Skip to content

My dinner with Laurent

March 10, 2019

Laurent Ponsot is a name familiar to all Burgundy lovers, especially after the airing of the hit documentary Sour Grapes. Nevertheless, when I received an invitation at short notice from Dr Ngoi to a private dinner with Laurent organised by Wine Cliqúe at the one Michelin-starred Summer Pavillon, Ritz Carlton Millenium, Singapore, on 07 March 2019, I didn’t really know what to expect. For starters, the numerous bottles that were airing quietly in a corner didn’t sport the usual dull-yellow Ponsot label. They appeared distinctly modern in fashionable metallic hues with the name LAURENT PONSOT etched across in green lettering borrowed from Star Wars. No “Domaine” at all. What’s going on?

20190307_190130.jpg

Sure enough, when the man himself arrived a few minutes later, he looked exactly as he had been in Sour Grapes. Friendly, articulate and disarmingly engaging without nary a wrinkle around his twinkling eyes, Laurent is easily 20 years less than his 65. This is clearly a man who enjoys his work and who lives life to the fullest, abeit in a principled manner. And now, Laurent has to do it all over again. I hadn’t realised but, in spite of him having almost single-handedly raised the quality and profile of Domaine Ponsot to worldwide acclaim since taking over the reins from his father Jean-Marie at this mecca of Morey-Saint-Denis in 1981, things haven’t gone well for Laurent in recent years, culminating in him leaving the fold of this revered domaine in 2017 after 36 years, selling off his share entirely. But, as they say, you can’t keep a good man down. Laurent has started his own line under his own name, its inaugural vintage being 2015, with the help of his son Clement and several of his old-time staff, including his cellar master, who had also left Domaine Ponsot to support him. Laurent now functions as both grower and negociant. He still owns parcels in Griotte-Chambertin, Clos Saint-Denis and Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes inter alia, but he now prefers to create blends from different plots of lieu-dit within each commune, buying in grapes or via share-cropping or, in the case of his Corton-Charlemagne, buying in the must (freshly crushed grape juice that contains as well the skins, seeds and stems). Both the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune are well represented in its portfolio with the exception of Nuits-Saint-Georges, Volnay and Pommard for which Laurent has no interest. Neither is there any Chassagne or Saint-Aubin. All along, Laurent has advocated zero new oak for his wines. He stresses that the grapes growing in the vineyards are naturally exposed to the elements of terroir but not oak…so why should one expose it to fresh oak? Moreover, he explains that fresh oak tends to expose the wine to micro-oxidation. As such, he utilises only one-year-old used oak for premier cru and grand cru, whilst older wood is used for village. Laurent never fails to remind us that the vines represent a connection to Mother Nature and that his role is one of servitude rather than being a creator. In this respect, I am reminded of Comte Georges de Vogüe’s long-serving cellar master Francois Millet who espouses the same philosophy.

20190307_190229.jpg

Talking to Laurent, one senses that he is an absolute hands-on person who is guided by what he has seen and done throughout his long career. When I broached to him the issue of bottle closures, he lights up instantly for, after 16 years of intense study and observation, he has found the ideal closure in the form of a synthetic cork that is totally inert to chemical interaction with the bottled wine, yet allowing a controlled permeability to oxygen. In fact, Laurent has pin-pointed 100 parts per million of oxygen in wine as being ideal for the taste of a 10-year-old Burgundy, and he has helped to develop what eventually became known as the ArdeaSeal AS-Elite, with which he has famously used to stopper his wines since 2008. This is a man for whom tradition is useless if it fails him, and he is not afraid to walk away from such sacred cows.

IMG-20190307-WA0022.jpg

The conversation drifts to other things. Laurent has been to Singapore and many parts of Asia many times over. In the very early ’80s, Laurent was one of the very first vignerons to promote his wines in Asian markets, thus accounting for his ability to converse somewhat in Mandarin and Japanese, including a stammering of Malay. He has had countless Japanese women throwing themselves at him in absolute supplication, but he politely declines. Laurent loves his fried rice, particularly the stuff served at Summer Pavillon and we duly obliged him. He wants to be a pigeon in his next life, because it keeps coming back! You can’t help but like the man. You have the feeling that Laurent is a fun guy but he is serious about things that matter to him. He is comfortable talking about Rudy Kurniawan, but any mention about meeting up with Rudy again after his eventual release easily gets Laurent heated under the collar. And he isn’t too happy about Sour Grapes either. Being a retrospective production, it seems a number of deviations from the fact had to be made in order to spruce up the story and Laurent is only too happy to rectify such mis-representations in his forthcoming tell-all memoirs. I can’t wait for it to be published.

