Monday, November 9, 2009

Pierre-Marie Chermette's "Les Deux Roches"

Pierre-Marie Chermette. His were the first wines that turned me on to not just the pleasures but also the deeper possibilities of Beaujolais. I first started drinking them in the mid-to-late nineties. It wasn't long thereafter that I found myself selling them, mostly the "Cuvée Traditionelle" but also the Crus, in fairly copious quantities. It's been a few years now since the shop where I work ended business relations with Chermette's US importer. I still terribly miss having such ready access to the wines.

Over the years, I've found that Chermette's wines are in possession of certain inimitable qualities that make them unmistakably delicious. They're so good that people of all persuasions are simply drawn to the wine, whether or not they understand why. I think part of that draw is the wines' intense concentration. In most vintages, the "Traditionelle" possesses richness far beyond most basic regional and Villages level Beaujolais, while the Fleurie and Moulin-à-Vent bottlings can go beyond concentrated to downright powerful.

There's a certain gut (or perhaps knee-jerk) response to call wines such as Pierre-Marie's atypical for their richness, darkness or concentration. I suppose in a sense they are atypical, as they are richer than typical Beaujolais; however, this really brings to light not some witchcraft or chemistry that Chermette is performing in the winery to achieve "big" wines but rather just how much Beaujolais out there is not so much light and simple as it is over-cropped and dilute. If more producers followed in a path similar to Chermette's, perhaps his wines would not seem so unusual.

Pierre-Marie and his wife, Martine, farm sustainably, harvest lower yields than average in the Beaujolais, and thin their crops as necessary to ensure full ripeness on the vine. As a result, the wines never require chaptalization. Fermentation techniques are traditional, based on native yeasts only and, to complement the natural structure of the fruit, run over a longer maceration period than is the norm. The wines are aged in foudres – even barriques for some of the Cru bottlings – and are finished without fining, filtration or much if any addition of sulfur dioxide.

In more recent years, I've shifted my fancies more to the Beaujolais of other producers; to the freshness and energy of Jean-Paul Brun, the beautiful bone structure of Coudert, and the filigreed purity of Jean Foillard, to name but a few. But there's still an honored spot in my heart for the occasional bottle that crosses my path from Domaine du Vissoux.

Moulin à Vent "Les Deux Roches," Domaine du Vissoux (Pierre-Marie Chermette) 2005
$25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.

"Les Deux Roches" takes its name from two parcels of vines owned and farmed by the Chermettes: the one-hectare "Rochegrès" and a two-hectare plot called "La Rochelle," both of which are granite-rich terroirs. The finished wine is based on an assemblage (blending) of wines from the two sites that occurs following fermentation and aging of between 4-6 months in previously used barrels. Pierre-Marie suggests keeping this cuvée anywhere from five to ten years from the vintage date; a recently enjoyed bottle gave me no reason to disagree with that prognostication.

Medium, translucent red in the glass, still hinting at its earlier purpler stage. Likewise on the nose, this is beginning to go pinotisé – morphing from primary, fruity aromas to meatier, earthier, more Burgundian characteristics – but still gives up an aromatic trace of Gamay's signature, youthful fruitiness. Great feel, both mouth-fillingly round and firmly yet gently gripping. The wine's power brings with it a flicker of heat in the upper palate, but that proves to be tamed when it's drunk with food rather than tasted without accompaniment. Medium acidity carries a wave of black cherry, damson and spiced red fruits across the palate. There's no doubt that this would be right at home in a mixed line-up of regional and even village level red Burgundies.

Thirty minutes in, the nose and fruit shut down hard, going mute and picking up a hint of musty earth. Another half-hour later the wine went into a whole other phase, richer and denser, showing the influence of a ripe vintage as well as the geographical proximity of Beaujolais to the Northern Rhône. Twenty minutes more and the wine returned to a more delicate, fresh acid-driven state but also blossomed aromatically, bursting with red raspberries on the nose. With day two came diminished vitality, but there was still plenty of pleasure to be found, particularly in the presence of food. Dead-on with roast poultry. Even more clearly pinotisé than a day earlier, this would make for a nice ringer in a flight of Marsannay or Côtes-de-Nuits-Villages.

A few more bottles would be a most welcome presence in my cellar, as I expect this will continue to develop and morph in compelling directions over the next five years.


Wicker Parker said...

What a great post — not only for the passion, but for the detail that really draws me in. I'll have to try it if I can find it...

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Mike, glad you enjoyed the read. I'm guessing you'll have a tough time finding the '05 available at retail at this point. Grab a more recent vintage if you can find it and sock it away for a couple of years. I think you'll dig.

TWG said...

Glad to hear, it's coming around. A bottle I opened several months ago was closed.

David McDuff said...

Hey Tom,
I can't say that surprises me. Based on the way this bottle changed over the course of a couple of hours -- open, then closed, then open again -- I wouldn't be surprised if the wine continues to go through shutdown phases over the next few years.

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