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Nov032012

Gérard Boulay: Chavignol Rules

Gérard Boulay. Photo by James Broadway PhotographyIf there was to be a Grand Cru classification for Sancerre, then the steep, chalky slopes of Chavignol would be first in line. This tiny hamlet (also the source of one of France’s most famous cheeses: Crottin de Chavignol) is capable of producing wines with such textural beauty, such perfume, and such minerality, that they completely transcend the Sauvignon grape (or what we in Australia associate with this variety). One of the greatest and most authentic growers in Chavignol is Gérard Boulay, a humble, non interventionist grower who prefers to let his remarkable terroirs do the talking. Boulay works with just nine hectares of vineyards, all in Chavignol, yet he has exceptional parcels in the most revered vineyards. This remarkable selection of vineyards makes sense; Boulay can trace his family roots in Chavignol back to the 1300’s so his family has had plenty of time to pick and choose! Boulay works his terres blanches soil completely by hand, adds nothing at all to the ferment – letting indigenous yeast do their work - and uses only the smallest possible doses of SO2. All of his single sites mature in old, neutral barrels, which impart no flavour but allow the wines to develop their full personalities.

This is an address where the holy trinity of great terroir, old vines, and a hard working grower results in a set of stunning, highly individual and age worthy Sancerre. Our notes for the new release below.

2011  Gérard Boulay Tradition Chavignol Sancerre
Tradition is Boulay's 'house' Sancerre; a blend, still handmade in artisanal quantities and exclusively from Domaine Chavignol vineyards. In short it is still 'Grand Cru' Sancerre! The vines are aged between 30-40 years and the wine is fermented in stainless steel and bottled with a very light filtration. 2011 has delivered a terrific Tradition in perhaps a slightly more tender mould than the tension-wrought 2010. You'll find loads of grape skin and citrus character here along with just a touch of sweet, green herbs. There’s plenty of cut and drive and a long, stony, finish, making this one of the region’s most eminent ‘entry’ wines. The quenching freshness, wonderful complexity and bright, chalky zip, a legacy of the vintage and the mineral soils, render the 2011 immediately irresistible, though it's sure to continue improving over the next few years.
“Tasted from the earliest of several bottlings representing a common assemblage, Boulay’s regular cuvee of 2011 Sancerre leads with scents of mint, pennyroyal and chervil, and behind that fresh grapefruit and lime, all of which team up on the palate for a performance that’s irresistibly luscious, but also unusually buoyant, bright and invigorating for its vintage (virtues enhanced by palpable retained CO2). The herb and white pepper impingement in this Sancerre’s sustained finish reminds me a bit of Grüner Veltliner, while chalk and iodine add notes of intrigue. This will be a versatile delight over the next several years.” 90 points, David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate #201

2010  Gérard Boulay Monts-Damnés Sancerre
Monts-Damnés is probably the finest vineyard in Chavignol, and therefore the finest in Sancerre. Within Monts-Damnés itself is a range of lieux dits (the super rare Comtesse being the most revered) but that’s another story. Drinking a great wine from Monts-Damnés leaves you in little doubt that Chavignol is capable of producing the most textural, mineral, uplifting and sublime whites in all of Sancerre. This vineyard is situated on a south facing plot on terres blanches (chalky limestone over Kimmeridgian marl) and produces seductive yet nervy, shimmering wines. When Didier Dagueneau decided to plant in Sancerre (well, he would say that he decided to plant in Chavignol), Monts-Damnés was the site he chose. Boulay’s bottling comes from 45 year old vines in one of the steepest sections of the Monts-Damnés and goes on to be fermented in large, old oak casks bought from the likes of Bourgeois and Alphonse Mellot. The smoothing effect of barrel maturation is evident in the super-caressing texture of the wine. 2010 is a cracklingly pure expression of this vineyard: like the greatest sites of white burgundy, it is somehow textural and super intense yet superbly elegant and long.
“Boulay’s 2010 Sancerre Monts Damnés is prominently lemony, with piquant rind, black tea, and an aura of chalk dust and oil present already in the nose. At least as dense, compact, firm, and bright as the corresponding regular bottling, this nevertheless picks up a greater diversity of more vivid and succulent fruit elements in the form of white currant, tangerine, and white peach; then finishes with focus and penetration: chalky; zesty; herb-tinged; and with a salty streak serving for saliva inducement. This responded beautifully to time in the air, and I expect it to gain depth and acquire some richness of patina over the next 6-8 years, as well as to keep for several more thereafter.”  92 points, David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate #201

2010  Gérard Boulay Clos Beaujeu Sancerre
Clos Beaujeu is another of Chavignol’s extraordinary vineyards. From a single parcel (0.75 hectare) on a 60% gradient, facing south east, it was fermented in tank then raised in older 300-litre barrels and bottled without filtration. The coiled, vivid flavours include lime and wildflower, with some evocative smoky notes in the aromatics. It is still very young and only just beginning to reveal its potential, although the parallels with a fine white Burgundy are again apparent. Ripe, yet with a finely chiselled structure, there is intense lime and crushed herb aromas and a flinty, eerily Chablis-esqe mouthfeel. Rock solid class.
"Strong oil and fusil notes combine with pungent lime and grapefruit zest, green herbs, and suggestions of iodine in the complex and penetrating nose of Boulay’s 2010 Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu, setting the tone for a brightly and juicily citric, herb and mineral-saturated palate performance, over which a bittersweet floral perfume hangs alluringly. This finishes with tingling brightness, zesty piquancy, mouthwatering salinity and grip, albeit less long-lined and diversely mineral than the corresponding Mont Damnés. And like that wine, it became more expressive after it had been open for half an hour. Here is another candidate for at least a decade’s cellaring, though it could certainly be drunk without regret today. In a reversal of the procedure Boulay followed with this year’s Mont Damnés, the Clos de Beaujeu fermented in tank and was then raised in assorted (older 300-liter) barrels." 92 points, David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate #201

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