Individualist, recluse, exasperating, curmudgeons, iconoclasts, eccentrics, enfant terrible: The limited amount of printed information to be found about this domaine certainly piqued my interest, for instance try these quotes:
“Roty refuses to disclose what acreage he has — ‘no one but me knows the age of my wife or the extent of my vineyards … my importers will think that I am a millionaire and will want to know why there isn’t more wine.’”
Remington Norman, The Great Domaines of Burgundy
Joseph Roty is not the easiest person to do business with. Indeed to do anything with. Both he and the rest of his family: Madame, sons Philippe and Pierre-Jean, seem to have an almost paranoiac distrust of outsiders, the local bureaucracy, and other people in general. They do not consort with their neighbours, play no part in Gevrey-Chambertin promotional activities, and are closed to almost all journalists, including myself.
Clive Coates, The World of Fine Wine 9, 2005
Thus it was with high expectations that I would enter the lion’s den – hoping to discover the truth about Domaine Roty – though I thought it better not to ask about their ‘reputation’!
A little domaine history
Since 1710 the family have been based in Gevrey. The current ‘reputation’ of Domaine Joseph Roty was down to Joseph himself, not just the comments of Remington and Clive, but also the quality of domaine’s highly sought-after wines, wines mainly produced from old and in some cases some very, very old vines – très vieilles vignes if you prefer!
Joseph started the core of today’s domaine in the late 1960s with vines that came from his grandfather, vines that included Mazy (they spell like Rousseau), Griotte and Charmes-Chambertin grand crus.
Joseph was lost to this world in 2008, and although widow Roty still works behind the scenes, it is the sons of Joseph – Philippe and Pierre-Jean – the 11th generation at this family domaine that do the heavy stuff while a 12th generation are playing in the yard. Philippe had anyway being working progressively more with his father since about 1990 – there is very little that has been changed.
Of vines and wines
I have to say that I was warmly welcomed by Madame Roty who took me through a range of wines from the 2007 vintage, the 2008s were not shown as the family only finished their bottling the previous week. Tasting is a no frills operation that is undertaken up against the barrels in the cuverie with a bucket at your feet. I found Madame Roty to be very open and talkative, whether it be about the vines, the market or internet retailers who ‘offer’ their wine and once people want to buy, then ask the domaine if they can buy some as they have customers waiting!
Today there are a couple of labels, the label of Domaine Joseph Roty is augmented with the label of Domaine Philippe Roty who has added some more Marsannay to the Gevrey. Whilst the wineries (cuveries) are completely separate – by law – they are actually separated only by the main road through the village. Vinification philosophy and vineyard maintenance are identical – as are the commercial/family contacts.
Starting with the vines, it is possible that only Domaine Fourrier can compete on an ‘average’ age basis in Gevrey; Roty’s vine average more than 60 years of age, though for ultimate age, Roty take the trophy with their Charmes-Chambertin ‘Très Vieilles Vignes’ – and très they are; over 60% of their plot were planted in 1881. These are some of the oldest vines in the whole Côte d’Or, the first ‘porte-greffes’ (grafted vines) the family planted to try and combat the phylloxera louse. Madame Roty notes that in those days vines were not typically planted in rows, so the 60% that survive do so only because it was possible to plough between them, vines ‘in the way’ were discarded. Despite the average being so old, the domaine have no problem achieving 25-30 hl/ha.
Moving onto vinification, there is destemming and cold-soaking before fermentations that are generally kept below 30°C. The wines are matured in oak, normally not older than 2 year-old barrels, but not all new either – the barrels are usually ‘highly toasted’.
Here are a selection of wines tasted at the cuverie 24th March 2010, all from half bottles. To summarise:
Each wine, taken in isolation, flirts with being very ‘special’ indeed – the 2007s (below) have the impact and density of some decent producer’s 2006s. If I’m honest, I’m slightly disappointed in one respect, that there is a strong family resemblance across the range of wines – it’s down to the toasty, dark oak aromas and flavours, and it’s really a matter of taste – that said, and I don’t suppose I will open up 3 in a row at home, so no worries! A very impressive range of wines.
Aromas of dark fruit augmented with warm, creamy brûlée. This is fresh and has plenty of impact. Really good flavours – highly impressive BGO this. Given its normal price-point, I can’t recommend it enough.
A blend of several parcels, though the youngest vines (very young for this domaine) are still older than 30 years. Deeper coloured. Dark fruit. Lots of impact, concentration and structure here – wow – it betters many a villages Gevrey.
Also an assembly of multiple plots. Very clean dark fruit aromas. Plenty of dark flavours to match the nose, partly oak-driven. A powerful 07 villages.
Also aromatically dark, but wstill wider than the last – really impressive. A wide-angle panorama of flavours, mouth-filling, this is very lovely. There’s plenty of structure but there’s balance too. A little spice and licorice as you head into the finish. High class Marsannay.
The aromas are as dark as the last wine, but here there is a hint more subtlety. More tannin, a little less width but the flavours are penetrating. This is super.
Again a wide panorama of aromas, of not though is that this is has a more red-fruit character than the previous wines. Very silky in the mouth, though you finish with a hint of astringency. The fruit flavours are also a little ‘redder’. Not as ‘big’ as the Marsannay Quartier, but a little finer.
Wide dark aromas with a hint of brûlée. A little fatter than the Marsannay Champs St.Etienne, a little more structure too. Back to the dark fruit. This lingers very well.
Dark, ripe, slightly sweet aromas. Energy, width and plenty of flavour dimension – very well balanced. Fine villages.
Aromatically wider. The structure is finer, more tailored. The linear, mineral flavours are more of an insinuation than overt fruit, but that flavour really sticks in the finish.
Virtually the garden of the domaine, but the paperwork is such a chore that the family do not waste their time pursuing a monopole label – though they are the only supplier. Deep, dark fruit but (hooray!) a hint of red too. Much, much finer tannin – if the last wine was ‘tailored’, this wears an executive suit. Very well balanced with super, slowly fading flavours.
Denser, tighter and clearly finer aromas. There is a wave of fine but ripe tannin, the flavour, initially engulfed slowly grows and grows on the tongue. Really super finish flavour. Very impressive.
The first wine with a floral dimension to the aromas. Again this is quite structured, but not enough to overwhelm the rest of the wine. Super mid-palate intensity.
Tight, very clean dark fruit. Lots of very silky tannin – a darkly flavoured mix of fruit and oak. Very muscular, but if not balletic, it’s certainly lean, athletic muscle. Hard to believe it’s a 2007.
After the previous wines, surprisingly this is not about aromatic impact, rather a subtly growing width of aromas. The tannins are less silky than those of the Mazis, but all is forgotten as you move through the mid-palate complexity and dimensions. This really is quite something.
Domaine Joseph Roty
24 r Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny
21220 GEVREY CHAMBERTIN
Tel: +33 (0)3 80 34 38 97
Fax: +33 (0)3 80 34 13 59