Terroir explored with Domaine de l’Arlot

Domaine de l’Arlot Is one of the most revered names of Burgundy, based in Nuits-St-Georges and owners of some top 1er and Grand Cru vineyards. These include two ‘monopoles’, of which they are sole proprietor, the 1er Cru Clos de l’Arlot, and 1er Cru Clos des Forêts St Georges, both in Nuits-St-Georges. They also own vineyards in the Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru, Les Suchots, and Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant.

Owned since 1987 by the Axa Millesimes group, under the direction today of Christian Seely, the illustrious domaine can trace its roots back to the 18th century, and was for a long time associated with its charismatic winemaker Jean-Pierre de Smets. De Smets built the domaine’s reputation during two decades in charge. Today, Geraldine Godot is winemaker, having taken over the reins in 2014. She arrived at Domaine de l’Arlot from micro-négociant, Alex Gambal.

This remarkable tasting allowed a rare opportunity to taste every vintage made and bottled by Geraldine, with verticals from 2015 – 2019 of the two monopoles, the 1er Cru Suchots and Grand Cru Romanée-St-Vivant.

The Changing of the Guard

Though Domaine de l’Arlot was purchased at same time as AXA’s great Pauillac estate, Pichon Baron, Christian explained the the first 20 years were managed autonomously by de Smets. It was with his departure in 2007 that AXA and Christian Seely took a more hands-on interest. Today the vineyards are certified organic, and are also managed with strict biodynamic practices, though not certified. Christian says “The terroir of Arlot is more important than another certificate.”

In Jean-Pierre de Smets time using whole bunches in fermentation was “part of the religion,” according to Seely, but together with Geraldine the decision was made to adjust this from vintage to vintage, according to the fruit as it comes in from each parcel. Seely praised Geraldine Godot’s sensitivity to each plot and focus on terroir expression.

Oak is used sparingly at l’Arlot, a maximum of 50% new oak for the reds (though generally more like 20%). That probably assists in keeping these wines so lithe and precise, and indeed, although the differences between the Crus shown here was marked, a sense of elegance and thrilling energy is a hallmark of these wines.

Also tasted over lunch were two vintages of Le Gerbotte, one of a small range of Chardonnay wines they produce in Nuits St Georges. With 86% of their vineyards planted to Pinot, reds are clearly the focus, though the white wines share the sense of precision.

The Wines

Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Clos de l’Arlot

Soils of this walled monopole vineyard are mostly marl and limestone and it has some of the oldest vines of l’Arlot with an average of 45 years. Geraldine once thought it was a cuvee that was always lighter than Clos des Forets, but in recent years that is not perhaps true, and may be down to climate change. “The climatic conditions of each vintage become more and more important,” she says.

(2021) Lovely pale ruby, translucent and glowing. A lovely truffle and briar character, with dry, small red fruits - cranberry and redcurrant. Beautifully sweet but savoury fruit on the palate, a thrust of orange, but that savoury, spicy, whole bunch character. Made with 54% whole bunches. Served cool, shimmering with energy.
(2021) Made with 49% whole bunches. Similar colour to the 2015, slightly more on the fruit than the dry, hessian touches of the '15 aromatically. Delightful freshness and agility here, really crisp acidity surges to the front of the palate, then the tang of cherry and darker red fruits. Lots of grip here, but real elegance too. More intensity than the '15, bit it's the charm of that vintage that's its strength.
(2021) Made with 47% whole bunches. Again pale and soft but glowing ruby. More reticent aromatically than the previous wines, tight and darker, though mostly red fruits again, but so much less open that the 2015 for example. A little meat stock and blood to the savoury profile. The balance is good, it is approachable for sure, but I expect this will cellar and possible loosen up a little with time.
(2021) No whole bunches in this vintage, the wine a little darker, but still in ruby shades. This is another more closed wine at this young stage, but perfume comes through, a touch of floral character and polished wood and briar. Quite different in character from the '15 and '16 again. The fruit in the mouth is so sweet and juicy, a firmness one again, a juiciness and grip but steps up from the 2017 in terms of fruit concentration and lovely balance for the future.
(2021) Made with 66% whole bunches. Deeper in colour again and a little more violet/purple tinge to the ruby. A little mineral, lightly ashy quality, woodland notes in the background, but really much more focused on the polished, dark fruits. An endive twist of bitter sweetness against cherry skin tang and that mineral character running to a lightly saline finish. Terrific and promising.

Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots

Geraldine placed this appellation second in the tasting order, even although it splits the two Nuits-St-Georges wines. She explained that it continues the theme of elegance after Clos d l’Arlot, as Forêts is more powerful in character. Located just in front of DRC’s Richebourg, on limestone soils with some 45-year-old vines.

