Domaine Rollin and the 2015 Vintage: Power Made Graceful

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Remi and Agnes Rollin

We at Rosenthal Wine Merchant have been working with the Rollin family in Pernand-Vergelesses since 1982. Over the years, first with Maurice and his son Remi, and today with Remi and his son Simon, this rock-solid domaine has provided us with wines of finesse, character, and startling purity—and at prices that put to rest the notion there is no value to be found in Burgundy anymore. Each visit at this estate is a master class in the unique terroir of their northern sector of the Cote de Beaune, those less-appreciated vineyards in and around Pernand Vergelesses that flank the imposing hill of Corton.

Humility, it would seem, is written into the very character of the Pernandois. Whereas most villages in the Cote d’Or advertise the pedigree of their terroir by suffixing the name of their commune’s greatest vineyard onto the village name itself—Chassagne-Montrachet, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, etc.—the folks in Pernand settled on “Vergelesses,” even though the vineyard “En Charlemagne” (a component of the legendary Corton-Charlemagne) accounts for a significant portion of their local DNA. As with other notable unsung-hero zones within the Cote d’Or (e.g., Saint-Romain, Saint-Aubin), the vineyards of Pernand-Vergelesses run at an “off-angle” to the main swath of east-facing, contiguous hillsides that comprise the bulk of the Cote. In the case of Pernand, the vineyards are wedged into a narrow crevasse formed by the disjunction of the imposing hill of Corton and the primary escarpment of the Cote de Beaune, and quite a few of its key sites face westward (or even northwestward) in this modest valley. In bygone days of more feeble temperatures and less precise vineyard work, perhaps growers in Pernand felt somewhat bashful for their wines’ less voluptuous, more rustic character—whites of lean, spicy angularity, and reds marked by the bare-knuckled intensity of their iron-rich soils. Now, in this era of a warming climate, it is these areas—vineyards less exposed to the sun’s full brunt, vineyards that allow for a slower phenological maturation, which engenders complexity—that regularly produce the most compelling Burgundies: wines of tense equilibrium and profound complexity unobscured by the surface flash of blatant ripeness.

Convinced as we have been from the start that the wines produced at the Rollin estate are amongst our most regal Burgundies, we are reminded powerfully of this fact when, on those occasions where we are fortunate enough for our visit to coincide with dinnertime, Remi or Simon plunder their deep cellar, blind-tasting us on bottle after bottle about which we regularly err—inevitably mistaking villages for premier cru, or premier for grand, and marveling at how goosebumps-raising even the most difficult vintages have turned out with time in bottle. Neal relates often his first experience at the Rollin table when dinner began with a 6 year old Aligoté from the 1976 vintage the carriage of which was far more noble than this modest appellation is known to offer.

As with the most special of Burgundies, the hand of the grower is virtually invisible at Rollin, the wines tasting as if they crawled directly out of the mother rock and into the bottle. There is no flash, no pretense, and no forcefulness here—just the cool, elegant dance of acid, fruit, and mineral. Even in their great and iconic Corton-Charlemagne, although there is no shortage of terroir-derived power, there is an elegance and grace rarely glimpsed in some of the more brawny and elevage-driven versions of this cru from other cellars. It is a true privilege to work with such growers as Rollin, people who understand the profundity and ineffable magic of the earth they farm and allow it to speak without putting words in its mouth.

Simon Rollin and his wife Caroline

Rollin’s relatively restrained, poised approach married perfectly to the high-octane power of a vintage like 2015—power easily exploited into vulgarity in the hands of less-sensitive vignerons. The white wines, while built less on acidity than the scintillating 2014s, display remarkable tension between succulent fruit and livewire energy, with a profound sense of dryness that effectively tames the fruit’s inherently ripe character.. As for the red wines, Rollin’s 2015s are among the best produced over our long collaboration. The vintage’s broad, sun-drenched heft is honed to a missile-point of devastating impact through Rollin’s guidance, with the firm structure of the vintage’s thick-skinned grapes leavened by a purity of a basket of red fruits.

2016 Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Blanc
[Note: this is the lone 2016 in this year’s offering.] Perhaps none of our growers suffered more devastation than Rollin from 2016’s late-April frost, which completely decimated their parcel of Chardonnay in the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune near Echevronne. Such was the extent of the damage in this part of the Cote d’Or that growers were allowed a dispensation to purchase grapes yet estate-bottle as per usual, and that’s what Remi and Simon did, buying fruit from a friend west of Saint-Aubin near the village of Nolay. Though this terroir lends itself to wines of more overt fruitiness than those of Rollin’s historic parcel’s environs, their careful touch in the cellar allowed an underlying acidity and minerality to emerge over the course of the elevage, and the final wine is very much in line with the spirit of their traditional bottling: focused, balanced, and energetic.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc
Rollin’s basic Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc—always a knockout for the price—comprises four separate east-facing parcels, with an average vine age of 40 years. It is a tension-filled wine that belies its proximity to the mighty Corton in its profound minerality and its power, yet displays all the freshness and focus of the Rollin style. A laser-like, crystalline nose beams limestone essence straight into the cerebellum, and the clean, kinetic, beautifully delineated palate leads to a long, overtly salty finish that leaves the drinker invigorated. The modest 10% new oak is all but invisible.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc “Les Cloux”
“Les Cloux” is a well-situated lieu-dit on the north side of the hill of Corton, adjacent to the premier cru “Sous Fretille” (see below). It faces southeast on a high, steep part of the hillside, and a general lack of any direct breeze there encourages notable ripeness. The wine possesses a lower-pitched, deeper nose than the basic Pernand-Vergelesses above, but with an equivalent limestone intensity more solid in its character than powdered. The palate is richer and thicker as well, but suffused with the alert acidity typical of the Rollin style. Only 20% of the oak employed during the elevage is new.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 1er Cru “Sous Fretille”
At the beginning of the 2000s, the Rollins acquired a tiny parcel of very old vines in this majestically situated full-south-facing premier cru that abuts Corton-Charlemagne itself. The resulting wine is dazzlingly energetic, a swarm of enveloping mineral and spice aromas giving way to a palate of thrilling intensity and concentration. The overall impression of “Sous Fretille” is sleeker than that of “Les Cloux” above, but there is no less power in reserve, and its intricate, multilayered personality hints at its ultra-close proximity to grand cru territory. New oak is kept at around 30%.

