Monday, June 15, 2009

Sancerre Rouge, Gérard Boulay 2006

Alarmingly little has been written about the wines of Gérard Boulay around the vInternet. Jim Budd sums the situation up succinctly: “Gérard Boulay [is] a very good Chavignol producer a little in the style of Cotat and… deserves to be better known.” Boulay has no website. The smattering of blog posts I stumbled across in the scope of my research included only glancing reviews of one or another of his Sancerres Blancs. One of the few really informative pieces I found comes from Jancis Robinson who, in writing of Boulay’s 2006 Sancerre “Les Monts Damnés,” includes some useful information about the estate and also takes some time to laud the efforts of the importer bringing Boulay’s wines into the UK market.

I must say I’m equally impressed with Gérard Boulay’s wine, and with my recent experiences with one of his US importers – Potomac Selections, based in Landover, MD. Their portfolio absolutely offers more to explore; however, their book is not available in PA, so I’ll have to make the occasional trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line to continue the exploration.

Sancerre Rouge, Gérard Boulay 2006
$27. 13% alcohol. Cork. A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Gérard Boulay owns and farms nine hectares of vineyards in Chavignol, most of them planted on the chalk and limestone rich Kimmeridgian “terre blanche” soils for which the area is best known and from which some of the best wines of Sancerre stem. Boulay’s neighbors in Chavignol include Edmond Vatan and the Frères Cotat; like them, he works his vines and earth completely by hand and makes his wines with minimal manipulation, ambient yeast fermentation and only the smallest possible doses of sulfur dioxide.

Boulay’s 2006 Sancerre Rouge shows the elegance of the vintage. Entirely transparent in the glass, pale at the rim and light ruby at its core, the wine brims with sinewy cherry pit fruit, a suggestion of cola (without the sweetness that often accompanies it) and a furry, herbal aroma – sage, perhaps. There’s a spice cabinet element on the nose; I’m guessing this sees partial aging in older barrels (as do some of his whites), though I have no hard data to support that feeling, just my gut reaction. It’s one of the more forward-fruited Sancerres Rouges I’ve had – there’s no lean, green machine here – yet it’s still entirely finesse-driven wine. I found background aromas of lime rind, acidity that’s at once gentle and slightly tangy, and the expected minerality of classic Sancerre, even if it didn’t jump out and beg to be noticed.

The wine sallied effortlessly into its second day, maintaining its fresh structural aspects and revealing rounder aromatic and flavor components. Orange peel and sandalwood on the nose; dried cherries and raspberry confiture on the front and mid-palates; cranberries and apple sauce on the finish. Lovely stuff. A shockingly good match with lightly steamed (and pristinely fresh) broccoli, of all things. And relative to its peers, quite a sound value.

Lucie and Gérard Boulay in their plot of the “Clos de Beaujeu.” The image is borrowed, with my thanks, from Polaner Selections (another of Boulay’s importers), as is this well-worn quote from Monsieur Boulay himself, “C’est la nature qui fait le vin.”


Joe Manekin said...

We import these wines direct at work. It's a favorite amongst my co-workers and our more savvy customers. Cotat quality for less. Boulay's basic Sancerre is always terrific, impeccably balanced and quite pretty. Mont Damnes, as expected, is tighter, more mineral, more taut and needs bottle age. He has another bottling called Clos du Beaujeu which is riper, sees a bit more oak aging and is plumper, though still very tasty, particularly in cooler vintages. Rosé is also quite good and affordably priced for the quality.

David McDuff said...

Thanks for the input, Joe. Yet more for the shopping wish list....

Director, Lab Outreach said...

I think the Boulay wines are tremendous. Mont Damnes is almost at the level of Vatan's Neore. Almost. And because K&L brings them in, they are unbeatable value in California.

Joe would have a more nuanced view on this than I, but I might argue that many of K&L's direct imports don't get their fair due in the press. I don't know whether there is a price bias (because they're able to keep the price down, the reputation suffers -- yes, I'm cynical about the average consumer) or if it has something to do with a de facto California monopoly -- you can only get them at K&L so there's less impulse to talk them up outside the store? Not sure if it's even realistic to discuss a K&L effect beyond state lines. Just don't know.

Might just be that Boulay is in the same category as Leclerc Briant for me and for unknown others. I don't tell anyone about how good the wines are for fear of the price going up (or the store running out).

nattles said...

David - No worries. We'll have to have some Boulay when you get out to SF (you're probably long overdue for a trip out west, right?)

Mr. Harden -

I think that many of our, as well as other importer/retailers' DI's (excepting Kermit, who has the distribution channel set up nationally) are often times not reviewed for the sheer lack of distribution; press generally prefers to review wines that are available more widely, not just on a store's website to states that allow shipping. This helps to sell more wine, and what is the traditional wine press other than a vehicle for traditional retailers to sell more wine?

Joe Manekin said...

Oops, my girlfriend apparently didn't sign out of her google account. Obviously, that last comment was from me....

David McDuff said...


You're probably long overdue for a trip out west, right?

Something tells me you've heard that around here once or twice before? Definitely, long overdue. It's been over two years (January '07 if I'm not mistaken). I'll take you up on the Boulay... soon, I hope.

JDH and Joe,
Obviously, Boulay's wines are brought into the US by at least one or two other small importers as well. The fact that they remain such a secret in general is good for us and may have something to do with the fact that they don't come in through any of the big names in artisan Euro importing (Lynch, Dressner, Rosenthal, etc).

The fact that they don't get mentioned in the mainstream press is most likely driven by the fact that most mainstream wine pubs review only what is sent to them as review samples. In my observation/experience, many smaller or lesser known importers (Potomac, Petit Pois, Wine Traditions to name a few) rarely if ever submit review samples to the Spectacle, Enthusiast, etc.

And don't forget, the traditional wine press is also a vehicle for the traditional wine press to sell more advertising space.

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