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domaine de la vougeraie: burgundy at its best

The flamboyant Jean-Charles Boisset has always been a bit of a maverick. The scion of a Burgundy vintner, he was determined from an early age to move to America. When he ultimately settled in San Francisco in the early 1990s he managed the office of his family’s enterprise, Boisset America. A few years later he purchased Lyeth Estates, one California’s early pioneers in meritage wines (Bordeaux-style blends) and the first of his many U.S. properties.

In 1999 Jean-Charles and his sister Nathalie accomplished something unthinkable in Burgundy at the time: they reconstituted the best of their family’s vineyard holdings in the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits into a new estate called Domaine de la Vougeraie. Boisset today controls nearly 30 wine properties or brands, but Vougeraie remains the core of his identity. It controls 91 acres of vineyard holdings scattered across 29 different Burgundy appellations, with all wines sharing a common vision and style.

Boisset’s wine career has been one innovation after another. He was an early champion of both organic and biodynamic farming, and has applied those techniques to many of his properties. He is partial to alternative packaging: one of his labels, French Rabbit, is sold in Tetrapaks rather than glass bottles; another is Beaujolais in an aluminum container, which turns blue when the wine reaches the correct chilled temperature. His personal wine label, JCB, is sold in a series of tasting rooms with opulent décor and high-tech touches such as interactive tables that customize the experience for each guest.

These idiosyncrasies are reflected in Boisset’s personal style. He is fond of designer clothing by Tom Ford, Gucci and Lanvin as well as Louboutin shoes, which are accompanied by his trademark red socks. In 2009 he married Gina Gallo, heir to the Modesto empire, although the pair do not work together in the wine business.

The Boisset road show recently passed through Palm Beach, in an omnibus tasting that included his other Burgundy properties such as J. Moreau Chablis, Bouchard Ainé and Mommessin Beaujolais. The wines from Domaine de la Vougeraie stole the show. While you may or may not agree with all the tenets of biodynamic farming (I don’t), there was an indisputable clarity and focus that spanned the entire range. It was a memorable afternoon, enhanced by the charisma of Jean-Charles himself.

           domaine de la vougeraie tasting notes

The enticing nose of the 2014 Savigny Les Beaune Blanc ($36) offers whiffs of citrus, stone fruits and forest undergrowth. It is medium-bodied, fresh and clean in the mouth, with good acidity and persistent notes of peach and lemon. It clings nicely to the palate, displays good substance and finishes long. Because of its texture, this would work as a crossover wine with poultry and games dishes as well as fish and shellfish.

The Monopole 2011 Clos du Prieuré Blanc ($75) was easily the wine of the tasting. It exhibited a deep yellow gold color and scents of lemon oil and charred oak. It was just as complex in the mouth, with a fleshy midpalate, an abundance of citrus flavors, hints of tropical fruit, and an elegance that caused me to come back to it twice. Truly a beautiful wine.

The 2014 version of the Clos du Prieuré Blanc ($83) understandably lacked the complexity of the 2011, but was a charming wine nonetheless. It had echoes of the citrus and toasty oak aromas on the nose, coupled with floral notes. Bright and fresh in the mouth, it was accessible and straightforward for drinking now.

The nose of the 2014 Corton-Charlemagne ($125)---simply and grandly labelled Le Charlemagne---was classy, deep and recessed. It blossomed in the mouth into a full-bodied, rich and ripe wine with excellent acidity, a strong mineral backbone, and finely delineated citrus flavors that persisted from beginning to end.

As a treat, Boisset brought along a bottle of the 2003 Clos Blanc du Vougeot ($80), a rare wine from the 1er Cru Chardonnay parcels of the Clos du Vougeot vineyard. It was deep yellow gold in color, with some signs of age on the nose. The fruit seemed a bit faded on entry but opened up nicely in the mid palate with ripe flavors of peach, pear, and touches of apricot. The texture was generous, verging on opulent.

Aromas of wild strawberry and red raspberry wafted up from a glass of the 2014 Pommard Les Petits Noizons ($60), the first of four reds. It was light to medium-bodied in the mouth, with a core of red berry fruit and a fine herbal edge. The flavors carried over onto a long finish.

The 1er Cru Monopole Nuits St. George Clos du Thorey 2013 ($100) displayed scents of raspberry jam and forest floor on the nose. It was fresh and concentrated in the mouth, with a midpalate that revealed flavors of currants, dark berry notes and earth tones. The flavors were focused through to the finish, where the berries were balanced by notes of pepper and spice.

By contrast, the 2014 Nuits St. Georges Les Damodes ($80) had a nose that was cool, breezy and slightly mentholated. It was medium-bodied and compact in the mouth, with crunchy flavors of red and dark berries. The initial impression was of a wine that was smooth and easy to drink, but the complex edges kept popping out. There was an interesting mix of fruit and earth notes on the finish.

The grapes for the 2014 Grand Cru Clos du Vougeot ($135) were drawn from two parcels: one near the top of the slope, close to the chateau, the other further down the slope near the road. The nose gave off whiffs of black cherries, anise, fresh herbs and touches of mint. It was full-bodied, concentrated and very well balanced, with flavors of black raspberry and plum intertwined with touches of forest floor. The tart finish revealed very good acidity and aging potential. The wine could fairly be described as a sleeping giant, and will be fascinating to taste again in ten years.