Bordeaux Thoughts – Chateau Rollan De By


When giving it a thought, there is a slight resemblance in the vintage pattern if comparing 1990-1995 and 2000-2005. 1990 was a great vintage in Bordeaux, a kind of a start of the modern era of the region. The following three years were poor, with 1993 as the least crappy. 1994 probably got more accolade than it deserved having in mind how much a good vintage was needed and wished for. Then came 1995 and all was fine again.

Or was it? Initially considered a very fine vintage but gradually downgraded. I tasted a lot of 1990-95 Bordeaux in their youth since I worked for a Bordeaux oriented wine merchant at the end of the millenium and already then a lot of 1991, 1992 and 1993 wines were vegetal and astringent. A lot of the 1994 wines were unbalanced and dry of fruit but the 1995’s were really nice in their youth.

2000 was a great year for Bordeaux. The following year sadly came in the dark of the previous, a pity because today it seems 2001 are just becoming better and better, especially on the right bank. 2002 was poor but a lot had happened since 1992 with the producers more able to handle a difficult year. 2003 was warm, too warm perhaps and a vintage of controversy. 2004 a year for the Claret lover. Then came 2005, vintage of the century (the third that decade).

Although 2001, 2003 and 2004 can’t be described as average vintages, especially not the first one, there is still a big difference in how the years were handled compared to how they would have done ten years earlier. So much has happened in Bordeaux and the quality has never been higher. Rarely today, do the consumer bump into really poor quality as was the case much more often in the late 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

With the new gained skills, techniques and know-how, wines like Chateau Rollan de By entered the scene. This would have been impossible in the beginning of the 1990s, to produce such a remarkably good wine from the northern of Médoc. The style has its critics but I must confess I don’t get that. Was it really better before?

An Italian in Bordeaux. A sign of new times?

Jean Guyon, the owner of Rollan de By, consults the Italian guru Ricardo Cotarella and Alain Raynaud, the former owner at Chateau Quinault in Saint Emilion and one of the first Vins de garage in the region. So, why Cotarella? Do a Bordeaux property really need advice from an Italian to make proper wine? The Italian is somewhat of an expert when it comes to Merlot, the main grape at Rollan de By. Furthermore, why not? Cotarella is a sign Bordeaux is not looking back but ahead. But the funniest thing? Rollan de By really tastes like a great Bordeaux, especially when given some age, something which have been questioned, that the late harvested style didn’t have the capacity for it.

The methods

So, what are Jean Guyon doing to make this property north of Saint Estèphe such an interesting one? Rollan de By are planted with an impressive density of quite old vines, around 8500 / ha. Add a yield around 45-50 hl/ha and green harvesting meaning one cluster per cane, and you have a low yield for Médoc properties in these peripher parts. Heck, the yield is even more extreme than in some cru classés. I don’t have to mention leaf-plucking, shoot thinning and handpicking and all that, do I?

Jean Guyon adopts a pre-fermentation, a cold one at 10 C for some days, to extract aromas and color, before the maceration which occurs at relatively high temperature, up to 30 C, takes place. The 2010 macerated for almost 45 days for example. New oak is used, 100 percent. Mainly French but a dash of American as well. The wine spends one year in oak and the lees are stirred the first three months only. Fining with eggs but no filtration.

Comparing 2005 and 2009 Rollan de By

Critics have started to question if 2005 really is as good as initially stated. It seems greatly successful on the right bank, but more carefulness is required when buying left bank. Still a very, very good year there as well. Rollan de By is a part of the northern Médoc, found higher up where the clay is more generous but the soil also more marked by the closeness to water. The 2005 Rollan de By is a tremendous effort. Based on Merlot, it shows a complex evolved bouquet with scents of wet earth, plums, cassis, mint, cedarwood, toasted oak and new leather shoes. It’s a classic nose and I have a hard time seeing a claret lover would have difficulties with this sniff.

Slightly more herbal on the palate, cassis and good tannin structure. Balancing acidity. The phenolic ripeness which was more noticebale in its youth has settled and now the impression is one of a good year. Some toasted notes from the oak, gentle though, never dominating. Good, quite acidity driven cassis finish. The 2005 is really a star in my collection. Considering the production is around 28,000 cases annually it is widely available. And below twenty euros for Bordeaux stuff like this? Who said the region had become unaffordable? Me? Probably. Perfect to drink now but will keep at the same level for a few years.

The 2009 Rollan de By has a similar structure as he ’05. The vintage though, has a higher ripeness, more body, more everything. Yet the Rollan de By feels balanced, on the right side so to speak, and never becomes cloying or heavy. It probably has a longer life ahead than 2005 because behind all that fruit there’s actually a compact tannin structure and acidity hiding. The ripeness handles the oak tremendeously and I can’t wait to taste it in say five or six years, when it has settled down and allowed to integrate. There’s a classic cedar, cassis nose with mint and warm earth. A dash of spices. The oak is still not integrated. On the palate it is quite a mouthful and with copious amounts of fruit. But, as said earlier, backed up by tannins and acidity. Long pure finish. I’m pretty sure this is the best Rollan de By produced when we sum up in ten years. It’s not for everyone but then again, that wasn’t 1982 either.

The Virtuoso Says:



NB. Six bottles tasted of the 2005 since release. Three bottles tasted of the 2009 since release. The premium wine of Rollan de By, 2005 Haut-Condissas is a step up in quality but not to that extent that I would prefer it considerably to the estate wine in the ‘o5 vintage.

NB.2. I feel fortunate, to have a wine interest that started with the release of BDX 1990 and having been a part of the region’s most impressive development over the last 20+ years. I’m still humble but boy have I learnt a lot during all these years. Primarily one thing – never ever rule out a vintage too quickly!

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