this wine displayed notes of cut straw and ripe orchard fruit. The vintage which followed, the 1999, displayed much more age and therefore a palate which focused on notes of butterscotch and subtle nuttiness. If all wines were like the one at our table, I would not recommend keeping it for much longer, but the 1989 still had years to go. A real eye opener.
We continued with two flights of Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes – 1997, 2000 and 1998 and 1999, 2002 and 2003. Out of the first flight, the 1997 showed the most youth with cranberry, red currant and subtle pink grapefruit. Being from the outskirts of Chicago, I compared it to my own cultural terms (please be kind) – a bit of a ra-ra cheerleader to be exact. The 2000 was just sumptuous and was my favourite in this flight. Savoury, ripe and velvety, it was absolutely Ã point (ripe for the picking). Johnny said that it reminded him a bit of a Rousseau wine – not too shabby. Since our dinner, I have heard other 2000s not tasting as good, but this evening, it just sang. The 1998 was the antithesis of the 1997 – dark, brooding, moody. Getting back to my American cultural comparisons, this wine reminded me a bit like a pensive, black dressing and beret wearing, Nietzsche scholar from the University of Chicago. It had attitude, and its personality proved beguiling. It was Tom’s favourite of the night.
It was interesting to compare the 1999 and 2002 in the last flights. These two vintages were deemed exemplary by many critics and both scored 93 points by Allen Meadows of Burghound.com. Unsurprisingly, the 1999 was moderately forward with lots of zingy, crunchy fruit and a racy mouthfeel (like a volcano waiting to rupture). It was just starting to develop secondary aromas of forest floor. Its complexity and concentration was well noted and this should turn into a beautiful wine. The 2002 was much more difficult to taste. It was like trying to pry a clam open with well oiled hands. It was in no mood to be tasted (or drunk for that matter) and as Allen duly noted in his review, “it is built for the very patient.” The final wine was the exuberant 2003. It had lots of crushed berry fruit and velvety tannins. It was deep, rich and round and will make an earlier drinking wine which will not have the complexity of the 1999 or 2002. Nonetheless, it should give lots of pleasure over the next few years – a very 2003 style so to speak.
All-in-all, it was a fabulous dinner with very nice food, glorious wines and a molto generous host. Bravo Laurent!