Clos de la Roche
Clos de la Roche is the largest of Morey-St-Denis' Grands Crus (excepting the larger shared Grand Cru of Bonnes-Mares) and an extremely important Côte de Nuits AOC. In contrast with its famous neighbors, Clos des Lambrays and Clos de Tart, which have two and one producer respectively, ownership is shared between a number of producers. Only a few of these, however, produce wine of a great pedigree.
A total of 33.1 acres are in production for the scenic vineyard; this land ranges significantly from somewhat unworthy to absolutely outstanding. The vineyard yields about 5,000 cases of wine annually, which proportionally is equivalent to the other Grands Crus of the Morey village.
The wines from Clos de la Roche were nothing compared to Clos St-Denis 100 years ago, but Clos de la Roche has caught up to that vineyard in recent years, and now the two can be considered to be on a roughly equal footing. Clos de la Roche's soil-driven, earthy wines are not for all types, and often need a good amount of aging, but for lovers of robust wines Clos St-Denis' silky, light Pinots will be much less appealing.
Unlike Clos des Lambrays, Clos de la Roche is not a truly enclosed vineyard, and there are no walls around it. Why, then, is it called a Clos? Historians are not entirely sure, but it is likely that, like Clos des Lambrays, the vineyard was originally founded by an abbey which preferred to use the Clos term. Also, "peer pressure" arising from the fact that the other three vineyards were enclosed may have brought about this decision.
Clos de la Roche has had a long but wobbly history, and was relegated to second place when the Morey village took on the Clos St-Denis name, but it was one of the first Burgundy Grands Crus during the original Grand Cru minting of 1936. Since then, it has proven itself to be equal or better than the adjacent vineyard in quality.
Climate and Viticulture
Clos de la Roche lies to the north of rival Clos St-Denis, with some of the vineyards at the base of the slight slope that hosts these Grands Crus. To the east is the Mazoyères-Chambertin appellation. Clearly, this is a gifted area in terms of weather, but Morey-St-Denis' vineyards have something else that's very special.
In fact, even to the layman the amount of small rocks in the soil are noticeable in Clos de la Roche--after all, "roche" means rock in French! These rocks are so rich and chalky that they produce wine of amazing depth and character, and yet only in this vineyard do they make wine of such a wild, exotic character. This can be compared with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where the wines are also imparted unusual characteristics by rocks in the soil.
- Pinot Noir: It is likely that all Clos de la Roche producers use 100% Pinot Noir for their wines, although blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris is allowed. Of course, generalizing about the wines is difficult, but the style is generally rich and concentrated, with a classically dry tinge in the first few years. Flavors are incredible, with dark fruit usually superseding the red cherry and raspberry fruit. But these wines are essentially soil-driven, with exciting notions of herbs, pepper, and spice overhung by an intense smoke component. This amazing character, which is almost exotically tinted (a rare thing in Burgundy), is hard to find anywhere else. As for the aging of the wines, they are expected to become more chocolatey-rich with age, and become approachable after 5-8 years in the cellar. Of course most top examples have the structure to go on for 10-20 years.
There are a number of producers in Clos de la Roche now. Intriguingly, this is an area where the large négociants (Drouhin, Girardin, Jadot) seem to have less success than on average. Perhaps it is due to the difficulty of harvesting the grapes mechanically, a problem which springs from the amazing amount of rock in the soil. It is possible that big producers simply do not want to bother with this. Either way, it tends to be smaller producers that make the best cuvées in Clos de la Roche, a fact which brings prices to a fairly high level.
- Domaine Dujac: This outstanding Clos de la Roche sums up the appellation and is good enough to be a close runner-up to Leroy. Considering that boutiquery's prices, Dujac has to be considered the top Roche for at least somewhat price-minded consumers. The earth-driven wine has underbrush flavors, but places even more accent on flavors of wild fruits, the fruitiness mingling with a thicker earth tone. Dark notes of chocolate and meat also creep into the outer edges of the wine. Aging is recommended since the depth of these wines will increase with time. Most bottles are $200-$300, but offer the advantage of long ageability.
