Maison Nicolas Potel started life with the 1997 vintage. Much has already been said about the reasons, but to quickly summarise; following the unexpected death of Nicolas’ father a number of the syndicate that owned the Domaine Pousse d’Or decided it was time to cash in their investment – ultimately it meant that Nicolas left what was both his family home and the Domaine Pousse d’Or.
It was time for a new challenge and, hence, the business was born. Compared to many who start a négociant business, Nicolas had life relatively easy in that he had little difficulty sourcing grapes for his business. Not only were friends of the family and others who did business with them sympathetic to his position – so happily made portions of their crop available – but there was also a queue of willing merchants who were ready to take the wines. There is, of course, a responsibility that comes with ‘gifts’ like these in that they should be used to the best effect. I think that, to-date, you will find broad approval for the results. You will also find reference to two of these ‘first vintage’ 1997’s in the vintage round-up elsewhere in this issue.
Meteoric would be an apt descriptor for the venture to-date; Already in 1999 something over 80 cuvées were produced, for 2001 it was over 100 and for 2002 there are around 120 cuvées in preparation from 50 appellations – and that’s only from the Côte d’Or – Nicolas is also active in Beaujolais – see the panel below. Today the business is in the region of 300,000 bottles per year – that’s seriously impressive growth. Nicolas now has a co-worker – Xavier Meney who acts as Business Manager and was the one who gave up so much time for the barrel tasting which follows. One thing that has struck me about the business is their distribution – certainly in Europe and Japan – you can find the wines all over the place. This is a compliment, as some producers can be incredibly difficult to find.
The philosophy here makes a virtue of the négociant status, providing a very flexible basis for the business. Big demands are placed on the growers; even from fine vineyards if a grower will not accept to work in a particular way – despite a higher price for the crop – Nicolas will walk away. Now we start getting closer to the basis of Nicolas’ success. Prime vineyard sites, only old vines – 35 years minimum but typically much older – and growers who work in an organic or even biodynamic way. It is mostly the grapes that Nicolas uses, but some wine is sourced in cask – though under his direction. Following a severe trie (Père Potel was the first in Burgundy to install a special table for this – way back in 1965) the wine is made in slow, cool way, with perhaps 20 days of combined maceration and fermentation. The elevage typically uses 20-30% new wood – perhaps a little more for a Grand Cru in some vintages. The wines stay in the barrels for 14-18 months. Of course, there is no fining and (unless absolutely necessary) no filtration and even the bottling is done at the wane of the moon.
Looking through my lists(!) I find that I’ve 12 different wines from Potel in my cellar 1997-2001. This reflects not only good availability but the fact that I enjoy the ones I try. They usually say when trying to decide the worth of any merchant – don’t look at the expensive wines, look at the ‘house wines’. The same rings true here, the Bourgogne Rouge in 1999 and 2000 were benchmark wines – the 2000 particularly so – there is more material here than in many producers 1999’s. Both of these wines were reviewed in my piece on Bourgogne Rouge in the last issue. The hallmark of the wines that I’ve drunk to-date is purity without extraneous oak or over extraction
Proof if any were needed that you don’t need to be in business for a hundred years to make some exceptional wines – the vineyards themselves are the history, the wines are just the current interpretation – you ‘simply’ need talent and the best raw materials. But it’s not about one vintage, 1997-2001 Potel produced wines of clarity and distinction. This producer is not just one of the best négociants, it is one of the best producers in Burgundy and certainly better than some hard to find and even harder to pay for ‘big names’. Benchmark wines can be found in this cellar.
BEAUJOLAIS FROM POTEL AVIRON
Nicolas and Stéphane Aviron studied together at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune. Stéphane and Nicolas are also on the same wavelength with their approach to expressing terroir, so together they started this project with the aim of getting the best possible expression of the Beaujolais Crus. Again selecting old vines (35 years minimum – 70 years typical). No carbonic maceration, traditional vinification, ageing in casks for 7 to 12 months with 10 % to 20 % of new oak – and hopefully a chance to taste sometime soon . . . .
Especially 6-9 months before bottling it makes no sense to make long tasting notes – just a general impression should be enough – unfortunately I got a little carried away – such was the quality of the wines. It’s not often you can go through a cellar and find all the wines showing well – but we came very close on this occasion – all the malos had finished but there were still a few wines that were gassy.
We started with the Côte de Beaune and then moved onto the Côte de Nuits. Too early of course to expect much complexity, but there is an incredibly pure and intense fruit presence on both Côtes, there’s also a very easily discernable difference between each wine – terroir if you will – the trio of Vosnes, for instance, were a joy. The vintage impression to-date appears that it will be very drinkable from day 1, though could obviously develop differently prior to and after bottling, importantly there seems to be excellent acidity and currently well covered tannin. There are some very fine wines here, and I’m already searching out some retailers !
The Côte de Beaune
2002 Pommard, Les Vignots
Medium colour. Very intense raspberry and cherry mixture on the nose. Robust palate with excellent acidity. The tannins are prominent, though not rough. Really strong raspberry finish. Excellent potential.
2002 Aloxe-Corton, Boutières
Deeper colour. Gorgeous nose of red and black cherry. Fresh acidity and less prominent tannin. There’s super concentration of fruit to match the well mannered tannins. A cherry cordial finish makes this wine a real honey!
2002 Volnay 1er, Le Ronceret
Medium-plus colour. Starts a little reduced and oaky, soon opens up to give red cherry and maybe even a little plum. The tannins are more astringent with just a little gas but there’s good fruit and acidity to match. Currently showing in an austere way, but the ‘Boutières’ was always going to be a tough act to follow.
