Pommard has an image problem.
That’s a sad thing, though it seems that today’s growers have partly reaped what was sown by past generations; let’s be clear, little more than a generation ago a bottle labelled ‘Pommard’ was something of a lottery – not only from a quality perspective, but also from a ‘pinot content’ perspective – there was much adulteration. If we look further back when Pommard was really ‘en vogue’, it was one of the most in-demand labels of the Côte d’Or – perhaps it was this familiarity that bred contempt; that, together with the relative anonymity (for the grower) of a négociants label. In the 1960’s, 3 times more Pommard was shipped to the US than any other appellation, even in the UK it came close to matching Nuits St.Georges as the importer’s favourite.
I find this image problem doubly sad; before I knew it was unfashionable to drink Pommard (let’s say ~1995) I used to drink quite a bit of it – rather like those en-vogue days 50-100 years ago I didn’t need to know a list of producers’ names, a label with Pommard on it was enough. But what was it that I liked? Forward wines with real ‘guts’, accessiblity without being even vaugely facile, somehow ‘fun’ and balanced with ‘energy’ – I usually preferred them to slighly more expensive Cortons. If I look at what I was actually buying it seems the suppliers lists were dominated by bottles of Domaine Pousse d’Or from 1989-1993 – so actually not a bad bottles anyway!
Clearly today’s market demands quality but it seems some of the sheen may have been permanently removed from the Pommard label – or at least that’s what current market sentiment indicates. It’s still not easy to be a Pommard producer, but we should remain impartial when it comes to quality, so what’s the position?
Canvas the opinion of well-regarded négociants and they still point to generically labelled Pommard – villages Pommard – as the being among the worst value of the Côte d’Or. The recommendation is to always try and buy bottles with a vineyard name attached – not necessarilly a 1er Cru, many villages lieu-dits also come heartily recommended. Trying before you buy is also to be recommended.
It is said by some that the name Pommard derives from a temple to Pomona – the Roman goddess of fruits and gardens – which may have stood here. The earliest mentions of Pommard date from around 1005 and records of vineyard ownership start with the Abbey of Maizières and The Abbey of Cîteaux. Maizières acquiring Epenottes during the 13th century, and Cîteaux Pézerolles in 1222 and the Clos Blanc in 1485. Apparently the Knights of Malta bought vineyards in Pommard to add to those they already owned in Beaune and Savigny.
Late in the 11th century the local peasant producers had the unparalleled right to set their own vintage date. In 1349 there was a terrible blight on the Côte d’Or; the maladie noir which almost removed wine production from the Côtes, some think this may have been the very first visit of odium. Tradition states that the only vines to survive were planted high up on the ‘Montagne de Pommard’ and it was from these vines that the rest of the Côte d’Or was replanted.
In the early 1400’s there are references to ‘Vin de Paille’ – wine of straw – a rosé coloured wine being produced in Pommard. The name derived from the practice of laying the grapes on straw to dry out in the autumn sun. These wines all-but died out in the 17th century as peoples’ appreciation of pinot increased and Pommard for the first time was gaining a commercial value. As for Vin de Paille, today it is only produced in the Jura. This commercial interest neatly dovetails with the relocation (expulsion) of the Hugenots that followed the ‘Revocation of the Edict of Nantes’. The Hugenots who were well represented in the Côte d’Or moved mainly to Germany and the ‘Low Countries’ – perhaps taking an appreciation of the wines with them and opening an export market. Even as this appreciation of pinot increased, the wines of Pommard (and much of the Côte) were very light coloured as they contained around one-quarter of pinot blanc – like in Bordeaux in the 17 and 18th century these wines were also called ‘clairet’.
Pommard is the first major town you come to as you travel south from Beaune and it covers a large area; ~320 hectares of vines that radiate from the village centre, enough for ~1.8 million bottles. 202 hectares are ‘villages’ rated and the remaining 118 hectares are 1er cru. There are no grand cru vines in Pommard, though certain parcels are regarded as equivalent to grand cru quality and are priced to reflect it. Whilst there was still a tiny amount of white wine made in the 1960’s under the name ‘Coeur des Dames’, today I can find no more mention of it and everything is red.
