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Chambertin – Domaine Armand Rousseau
Chambertin gained a reputation from the patronage of Napoleon I, who is rumoured not to have drunk anything else and watered down his Chambertin with plenty of water. He favoured it at five to six years old and never drank more than half a bottle with a meal. When the ex-Emperor was exiled on St. Helena, he was forced to drink claret, since that was easier to ship to the isolated island.
The Rousseau Domaine was started at the beginning of the 20th century by Armand Rousseau who, at his majority, inherited several plots of vineyards in Gevrey Chambertin. The Domaine premises with the living house, the storing places, the cellars and the winery, are situated in the oldest part of the village, near the 13th century church.
From 1959, after Armand Rousseau's death, Charles Rousseau was at the head of a Domaine of 6 ha which he continued developing rapidly thanks to his great knowledge in oenology, and his experience, by acquiring new vineyards, especially in "Grands Crus" areas. He decided to turn principally towards export, and, after the USA where his father had already starting to sell his wines right after prohibition at the end of the 30's, he developed the exchanges first with Great-Britain, Germany, Switzerland, soon afterwards to all European countries, then to Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, Brazil, etc. and lastly Asia in the 1970’s.
His son Eric joined him at the beginning of the 1980's to take care more especially of the vineyards and the vinification. In 1993, Corinne, Charles's elder daughter, after many years of professional experience in export abroad and in France, came back to the Domaine and in her turn took in charge the commercial relationship with customers.
Domaine Armand Rousseau is the largest landowner of the Chambertin vineyard with a total of 5.3 acres. The 32 acres of Chambertin Grand Cru represent some of the finest and most storied Pinot Noir acreage on the planet and with all producers included typically produces less than 60,000 bottles. Chambertin is the beating heart of the red Grand Crus of the Côte d’Or sitting high on the hillside and bordered by Latricières-Chambertin to the south and Clos-de-Bèze to the north.
Vinification: Grapes are meticulously sorted as they arrive in the winery. Following a cool maceration the must travels by gravity into barrel where it will stay for the entire vinification process lasting typically 18-24 months. Each Armand Rousseau wine is blended unfiltered.
Burgundy writer Clive Coates refers to this Grand Cru as perhaps the finest red wine in the world. Always a tour de force, this wine has uncanny balance. It is very structured, dense, and powerful, it has firm, ripe tannins, yet it is not heavy. It has uncommonly long length on the palate.
The 2010 vintage began the 19th and 20th of the previous December, when the temperatures during the night dropped to -20C°, killing a number of vines in the most fragile parcels.
The vintage was also marked by heavy rains. Except for a pause between June 21 and July 11, the summer months were regularly interrupted by storms.
As a result the vines’ growth, which had started very late, moved along incrementally. Starting quickly with higher-than-normal temperatures in late April, then halted by a cold early May, growth was regularly disturbed up until flowering, causing coulure and millerandage, insurance for high-quality grapes.
Mildew appeared at the end of June and though it progressed throughout the summer, it did not affect the fruit and very little vegetation. The situation was roughly identical for oidium, which developed only slowly in May and it was not until June 21 that the effect was noticeable. Nonetheless, thanks to careful treatment, in the end the result was completely satisfactory.
Harvest began September 22 under sunny skies and sorting was very heavy. More rain on the 24 forced us to interrupt picking, followed by a return to clear weather, though with cooler temperatures.
This was a classic vintage for the Domaine, and for Burgundy, marked by small, healthy bunches. While the yields after sorting were quite low, the fruit quality, acidities and ripeness were very much in synch.
Depending on the wines, the macerations and fermentations lasted 15-18 days, and were barrelled by gravity after being pressed and clarified. Though malo-lactic fermentations progressed slowly, when they were finished and the wines had been racked, the level of quality was clear. There is great purity of fruit, with plenty of freshness and finesse and though the tannins are very fine, the wines are still well-structured.
The yields, between 30 and 35 percent lower than 2009 are the only black spots on an otherwise classic vintage, very Pinot Noir, giving pleasure in the short-term but with great potential for aging. In short, a winemaker’s vintage that will excite those that love fine wines.
THE 2010 BURGUNDY VINTAGE
Compared with 2009, these figures represent a deficit of 25 percent in red and 16 percent in white.
It was a cold, drawn-out winter, some two degrees cooler than the average, though rainfall and sunshine were normal. There was one severe attack of frost on December 22nd, just before Christmas, which caused widespread damage on the upside of the main road from Beaune to Dijon. In many places the road is on higher ground, and the land dips before climbing up towards the premiers crus, thus causing a frost pocket. It is here, just as in 1985, that the damage has been done. Some vines have been killed outright; others managed a late push of vegetation which was either unproductive or far to late to be useful. This, and further depredations later in the season, have led to a crop some 25 percent less than the average (which is some 250,000 hectolitres, excluding generics, for the Côte d'Or).
Apart from a brief interlude in April the cold climatic pattern persisted right through until June 22nd. The vines flowered late and irregularly. Coulure and millerandage were widespread. There were isolated attacks of mildew. Conditions were the opposite of promising. The harvest would be late and maturity would be uneven unless there were to be a dramatic improvement in the weather.
Happily Burgundy then enjoyed a fine, even hot, period of several weeks until July 21st. The downside was that there were, inevitably, the usual storms, and in places, hail damage. On July 10th parts of northern Beaujolais and the southern Mâconnais were affected: Moulin à Vent, Saint-Amour, Leynes, Chaintré, Pouilly-Vinzelles, and the village of Fuissé. There was hail in some of the left bank vineyards in Chablis, especially in Vaillons. But the Côte d'Or and the Chalonnais seem to have been spared.
