The Pinots of Burgundy’s 2020 vintage are hugely variable with some vignerons caught out by the hottest vintage ever. Not so Volnay’s Domaine Marquis d’Angerville whose reds (and whites) are universally superb – defined, precise and beautifully balanced – which will have buyers banging the phones to increase their allocations. Peter Dean tasted the 12 wines with owner Guillaume d’Angerville at Mayfair’s highly exclusive private members club Oswald’s.
“I remember Allen Meadows once saying to me ‘Guillaume your wines are not made they are born’ so I see my role being more like a midwife.” Guillaume d’Angerville says.
As our small gaggle of wine writers finished tasting his new wines Guillaume d’Angerville turned to us all, like a magician faces the audience keen to learn how the trick was done. Throughout this exclusive tasting of a dozen new 2020 wines from Domaine Marquis d’Angerville he had stood, arms folded, serious, impassively watching as we tasted, occasionally pouring for us as if to apologise for picking a venue where laptops and mobile phones are forbidden.
An invite to Oswald’s, a private club frequented by heads of state and royalty, is accompanied by a dress code as lengthy as a school uniform checklist and as in-step with fashion as a 1970s bouncer – no jeans, trainers etc. Interesting to note too that Gentlemen cannot wear shorts (or collarless shirts?!) but Ladies can – no surprise there then.
The subterranean wine library at Oswald’s where the wine tasting takes place is the ultimate social media influencers’ prick-tease – the finest wine cellar of any establishment in the country bar none which is Insta-gold… but where selfies are strictly verboten. It is to the credit of Guillaume and his team that the Domaine Marquis d’Angerville 2020 wines did not look one bit out of place amongst row upon row of the most iconic wines imagineable. To charge my glass, for example, I had to lean across a magnum of 1982 Mouton. Steady hands de rigeur.
Guillaume could tell what we thought of the wines just by looking at our expressions of painful pleasure. So then he tells us what he thinks, almost matter-of-factly, that these are the best wines he has ever made.
“I used to say the 2010 but 2020 has all the ingredients necessary for a wonderful vintage. Tasted blind you would never guess that this year had the lowest rainfall and highest sun hours ever. 2020 is the best vintage I have made since taking over.”
Guillaume took over the running of the Volnay-based estate in 2003 on the death of his father. With 14 hectares of largely Premier Cru vineyards Domaine Marquis d’Angerville has been in the family for over 200 years, owned by the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France before that; the vines replanted in 1906 after phylloxera hit are from unique clones that produce small berries with high skin-to-flesh ratio.
The ‘fast forward’ vintage of 2020
2020 Burgundy in a nutshell is about almost-unanimously outstanding whites across the board, but with hugely variable reds.
“2020 was not a given,” he agrees, “but what separates the men from the boys was picking at the right time.”
In a year he describes as a ‘fast forward’ vintage, the sugar levels were increasing at such a pace that he had to make the logistically difficult call of bringing the August 25th harvest date forward a week, this in a month where France is largely sur la plage.
“I brought it forwards one week because I got worried that, for the sake of extra phenolic maturity, I would lose everything else. I was the first to pick in Volnay and usually I am a late starter. I saw how quickly the alcohol was increasing and I was worried that you would no longer ‘see Volnay… the climats’ they would be overshadowed by the dry solar vintage. I also wanted to avoid high alcohol.”
“Normally the increase in sugar is very gradual but sometimes half a week makes a huge difference. I wanted to keep freshness and tension and so I am happy with this decision.”
And so he should be – from the entry level Bourgogne wines through to the Volnay Clos des Ducs 1er Cru Monopole 2020 – the wines are defined, precise and quite beautifully balanced.
If you are lucky enough to have an allocation of Clos des Ducs then you have a perfect example of Volnay in a glass – not a hair out of place. The Caillerets, Taillepieds and Champans 2020 are facets of the same jewel, I cannot recall them having this juicy freshness at such a young age, they are ‘fleet of foot’, tannins powdery and meltingly ripe held by a tension that augurs well for a lengthy sojourn in the cellar.
Where these four wines are nuanced side by side in youth, as they grow older so their terroir-driven distinctions become ever more pronounced as we experience over lunch when we taste all four wines from the 2009 vintage – one which I’ve never been madly keen about but which is making me revise my opinion.
Guillaume explains how he tries to interfere as little as possible in the winemaking process.
“I have minimal human intervention with my wines, I allow the wines to express themselves. I remember Allen Meadows once saying to me ‘Guillaume your wines are not made they are born’ so I see my role being more like a midwife.”
Part of his philosophy is to use less and less new oak which currently sits at around 15-20% of the wine, with tests currently underway using 35 hectolitre foudres. The grapes are 100% destemmed and a soft extraction carried out with no punchdowns “like brewing tea”.
“Father always said get rid of the unnecessary stuff,” he says ‘shooing’ his hands across the table.
In line with that way of thinking, was the full conversion to biodynamic viticulture which happened 15 years ago, a change which has brought a wide range of benefits.
“I believe the vines are adjusting to the new climate. There is no scientific proof for this but I believe biodynamics has helped the vines a great deal, the roots go down deeper…we also have a lower Ph than our neighbours because of biodynamic farming,” he adds pointing out that his wines have acidity in the 3.20-3.25 mark with alcohol of the 2020 wines being 13.5% to 14% abv, the latter he considers high. With an eye to the future he promises the 2021 wines will have greatly reduced alcohol “with levels we have not seen for 40 years.”
The Domaine Marquis d’Angerville wines are available through Justerini & Brooks and Corney & Barrow which is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.