South of Beaune you will find looking down on its vineyards, the village of Volnay. It is guarded to one side by a steep wooded hill-side and to two others by the vineyards of its close neighbours – Pommard and Meursault – indeed, one part of Meursault is also classed as Volnay if a red wine is produced.
Volnay has always produced wines of high repute, it is only its place in the hierarchy that has varied. Once it was Pommard that was the most sought-after wine from this part of the Côte de Beaune, but fashions change and today the often chunky fruitiness of Pommard is much less fashionable than the vision of what a Volnay should be. I say ‘should be’ as there is an anticipation of a ‘feminine wine of outstanding aromatics and grace’ – or rather, this is the consistent theme that the guide-books will provide us with – reality, as we shall see, is always more complicated!
There are no grand crus in Volnay, but its 213 hectares provide us with some 34 1er crus – and that doesn’t include the 29 hectares in the Santenots area of Meursault and 1er cru variations on that name – so many in-fact that I decided not to list them all for fear of sending you to sleep, besides when are you ever going to see bottles of Lassolle, Les Aussy or Pointes d’Angles? Not only do we have a long list of 1er crus, but we also have quite different soil-types depending on the plots. This then is key to the diversity of Volnay and why you shouldn’t blindly follow the guidebooks.
I already mentioned this idealised picture of Volnay, and like many people I admit that I also have a similar picture in my mind, though it’s more about the aromatics of a wine than the body. Frankly the last time I had a match was with the 1997 Bourgogne from De Montille, none of the wines tasted here matched the photo-fit, so close, but no cigar! It was only earlier this year when blind-tasting some wines (always a great ‘leveller’) that I started to question my photo-fit version of Volnay – two big strong wines, obviously young ‘big-boned’ and tannic – both, it turned out, were 1990 Volnays – oops! Partly I chose this ‘assignment’ to see if that was just a bad night and partly because I was looking forward to testing some of my cache of 1999’s!
It is said by several commentators that the best wines tend to come from the southern end of the commune, and as you will see (with one exception) these wines – the Santenots, the Clos des Chênes – were among the best. 150 years ago it was virtually the same, the Santenots, Champans and Caillerets were classed as têtes de cuvée. Many of the vineyards are steep with a base of limestone, though the type of limestone changes throughout the commune, and given the different contours the soil depth is also anything but consistent. It is against this backdrop that we see a broad range of profiles; red-fruited wines, those that are darker shaded, delicate wines and structured wines. This why the ‘guidebooks’ are somewhat simplistic.
The 1999 wines
As noted I was itching to road-test a number of wines from my cellar, so why not look a little deeper into Volnay using a vintage of some repute? The wines without exception were open for business, though a few took some time in the glass to express themselves. Only one of these 14 wines provided a relatively poor showing (Remoissenet), a decent enough wine, but relative to its peers lacking precision. The 1999’s show splendid intensity, very good acidity and wonderfully nuanced pure fruit, yet each wine had it’s own personality – no photo-fit Volnay here.
It was very hard to choose between the top two wines, both showed numbing intensity. Where the Ducs was lithe the Lafon was impressively broad and structured, perhaps the Ducs had an edge in the finish but the Lafon was drunk second so left the final impression – there is only the thickness of a piece of paper between them – but there’s no point sitting on the fence id there! I had truly expected to upset the apple-cart with the Potel Clos des Chênes, a wine that was stunning one year ago, but the performance seemed a little muted vs memory. Still the silky texture bettered the top pair with concentration that was on a similar level.
So, is this a must-have vintage for Volnay? – Without a doubt. It’s not always easy to find good provenance wines from 99 now, but I’ve already felt the need to restock a number of these! Listed in the order they were drunk:
|1999 Michel Lafarge, Volnay|
Medium young ruby core with a cherry rim. High-toned soaring nose of ripe cherry/cranberry and a hint of redcurrant – really super. The palate is very fresh – the acidity is certainly to the fore – but with a silky texture and density that seems to be just about enough to come round with time vs the structure. I’m a lover of the fresh, slightly acidic style but still found this bottle a bit of a challenge. I suspect that it will come round and if that’s the case it should be a wonderful villages given the super aromatics – leave it another 3-5 years before revisiting. If you want a surer bet though, you could always try the next wine…
|1999 Michel Lafarge, Volnay Selectionées|
Like the ‘simpler’ Lafarge villages, this wine has a personality quite different to the others; it’s not the easiest drink right now, whereas all the others could, to my taste, be amply enjoyed. The colour is rather deep, a core of ruby-red that fades only slightly to the rim. Wide and fresh nose, red in complexion, deep red, eventually bordering on sweet blackcurrant. Fresh, linear, but well concentrated palate – very good – mouth watering acidity. I’d leave this another 5 years in the cellar, and will probably buy a few more.
|1999 Nicolas Potel, Volnay Vieilles Vignes|
Medium-plus ruby-red colour to a watery rim. The nose is dominated at the start by toasty oak – unusual for a Potel wine – though slowly this goes through a caramel stage before it majors on the fruit: beautiful, clear red berries before becoming rather indistinct. Fresh and quite intense though I think there is still rather a lot of oak on the palate where it’s the most likely the source of those grainy tannins. There’s plenty of material here but I’m not 100% sure it will eventually overcome the ‘muddying’ effect of the wood – after-all it’s already 4 years since release. Still, however, I managed to enjoy it to the last drop.