2015 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
The first half of a tasting at Rollin always culminates with this, one of the keystone white Burgundies of the Rosenthal portfolio. We have collectively experienced dozens of older bottles through the years, whether in the family cellar or over dinner with Neal (whose immense collection of older Rollin Corton-Charlemagne speaks to its quality), and it is a wine that never fails to dazzle. The Rollins own two parcels on this great hill—one on the Pernand side, and one on the Aloxe side, totaling only about a half-hectare—and the wine has always been a blend of the two. It spends a full two winters in the cellar as per tradition, and it wears its 50% new oak effortlessly.

2015 Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Rouge
The Rollins exploit two hectares worth of Hautes-Cotes de Beaune Rouge from various parcels of 30-to-45-year-old Pinot Noir in Pernand and Echevronne. Always a sleek yet charming wine of immense energy, its fruit is crunchy and snappy rather than thick and juicy, underlining the deep mineral streak that runs through all of Rollin’s red wines. No new oak is employed, and the wine is bottled after a relatively brief elevage of ten months in order to preserve its fruit.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge
A classic rendition of a truly underappreciated red Burgundy appellation, Rollin’s Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge comes primarily from two old-vines parcels—one in the lieu-dit of “Les Pins” in the northern part of the village, and the other in “Les Noirets” on the southern side, both of which face eastward. Compared to their better-known brethren in Savigny-les-Beaune, the red wines of Pernand-Vergelesses tend to be more firmly mineral, more savory, and more finely wrought.

2015 Savigny-les-Beaune “Aux Grands Liards”
Not a typical Savigny-les-Beaune, this vineyard actually sits closer to the Pernand-Vergelesses premier cru “Les Fichots” (see below) than the main swath of Savigny-les-Beaune proper. As such, it displays a savory limestone edge more in line with Rollin’s trio of Pernand premier crus than to more classically plump and fruit-driven examples of Savigny. With nice depth from its old vines—up to 70 years of age—it presents slightly juicier than the villages-level Pernand above, with an attractive mentholated accent to the gleamingly pure cherry fruit. Only 20% new oak is used.

2015 Aloxe-Corton
Aloxe-Corton is the weightlifter to Pernand’s runner. Always a bit more gritty, structured, and viscerally earthy than its neighbor, Aloxe-Corton can also take longer to come around in bottle. But the payoff is a wine of great substance and depth that tends to offer amazing value due to its relatively under-the-radar reputation. Rollin’s exceptional rendering of this appellation is definitely of a piece with their overall lineup in its precision and its mineral drive, but it shows the scrappier, more animale character of its birthplace. The family owns parcels in three Aloxe-Corton lieux-dits: “Les Boutieres,” “Les Caillettes,” and “Les Guerets,” with vines between 35 and 55 years old. Around 25% of the barrels each vintage are new.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge 1er Cru “Les Vergelesses”
Each wine in Rollin’s trio of Pernand-Vergelesses premier crus emphasizes a particular facet of the village’s complex personality. “Les Vergelesses” is situated in the southern part of the appellation, just below the grand “Ile des Vergelesses” (see below), and Rollin’s 55-year-old vines here yield the most elegant, gentle, and supple of their three crus. Although it can be more accessible at an earlier stage of development, its relative breeziness does nothing to compromise its capacity for cellaring. Like all of Rollin’s red premier crus, “Les Vergelesses” sees only 30% new oak.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge 1er Cru “Les Fichots”
Situated immediately north of “Les Vergelesses” and below “Ile des Vergelesses,” “Les Fichots” is a clay-and-iron-dominated site with a far more structured, brooding personality than that of “Les Vergelesses.” The family’s exceptionally old plot —over 70 years of age—always renders a wine of impressive concentration and power. Despite its deeper color, firmer tannins, and greater sense of solidity, it nonetheless displays spice-laden red fruits that are very Pernand, as well as scintillating balancing acidity.

2015 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouges 1er Cru “Ile des Vergelesses”
Universal consensus holds that “Ile des Vergelesses” is the greatest site for red wine in the village, and the Rollins turn out a stunning example every vintage—one of the most consistent and distinctive red Burgundies in our portfolio. Situated at an altitude of 300 meters on a steep southeast-facing slope, “Ile des Vergelesses” combines the arresting elegance of “Les Vergelesses” with the mineral power of “Les Fichots,” all elements hanging together in delicate harmony. A present but non-disruptive firmness of structure implores the drinker to wait a few years for its treasures to be revealed.

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