20190307_205900.jpg

Now, how about the wines? It seems Laurent has hit the ground running. Within such a short time, he has already achieved results befitting his famous name. Whereas a number of 2016 whites from some producers tend to be plump, flabby and tired, the whites of Laurent Ponsot display absolute purity and precision of expression, imbued with delicate elegance, energy and balance. The reds, too, show tremendous verve and detail, again ingrained with superb balance and purity. Most importantly, the individuality of each terroir shines through with effortless grace. Tasting these wines, one begins to understand why Laurent eschews new oak, for the lack of it actually enhances the inner definition and purity. They all have nicknames: the whites take after various species of flowers while the reds take after trees. Naturally, quantities are highly limited, particularly for such a low-yielding vintage as 2016 where only 47,000 bottles were produced in total and they do command a hefty premium.

20190307_211453.jpg

2003 Champagne Pommery Cuvee Louise Rosé. Lovely deep yeasty tones amid some lovely earthy pungency, developing more notes of grapefruit and heated gravel on the brightly lit palate, displaying very fine depth, detail and appropriate dryness, just a tad short. Quite excellent.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Meursault-Blagny 1er Cuvee de Myosotis. Pale. This wine opens with a cool clean lift of wild grass and shades of nutmeg, superbly integrated and proportioned with excellent presence and depth of fruit, exuding elegant vigour, delicate detail and refinement with a minerally shine without excess plumpness nor acidic assertiveness, finishing in a lengthy white floral tone with superb linearity. I’ve not come across such great refinement from this source. Excellent.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Meursault-Charmes 1er Cuvee de La Centauree. Pale. Slightly more creamy on the nose but it still has that superb delicacy and presence, substantially layered with nutmeg, olives and complex citrus on a bed of gentle chalkiness stuffed with sublime acidity. Almost racy at first, eventually settling down with great seamless elegance, exuding highly unique flavors that culminated in a great glowing lengthy mouthfeel. Outstanding.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Cuvee du Kalimeris. Made from bought-in must. There is a lovely luminous glow of white fruits on the nose that grew with gradual intensity like a morning mist breaking cover, leading to a palate of delicate white fruits and clear minerals that shone with lovely purity, gentle richness and transparency amid traces of nutmeg, finishing with a persistent tangy mouthfeel. This is up there with the very best of Corton-Charlemagne.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru Cuvee du Cedre. Lovely colour though restrained, proffering gentle earthy tones, light red plums and currants on the nose, highly consistent with the generous tone of light cherries laced with ferrous elements on the palate, highly supple, its refined purity and teasing acidity producing a great open mouthfeel as it developed an excellent minerally depth over time. Deliciously seamless. Superb.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvee du Saule. Superb deep ruby. Lovely aromas of cherries and redcurrants of superb ripeness and purity, matched by a deeper vein of rich fruit structured with exciting tannins that imparted wonderful mouthfeel, yet superbly proportioned in spite of its fabulous open intensity. Outstanding.

2016 Laurent Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis Grand Cru Cuvee du Merisier. Made from vines planted in 1905. Deep ruby hue, exuding a quiet restraint on the dryish bouquet, layered with rich velvety textures that reveal lovely inner detail within its incredibly svelte tannins, seamlessly integrated with tremendous verve and depth. Brilliant!

1990 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru, courtesy of the great Mr Oei HL. Well-evolved vermillion. As expected of this pedigree and vintage, this great monopole impressed at once with its stunningly deep bouquet of kumquat, strawberries, glycerin and tangerines amid darker currants, open with cool ripeness and tremendous energy that transcended the palate with great suppleness and effortless grace, layered with sublime acidity and fabulous depth as it stretched out with supreme power, elegance and length. Truly a complete wine. Outstanding.

I must thank the wonderful people at Wine Cliqúe for this intimate opportunity to meet M. Laurent Ponsot, as well as Dr Ngoi and Mr Oei for their kind generosity. This has been an unforgettable evening.

20190307_223315.jpg

20190307_222731.jpg

One Comment leave one →
  1. ssngoi permalink
    March 13, 2019 09:20

    wonderful description. keel it up

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: