The wines of Boisset

By Andy Cook

The wines of the vast Boisset empire encompass a diverse quality spectrum, and many of us would be forgiven for remembering the Boisset négociant wines of a few years ago with less than pleasant memories. A cumbersome range of labels still exists, both within their own brands and other companies such as Mommesin or Moreau who are owned by the parent company. But change is afoot….

Boisset started in the early 1960s, and Jean Claude rapidly built up a successful négociant business and bought over other firms who, importantly, had land holdings as well as market presence. Now with the help of son Jean Charles, the family has clearly decided to use its financial and personal clout to produce some Burgundies of top quality. The branch of the company doing this is the Jean Claude Boisset label, and the man holding the reigns is Gregory Patriat.

xGregory (pictured right) is a modest 29 year-old with experience at Domaine Leroy, but little formal training. He is driven and passionate, but also intuitive, unpredictable and amusing.

Early on the Saturday morning we met him he had already – despite the arrival of a birthday, a son, two Wine Challenge trophies and a very late night – supervised a green harvest at the far end of the Cote in Santenay. And what he has achieved in two years at JC Boisset is nothing less than remarkable – as recent awards in Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and the International Wine Challenge confirm.

The Boisset empire has seen fit to pour a lot of money into this flagship venture, and it was something of a risk to hire Gregory, but the investment seems to have paid off. He sources grapes from vines that are no less than thirty years old, and in his first year rejected around 80% of the contract grapes that previously were accepted. This year, given an unusually cold summer, he has green harvested up to 80% in some vineyards.

His winemaking philosophy is simple. As with many great (and I seriously believe he will be recognised as a great winemaker in a few years) winemakers, his work is done mostly in the vineyard, and optimum care is taken to keep the grapes in perfect condition until fermentation. For this reason, he will – incredibly – destem the grand cru grapes by hand, ensuring that every single grape arrives in the vat whole and unscathed. Even the humble ‘Bourgogne’ red and white are triaged by 20 people on the sorting tables. From then on, it is a simple six day maceration for reds, with little plunging, and a natural fermentation. Ageing never exceeds 20% new oak, even in the biggest grands crus. The hallmarks of his whites are subtle oak fermentation, with no battonage and minimal filtration.

The wines below were tasted at the cellars in Nuits St. Georges in early September 2004 with Gregory Patriat. The wines were not blind. The exceedingly hot 2003 vintage, whilst hailed as a classic by the Press, has caused winemakers a lot of problems. Whilst sugars were plentiful, phenolic ripeness was by no means guaranteed, and balanced wines were not easy to produce.

Given that 2003 is the first year with the new regime fully in control, I found the consistency remarkable. They have already carved a house style, and make no consessions to fashions or critics. Purity of good fruit from vineyard to bottle is paramount, and I for one await forthcoming vintages with excitement.

the wines

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Bourgogne Chardonnay 2003 Cork Closure
A modern style, with richness, spice and weight, probably a lot to do with the vintage. Palate is surprisingly structured and serious for a humble Bourgogne. Very good.

Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Nuits Blanc 2003 Cork Closure
A lovely nose – baked apples and raisins, very appealing. Really exuberant, enjoyable palate with the fruit never overripe, and surprising length with a hint of oak. Excellent.

Monthelie Blanc 2003 Stelvin Closure
Plenty of lively grapefruit and spice on the nose, good lift. Full mouthfeel without being leesy. Perfect ripeness on the palate with grapefruit again, and a gentle finish. Not at all clumsy. Very good.

St. Aubin 1er Cru Sur Gamay 2003 Cork Closure
A looser, slightly fatter style as one might expect from the AOC. A wine that is appealing – slightly nutty and creamy – by the merit of its simplicity. Very good.

Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2003 Cork Closure
Seems to be a bit jumpy, and missing some aromatics on the nose. The palate has obvious body and well-judged extract of apple, toast and cinnamon. A vigorous and full wine without a hint of being overblown, this needs time but potentially very good.

Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2003 Cork Closure
No feeble, carbonic style wine here. This is jammy but textured, with weight and real density of red fruits. Supple tannins and medium to full body. Very good.

Savigny-les-Beaune 2003 Cork Closure
Maintains the line of freshness and depth, with darker fruits, a touch of mint and very ripe, sweet tannins. A very nice example of the Appellation. Very good to excellent.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Bressandes 2003 Cork Closure
Wow. A very powerful wine – doesn’t seem like Beaune initially, with a beefy, brooding nose. The palate packs a punch, but combines full throttle animal and sweet bramble flavours with first class Beaune structure and wonderful length. Give it time. Excellent to outstanding.

Beaune 1er Cru Les Greves 2003 Cork Closure
Another Beaune belter, a densely packed present of a wine, that needs time to unwrap. You can taste the dusky grapes, and a hints of gravy and straw. When Beaune is this good, why spend so much more on Cote d’Or? Excellent to outstanding.

Gevrey Chambertin 2002 Cork Closure
Strict Pinot nose – tight, yet hinting at stewed fruit. Palate has some nice lead and mineral notes, but lacks a little body and complexity. Good to very good.

Gevrey Chambertin 2003 Stelvin Closure
Only a week in bottle, but sexy already. Not at all overripe, with great mouthfeel, sleek fruits and some musky spice. Not huge length, but will prove irresistible over the next five years. Very good.

Chambolle Musigny 2002 Cork Closure
I confess to being very familiar with this wine already, and like it for the potential it offers in vintages to come. Quite a full style of Chambolle, but I love the fruit profile of soft red berries and a hint of aromatics. Very good.

Chambolle Musigny 2003 Stelvin Closure
The excitement of seeing my favourite Appellation in Stelvin does not, I hope, cloud my judgement. I find this delightful in a year when a typical Chambolle must be very hard to produce. Sweet but delineated red fruits, approachable and with a nice floral lift. Surprisingly dry and structured on the finish, this Chambolle is excellent.

Pommard 1er Cru Clos de Verger 2003 Cork Closure
Seems restrained just now, with a tight core of tannins on the palate. Again, a great example of prudent winemaking in the controlled redcurrant flavours, and that flourish of structure to finish. Very good.

Clos Vougeot 2003 Cork Closure
A slightly high tone, waxy nose and a slightly unsettled wine so soon after bottling. Leafy and not big, this wine nonetheless develops and fleshes out on the mid-palate to show some coffee and fruit. Tannins are the most prominent of the tasting. Good to very good.

Clos de la Roche 2002 Cork Closure
I think this first vintage of a grand cru shows what the new team can do. The classic poise shown here, combined with quietly forceful structure and seductive soft fruits, justifies a grand cru pricetag. Best of all, the length really pushes on and pulls it all together. Very good to excellent (Tasted with dinner at Chateau de Gilly).