Circular stamp with a lion

A memorable vertical of Clos des Ducs

22 May 2019

Giles Burke-Gaffney

When an invitation to a 29 wine vertical of Marquis d’Angerville’s Monopole Clos des Ducs landed on my e-doorstep, I did not think twice.  Invites like this don’t come round very often, in fact it may be the only chance I ever get to taste this wine so extensively, I thought to myself.

Guillaume d’Angerville had hosted such a tasting on only two previous occasions, one at the estate and one in the US. As the small group of importers and journalists sat there in d’Angerville’s cellars, a collective and very palpable sense of excitement was building. By the end of both an enjoyable and educational tasting, there was a sense we had all partaken in something very special. A feeling exuded by Guillaume as much as anyone else, for whom tasting pre 2003 vintages must have brought back vivid recollections of his father. Great wine should not only be a highly pleasurable sensory experience but an evocative and emotional one that creates memories, and as such is all the better for being shared. The Clos des Ducs tasting proved this as much as any I have been to.

The event also served as a reminder that Burgundy’s really great crus have their own distinctive personalities and signatures, this is what separates the best from the rest. Clos des Ducs has identity in spades. For rather than being a “top” Volnay 1er Cru vertical, this was very much a “Clos des Ducs” one. Characterised by a stature, presence and deep, baritone character Clos des Ducs offers dark spicy and earthy notes that are never too far away from the surface. Depending on the vintage or stage in life more high-toned, floral elements often reveal themselves but always built on solid foundations.

A huge thank you to Guillaume for a tasting to remember.

Tasting Notes- wines listed in order tasted

Flight 1

2017 - Floral and bright with a silky and very fluid, seamless palate. Creamy-textured but with an air of freshness to it. Open and charming Clos des Ducs with layer and depth to it. As easy as it is to admire this already, there is a clear sense of lots more to come.

2016 - Not hit by frost. Clos des Ducs was above the frost line of 260 m altitude. Fine, high-toned aromas precede a firm palate that shows great intensity and definition. Crisp sapid fruit with a gripping, fine-grained structure. This has wonderful energy and precision but needs to unwind a bit. A great wine. All the elements are there to suggest a long and wonderful life.

2015 - A dry vintage. The darkest in the flight. Surprisingly aromatic and open for a 2015, no signs of shutting down just yet but don’t rule it out for this has scale, density and depth. Bold and enveloping. A wine of stature and powerful but noble structure with an abundance of fruit to balance. Mightily Impressive. A final song and dance before hibernation ?

Flight 2

2012 - On paper a torrid year. There were 3 hailstorms (two in June and one in early August.) Yields were a mere 9 hl/h! Only Magnums were produced of this (commercially, at least) 1287 of them. Surely it’s years like this, though, when domaines earn their stripes. One of the surprises of the tasting tight-packed intense and long. Yes there is a tannic edge but it does not dominate or dry the fruit, there is surprising flow and juiciness considering the vintage conditions. Not ready yet but it should make for a very good bottle.

2010 - A vintage Guillaume is very proud of and rightly so. A bout of odium attacked vines in August and led to low yields of  20 hl/ha. What a wine, though. A hard act to follow. Fine-tuned aromas and a detailed yet silky palate. The texture and balance alone are to be wondered at. The fruit is on the dark morello cherry side of the spectrum and, although vivid and seductive now there is still a sense this is keeping a lot in reserve. On the surface this is suave and demure, though beneath lies a coiled power waiting to spring into action.  Intense but seamless.  One of the Domaine’s greatest ever?

2009 - The palest colour in the flight. Plump and juicy, sun-ripened red berry fruit. Not the raciness or high definition of 2010 but so open and alluring.  Teeming with floral and seductive but quite large-framed fruit.  Full of solar energy, the fruit is bold and easy to enjoy. The foundations feel solid, too. A wine that will make many friends. Not likely to be as long lived as the 2010, definitely smooth enough to drink now, but waiting for this should reward further nonetheless.

