Times cricket correspondent and wine expert Geoffrey Dean knows a thing or two about sporting legends – he has met many during his playing and writing careers. Which is why, when he covered the launch of the new Château de Pommard Simone 2018 for The Buyer, he knew instinctively that he was in the presence of real greatness. Not the ‘fly-by-night’ kind – but one that is young now, will improve with age, and then keep getting better and better. Dean raves about the wine in the presence of Emmanuel Sala, the head winemaker at Château de Pommard.
Claude came in and said ‘Manu, Manu come with me.’ I told him ‘I can’t I’m doing the filtration.’ But he insisted, so I went with him and he said, ‘Look at this – I’ve never seen a plot like this.’
Sometimes, when wearing my sports writer’s hat, you instinctively know when you have been in the midst of greatness. Some of those performers I’ve written about that spring straight to mind are tennis’ Roger Federer, golf’s Tiger Woods and cricket’s Vivian Richards. And, putting on my wine writer’s hat, there is no doubt in my mind that Château de Pommard Simone 2018 is nothing less than a great wine.
Like the illustrious sporting trio above, all of whom got better and better for many years before they reached a plateau and gradually descended from it, Simone 2018 will continue to improve. It is, of course, still a youngster but with massive potential. One is almost loath to use the P word because it is so good already, but it has a long life ahead of it – another 10-15 years before it reaches its plateau – and will doubtless develop new qualities as it ages.
Right now, though, one can only extol its manifold current virtues. Quite dark in colour, it is already a delight to drink for, notwithstanding its power, it has fine, sensuous and beautifully integrated tannins that melt in the mouth behind a wall of seductive red and black fruit. Exotic spices, so apparent on the nose, dance on the mid-palate while vivacious freshness helps achieve wonderful harmony to the wine. Structure comes from highly judicious use of new oak (38%), which underwent ‘very very light toasting’ according to Emmanuel Sala, the head winemaker, who has achieved perfect balance in the wine, sitting at 13.6% abv as it does.
To conclude, Simone 2018 is refined, complex, rich and ripe, yet exceptionally silky in texture; very long, concentrated and intensely flavoured but at the same time graceful and fresh. Above all, it has a feeling of being absolutely natural, a reflection perhaps of Chateau de Pommard’s biodynamically-farmed vineyards. Multi-layered, its finish lingers on and on. And as soon as you have drunk the first glass, you want a second. And then another.
“This is our pride and joy of the estate – it comes from an amazing terroir that embodies the soul of Pommard’s domain,” Michael Baum, the American owner of Château de Pommard, said of Simone 2018, a 0.53 hectare plot within the 20-hectare walled Clos Marey-Monge (the largest monopole or single vineyard in the Côte d’Or). In 2018, Sala made only 1800 bottles of it – a low yield of 30 hl/ha, although it is normally even less productive (22 hl/ha in 2017 and a mere 16 hl/ha this year). The vines were planted in 1986.
How Château de Pommard Simone 2018 is made in the vineyard
More on Sala’s vinification methods later, but all great wines are made in the vineyard, and the terroir is the secret to Simone. The key is the quality and internal surface density of the clay in the plot. Sala provided a detailed and fascinating insight on the subject.
“If we look under the microscope at a soil containing true clays, that is to say from the decalcification of rock, we observe that these clays form a stack of small sheets, a little like a book, that are made of alumina silicates,” he said. “Cations (positively charged ions), retained between these sheets, are all very important elements in the diet of the vine, whether for its growth, flowering or maturity, and are essential to the manufacture of the components of the grape and in particular polyphenols.”
“Depending on their classification, not all clays retain these elements, nor water, in the same way. Some clays are very simple and others very complex. In the same amount of clay, say one gram, the number of sheets can be very different. The inner surface density of clay is therefore the surface, or ‘SI’, of all the sheets contained in one gram, expressed in m2/g.”
Sala is a disciple of Claude Bourguignon, the well-known and much respected viticulturalist, who maintains that if soils have a larger internal surface density of clay, their capability to produce great red wines is significantly enhanced. The actual clay proportion in a soil is not a sufficient indication of whether it has great potential. In Burgundy, the majority of soils contain about 30% clay but they do not have the same internal surface density, which helps to explain big differences between the wines.
Sala recalled Bourguignon’s astonished reaction when checking Simone’s SI clay level for the first time. “I remember in 2009 I made a big study with Claude on all the Clos Marey-Monge plots, and when he was testing Simone, I was in the cellar doing the filtration. Claude came in and said ‘Manu, Manu come with me.’ I told him ‘I can’t I’m doing the filtration.’ But he insisted, so I went with him and he said, ‘Look at this – I’ve never seen a plot like this.’
Sala explained why: “The average internal surface density of clay in the Côte de Nuits is close to 500 m2/g, while on the Côte de Beaune, where the greatest white wines do not require high SI clay, it is 300 m2/g. The plots that had clays with the largest internal surfaces before our study were the Musigny and the Richebourg (660m2/g). Most of our plots in Clos Marey-Monge are around 400 m2/g but one of our plots, Chantrerie, is as high as 640-650 m2/g, and Simone, highest of all at 736 m2/g, constitutes a record for Bourguignon.
“Of course, the quality of the clays is not the only qualitative factor to produce great red wines – the limestone content, the exposure, the subsoil, everything matters. However, wines from soils containing clays with high SI show more depth, as well as quality of tannin, with silkiness that is remarkable. Also such multi-layered character, which can be found in the mouth only on very few wines.”
Whole bunch, biodynamic farming and salivation
As far as vinification was concerned, Sala made one important change in 2018 that he thinks proved beneficial. Having destemmed all his fruit previously, he adopted 75% whole cluster. “It was the first time I used whole cluster,” he revealed. “Stems bring more structure, and although they lower acidity, they can add more freshness and complexity. I also opted for four and a half weeks of maceration to achieve the right balance of structure and elegance. But my biggest challenge in 2018 was to keep the freshness of the wine as we had a lack of acidity that year with a TA that was less than 4g/l and a higher than normal pH of 3.8. I never add acid as you destroy the natural balance of the wine.”
How then does Simone 2018 exhibit such freshness? “It’s a mystery of tasting … a less acidic wine that seems fresher!” Sala mused. “I think Simone’s freshness is mainly related to her slightly saline finish, which helps salivation. Despite a very high pH, a wine produced on a great terroir should not lack freshness. It is a relative freshness, which is not related to acidity, but rather resulting from an almost perfect natural balance. I am convinced that if you try to correct a wine to modify its natural balance, the freshness tends to disappear because you will lose some of the vibrations and energy that make you salivate. Salivation is the basis for tasting great wines, and if you taste technological wines, even very aromatic ones, you will find that they do not make you salivate. We at Château de Pommard are getting really good freshness in warm years, which is maybe a reflection of the biodynamic treatments of our vines.”
While Sala oversees both viticulture and vinification, he is quick to praise his assistant winemaker, Eric Pignal, as well as Baum, who has invested heavily since buying the estate in 2014. To his credit, it was Baum, a hugely successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who hatched the idea of multiple labels from Clos Marey-Monge. “Finally, this crazy Californian convinced this traditional authentic Burgundian we could bottle all these cuvees separately,” Baum recalled. “In 2017, we did this, and today, we make eight different labels – the blend and the seven plots, Simone being the most special thing we do.”
Already, Château de Pommard’s Simone 2018 has won multiple gongs at the 2020 Sommelier Wine Awards, the 2020 Global Pinot Noir Masters, the 2020 TEXSOM International Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge 2020. Due for release in January 2021, it has an RRP of £360.