The word Burgundy is resonant enough, but within that admirably independent ex-dukedom are certain family names that alone are able to tug on the heartstrings of any burgundy lover. Rousseau and Roumier are two of the most obvious, their wines too sought after to be hawked around. Theirs are bottles that are allocated rather than sold.
Under a handsome courtyard uphill from the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, Charles Rousseau and his son Eric oversee the slow transformation of grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Côte d’Or into world-famous wines that start out light but generally take on substance in their François Frères barrels.
The Roumier family of Chambolle-Musigny are custodians of their particular plots in such hallowed vineyards as Le Musigny, Bonnes Mares and Les Amoureuses. Christophe Roumier has carved out an enviable reputation in a relatively short time and was a leading member of the group of young vignerons who so innovatively got together in the 1980s to share rather than husband information, to taste each others’ wines and, for the first time in many generations, work together with each other rather than in rivalrous isolation.
To a certain extent this group owed its genesis to the enquiring mind of relative newcomer Jacques Seysses, who eventually left the family biscuit business, having managed to establish a new domaine in Morey Saint Denis in the late 1960s. He decided to call it Domaine Dujac, that most unBurgundian thing, a play on words, and is now assisted by two sons and a daughter-in-law. Vineyard innovation has long been key here and all the top plots are cultivated biodynamically.
It’s not easy even for professionals such as myself to taste the wines of Rousseau, Roumier and Dujac. They are produced in very small quantities and rarely shown at tastings. The only way is to apply for an appointment at the domaines themselves, where the overwhelming majority of wines shared with visitors are barrel samples of very young wines.
When the Wine Society, the British co-operative wine-buying retailer, invited me to taste mature examples of wines from all three producers over two magical days last May I therefore jumped at the chance. The Wine Society has given allocations of top wines from these producers for many years and has been wondering what to do with them.
Those in charge have finally decided to make one unparalleled offer to its members, mixing up the bottles so as to minimise the chances of cherry picking, as fine wine traders and brokers are inevitably wont to do. (The Society is still smarting from the director of one trader’s assault on their allocation of Hermitage La Chapelle 1978.) The wines have been assembled in mainly six-bottle cases, one bottle of six different but related wines, usually mixed vintages from the same vineyard – roughly 15 to 40 cases of each assortment. The Society, which as a co-operative does not exist to make a profit, has priced each case below the market rate and is therefore calling this offer, mailed to members on Thursday, The Burgundy Dividend.
In all we tasted 19 Dujac wines, mainly premier and grand cru wines from 2004 back to 1989; 22 Roumiers back to 1983; and, most extraordinary of all, 59 Rousseau wines back to a 1962 of which all but the first nine from the Premier Cru Cazetiers vineyard were either Grands Crus or from their enviable holding in the Clos Saint Jacques, always regarded as a Grand Cru in all but name.
The main focus of our tasting was the period from the delicious 1993 vintage to 2004 represented in the Society’s offer with a predominance of younger vintages. Wines older than this tended to be single bottles retrieved from the bowels of the Society’s Stevenage cellars.
Red burgundy is notoriously variable between producers but on the basis of the wines from these three outstanding cellars we concluded that the 2004s are looking rather awkward at the moment with a sort of cabbage stalk aroma that is not exactly winning but which Roy Richards of Richards Walford, who has long experience of importing top quality burgundy, is convinced will dissipate although he has never come across it before.
Thanks to Gevrey’s late, reviving rain, Rousseau seemed to have made the best of 2003, the heatwave vintage – in fact Rousseau’s 2002s, supposedly the best year of the three, seemed rather muted compared with their unusually refreshing 2003s and 2001s in which Rousseau seemed to have managed to achieve enough ripeness to distract from this vintage’s relatively heavy charge of tannins. Other producers’ 2001s tend to be a bit stolid at this stage.
The dried fruit, high alcohol, low acid character of the 2003 vintage overwhelmed ?all of these examples to such an extent that I wondered whether it was worth paying the extra for a ‘top’ vineyard which is anyway regarded as top because of its ability to ripen grapes (hardly necessary in 2003) and whose own subtle character is likely to subsumed by that of the vintage.
Dujac’s 2002s also tasted rather lighter than we were expecting, although they were certainly classic, sprightly burgundy. If anything Dujac’s quality varied even more with vintage than most – there have been more changes of personnel of late than at most Burgundy domaines - although their 2004s were particularly impressive. No-one should be deterred by their relatively pale rim.
Most of the 2000s, which have been such a precocious delight, seemed to be losing their fruit while these 1999s were extremely variable (much more so than those from the Côte de Beaune to the south). Dujac seemed to have made particularly good 1998s whereas many of the Rousseaus, even at this high level, seemed to have peaked with a certain sweet gaminess but a dry finish.
The Rousseau wines were certainly varied, with many of the youngest wines positively surly, but the single most exciting run of 21st century wines was undoubtedly the majestic royal flush of Rousseau’s plump Clos de Bèze, while Le Chambertin itself from Rousseau seemed to respond particularly magnificently to the challenges of both 2003 and 1993.
You may wonder why on earth not all the wines were stunning. Such is the exasperating, but ultimately captivating, nature of burgundy. Those of us who are hopelessly smitten carry on tasting burgundy in a Russian roulette sort of way, hoping that every chamber in the pistol is loaded with a wine as glorious as those in the list below. Points, feeble things, are out of 20.
See my full tasting notes, scores and suggested drinking dates on all 100 wines here.
Dom Armand Rousseau, Grand Cru 2003 Chambertin 19
Dom Georges Roumier Grand Cru 1995 Bonnes Mares 19
Dom Armand Rousseau, Clos St Jacques Premier Cru 1993 Gevrey-Chambertin 19
Dom Armand Rousseau, Grand Cru 1993 Chambertin 18.5+
Dom Armand Rousseau, Grand Cru 2003 Chambertin, Clos de Bèze 18.5
Dom Armand Rousseau, Grand Cru 2001 Chambertin, Clos de Bèze 18.5
Dom Armand Rousseau, Grand Cru 1999 Chambertin 18.5
Dom Georges Roumier, Amoureuses Premier Cru 1993 Chambolle Musigny 18.5
Dom Dujac Grand Cru 1989 Clos de la Roche 18.5
Dom Georges Roumier Grand Cru 1983 Musigny 18.5
Dom Armand Rousseau, Clos St Jacques Premier Cru 1962 Gevrey-Chambertin 18.5