Domaine Ponsot - Clos de la Roche, Vieilles Vignes and its Morey-Saint-Denis, Clos des Monts Luisants
Up on the slopes above Clos de la Roche lies a one hectare vineyard that produces a wine which is truly unique: a premier cru blanc exclusively produced from the Aligoté grape. Elsewhere in Burgundy only generic wines can be made from the Aligoté, and such is the fashion for Chardonnay that this poor, unfashionable grape variety is increasingly confined to lesser vineyards, the flat lands on the 'wrong' side of the main road (which would probably be better suited to potatoes and beets) and hidden corners further up where the micro-climate and the aspect are not of the first order. Only in Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise is the Aligoté taken seriously and planted in the full sun and on well-drained rocky soils. Here we have a delicious wine, if one at its best drunk soon after bottling. What comes out of the Clos des Monts Luisants, however, is altogether different. A bottle with all the same depth, interest, class and aging potential of the best of the Chardonnays of Meursault and Puligny-Montachet.
The Ponsot family hails originally from Saint-Romain. In 1872, one of their line, a lawyer in Dijon, bought a domaine in Morey-Saint-Denis on behalf of his son, William. William died childless in 1926, but not before his god-child and nephew Hippolyte had been roped in to learn the metier and prepare himself for the succession. Hippolyte's grandson, Laurent, born in 1954, has been in charge of Domaine Ponsot since 1983.
It was William Ponsot who created today's Clos des Monts Luisants. The vineyard, which begins some 20 metres below the tree line, is their monopoly. Back in the 19th century Aligoté was widespread, planted alongside the Chardonnay in places as exalted as Corton-Charlemagne. But after the phylloxera epidemic and the economic depression which followed it growers increasingly filled up their white wine vineyards exclusively with Chardonnay. It ripened better and the wine fetched more money. William Ponsot had different ideas. He would persevere with Aligoté, and so in 1911 the one hectare of Clos de Monts Luisants was replanted with this variety.
Some time later, in the late 1930s, his successor Hippolyte decided to add some 'Pinot Gouges' to the vineyard. This is mutated Pinot Noir, found by Henri Gouges in his vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges, and reproduced by him in the premier cru Les Perrières. Gouges allowed Ponsot to take cuttings for his own use, and so for a time 15 percent or so of the encépagement in the Clos des Monts Luisants came from this rare and original mutation. (As anyone who has tasted the Gouges wine will tell you, it bears absolutely no resemblance to Chardonnay).
Some time later the grape mix changed again: in the early 1950s Laurent's father Jean-Marie added some 20 percent Chardonnay. So for a time the wine was made out of all three varieties, with the Aligoté making up around 60 perecnt of the total. In 1992 the old Pinot Gouges were ripped up, and following the 2004 harvest, after Laurent had done various tests, he abandoned the Chardonnay. From 2005, therefore, we have a 100 perecent Aligoté wine once again, and still from the original 1911 stocks.
How is the wine made? Firstly production is severely limited. The yield averages less than 30 hl/ha. The fruit is collected in wicker hods, the fruit later being transferred to plastic trays. The grapes are not de-stemmed, and pressed in an old vertical press (today most perfectionists consider that vertical presses are better than horizontal ones). After settling out in bulk the must is transformed into wine in old wooden barrels, without any deliberate cooling, so temperatures can rise to 30° or so, and rarely undergoes malo-lactic fermenation. It is then hardly interfered with – no fining, for instance - until bottling, which takes place after 22 months. Throughout the process the sulphur level is kept to the barest minimum. If any wines could be considered to be made without the use of sulphur, they are those of Laurent Ponsot.
Does it keep? The answer is a strong yes, and even in vintages where nature has been less than kind. In the best years 20 years is a minimum: the 1989 is still an infant.
