This article has been syndicated. See tasting notes and more background in The Georges Noëllat kid.
In today’s crowded marketplace, every wine producer needs a distinguishing mark. So how about sloth? I’ve never had to wait so long for a visiting winemaker as for Maxime Cheurlin, the 25 year old now in the saddle at the almost ridiculously well-endowed Domaine Georges Noëllat in Vosne-Romanée.
Jason Haynes of London Burgundy specialist Flint Wines (he is married to a Gouges) decided to institute a Burgundy Week every March for British wine lovers with masterclasses, dinners and tastings and held a practice version last June. (Some Purple Pagers may remember our Purple Paulée that was part of it.) The star of the show was young Maxime. The plan was that he would co-host a dinner one night followed by a trade tasting and lunch the next day, all at the new, burgundy-focused restaurant La Cabotte in London’s financial district. (Cabotte’s wine list benefits from good access to cellars of mature wine.)
I got there before 11, early as I am wont to be ever since I moved to a new place in central London and have yet to re-calibrate journey times. Maxime had apparently been asked to turn up at 10 to check the wines but there was no sign of him. Jason reported that the previous day, he had been invited for 3.30 and arrived at 9 pm. This did not bode well.
By midday all the attendees had arrived and about a dozen of us from the London wine trade and media were busy tasting a line-up of Maxime’s 2015s, but there was still no sign of him even though he was apparently staying just round the corner from La Cabotte. Jason observed ruefully that a single young man on a rare trip to London was unlikely to have gone to bed straight after his wine dinner so assumed he was still sleeping off the adventures of the night before. One of my fellow tasters, a young female wine buyer, was visibly shocked at the idea of anyone who might still be asleep at 11.30 am and urged Jason to ring him and wake him up.
Eventually, at 12.04, a burly young man, very bleary-eyed, in exceptionally droopy jeans and an open overshirt, hove into view and hung around rather awkwardly until we all sat down to our jambon persillé and pork belly.
I sat opposite him and marvelled that someone whose personal timetable seems so, shall we say, relaxed, speaks so rapidly – such a gabble that it was almost impossible to understand him.
He does have the most extraordinary story and I must say I really, really enjoyed tasting the wines. The point of the tasting was to show Maxime’s 2015s to Flint’s key customers – more than five months after London’s burgundy importers had shown off most of the wines of this vintage (see the guide to our coverage of 2015 burgundy) – as usual during early January. Jason has been following the wines of this domaine since Maxime’s first vintage, 2010. He explained rather testily that, ‘2015 has been the first vintage we’ve had a problem. We got the prices in January but we’re still waiting for allocations’ (how many cases of each wine Flint will be allocated). Maxime did not endear himself to Jason by choosing to go to Hong Kong at the invitation of his energetic importers there, Pearl of Burgundy, instead of attending Flint’s burgundy tasting in London in January.
But Maxime of course has the upper hand, and looks as though he knows it. Burgundy has never been more widely desired (as evinced by the recent extraordinary price hikes) and the jewels in the Côte d’Or crown in the eyes of most buyers are particularly the wines of the Côte de Nuits and especially those made in and around Vosne-Romanée.
Maxime has at his disposal more than 6 ha (15 acres) of mainly prime, very mature vineyards in the original Georges Noëllat domaine, including almost half a hectare of 90-year-old vines in Vosne Beaumonts, and equally old vines in the grands crus Échezeaux and Grands Échezeaux. Anyone who drives around the village will be familiar with the commanding two-storey house by the mairie, just next to the dramatically expanded cellars of Sylvain Cathiard, with giant letters on one wall spelling out the name Georges Noëllat. The late Georges was the nephew of Charles Noëllat whose domaine was acquired, with a little help from her Japanese importers, by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988 and formed the basis of the world-famous (if rarely tasted) Domaine Leroy.
From 1990 until 2009, the produce of Domaine Georges Noëllat was sold to négociants, largely Jadot and Drouhin, the domaine being managed by Maxime’s grandmother who married into Champagne Noëllat in the deep south of Champagne. Maxime is by birth a Champenois and his sister is still based in Champagne but the grandmother must somehow have been impressed by the burgundian winemaking potential in her 18-year-old grandson because she handed over responsibility for the 2010 vintage to him.
It can’t do any harm that he is part of the greater Henri Jayer dynasty, and is related to Pope of Burgundy’s nephew Emmanuel Rouget with whom he did a stage, as he did at Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur in 2009. Really putting down roots in Burgundy, he studied at Beaune’s Lycée Viticole.
It did not take long to attract attention and, on the basis of his first vintages, he gained a reputation for the lightness of his wines. But after having tasted more than a dozen of his 2015s and every single one of his Vosne Beaumonts, I would say lightness of touch is more accurate. From 2014 his wines, generally destemmed and with up to 100% new oak but not marked by it, seem to be characterised by particularly charming breadth with really round fruit on the palate after relatively light, savoury perfumes. Indeed he arguably displays such a recognisable house style in both his domaine and handful of négociant wines carrying his own name. At this early stage anyway, this was more apparent than the signature of the different terroirs – though the latter will presumably increase with time.
His Grand Cru Échezeaux 2015 was the most thrilling wine of all and slightly outshone his Grands Échezeaux. He did not seem surprised by this observation. At least I think what he said expressed general agreement.
His basic Bourgogne Rouge 2015, from 60-year-old vines, was already absolutely delicious and seemed great value at Flint’s price of £100 for six bottles in bond. I hope that by the time you read this, Jason Haynes will know how many bottles he has to sell.