Sunday, December 14, 2008

Visiting Philippe Pacalet

We visited some of the very top producers in Burgundy - Mugnier, Roumier, Pierre Morey, Pacalet, L'Arlot, Le Moine, Rousseau, and Dujac. Every visit without exception was excellent, an incredible learning experience, compelling wines, and the excitement each time of walking into a dark cellar full of barrels, glass in hand - what wines will they pour and what will they taste like?

One of my favorites was our visit to the cellars of Philippe Pacalet in Beaune. Some top wine bloggers (Bert, Alice, Bert again) have already written informative pieces about Philippe Pacalet. In summary I can tell you this: Pacalet is the nephew of Marcel Lapierre, the legendary natural wine maker in Beaujolais. Pacelet, like his uncle, removes anything from the vinification process that obscures the pure expression of terroir. He therefore does not use industrial yeasts to aid in fermentation and he uses sulfur only at bottling. Generally, this is a guy is completely hands-off. Interestingly, Pacalet does not own his own vines - he buys grapes. Of course he buys from people who farm as he would, without excessive chemicals, but I'm sure it's a challenge to ensure that grapes are grown according to his standards.

2007 Beaune 1er Cru Les Perrieres in bottles, waiting for labels.

Pacalet's wines are known for their purity and for their transparency to the underlying terroir, and 2007 seems to be a vintage that will lend itself quite well to his style - not terribly warm, just a "classic" Burgundy vintage. Tasting through the lineup was thrilling for me, as the wines were so startlingly clear and focused. The last thing I wrote in my book after we tasted the final 2007 in barrel is this: "The thing with all of these is the clarity and precision of flavors."

It was instructive for me to compare the Pommard to the Pommard 1er cru. Both were fine wines, full of dark fruit, a bit smoky, a bit savage on the nose. The 1er Cru (a blend of fruit from Les Chanlins and Les Arvelets) was more mineral on the nose and the fruit was even darker, more muscled, layered and complex.

Philippe Pacalet, definitely a bit of a rascal.

I loved tasting through the progression of wines from Gevrey-Chambertin, experiencing the similarities and differences. The villages wine was seductive with an elegant melange of fruit and something like orange peel zestiness on the finish. This wine really set the tone for the wines that followed.

Bel Air is one of those vineyards that is bordered almost entirely by Grand Cru vineyards - it lives in a fancy neighborhood. On its eastern edge it borders Chambertin Clos de Beze, Ruchottes Chambertin and Mazis-Chambertin. On its western side lie some villages level parcels, also called Bel Air, and then trees. Pacelet's 1er Cru Bel Air was just lovely, with sappy red fruit, fresh figs, great acidity, and a savory orange peel element. Very bright and clean, there is a vibrant floral aftertaste. This was my favorite of the Gevrey 1er Crus.

1er Cru Perrieres (meaning little stones, I've been told) borders Clos Prieur and various villages lieu-dits. A road separates it from Mazis-Chambertin. The wine here was spicier, with darker fruit and a more muscular grip. Still, there was something similar to the previous two, and it was the orange peel sense on the finish. The 1er Cru Lavaux St Jacques was so different from the previous wines. Dark fruit, dark flowers, very mineral, a bit sweeter with caramel notes. This wine was moving in all directions - expansive and broad, and with finesse. This vineyard is on an entirely different hill on the northern Brochon side of Gevrey and it would be simple to pick it as the odd-wine-out if you were to taste them blind.

And then there was Charmes-Chambertin, the Grand Cru vineyard whose wines seem never to be as prized as those of Chambertin , Clos de Beze, or Ruchottes. I LOVED this wine, one of my absolute favorites of the entire trip. The nose was incredibly dense with spicy fruit, orange peel, minerals, elegant and powerful, and still somewhat closed, if you can believe that. Rich and deep on the palate, the wine spreads out and coats the mouth with gentle red fruit. There is great clarity here, balance, poise, richness, and a powerful core of fruit. I just hope that I can find a bottle of this someday when it's released.

The Ruchottes-Chambertin wasn't bad either. The nose was more savage and there were dried roses. The fruit was more brawny with animale hints on the finish. This one offered incredible length and complexity on the finish - I got mint, tar, roses, and orange peel. I can see why this might be considered the better wine, but I was more charmed by the Charmes, as might also be expected.

There were many more wines we tasted, from 2007 Chambolles, to the just born 2008's, some still bubbling a bit, to bottles from several recent vintages, to the Beaujolais Nouveau that reaches only the Japanese market. But it was the story of Gevrey-Chambertin that I will remember about my visit to Pacalet's cellar.


Joe said...

This post proves how important it is to get out and visit the vineyards - it is not easy to assemble a horizontal like this - a stupendous education for the palate. That Ruchottes-Chambertin sounds like my style...Congrats on a great trip, keep it coming.

Brooklynguy said...

I agree, and thanks Joe.

Anonymous said...

Please-please-please don't make me covet any of these wines. I can't afford them!

Anonymous said...

Just came across this

Made me laugh i'm located in italy and the moment and wine wise it as like some sort of hell even when i stick to the ultra natural organic.blabla producers. ANd yes Pacalet, sigh. There is a restaurant near here wich has some, i'm going to do myself a favor.