Un rendez-vous with Mr Truth: Laurent Ponsot

PHO2deabcf4-3408-11e4-b650-05bec45dcd50-805x453The last time I met Laurent Ponsot he was about to embark on a trans-continental American motor-bike ride. He had the look too.

Ten years on much has changed at the eponymous Domaine Ponsot in Morey Saint Denis. He still rides bikes across the States, but this time met me be-suited, elegantly dressed and very much the easy-living proprietor rather than an erstwhile easy rider.

The domaine now holds the largest selection of Grand Crus in Burgundy: twelve different Grand Crus, from Montrachet in the south to Chambertin in the north. He lent me a generous hour and half duriçng which we tasted five wines, two whites Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Mont Luisants and Corton Charlemagne and three reds: a Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes, Chapelle Chambertin and Clos de la Roche. All in 2013.

Since his major rôle in the downfall of Rudy Kurniawan, he has also become something of a media star. He has been in films, documentaries and is now working on a book; a book that will shoot a hole though the whole sorry story and take a whole crowd down with it; if he does indeed tell the thruth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This he would like to do, but libel law is spelled with a capital L, and after all these years at the helm of Domaine Ponsot, he is only now getting the banks off his back.

Whatever, he concurs (as I have previously suggested) that Kurniawan was not alone in scamming so many. Others were complicit but in most respects will probably get away with it…unless he does spill all the haricots.

There were of course many fools in the noughties’ years of fakery, he names a few, but also talks fondly of the gentle addiction of others who were just unable to resist, whatever the cost. And now he says, the cogent marketing and sale of fakes has moved to the Far East where despite a long standing and high ranking côterie of oenophile connoisseurs, the market is ripe with dupes.

Anyway, if there is one thing Laurent Ponsot is sure about, it is his own opinions. Quite the Mr. Contrary, he spent and hour and half gently correcting just about every statement I made or suggested. But I cannot begrudge it, he talks a lot of sense (and I alot of guff.)

As we gazed out of the tasting room window onto a field of lush green vines I suggested he must be pretty happy with the way 2015 has gone so far…”So, so” he replied,”And in any case nature will have her way.” Old vines dig deep; so even with this first heavy rain that I have seen all summer, he was confident that his vines had not been stressed, finding their sustenance 12 metres underground.

I was surprised that harvest will only commence on the 20th September, although earlier for the whites in the Côte de Beaune. Others have already started, even in the Côte de Nuits. He also noted sagely, that three weeks before harvest is like a week in politics: a very long time. Rot could ravage the vines in days – astatement that brought us nicely on to treatments, bio-dynamics and other philosophies.

Laurent Ponsot is a no labels man, he’s not bio-dynamic; he’s not organic, not lutte-raisonnée, not nothing. He reacts as nature calls – although it sounded a lot like lutte raisonnée to me. He would rather use chemicals than lose a harvest, and in any event states that the vines effectively make all treatments “disappear” (rather than the accepted bio argumentnorm that everything you put on a vine must inevitably end up in the ground, and so in some way, in your glass).

DSC_8101-2I didn’t quite swallow that one, but he did suggest that the recently deceased and much admired and regretted queen of Burgundian Bio-Dynamie, Anne Claude Leflaive might have still been with us had she treated her cancer less naturally and more medically.It was a rather forceful way to make his point but made his philosophy starkly clear.

He also explained away my questions regarding the Burgundian problem of “premox”, or the premature madeirization of Burgundies best white wines over the last twenty years . In short, he states, it’s all to do with barrels, and by extension it is all Robert Parker’s fault. Briefly, in an effort to garner critical recognition, and under the influence of a new generation of young Burgundians trained at UC Davis or Rosemount, Burgundians have turned to new oak and tried to make new world wines from old world stock, as it were. This the wood is rarely “sealed” and oxigenates the wines too much (nb. Laurent Ponsot’s explanation does not appear in the Wikipaedia entry above). Ponsot uses nothing less than three year old barrels (and up to ten years old) for his whites. I confess I forgot to ask about the reds.

I would also note that rising Meursault domaine, Boisson-Vadot (under the guidance of the great Jean-François Coche) expresses a similiar attitude to oak in his wines. It is certainly true that from the best climats for white wines, less is definitely more.

And what of the wines? Well they were great, and as good as I remember them before. They were, if anything, slightly finer than I remembered them.

There is Aligoté, and there is Aligoté that gives Aligoté a bad name: all flab and no acidity.

Ponsot’s Mont Luisants 1er Cru from the highest vines of Morey Saint Denis and planted one hundred years ago, has a strikingly ripe acidity, not sharp or tart, but certainly defining. The wine has an admirable lightness and elegance and has clear potential to age. indeed Monsieur Ponsot suggests the 1953 is just about hitting its high point. Would that we could all hold our Burgundian premier cru whites for sixty years in blind confidence.

As a Grand Cru will, the Corton Charlemagne 2013 carries a little more weight, but is again a wine of striking balance and elegance. Its most strking feature though is its spice and finish. And when I say spice, Rarely has a flavour expressed itself so fervently and clearly to me. It was ginger at the start and ginger at the end.

The 2013 red are interesting. It is a vintage I think that Burgundian afficionados will adore. There is a firm tannic border and the fruit is on the lighter side; this is no 1999 or 2005. But both the Chambolle Charmes and the Chapelle Chambertin express an elegant core of fruit that I suspect will express its (for Burgundian obsessives) elegant and feminine essence rapidly; sooner rather than later.

And then there was the 2013 Clos de la Roche; the flagship and emblematic gran cru of the domaine. From old vines this wine is a whole new proposition. It is deeper in colour it is deeper on the nose. Darker fruits and an obvious and more instant gravitas. The last Clos de Roche I tasted here were the 2004 and the 2000, this )erhaps resembles the 2004. But what is astounding is the lenght.

Laurent Ponsot was talking, and really I was trying to listen; but the wine just kept on developing in my mouth, for minutes and evolving at considerable, distractive volume.

And for oince he agreed: Clos de la Roche from Domaine Ponsot is all about the finish.

And there will I, with my grateful thanks for his time, and hope, against hope, that a tiny, tiny allocation will come my way.

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About matthewhayesbrognon

Wine Merchant
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