Pommard is sandwiched between the appellations of Beaune to the north and Volnay to the south. North of the village is the largest ‘sweet-spot’ of premier crus, bordered by the village appellation – the same to the south, it’s just a smaller number of 1er cru hectares to the south. Set into the hillside of the Montagne de Pommard there is a reasonable east, south-east facing slope for all the vines covering altitudes between 240 and 380 metres above sea-level.
The lower lying vineyards have deeper soils of ancient alluvium. At the mid-slope are the well-drained clay-limestone soils that mark and provide the characteristic muscularity of Pommard. Towards the top are Jurassic (Oxfordian) marls and brown soil. In places the brown is turned to red by the presence of iron – often assumed to provide a little more rusticity and gaminess to the wines.
There are a rather large number of 1er crus – 27: Les Arvelets, Les Bertins, Les Boucherottes, La Chanière, Les Chanlins-Bas, Les Chaponnières, Les Charmots, Clos Blanc, Clos de la Comaraine, Le Clos Micault, Les Combes-Dessus, Les Croix Noires, Les Fremiers, Les Jarolières, En Largillière, Les Rugiens-Bas, Les Rugiens-Haut, Les Grands-Épenots, Les Petits-Épenots, Clos des Épeneaux, La Platière, Les Poutures, Les Pézerolles, Les Saucilles, La Refène, Derrière Saint-Jean, Clos de Verger.
Geology to wine
With such a number of 1er cus it is difficult do do more than generalise, but these generalisation can be useful if they are coupled with similar geography and geology:
The northern slopes of Pommard incline towards Beaune. Here the soils are brown with a mix of limestones, but they are not very deep. The vines very quickly come into contact with the bedrock which seems to produce relatively fine and supple wines. The vineyard that best represents this area is Les Grands Epenots; known for its smoothness and relative elegance, it can come close to grand cru quality. Les Petits Epenots and the Clos des Epenots are similar in character though they often show a little more concentration.
The southern slopes of Pommard lie against Volnay. The constitution of the soils is similar to the northern vineyards except that it they are steeper. Here the soils are deeper, the typical result is a more powerful and tannic style of wine. It is only as you start to touch on Volnay proper that the wines seem to lose some muscle and sinew. The clear quality leader is Les Rugiens which can approach grand cru quality in the best hands and vintages.
The central area has soils consisting of silt and many other components. The main road divides this area in two, the lower lying area flowing into the plain. Below the main road the vines cannot carry the Pommard label but the soil is still pretty good, providing plenty of material for regional reds. A good example of the quality this sector provides can be seen in the form of the Les Arvelets; from the steepest slopes of Pommard, it nicely illustrates a blend of northern slope elegance with southern slope power.
Drunk over a 3 month period:
|2005 Jean-Claude Boisset, Pommard Les Vaumuriens|
After the understated spice of their Vosne this is fresher with redder fruit. The palate is linear with grainy tannin, density in the mid-palate and a slowly lingering finish. Nice wine.
|2005 Bouchard Père et Fils, Pommard 1er Cru Les Pézerolles|
This wine announces itself with a wide, mineral nose underpinned by black fruit and those caramel barrel notes – lovely depth, a wine to keep sniffing. On the palate there’s ripe, dense and dark fruit, perhaps a little damson. This is very long finishing. This wowed me with its energy and personality – super.
|2005 Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard Clos des Ursulines|
Quite deep colour. The nose is dense and a little tight – it needs a few minutes in the glass before showing its fruit. A soft and sweet entry; the flavours expand quickly across the mid-palate – lots of balance here. There are plenty of tannins, but they melt well in the finish. This is a very tasty and fun wine.
|2005 Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens|
A deep colour to match a deep nose. There’s plenty of minerality and submerged black-skinned fruit – it almost seems like two wines in the mouth; fresh, concentrated, lovely fruit slips between lots and lots of tannin. The tannin melts very well into a superbly long finish. This wine seems on one hand understated, on the other a bit of a monster, but it’s certainly never brutal. This is very, very impressive.
