Burgundy Masterclass with Nicolas Potel at Tanners

Burgundy, oh Burgundy. There are few, if any, regions which are more desired, romanticised and fascinatingly complex as Burgundy. With a total of 100 AOCs, for me at least, it is the concept of terroir which most attracts wine lovers to Burgundy. Rich and enticing history, vast communal diversity, subtle intra-communal vineyard nuance, juxtaposition of winemaking styles and plenty of colourful characters are amongst a few of the reasons we wine lovers seem so drawn to Cote. Whether you’re at the very beginning of your wine journey or already someway down the rabbit hole, there really are very few people to better guide you through all things Burgundian than Nicolas Potel.

I try to attend as many wine tastings as my shamelessly busy occupational schedule allows, my preference is for a regional or grape-specific tutored tastings, if possible with a well-versed winemaker from the region. I also must admit to having preferential locations, Tanners being somewhere near the top of this list. I am unsure exactly what it is that I enjoy so much about tastings at Tanners, there are however, a number of things which I know without question contribute toward my affinity for the venue and its events.

Tanners has a rich history. Through its many years of trading, dating back to 1839, Tanners has accumulated 981 years of experience in the wine trade. William Tanner, born in Shropshire in 1839, went to sea and sailed the world visiting places as far flung as Australia and Chile. The business is now in the capable hands of James Tanner, James attends these evenings and the conversations I have shared with him are certainly a factor in my desire to return. Tanners, and it’s tasting evenings, remain held in the original Victorian settings of their Shrewsbury store, this originality adds to the atmosphere of their evenings. And whilst I am a huge fan of their product offering the 2010 Le Clarence de Haut Brion and 2011 Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin I have left with on my last two visits were not so admired by my bank account.

Now, let’s talk about Nicolas, his story so far and some of his wines.

In 1964 Françoise and Gérard Potel arrived in Burgundy in the village of Volnay. At the time, Gérard was an agronomist and a demanding winemaker. He succeeded in passing this passion for wine on to his entire family. Shortly after buying part of the Duveault Blochet vineyard, the Potels started producing high-quality Burgundian wines. They initially decided to focus production solely upon Pinot Noir, vinifying only Premier Cru.

In the beginning, the family estate stretched from the villages of Volnay and Pommard to Santenay. This estate quickly grew and became a renowned winery. Long before taking over the family business, Nicolas benefited from many enriching experiences all over the world. He had the opportunity to learn from some of the most prestigious winemakers, this gave him a broad, varied and forward-facing outlook of the wine industry as a whole. 

Nicolas’ travels started in Australia where he worked with Moss Wood. He then came back to France in order to work with Pierre Matot at the Matrot winery, a winemaker he admired and appreciated. Following this new experience, Nicolas headed back abroad again, this time to California to work with Tom Dehlinger. At this time Tom was considered a Pinot Noir specialist in the Russian River Valley. Nicolas finally came back to France where he worked with Christophe Roumier at the Georges Roumier winery. 

After 2 years in France, Nicolas planned 3 consecutive trips to Australia where he worked at the Mount Mary winery, considered as the Australian Romanée-Conti. There, he worked with John Middleton. Nicolas finally moved to Western Australia to work with Leeuwin Estate, a Chardonnay specialist.

Once back in France, Nicolas worked as a vineyard manager and developed organic agriculture at the family estate where he was insistent on leading the way with biodynamic farming and innovative vineyard practice. Nicolas wanted to produce high quality wines. Something which stood out to me throughout the evening with Nicolas’ was his true respect for the unique terroir of Burgundy.

La Maison Nicolas Potel, Nicolas’ trading company, bought Pinot Noir from beautiful plots and from very old vines. Grapes were harvested and selected with the greatest care. This company also pioneered innovation and utilisation of modern equipment. Nicolas insisted on racking the wine dependant on the lunar and biodynamic calendars. This particular element of biodynamic winemaking is something I find particularly unattractive. I do, however, recognise the somewhat heightened respect and forethought that its adherents, Nicolas amongst them, have for the vineyard and its future.

The Nicolas Potel label became an excellent source of predominantly red wines, from Bourgogne Rouge to the Grand Crus of the Cote de Nuits. His hallmark had been to make wines which respected both their vineyard provenance and the style of the vintage. Suffering from a lack of capital, Nicolas sold the business to the Cottin brothers of Labouré-Roi in 2004, continuing as before until he parted company with his new owners in 2009. Following this separation Nicolas has developed his own Domaine de Bellene and negociant business Maison Roche de Bellene. Maison Roche de Bellene has been thriving in its new setting, expanding white wine production with the same high standards and competitive pricing as the reds. The wines of Maison Roche de Bellene made up the bulk of the wines tasted at Tanners. Now, let’s explore some of my favourite wines tasted during the evening:

Maison Roche de Bellene Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2016 – Hand-harvested and fermented for 2 months using natural yeast. The wine spends 16 months on fine lees and is racked and bottled. Nose is generous and outgoing. White flowers, crisp sweet lime and green apple. Soft oak spices with a prominent buttery creme brûlée note. Palate has racy acidity and shows serious youth. White peach, lime and cream with a clean refreshing stone mineral finish. This wine needs plenty of time before if shines! 85/100

Maison Roche de Bellene Vosne-Romanée Vieilles Vignes 2016 – The small commune of Vosne is without doubt the Côte’s shining star, the appellation produces arguably the best Pinot Noir in the world. I just love the Asian/Oriental style spices that I so often get on the nose. Aromas typical of Vosne, rounded spice and delicate black fruits. Elegantly poised fruit, damsons, cassis and bramble berries. Palate is smooth and very well-rounded. Balanced silky black fruits, stemmy tannins and well-integrated oak. This was second best wine of the night for me. 

Maison Roche de Bellene Echezeaux Grand Cru 2011 – Echezeaux is a Grand Cru vineyard covering the slopes above the Clos de Vougeot vineyard. It is considerably larger than most grand cru vineyards at 40ha and as such offers a more affordable approach to Grand Cru wine. The ageing, even if it relatively short for Grand Cru, is very clear with a distinct smoky, undergrowth mineral aroma. Fruits aromas are becoming subdued with far more tertiary notes taking over, hints of slightly stewed cherry. Palate remains approachable and is balancing beautifully. Pretty sweet fruit, plums and black cherry with a persistent length, fabulous wine. 

Thank you to Tanners for hosting such fantastic tastings and for allowing me to take photos before and after the event. I look forward to hopefully many more evenings with the team.

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