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Domaine Gérard Boulay

2022: A Thrilling, Unmissable Vintage from A “Great of Chavignol” [Parr]
Domaine Gérard Boulay
“Un peu bénie des Dieux” is the phrase one Sancerre grower used to describe Sancerre’s 2022 vintage. A little bit blessed by the gods. Even by the standards of this iconic grower—whose family have been working the soils of Chavignol for 11 centuries—2022 has summoned something unique and special. Unique because, for the first time in decades, quality and quantity are on the same level. Special because the balance between ripeness, moderate alcohols, aromatic intensity and freshness could hardly have been better. To give an idea of how excited the Boualys are about 2022, Gérard Boulay compares this year to his father's vintage of 1959—a legendary, benchmark year for the family.

The logic behind the quality and style of the 2022 wines is much as we will see in Burgundy. It was a warm, sunny year with a hot summer, much like 2020. But unlike 2020, which was considerably drier, 2022 had some good rain at the right moments, especially in August, and this—along with cooler nights later in the season—has made an enormous difference to the wines’ balance. Without exaggeration, Boulay’s ‘22s are probably the most exciting young wines we can remember tasting at the domaine. They have the typical layered succulence and rocky texture that we expect of this producer, yet there is also thrilling clarity, mineral steel and precision. Sancerre for lovers of great white Burgundy and Riesling if you like. If this doesn’t make 2022 an unmissable vintage, we don’t know what does.

Tasting is only one part of the attraction of visiting this storied domaine. History and culture play an equal role, more so now that Gérard’s son Thibault has joined full-time and is taking more and more control. Thibaut is a historian by training and comes from a successful academic career. He has produced two excellent books on the history, geology and general terroir of both the Sancerre area and, more specifically, Chavignol. For the first time this year, we learnt that the Boulay’s famed Comtesse vineyard on Monts-Damnés was only grafted after 1945, making it France’s last ungrafted white-grape vineyard, as la Romanée-Conti was for red grapes. This tells you something about how revered this site was.

The Wines

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre à Chavignol 2022

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre à Chavignol 2022

Boulay’s entry-level is drawn from mature, 35- to 50-year-old vines rooted entirely in the limestone soils of Chavignol. The multiple sites are largely sloping vineyards on the lower flanks of the Chavignol hillside terroirs of Les Chasseignes, Les Longues Fins and La Rue de Veaux. Importantly, Boulay also includes fruit from his younger vines on the great hillside of La Grande Côte.
The juice ferments spontaneously and rests for eight months in tank, on lees, with a small volume also fermented in a single large wooden cask. This is the only blended cuvée in the Boulay line-up, yet even here, we can taste the finesse, texture and stony/earthy/salty minerality that has made this humble grower one of France’s most respected vignerons.

It’s a fleshier release than last year, and you can look forward to flavours of intense candied citrus, white flowers and white stone fruit intertwined with a lovely rocky texture alongside deliciously salty, iodised freshness, mineral vibrancy and mouth-watering phenolic structure. It’s a beautifully composed release showcasing a touch more density and palate weight than the previous vintage. It finishes with stony definition, chalky cut and great length. As always, it’s a benchmark that showcases the remarkable terroir that is Chavignol.

It’s a fleshier release than last year, and you can look forward to flavours of intense candied citrus, white flowers and white stone fruit intertwined with a lovely rocky texture alongside deliciously salty, iodised freshness, mineral vibrancy and mouth-watering phenolic structure. It’s a beautifully composed release showcasing a touch more density and palate weight than the previous vintage. It finishes with stony definition, chalky cut and great length. As always, it’s a benchmark that showcases the remarkable terroir that is Chavignol.

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre à Chavignol 2022
Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Clos Beaujeu 2022

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Clos Beaujeu 2022

Le Clos de Beaujeu is one of Boulay’s ‘blue-blood’ historic sites. Boulay farms two parcels in this terroir, including one within the original clos of this vineyard, established by the monks of Beaujeu in the Middle Ages. This parcel is historically known as Le Grand Clos. For this reason, Boulay names this wine Clos de Beaujeu rather than the more ubiquitous Cul de Beaujeu. In his book Le Vignoble de Chavignol, Thibaut Boulay notes that this vineyard first appears in documents dating to 1328 as the Clausus de Bellojoco, indicating this terroir’s age-old origins.
Vines on this slope of Kimmeridgian limestone and clay (terre blanches) sit between 30 and (a remarkable) 110 years old. The soils here are particularly rocky—limestone-rich and strewn with fossils—making this parcel difficult to farm. A second, even steeper parcel at a 60% gradient lies closer to the village. These southeast-facing plots make the Clos de Beaujeu the source of some of the domaine’s most structured and nervy wines. This cuvée ferments spontaneously and rests in large, upright cask (60%) and three- and four-year-old 300-litre barrels (40%) for 10 months. 
The 2022 season has yielded a special Clos Beaujeu that promises to age for decades. Right now, there is a racy, floral and mineral attack underscored by citrus oil, while the palate is long and seamless, wreathed in sea spray and Mirabelle plum favour with a savoury edge. Closes with exceptional focus and grip on the long and still quite reserved finish. Fabulous. This is emphatically built for the cellar and needs bottle age to allow its secondary layers of complexity to emerge. Still, it is so well-balanced that those curious can certainly drink it in its youth with great pleasure. But try to tuck it away in the cellar for at least a few years.

