Visiting Laroche in Chablis

Laroche was one of the Chablis producers I popped in to during my visit in early July. For an overview of Chablis, see the introductory article.

Laroche 20130703

Many of the wines are labelled Domaine Laroche, i.e., are sourced from their own vineyards, that consist of some 100 ha/250 acres. The also produce Petit Chablis and Chablis from purchased grapes and then the label says only Laroche. The only level where there are both types of wines is on the village Chablis level, but the Domaine Laroche wine is called Chablis St Martin, so there is little risk of confusion.

Talking about St Martin, many things in Chablis have been named in his honur, and the Martin in question is St. Martin of Tours (316-397), the same saint that have lent his name to St. Martin’s Day, when goose (such as the German Martinsgans) is traditionally eaten in many European countries. Good old Martin didn’t live in Chablis, though. Rather, it was monks from his monastery, fleeing from Normands, who in the year 867 (i.e., 470 years after his death) were donated the Saint-Loup monastry by Charles II, also known as Charles the Bald.

As to winemaking style, Laroche partially ferments the premier cru and grand cru wines in small oak barrels, and the rest of these and all of the other wines in steel tanks. This places their use of oak somewhere in the middle of the Chablis range. They were also an early adopter of screw caps, which I appreciate. However, I’ve noticed that at least earlier, they’ve sold their wines sealed with screw caps to some markets and sealed with cork to other, more conservative markets.

The wine presentations on their webpage and their printed material only includes two grand crus (Les Clos and Les Blanchots) and three premier crus (Les Fourchaumes, Les Vaillons, and Les Vaudevey), but their price list on location also included Grand Cru Les Bougerots and the premier crus Les Fourneaux, Les Beauroys, and Les Montmains. I don’t know if this is because they only have so little of these other 1 GC + 3 PC that they only sell them to some markets, or if there is some other reason. And yes, the insist in putting a “les” at the beginning of all the names, and to write them in plural form, although only some of the premier and grand cru vineyards are common to see in this form. Well, someone who is better at French than me have to interpret the different impressions that are conveyed by the choice of singular form (e.g., Montmain), plural form (Montmains) or definite article + plural form (Les Montmains) on a Chablis label.

A curiosity in the Laroche range sortiment is a special cuvée of Les Blanchots, named Réserve de l’Obédience, which by far is the most expensive of their wines. On location, it costs € 83 compared to € 45 for the regular Les Blanchots and € 55 for Les Clos. (Most producers tend to price their Les Clos highest.) This wine is a barrel selection from their lots of Blanchots, that receive additional oak barrel treatment in the form of 50-70 % oak. The reason they have chosen Blanchots for such a wine is that their largest grand cru holdings are located here (4.5 ha according to Clive Coates, which also makes them the largest landowner in Blanchots, out of its total 12.88 ha) and therefore have a substantial amount of grapes to choose the best from. I haven’t tasted this wine, but I’ve seen those who claim that the oak in this wine is rather obvious, to probably this is a wine that will meet with more divided opinions that their other grand crus. 1991 was the premiere vintage of the wine and its name is derived from that of l’Obédiencerie, a part of the monastery of the Saint Martin monks that now houses Laroche.

Laroche Petit Chablis 2011 (negociant wine), € 10,50 on location

Nose with smoke, yellow apple, slightly nutty armas. Palate with green and yellow apple, good acidity, some spice, a slight bitterness that disturbs somewhat. Good substance/concentration for this level. 84 p?

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint-Martin 2011, € 15

Nose with apple, a hint of peach, discrete perfume notes. Fruitier nose than the 2011 Petit Chablis. Palate with green apple, mineral, rather high acidity, good concentration, slightly spicy, long and mineral aftertaste. Approachable now, 87 p

Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaudevey 2009, € 25

Nose with yellow apple, some peach, slightly flowery and perfumed – elegant. Palate with green and some yellow apple, citrus, high acidity, a hint of grapefruit bitterness, stony mineral, fruity and apply aftertaste. Slender and elegant for a 2009. Rather young, 89(+) p

Vaudevey, located on the left bank, was said to be more feminine and it was pointed out that it originates from a cooler valley. Perhaps this is why it didn’t show too much of the characteristics of a ripe vintage, which is what 2009 is.

Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourchaumes Vieilles Vignes 2009, € 29

Nose with yellow apples, mineral and some spice, elegant nose. Palate with powerful mineral notes, green and yellow apple, high acidity, slightly spicy, aftertaste with powerful minerality. A lot of mineral, more than the 2009 Vaudevey. Rather young, 90+ p.

Fourchaumes, located on the right bank, was said to be more powerful, and I have to agree. Probably, the old vines (vieilles vignes) helps in creating that impression.

Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2008, € 55

Nose with yellow apple, mineral, some spice, discrete flowery notes, an elegant nose. Palate with powerful, stony mineral notes, good concentration, a hint of bitterness, some citrus and apple – but the minerality dominates over the fruit. Quite long aftertaste with mineral. Rather young, but accessible, 91+ p

Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots 2006, € 48 (2007-2009 costs € 45)

Nose with yellow apple, slightly buttery with hints of development, some spice. Palate with powerful mineral notes and stony notes, high acidity, some spice, good concentration. Under the minerality there is apple fruit, but the palate is completely mineral-dominated. Still rather young, in particular on the palate, 91 p

I consider Laroche to be quite OK from a quality point of view, and to me they represent something rather close to the “normal style” of contemporary Chablis. Since I tasted different vintages at the different levels, I couldn’t really say how consistent they are across the range in each vintage. In his 2008 book, Clive Coates states that he considers the wines too oaky, despite the fact that they don’t use any new oak, but I couldn’t really say that I’m disturbed by any oakiness today. It is possible that some of the notes of peach, flowers and spice that I found in the wines, and the fact that many of them showed more yellow apples than green apples, could be due to an influence of oak, but still, this is nothing that I found disturbing.

The prices they charge on location does not really represent any bargains. The seem to charge something like “full Paris prices” to visitors, while many other Chablis producers are slightly cheaper or much cheaper on location. This means that they are priced at about the same level as William Fèvre’s wines, and in all honesty, Fèvre is definitely a better producer. Something positive, though, is the availability of a couple of vintages of most wines, which is not too common. Available vintages from 2007 on were sold at a single price, while the few wines from 2006 and earlier that were available were a few euros more expensive. So those who wish to purchase Laroche wines on location should prepare themselves by checking a vintage table in advance stick to the best of the recent vintages, rather than to just the youngest available, to profit fully from the wider availability of vintages.

I also tasted some Laroche wines last autumn, at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, and wrote down my impressions. This time around, I score them slightly higher across the range, but I belive that the current scores are more reliable, since I tasted these wine under more focussed and undisturbed circumstances.

Laroche also has a hotel in Chablis, and also produces wines in Languedoc (Mas la Chevalière), Chile (Viña Punto Alto), and South Africa (L’Avenir).

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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