And what dose it taste like? Well, it is not honeyed in the sense of a Meursault. Neither is it peachy in the sense of a Puligny. And of couse it is not oaky. The wine is very fresh, though except in the very lean vintages with no undue acidity. It is flowery, and the fruit flavours are understated and very subtle. Now having sampled the more recent pure Aligoté wines and compared then with what was made before, I agree with Laurent that 100 perecent Aligoté makes the best wine. There is a brilliant complexity and delicacy about today's Clos des Monts Luisants. It is delicious and it really is unique. And yet is is not prohibitively expensive. Ponsot does not sell wines direct to private consumers. But the wine can be picked up at the shop in Morey-Saint-Denis for around 45 euros TTC.
The following vintages of Clos de la Roche, Vieilles Vignes were sampled at a Wine Weekend at the Hotel Wilden Mann, Lucerne, Switzerland, in November, 2011.
The average harvest in the Clos de la Roche, Vieilles Vignes is 26 he/hl.
2009 From 2020
(As a result of hail damage Ponsot produced 35 percent less than in 2008) Good colour. Some development. Rich, full, succulent, classy nose. Lovely fruit. Full bodied, rich and vigorous on the palate. Very well-balanced. Lots of depth and energy. Still needs time, but surprisingly accessible already. Ripe finish. Great class. Very long. Very fine.
2008 From 2020
Good colour. Still youthful. Good intensity and grip on the nose. Medium-full body. Quite pronouced acidity. But fresh and ripe. Lots of vigour and lots of dilmension. A splendid wine for food. But it needs keeping. The tannins are as ripe as those of 2009 but the expression of them is a little more austere.
2007 From 2014
Medium colour. Quite developed now. Soft nose. Plump but somewhat lightweight. Medium body. Nice and fresh. Attractive, ripe and succulent on the palate. Good energy, and positive at the end. Needs a year or two. Most enjoyable.
2006 From 2014
Medium colour. Developed. Also soft, but slightly more grip and intensity. Very seductive. There is an illusion of oak here which is very curious. And this soft aromatic ood flaviur is continued on the palate. Medium weight. Charming and balanced. A bit more to it than the 2007, but similar.
Not presented. Currently the wine is hard as nails and not showing very well.
2004 From 2017
Medium to medium-full colour. Just a touch of the vegetal on the nose. Less ripe than the 2006 and 2007 but more substantial. Yet no lack of fruit and charm. Medium to medium-full body. A lot more interest, succulence and vigour than most 2004s. Good positive follow through. Still a bit of tannin to resolve. Fine for the vintage.
2003 From 2017
From magnum. Full colour. Still immature. This is still youthful on the nose. Chocolaty and not a bit Rhônish. Full body. Rich, sweet, spicy, very good acidity. The second magnum was even fresher and more delicious than the first.
2002 From 2021
Medium colour. Looks fully mature, and there is a little mature spice on the nose, which is of medium weight. Reticent at first. Medium-full body. Still a bit adolescent. Some tannin. More energy and power than seemed at first. Very good grip and very good class. Long and very promising but it needs ten years to get to its best. Very fine.
2001 Now – 2021 plus
Medium to medium-full colour. Fresh, classy, medium weight nose. Good positive fruit. Soft, round, spicy, ripe, fresh and balanced. Medium body. Plenty of depth here. A great success. Just about ready.
2000 Now – 2020
Medium, mature colour. Soft, sweet, opulent and approachable. Medium body. Plenty of depth if not quite the energy of the 2001. Remarkably good for the vintage and plenty of life ahead of it.
1999 From 2017
Very good colour. Rich, full, abundant, lush and energetic on the nose. This is very delicious. Fullish body. A ripe mocha nose which is always encouraging. Fullish body. Still some tannin to rexolve. Real harmony, class and grip. Will still improve.
1998 Now – 2021 plus
Good fresh, medium-full colour. The nose is a little lean at first, but the wine opened up and gained charm in the glass. Medium-full body. A little reserved, but concentrated, pure, stylish and well-balanced. Lovely finish. Plenty of life.