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Clos Beaujeu 2022
Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Les Monts-Damnés 2022

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Les Monts-Damnés 2022

Monts-Damnés (pronounced mon-dannay) is perhaps the best-known vineyard in Chavignol. Drinking great juice from this site leaves you in little doubt that Chavignol is home to some of the most textural, mineral, uplifting and sublime Sancerres. Boulay’s bottling comes from 45-year-old vines on one of the steepest inclines of this majestic vineyard, a 40° south-facing plot on terres blanches (white, chalky clay and limestone) directly adjacent to Vatan’s Clos la Néore vineyard. It’s a parcel of vines that gives a wine of great hedonism and complexity. Boulay vinifies this cuvée in three- to four-year-old Rousseau Tronçais oak casks before finishing its aging in large cask prior to bottling.
While the steeply sloped, south-facing Mont-Damnés is one of Chavignol’s warmest sites, this superb wine walks a perfect tightrope between ripeness and texture and that invigorating sense of tension that makes Boulay’s Sancerres so compelling. A distillate of its site, the new release is deep yet compact and awash with racy stone fruit, all kinds of citrus and salty depth tempered by a mouthwatering mineral spine and a nibble of chalky phenolics. The marriage of density and energy is just perfect. Again, give it time to blossom, or enjoy this stellar release young with ceviche, tuna tartare or sashimi—that kind of thing.

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Les Monts-Damnés 2022
Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre La Côte 2022

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre La Côte 2022

First made as a single parcel in 2010, La Côte comes from the majestic La Grande Côte vineyard (sometimes referred to as La Côte d’Amigny), a south/southeast-facing hillside on the outskirts of Chavignol. La Côte has quickly become one of the heavyweights of Boulay’s range. It’s the domaine’s coolest terroir and the last to be picked. The site’s pure Kimmeridgian limestone soils and the late picking date deliver density and absurd precision on the palate. Vinified and aged in three and four-year-old barrels, the terroir gives a more expressive style than Monts-Damnés, yet one that still bristles with tension and mineral notes.
If the vines are still relatively young by this domaine’s standards (a good 20 years all the same), they nevertheless express the mineral essence of this limestone terroir with incredible intensity. As always, La Côte is the most open of the single-vineyard wines, this year leading with ripe citrus—in the orange/bergamot spectrum—and crystalline passionfruit aromas. The palate is deep, complex, radiant and focused, with a great core of spicy fruit, driving acids and lovely purity, tapering to a super long, chalk-licked finish. It has everything to go toe-to-toe with a top 1er Cru Burgundy. 

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre La Côte 2022
Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Comtesse 2022

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Comtesse 2022

This rare bottling comes from just 0.40 hectares of 70-year-old vines in the Comtesse lieu-dit at the chalky epicentre of Les Monts-Damnés. For hundreds of years or more, this vineyard has been considered by locals to be the finest single terroir of Chavignol. In his Le Vignoble de Chavignol, Thibaut Boulay reminds us that at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878, Comtesse was already considered a true star of the Sancerrois, its wines served on the most renowned tables of northern France. As another marker of its historical reverence, the Comtesse parcel was only grafted after 1945; before that, it remained the last ungrafted white vineyard in France, as La Romanée-Conti was for red grapes.
The soil composition is pure Kimmeridgian limestone and consists of a miserly 30- to 40-centimetre layer of topsoil over solid limestone bedrock. This brings intense minerality and warmth as the rocky soil absorbs the sun’s heat and re-radiates it at night, yet it is also a cooler, less exposed place. It’s therefore a site that always produces fully ripe fruit and intense freshness while also something finer and more restrained than a typical Monts-Damnés—hence, the historical fame.
This has the diamond-cut clarity allied to perfectly ripe fruit intensity that is a hallmark of this release—and there’s also something more elemental. Again, the sunny season has done nothing to blunt the razor-edge precision of this grower’s Sancerre. Marked by the soil rather than the sun, this wine often incorporates the best elements of all the vineyards above. It has a seductive texture and nectarine-like fruit, yet also thoroughbred restraint, great line, mineral clarity, and box-office chalky length. A Grand Cru in all but name, 20 years will not weary this astonishing young Sancerre. 

Domaine Gérard Boulay Sancerre Comtesse 2022

“To my palate, Gérard Boulay is undoubtedly on the top tier of producers in Chavignol…in terms of purity and daringly racy, I do wonder whether he shouldn’t be placed at the very top of the tier. I certainly find his wines sufficiently exciting, breath-taking in their assured poise, to suggest this might be the case.” Chris Kissack, Winedoctor.com

“Another great of Chavignol, the Boulays’ first record of farming grapes there date to 1380, when the Clos de Beaujeu was already recognized as a great white wine. It still is today. Wines from these Kimmeridgian-soil vineyards often have the density and earthiness of Chablis.” Rajat Parr, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste
“The Boulay style is a world away from the regular refreshing but forgettable norm... it should really be compared with a white burgundy in terms of its rewards and complexity.”
Jancis Robinson MW

“I was expecting a brief chat and a tasting, perhaps a few fresh tasting notes to add to this website, but in the next hour or two what I learnt – as we tasted – transformed not only my understanding of the domaine, but of Chavignol and indeed Sancerre as a whole.”
Chris Kissack, Winedoctor.com

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