Expert Series: Clos de la Roche vs Clos St Denis

London wine club 67 Pall Mall has started a new programme of masterclasses for its members dubbed ‘The Expert Series’ looking at various aspects of winemaking in Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The St James’s-based wine club has invited Jasper Morris MW to host a number of talks on Burgundy, while Jane Anson will begin a similar series on Bordeaux later in the year.

Open exclusively to 67 Pall Mall’s members, the series on Burgundy began this week with an exploration of Clos de la Roche and Clos St Denis.

The tasting featured 10 wines, five from each of the Morey St Denis grands crus, including those from up-and-coming producers such as Coquard-Loison-Fleurot and Jérôme Castagnier as well as long-standing names such as Ponsot, Dujac, Lignier and Jadot and in vintages ranging fro 2014 to 1995.

At the beginning, Morris admitted that when it had come to writing his seminal book on the region, Inside Burgundy, the two vineyards were a pair he found he knew comparatively little about and so had endeavoured to find out more.

One of his chief problems when approaching them had been that while one with a knowledge of Burgundy could often briefly sketch the overall character of an appellation such as Meursault or Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos de la Roche and Clos St Denis, indeed Morey St Denis in general were something of an enigma to him and many people he had asked about them either suggested one or the other tasted ‘a bit like Musigny’ or ‘a bit like Gevrey’ depending towards which neighbouring AOC they were closer to.

As well as giving a background to each clos and what makes each distinct – including some interesting ways of telling some differences between the two with the more savoury Clos de la Roche described as ‘matt’ paint or ‘raw silk’ and the svelte Clos St Denis compared to ‘gloss’ paint and fine silk – Morris drew on his cavernous well of knowledge to provide not only the history and development of Morey* and the two vineyards but also to provide an entertaining insight into the producers themselves and their winemaking styles.

As he said at the beginning: “I don’t want to see the hand of the winemaker in there [the wine] but I do want to see their temperament.”

Included in his anecdotes were tales of how Laurent Ponsot’s mother was still taking cuttings for the ‘Dijon’ clones that would be the basis of many New World plantings on the morning of the day Laurent was born and how a particularly “obstreperous cockerel” called Clive (“for no particular reason”) had ended up as the best coq-au-vin he’d ever had, cooked in generous quantities of Charmes-Chambertin.

He also presented his attempts to unpick which producers owned how much of each vineyard and where exactly, a task made rather complicated by opacity on the part of both French authorities and occasionally producers themselves.

In conclusion Morris told his audience that both vineyards and their wines were clearly distinct and “underrated” and if not exactly “underpriced”, certainly not as astronomically priced as other grands crus clos in the Côtes de Nuits.

The purpose of the evening was not to find which was ‘better’ clos – although attendees were encouraged to put forward their thoughts on each pair – but at any rate, this writer at least found that his favourite wines of the evening were the 1999 Clos St Denis from Domaine Dujac and 1999 Clos de la Roche from Hubert Lignier which one might consider honours even.

The wines tasted on the evening were:

2014 Coquard-Loison-Fleurot: Clos de la Roche & Clos St Denis
2014 Jérôme Castagnier: Clos de la Roche & Clos St Denis
2001 Domaine Ponsot: Clos de la Roche & Clos St Denis
1999 Domaine Dujac: Clos de la Roche & Clos St Denis
1999 Hubert Lignier: Clos de la Roche
1995 Louis Jadot: Clos St Denis

Morris will be back at 67 Pall Mall on the following dates to talk on the following topics:

28 June: White Stones –great white Burgundies from stony vineyards in the finest appellations
9 July: Echezeaux – understanding the different terroirs and producers in this fascinating grand cru
11 December: ‘The Pretenders’ – five pairs of 1er crus which challenge the grands crus
12 December: The Burgundy Bucket List – the ultimate wines of Burgundy

Meanwhile, from June, Jane Anson will begin a series of tastings on Bordeaux, covering:

21 June: 1982 vs 1983
5 July: 1989 vs 1990
20 September: 2000 vs 2001
16 October: 1959 vs 1961
8 November: The Bordeaux Bucket List – the ultimate wines of Bordeaux

All of the tastings are open exclusively to members of 67 Pall Mall

*Morey-St-Denis was the last village to hyphenate its name, doing so in 1927. As Morris pointed out it has four grands crus; Lambray, Tart, de la Roche and St Denis. Of the four only de la Roche and St Denis really ‘work’ and only the latter in any real sense because Morey de la Roche sounds a bit like a “second rate novelist”.

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