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Armand Rousseau: 1996 Clos St-Jacques, 1997 Clos de Beze & 1997 Chambertin

July 25, 2010

It certainly pays to have friends who are really generous, for I found myself staring at a top flight of Domaine Armand Rousseau Pere et Fils when I responded to See Lim’s idle SMS to show up at his place for a casual meet-up after dinner on 24 July 2010. All wines were aired in bottle for three hours prior, and so with the drama of Verdi’s La Traviata wafting in the background (Sutherland and Pavarotti) through a pair of Sonus Faber Amati, we went straight into the tasting. But first, we began with a 1991 Maison Clavelier Mazis-Chambertin, showing a mature rosy pinot hue and notes of cherries, red berries and sancha with understated fragrance, quite lovely. However, this turned out to be a wine that promises more on the nose than on the palate, where the concentration of the fruit, although seamless with excellent purity, didn’t quite live up to expectations of a Grand Cru from Chambertin, backward and lacking in the middle layers with a short finish. It only improved marginally over the next two hours, and certainly couldn’t match up to the next three wines.

I moved on to the 1996 Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St-Jacques, which had a pale mature pinot hue with an orangey tint, noticeably deeper on the nose with notes of red dates, raspberries and sweet citrus. Medium-bodied, soft, quite lush, displaying great focus and excellent concentration on the mid-palate. It developed into a truly gorgeous wine over the next couple of hours, gaining in power, complexity and layering that was clearly missing from the Maison Clavelier, highly complex in its finish. How would the Clos St Jacques, often regarded as befitting of Grand Cru status, compare against the 1997 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze, a wine that’s supposedly only second to Le Chambertin in the pecking order? The Clos de Beze was significantly deeper in color, more opague and more complex on the nose with a mixture of red and dark berries, evidently of superb quality, and that classic salty note representing the minerality of the the terroir. Medium-full, yielding excellent richness and intensity culminating in a slightly sharper attack on the mid-palate, superbly seamless, eventually developing even greater power with a note of menthol in its lingering finish. This is still a remarkably youthful wine that defies the problems of 1997. But, in a head-to-head comparison, the Clos St-Jacques held the edge by the end of the evening, indicating that vintage is a more important consideration than vineyard location, even between rival Grand Cru terroirs.

Finally, with great reverence, we poured the 1997 Armand Rousseau Chambertin. Outstanding right from the start, a beautiful pure transparent pinot glow, highly complex on the rose-scented nose, featuring rich mature red fruits, sherbet and vanilla, perfectly integrated. Soft on the entry with velvety textures gently caressing the palate, revealing very good concentration of fruit, perfectly seamless and sharply delineated from start to finish, gaining power with time, developing a sacharine-rich coating, ending on a slightly spicy note. Certainly the problematic vintage did manifest itself, the wine not as opulent nor intense as the 2003 example that I’ve had (see “Dec 2009: Perfect dinner at Iggy’s”), missing the layering and depth that an Armand Rousseau easily commands. Nevertheless, it is still a thing of beauty and soul, the effortless finesse, elegance and subtle power all hallmarks of Armand Rousseau, the wonderful craftsmenship of this great producer without resorting to vulgar means appreciated even more in this difficult vintage.

We closed the evening with a rarity, a 1991 Clos Jebsal Turkheim Tokay pinot gris. Very deep rose gold with very pure flavours of apricot and honey. Extremely rich, revealing great viscosity and weight on the mid-palate amidst lowish acidity, with understated sweetness that served to enhance the integrity of the wine, making up for the relative lack of complexity. Quite the perfect way to end a very lovely evening, and I shall, again, remain indebted to my generous host.

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