2002 Volnay 1er, Les Lurets
Not a wine I’ve tasted before – this vineyard is quite southerly – close to Meursault. Deeper colour again with a much deeper nose than the Roncerets – starts with cherry compote but gradually becomes more primary and purer cherry, plus raspberry too. Good tannins here, also excellent acidity which binds with the fruit to give a very fine length. Very red fruit profile.
2002 Volnay 1er, Carelle Sous la Chapelle
This vineyard is more centrally located in Volnay. Medium-plus colour. The nose starts high toned with piercing, pure cherry and perhaps just a trace of coffee. A little fatter than the ‘Lurets’ with very smooth tannin. Good acidity and less primary, more complex fruit.
2002 Volnay 1er, Les Pitures
Now we move towards the Pommard side of the appellation. These vines are bio and usually provide very small berries and quite low yields. Medium-plus colour. The nose is slightly marked by the wood and shows blacker fruits. Still some gas here. The fruit is slightly spicy and coupled with good acidity and a nice coating of tannin for your teeth.
2002 Beaune 1er, Epenottes
Nicolas takes the total production of these vines from this grower. Medium-plus colour. Deeper nose which is more a sweet cherry pie than primary fruit. This is fat and sweet, indeed the fruit is almost exotic. Good acidity and good tannins then excellent length. This is very interesting.
2002 Beaune 1er, Clos Vignes Franches
Again Nicolas buys the total grape production. Medium-plus colour. The nose is sweet raspberry and cherry, plus strawberry and I’m sure a little mint. Concentrated palate but still a little gas. Good acidity and plenty of tannin. Should be good.
2002 Beaune 1er, Grèves
Medium-plus colour. The nose is more subdued than the ‘Clos Vignes Franches’ but there’s a beautiful purity to the fruit. Again a little gassy. Excellent acidity and drying tannins on the finish. I think the fruit behind is very fine – but not so easy to tell. Really fine length.
Medium colour. Concentrated nose, again of red and black cherry. The palate is fat and concentrated; the fruit using the tannins to stick to your palate. This is good and shows lovely balance. Definitely a Grand Cru!
The Côte de Nuits
2002 Côte de Nuits Villages
Medium colour. Deep though less intense nose than the Corton, initially a little toasty bread then slowly a pure cherry note comes through. Structured with good acidity and very nice fruit. Shows quite well, even after the Corton. A wine to buy in magnums, leave for 5/6 years and then share with even your best friends at parties.
Medium colour. The fruit on the nose is a little blacker, nice depth too. Still a little gas. There’s good acidity and tannin, with a nice persistent fruit on the finish. Should be good.
2002 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er, La Perrière
Medium colour. The nose is deep cherry tart. Sweet, very forward palate with drying, smooth tannins and good acidity. Nicely structured with very good fruit.
2002 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er, Combe aux Moins
Medium-plus colour. High toned nose of red and black cherry, perhaps a trace of blackcurrant too. Slight gas, but it can’t hide the concentration of this wine. It’s structured, but there’s tons of material – should be excellent.
2002 Chambolle-Musigny 1er, Aux Echanges
This is the exception in the cellar – all the other wines come from vines that are a minimum 35 years old – this is only 26 years and is an example of how Nicolas likes to get to know the wines: the first year this received no new oak at all – just to find out the character of the vines. Medium-plus colour. There’s a hint of oak then red and blackcurrant to compliment the cherry. Some gas, but fresh and concentrated. Drying tannins on the finish – again this should be very interesting.
2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er, Les Suchots
Suchots was often considered a ‘second rank’ 1er, but in recent years Robert Arnoux has lifted expectations a little – this wine also shows what can be achieved. Medium-plus colour. Just a little oak as a base for blacker cherry fruit – nice delineation on the nose. Wow – very fat and concentrated – this is super. A little chocolate too. Great length and lovely balance to the structure.
2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er, Aux Malconsorts
Medium/medium-plus colour. The nose is less deep than the ‘Suchots’ but seems wider – the fruit is also not quite so black in character. Sweet and concentrated palate where the fruit does show a blacker profile – lots going on here – more complex than the ‘Suchots’. This is a splendid wine
2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er, Les Gaudichots
Medium-plus colour. The nose is dense, but very tight – it’s giving nothing away – in fact the only wine in the cellar that’s so closed. Super, rich creamy balance – the fruit is gorgeous. The acidity is good and although the tannins seem a little grainy in the mouth they leave a very smooth coating. Could be exceptional. There is also some Petits Monts in the cellar – my idea of heaven would be a mixed case of these four – to drink at 5, 10 and 15 years – should convert anyone who doesn’t believe in terrior!
Medium-plus colour. More cherry pie than primary cherry fruit on the nose – super depth. Some sweetness and nice fat. The finish is very persistent. As the name suggests – charming – a wine for pleasure.
Medium-plus colour. The nose is of blacker fruit – some blackberry to compliment the cherry. Very fat palate with concentrated black fruits. There’s good acidity and and lovely ‘old vine’ creaminess. This is very good.
Medium plus colour. On the nose, the ‘Suchots’ had depth and the ‘Malconsorts’ had width – this has both, there’s even a mineral streak that runs through the middle – fabulous. It’s hard to describe how big fat and creamy this wine is – yet it can remain so perfectly balanced. The tannins almost go by un-noticed. Class, and without doubt the wine of the cellar today.