The weather in August was uneven; nice and warm, but with no lack of rain. We had oidium, here and there, and black rot elsewhere, in vineyards not properly looked after, especially in southern Burgundy and parts of Meursault. Together with the hail this has resulted in uneven quality in the Mâconnais, while further north the vintage is much more consistent.
Once into September the weather changed again. The wind changed to the north. It began to be much cooler during the night. Most days were dry and warm (though not hot – 25° maximum) but above all very sunny. It is sun, rather than heat, which ripens the fruit. Photosynthesis was able to continue right to the end, as the vegetation remained green. Acidities did not plunge; while the grapes continued to pile on sugar. Except where there had been prior hail or cryptogamic damage the fruit remained very healthy.
Apart from a few gloomy days around Tuesday September 7th, and a brief tempest in the evening of the 12th, which occasioned hail damage in Santenay and the southern end of Chassagne-Montrachet, the fine weather continued until Friday September 24th, by which time everyone was into their harvest. Picking began across Burgundy at more or less the same time: the 16th in the Beaujolais, the 18th in the Mâconnais, the 20th in the Côte Chalonnaise, the Côte d'Or and Chablis, though some waited until the 23rd. Following a pause on the 24th the good conditions continued with but brief stoppages for what turned out to be showers rather than more prolonged periods of rain. Most growers had finished by the week-end of October 1st.
All reports underline the same conclusion about the 2010 harvest. It has turned out a great deal better than one could possibly have imagined at the end of June. If only it had been drier in August! Not that August was wetter than the average, indeed in southern Burgundy precipitation was the same as in 2009.
The Beaujolais are not as abundantly seductive as in 2009, but they are perhaps more classic. The fruit is fresh and delicious. The crop is small and quality is less even than in it was in the previous vintage. The wines are in their prime now.
Quality in part of the Mâconnais has been compromised by the July 10th hail. It is here that the 2010 vintage is at its most heterogenous. But nevertheless, where the fruit has been correctly sorted, we have a combination of good fruit, correct levels of alcohol, nice supporting acidity and no lack of character. The best are delicious now.
Growers in the Côte Chalonnaise are very happy, especially with their red wines. 'That makes three highly successful vintages in a row.' said one, adding that the crop was saved by the anti-rot treatments he had had to apply. Again the whites are fully ready and drinking very well.
As elsewhere a small crop in Chablis, as much through a lack of juice in the grapes as to the size of the crop. Good alcoholic dregees – indeed more in the premiers crus than in the grands crus – healthy fruit and nice austere acIdities.
Which brings us to the Côte d'Or. Once again not a lot of juice, owing to widespread millerandage, but more concentration as a result. The red wines showed very good fruit and the grapes were in a very good state of health. Alcohol and acidity levels are more than satisfactory, as are the initial colours. So if the red wines were not as glorious at the outset as in 2009, they were certainly very good, above the current average. And as they developed they seemed to get better and better. The character is more classic than in 2009 and the wines will probably last longer. This was not a vintage to go heavy on the extraction, particularly in communes such as Volnay and Chambolle. That aside, these red wines are consistent; in the Côte de Beaune said to be at their best in Pommard; while the quality in the Côte de Nuits was noted as 'très joli'. Indeed the more you travel north, as is so often the case, the better the wine. The Côte de Nuits benefited not only from a slightly later harvest, but from lower precipitation in August. It is here that the 2010 vintage is at its finest. It is a vintage which shows the petits fruits rouges flavours of a medium weight, ripe, but not that concentrated a vintage. The wines are more marked by their terroir than in 2009, according to Aubert de Villaine.
It was more difficult in the early days to pronounce on the whites than on the reds. One wine-maker spoke about 'explosive' aromas, on the side of the exotic, and colours which were less deep than he feared. There are good acidities, but the vintage will be less classic than the 2008s in his opinion. I'm not sure that I agree. Now that the wines are in bottle one can see in the very best wines a striking success: the grip of the 2008s and the richness of the 2009s. That said, it must be pointed out that the storm of September 12th 'turned' much of the Chardonnay fruit. If one did not pick immediatedly, one's wine was comprimised. The result is a heterogenity between the village and minor premiers crus on the one hand and the wines from the better-sited vineyards, not to mention the grands crus, on the other. This is clearly apparent in the wines of Chassagne-Montrachet: wines of only average quality, and many showing too much botrytis, in Morgeots and the vineyards on the north side of the village, such as Chenevottes, Macharelles and Vergers, but fine wines from the slope which runs from Caillerets down to Embazées. Of the three main villages, Puligny and Meursault are better than Chassagne. Proportionately the higher one goes up the hierarchy, the better the wine. At the very top levels there are many white wines which, as they should, promise to be still improving after the age of five, rather than, as seems to be more and more the norm, depressingly, by that time beginning to lighten up. Overall – and there are a few wines which already hint at premature oxidation - this is clearly a better white wine vintage than 2009. And firmer than 2008.
Prices rose, but not by much. Growers were already aware of the deficit in quantity when they announced their 2009 prices, so a gentle shading upwards (I speak in Euros), was the order of the day, except that the elastic between the village wines and the less fashionable premiers crus on the one hand, and the grands crus and top village premiers crus on the other, continues to widen. You will pay increasingly higher prices for Richebourg, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Folatières and Vosne-Romanée, Les Beaumonts, while Savigny-Lès-Beaune, premier cru and Paul Jacqueson's Rully, La Pucelles remain a bargain.
by Clive Coates