the 1er crus
|Bouchard Père et Fils, Volnay Caillerets Ancient Cuvée Carnot |
Deep ruby core, still just a hint of cherry at the rim. The nose is dominated by wood when first opened, taking around 30 minutes to start showing coffee and caramel tones. Another hour shows roasting red fruits and gradually higher tones. The palate has first-class texture, acidity that lingers and super length that has a touch of creamy black cherry about it. Not the outright density of the very best, but it’s borne in a very impressive way. Today still far too much wood obscuring its ‘Volnay-ness’ – should be coming round in another 10 years or so.
|Marquis d’Angerville, Volnay Champans |
Medium-plus ruby-red colour. It takes a while in the glass to start becoming interesting – I’d recommend at least 45 minutes in a decanter if drinking now. The nose just gets better and better, as the wine is finished ~90 minutes after opening there is a really lovely blend of red and black fruit and a faint high-toned floral backing. It’s certainly both concentrated and mouthwatering, but the acidity in this bottle still doesn’t quite even-out before the last drop is drunk – it’s a little harsh. Good if not great length and young but well-textured tannins. So, great nose, lots of material, but a little coarse on this showing.
|Nicolas Potel, Volnay 1er Mitans |
Medium-plus ruby-red with a cherry-red rim. The nose, despite starting in an understated way, still shows commendable depth and width. The fruit is red and black, quite dense but without any roast notes – slowly gives-up a more intense red-berry note. The palate is quite fresh, with really impressive intensity and length. The acidity is great and the tannins show quite a lot of grain. Very good length indeed. There’s a great future for this ebullient wine.
|de Montille, Volnay 1er Les Mitans |
Medium-plus cherry-red colour – looks very young. The nose, save for a few higher tones, is a dead ringer for the Potel wine. This was a wine that was a little disjointed and very soft to start with, but really tightened-up and came good after 30 minutes. The palate is much more understated; great texture – the tannins are much finer – the mid-palate is quite soft (reminds me of Geantet-Pansiot), there is good intensity and a very sneaky length. Much more understated than the Potel rendition, each have there place, but typically I would plump for the chunkier Potel – but then I like Pommard!
|Marquis d’Angerville, Volnay 1er Clos des Ducs |
Medium-plus ruby-red with a cherry-red rim. The nose starts broad and brawny, slipping for a moment into bright red berries before settling into a medium intensity mix of sweet coffee inflected red cherry, some higher tones continue to evolve. Almost painful intensity of high-toned fruit – very, very impressive! Good acidity and very good tannins though not so svelte as those in de Montilles’ Les Mitans. Great length – a King in waiting – I think the next test shouldn’t be before 2012.
|des Comtes Lafon, Volnay 1er Santenots-du Milieu |
Deep colour and still very-much cherry-red. The nose starts very tight, slowly adding weight to provide primary cherry fruit with a faint edge of oak toast. A couple of hours after opening there is a very pleasant and truly Volnay impression. Crushing intensity and powerful, velvety, tannins that are 90% covered by the fruit. Good acidity. This is a higher-toned, less obviously sweet rendition of Volnay that, despite it’s concentration, is a little less ‘burly’ than most others, still some oak too. An hour after opening, there’s even an element of friendliness! Very good length, though not quite in the vein of the Clos des Ducs. Certainly the wine that will require longest in the cellar; given how young a recent 1990 tasted, I see no reason to consider drinking this before 2015.
|Nicolas Potel, Volnay 1er Clos des Chênes |
Medium-plus ruby-red with a cherry-red rim. The nose is wide, some sweet red-cherry and floral notes, slightly mineral too, but not so deep as some. Having had this wine a few times before, I really expected that it might better the Clos des Ducs and the Lafon wine – it’s very impressive, but doesn’t manage to raise the performance bar. Where the previous two wines combine amazing intensity with panoramic width, this one has the concentration but has a much tighter presentation – certainly a rounder shape and nicer texture for sure. The finish is a very good and shows hints of oak spice. Hard to compare as the personality is so different, but on this showing a little behind the top two.
|Marquis d’Angerville, Volnay 1er Fremiets |
Medium ruby-red. A trace of mustiness on opening, but wide, open and fresh red fruitiness thereafter. Medium-plus intensity, mostly in the mid-palate onwards, and again very nice freshness. Frankly rather simple after the previous three wines but, in isolation, tasty with a youthful vivacity. The length is average in this company, but a nice wine to have at under 30 Euros. Rather like the wine from Guyon, in any vintage other than 99, very fine, but in 99 only above average!
|Remoissenet Père et Fils, Volnay 1er Santenots |
Medium-minus ruby-red colour. There’s a faintly savoury edge to the high-toned red fruit, even some orange tones and pine notes. No real excitement to start with, but gradually gains interest. The palate is fresh and red-shaded. Medium intensity fruit with medium well-grained tannins, slightly astringent. The acidity is almost good, coupling well to the sweet, medium-plus, stewed-tea finish. Very well balanced and nice enough wine, but it’s a little ‘flat’, and not close to the quality any of the other 1er Crus here. I’d rather drink the Lafarge village wines.
|Antonin Guyon, Volnay Clos des Chênes |
Deep ruby with virtually no fading. High tones and low, even a green fruit note against a creamy background. Very fresh palate with a wonderfully creamy depth to the fruit – not the ultimate that 99 can offer, but in any other vintage quite profound. The tannin is held to the background by the extract and the very fine, creamy length, still with a trace of oak. Just a little disappointing on the nose, but still top of the class in any year but 99.
|Nicolas Potel, Volnay En Chevret |
Medium-plus cherry-red colour. A forward and stylish nose that is both wide and complex – high-toned red fruit and violets framed with caramel notes. Similar interest for the palate; if not the intensity of the top wines in the mouth then it matches for interest and complexity. The tannins are less elegant than some, but given the overall performance this is a minor quibble. A very lovely creamy finish. Excellent