François Lamarche Clos de Vougeot 2003
I found myself experiencing an inner longing for Burgundy this weekend – perhaps it was last week’s Morgon that started the itch – and as I have been buying odd bottles here and there over the past few years it shouldn’t have been too difficult to find one that might satisfy my desire. My hand settled on this grand cru from Domaine Lamarche, no longer the dominion of François (who died in 2006) or of his sister (the two jointly owned the vines) but of their respective daughters, cousins Nicole and Natalie. There was a modicum of thought behind my choice; many older bottles of Burgundy in my cellar appear only in ones and twos, and with these I prefer to wait until I am sure there will be some interesting maturity to find once the cork has been pulled. Whereas I have more than a handful of Domaine Lamarche’s wines, particularly from this vintage, and so it seems appropriate to check in on one of these.
First, a little background on the Clos de Vougeot, but I will not dwell on this for two long. I think we are all familiar with the magnificently loose nature of this grand cru vineyard. I feel compelled to point out that although at the upper slopes it borders other vineyards of great repute, namely Musigny and Les Grands Echézeaux, the lower slopes run right down to the RN74, territory more commonly associated with village-level Bourgogne Rouge than grand cru wines, but I imagine this will be old news for most reading this. Having said that, the best wines do not necessarily all emerge from the domaines located on the upper slopes of the vineyard, so I find it wise to keep a pinch of salt to hand whenever I read (or write) of this otherwise widely accepted dogma. To cut a long story short therefore, this cru amounts to a little more than 50 hectares, and dominates the Vougeot commune; more than 80% of its vines are located within the clos. Its classification as a grand cru is related more to its history than the veracity of its terroir; the onetime Cistercian monastery that sits at the heart of the vineyard having been a focus for viticulture and winemaking for many centuries. These days, it is also recognised as a superb party venue for wine-fuelled revelry – the regular shindigs hosted by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, resplendent in their red and gold ceremonial robes, are perhaps the best known.
Returning to Domaine Lamarche, the vineyard holdings enjoyed by Nicole and Natalie are enviable, with four grand cru sites to their name, the Clos de Vougeot vines (1.36 hectares) being joined by others in Echézeaux (1.32 hectares), Les Grands Echézeaux (0.3 hectares) and La Grande Rue (1.65 hectares). This latter site makes for a particularly interesting diversion; a wedding gift to Henri Lamarche in 1933, and sandwiched between La Tâche and Romanée-Conti, this was long classified as premier cru. An obvious anomaly considering its illustrious neighbours, this was because François’ father Henri Lamarche, fearing a greater tax burden from grand cru status, decided not to apply for the classification when it was drawn up in the 1930s. This purposeful omission was only rectified in 1992, making La Grande Rue one of the few grand cru monopoles on the Côte d’Or. As for the Clos de Vougeot, the Lamarche vines are divided between two plots, with two-thirds near the old monastery in the upper reaches of the vineyard, the remaining one-third lower down, nearer the wall at the bottom. But as I have already indicated, the position of the vines is not enough to judge; we must taste!
The 2003 Clos de Vougeot from Domaine François Lamarche has a dark hue, possibly a vintage effect of course. The nose is initially ever-so-slightly volatile at first, quickly yielding within a minute or so to roasted cherry fruit, and then the honeyed, toasted oak starts to show through quite strongly as well; thankfully this latter aroma faded later. It has a meaty depth to it, an aroma profile suggestive of weight and concentration. This meaty-roasted cherry combination brings to mind a warm-vintage southern Rhône in all honesty. There is a clarity to the fruit, despite it having that roasted rather than a fresher character, so I can find some appeal here, but if I were assessing this blind, without any knowledge of the vintage, I am afraid I would probably place this a lot further south than its true origin. On later assessment I’m happy to report it did seem tighter, somewhat more coolly defined, but that roasted fruit character kept reappearing as well, alongside touches of cigar smoke and some sharper fruit elements, brighter black cherry tinged with mushroom and dark chocolate. I served this quite cool, a decision I took bearing in mind the reputation of 2003 as a warm, low-acid vintage; no doubt this will have influenced the aromas and also the feel within the mouth, where I find it to be quite firm, solid and structured. There is an appealing definition to it though; there is acidity at its core despite the warm vintage fruit character, and a seam of tannin running around its edges. That fruit lies within the centre of it all, seeming slightly disparate at the moment, a wine that speaks of potential rather than a ready offering of pleasure right now. With time it tightened up on the palate as well as on the nose, showing a more integrated and reassuring style, and so – although perhaps not the ideal wine to scratch a Burgundy ‘itch’, this one did the job in the end. But it shows the benefit of a considered evening spent with a wine (as most of my Weekend Wine reports are), rather than the two-minute sip and spit that many wines reviewed by critics receive. 16.5/20 (7/11/11)