I had the pleasure of trying this wine because a student winemaker who is helping out with vintage generously brought it to share during lunch. It was apparently left over from a party where they opened up some excellent wines, and rather than have this lost in the crowd, he very thoughtfully shared it with the people with whom he is working vintage.
The wine in question is Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux-Saint-Jacques 2007, which is worth examining term by term. Domaine Armand Rousseau is the producer, with domaine being the term for estate, used most commonly within Burgundy and Armand Rousseau being the man who founded the estate in the early 20th century. Gevrey-Chambertin is a small area of Burgundy within the Côte de Nuits which produces some of the most famous Pinot Noir in the world. 1er Cru, or Premier Cru, denotes a place in the hierarchy of Burgundy which places it just below the very top tier, Grand Cru. Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is the name of a particular vineyard from which these grapes originate.
If I had the time, I could write pages on each of the sentences in the last paragraph, and I’d never actually get to post this, so I’m going to confine myself to the producer and the region. Frankly, I find Burgundy pretty intimidating, and so I’m just hoping that I can write this up without spelling the producer’s name wrong three different ways and getting some critical facts wrong. And for the record, some of the material I’m referencing is being machine translated, so take that as you will.
Domaine Armand Rousseau is a family run vigneron and wine producer based in Gevrey-Chambertin. The namesake, Armand, was born into a wine trade family, involved as merchants, coopers, grape growers and winemakers. He effectively started the family name as a wine brand in the 1930s when he bucked the trend of using négociants to bottle and sell his wine and instead began doing it on his own, becoming one of the first producers in the region to do so. He also pioneered the sale of Bungundian wines into the USA, and to this day they export the vast majority of their production. From a base of inherited property, he expanded holdings in the region. His son Charles Rousseau began work with his father in 1946 after studying winemaking at the University of Dijon. Armand died in a car accident in 1959 at which point Charles took over entirely, continuing the expansion . At present, the third generation has taken over, with Eric Rousseau working as the winemaker, with help from his sisters, Corinne and Brigitte.
Not being well versed in it, Burgundy often comes across to me as a million small producers, where the name that matters on the bottle is the region or the vineyard. While the label style of this bottle would certainly suggest that, Domaine Armand Rousseau itself is itself incredibly distinguished. The shift to domaine bottling was revolutionary in Burgundy, and while the majority of wine is still sold to négociants for blending, many small producers have been able to create brands based on their unique qualities. Their present holdings are across eleven vineyards, including seven Grand Cru, this and two other vineyards at Premier Cru, and one Village.
I was going to write a bit about the region, but this is Burgundy, so it makes more sense to talk about the particular vineyard. Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is a Premier Cu vineyard, or climat, of the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, which in turn is part of the Côte de Nuits. Gevrey-Chambertin has eight Grand Crus (according to OWC, Wikipedia says nine) and 26 Premier Crus, of which Lavaux-Saint-Jacques is one of the most highly regarded. It is considered by some to be of Grand Cru quality, but when the village’s vineyards were classified in the 1930s, only those adjacent to the Le Chambertin were considered for Grand Cru status and Lavaux-Saint-Jacques was disqualified.
The vineyard itself is roughly 9.5HA, or 23.5 acres, of which Domaine Armand Rousseau owns .46HA or 1.1 acres. The rest is owned by dozens of other producers, each with their individual plots that range from tiny to Domaine Denis Mortet with a massive 1.2HA (2.96 acres). The weather for this vineyard is no different than the rest of the region, with cool nights and hot days during the growing season, but it’s the soil, the aspect and the altitude that makes all the difference in Burgundy. Situated along a hill with a full southern exposure, it’s slopes ascend from 290m to 320m (950ft to 1050ft). The soil depth is very shallow at the peak, becoming deeper down the hill. Less rocky and darker than its neighbours, the area has a foundation of limestone.
This wine was ruby in the glass, with a medium minus intensity, and thick legs On the nose it was developing and of medium intensity, with notes of black cherry, forest floor, violets and raspberries. On the palate it was dry with medium plus intensity, acidity, and tannins, which were very tight. The alcohol and body were medium. I found cranberry, rich oak and pencil shavings on the palate, with a long length and a black cherry finish. The wine really opened up over the 30 minutes it took our group to work our way through the bottle.
This was a fantastic wine – elegant and complex, with great ageing potential. The acidity will certainly last, and I expect the tannins to soften and secondary characteristics to come to the fore. It was certainly an unexpected treat to taste this wine, and I have to think up something nice to bring to the winery for when we finish vintage.