Visiting Domaine Ramonet was always going to be something of a personal pilgrimage. Ramonet’s wines were among of the first white Burgundies to grab my attention, initiating a fascination which has only deepened over the years that followed. The domaine’s wines exhibit a rare amalgam of amplitude, depth and precision which always makes an arresting impression. Simultaneously full and firm, the Ramonet style differs from the aesthetic pursued by many of today’s most celebrated white Burgundy producers; and though blind tasting notoriously turns up surprises, it’s hard to imagine anyone confusing, say, Ramonet’s Bâtard-Montrachet and Roulot’s Meursault Perrières—though in the grander scheme of things these are of course comparatively fine distinctions.
By beginning my white Burgundy journey with Ramonet, I began, in a sense, at the beginning; because the Ramonet family occupy an important place in the region’s history. Pierre Ramonet’s 1934 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Ruchottes was famously the first estate-bottled white Burgundy imported into the United States by Frank M. Schoonmaker—on the recommendation of Raymond Baudoin, one of the founders of the Revue des Vins de France. Success in the great French restaurants followed, again aided by Baudoin; and before long the Domaine Ramonet had become the Côte de Beaune’s most celebrated address, a status it enjoyed for the rest of the twentieth century. Pierre Ramonet himself, one of the great vignerons of the old school, attained almost mythical status, and I eagerly collate the anecdotes about him which still circulate along the Côte.
Today the Domaine’s reputation is still undeniably lustrous, but Ramonet no longer dominates white Burgundy as it once did. There have been changes: above all, generational succession—though Pierre Ramonet’s legacy, it is important to note, commands the enduring veneration of his grandsons Jean-Claude and Nöel. Problems with premature oxidation, however, shook confidence in an address long celebrated as the source of some of the world’s most age-worthy white wines. Perhaps just as importantly, wine writers and critics haven’t visited chez Ramonet as often as they used to; and, cynical though it seems, it’s hard to retain a reputation when you’re not part of the conversation.
Our tasting, which began just after 5 o’clock on a rainy evening in Chassagne-Montrachet, was with Jean-Claude Ramonet, who now presides over the Domaine following the semi-retirement of his brother Nöel: since 2013 the Domaine’s labels have borne Jean-Claude’s name alone. Returning from a long day in the vines, his car shot through the Domaine’s gates and screeched to a halt with the decisiveness of long familiarity. Together, we walked through the cuverie and into the cellar, where a table, decorated with business cards, stands in the centre of a room adorned with an eclectic array of empty bottles, including Au Bon Climat and Pétrus. The tasting (all from bottle) was peppered with family stories and jokes; one of those occasions that render tangible the multi-generational nature of wine-growing in Burgundy.
Jean-Claude spoke of the family’s special fondness, for instance, of the Premier Cru of Ruchottes. This vineyard, Pierre Ramonet’s first purchase in around 1926, made the Domaine’s international reputation. Pierre cleared the disused land by hand, prompting one of his future wife’s suitors to joke that he was a poor matrimonial prospect, since he’d be dead before he finished planting it. He refuted the quip with the first of sixty-five harvests in 1929.
Another story, clearly an old favourite, evoked the frugality of Jean-Claude’s grandmother, a woman who had experienced all the privations of two world wars. Gifts presented by visiting clients were invariably stored away in a chest, and when Madame Ramonet passed away her family explored its contents. Inside, they found an unused Polaroid camera, a stash of Belgian currency no longer in circulation, and large supplies of Swiss Chocolate; the latter so mildewed that the brothers joke that their grandmother was the inventor of white chocolate.
As for the wines themselves, it was a fantastic tasting. 2015 is a very sound vintage here, beginning with a ripe and gourmand Bourgogne Blanc but gaining in focus and tension as one ascends the hierarchy of appellations. The 2014s are glorious, the character of the vintage synergizing wonderfully with the style of the Domaine: Jean-Claude Ramonet has captured 2014’s precision and structure beautifully, but he has also realized its potential for volume, authority and a sense of incipient extravagance. These wines, in fact, are among the very best produced in 2014. The notes that follow record my more detailed impressions. While I’ve written up the white wines, I’m saving the reds for myself.