(2021) Ruby with pale rim, this reminds me of the '15 Clos de l’Arlot, with those briar notes, touching herbs and flowers, and then a creaminess of red fruits come through; cherry and red berries. Really nice palate here, the fruit cool, poised and balanced on its acidity, the fine, firm tannins add freshness, but then the whole wine is fresh, its charming bittersweet twist of liquorice giving so much savouriness. Made with 100% whole bunches. No UK retail listing at time of review.
(2021) Made with 100% whole bunches, a little paler than the '15, with more truffle and sappy character, spices too. The palate has that similar character of freshness to the '15, and sappy juiciness, a firm, steely quality in here. The tannins and striking acid have more to say than the '15, and though perhaps lacking a touch of the former vintage’s charm, it's a nervy, fascinating wine.
(2021) No whole bunches were included for this pale ruby wine, touched with glowing pale pink on the rim. Spicy, briary and relatively meaty, that floral character is still present, but more on the woodland, spice and savoury, gently meaty red fruit side. Real mouth-filling fruit here, a big, surprisingly sweet and rounded mid-palate with generosity, again the tannins are tight and give a little sandpaper grip along with the juicy acids. An impressive 2017 for sure.
(2021) Made with 30% whole bunches, there are purple youthful tones to ruby, and this has the first real notes of minerality for me in the Les Suchots cuvée. Taut, with a little iron character, but savoury, dark cherry fruit, licked by vanilla and briar. So savoury, with fruit driving towards a long, beautifully balanced finish of great finesse.
(2021) Half of the crop in this vintage was lost to frost. Pale crimson, a little more reductive at this stage, the fruit is a little more towards firm black cherry, but still there is elegance and raciness here. I really like the shape of this wine on the palate, firmness at the core, lots of juiciness - the most of these five vintages - and a great, lip-smacking thrust of citrus acidity to give superb sharpness. A weighty but decisive wine. No Uk stockists listed at time of review.

Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Clos de Forêts St Georges

Geraldine regards this as perhaps “more masculine,” more typical of NSG with the black fruit character. Her biggest vineyard at over seven hectares, with white and pink limestone and more clay. A mix of clones and young and old vines. “We don’t have a Grand Cru in Nuits St Georges, but with this wine that’s not a problem,” she says.

(2021) The depth and solidity of colour is immediately so striking, as is the powerful minerality and meat-stock depth to this. We’ve moved to a darker fruit spectrum, but still vivid and vibrant, immediately suggesting energy. A sweet, concentrated fruit power and energy, positively silky, slicked with vanilla and combining intense, fleshy black fruits with the elegance and precision of the tannins and acids to wonderful effect.
(2021) Again the colour darker and more dense, graphite and Morello cherry, there is polished wood and some truffle, but once again the supple fleshy gloss of this is a different world from the other 1er Crus entirely. Mouthfilling, smoky and rich, there is huge sweetness on the mid-palate, touching into chocolate, before that characteristic freshness and juicy propulsion of the structure drives to a long, elegant and spicy finish. Harvested at an almost unbelievable 9hl/ha, only two tanks were made in 2016 rather than the more normal four or five.
(2021) A lot paler and softer in colour than the 15 or 16, a touch of coffee and a little more red fruited compared to the others. This feels more mature in many ways, a little more open and loosely knit but a lovely wine for drinking now, the sweetness of the fruit combined with softer tannins and pert cherry skin tangy acidity gives lots of pleasure and still plenty of bite and structure.
(2021) In colour somewhere between the 15 and 17, with savoury fruit dominating, lots of sour cherry and Seville orange to the fruit and acidity, with the fleshiness of ripe berries coming through on the mid-palate, but swept up in the structural elements, particularly the acids.
(2021) Youthful crimson, with firm, spice and briar notes, cherry skins and some meatiness, but lots of those woodland notes then florals pushing through with some swirling. Such a delicious palate, so tangy and vibrant, the energy here rising off the already lofty scale of this terroir, the fruit almost luscious, fleshy, but then dramatically tensioned by firm, grippy and fresh tannins and acids. Thrilling and wth potential still.

Romanée-St-Vivant Grand Cru

Around three or four barrels only of this Grand Cru are prioduced. Geraldine thinks it is possible to appreciate even as young as this, as it is always an approachable wine. Vinified in old oak vats.

(2021) Very dark and vivid crimson, but also semi-transparent, and such a refined perfume.There is a suggestion of smoky mineral and light ashiness, lots of refined spice and there is an ethereal, delicate perfume that is hard to pin down. The palate has a fabulous thrust of juiciness and mouth-watering acidity, scything through the flesh of the fruit. There’s a little coffee too, but the outstanding energy of this wine drives to a fabulous finish. At the moment the retail stockists I can find only have double magnums (four-bottle equivalent) available at around £2,500 - £3,000.
(2021) Again that darker hue, but not at all dense in colour, the terroir speaks again, a lifted, beguiling perfume showing rose-petal and delicate red fruit aromas as well as a twist of something darker discreetly in the background. Dry tannins add a little grip and then the intensity of acids and compact, juicy fruit is delicious. Great energy.
(2021) Similar colour, perhaps a touch more towards garnet than the 2016. A more fruity character compared to the singing florals of the 2015, a touch of smokiness and even a touch of sizzling bacon fat way in the background. Racy and delicious, with great peppery, spicy components as well as that crunchy fresh fruit. The mineral qualities and finesse of the acids make for a thrilling finish, ending with great spicy presence and length.
(2021) Similar colour to the 2017, but for me back more towards the cherry and floral, almost kirsch like lift of the fruit. A hint of mint and coffee. The palate is another glorious mouthful of young Burgundy, and although there is a little more roundness here, perhaps a touch more grasse than the '17, it tensions up beautifully, finishing with all the grip and precision of its structure, long and endlessly interesting once again. Not UK stockists listed at time of review. Check wine-searcher link for current availability.
(2021) Really quite dark and a touch more solid than the 2018, though far from opaque. The nose has smokiness and meatiness, perhaps a touch reduced at this stage, but that does not mask the terroir aromas that are consistent through these samples. The palate has a coffeeish texture and density, a little espresso shot adding depth to the red fruits and the crunch of the acidity. Seville orange and bitter cherry drive the fish, spicy but the fruit so powerful. This should improve over several years, but is a terrific young wine with obvious potential. No UK stockists listed at time of review. Check the wine-searcher link for current availability.

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