|2005 Nicolas Potel, Pommard 1er Rugiens|
A nose of real depth with forward black fruit and just a touch of reduction. The palate shows real concentration and plenty of tannin, but the tannin is amply covered by black shaded fruit. The fruit widens and widens into the finish. Large-scaled and concentrated without being over-blown. Impressive juice.
|2004 d’Ardhuy, Pommard Les Lambots|
A shiny medium cherry-red. The nose is pure pine-needles and cedar – slowly a more fruit-driven effect comes into the mix but it is never more than a secondary characteristic. The palate is acid forward, it needs just an edge more ripeness. The best part of this wine is its texture – very nice finely grained tannins – the finish is not too bad and seems riper than the rest of the wine. Works reasonably well with food, but the borderline ripeness means it would be challenge on its own.
|2004 Coche-Dury, Pommard Vaumuriens|
Medium-plus cherry red. The nose is sweet ripe and only with time the faintest trace of cedar. Wide and friendly, the aromatics are sweet oak with a creamy edge to the red fruit. One sip and you’re hit by fresh, crunchy red and black fruit and grainy tannin – quite the extrovert – given the nose I expected something much more plush. The finish is quite long for a villages, showcasing those grainy tannins. This improved in the glass and was quite a crowd-pleaser.
|2004 Dugat-Py, Pommard Le Levrière|
Deep cherry-red. The nose starts quite reduced with sulfur and hints of mushroom – hard to get at the fruit – slowly it warms to give a bright, high-toned beacon of pure red fruit. The palate has a perfectly (oak) upholstered texture, really impressive concentration, good acidity and surprisingly only a mild grain to the tannin. This is quite mineral and shows a long finish that’s like having (I assume) a piece of coal in your mouth. From the mid-palate onwards this is much more impressive than the Coche. Very impressive.
|2004 d’Ardhuy, Pommard 1er Fremiers|
Medium, medium-plus cherry-red. The nose has faint cedar and a powdery red fruit aspect of quite some width, but depth develops only slowly and no real precision. The palate has just an edge to it – like the acidity is only borderline ripe – on the positive side, here you see why this is a premier cru; for the first time we have a wine with more than one dimension on the mid-palate, and nice fruit it is too. There is nothing like the density of the previous wine, but then this 1er cru is half the price of the previous villages.
|2003 Dugat-Py, Pommard Le Levrière|
Deep cherry-red. High tones over a dense fruit core; initially a little diffuse this tightens and gives a chocolate edge. Very, very impressive concentration with just about enough acidity to carry it and its sandy textured tannins into the finish – those tannins are well-covered by the extract. Medium-plus length, this is very-well crafted – it is immaculately dressed though hard to communicate with. A very impressive if one-dimensional wine today.
|2003 Domaine Leroy, Pommard Les Vignots|
Deep cherry-red – only slighty paler than the Dugat-Py. The nose is rounder and more forward than the D-P, just a little reduced at the start but lots of disparate complexity. Somehow the palate is also less ‘together’ than the D-P; it’s fresher, got more tannin and lots of coffee-bean in the mouth – significantly more apparent complexity but like the nose, little apparent cohesion. Longer than the D-P; if all the parts come together this could be a very, very good wine.
|2003 Louis Boillot, Pommard 1er Les Croix Noires|
Medium-plus cherry-red. The nose is wide, eventually high-toned, complex and interesting – provided you keep it cool, otherwise it (like many 2003’s) becomes quite diffuse. Very well textured – there’s a lot of tannin, but it’s very well done, and very well covered. There was obviously plenty of oak at release, but there has been a very quick take-up and this is rather well made and impressive – a modern vernacular for sure, but very well done. Impressive juice!
|2000 Nicolas Rossignol, Pommard 1er Les Jarollières|
Medium ruby-red. The nose is an interesting mix of high-toned floral elements over an intitially diffuse base of sweet fruit – then I got something more like rubber – others said shitake mushroom! Lovely ripe fruit on the palate, still forward tannin and a mineral aspect at the centre. The finish is medium length for a 1er Cru. Aromaticly this is a super wine, but becomes just a little anonymous from there-on.