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Bouzeron: Raised half in barrel, half in tank, this is a lovely bottle of Aligoté, bursting with expressive notes of mint, apple and citrus rind. On the palate the wine shows good cut and volume with nice tension on the finish. 88/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Bourgogne Blanc: A glossy, gourmand Bourgogne Blanc with more weight and volume than the Bouzeron on the palate, but revealing similar aromas of mint and ripe apple; nice, but seemingly for the short term. 87/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet: The village Chassagne is very pretty in 2015, with a youthfully expressive nose of white peach, mint and green apple, followed by a wine with lovely texture, volume and cut for its level. This reveals greater tension and restraint than the rather buxom Bourgogne Blanc and offers a nice introduction to the Domaine’s style. 90/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles: This is a lovely recent addition to the Domaine’s portfolio, as to my mind the whites of Pernand-Vergelesses are the best aperitif wines to be found in all the Côte, and when an evening begins with a glass of Ramonet things are clearly going well. Aromas of spring flowers, honeysuckle and white peach introduce a glossy mid-weight wine with more tension and a more slender frame than the village Chassagne. 90/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Puligny-Montrachet: More restrained than its Chassagne sibling, the Puligny AOC bottling displays a classic bouquet of peach, white flowers, citrus zest and a subtle framing of new wood. On the palate the wine is glossy and textural on the attack, with good acidity and length. A few years in the cellar are in order here. 90/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Le Charmois: The cooler macroclimates of Saint-Aubin seem to have fared especially well in 2015, and this Le Charmois is no exception: notes of nutty reduction, poached pear and citrus zest lead into a concentrated, glossy wine with more volume than the village Puligny or Chassagne. This stood out at its level for its textural elegance and balance. 91/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères: Enseignères sits just below Bâtard-Montrachet, and this seems to have been a favoured neighbourhood in 2015, perhaps because the deeper soils retained sufficient water to preclude significant vine stress. Ramonet’s rendition reveals a classy and reserved bouquet of wet stones, yellow citrus and iodine. On the palate the wine is concentrated, layered and deep at the core, with lovely textural glossiness and detail underpinned by bright acidity. 92/100
2015 Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Boudriottes: The Boudriottes is generally the most open-knit and expressive of Ramonet’s Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Crus, and the 2015 was bottled in December, a few weeks before I tasted it, while the grander wines continue to develop in barrel. On the nose the wine is already quite expressive despite its recent mise, revealing a pretty bouquet of spring flowers, white peach and pastry cream; the prelude to an elegant mid-weight wine with an expansive, elegant textural profile. 92/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Vergers: A complex bouquet of pear, white peach, hazlenut and wet stones leads into a taut, precise wine with lovely energy and sap married with a glossy attack. While the 2015s have nice energy and freshness, the wines lead with their generous textures, those qualities only assert themselves on the mid-palate and finish; with the 2014s, the order of appearance is reversed, and the contrast is quite dramatic. 93/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Ruchottes: The Ruchottes is a real classic this year, opening in the glass with notes of mint, apple, pear, noble reduction and subtle noisette. On the palate the wine approaches grand cru concentration and depth, with a velouté texture and great precision and length. Fantastic stuff. 94/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champs-Canet: More tensile than the Ruchottes, with a reserved nose of white flowers, mint and citrus zest, the Champs-Canet is taut, vibrant and mineral, with impressive power and length. I have always focussed on the Ramonets’ Chassagnes but this, like the Enseignères, was a persuasive argument for pursuing their Pulignys just as ardently. 93/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru: The Bienvenues-Bâtard is stunning in 2014, busting from the glass with a beautiful nose of Ramonet mint, crisp green apple, pear, citrus, iodine and a framing of elegant new oak. On the palate the wine reveals beautiful purity and balance, with a glossy, expansive attack combined with real cut and tension through the finish. 95/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru: One parcel of the Ramonets’ holdings in Bâtard-Montrachet adjoins their parcel of Bienvenues, but the other parcel is in the middle of the vineyard on the border of Chassagne and Puligny, and perhaps that explains why these wines are so different. Notes of citrus zest, pastry cream, subtle noisette and a framing of new oak lead into a wine which is notably more tight-knit and unyielding than the Bienvenues. There’s lots of power and cut here, but so much is held in reserve! Very much a wine for the cellar. 96/100
2014 Jean-Claude Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru: The Ramonet Montrachet is without doubt one of the wines of the vintage in 2014 and a real classic in the making. Aromas of tangerine oil, confit citrus, pear, toasted nuts and subtle spice introduce a generous, powerful wine with breathtaking balance and precision. There’s so much depth and incipient complexity wrapped up in its intricate structure; more supple than the Bâtard but no less tight-knit. For all the fuss that is made of Montrachet, here is one wine which really lives up to the reputation of the vineyard and the domaine which I’d argue is its greatest exponent. If this can survive for twenty years in the cellar then it will be perfection itself. 98/100
2012 Domaine Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru: The 2012 Bâtard had a hard act to follow after the 2014 Montrachet, but it made a valiant effort. Since I last encountered it the wine has become quite exotic, with an extravagant nose of white peach, petrol, iodine and tangerine oil. On the palate the wine is ample, concentrated and generous, but rather heavier and missing some of the energy displayed by the wonderfully restrained 2014 Bâtard. 93/100