This past weekend the Domaine Rapet Pere et Fils in Pernand-Vergelesses invited their friends for a tasting of 30 vintages of their Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘Ile des Vergelesses going back to 1984.
We always say that great winemakers and great cooks are by nature generous souls. You always get more than you expect. And this was one of those feel-good moments that evokes family and friends, with memories captured in a bottle.
We were greeted at the door by Vincent Rapet, one of the great winemakers of his generation, and led into the heart of the winery to begin a tour of past and future generations of Rapets. We were met by Jeanne, the youngest in the family, timid in her role, who welcomed us and presented the domain’s 2012 whites. (A quick note to say that the 2012 whites are superb, rich and precise in their terroir.)
At the next table, a quick tour of Corton-Charlemagne. The 2012 was there to show its density and youth, and the 2008 was there to show what a few years in the bottle will do. And then the 1992 Corton-Charlemagne was there to remind you why you have to wait. 22 years on; youthful and sublime.
From there we descended into the cellars of Vincent’s father Roland, where the journey back in time began. Roland was there, receiving friends whose memories were jogged by bottles and vintages, for whom sharing a glass meant reliving a summer, a harvest, a winter’s day in the cellar.
It was equally nostalgic for us. Ellie and I arrived in Burgundy in 1984, so this tasting was a tour of our life here. We too could remember where we were and who we were when these wines were made. Many we remember from having had them in our own cellar, and having drunk them… obviously much too young!
This was not a time for taking extensive notes. You would have missed the whole point of the tasting if you did. But nevertheless, we jotted down a few words on each wine and a few general observations that we share with you here.
First, you must remember that all of these wines come from exactly the same plot of land. The only variations from year to year would be weather, the winemaker (it could be Roland, it could be Roland with Vincent, or it could be Vincent with his children) or the vines themselves, which have changed as they have aged over these 30 years.
Second, this plot of land is classified as premier cru, but many consider it better than that. Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru ‘Ile des Vergelesses’ is the heart of the ‘Vergelesses’ vineyards which gave the little village of Pernand its modern hyphenated name. This is a noble parcel of land, perfectly situated mid-slope facing south-east and out of the shadow of the Corton Mountain.
So first a few interesting observations. And then some brief tasting notes.
We were very impressed with several vintages that were not well-considered at the time they were released. This often happens at the great domains. Burgundy is not supposed to blow you away with power and concentration. Pinot is a grape that likes to come to maturity slowly, without lots of sun or too much heat. So growing seasons that sometimes barely reach maturity can yield the most delicate, pensive wines. 2007, 2004, 1997, 1994, 1987 and 1984 were all considered ‘restaurant wines’ when they came out. Meaning, sell them and drink them soon. But here today they are among the stars. The only real disappointment was 1991.
We also noticed that as we got into the heart of the 80s flight, the wines started to resemble one another. So we ask ourselves if it’s possible that when pinot noir comes to optimal maturity, the wines lose the edge and contour that comes from vintage-related conditions (maturity, balance, acidity), and become more influenced by the terroir. We often say that there are underlying characteristics in the noble parcels that, year in-year our, remain the same, defining the terroir. Could it be that at optimal maturity these characteristics become dominant? That a wine in its perfect state is purely an expression of the land it comes from?
Something to put into the already complex study of Burgundy wines.
And to finish, a few pithy notes on the Rapet ‘Ile de Vergelesses’ tasting:
2012 – a dry edge, closed
2011 – open, floral, soft and round licorice
2010 – bright, structured, long
2009 – deep concentration, not so bright as 2010, earthy
2008 – great pinot nose, full, deep juicy fruit
2007 – smoky, soft, very much alive
2006 – starting secondary aromas, great structure and high acid fruit
2005 – smoky, burnt, rounder with short finish
2004 – secondary aromas, very pretty bright fruit, clean
2003 – the hot year. blackcurrant and blueberry syrup, dense
2002 – cooked, heavy green, out of balance
2001 – unexpressive nose, fresh high fruit in mouth
2000 – manure nose but fresh fruit, still with good acidity, slightly bitter
1999 – fresh, bright, elegant and deep, big yet fine, floral
1998 – changing color, deep fruit, jammy rich earthy pinot
1997 – manure, rich round, juicy high acid fruit
1996 – bright, still climbing, fine and elegant, far from done
1995 – clean pure fresh pinot, dry edge
1994 – similar nose to 95, slightly bitter but great expression of pinot
1993 – classic, fresh, juicy, rich and young
1992 – soft, rich, voluptuous, great fresh long finish
1991 – discreet, not much here
1990 – stemmy extraction, sweet fruit on great structure
1989 – smoky, meaty juicy bursting with good acidity, a little hot
1988 – delicate discreet nose, sweet deep fruit with bright finish
1987 – aged, but bright, licorice before fruit
1986 – still vivacious, secondary aromas and good acidity
1985 – similar to 86!
1984 – freshness in attack, suave gentle and delicate. nice bottle
We then were poured a 1964 of the same appellation… manure, right back to fresh cherries, extraordinary clarity, big time earthy with secondary notes, but freshness in the end.