2005 - Francois Duvivier’s first vintage. A closed wine that shows its tannic structure for now. Tightly-wound but there is cause for optimism – Guillaume felt it was much less tight than it had been and, in his words “the 1976 took 25 years to open!” Dominated by mineral, cool earth and saddle leather with dark hedgerow fruit notes.  Wait.

Flight 3

2007 – The  “lutte raisonée” cuvée (grown using no insecticide or herbicide.) In 2007 the domaine conducted an experiment. Half of the top part of Clos des Ducs was grown using lutte raisonnée, the other half of the same plot grown biodynamically. Note that the only commercially available 2007 is a blend that includes these two parts.  The nose here is wild and very spicy. Intense and structured for the year. Peppery fruit,  earthy and savoury notes come to the fore, the tannins a little exposed on the finish. 2007 - The Biodymanic Cuvée. Very clean and pure, a completely different wine to the one before.  A hint of the spiciness that the lutte raisonée bottling carries but with so much more energy and expression of fruit. Alive and precise.  A beautiful sweet tenderness of red and dark berry fruit characterises this wine. Not necessarily the most profound in the line-up but it has great charm.

2007 - Clos des Ducs final blend.  A charmer initially with its ripe hedgerow fruit gripped on the mid palate by a firm backbone. A mix of earthy bramble and peppery strawberry fruit. More complex than either of the other two but less open for now. Wait and See.

2003 - An early season like 2007 but with more prolonged heat.  Guillaume’s first complete vintage. Usually Clos des Ducs is harvested last but in 2003 it was picked on the 26th August (the second day of harvest) 1893 was the last time they harvested in August. A lot more open than the 2005 but still very concentrated and tight-wound for now. On the more dried cherry and berry side of the spectrum with hints of crème de mure.

Flight 4

2004 Trescases - normal cork closure. Hail struck on the 21st August. Harvested on the 29th September at 37hl/ha, over a full month later than the 2003! Light and edgy, has some sinew and nerve. There is structure gripping the red berry fruit. A little highly-strung and tight but works.

2004 Guala – a silicon closure. Livelier and more expressive than the regular bottling, some savoury vegetal notes but beautifully detailed light red cherry and red berry fruit complimenting this. Softer and more charming.

2001 - Hailed early August. 35hl/ha Very crisp, noticeably racier than the 2004 and clearly more concentrated. Intense dark cherry fruit that is at once sweet and razor sharp. There is a firmness to this suggesting the elements still need time to meld together.

2000 – Cropped at a generous 45 hl/ha. A vintage that was not trusted to age at the time but 2000 is a year that continues to prove the doubters wrong. Gorgeous right now, so open and enticing. Background secondary notes of smoke and undergrowth play foil to the sumptuous, caressing, flavours of soft, creamy red summer fruits. Satisfyingly mature but with enough life in it to keep you coming back for more. This shouts seize the day and drink me now!

Flight 5

1999 – Another good size crop with yields of 40hl/ ha.  1999s have famously been in their shells since bottling, but this one looks like it could be finally breaking out. Bursting with big, juicy sweet fruit, not a classic Volnay, perhaps age will refine this further, but a solid and deep wine of great presence. This has plenty of promise. Certainly the best 1999 I have had.  Starting to drink well but with much further to go.

1996 – Again cropped at 40 hl/ha The most evolved colour of the three. The vintage’s high acidity is still very present and dominating the fruit a little. It feels like this is going through an awkward phase of change.  1995 - like the others in the flight, cropped at around 40 hl/ ha. Dark coloured, burly and structured. One of the bigger Clos des Ducs in the flight but, rather like the 1999, having not budged for some years there is a real sense this is starting to soften and open.  A Volnay of well-toned muscle. Within this solid framework sits what feels like a touch-paper of fruit waiting to spark.  Energetic bramble flavours mingled with undergrowth and minerals.  Exciting to watch this unfold. If drinking now open well in advance and with food, but keep back some bottles in your case.

