Roses de Jeanne La Bolorée – The Short End of the Stick
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | MARCH 19, 2020
"What would you like to taste?” Cédric Bouchard asks as we descend into his cellar, where the cool temperature provides a much-needed break from a brutal heat wave. “Really, whatever you want,” Bouchard says, sensing my apprehension as I gaze at a stunning collection of bottles, but not wanting to ask for too much….
I have been a huge fan of Cédric
Bouchard’s Champagnes since I first tasted them in the 2004 vintage. I
especially remember the Haute-Lemblée that
year, which I gave a stellar write up to, along with a correspondingly high score.
That review caused a minor uproar. I am sure readers will find this hard to
believe, but back then high scores in Champagne were reserved for the likes of
Krug, Dom Pérignon and Roederer. “How can a
grower Champagne get such a high score?” I heard from readers. Well, these are
quite simply some of the most singular wines made anywhere in the world, that’s
how. Even since that moment, I have bought as much of these Champagnes as I can
find and afford every year.
Bouchard selects wines for this retrospective.
Traditionally, Champagne was built on three pillars designed
to ensure consistency from year to year. These are: 1) the use of several
varieties (most commonly Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay), 2) a blending of
vintages and 3) a combination of vineyard sites. Champagnes like Philipponnat’s
Clos des Goisses and Krug’s Clos du Mesnil began to gradually free Champagne
from these tenets, ultimately culminating with the explosion of the grower
Champagne movement starting in the 1980s, give or take, when family-owned
domaines took back vineyards that had previously been contracted out to large
maisons and began making wines under their own labels, much as happened in
other regions around the world, such as Burgundy and Piedmont. While large
houses have access to multiple sites all over Champagne, itself a very large,
sprawling region, growers work only with estate vineyards, and these tend to be
centralized around much smaller geographic areas, which then naturally gives
birth to Champagnes that are more localized and connected to the land.
Cédric Bouchard’s Champagnes are
the antithesis of what drives big brand Champagne – they are rigorously
single-variety, single-vintage and single-parcel wines. Champagne
deconstructed, if you will. But that’s just the conceptual starting point.
Whereas the goal in most of Champagne is to maximize yields through the use of
high production clones and conventional farming, Bouchard farms for low yields,
following organic principles and using no herbicides or pesticides. To be fair,
this is the same approach used by many quality-minded growers today. In fact,
some of the more forward-thinking larger houses have started to shift their
thinking towards more sustainable practices in the field, but that is a subject
for another day.
Seven expressions of La Bolorée.
Bouchard aims to harvest around 11.5-12% natural potential
alcohol (“you gain up another half-degree in the prise de mousse,” he
adds), which allows him to avoid chaptalization entirely. For the sake of
comparison, 11-12% is in the upper range for Champagne. Most larger houses will
pick at lower levels of ripeness and then chaptalize, a decision that is partly
taken to avoid the risk of bad weather later in the growing season. As they say,
“fortune favors the bold….”
Both primary and secondary fermentations are native, with
indigenous yeasts. The wines see full malolactic fermentation and are done
entirely in tank. Coaxing the essence of each site through the lens of the
vintage is what these Champagnes are all about. In fact, the concept of
Champagne here is more akin to wine. Bouchard bottles with lower pressure than
is typical, which results in a very gentle mousse, what he calls a “slow, fine
bubble that really lets you taste the wine.” All of the wines are bottled with no
dosage. Taken in its entirety, this approach, driven by Bouchard’s
extraordinary vision and outsize passion, yields Champagnes of exquisite, and at times profoundly
“How about a few vintages of La Bolorée?”
I reply. “Great idea,” Bouchard answers. “Do you know I have never done a
vertical of La Bolorée” I am not at all surprised. Cédric Bouchard is the quintessential contrarian who resists
meeting his heroes (“I don’t want to be disappointed”), opens a restaurant, but
does not put his wines on the list (“I don’t want to dominate the wine
program”) and completely abandoned his Coteaux Champenois project without
releasing a single vintage (“I didn’t like the wines and there was too much
hype around them, so I sold them to the négoce”).
So no, I am not surprised. “You probably drink my wines more than I do,” Bouchard
says as he starts assembling the vintages. “If you don’t mind, we are going to
skip the 2011,” he adds with a wry smile, alluding to the one vintage here that
I have never liked.
Production is just 500 bottles per year. I had never seen
an OWC, but, apparently, they exist.
La Bolorée is my
favorite wine in Bouchard’s range, neck and neck with the Rosé de Saignée Creux
d’Enfer. First produced in 2005, La Bolorée emerges from a tiny, south-facing parcel of just 22 rows planted in
1960 and measuring a measly
0.21 hectares, a theme at Bouchard, where all the plots are tiny. Production? 500
bottles per year. That’s it.
“Some years ago, a French group was selling properties,
including forests and vineyards,” Bouchard explained. “There was Pinot Noir,
Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc planted at La Bolorée,
and three interested buyers. I wanted the Chardonnay, but we couldn’t come to
an agreement amongst ourselves, so we had to draw straws. I lost. I ended up
with the Pinot Blanc.”
The Roses de Jeanne cellar provides a nice break during a
brutal heat spike.
“At first I thought: ‘Crap! What am I going to do with Pinot
Blanc? I don’t even like Pinot Blanc.’ But then I decided to turn a negative
into a positive and accept the challenge. A new direction. When we started to
work the vineyard, we had about 70 dead vines. As we replanted, we noticed that
there was a bed of chalk under the clay and sand, which you just don’t see here
in the Aube. You expect to see these kinds of soils in the Marne Valley, but
not here. The wine could not exist without this soil. So, in the end we were
In my experience, La Bolorée
is the most tightly wound of the Bouchard Champagnes, and it really needs a few
years post-disgorgement to be at its most expressive. The track record here is
short, but based on what I have tasted, these wines seem to peak around age
10-15. La Bolorée might be the exception. We will have more data points soon, as Bouchard is putting away a
significant chunk of his production for a library release program. “I am not a
fan of late-disgorgement Champagnes, because those are different wines from the original release - you can’t really see how a wine
has aged. I want people to taste my wines with age, to see the real evolution of how they have
developed over time. So everything is disgorged at the same time." It’s pretty
hard to pick favorites in this lineup, but I thought the 2008, 2010 and 2013
were all fabulous. A mini-vertical of the Creux d’Enfer rounded out the
morning. I have included notes on those wines here as well.
Cedric Bouchard’s super-rare Rosé de Saignée Creux
See the Wines in the Order Tasted
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