- Dominique Laurent: Rich and very earthy, the old-vine cuvée here has fascinating flavors of game and spice which all but overwhelm the dark fruit. Minerals keep the wine fresh, and it will become riper and more round with up to 10 years of aging. Still, the regular cuvée seems better, with less delineated but more powerful flavors of dark fruit, chocolate and stony minerality. Great richness should arise with age. Either cuvée will cost between $150 and $200.
- Domaine Leroy: The great boutique domaine has only one Morey-St-Denis holding, and this is it. Objectively speaking, the best wine of the Clos de la Roche, it represents one of Leroy's best wines outside Vosne-Romanée. However, its high prices (usually over $1,000) ensure that it is out of reach to all but the richest buyers. A multidimensional wine, it combines Clos de la Roche flavor and Leroy's traditional style, to create a wine rich with wild red fruit, game, herbs, freshening minerals, and spicy pepper. The power of the wine is almost outrageous, but it's expressed mainly through vibrant flavors rather than cutting acidity or monstrous tannins. Although apparently accessible early, this nevertheless will be better after 10 years, and hit its peak in 20.
- Lignier Pere et Fils: Of many Ligniers that make wine here, most have a fairly consistent standard of quality, but Lignier Pere et Fils has clearly asserted itself as the best. Ripe but soil-driven, the wines combine flavors of elegant red and dark fruit, flowers and spice with the wilder, more earthy undertones of herbs and chocolate in a way that accents neither element overmuch. The exorbitant richness of these wines somehow manages to avoid sweetness, and covers up the structure so much that early drinking of these wines is conceivable.
- Domaine Michel Magnien: This may not boast as much complexity as its competitors at first, but for a négociant wine, shows sufficient mastery of the challenging Clos de la Roche terroir. Smooth flavors of wild fruit and spice are supplemented by minerals, but this never really shows the earthy element that the Grand Cru is famous for. Count on aging to provide an elegant and mellow wine that will eventually show more richness and those distinctive herb and chocolate flavors. At $200 or less this is well-priced for the appellation.
- Maison Olivier Bernstein: Maison Olivier Bernstein, a new producer whose first vintage of reds was the year 2007, has immediately put their Clos de la Roche holding to good use. The wines combine a powerful bouquet of dark fruit, coffee, and intense soil tones with more vibrant notes of flowers and minerals. A few years of aging should even out the few inconsistencies in the wine. Bottles tend to be in the $200 range, but vary due to the newness of the producer.
- Lucien Le Moine: In this wine, a complex flavor of smoke adds to the intrigue of the silky but powerful flavors. The earth-sourced bouquet combines wild cherry with oak spice, game, and rich chocolate, but there are also elegant touches such as flowers and sweet spice. A fabulous wine that will benefit from aging, and can certainly handle 10-20 years, but is enjoyable early on as well. Bottles should cost less than $200, a bargain next to many of its competitors.
- Domaine Ponsot: There have been several outstanding vintages of Ponsot's "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes"; the regular Clos de la Roche isn't quite as impressive. The old-vine cuvée, which has a very long history, is savored for its unmistakable definition of terroir and its aging potential. In its youth it is already incredibly powerful but aromatic, with a silky texture giving class and precision to varying flavors of wild fruit, spice, and a strong yet elegant earthy component. The richness should build with aging. Prices vary but can be under $300.
When the Grand Cru was created it effectively merged some land that was formerly part of Premier Cru vineyards. So, there are several administrative lieu-dits that have the same name as Morey Premiers Crus, notably Les Chaffots and Monts-Luisants. But their names are rarely seen on the labels anymore to avoid confusion...surprising since Burgundian rules usually do all they can to confuse the consumer!