Flight 6

1993 - Harvested on 21st Sept and cropped at 36 hl/ha . One of my favourite wines of the tasting. Maturing but with plenty of fruit still. This has found a wonderful equilibrium. A nice balance of autumnal leafy notes and bright small juicy red berries and currant. Lifted floral notes of cherry blossom start to come through with air. A wine out of its shell and loving life. Harmonious bright and beautiful with an elegant yet very straight posture.

1991 - A late frost vintage.  Picked on the 3rd October at 28 hl/ha. Intense youthful and concentrated. Edgy but balanced with plenty of dark fruit sweetness through which runs a this seam of earth mineral notes.  Tannins show a little but no more than you would expect and in balance to the fruit. The youthful energy and firmness is staggering. Let it soften a little as its clearly a thrilling prospect for the future.  One of a few surprises in this tasting.

1990 - 20th September harvest and cropped at 36 h/ha. Inferior to the 1991 but this might be down to the fact none was left at the domaine and was sourced from a customer in France. Intense and concentrated but there is a little decadence and fade to the fruit, which is underlaid by complex sweet spice and leather notes. Big but a little evolved. 

Flight 7

1987 – The result of a warm, humid September that saw some botrytis. Picked on the 6th October. More life than expected here. A nose that mixes vegetal notes with some crisp berry fruit, though this does fade a little after a promising start. Time to drink up.

1985 - A 4th October harvest. A headily aromatic nose that offers a decadent mix of smoke, tea leaf and dried rose petal. Sweet and voluptuous on the palate with some high floral notes. A hedonist’s wine that for me is surpassed by the youthful gusto of the 1983. Drink now.

1983  - The earliest vintage in the flight. A tannic and brawny wine but the tannins gradually melt into the fruit. Punchy pepper spice, earth, dark fruit and minerals. There is much to like about this, baritone and complex. Satisfying in both flavour and mouthfeel. A winter Volnay. There is more to come from this too. Enjoy by the fire, with stew or keep longer as this still has a good future ahead of it. Super.

1980 – Not a famed vintage by any stretch of the imagination. A late vintage that apparently favoured the latest pickers. Evolved , light but oh so pretty. A mature Clos des Ducs with a twinkle in its eye. Not the most complex but delightful nonetheless. The bright red fruits, sweet spice and floral touches dance across the palate and make this eminently drinkable. A big surprise. 

Flight 8

1978 – This was Renaud de Villette’s first vintage, Guillaume’s brother in law and Jacques’ right hand man.  A first peak and a deceptive, subtle note of maturity reveals itself but this quickly kicks on . This goes into overdrive through the mid palate and a thrilling ride it makes for, too. Haunting and fine, resplendent with fresh elegant fruit. As energetic as it is, there is such grace and fluidity. Sweet sous bois and gariguettes flavours echo on the long, uplifting finish. A tough call in an impressive line up but, in the end, my favourite in this tasting. A memory I will treasure.

1976 After the disappointment of 1975 (when no Premiers Crus were produced, everything was blended into one villages) this would have been a welcome arrival.  At the time ‘76 was the most precocious year since 1903, harvest starting on the 13th September.  One of the deepest, darkest colours in the tasting. Tannic and savoury. No sign of the fruit fading under the weight of the tannins. Immoveable, like it’s preserved in aspic, not particularly charming but the youth this is showing suggest it may be worth waiting for, but don’t rush.

1972 A very late harvest indeed. 14th October. High acidity and slightly decadent fruit, notes of molasses and sous bois. Nice enough but it fades a little too quickly.  1920 – The result of a 4th October harvest cropped at a tiny 17 hl/ha. A generous addition to the tasting bought at auction by one of the attendees. Once you are past the slightly disarming spritz to the fruit, there is a firmness and youth that holds up surprisingly well. Redcurrant and cool earth with sweet meat notes. More than anything else a pleasant curiosity and an interesting glimpse of the past.