Robert Parker on Jura & Sancerre


David Schildknecht



201 - June 2012

Domaine Labet

2008 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay en Billat
Rating 91 Drink: 2012-2015

From around three-quarters of an acre of vines planted by his ancestors already immediately post-phylloxera in 1998 and inter-planted with around half Poulsard, the 2008 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay En Billat - Julien Labet is bittersweetly and decadently floral and musky; dense, firm, and almost austerely stony in a way that one imagines might somehow reflect its heavy clay underlain by schist; and finishes with impressive grip and satisfying juiciness without betraying its over-14% alcohol. This powerful and striking expression of Jura Chardonnay should merit at least 2-3 more years of attention.

2008 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay les Varrons
Rating 90 Drink: 2012-2018

A 2008 Cotes du Jura Chardonnay Les Varrons - Julien Labet from 65-year-old selection massale vines underlain by limestone - and which, like its "Fleurs" counterpart, was given 18 months of elevage in older barriques - was not picked until October 9 and finished with a modest 13.3% alcohol. Hauntingly sweet and musky perfume of heliotrope, narcissus, and quince leads to an oily, honeyed palate whose fresh citrus, citrus rind, and rose radish offer vivacious juiciness as well as pronounced piquancy, both persistently evident in a finish of richness, refreshment, and invigorating twang. I suspect this will be worth following for 4-6 years.

Domaine Labet →

Jacques Puffeney

2004 Arbois Vin Jaune
Rating 92-93 Drink: 2012-2027

Tasted from cask just before bottling – from a second floor “cellar” whose barred windows look onto the street and assure something approaching outdoor temperatures – Puffeney’s 2004 Arbois Vin Jaune displays fascinating scents and flavors of toasted walnut, green olive, sea breeze, lemon and zest all driven by penetratingly high-toned volatile esters. Firmer but also juicier than its 2003 counterpart, it evinces undertones of stone and mouthwatering salinity allied to alkalinity, its finish vibrantly interactive and persistently piquant. This ought to be worth following for more than a quarter century.

2007 Arbois Savagnin
Rating 92 Drink: n/a

Matured for three years “under the veil” of flor – as is his norm for this bottling – Puffeney’s 2007 Arbois Savagnin delivers an especially smoky expression of flor that heightens the pungency and piquancy of toasted nuts, lemon rind, and fruit pits. Sleek in texture though with underlying leanness; its sappy peach and refreshing, sharp lemon tinged by alkalinity as well as mouthwatering salinity – not to forget the aforementioned smoky, oxidative and flor-related pungencies; this complex performance is vibrantly persistent and promises to remain riveting for at least a couple of decades.

2008 Arbois Vin de Paille
Rating 93 Drink: 2012-2042

In bottle for only a month when I tasted it last November, Puffeney’s 2008 Arbois Vin de Paille displays the primary sap and juiciness one too often sacrifices to sugar and alcohol in this genre and that could have stood to be more prominent in the estate’s 2005 Vendange Tardive. A complex and alluring nose of inter alia litchi; quince preserves, mirabelle distillate, yellow cherry jam, and marzipan leads to polished, bright, yet succulent as well as slickly glycerin-rich palate on which deep nuttiness wells up to compliment the abundance of confitured and distilled fruit flavors that were anticipated by the nose. This beauty ought to be worth following for two or three decades.

Jacques Puffeney →

Domaine Gerard Boulay

Gerard Boulay, like Thomas Labaille, has just moved into his own spacious new warehouse-like facility along the main road from Chavignol to Sancerre. He is thrilled to at last not be constrained by tight cellar facilities, as well as to have a common location where he can show and sell, as well as raise his young wines. There has seldom, if ever, been a finer pair of vintages back to back here than 2010 and 2011, which among other things fully vindicates Boulay’s decision – which might initially have seemed too eager – to proliferate progressively more expensive cuvees. At the same time, the basic bottlings from this address – in pink as well as white – remain consistently outstanding values. (Granted, 2009 is the exception that proves the rule.) It’s a pleasure to witness the buzz beginning at last to collect both in France and abroad around this diligent grower whose wines for so long far-excelled his modest reputation. (Full disclosure: In my previous profession, I was an early importer of Boulay’s wines ... but as such, I have also had chance to taste lots of old wines from this cellar, and thus know whereof I speak!) Boulay picked from September 3-14, 2011 and began on the 25th in 2010. As if to make amends for nature’s 2009 naughtiness and any complicity for which he might have felt responsible, Boulay’s bottlings in both subsequent vintages are notably low in alcohol, rarely exceeding 13%.

2010 Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu
Rating 92 Drink: n/a

Strong oil and fusil notes combine with pungent lime and grapefruit zest, green herbs, and suggestions of iodine in the complex and penetrating nose of Boulay’s 2010 Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu, setting the tone for a brightly and juicily citric, herb- and mineral-saturated palate performance, over which a bittersweet floral perfume hangs alluringly. This finishes with tingling brightness, zesty piquancy, mouthwatering salinity and grip, albeit less long-lined and diversely mineral than the corresponding Mont Damnes. And like that wine, it became more expressive after it had been open for half an hour. Here is another candidate for at least a decade’s cellaring, though it could certainly be drunk without regret today. In a reversal of the procedure Boulay followed with this year’s Mont Damnes, the Clos de Beaujeu fermented in tank and was then raised in assorted (older 300-liter) barrels.

2011 Sancerre
Rating 90 Drink: n/a

Tasted from the earliest of several bottlings representing a common assemblage, Boulay’s regular cuvee of 2011 Sancerre leads with scents of mint, pennyroyal and chervil, and behind that fresh grape fruit and lime, all of which team up on the palate for a performance that’s irresistibly luscious, but also unusually buoyant, bright and invigorating for its vintage (virtues enhanced by palpable retained CO2). The herb and white pepper impingement in this Sancerre’s sustained finish reminds me a bit of Gruner Veltliner, while chalk and iodine add notes of intrigue. This will be a versatile delight over the next several years. (Incidentally, on a portion of this bottling, Boulay is trying out a cork that’s sheathed in some sort of plastic, TCA-shielding coating at either end.)

2011 Sancerre Mont Damnes
Rating 91-92 Drink: 2012-2018

High-toned, penetrating scents of mint, wormwood, white pepper, and citrus oils rise from the glass of Boulay’s 2011 Sancerre Monts Damnes, along with some yeasty notes not surprising in a wine tasted from tank. Lemon and grapefruit offer an invigoratingly bright palate with their accents of rind, pepper, and chalk; while peppermint and a sweet freesia-like suggestion of inner-mouth perfume add stimulating allure. Long on finesse and refreshment – and just plain long, thisSancerre’s evolution is going to be deliciously fascinating to follow over the next half dozen years, if not beyond.

2011 Sancerre Comtesse
Rating 92-93 Drink: 2012-2022

From barrel, the Boulay 2011 Sancerre Comtesse leads with a sweetly scented bouquet of iris and honeysuckle, followed by quince and white peach, all combining on a lush, silken-textured, liquidly floral, almost honeyed palate that seems to glow with intensity and against which, remarkably for this vintage, chalky and seemingly crystalline mineral elements emerge to engage in a long and dynamic finishing interchange. This looks to fulfill the promise of this special spot on the Monts Damnes even as the 2010, inexplicably, does not. Look for at least a decade of intrigue and seduction.

Gérard Boulay →