|2000 J-M Boillot, Pommard 1er Les Jarollières|
Medium, medium-plus ruby-red colour. The fruit on the nose is just as sweet as the Rossignol, but it’s darker coloured at the edge with a red core, faint coffee too – very fetching! Less ripe palate than the Rossignol – almost mouth-puckering by comparison with a higher level of tannin. This is, however, very complex in the mid-palate and longer too.
|2000 Leroy, Pommard Les Trois Follots|
Medium, medium-plus ruby-red. That characteristic Leroy nose (how do they do that?) of well integrated oak set against wild red fruit, almost confiture and rose petals. The fruit is red-coloured and like the other 2000’s quite tannin-forward, as long as the JM Boillot Jarollières 1er cru, riper but less complex. You are left with a smooth coating on your teeth as a reminder. It’s not really possible to ctiticise such an accomplished villages wine – excellent.
|1999 Bouchard Père et Fils, Pommard|
A wide-ranging blend of Perrières, Levrière, Croix Blanche and en Chaffaud. Medium-plus ruby-red. The nose is wide with a black tinge to the fruit and the beginings of a savoury note at its base – the fruit slowly comes more to the fore, sweeter and fresher. In the mouth the fruit is also rather black and has a really nice purity on the mid-palate. This fruit is currently a little over-shadowed by the grainy, slightly astringent and certainly a little rustic tannin – which I feel could be a little riper. Very good persistence for a village. In terms of the complete package, this is the best of these 1999’s and a relative bargain in this vintage – still very young.
|1999 Ambroise, Pommard 1er La Refène|
Medium, medium-plus ruby red with just a little amber at the rim. The nose is spicy from the oak that for a while hides the estery-edged fruit. The nose never really improves, remaining relatively diffuse and never bringing any components into focus. The palate is much more interesting; well-covered tannins, warm and ripe red fruit, complex with a medium-plus intensity finish. Let-down by the nose, but good in parts.
|1999 Dominique Laurent, Pommard 1er La Refène|
Deep ruby-red, this looks like a 2003. Unusual high-toned, estery aromatics. In the mouth this is much fresher than the Ambroise with a really strong floral dimension to the fruit – hard to believe that this is the same appellation as the other wines. I find it as impressive as I found it off-putting; To be honest I couldn’t drink this as the ‘gag-mechanism’ started working because I found it ‘too chemical’ – to be fair some people really liked this – not rated.
|1996 Lejeune, Pommard 1er Rugiens|
Medium, medium-plus colour. Sweet, ripe red fruit – almost confiture – not so wide but very lovely depth. Wow – very impressive complextity – explosions of taste on the palate, real concentration followed by a slowly tailing-off diminuendo finish. This might not be the smoothest, most romantic wine in the world but it will nock you off your feet with real braggadachio. Bravo!
|1996 Comte Armand, Pommard 1er Clos des Epenots|
Medium-plus colour. A wild and impressive nose at the start; oak, a little blood, interesting width, but slowly the oak becomes a little more dominant and the joy fades. Much more subtle entry than the Lejeune Rugiens, a little more tannin but it’s also more linear and focused. Equally potent in the mid-palate and more obvious length – though some of that is, for sure, oak. More depth, but today also less interest than the Lejeune.
|1995 de Montille, Pommard 1er Les Rugiens|
Medium colour with just a hint of amber. This is a sniffer’s wine, subtle and complex – only slowly widening and becoming softer. This is also rather understated in the mouth; it has good freshness, nice transparency – again a subtle complexity – but you have to work hard to find all these elements. Long with a faint diminuendo. You would easily lose this in a large tasting.
|1995 Pousse d’Or, Pommard 1er Les Jarollières|
Medium, medium-plus ruby-red colour. Bright, ripe red fruit – baked tarts – depth but limited width, the aromas are very persistent. Interesting, concentrated and ripe – there’s some complexity, but the fruit is quite dense, almost monolithic at the core. The length is very good and this is one very smooth wine. It needs plenty of time for complexity, but otherwise this is much more accomplished than the Rugiens.