Henri Jayer: The Greatest Wine You’ve Never Heard of

Henri Jayer

You don’t have to be a wine hipster to be familiar with Dom Pérignon or Opus One or Chateau Pétrus.  Sideways introduced many to Cheval Blanc, Miles’ exalted chugger-of-choice at the end of the movie.  If you’re into Burgundy, you’ve likely daydreamed about a perfumed, willing decanter of DRC (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti).

But still floating below the casual drinker’s consciousness is a producer that may be the most coveted of all: Henri Jayer (pronounced Zheye-aye).  No song immortalizes his red Burgundy.  No motion picture teaches us that this is not just the summit of wine, but perhaps the very mound on which the flag gets planted.

You just have to know it.  Even better is to know someone who actually has some and is willing to share.  (A collector would be forgiven for wanting to drink it alone, in a dark room, with shades pulled.)

This is exactly what happened when I was with some friends a few weeks ago (not the dark room drinking, mind you, but the Jayer generosity.)  Because an adequate description of the wines stretches beyond our current lexicon, let’s just say that they brought the ruckus as only the finest aged Burgundy can: beetroot and menthol on the nose, velvet on the tongue, and exhilaration in the heart.  Wine like this makes even the most law-abiding drinker contemplate a life on the lam.

As the six of us drained the five bottles noted below, I was reminded that Jayer made his wine in microscopic quantities and only officially until the mid-90’s, though he kept a hand on the pipette until a few years before his death in 2006.  His lack of pretention was said to be as great as his dedication to the vintner’s art and the modernization of its methods.  While other winemakers of the day were filtering their wine to make it look clearer, Jayer knew that this could diminish its flavor.  Not only did he just say no to filtration, he announced it on a special sticker above the label: “Ce vin n’a pas été filtré.”  To me, c’est un badass.

A farmer in the best Burgundian sense, Jayer turned Cros Parantoux — a tiny, unloved tract of land in the village of Vosne-Romanée — into a parcel of Pinot perfection.  He discusses his vineyards in this vintage BBC video with UK wine authority Jancis Robinson.

Even as much of his land lives on in the acclaimed wines of his nephew, Emmanuel Rouget, the wine Henri Jayer himself nurtured represents a singularly heightened benchmark for Burgundy and Pinot Noir.  They are Led Zeppelin conquering the Garden in ‘73 or Kurt Cobain rasping behind the stargazer lillies: pure glory, glorious purity.

The collector reminded me of his friend’s experience visiting Jayer in the 1980’s.  As the friend stood among the racks of fabled bottles, he asked Jayer who was helping him.

Jayer reportedly shrugged and answered with characteristic directness:
“Mes deux mains” (my two hands).

Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée “Cros Parantoux” 1988
Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée “Cros Parantoux” 1996
Herni Jayer Vosne-Romanée “Beauxmonts” 1996
Henri Jayer Echézeaux 1988
Henri Jayer Echézeaux 1999