Domaine Rollin’s 2016s: A Triumph Over Frost

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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 Côte de Beaune, those less-appreciated vineyards in and around Pernand-Vergelesses that flank the grand hill of Corton.

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 Côte d’Or. In the case of Pernand, the vineyards are wedged into a narrow crevasse formed by the disjunction of Corton and the primary escarpment of the Côte de Beaune, and most of its key sites face westward (or even northwestward) in this modest valley. In bygone days of feebler temperatures and less precise vineyard work, wines from Pernand were commonly characterized as somewhat lean and rustic; its whites a bit angular, its reds more bare-knuckled. Now, however, with our ever-warming climate, these sorts of areas—vineyards less exposed to the glowering sun and which thereby undergo slower phenological maturation—regularly produce supremely compelling Burgundies: wines of tense equilibrium and striking complexity absent the surface flash of blatant ripeness.

No grower in our family was hit harder by the late-April frost of 2016 than Rollin. Its capricious tentacles reached into all their holdings, engendering losses between 20% and 100% (with a 70% overall loss), and for the first time in their history the family was unable to bottle “Ile des Vergelesses”—their greatest red wine. Furthermore, they suffered a total loss in their vineyards in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, forcing them to purchase fruit from a friend in a nearby village. Fortunately, the wines they were able to produce—meager in quantity as they are—represent exceptional and classic versions of their terroirs: whites of exceptional tension and concentration, and reds that combine savory, earthy elements with cleansing acidity and energy to spare. They are overall notable in their concentration and should amply reward those patient enough to cellar them, but they are quite impressive even at this youthful stage.

2017 Bourgogne Aligoté
The Rollin clan produces a textbook and delicious Aligoté from a 60-year-old plot on the border of Pernand and Echevronne. Vinified and aged on its lees in stainless steel, this 2017 is bright and markedly chalky, with a mouthwateringly clean finish of citrus zest and salt. The palate shows a bit more roundness due to the generosity of the 2017 vintage, but the acidity is as racy as ever, and this is an exceptional version of an always-solid wine.

2017 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc
The Rollins produce this spectacular value from east-facing mid-slope parcels of thin topsoil on the border of Pernand and Echevronne. Vinified and aged in previously used 400-liter barrels, this 2017 offers terrific generosity for its modest appellation, with notes of peach and quince, and a lovely honeyed element. Vibrant, clear acidity—a Rollin hallmark—keeps this brisk and eminently drinkable.

2016 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. Its proximity to the mighty Corton shows in its powerful minerality, yet it displays all the freshness and tension of the Rollin style. The 2016, representing only 30% of a normal harvest quantity-wise (they brought in less than 20 hectoliters per hectare), offers a fairly classic take: ample fruit tightly corseted by pert acidity and an elemental sense of freshly blasted limestone. Its 10% new oak is all but invisible.

2016 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 Frétille” (see below). It faces southeast on a high-altitude, steep part of the hillside, but a general lack of direct breezes there engenders notable ripeness. Rollin suffered a 50% loss here in 2016, but the resulting wine is particularly impressive—richer and broader in texture than the villages wine above, and with a punchier, more solid sense of minerality. While this isn’t always the case, Les Cloux also shows greater overall finesse in 2016 than the basic Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc. 20% new oak was employed here.

2016 Pernand-Vergelesses Blanc 1er Cru “Sous Frétille”
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. In keeping with its usual profile, the 2016—less damaged by the frost (a 20% loss)—is sleek, vibrant, and markedly more filigree in its minerality than the preceding wines. There’s an inner concentration here but with zero accompanying body fat, and the powerful, tightly focused finishes bodes for a long life ahead. The 30% new oak is beautifully integrated.

2016 Corton-Charlemagne
The first half of a tasting at Rollin always culminates with this, one of the iconic white Burgundies of the Rosenthal portfolio. 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 is a blend of the two. It spends a full two winters in the cellar as per tradition, and it wears its roughly 50% new oak effortlessly. This 2016—down 20% from a typical harvest due to the frost—offers a classic marriage of sappy, powerful pit fruits and clinging, saline minerality. Thick but stopping short of viscosity, it finishes bone-dry and with immense tension.

2016 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Rouge
Sadly, the Rollin family’s holdings in the Hautes-Côtes near Echevronne suffered a total loss in the late-April frost of 2016. Such was the extent of the damage in this part of the Cote d’Or, in fact, 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. While this area is known to produce fruitier, less racy wines than those from near Echevronne, their light hand in the cellar resulted in a wine of classic Rollin delicacy and tension, with attractive red fruits supported by snappy acidity and an overlay of high-toned spice.

2016 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge
A classic rendition of an underappreciated red Burgundy appellation, Rollin’s Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge hails 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. The riveting 2016 offers a brambly, savory nose tinged by smoke, and a palate both tangy and supple, with dark red fruits echoing off of an almost salty base of minerality.

2016 Savigny-les-Beaune Rouge “Aux Grands Liards”
Flanked by the renowned Savigny-les-Beaune premier cru “Les Lavières,” “Aux Grands Liards” 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—this 2016 offers notable sous-bois on the nose, with a densely fruited palate offset by brisk acidity. Only 20% new oak is employed here.

2016 Aloxe-Corton
Always a bit more gritty, structured, and viscerally earthy than its next-door neighbor Pernand-Vergelesses, 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. The Rollin 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, and the 2016 is a dynamic and complex rendering of the appellation. A slightly brooding nose of mentholated cherries and blasted chalk leads into a palate of scrappy tannins and vigorous acidity, with a long, authoritative finish.

2016 Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge 1er Cru “Les Vergelesses”
Rollin’s 55-year-old vines in this southern-Pernand-Vergelesses vineyard typically yield the most elegant, gentle, and supple of their classic trio of premier crus. In 2016, their holdings in the mighty “Ile des Vergelesses” were so devastated by frost that they didn’t bottle it, instead including that cru’s scant harvest in the “Les Vergelesses” cuvée. As such, this 2016 offers a bit more complexity and energy than it even usually does, with sappy cherry fruit, explosive acidity, and mellow, refined tannins. Its exceptional concentration of elements masks the 30% new oak all but completely.

2016 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 here—over 70 years of age—always renders a wine of impressive concentration and power. This 2016 shows classic firmness of structure compared to the “Les Vergelesses,” with a smoky, savory note echoing that of the villages wine. Its fruits are blacker, and its minerality more severe, though there is still plenty of lift and elegance to keep it in harmony.

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